Why I had to leave Bangkok after just one night. Part 1 – The Girl with Black Eyes. ~ Ben Ralston

Via Ben Ralston
on Aug 26, 2011
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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.

Part 2


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.



About Ben Ralston

Ben Ralston has been practising personal development—necessity being the Mother of invention—since he was about six years old. He’s been teaching and sharing what he’s learnt along the way for a couple of decades. His main thing is Heart of Tribe retreats—whose very purpose is to help you fall back in love with life, no less. Leading these retreats alongside his woman Kara-Leah Grant—also an elephant journal writer (that’s how they met!)—they combine a deep well of lineage-based yoga teaching experience, with expertise in healing trauma and various other methods of personal development. Ben also works with clients one-on-one via Skype, writes, makes videos from time to time, and is passionate about parenting. He lives in an intentional, tribal community in the hills of Croatia, where you might find him gardening barefoot and talking to the rocks. Connect with Ben on Facebook or YouTube or check out his website for more info.


34 Responses to “Why I had to leave Bangkok after just one night. Part 1 – The Girl with Black Eyes. ~ Ben Ralston”

  1. Maureen Miller says:

    Unbelievably powerful writing, Ben. It is so terribly sad because we know this is happening as I write this. Thank you for sharing your emotional experience. xo

  2. Laura says:

    …. wow.

  3. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thank you Maureen for being open to it.

  4. Ben_Ralston says:

    Yes, absolutely.
    For me, there are two separate things that we must do (although they both come down to the same thing ultimately).
    The first is to take some kind of action as you suggest.
    The second is to explore the real causes of this kind of thing. I believe that the cause is very simple – trauma. As a species, we are at a point in our evolution where our intelligence mind (neo-cortex) has run ahead of our emotional and instinctive minds. So we are able to fly to the moon, but we are spectacularly unable to process trauma, much of which is ancestral (inherited memory).
    This means that while we appear advanced and civilized on so many levels, there is a deep undercurrent of fear and survival-oriented reactive living going on. Ultimately, many people do not love themselves, nor respect themselves.

    So my work is all about healing trauma, which I have seen brings people back to a more respectful, trusting, compassionate state of being. I believe that if enough people heal their trauma, then the demand for exploitation will be gone, because one who loves himself deeply simply cannot bear the pain of another.

    Thank you for the link and the comment.

  5. Lori says:

    Re: How do we act differently to break all such cycles…

    Recognize violence; i.e. the initiation of force, in all its forms and stop accepting it. Period.

  6. Ben_Ralston says:

    Cool, I can see this turning into a very interesting conversation.
    You ask: "How do we act differently to break all such cycles?"
    To me, the only answer to that question (or any other) is to find the cause of the problem. And I believe that although people are of course the product of their society, first and foremost our society is a reflection of the individual consciousness (or rather, the sum of all individual consciousness within that society).
    I guess my question for you is – do you believe that individuals are more a product of their society, or is society more a reflection of shared consciousness?

  7. Ben_Ralston says:

    Yes, I thought about editing that, but it's what I felt.
    Of course, in this context an actual cunt and the people I'm using the word to describe are very different. One is beautiful and natural and divine. The other is a despicable, worthless waste of space. Just as i can say that someone is a dick, and someone has a dick.
    I went through a stage of trying to avoid swearing. Now I just go with it. Sorry if if hurt your eyes / ears, but as I say, it's what I felt.

  8. Ben_Ralston says:

    I do that. I don't accept violence. Presumably you are the same. But it goes on without me. So what else can we do?

    Is it enough for us to not ACT violently? Perhaps our thoughts, and suppressed emotions, are also partly to blame?

  9. Ben_Ralston says:

    Steve Jennings amazing story, will share this with a few people.

