Saturday, May 22, 2004

May 20th, 2004 - Sun Set Temples and Entering a Khmer Brothel

I had my breakfast at the same restaurant I had dinner the night before. After I went to the bank to change some money and found that as I walked around Siem Reap moto driver after moto driver would follow me and ask to take me where ever I wanted to go or to be my guide through all the temples of Angkor. I politely refused their offers and kept walking. After walking past the Psar Chaa (Old Market) that seemed full of small outdoor vendors selling souvenirs to tourists I decided to walk across a bridge and explore the area just outside of town. I walked and found an array of poor thatched homes built on stilts (much like the one's I had seen in Myanmar) and also an array of wealthy homes. I also found a very small library that had been founded by a Japanese woman. After back tracking I decided to walk east out of town and along the way I found several massage parlors. They were curious massage parlors for their were plenty of signs in katakana (one of the Japanese alphabets) meaning that a portion of their clients were Japanese. These massage parlors were also large and a bit out of the way from town. They had a large parking lot area before the massage parlor building and tinted windows so that you could not look in. It was suspicious to say the least.

Well, I continued down the road and then saw a hotel called the Get Lucky Hotel. Right then I knew that those massage parlors were not what they appeared to be. They were brothels.

The afternoon sun was beating down on me. I was sweating and after walking for about 30 minutes out of town I turned back.

Once back in town I found a section of Siem Reap that seemed to be the local brothel area. There were a series of two story buildings that had on the first floor rows of chairs and tables all facing the interior of the building. I saw Khmer men lounging in these seats; some were smoking. I looked in and saw that they were watching one or two or three T.V.'s that either had a boxing match or other sports event on the screen. I saw about four of these type of men lounging shops. It was a place where men could bet on boxing matches and sporting events. And right next door were massage parlors with tinted windows - it was obvious that they were brothels for these men who would watch a game, gamble and then walk next door to buy sex. I took a few pictures and then left.

At 4:30 Robert and I were picked up by two Moto driver's we had earlier made a deal with to show us around the temples of Angkor Wat. For this evening they were going to take us to Prasat Trapeang Ropou (I think that is the name of the temple we went to). Many, many tourists were gathering at this site to climb the temple to view the sun set over the temples and surrounding areas of Angkor. The ruins were lovely. There was a ruined staircase leading high up a hill to the temple. Once we hiked up the hill we had an impressive temple before us. I continued up with Robert and when we arrived to the top we walked around and began snapping pictures of all the temples we could see. I was growing more and more excited for the explorations Robert and I were going to make the next day in Angkor.

For now I will simply leave all of my descriptions of the temples of Angkor for my May 21st entry.

It was a slightly cloudy evening so a proper sun set viewing experience was not possible. It was interesting to wait at the top of this temple though with so many other tourists from literally all over the world and from all walks of life. I decided to even take pictures of this colorful array of tourists on this wonderful temple.

After the sun had set Robert and I walked down the temple and its steep steps and down the ruined staircase back to our moto drivers. I arrived back at the hotel and soon discovered that Robert and stopped by two brothels with his driver. He went in to simply look and he said that he could go back with me so that I could see with my very own eyes what they were like. He assured me, as did the moto drivers, that it was no problem for me to simply look. So, with strong hesitation, I agreed to go and see for myself what these brothels I have been reading so much about were like.

We first pulled into a brothel called Hollywood Massage. It had a large parking area and tinted black windows. We got off the moto bikes and walked in. I noticed a Chinese shrine at the end of a row of couches. There were three couches before a large see-through window. We sat down and one of the men that worked there sat next to us with a pad of paper in his hand. Girls, between the ages of 16 and 23, began to file into the room behind the glass window. On the girls side of the window they could not see us - although we could see them. There was a TV for them to watch as they sat bored waiting to be picked by one of us. All the girls had numbers pinned to their shirts. And the pins were either in a yellow or white color. The yellow color signified that they girl was Khmer. The white color signified that the girl was Vietnamese. The man with the pad of paper was there ready to write down the number of the girl we wanted. I sat there feeling very uncomfortable. When most of the girls had filed in sitting down on three elevated rows I estimated that there were about 30 to 40 of them.

As I mentioned all the girls were between the ages of 16 to 23. That is the working life span for these girls. Once they turn 24 their brothel career is simply over. What happens to them after that? They are not educated girls and they have spent their formative years servicing men and seeing their sexuality simply as a commodity that can be bought and sold and used and abused. They know nothing else and as a result they may become working girls or brothel owners themselves or recruiters. But for the working girls it is a fact that the older they get the cheaper and more unwanted they become for Khmer men and Sex tourists alike all want young, young girls.

At one point the man with the pad of paper stood up and left us. I quickly pulled out my digital/video camera and began filming. I got about 8 seconds of video.

I had had enough and we stood up and left and just as we walked out a 40 year old European man walked in - a potential customer.

