MONDAY, 24 MAY 2010
My first night in Chiang Mai’s red light district
My heart goes out to Emmi. She has a passion, love and commitment to bringing the love of Jesus into some of the darkest places of Thailand.
Seeing her father kill her mother at the age of 3, then sold into slavery by her grandparents at the age of 6, Emmi herself has faced some tough situations. Thankfully, she was rescued before anything bad could happen to her, but her best friend who was sold at the same time, wasn’t so fortunate.
“It’s only by the grace of God that I was rescued,” Emmi told us. “I was too young at the time to do anything about helping my best friend”. Eventually, however, Emmi managed to track her friend down; she had contracted HIV which had developed to AIDS and she was in the final stages of her young life. Emmi’s heart went out to her friend as she sat by her bedside. She shared her testimony – about how God rescued her – and her friend gave her life to Jesus. Within a month, Emmi’s friend was gone.
Emmi’s own story has moulded her. “God planted this ministry in my heart”, she said. She took us to one of the red light districts of Chiang Mai. On the surface, the area seems a friendly, welcoming and open. It’s warm cultured, with everyone saying ‘Sawadeekaa’ to you as you pass by and smiling. Thailand is, after all, the nation of smiles.
But scratch below the surface and you’ll find people being controlled. Fear of ‘letting down’ the trafficker or pimp is high and image is everything. As you walk down the street, you know that you’re being watched. Having Emmi there was very insightful. She told us what was being said in Thai that the foreigners (mainly middle-aged men) are oblivious to. On this street you can buy sex for as little as £4. For £10 you’ll get whatever you want for the whole night.
There is a darkness over this place that is hard to describe. Each bar hard one or two men older white men sitting alone, drinking. Meanwhile, ladies, dressed provocatively smile and joke in groups. Some tables had one or two women chatting to the man (who was often in his 40s or 50s).
While we were standing on the corner, a guy on a motorbike dropped off a few kids who couldn’t be much older than six or seven years old. He spoke to them in Thai: “Go sell these flowers. You’d better sell them all if you want to sleep or eat tonight”. Trying to help, we bought them some small snack food. Becky handed them the food and, with the help of Emmi translating, told them that we bought it because Jesus loves him. He took the food and walked across the street to a dark corner and handed them to a man who was waiting for him. Once he’d handed the food over to the man, the kid continued trying to sell the flowers.
Emmi, having compassion, then bought some flowers off the kid, realising that he really wasn’t going to eat if he didn’t sell them all. I watched this in amazement. Everything inside me wanted to take the snacks from the man and give them back to the children. From several strategic locations these traffickers sit, watching their ‘workers’ do the dirty work, whilst they collect the ‘reward’. They watch the women; they watch the children; and they were watching us. My view went from the warm fuzzy feeling when people smile and say ‘welcome’ – which Thai’s are famous for – to the sick feeling you get in your stomach when you know that something is most definitely wrong.
The traffickers have a tight control over this area. There was no police to be seen. They know who is a punter and who is a troublemaker. The ‘peaceful’ atmosphere has been manufactured and it is entirely false in this area. Very different to most other parts of the city, where the welcome feels and I believe is, genuine. I could only describe this like a piece of rotten fruit, which as been covered in sugar. On the surface it looks really good, and sweet, but underneath it is rotten and disgusting. The lust-filled foreign men, who visit these areas do not look happy or contented. Neither do the women. In their eyes, and behind the smiles, they look so depressed. They do not have joy in their hearts. The old men lie to themselves about how these ladies and children are treated to ease their own conscience. They want to believe the lie that these ladies tell them that they are happy and do it voluntarily. They tell themselves that they’re ‘supporting the Thai economy’ and ‘helping feed’ poor hungry children by buying flowers from them. But if you look deeply enough, you’ll see, I’m sure, that they know fully well in their heart of hearts that they are fueling an industry which is crippling and destroying the lives of so many people in this beautiful country.
I honestly felt sick walking down that street. I asked God to take away my anger and frustration as I was helpless to do anything to help these people trapped in the circus of trafficking.
Shame and honour is a huge part of Thai identity. I cannot think of anything more shameful than putting innocent men, women and children through this nightmare life, where most live a short and very unfulfilled, unhappy life. I pray that God restores true honour to these people: brings reconcilliation between him and the traffickers and him and those trafficked. That repentence and healing is brought and truth prevails.
Peter & Becky Clemison