    Melanie Green whoa
    3 hours ago · Like

    Steve Jennings ‎@Ben, please connect with Justin Dillon the founder of Call+Response http://www.callandresponse.com/
    3 hours ago · Like

    Anna Louise Wargo Throm What love, awareness & courage. You were grown up enough to make a good choice.
    3 hours ago · Like

    Ana Steppenwolf I wonder how many men react like you Ben, and what it would take that more do. Thanks for sharing the story, I hope it helps spread the word about this awful "tradition" and make at least one person reconsider their actions in similar situation.
    3 hours ago · Like

    Kimberly Smith Peavler Thank you for sharing your story Ben. I like you want to heal human abuse and neglect. I can become sadden and feel powerless at times but I always come back to healing and loving myself and being an inspriation to others, trusting and realizing that LOVE is contagious and will enlighten us all.
    3 hours ago · Like

    Liz Stasieczko Sad story, sadder truth
    3 hours ago · Like · 1 person

    Rosalind Clewley Kimberly, I hear what you are saying but loving ourselves and being 'enlightened' does not help 11 yr old child prostitute victims whose souls have been stolen. Doesn't cut it. That's where the overwhelming sense of powerlessness and hopelessness of this sad story lies.
    3 hours ago · Like · 1 person

    Nicole Burrill I lived in SE Asia for 5 years – spent a lot of time in Bangkok, Burma, Laos – I've seen those eyes – thanks for sharing your story – brought back a lot of emotion.
    2 hours ago · Like

    Caty Kinzey Baydoun Oh my… how you must have felt… Thank you for sharing. So very sad.
    2 hours ago · Like

    Jana Dvorska pretty damn powerful and unfortunately it's happening right now only the man fucks the girl and one more piece of her soul is buried adding another layer of black to her eyes…
    about an hour ago · Like
    elephantjournal.com Thank you all for reading and commenting. Please share this with, I don't know why but I feel it needs to be heard… Steve, thanks for the link, I will. And Rosalind – I hear you, but you know what? The ultimate cause of exploitation is lack of Self Respect (and yes, I mean that the men who use these girls do not respect THEMSELVES). So I believe that Kimberly is right, even though it sounds on the surface a little twee and new agey – only when enough people heal their own trauma, and learn to love themselves enough, will they respect and love others enough not to exploit them. ~ Ben
    about an hour ago · Like · 1 person

    Jana Dvorska True Ben, pain is at the root of all evil… we need to do what we can to help in all possible ways. http://www.facebook.com/dnafoundation – Demi and Ashton DNA Foundation is a good one, trying to stop human trafficking.
    about an hour ago · Like

    William King Gutshall powerful…
    31 minutes ago · Like

  10. Susan says:

    I appreciate your article and your awareness. I think it is through personal story-telling that messages are best heard and understood, so thank you for that. I also challenge your word "cunt" and encourage you to see the paradox… healing trauma, increasing awareness on one level, continuing the cultural acceptance of degradation on the other level. Your message and insight would be more powerful without this word and your choosing not to edit it makes a subtle impact…what was over there- then versus what is here – now…all pieces of the same human story.

  11. Katie C. says:

    Ben – Wow, this stopped me in my tracks today.

    Beautiful writing, heart-wrenching story. Thank you for the work you do in healing trauma – I agree with your comment above that although we seem advanced/civilized, there's an undercurrent of survival-oriented reactive living going on. So true.

  12. frankhark says:

    very powerful post. No time now, will comment more later. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hmmm, ok now I'm thinking…

  14. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thank you Katie C.

  15. Thanks for bringing this into the light. I'll definitely share this. So sad. How long ago did this happen? (I'm not good at figuring out ages). Cheers to you Ben!

  16. Ben_Ralston says:

    17 years ago. I'm 38 now.

  17. Ben_Ralston says:

    Whether or not Thailand still has a child sex industry this article is not about Thailand. It's about abuse generally. There is not a country in the world where this is not happening.
    I love Thailand, for the record. I don't love children being exploited for the sexual gratification of adults, no matter where they are from.

  18. Dharma Peon says:

    To me, limousine liberals spouting off about equality and trustafarians getting hot under the collar about child slavery and whingeing about risking their status within the composure class by using sociopathic expletives are as culpable as the pimps. You were privileged enough to get on the plane and intelligent enough to devise a strategy, had some money left right so you should and could have done more at the time, but you wimped out and ran away and boo-hoo, 20 years or so later you now feel bad right? Well so you should. That wound will seep your entire life until you find that girl and apologise to her for letting her down, and it has fuck all to do with us, your audience, you suffer like an oberkapo and by drawing attention to your feelings like this you obviously still have a lot of growing up to do, I wish you well.