From there the moto drivers drove Robert and I to one more brothel. It was called Madona. It was set up in the same fashion as the last brothel but this one did not have a see through window for us. All the girls were in an open room watching TV. Since we arrived more and more girls filed into the room. They all had numbers pinned on to their shirts as well. They could see us as we could see them. Then the mamasan - the brothel manager and sometimes owner - approached us. She was an extremely attractive well dressed Khmer women in her late 20's or so. She was very professional in how she managed her operation and spoke to us. She explained that 10 minutes with a girl was around $10 whereas an overnight stay with the girl ranged from $25 to $35. I then explained to my driver that I wanted to see what the rooms looked like. The mamasan assured me that the rooms were clean and descent. I explained again that I wanted to see the rooms. My driver then told the mamasan that if she showed me the room there was a higher probability that I would buy a girl for the night. She then agreed and led me and Robert into a labyrinth of rooms. Literally we passed hallway after hallway of rooms. All the halls were darkly lit and the walls were painted pink. We arrived at a room and she opened it for me. I walked in and saw a clean bed with towels on it and a very clean bathroom with a urinal, sink, and shower. I then walked out and said thank you and left.

That was it. I had seen enough and we all returned to the Millennium Hotel.

Robert and I then decided to eat dinner and on our way to a place to eat we ran into a friend he had met a week before in his travels. He joined us and for the rest of the night I listened to Robert and his friend talk about all the brothels they had been to in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Russia. Robert explained from all the brothels he had been to he had never seen one like the ones we saw tonight in which the girls were behind a glass window with numbers pinned to their shirts. I listened and listened and realized that the men who frequent brothels are simply any type of man - and at times woman . . . Lesbians do hire prostitutes - from your business partner, your college professor, to your best friend, brother, or maybe even your own husband or father . . . the men that frequent brothels come from all backgrounds and classes of society.

Prostitution, as I am realizing, is everywhere. It is interwoven into the very fabric of all societies and cultures to the point that the police, the mafia, politicians, etc. all in some way or another are apart of the industry. As long as there are men there will be brothels. It does not matter if a man is happily married, has children that he adores, lives a successful life or not, any type of man can, may, and does visit a brothel. The percentage of men that go to brothels may vary from culture to culture to country to country. And why do men go to brothels? As I have mentioned in earlier journal entries on this site some visit brothels to experiment, to dominate, to abuse, to seek affection, a fantasy, love, etc. And they do it because they simply can. All that separates them from being with a prostitute is money . . . and that is it.

From Cambodia,
May 19th, 2004 - 13 Hour Boat Journey from Battambang to Siem Reap, Cambodia

The owner of the hotel in Battambang explained that the boat journey to Siem Reap would take about 7 hours and that I had to leave the hotel at 7 because the boat would leave at 7:20. I woke up at 5:00 in the morning on the 19th and while I was taking a shower there was a knock on the door. I thought that there was a fire in the hotel for why would anyone be knocking at my door at 5:15 in the morning? I put on a towel, opened the door and found a hotel staff who spoke hardly any English. I did not know what he wanted. I was worried that perhaps I had woken up too late - maybe I had the wrong time on my alarm clock and woke up an hour too late. I looked at the hotel staff's watch though and found that indeed it was 5:15 in the morning. I didnt really understand what he wanted but he left and I returned to my shower and got ready. I went down to the lobby of the hotel at 6:10 or so and asked the owner why one of his staff had knocked on my door. He told me that they wanted to make sure I woke up early enough so that I had enough time for breakfast. Well, I decided to pass on breakfast since I didnt think there was enough time for them to prepare it. Instead I took a brief morning stroll through Battambang.

I returned to the hotel and saw a few other backpackers in the lobby waiting to be picked up for their bus journey to the Cambodian/Thai border. I sat down and began speaking with a Swiss girl who spoke English with an American accent. We ended up talking about music and the education system in Switzerland. Just before 7 I was asked to get into a van and from the hotel I was taken to a pier. The pier was hardly that. It was simply a metallic ladder/staircase that led down to the muddy banks of the river that cuts through the town of Battambang. I saw my boat. It was simply a wooden boat filled with locals and bags of vegetables, bread rolls, and other goods that were to be transported for sale in the local markets around the Tonle Sap Lake. I got on the boat and made it to the end where I sat in front of a Khmer family (mother, father, daughter (3 years old) and son (1 and a half to 2 years old). In total there were about 15 local, plus myself, in this tiny boat filled with bags and goods. The boat crew was busy trying to fix the engine. While we waited three boys in dirty, ragged clothing fished in the river. They had made their own fishing rods. Most of us in the boat (including myself) kept ourselves entertained by watching the boys fish. I believe the boys were brothers. The oldest was about 11 years old, the second oldest about 8, and the youngest 5. The middle brother at one point quickly pulled out his fishing line from the lake and the fishing hook nearly hit his younger brother's face. Everyone in my boat then began yelling at the middle brother to be more careful for the hook could have pulled out his younger brother's eye.

