Dai and I go back a few years. She is one of the sweetest people I know, warm hearted and quick to smile. She told me she wanted to be a ladyboy right from the age of seven or eight.
Dai is shy to the point of having little self-confidence, and when I tell her she is beautiful she sinks down into her chair and covers her face. "No, not beautiful," she says. But she is. She is a complete natural, a blending of boy and girl, and she does it with minimal makeup and no hormones. In fact, I prefer her with no makeup, as when she does apply some to do her job as a cashier, she usually puts on too much rouge.
Her skin is very pale, she could almost pass as a European, and the rouge makes her look like she's been out in the sun. So I tell her that, and of course it does no good for her already faltering self-esteem. "You very horrible man," she says.
Dai is from Issan, the huge rural area to the northeast of Thailand, stretching all the way from the central plains to the Mekong. She doesn't have any of the usual physical characteristics of the people of that region, and she told me recently that one side of her family was originally from Vietnam.
Does anyone else in your family look like you, I asked her. "No." That's lucky, I said. "Don't make fun of me," she wailed.