Tag Archives: Bangkok

Day 10: pierced!


Eating falafel at the Kao San Road night market

Eating falafel at the Kao San Road night market

Tonight we went to the “Hippie Night Market” on Kao San Road. It is a fascinating look at the backpacker culture from all over the world. There are many hostels lining the road, many bars, many young backpackers from mainly the west, and all kinds of food, clothes, fake IDs,  jewelry, and souvenirs for sale.

My friend Stephanie, American but from the Philippines, had gotten her nose pierced here a few years ago, while at the conference. Her daughter Mona also has her nose pierced.

Not a month ago I had said to a friend, who said she’d like to get her nose pierced someday, “not me!”

So much for that… I’d love to show you a picture, but I’m not sure a close-up of my nose would be very attractive…

Day 8: Night Light, small world

Nana districtTuesday afternoon we went to visit Night Light, an organization working to rescue women and girls out of prostitution.  They apologized that we were not able to meet Annie, the founder, as she happens to be in Los Angeles this week.

On Tuesday and Friday nights groups of women from Night Light go into the bars and basically hang out with the prostitutes working there.  They are not hidden in their agenda—their purpose in being there is to help the women and girls leave prostitution.

Apparently the Mamasans (basically, the female pimps) don’t mind this, and, in one case, have even asked some of the Night Light women to come teach English to the prostitutes.

A few from our group went to have a tour of the Night Light facility—the girls who are rescued are given jobs making jewelry (which is then sold online, if you’re interested in purchasing any or hosting a jewelry party to support this work) so that they have an alternative means to support themselves.

Aft the tour we met up with those who do the outreach. They intentionally have dinner in places where the prostitutes hang out (makes me think of Jesus, being criticized by the religious leaders for ‘hanging out with prostitutes’) so we went to a hotel where many Russian and Uzbek women work.

During dinner I spoke with one of the Night Light women, Emily, who mentioned that she was from London and would be going to Belfast in the next few weeks. I mentioned that I would too, to visit friends Stuart and Julianne there. “What’s Stuart’s surname?” asked Emily. When I told her she responded, “I think I know him. We met at a conference in Vienna.”

So, there we were, an American and a Londoner, sitting at dinner in Bangkok, in a hotel worked by Russian and Uzbek prostitutes, with a mutual friend in Belfast that she had met in Vienna and I had met in Scotland (well, also technically in Princeton).

The next morning I got an email from a friend in Los Angeles. She was writing to tell me that she had just been to a church service the night before, where a woman was there, telling about her organization in Thailand that helps to rescue women out of prostitution.  “Her name wouldn’t happen to be Annie, would it?” I emailed back.

So, on Tuesday night in Bangkok, I was meeting Emily who knows my friend Stuart, and getting a tour of an organization that the very same Tuesday night, in LA, my friend was hearing about from its founder…

Small world?


Day 7: man does not live by slogans alone?

Ironically, after making reference to Rush Limbaugh in yesterday’s reflections, I had a related conversation today.

I overheard one of the conference participants, a man from the US, talking about Obama and how terrible he has been for the United States. My dad used to be a big eavesdropper, and the joke was that once he almost fell out of his chair, he was leaning so far to overhear.

I couldn’t help but chime in, even though to do so would admit my own eavesdropping. I asked the man about his statement, and admitted that I actually have been quite supportive of Obama (in the interest of disclosure, I figured he should know why I was asking). 

His responses were fascinating to me. “He was the most liberal member of congress,” “he is making America into a socialist country,” “his campaign was deceptive” were a few of the reasons he gave.

It reminded me of a conversation I had during the primaries, with friends who supported Hillary Clinton. What struck me at that time, and again in this conversation, was that they seemed to be slogans that were simply repeated. These slogans were all things I had already heard in the media, both from those who were supporting Hilary Clinton, and those who were opposed.  There was no new content in them, and, for the most part, they were not explained or defined. They were just launched, like a grenade whose rhetorical impact could then be lobbed over to the ‘other side.’

I’m not claiming to be immune from this. I don’t mean to say it is only done by Republicans, or only done by Hilary Clinton supporters, or not done by me or people like me.

What fascinates me is that it seems to, thus, actually prevent any sort of real communication from happening.

The ‘meat’ of this conference is something called ‘manuscript study.’ I am in a group that is looking at the second half of the book of Mark. We take turns reading a passage to ourselves, discussing it at our tables in small groups, and then discussing it as a larger group. The question we are to keep before us, at all times, is ‘what did you see’ and then, ‘where did you see it?’

The point is to keep us rooted in the text. But even in these first few days I have seen how easy it is to ‘sloganize.’ In that sloganizing, I wonder, does it keep us from real communication? 

Day 6: perspectives

Sunday was our first full conference day. Our days are spent doing ‘manuscript study’ and our evenings are spent hearing stories from around the world as well as discussions around different issues of missiology. The people who are here come from many places around the world.

When I came four years ago it was one of the most interesting, richest, and fascinating weeks of my life. I’ve been trying to figure out why.

I think one piece is that I love meeting people from other places–people who are different from me, and have a different view of the world–and hearing their stories.

I talked with one man of Asian background (specific details are intentionally ommitted to protect privacy) who had lived in the US but a number of years ago moved back to his home country.