An hour after we were supposed to have left the boat crew finally got the engine to work. It was now 8:30. About 20 minutes after we left we parked the boat at village of poor thatched homes where I saw a woman taking a bath in the filthy river we were traveling on - all the locals go to the bathroom in this river. The woman - as do all the women who bath in the rivers and lakes of Cambodia - kept a thin robe around her to cover herself up. The boat crew got out and began negotiating with a lady about all the goods that she wanted to put on the boat to ship to Siem Reap. As the negotiations went on I watched the woman who was bathing in the river brush her teeth. I managed to shoot a quick shot of her with my camera. Once the negotiations were settled the boat crew began loading all the bags and baskets of food and berries that she wanted shipped. There was not enough room at the front of the boat so the crew put the goods on a small boat that the village had and rowed it toward the back of their boat. There they began loading the goods onto our boat but then one of the large baskets filled with berries snapped and a good portion of the berries (perhaps 20% of what was in the basket) poured straight into the river. The woman who wanted these goods shipped gave a quick look of saddened shock and then began screaming at the boat crew. She then boarded our boat to approach the crew and ensure that they dont pour anymore of her goods into the river. Finally we were off again. Now it was nearly 10 o'clock. The boat traveled for about 3 hours through narrow river canals. The scenery was interesting. Most of the time I saw poor thatched homes and children waving at me or swimming.

The family that was sitting in front of me in the boat had a very young boy (2 years old I believe). He was sick unfortunately. Right before me I saw him pee all over his father's legs. His father removed his son's shorts and then wetted it in the river water and began cleaning his son and himself up. Then as soon as he had cleaned his own seat of his son's urine his son then crapped all over his father and his seat. I could not believe what I was seeing. The father then wetted his son's shorts again and began wiping the crap from his pants and his seat. He then held his son over the boat and began pouring river water onto his butt to clean him up. The boy just looked around smiling as if nothing had happened. He then began crapping into the river. We continued on and the boy's older sister had to go to the bathroom and so her mother and father held her arms and helped her to squat over the side of the boat so that she could pee straight into the river. Later, when the boy's shorts had dried in the sun, the father put the shorts back onto his son. As soon as the shorts were on him he crapped again. I could only laugh. His crap went all over his father again and onto the seats as well.

At around 1:30 or so we arrived at a rest-stop/transfer-point. I got off the boat and onto a local store that stood on stilts over the river. I bought a Sprite and began speaking with the other foreigner that hoped on my boat before we had left from Battambang. His name was Robert and he was from Australia. He told me that he had been to Poipet which is a kind of wild-west town near the Cambodian/Thai border that is rumored to be a hide-out for former Khmer Rouge soldiers. He had filmed his time there and he pulled out his video camera to show me some footage of the mines in the town. Robert explained to me that the methods used to mine sapphire and other gems from the mines was very crude; Robert is actually a miner himself so he knew everything that there is to know about mining. In the footage I saw Khmer boys and men hosing down large piles of rocks. The runoff water from these mines then become polluted with toxic chemicals from this mining process and as a result it will seep into their water supply. Who knows what kind of health problems this may be cause among the people in this town. I then saw footage of a man grinding down the gems found from the mines and right next to him on a table was his very large hand gun.

There are a tremendous amount of guns floating all around Cambodia. In the rural towns it is very common for nearly every male to have and carry a gun.

Then I saw footage of a bare-chested former Khmer Rouge soldier. The tattoo markings on his chest and arms were the markings of the Khmer Rouge. He was an unpleasant looking fellow. Who knows what kind of horrors he had committed against his own people during Pol Pot's take over of Cambodia from 1975-1979. And here he was living in this wild-west town never having had to stand trial for his crimes.

Robert then explained that the metallic plates that the cutters used to place the gems on were made from the shells of B-52 bombs that had been dropped over Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

After about 30 minutes of resting in this local store the boat crew called out to us to get back on to the boat. But, this time our bags had been switched to a smaller and even more uncomfortable boat. From the foreigners who were formerly on this boat that had come from Siem Reap I learned that we only had about another 3 hours to go. By my estimations we would be arriving in Siem Reap at around 5:00 or so.

I got into my seat and found the family with the crapping boy just before me once again. I was now praying that the boy would not crap or pee anymore. Luckily, about 20 minutes after we had departed, the father took his son and sat all the way at the front of the boat. I was pleased for I did not have to worry about, or have to witness, the boy relieving himself before me.

