Tuesday 25 May 2010

My first night in Chiang Mai's red light district

Peter's reflections:
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.

Saturday 8 May 2010

Adventures in China

After an incredibly long journey, we arrived in a city where we were to stay. It was a large city of about 7 million people, (although for the Chinese, they would call it a small-medium sized town) high up in the mountains (2,000metres). The altitude was hard to cope with at first and we needed to drink a lot of water. You'd wake up in the middle of the night gasping for water; the air was very dry. The apartment we stayed in was very nice and clean with a live-in maid.

It was strange at first to adapt to the culture of eating all meals out. This is not something that is done on a special occasion in China, rather a daily occurrence for most. It is the culture and custom to share dishes and offer each other food. We thought our daily food budget of $2US per person was crazy and we expected to either starve or live on pot noodles. However, we discovered that we could eat out for three meals comfortably (in local 'simple' restaurants) for this money. Foreign foods, however, like KFC or Pizza Hut was an expensive treat!

Probably our most challenging, yet very rewarding activity were our trips to a school for poor, unregistered and orphaned children. On our first visit, without any prior warning, we were each asked to teach two 15minute English lessons – one after the other. Being totally unprepared, we had to frantically think on our feet (there were hundreds of children, split into groups of 40!). Thankfully we had translators, so we managed to survive. But, keeping the children's attention for such a length of time proved difficult. Our favourite thing to do there was playing with the very little ones, who were all incredibly
cute (over forty 2-4 year olds).

Becky and Li. Particularly, Becky got attached to a little girl called Li who took an instant liking to Becky and was very friendly, jumping and climbing all over us.

The orphanage was run by a kung foo master, so all the children learned Kung foo which they all performed to us (even the little ones had a go, which was very cute). Becky was tempted to adopt little Li but unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), she was already adopted by the Kung foo master!

We also visited other schools where we taught English and performed South African dances. Many Chinese have never actually met a foreigner, so this was a very big deal for these children and gave the schools a more privileged status in the community. As thankyou's we were given traditional minority ethnic paintings.

We spent a lot of time visiting various universities, English corners where students come to practice their English. We were told many times that we were the first foreigners that they'd ever met and they wanted to build a friendship and keep in touch.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Arrival in Hong Kong

Destination: China
We arrived in Hong Kong on the 1st April after some very long flights and a long layover in Doha. However, the layover wasn't wasted as we were able to have great conversations with some Japanese people in the airport.

We spent five days in Hong Kong. Mainly helping the people at the YWAM base in practical, physical/DIY ways. We also visited a few churches and were able to help by serving them as and where we could.

Our favourite was a youth service attended by numerous young Chinese people which was all in Cantonese (but luckily we had an interpreter!). It was great to sing along in Chinese! We had the opportunity to teach them some South African songs (including Bambalela).

Being in Hong Kong was also a great opportunity to meet people who work in China. They were able to give us a good detailed orientation on what to expect and how to behave in Chinese culture, amongst other things.

After a few days in Hong Kong, we prepared ourselves for our long journey into mainland China. We wanted to stay longer, but we had to leave for financial reasons (HK is quite expensive). It took us two days, including a 27-hour train journey to get to our destination in Yunnan province, southern China.