By Amanda Petersen
Last week there was an article about sex trade in Thailand. Amanda Petersen has been working with Wrecked since the beginning and recently left for Thailand. She has been there about two weeks. This is a story about her experience thus far with a little background about Nana Plaza.
To many, Nana Plaza is a paradise. On any given night, there are over 2,000 workers present in the three story high courtyard complex, approximately 300 being lady-boys. The establishments feature anything from go-go shows to live sex, playing to the fantasies of the hundreds upon hundreds of men (and several women) who flock here to partake in the most well known sex industry area in the world, competing only with the red-light district of Amsterdam. The majority of our conversations have taken place with the girls who sit in the beer bars on the bottom level, waiting for a man to come in, buy them a drink, and proposition them for a night out. Prostitution is illegal here, but the men can pay a “bar fine” to take the girls out, and then a deal is usually made regarding what kind of sex will occur and for how much.
Last night commenced our first full week of ministry, and a memorable one it was.
Earlier in the week, a few of us spent the evening at Nana with two of the sweetest girls you have even met in your life, Noon and Aui (like “Oy”). Aui is only 19 and had only been working at the bar for three days when we met. Noon had been working there for several years, hating the work, but doing so to feed her twelve year old child. The first night talking to Noon, Nicole began to share with her how beautiful she was, and she just burst into tears. It is apparent they are so desperate for truth and life to be spoken to them.
Last night, we decided to pay their bar fines (about $18 each) and take them out for a “holiday.” We broke the awkwardness as we ate espresso brownies and Frappacinos at Starbucks. It was somewhat surreal, looking around the place and seeing white men being kissed on by Thai girls. I can’t imagine what was going through their heads as we walked in. I’m still waiting to hear about us appearing on an undercover CNN special.”Even hippie lesbians utilize the bustling sex industry of Thailand.”
As we talked and sipped, Noon asked us to give her an American name. Nicole and Angel discussed quickly and decided to call her Grace. It took some effort for her to learn to pronounce it correctly, and my heart just raced inside of me hearing her say it over and over again.”Grace. Grace. Grace.”
After Starbucks, we went upstairs in the mall to a very nice salon (nice by American standards, and definitely nice compared to the salons that border Nana Plaza where the girls get their hair and make-up done before working) to get manicures and pedicures. I was so pleased that the staff there treated the girls so respectfully. Sadly, they were probably treated with more dignity than many of the churches here would treat them, as the bar girls are seen pretty much as “untouchables” by the church here.
We spent several hours just taking turns getting pampered, sniffing the fragrances in the fancy magazines, drinking tea, taking pictures, and giggling as we worked hard to ask questions of each other with limited English. I shouldn’t be surprised that it felt just like going out with my sisters in the statestalking about men, shoes, jewelry, hair styles, and chocolate.
Before having to leave for the night, we got some dinner at Pizza Hut and performed “stupid human tricks” for one another. We were all doubled over in laughter, drawing some strange looks from the white men in the booths around us. There’s nothing else I would have rather been doing that night.
It was so difficult to say good-bye to the girls, knowing they still had to go back to Nana to try and get a customer for the night. They make no money off of their bar fine, only from whatever deal they make with a man. Aui told us, “1500 baht ($45) for short time. 3000 baht for long time.” I’m trying not to think too much about what that actually means.
They thanked us a million times for being with them that night, but it was a thanks that was hard to receiveit wasn’t about money. What else were we supposed to do? I found myself praying so much throughout that night for stronger vision of what it looked like to give these girls another chance at life. The system that they live within in so broken, so like Jim has said, it’s not just about pulling people out of the river, but figuring out who threw them in to begin with.
We will keep going to Nana and spending time with Grace and Aui. Of course, we pray that they would come to The Well, but also pray that if they make the decision not to, that months or years down the road, they will remember that it was Jesus who loved them fully, who called them by name, and found beauty and delight in their presence.
Amanda Petersen is from Portland OR and used to edit for Wrecked. She is in Thailand for two months ministering to victims of the sex industry there. You can donate to her ministry here.