Hours passed and as they did we dropped off the people in our boat at various small villages along the river. Robert and I were then the last one's left in the boat, which was terrific because we now had plenty of space in the boat to move around and stretch. We then entered into Tonle Sap Lake. The lake was wonderfully massive but as we crossed it the crew began to worry for they could see that the lake waters were becoming more and more shallow. I too then began to worry as soon as I saw the boat's engine propeller shoot up mud into the air instead of a spray of water. Then we were stuck. The boat refused to move. One of the crew jumped into the Lake; it was apparent that the water was simply too shallow for us to move through - the water line came up to the crew member's knee. For about two hours the crew tried to push the boat and work on the engine that soon died. The sun was beginning to set. Robert and I were worried that we were going to be stuck in the middle of this lake until the next morning. Little by little we progressed. In the distance we saw other boats with the same problem as ours. Then, just as the sun was to disappear and night to settle in, I decided to jump into the lake and help push the boat. Robert stayed in the boat. The mud came up to my shins and the water up to my knees. The mud was filled with dried grass bits that scratched up my foot as the crew and I pushed and pushed the boat across the muddy lake. Then after about 20 minutes of pushing the boat began to move simply by the power of the engine and we all hopped back into the boat.

I was exhausted. My legs were covered in mud and I just sat in my chair drinking nearly an entire liter of water. The boat moved toward a few lights that I saw in the distance. Night was soon upon us. I looked back and saw that the boat's engine propeller was still kicking up mud. At around 7:00 we arrived at a very small port village. Since it was night I was unable to see anything of the village itself - except for the light and noise of televisions. Robert and I walked along planks from our boat toward the only light we saw. Then we heard, "Hey mister. You buy drink. $1 for drink you buy. You buy." Robert and I walked up to the voices and found several girls around a large cooler ready to sell us anything. Robert bought me a large bottle of water while he treated himself to a beer. From what I could tell there was no way for us to get into the town of Siem Reap from where we were. As we sat drinking and getting harassed by more kids that came up to us trying to sell us something a taxi pulled up. He wanted $20 U.S. to take us into town. I told him, "No way! For $20 I can go from Bangkok to China! $5 for both of us. Final deal." The taxi driver did not accept my offer. We bargained and bargained and only got him down to $15 which was still a ridiculous price. We then told him to go home for we weren't interested in being ripped off by him. So there Robert and I were. In the middle of nowhere and just having sent off a taxi that was probably our last chance of getting to Siem Reap. We took it easy. Funny enough I was highly entertained by the whole experience. Then one of the crew from our boat came up to Robert and I and explained that we could stay in his home untill morning when there would be plenty of moto's and car's and buses to take us to Siem Reap for a cheap price. I was seriously considering the offer when Robert had the idea of calling the hotel in Siem Reap that I had planned to stay in for he figured that the owner of the hotel could cover a portion of the cost for our ride to his hotel from where we were.

Originally there was supposed to be someone from the hotel waiting for us at the pier to take us to the hotel but because we arrived near 4 hours late the person had left.

So I asked if there was a phone and one of the locals just happened to have a cell phone. I called the hotel and spoke with the owner but then got cut off. I tried again and then got cut off again, plus I could barely understand what the hotel owner was saying due to the language barrier between us. The third time I called I simply gave the phone back to one of the locals (who spoke descent English) so that the hotel owner could explain in his own language what he wanted to tell me. The local kept nodding his head and then gave me back the phone. The hotel owner then said something to me about $10 and $5. I had no clue what he was talking about. Robert then said that we should simply agree to have two of the locals to take us to Siem Reap for whatever price and have the hotel owner sort out the cost of the ride. So we found two Moto (scooter) drivers and we just nodded our head when they wanted $14 to take us into town. Somehow my moto driver managed to place my heavy bag on the bike and off we went driving through dirt and sandy roads. In the distance we saw a bush fire and then we drove past it to hear a fire truck in the distance on its way to put it out. About a kilometer away from Siem Reap my moto driver's scooter died. I pulled out my flash light so that he could repair it. He then explained that he would return. Robert and I waited and simply joked around about our day of a boat that had a broken engine in the morning, getting stuck in the muddy lake just after sun set, and now my scooter stalling out in the middle of the night.

About 10 minutes later my moto driver returned having fixed my bike. I jumped on and Robert jumped on to his moto and away we went to the Millennium Hotel. We pulled in and the owner showed us a double room that Robert and I would split. Then we had to sort out the cash for the moto drivers.

What happened next was a giant argument between the hotel owner and the moto drivers. The hotel owner made an agreement with one of the moto driver's (he spoke to him on the cell phone back at the pier town) to transport Robert and I to Siem Reap in a car for $10. But we hadnt been taken in a car, and now the moto drivers wanted $14. As the argument went on and on I just thought to myself, All I want to do is go to my room and take a shower. Finally, somehow, an agreement was made and we were rid of the moto drivers.

I took a shower and washed off all the mud from my legs and discovered scratches all over my feet and legs from sloshing in the muddy lake and pushing that boat.

I walked into town to get a bite to eat and noticed a bar called Zanzybar full of foreign men and Khmer working girls trying to pick them up. I found a spot to eat. I had a tuna sandwich and as soon as I was done I returned to my hotel.

Soon after I was fast asleep.

What a LONG day,

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

May 17th, 2004

On May 16th I took it easy. The ideal "taking it easy" experience for me is simply going to the movies; of which I love to do especially if I can go alone. I find now that after traveling for two months alone that I really love the freedom of traveling in any direction I please, doing whatever I want, without compromising to anyone. For those who really know me they can tell you that I am a "nomad" a "loner" or at least never afraid to do something by myself.

