I cried a little writing this. Sometimes, I am ashamed to be a man…
I was 21 years old and I went to Thailand. A guy I knew who was very cool had been there, so I thought that perhaps if I went to Thailand, I’d be cool too. As far as I can remember that was my motivation… and I guess I wanted to grow up a little.
Well, I grew up a little.
It’s funny. Before I left, my Mum begged me to promise to call her every day. I thought she was insane and I assured her in no uncertain terms that I would not be giving her daily progress reports. As it turned out, she had good reason to worry!
I’d planned to stay 3 nights in Bangkok, and then get on a train and go North. It didn’t work out that way…
When I arrived, I headed for the area where all the tourists usually stay. I forget the name (Khao San road?), but it’s very well know. And actually, the place I ended up staying is the place where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character stays in the movie The Beach. I was there first, but only for one night.
I was 21 years old and alone in a very strange land. I went down the steps into the sitting area below and ordered a beer. I remember feeling like a fish out of water. I don’t know what I was thinking, going to Thailand. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin, let alone South East Asia. But there I was…
And there were a couple of old Thai Dudes playing chess, and I sat near them and plucked up the courage to watch. In the end, I had a game with one of them (my Dad taught me to play chess when I was about 5 years old, and by the time I was 15 I was beating him consistently. He was a very, very sore loser, and wouldn’t speak to me after we played. He’d just go to bed sulking. I never let him win though, even though my Mum asked me to when he was sick. I couldn’t do that to him. I loved him too much).
Anyway, here’s what happened in Bangkok:
I played a little chess with this old Thai Dude and he was a bit of a charmer. After our game, he invited me out for some “traditional Thai food and music”. I was really happy – I wanted to get to know the real Thailand, not just the Khao San road (or whatever it’s called). So off we went… and ended up in this fairly tacky looking restaurant. The manager was floating around us, wringing his hands and doing his best “I’m servile and I’ll do anything for a tip” act. The band played synthesized Western rock songs. It was awful. And the only other thing I remember from the evening was the girl with black eyes…
The Thai dude called over the manager and whispered in his ear, and the manager scuttled off somewhere and came back a few minutes later with a young Thai girl. I’d say she was 11 years old. I’m usually very good at guessing people’s ages. I usually get it spot on.
I’d say she was 11. But she had black eyes. I don’t mean the color – although, I think that the color of her eyes was black too. What I mean is that there was no light – no light, whatsoever – in her eyes. There was only darkness.
Can you imagine? Have you ever seen a child with no light in their eyes? It’s unimaginable. Her eyes weren’t eyes. They were black holes.
She stood in front of me, and looked through me. I could feel her discomfort, her total unease… no, her hate.
The Thai Dude told me that for a few dollars I could do whatever I wanted with her, and for a few dollars more I could have her for the night.
The charm, and the chit-chat, and the chess game, and the pretense, all fell away. I felt sick to my stomach.
I leaned forward to try to talk to this girl; to reassure her that I didn’t want anything from her. But she recoiled. She didn’t speak a word of English, and she trusted me as much as all the other men she’d ever known.
I wanted to rescue her. I wanted to pull out my Uzi and kill every motherfucker in there – the band, The Dude, the manager, and any other cunt who had a part in all of this. I wanted to throw this girl over my shoulder and get her the fuck out of there.
I didn’t have an Uzi, but I swear to God I would have killed those people with my bare hands there and then if there had been a chance of helping her. If she had seen me for who I was, and let me help her, I would have. But there was nothing I could do.
The feeling I had was like when you are in a restaurant, and you see a lobster being taken out of the tank and dropped into boiling water. This girl with black eyes was like an 11-year-old girl in boiling water, and I was powerless to help her.
In the end all I could do was stand up and walk out of there. I walked out into the night, no clue where I was, and somehow found my way back to the hotel. The next day I left Bangkok. I couldn’t stand to stay there any longer.
I’ll never forget that girl, and how she looked right through me.
Edit: After writing this, Jana Dvorska kindly brought this facebook page to my attention: DNA Foundation (set up by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore to work towards the elimination of sex slavery worldwide).
And Steve Jennings kindly put me in touch with Call and Response – do YOU want to help eliminate slavery? There’s an app for that… have a look.
Finally, please share this through your social media and email, and bring more attention to an issue that is still unfortunately both widespread and taboo.