There’s been a story that’s been flying under the radar recently that Dr. Pauly wrote about and while I respect his views I think there is a different angle to this that many people in the poker world are ignoring.
Former poker pro, Ron Fanelli (aka MadYank), stabbed and murdered a Thai bar girl, Wanphen Pienjai, in a drunken rage. I read about it first here in the local press. As with most stories you read about foreigners in Thailand you look for the parts that don’t add up.
Well, everything added up here. He confessed to the crime, the knife was found in his home, he gave the police the shorts he wore when he killed her, etc. Sometimes foreigners do get banged up here and forced to confess to crimes they didn’t commit but this didn’t seem to be one of those times.
I don’t know why but I decided to Google around a bit for the MadYank. I found some threads on message boards popping up with news of his arrest. Many automatically assumed he had been set up by the cops looking to make an arrest. Comments like the one below were common in the message board threads:
Yeah, this looks bad especially considering how corrupt the Thai police are etc.
Others worried about the prison conditions in Thailand and if they were really as bad as they’re made out to be. Most people were in complete disbelief.
But then as the story developed and it seemed more and more certain that he actually did commit the crime of which he was accused, people started to feel sorry for him. And that’s where I sort of separated ways with them.
While I can appreciate people who feel sorry for the direction his life taken, I noticed that few if any people even bothered to say anything about the girl. I can only speculate that it’s because she was a prostitute from a third world country and not a cute, blonde who had her whole life ahead of her. It was hard to find even one person who mentioned her by name. Instead she was “the bar girl” or “a Thai hooker.” Victoria Coren‘s personal glimpse into her friendship with Fanelli was surprisingly the closest I’ve seen to anyone having any compassion for the girl he murdered.
I’m certainly not looking to lecture people but I do think it’s important to remember that Wanphen Pienjai was an actual human being. She may have chosen to become a prostitute but does that afford her a lesser place on the totem pole just because she wasn’t a washed up poker player?
Wanphen was the mother of two children that she had with a previous husband. Her daughter, named Farm, is 3 years old. Her son Iang is in the sixth grade (not sure how old but probably around 10 or 11). She was financially supporting her partially blind mother who is now charged with taking care of Wanphen’s two children without any form of financial support since Wanphen was an only child.
That much I do know for sure because it’s been in the local press. What I don’t know for sure is how she ended up working the bar scene. I can take a pretty good guess though because nearly every bar girl has some sort of variation on the same plotline.
While most tourists here see the “big” cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, and Phuket the vast majority of the country is living in third-world conditions. Most of the population live in an area in the North-East called Isaan (or Issarn). They grow rice, rubber trees, and all sorts of agricultural products for domestic consumption and export.
Wanphen comes from Phetchaboon in Issaan, a place I’ve actually visited so I’ve seen the living conditions first hand. Many people still live in wooden huts and shacks there.
Just piecing together what’s been publically available, her husband probably left her stuck with the two young children. At best, she probably had a high-school level education which in Thailand really doesn’t qualify you to do anything other than manual labor.
The girls working at my local convenience mart make about 6000 baht per month. That’s $181 USD. That’s probably the best legitimate type of salary she could hope for. And that’s working 12 hours per day, six days per week.
So faced with having two children to support as well as her partially blind mother she ventured off to one of the places that girls can actually make a decent wage. The local press says that she worked in Pattaya for a while and had only recently decided to move to Phuket.
I’m sure this was not the life she envisioned for herself as a little girl but Thailand has absolutely no safety net. There is no unemployment insurance. There is no government pension. There’s nothing. And if you get stuck raising two small children and having to care for your parent, well that’s just your bad luck.
So to put food in her kid’s mouths she left the bar with Fanelli having no idea that his life was on an out of control downward spiral.
I guess I have a hard time feeling the sympathy for Fanelli because I’ve seen loads of Fanelli’s here in Thailand. Much like Las Vegas, Thailand is intoxicating. But like any intoxicant, it can be dangerous if you let it control you.
Fanelli is where he’s at because he couldn’t control it. He made various choices in his life that put him where he’s at. And he could have just as easily made different choices and been in a different place.
Wanphen was there because of circumstances beyond her control. She didn’t choose to be born poor or have her husband stick her with supporting two kids on her own. Those are just the cards life dealt her and she tried to make the best of what she had.
And somehow fate brought their two lives together which ended in the loss of her life. So while many people who knew Fanelli from a different time in his life might feel sympathy for a life turned so wrong keep in mind his victim who was also a real person with a real life.
And in true Thai style, Wanphen’s mother only had this to say about Fanelli, “I haven’t seen the guy [Fanelli] yet, but people have called me and asked how such a handsome man could be so cruel. I am happy the police caught him, but I still feel very sad at losing my daughter. Nothing can ever bring her back.”
Anyone wishing to contribute to a scholarship program to help Wanphen’s two children can send money:
Rotary Club of Patong Beach Charity Account
Siam Commercial Bank
46/3 Chao Fah Rd
T. Taladneung, A. Muang
Phuket Thailand 83000