I went to see Troy. This was the third movie I had seen in Bangkok - this was my third - and last - time to Bangkok for this trip. Before I went up to Ayuthaya and Chiang Mai in Thailand I saw the The Passion of the Christ and Starsky and Hutch. Starsky and Hutch was exactly what I expected; a stupidly fun comedy and for that I enjoyed it. The Passion of the Christ was excellent as a fine work of movie making mastery. I was deeply moved by the film and will place it on my "all time best films list". As for Troy, well, to be honest I didnt like it at all. For me it simply was a Hollywood Blockbuster filled with attractive young actors and actresses that really added nothing to the film in terms of their talent capabilities. Brad Pitt gave a poor performance. I respect him as an actor - I loved his portrayal of his characters in 12 Monkeys and Fight Club but in Troy I felt like I wasnt watching Achilles but Brad Pitt being Brad Pitt in a Hollywood Blockbuster Epic piece of crap.

And I dont get the Trojan priestess's relationship with Achilles. Achilles takes her hostage with the intent to rape her, but he doesnt. Now, after he has slain her fellow priests and destroyed the temple that she was dedicated to she, in a matter of days, falls in love with him? And she still loves him after she gets choked by him when he - Achilles - finds out his cousin was killed? Out of vengeance Achilles kills Hector - the Trojan priestess's cousin - and she still loves him? Then he - Achilles - sets her free. She still loves him? What the hell does this say about women? Women love men that conquer them by forcibly taking them hostage, mounting them within a day or two, choking them, killing members of their family, etc? And Hector's wife . . . all she does is cry - and she was so skinny that I wanted to jump into the film and give her some of my popcorn. I dont think she said more than two words in the entire film. I haven't read the Iliad so I dont know how close the film is to the Epic story but as a film I thought the dialogue and believability of the characters was very, very weak.

In any case the funny thing - or annoying thing depending on how you want to look at it - about going to the movies in Thailand is that you must stand after all the previews for this 2 minute Thai salute to the King of Thailand. For me, personally, I hate it. I think it is ridiculous that I or anyone has to stand up before a movie to pay homage to someone I have never - nor will ever - meet personally. I dont know anything about this King but unless he has special powers to heal the sick, feed the poor, and uncorrupt his country and rid it of the Sex Trade I find no reason, no reason, at all why I or anyone should stand up and salute this guy. Is he higher than me? Is he Jesus, the Buddha himself, God? No, no, no. He is a human being just like the rest of us.

Speaking so harshly about the Royal family in Thailand is taboo. No one in public can say anything derogatory about their King or Queen. This also pisses me off. It is dangerous. It is dangerous when no one can speak their mind about individuals in their government or Royal Family for that matter. Its a form of control and a breeding ground that allows these individuals that are beyond public criticism to, at times, get away with murder. Im sure that if any Thai official comes across this rant that I will be prohibited from re-entering their country. Ohh . . . well . . .

Well, moving on. On the 17th of May I was to meet Dan of FitCorp at a hotel near the Nana train station. I met Dan before in Bangkok through a friend who introduced me to him via the internet. Dan is originally from Australia but he has been living in Bangkok for about 5 years I believe. He has started his own company - called FitCorp - which caters to expatriot executives that want a personal trainer and so forth. Dan - as I later found out - was unable to make it to meet me but strangely enough as I waited for him I noticed a Toyota Land Cruiser about to leave the hotel. The interesting thing about the Land Cruiser was that it had various stickers on its back window of all the countries that it had traveled to. The sticker that really caught my eye was Iran. I saw the driver - he looked Spanish. But then they took off.

On May 18th I took a bus from Bangkok to Aranya Prathet which is right on the Thai/Cambodian border. On my bus I met a man from the Philippines. His name was Ricardo and he was traveling with his wife and a friend on a visa-run. When you enter Thailand you get a three-month visa. At the end of those three months you can hop on over into Laos or Malaysia or Cambodia and then back into Thailand for another three-month visa. That was what Ricardo was doing. He imports clothing from the Philippines into Bangkok. He spoke Thai and told me that when he was a young teenager that he used to shine the shoes of the U.S. troops based in Manila during the Vietnam War. He deeply loves Americans as a result of his experiences with these U.S. soldiers.