He asked me what I thought about Obama, then I asked him back. “Obama has given hope to minorities all over the world. They too might be president or prime minister someday in their own countries (Asian) where they now have little voice.”

I asked him about the economic downturn, and the perspective of people where he lives. “We hope that the policies of the US do not fail. If the US fails, we all fail.”

I wonder if Rush Limbaugh, and those who follow him–many of whom also follow Jesus–have considered that consequence?

Day 5: Chatuchak weekend market

for sale

for sale

Saturday morning we headed out, via taxi (upside of taxis in Bangkok: even an hour-long taxi ride can be as little as $1-2. Downside of taxis in Bangkok: sometimes, due to the excessive amounts of traffic, it is an hour-long taxi ride to go a few miles.) to the Chatuchak weekend market. Imagine a cross between a giant flea market and a sauna.

Everything is for sale at the Chatuchak market. Everything. Food (both to eat there and to take home to cook), pottery, Hello Kitty-esque umbrellas, clothing of all sorts, puppies, furniture, massage oil, antiques, plants…

It’s also FULL of people, locals and tourists alike. So, with the already hot and humid temperatures in Bangkok, plus the mass of humanity, and the occasional plastic tarp-roofed aisle ways, though it makes for some good bargains, it also makes for some sauna-like conditions.

I did manage to learn a few new Thai phrases in one of the shops where I stopped to bargain over a souvenir gift. One of the ways that I enjoy interacting with people when I am visiting their culture is to ask them to teach me some words in phrases. Without fail, in more developing countries, this has gotten a warm and friendly response.  It hasn’t worked so well for me in Paris.

Here are a few of the phrases (apologies for my weak attempts at phonetic spelling):

  • Kun sabay di may:  How are you?
  • Sabay di ka/kap: Fine thank you. (women say ka, men kap)
  • Tao lie:   How much is this?
  • Kun chil at lai: What is your name?
  • Chan chi: My name is

Day 4: modern day slavery?

“Children from Southeast Asia represent the highest number of sex abuse victims in Thailand. High numbers of children aged 6-13 were found to have been sexually abused in major tourist cities such as Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, and Chiang Mai.”  -The Bangkok Post

Friday a group of us met with folks from World Vision’s regional office here in Bangkok to talk about issues of human trafficking, specifically as it relates to women and children. The Presbyterian Church has committed to addressing issues of human trafficking, and our group includes some of the people tasked with that issue. 

The term ‘smuggling’ refers to a situation where folks intentionally and knowingly leave their country for hope of a better life in another country. ‘Trafficking’ is when those people are deceived, trapped, or kidnapped, often from poorer or vulnerable areas into cities and sold as workers in sex tourism or slave-like labor conditions.

Thailand is a major source and destination for the trafficking of women and children, according to the World Vision folks. “Awareness raising is an important part of the issue. If people are invisible, or not seen as important, then they are more easily able to be abused,” they shared.

Part of the strategy of World Vision is to increase what they call ‘resiliency’ in local communities, which then makes it less likely that children will become vulnerable prey to the traffickers.

On Tuesday night a few of us are suppose to go visit one of the organizations that works to rescue women and children  who have been trafficked into the Pat Pong area, the destination (even mentioned in guidebooks) for those who benefit from this exploitation.  

Day 3: a few Bangkok impressions

taxi devotion1.     Sweating is a given.   Don’t even try to fight it. 

2.     You can buy just about anything off the streets. Curry, raw fish, fresh vegetables, ‘street food’ to go, underwear, clothes, and, unfortunately, people.

3.     Bangkok is a feast for the senses. Walking down the street you are almost assualted by the feeling of the heat, smells of burning incense and food cooking, sight of brightly colored orchids and flowers for the shrines, and the sounds, almost deafening in certain areas, of cicadas in the trees and gridlocked traffic of tuk tuks, motorcycles, taxis and cars jamming the streets.

4.     Smiling at people can get an amazing response. This morning I went for an early walk along the streets near the hotel. As I passed by, clearly a ‘farong’ (foreigner) both in my complexion and my dress, I noticed something. If I just walked by, people tended to ignore me. But, if I smiled at them, almost immediately I got a huge smile back. I may not speak much Thai, but a lot can be communicated in that simple gesture.

5.      I love Thai food. Yesterday’s “7 Baat per minute (Thai currency, about 35 Baat to $1) luncheon buffet was a delightful feast. At first I thought it meant that if you could fill your plate from the buffet in under a minute, you’d only pay 7 Baat (about 20 cents).  Then I realized, the timer was set (on an actual time clock, like when you clock in for work) when you got up to get your food, and was stopped when you were done eating.  The five of us ended up paying about 200 Baat each to stuff ourselves full of curry, rice, sashimi, tuna rolls, and dessert, or, about $6.

6.     Globalization is alive and well. Just yesterday we passed numerous 7-11s, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Kentucky Fried Chicken, A&W root beer. Piracy of movies, cds, software, and all sorts of electronic devices is also alive and well, with an entire five-story mall selling such goods.

7.     Often developing countries can be more ‘green’ than we are in the US. I’m guessing this is out of necessity, rather than ‘environmentalism.’ For instance, in the hotel room, the lights and the AC will not turn on without the room key in a special slot. That means, when you leave, you can’t help but turn them all off. For us, it is almost unnoticable when we participate in what I call, “The Ease of Waste.