  19. Ben_Ralston says:

    Charming. I'll just refer you here:

    Pay particular attention to the flow chart 😉

  20. Ben_Ralston says:

    Yes, when you're in that moment it's overwhelming. Actually, I think I also went numb. My initial instinct was fight (Uzi), but then on realizing that there was nothing I could do, I went numb. When I left the place, I was numb.
    I look back with gratitude that it happened. This and other very strange and painful experiences have opened my mind in unimaginable ways…

  21. Nikki says:

    Thailand is clearly a country of extremes. As a Thai Massage Therapist, I did spend a month in Chiang Mai studying massage and Thai medicine and a couple days in Bangkok to visit Wat Po.
    For a culture so mired in Buddhism, so beautiful and kind, so accepting and embracing, and so spiritual in their lifestyle, the sex trade is rampant and very obvious. I was thankful that I was not a male.
    Upon returning home, there is a small community of us Massage Therapists who practice Thai Massage and are very close-knit. What little we could do is to offer Thai Massage to our local community for a donation. We volunteer our time and services. The collection is sent to The Polaris Project that works to fight human trafficking and slavery in all areas, including Thailand. At this moment, this is the best I can do, from the comfort of my middle-class USA-existence.
    I can not save every girl. I can not take these idiot Western men and bash them over the head until they find common sense. The sex trade exists because there are people wiling to pay for the services. If there were discouraging factours, or better ethics and morals, this would curtail the activity greatly. My heart bleeds for the women, and children, who are being sold, traded, bartered, raped and treated like little more than a commodity.
    Thanks for bringing this to light.

  22. AnnetteVictoria says:

    I think it goes both ways. Some (most?) individuals aren't (yet) aware of their cultural programming, which means they are more a product of their society than those who are more aware. I think society reflects the prevailing consciousness.

  23. Ben_Ralston says:

    Organicgoddess, I reflected a while on your note, and the similar message that a few others expressed. I tried to crystallize my thoughts into another piece which I hope you'll read, and I'd love to hear your thoughts there, if you feel so inclined: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/08/offended-b

  24. Ben_Ralston says:

    Susan, I reflected a while on what you (and others) said here about my use of the C word. I tried to crystallize my thoughts into another piece which I hope you'll read, and I'd love to hear your thoughts there, if you feel so inclined: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/08/offended-b

  25. Karen Eliot says:

    This phenomenon is the result of children and women being chattel. Only when we end this view of human beings as property will this horrible ‘trade’ stop.

    Our view of property itself will have to be righted first. Only then will we stop viewing things we desire as ‘property’ to do with what we wish.

    We belong to the Earth, the Earth does not belong to us. From this fundamental error, we get all the rest of he package.

  26. Dharma Peon says:

    Hmmm… I have checked and I am sure that it was you that first initiated a charm lacuna here sir – yes – yes it was you. Watch your tone and your content in your writing and you'll be fine from here on in. Oh – you might also want to think again about posting on blogs where people can leave comments because if you can't handle direct criticism as well as fawning praise then you might want to look at that too – there are lots of e-commerce packages that allow you to filter out unwanted content 😉 Also do take a look at Dunning-Kruger Effect before you post anything else that might have an adverse affect on your reputation as yoga teacher – or whatever it is that you think you are doing.

  27. Ben_Ralston says:

    Someone told me while I was there (or was it after I got back? – not sure) that the Thais are even worse than the Western Sex tourists. Not sure if it's true, but makes sense that it could only happen with the support of the society itself…

  28. Mamaste says:

    Ben…I missed this the 1st time around. TY for posting again. Such powerful sentiments. Moved me to tears.xoxo ~Mamaste

  29. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thanks for reading.

  30. […] is also a person so despicable that no other word/s will suffice to describe. In my recent article Why I Had To Leave Bangkok After Just One Night – The Girl With The Black Eyes I used the word ‘cunt’ to describe the various men who tried to ‘sell’ me an 11 year old […]