He told me about one U.S. soldier whom I will call Dave. Dave asked Ricardo - while he was shining his boots - what the capital of Missouri was. Ricardo didnt know but Dave told him that he would give him a dollar if he could tell him the capital of that state the next day. Now, at that time, especially in the Philippines a dollar was a lot of money. Ricardo ran back home asking friends and family what the capital of Missouri was. He eventually found a book that gave him the answer and the next day he told Dave and made a dollar. Dave kept quizing him on the capitals of all the States. As a result Ricardo can now tell you - nearly 20 years later - all the capitals of all the U.S. States. Gradually he and Dave became friends and to help him make more money Dave would sneak him into the U.S. base so that he could develop a group of regular clients. He would charge 10 cents for each shine and sometimes the soldiers would keep a running tab so that after some time Ricardo would approach each of his clients and tell them, "Hey, Charlie. Time to pay. I shined your shoes 8 times. That will be 80 cents." Well, as time went by Dave wanted to help Ricardo achieve his dream of becoming an electrical engineer. Dave bought books for him about the topic and even offered to help him come to America to study. Ricardo's Mom could not bear to have her son leave her and so he stayed in the Philipinnes. And now he imports clothes from his country into Thailand. Sadly though he told me that Dave died of cancer at the age of 37.

When we got off the bus station in Aranya Prathet Ricardo told me that I could join him and his wife and his friend in a Tuk Tuk taxi ride for the border. The driver wanted to charge extra because I was a foreigner but Ricardo bargained and got the price down. Then we took the Tuk Tuk to the border. When we got out Ricardo paid and didnt allow me to pay my portion. I thanked him. That is nice that this U.S. soldier - Dave - during the Vietnam War made such a great impression on Ricardo. I guess Ricardo paying for my Tuk Tuk was kind of a sign of his appreciation and love of Americans - although he does not like George W. Bush in the least - which is fine by me because we have that in common.

The border crossing between Aranya Prathet in Thailand and Poipet in Cambodia may be harsh on the eyes of those who have never traveled to extremely poor third world nations. After experiencing Peru and Morocco and a few other "poor" nations the border was nothing I hadnt seen before. Now, as I mentioned (I think I mentioned this . . . maybe not) there is a large market right on the Thai side of the border. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of Cambodians were traveling into and out of Thailand at this border on their way to or from the Thai market. All of them were pulling or pushing large wooden carts either filled with goods - if they were going to the Thai market - or empty - if they had just come from the market. These Cambodians were bringing in their goods to sell at the Thai market to earn the stronger Thai baht. All of them were extremely poor. Some of whom Im sure were wearing the only clothing that they possessed. All of their clothing was extremely dirty - as if it had never been cleaned. Children begging for money were quick upon me. And, beside Ricardo and his family, I was the only foreigner I saw crossing this border. As we crossed I saw Casino's on the Cambodian side. It didnt make sense for me to see so many poor Cambodians hauling their carts into Thailand to make a survival living and then to see these massive Casino buildings that exuded wealth. Ricardo explained that since gambling is illegal in Thailand many Thai's cross the border here to indulge in the these prohibited games. Interesting. The one thing that really shocked me was an old man. He was sitting on the ground of a bridge that we had to cross. He had no forearms. He had been the victim of a landmine. His face had been shredded from the shrapenel that exploded from the landmine that ripped up his face. I continued on throught the Visa check points. Along this way I was being followed by a Cambodian tout. He kept asking where I was going. I explained that I was going to Battambang. He was quick to tell me that I could share a taxi to Battambang with two other Japanese travelers. He said that these Japanese travelers were waiting as a friend of his was getting them their visas.

Now, there is no way for any foreign traveler to get a Cambodian visa at this border crossing. So right there I knew he was lying. He went on explaining that his friend was friend's with a Cambodian police officer and that in this "illegal" way he could process a visa. Thankfully I had gotten my visa in Bangkok. Im sure there are a few travelers who come through this border and fall for this bu**sh** and apply for a visa through one of these guy for $20 and never see their money, and perhaps their passports again. Well, he should me two pieces of paper that was "supposedly" being used to process these two Japanese travelers. I started to fall for it. I told him that if these two Japanese travelers were going to Battambang I would go with them in a taxi and split the cost. He then put me in a Tuk Tuk and off we went to meet up with these Japanese travelers. Then we arrived after traveling through the streets - if you can call them that - of Poipet to a line of white Toyota cars; they were taxi's. The tout then said, "Oh, it looks like the Japanese are gone." Again he was lying. There had never been any Japanese travelers. It was just a story to get my trust and to get me to the taxi drivers. Then the whole process of bargaining began. The tout translated the taxi driver's demands and mine. The Taxi driver wanted $20. I was shocked. The tout explained that, "You go. You go in front, sitting alone. Other people sit in back. It has air-con. Very good for you." I then said, "For $20 I can go from Bangkok to Lao - a 7 hour journey. From here to Battambang is only 2 and a half. $10. That's it." The tout then said, "No, you pay $20. You sit in front." I replied, "I dont need to sit in front. I sit in the back. $10." This went on and on. He kept telling me that I would be traveling with other people. He opened the trunk of the taxi driver's car and showed me all the boxes and bags of the people who would be traveling with me. I then said, "How many people are traveling with me?" The tout said, "Three in the back and you in the front." "Look," I began, "I dont need to sit in the front. And where the hell are these people that are traveling with me?" The tout literally pointed to some random lady buying some fruits.

