Hi. I find that i can write better when I'm really worked up about something.
Last week, me and Siau li went to Bangkok for 69 hours and 10 minutes. We have Airasia to thank for the cheap tickets and spur of the moment decisions. Call it a grad trip bah.
Here are the scratchings of our itinerary.
We spent 40 minutes lingering over this and coffee at the terminal. By the time we noticed the time, it was 30 minutes away from the scheduled flight.
the boarding pass says: "gate closes 20 minutes before departure time".
we ran for check in, witnessed the longest queue at the baggage scanning ever, got a nice guard to create a diversion and let us cut queue, the gate was closed, a helpful guy eventually told us to run for it. lots of "excuse me ... excuse me ... pant ... pant ... pant ... excuse me ...excuse me ... please dont let the gate be closed ... please dont let the gate be closed ... thank God ... why the hell is our gate the furthest ... pretty stewardess wait for us awhile longer ... please... please... sorry for being late..." and PHEW. sank in seat.
all out of breath and sweaty.
what a gross but memorable way to begin our journey!
We mostly travelled by BTS, the efficient sky train of Bangkok.
also, minimal amounts of tuk tuk, taxi, and shuttle boats.
HUMONGOUS AMOUNTS of journey on foot. my poor soles. our poor backs.
I think, Bangkok is a city of
misleading washroom signage (is that.. a guy or a girl? *waits for someone to emerge*)
and gorgeous architecture.
worryingly tangled phone lines
and amusing chamberpots (the frog is for ladies, while the men can remove the cat's head)
you'll never run out of things to see
people watching is top notch, and
tourism is their forte; as demonstrated by this helpful free shuttle from Jim Thompson's house. (Jeem Tonpsom~)
Bangkok is also a city of incredibly spicy food.
and sickeningly sweet ices.
we chugged icy coke like plain water.
McThai is exemplary in regards to juicy Samurai Pork Burger & surprisingly good Nam Tok Chicken Rice. that nam tok chicken rice is a MUST TRY! too bad its a seasonal item on the menu :(
not to mention the soothing air conditioning.
Bangkok is the only place where one plows on with shopping even with aching feet and backs, and nearly empty wallets.We just sat down on benches for intervals of rest, and then getting on with the battle.
Now that the pictures are over with, here are some fat thoughts.
siau li kept observing their way of life, and we had lots of discussions and questions.
We want to know why is Bangkok so awesome yet it's still rated a third world country. We want to know why are there so many prostitutes in the city. We want to know why are the prices so cheap. We want to know why are there so many women manning the businesses.
We want to know whether English is in their education syllabus. We want to know whether there are any non-spicy food around. We want to know why is prostitution so rampant in a city filled with super fervent Buddhists. We want to know why is Bangkok seemingly so much more cleaner than KL. We want to know why does the city seem so safe.
We want to know why their university students still wear uniforms. We want to know why is the advertising industry so interesting. We enjoyed dissecting the Thai language's lilts. We (mainly me) wanted to buy some books set in Thailand or written by Thais to know more about the country (It didn't happen due to me being more materialistic than culturally inclined).
We endlessly compared Bangkok with KL and Singapore. The fresh breath of creativity, the smiles, the comfortable level of cleanliness. We congratulated ourselves when we managed to recognize some basic thai phrases.
Soi means Street! Mai Pen Rai means It's Okay!
When we came back, sun burnt and laden with shopping bags, we had our guesses, but the questions went unanswered.
Until I went to Ethel's house and happened upon this book by chance. Titled "Only 13-the true story of Lon" (go google it yourself), it's basically a biography of a girl who began prostituting herself when she was 13 years old. She came from the northeastern part of Thailand, where the people are called Isaan. these villages are really impoverished, as evidenced by the wooden, holey huts and lack of opportunities. Education is limited and the dreadfully closed cultural mindset is the source of many problems.
Her family beat her up, made her do most of the jobs, (since she's the eldest daughter), wanted to have "face", etc. I'm not quite sure how to summarize this story, but most of our questions were answered here. Basically the horrifying poverty (on average, rm300 salary per month) caused most Isaan girls to move to the cities where there are more opportunities.
But in these cases, they usually end up being tricked or lured into the sex trade.
Hence begins an endless cycle of mental anguish and deteriorating self worth.
the book isn't well written but what do you expect from someone who has standard 3 level of education and learnt all her English from the clients she services? (she has 2 biographers writing for her actually, but it reads more like a diary)
There are many points that i gleaned from the book which gave me insight into the country, making many things clear. first thing. the reason so many women work instead of men is due to the difference in cultural expectation.
money and opportunities should be given to men first.
secondly, the reason there were such incredible amounts of prostitutes in thailand is due to the extreme poverty, lack of education, and desperation.
thirdly, the reason most of them can't speak english is also due to the lack of opportunities, education, and financial difficulties. (payment for public schools can require borrowing from moneylenders). furthermore English in the syllabus only begin when the students are 15 years old or something.
you clean the disco for RM300 a month. you sell your virginity to a 50 year old for RM3000. what do you do?
The saddest thing is, one can call Lon calculative or whatever, but she is the product of a sickening system which gave her zero self-worth.
I'm rambling. the main point is, bangkok isn't as glitzy as it looks like, and the terrible treatment of the government has scarred the lives of many young girls. Lon prostituted herself. at 13. a client regularly urinates on her face, beat her up and performed various other degrading acts. she earned up to RM8000 a month, with RM100 per customer. i can't begin to imagine the life she went through.
At times she appeared seriously stupid to keep earning money for her parasitic family, justifying her actions by her culture's family values, it can become an annoying read. Many western men are swindled by her, and she appears really shallow, money minded, and i can't understand why she keeps sending her hard earned money to her mother who doesn't even appreciate it.
One of her reasons is that she didn't want her sisters to go down the same route, but I'm sickened that her mother can close an eye to her daughter prostituting herself to sick old men for a new motorbike or a new wall for the house or whatever. HOW CAN SHE SLEEP AT NIGHT?
It all ties up neatly. From my experience seeing the seriously impoverished villages in Chiang Mai, and comparing the glitz in Bangkok, and then reading her story, Thailand has become suddenly clearer to me.
A study in 2007 by Rushing and Contreras of Princeton has stated that "The sex industry has surpassed rice exports and become an essential economic pillar of Thailand."
Great. a government that deliberately keeps its people poor and uneducated so that they can continue the flood of poor young girls to fuel the economy. did i mention that some brothels and discos are owned by high ranked police officers?
She is now in a psychiatric hospital in UK, with serious schizophrenic tendencies and a myriad of other mental problems. The life she led isn't a life fit for any living being.
there isn't any happy ending in this story.
So, that's Thailand for you. a beautiful country, hiding a rotting economic skeleton built on the lives and souls of poor, hungry, young girls.
God, I pray for them.