A piece of cardboard behind a 7-Eleven in Klong Toey harbor is the home of Jane Sorensen, the daughter of the Danish Boatswain Villy Sorensen, who through the years from 1964 to 1974 sailed between Denmark and Thailand on either an EAC or a Maersk ship.
She dreams that nieces and nephews in Denmark would come to help her, if only they knew about her.
I met Jane Sorensen because I was getting tired.
My wife, Dao, and I had been filming research material for an exhibition at the The M/S Maritime Museum of Denmark located in Helsingør, Denmark all afternoon. The museum wanted us to find people who still remembered Mosquito Bar and the many Danish sailors who spent longer or shorter time in Bangkok’s Klong Toey harbour.
Eventually, I sat down on the steps outside the 7-eleven shop opposite to where the Mosquito Bar used to be, but where there today is just an empty parking lot.
An elderly lady sat next to me and I started a casual conversation with the question if she had lived here for a long time. She answered in surprisingly good English, that she had lived here her whole life.
“What’s your name,” I asked.
“My name is Jane Sorensen, my father is Danish,” she replied. “My father’s name is Villy Sorensen,” she added.
I was stunned. I called my wife over to film our first interview with Jane for the Museum and hurried back to the office to report the scoop.
Over the next couple of days, we shot more video clips with the today 59 year old Jane Sorensen, who goes by the nickname ‘Rose’ in the Klong Toey neighborhood. She took us to show where the house was, that she lived in together with her mother and father – when he was in Bangkok – and the quay where his ship was moored in Klong Toey harbour.
Jane’s dream is that the exhibition at the Museum and this article will eventually bring her in contact with her possible half-siblings in Denmark or their children. Maybe they would spare a bit of money so she would not have to sleep on a piece of cardboard on the ground behind the 7-eleven.
Jane was 10 years old, when her father left and never returned. In the beginning, she and her mother thought he would come back after a few months as usual. He had been doing that as long as Jane could remember. Then he would bring chocolate with him and she would ride on his shoulders and Mom would take him home and Jane had to go play outside.
But he didn’t come back.
“My Mom said “Pa will not come anymore, I think. That’s why we are having a bit of a hard time right now you and me. If Pa was here, he would help pay for your school, our rent and our food.”
Then Jane started helping her Mom selling food to the crews on the ships. They would cook a few dishes and steam rice at home, load it onto a push cart and go along the quay at lunch time and dinner time to sell it to the laborers loading or off-loading the ships. Sometimes they would also enter the ships and sell the dishes to the foreign sailors.
That is how Jane’s mother originally met Villy Sorensen, Jane explains. Her mother had twelve sons with her first husband. When the father of her brothers died, her mother moved to the Klong Toey and started selling food on the quay to take care of the family.
“I am the only one in the family with a Danish father,” Jane proudly says.
Villy Sorensen was a Boatswain also called Bosun on a Danish ship, probably one of Maersk’s ships going on a regular route – according to Jane – to Denmark, Sweden, Norway and back to Bangkok.
“Once he took me up on the ship. He was ordering everybody around, but he was kind to me. He took me into the lounge and he got me an ice cream from the freezer,” she recalls.
Shortly after her father left, she fell out of an empty building from the third floor and almost got herself killed. A boy had pushed her while playing, but she didn’t think he did it on purpose.
“I didn’t die because I landed in a sewage hole. When they pulled me out, I had broken my leg and hip. It took a long time to heal and that’s why I walk like this,” she explains the limp that is obvious when she tries to cross the road in front of the former Mosquito Bar in a hurry.
Jane started working at Mosquito Bar when she was 17. She couldn’t work like the other girls because she was crippled, but she had learned English from talking to her father and she was good with numbers, so she worked as a cashier.
Next to the Mosquito Bar there were also other popular bars, one of them Venus Bar, another was Copenhagen Bar and at the very end of the row of shophouses was a street restaurant, where she also worked. Around the corner was the Mariner’s Club with its many wall paintings of Danish landscapes with Danebrog flags and a big swimming pool in the center.
Later, when the whole row was demolished and turned into a parking lot, Jane moved along with many of the other girls to Pattaya. The Mariners Club was a few years later also demolished and today serves as a truck parking lot to the left immediately before the entry gate to the harbor. But Jane didn’t find life in Pattaya easy and eventually moved back to Klong Toey to work as a hired hand on a day by day basis in the restaurants for meals and a basic pay.
After we transferred the whole video material to the Maritime Museum of Denmark in Helsingør, we contacted the Danish Seafarers Union in the hope that the union might be able to go back in their records and find a Villy Sorensen.
Calculating his age today, we start off with the guess that he was pensioned when Jane was 10 years old and that was why he never returned. Jane is today 59 years old. It is 49 years ago that she last saw her father. If Villy was pensioned at 65 years of age, he would be 114 years old, so clearly he must have died many years ago.
However, the Seafarer’s Union or Maersk Line may have records of a Boatswain Villy Sorensen sailing on Bangkok during the ten years from 1964 until 1974. Possibly also earlier than this since he possibly didn’t meet Jane’s mother on his very first voyage to Bangkok.
If the assumption is right that Villy was pensioned in 1974, then Jane’s siblings would likely be older than Jane herself today and maybe likewise no longer be alive.
“But maybe I have nieces and nephews in Denmark who would help me,” Jane says with a dreaming smile.
Meanwhile, the cardboard home behind the 7-Eleven remains the harsh reality of Jane Sorensen’s life.
The project from the Danish Maritime Museum was to document local eyewitnesses of the effect and impression the many Danish sailors had on Klong Toey’s nightlife, in particular the Mosquito Bar in the 1960s to 1980s.
Mette Iversen, the project manager at the museum, had already interviewed a number of former Danish sailors and for many of them, the memories from Bangkok and especially Mosquito Bar were vivid in their minds.
“Most EAC sailors and Mærsk sailors have come to the bar and many have had relationships with local women – either short-term or more permanent relationships,” she explains.
“Some sailors have photos of the girls from the bar and maybe a first name, but no one has contact with them today. The sailors I have interviewed came to Bangkok in the 1960s and 1970s,” she adds, showing us some of the photos that the sailors shared with her.
Mette Iversen’s ambition was to get closer to the other side of the story – the memories that the many Danish sailors left among the local Thai’s in the area.
“We think it is important to hear their voices and gain an insight into how the Thai people experienced the meeting with Danish sailors,” Mette Iversen explains.
More info and photos about Mosquito Bar in Danish: https://www.snesejler.dk/bill77.htm