Over and over this tout lied and lied and lied. I decided to finally take the freakin taxi for $15 - which is still a RIP OFF!!! But, whatever. After the taxi driver said "we go" I put my bag in the trunk and got in the back seat of the car. I turned around so that I could keep an eye on my bag but then I realized that the entire back window was covered with three giant bags filled with smaller bags of potato chips so that I couldnt see out the back. At this point I was scared that these guys were going to try to run off with my bag - thus the reason why they covered the back window so that I couldnt see the trunk. I removed the stupid bags of potato chips to keep an eye on the trunk. I then got out of the car since it was apparent that we werent ready to leave. The tout said you wait inside. I said, "No!" I waited outside watching the closed trunk in the mid-day sun. I then asked the tout, "Where the hell are these people that are traveling with me? Where did that lady go? The one buying fruit!" The tout then said, "She left but you go to pick her up." Again, another freakin lie. Finally the taxi driver was ready to go. I asked him to open the trunk to ensure that my bag was actually there and off we went. The tout asked for his tip . . . I gave his 20 baht which is 50 cents. He was pissed off with the amount but for all his lies he really didnt deserve anything. I simply turned my back on him and off I went in my taxi. Well, the taxi drove and drove and we didnt pick up anyone. It was all crap. I had really hired a taxi for myself for $15 to take me all the way to Battambang which for me isnt a bad price at all - but from a Cambodian point of view I still got ripped off BIG TIME. The good thing was that the taxi did have air-con so I was pleased. Along the road we passed that very same Land Cruiser that I had seen the previous day in Bangkok. I waved to them and my taxi continued on. The roads and the scenery reminded me much of Myanmar. A single lane road, falling apart, full of pot-holes that the taxi kept having to swerve around. Along the roads I saw thatched stalls selling packs of cigarrettes, can sodas, and gasoline. In Cambodia you will see a racks of old 1 and 2 liter plastic soda bottles filled with gasoline. You simply pull up to one of these stalls and buy as many 1 or 2 liter bottles of gasoline as you want and they pour it into your car tank.

Well somewhere near the town of Sisophon there was a massive line of cars all pulled over to both sides of the road. I had no idea what was going on but it was apparent to both the driver and I that we could go no further. We pulled over and behind us the Land Cruiser we had passed also stopped. I got out of the car and introduced myself to the drivers. They were a couple originally from Argentina but currently living in Spain. Their names were Marcelo and Luisa. I told them that I saw them the previous day in Bangkok. We spoke in Spanish and they told me about their journey as I told them about mine. They have been traveling by car for 8 months I believe. They drove through Iran, Pakistan, India, then went to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand. They were amazing. I believe that once they got to Saigon they were going to ship their car to South America - to Argentina - and continue their journey north to Mexico and possibly into the U.S. This is their website:

Then my taxi driver called me and into my taxi I went. Then he tried to start the car but it stalled, and stalled. Great, I thought. Some people pushed the car back and then the car began. He turned the car around and then turned right into a very rough dirt path. The engine wasnt doing too good. I was afraid that the taxi was going to stall again. As we drove through the dirt path - completely avoiding the traffic jam - we had to pay tolls to the locals who created the path. This you will also find in Myanmar. Then I could see from a distance that the traffic jam had been caused by a single lane bridge where cars and trucks on both sides tried to pass through. But, it had turned into utter chaos with all the vehicles on both sides of the bridge unable to coordinate their efforts to take turns to cross the bridge. The result . . . a BIG MESS.

Well, around 2 I believe I arrived in Battambang which is the second largest city in Cambodia. It is a tiny town. Like most towns in Laos you can see all that this city has to offer in a day. Once I settled into my hotel and had some lunch and then I hired a Moto - a scooter driver - to take me to Phnom Sampeau. It is a small mountain and at its summit is a temple. The temple though was not why I went there. Once we arrived I made an arrangement with a local boy who spoke good English to guide me to the infamous caves of Phnom Sampeau. We followed a path up aroung the mountain. I was sweating from the heat and attracting a lot of mosquito's. The boy was very intelligent and kind. He asked me how much an English teacher makes in the U.S. Thinking about Japan I said about $20 an hour. He was shocked. He explained that he had taken English classes after school for $3 a month. But it has been too expensive and that he has had to stop taking classes. Well, although my Moto driver told me only to tip the boy about 1000 Riel which is 25 cents U.S. I decided that Id give him $3 to help him continue his studies. Soon enough we arrived to a few old and very small temples. The boy led me to a kind of cave pit entrance - it was one of two sites on this mountain that was a killing field during Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge reign of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. He showed me an area of the cave that was used by the Khmer Rouge to execute Chinese families. Then he pointed up and high up above us was a cliff from where the Khmer Rouge - in an effort to save bullets - simply bludgeoned thousands of Cambodians and threw them down to fall to their deaths. The pit before us - as you can imagine - was once piled high with bodies. Just a bit further down and to our left there was a smaller cave opening where the boy showed me a cage filled with the skulls and bones of the victims that rotted in this cave pit. He told me that previously these bones were not in a cage but simply placed on a rock altar but tourists came and took these bones as souvenirs. As a result the cage was made so that no one could take them. I kneeled before the bones in saddened awe. The boy then explained that there was another cave. He led me back and around and down steps to another cave. He explained that before there was a Buddha statue in this cave but that Pol Pot had it destroyed. Years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge locals and foreigners who had traveled through the area donated enough money to make another Buddha statue - but of lower craftmanship. Before having a look at the statue he showed me another cage filled with human bones and there were also a few bones just before the cage that anyone could freely touch. The boy explained that the monks that had found more bones when they came to the cave to pray would simply place the bones before the cage. We walked up a bit and there high above us was another cliff that the Khmer Rouge used to throw their victims down to their deaths. I did not want to even imagine what this site must have been like when these atrocities were taking place.

