Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bangkok Bullet-Reflections

(Me and my friend Joe LaRoy, riding in a Chevy-powered longtail boat through the canals of Bangkok)

I am home from an incredible week in Bangkok, We left our Bangkok hotel at 3 AM Thursday (3 PM Wed. EST). 25 hours later we touched down in Detroit. It's good to be home with Linda and Josh!

I kept a journal while there and sent large portions of it to the Monroe Evening News. The News is going to publish parts of it this Monday, and then link to my entire journal with photos I took. Go here:

I will be thinking about my trip for many days, and seeking God as to things he wants me to know and do. Here's a bullet-point review, given from a reclining position in my bedroom at home, 9 PM, where jet lag is kicking in big-time.

  • saw many true Jesus-followers who have left the American Dream far behind to follow the Real Jesus (which has nothing to do with the American Dream because that dream is way too small, among other things)
  • taught a couple of Thai pastors and three ex-prostitutes an hour guitar lesson (given by myself, an ex-slave to drugs, alcohol, and sex)
  • felt sadness and even moments of grief and helplessness in the face of the in-your-face, overt sex industry in Bangkok
  • ate a lot of phenomenal Thai food (I found myself thinking, "I am now eating real Thai food in Thailand!")
  • got very tired of flying (the thrill is gone)
  • wondered how I could make money by inventing more comfortable seats to fly in
  • saw people worshiping a statue made of jade at the spiritual center of Thailand
  • saw one very humongous Buddha (at the Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
  • prayed for a man and his baby while he was drinking a beer in Bangkok's red light district
  • visited the most ornate, upscale shopping mall I may ever have been in
  • read Siddharth Kara's phenomenal Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery
  • cried as I, an ex-slave, stood worshiping with all these ex-slaves who have been set free, given jobs making jewelery at NightLight, and are finding who God is and that he loves them
  • saw a gazillion old, lonely white men looking for someone who will talk with them and love them and have sex with them
  • felt the mixed emotions of hatred and sadness towards these men
  • saw the empty stares of tiny girls who make a meagre living by having as many as 15 men a night
  • walked the red light district early in the morning to see red-lipsticked girls sleeping on the cement, as well as red-lipsticked girls looking for someone else to have sex with, as well as having some proposition me
  • saw great wealth cohabit with extreme poverty
  • smelled Bangkok as food is always being cooked on the streets, 24/7
  • ate at one of the most opulent restaurants I have ever eaten in, where the waitresses come with a little metal tool to remove even just one crumb off the white tablecloth as we were eating
  • fell in love with fruit smoothies
  • bought a pair of  very weird sunglasses
  • watched, in admiration, as Jeff Dieselberg led his Jesus 101 class in Thai to 10 NightLight girls
  • felt proud of our team of men who paid their own ways to come work for a week renovating one of NightLight's buildings
  • heard fresh stories of women being rescued out of prositution
  • found out how many bahts makes a buck
  • saw NightLight's jewelry-making business up close and was extremely impressed
  • spent every day in heat that approached one hundred degrees with comparable humidity
  • got spoken to by God about so many things that it's going to take me awhile to process all of it
  • got especially spoken to by God
  • read Richard Stearns's phenomenal The Hole In Our Gospel: What Does God expect of Us? (Note: if you are a Jesus-follower and have not read this book, stop what you are doing right now, go get this book, turn it on low, and slow-cook in it...)
  • saw the 138-foot, gold-leafed statue of the reclining Buddha
  • saw, up close and personal, the real distnctions between pure Buddhism and folk Buddhism...
  • ...which made me think of the distinctions between Real Jesus-following and folk-Christianity
  • had delicious iced coffee
  • had a delicious watermelon shake
  • refused to eat at McDonald's
  • saw many street beggars and gave to some of them
  • sweated a lot
  • played guitar in the NightLight storefront on Soi 4 (Street 4) on the red light district
  • read about Bangkok's "ladyboys" and finally saw one on my last day there
On Thai ladyboys (aka "katoeys")

"Typically, katoeys dress and live as women. They undergo hormone replacement therapy, most have breast implants, and eventually have genital reassignment surgery done. They go to great lengths to conceal any tell-tale signs of masculinity, including surgery to reduce the size of the Adam's apple and other medical procedures to shape their bodies more like those of women (jawbone, hips, buttocks) - even voice chord surgery.

Katoeys are fully integrated in and accepted by Thai society, even on the countryside. Those who don't work in restaurants, bars and cabaret shows hold regular jobs like nurses, secretaries, beauticians, stylists, and some even become popular TV stars.

Many become prostitutes though; the most beautiful ones count among the highest paid sex workers in Thailand. It is believed that the acceptance they enjoy in society is due to the nature of the surrounding Buddhist culture, which places a high value on tolerance. Thais believe that being a katoey is the result of transgressions in past lives (the notion of Karma), and that katoeys deserve pity rather than blame. Sadly, legal recognition of katoeys is non-existent in Thailand. Even after genital reassignment surgery they are not allowed to change their legal sex. Katoeys often belong to lower social classes, and their suicide rate is significantly higher than that of any other segment of the Thai population. Still, many go on to make their mark."

I feel closer to Jesus than I did a week ago. I think I see more of what's at stake, and feel more convinced that Jesus' message of his beautiful kingdom is the answer to all that aches inside of us.