The atmosphere was a sick smell of gasoline and sweat as my eyes were stained with flashes of technicolor. Girls lined the edge of the market like bar section. We stepped in and clearly were out of place. The questioning stares, the invitation to sit down, and the dark eyes. The farang (foreigner) bars are in the quiet season, but there were customers there. Ranging from mid-twenties to mid seventies. I got a sick feeling in my stomach as I made eye contact with lustful eyes. The feeling of someone lusting after you is detrimental in how you see yourself. A feeling I only know a fraction of to what these girls feel. Some girls had softer eyes, perhaps newer to the industry. Others were hard and dark, but the desperation is still the same. I have never had to sell my body for sex to survive. I have never been so hungry that the only way to eat is to sell my body to lusty old men. As we walked along the street I noticed men in bars that sat by themselves. Some chatting with younger asian girls dressed in tight clothing. To a foreigner, the street may look unsuspecting. But behind the lines of fancy lights and friendly smiles, there is a desperation of poverty that is fed by sex tourism. I made eye contact with one of the girls in high heels and tight clothes that sat outside of a bar. She nodded at me and I conjured up a half smile and nodded in return. She was no more than twenty-four years of age. Perhaps she was my age. Nodding to one another acknowledge the similarity we have. We both are human and we both are women. But I felt the sadness seep into my aching heart as thoughts came to mind about why she is in the position she is. What sadness or poverty brought her here. Why have I been blessed with control over what I do with my body and she does not. What justice is offered to these girls? What sickness brings people to purchase other humans to fill their own satisfaction? It’s sickening. Its makes my heart turn to anger and disgust.
We continued our journey by driving around and looking at the high class places of prostitution to the low class places. Anywhere from high end spas to brothels where children are came into view. Some venues are for foreigners. Many are for only Thai. And many are only for Japanese tourists. We drove by one place that was only for Asian customers. I saw the line of girls in tight clothing and their make-up done in a line facing one man. All I saw was him discussing with the men next to him and pointing. Walking around the bars did not seem to make me uncomfortable as I thought. It seemed similar to walking around the Portland area on a Saturday night. The stares did not bother me because I knew I was out of place. But perhaps the lack of feeling totally uneasy comes from knowledge and compassion. My heartaches for these people will not solve their problems. I cannot change a whole system that exploits people for sex either. I know that God is even these low places. Where girls and boys have to fight for survival and to feed their families. The only glimpse of humanity I saw in the night was a Thai couple on a moto that had a sweetness about them. Their eyes were bright and perhaps do not know the harshness of the night as do the girls I saw. Even as I am typing this, there are thousands of people who are forced to do things they do not wish to do because of their socio-economic status. A heartbreaking reality that I am not sure how to handle yet. We drove by buildings that have anywhere from eight to eighty girls who are selling themselves. There were truckloads, carloads, and people on motos who unloaded themselves at these places for sex. I do not understand it. I don’t understand how there is a whole culture around it. 14% of Thailand’s GDP is the sex industry. Many people benefit from it, and many have no other choice other than to be in it. Why is the world so sick that people use one another for gain? Gain at the cost of disease, shame, low self-esteem, heartache, broken families, low status, and sometimes even death. At what cost!? I am not sure if I want to cry or throw up towards the state of humanity. Am I even capable or have the skills to help these people? I have many questions with complex responses.
Earlier in the day we had class in the morning then explored Chiang Mai. Me and another adventuremate walked around and orientated ourselves with the area. The streets were filled with many tourists, many of which who do not seem to be frequent travelers. There was a trendy coffee shop we went to, which is the first place that has soy milk that I have seen. After exploring we visited Urban Light. Urban Light is an organization that works with empowering boys who are exploited in the sex industry. Many think girls are the only ones trafficked or forced into the sex industry. However, many boys suffer as well in the desperation of poverty and have no means other than the sex industry to provide for themselves. Pedophilia is also a big issue in this area, which adds to the sickening feeling of children having to sell their bodies to strangers. Urban Light has a four story center for the boys, and they also do outreach in bars when there are no customers around. The center fluctuates in numbers and relies on donations for funding. It is a grassroots organization, which was interesting to see the struggles it faces because it is so small.
The material I am learning is harsh in nature. The sex industry is no longer something I read about it, it is the experience of seeing how it is on the streets first hand. It is girls just like me. Girls who are around my age who have had less opportunity. My skin color gives me privilege. My nationality gives me status. My economic position gives me opportunity. How come not all people are granted the same chance at life? One of the documentaries we saw a teenage boy asked “Why was I born poor?”. It is a question that defines the unfairness, the corruption, and the brokenness that seeks to ruin people’s lives. A burden that weighs on hearts as empty stomaches ache for peace. With a confused and heavy heart, I say my prayers of peace. Seeking answers on a dark road as heavy eyes turn to sleep.