The time in my life when I had to challenge my paradigms and assumptions the most was when I visited Thailand and Vietnam with my partner. My partner previously lived and worked in Thailand and Vietnam for four years so he sees it as a second home and probably would of stayed out there if we had not got together when we did.
I wasn’t complete in the dark concerning these countries, obviously my partner had told me many stories of his travels and I had read up about it before we went. All I can say is nothing really prepared me for the things I was about to see.
I knew that the sex industry was very full on and ‘in your face’ in many places but what completely astounded me was the attitudes of these workers and those around them. Being a sex worker is so completely ‘normal’ in Thailand, it’s a strange ambience to be surrounded by. The women that I met who work in this industry are just some of the nicest I have ever met, I couldn’t believe how positive and happy they were. I’m not sure I could be so strong if my life had been mapped out in such a way and my future choices so limited. I remember speaking to one family who had told me how thrilled they were when they found out their son was gay, explaining that this would mean he would bring more money into the family in the future. It is hard to hear mothers talking about their children in this way.
Whilst in Vietnam I was very shocked at how young the children who sold flowers and other little souvenirs on the street at night were. Some were not more than four or five years old. These little girls were so happy and oblivious to the attention they were receiving from grown men who were openly groping them while their mother’s looked on. I wanted to do something about it but was told that it would be unwise. In the end I managed to get the little girl away from the man by buying a few things from her. I then gave her mother some money to let the little girl sit with us for the evening, feeling uneasy that she would only be safe for one evening and that there were many more more like her out there. Her mother saw my concern and explained that her daughter was being prepared for a future that was predetermined. My own daughter is five years old, I can’t imagine what this would be like.
There is also an incredible amount of mistreatment of animals. I saw a cat grabbed off the street and strangled in front of my eyes. Elephants being mistreated if they didn’t perform tricks in Bangkok for the amusement of tourists. Although I am told that many people keep dogs as pets now and the mistreatment is reducing due to the fact it doesn’t bode well with tourists. I also visited a tiger sanctuary where the animals were looked after by Buddhist monks which was a lovely place to be.
What shocked me the most was my partners complete acceptance of this place and the things that go on, stuff which he would never of accepted in the UK. Perhaps this was due to the amount of alcohol he used to consume then (a lot, before we had children). He just said to me that it was ‘just the way it is’ out there. This doesn’t sit well with me. My values are the same wherever I am in the world. Some things are just inherently wrong. But, what can we do to help?
Reading this post back to myself it sounds so negative. Thailand and Vietnam are beautiful countries with some of the loveliest people I have ever met. There are people and places I wouldn’t of missed for the world as well as things I’d rather forget. These are just my experiences, other people’s will be completely different. I am grateful I went there before I had children, I’m not sure I could visit there again now.