Pol Pot - who did not die until 1997 or so - led the Khmer Rouge (backed by Communist China) to take over Cambodia in 1975. In four years the Khmer Rouge killed an estimated 1 to 2 million Cambodians - about 25% of their population at the time. Many were thrown into cave pits like the one I saw, or starved to death as they worked in the concentration camps. And although tens of thousands starved in Cambodia during this time the rice production of Cambodia actually shot up. These concentration camps were farming communities of Cambodians enslaved to work the fields. The Khmer Rouge did not use the rice to feed their enslaved nation. Instead they sold it off to China so that they could buy more guns and weapons for their evil cause. It was the strategy of the Khmer Rouge to keep their prisoners near starvation levels - it was a means to keep them just weak enough so that they could never rise up against them, but still work. As a result Khmers resorted to eating insects, rats, and even large spiders for subsitenance.

I am 27 years old. I was born in 1977. Any Cambodian I meet who is my age or older suffered under the regime of Pol Pot. It is a constant reminder for me that these people still have the memory of this horrific time in their national history very much alive within them. It is estimated that about 60% of the population of Cambodia suffers from varying degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder which is a disorder than many war-veterans suffer from. That alone with the fact that Pol Pot killed off nearly all Cambodian professionals and educated individuals essentially means that Cambodia has today become one of the most corrupted, uneducated, poor nations in Southeast Asia. As you travel in Cambodia you will see a sharp difference between Cambodians who work in the government or military and civilians. Government and Military officials all drive Toyota Land Cruisers - it is the same in Myanmar - while everyone else travels by scooter or by hoping onto the back of a truck with 40 other people simply to get from one place to the other on horrible dirt roads. Elections are a joke here. Although the U.N. oversaw a democratic election here in 1993 (by the way the U.N. Army forces stationed here during that time were notorious for going into the brothels of Phenom Penh (the capital of Cambodia) and raping the girls, beating them, and not paying them)in all reality democracy is nowhere to be found here. The people have no power what-so-ever. And that coupled with their passive religious beliefs that they simply are living out the bad karma of a previous life adds to the fact that they simply accept things the way they are. Never do they challenge their situation. It is still a shock for me that Pol Pot died of natural causes in 1997 before any war tribunal was ever enacted upon him. Pol Pot is the anti-Christ himelf - as far as Im concerned - and yet he lived freely in Cambodia after the fall of his Khmer Rouge army in 1979. I am surpirsed that no one shot that piece of sh**, or even tried to assasinate him, or put him on trial. And today you can still find members of the Khmer Rouge living out peaceful lives in remote towns and villages. They committed some of the most atrocious crimes against their own people - against humanity - and today they still live without having to face any form of judicial justice - they - by all means - got away with the murder of nearly 2 million people. Im sure the typical Khmer will simply shrug his or her shoulders saying or thinking something to the effect of, "Well, Im sure the next life of a Khmer Rouge will be a bad one." And that is that. They let mystic forces handle justice for them.

After the caves the boy took me behind the Buddha statue where he showed me the remains of the old statue that had been destroyed by Pol Pot. We walked into another cave and stood quietly. It was eerily silent. Too silent. I have never heard such silence. Then we heard the movement of bats high above us.

When I returned to the base of the mountain I got back on the scooter with my driver and off we went down the dirt road that quickly covered my shirt, shorts, and glasses, with a layer of dust. 20 minutes later the driver drove me through town and after I agreed he took me to a Crocodile farm. Just on the outskirts of Battambang there are several Crocodile farms. Locals create a series of pools and walls to raise their crocodiles. When I got there I walked and looked at them. They were all amazingly still. So still that I began to think that they were fake, statues, and that the whole crocodile farm was false. But then a few moved. I could not believe it. Part of their hunting strategy is their ability to stand completely still. Many simply lie on the ground with their mouths open. And they will keep their mouth open without moving a muscle for hours. They wait and wait until a fly or something significant comes near or into their mouth and then SNAP . . . its all over.

From the Crocodile farm the driver took me to his home. His family was very kind and their home very humble. It was a brick two story home. Within there was simply a concrete floor and brick walls, a book shelf and plenty of pictures of his oldest daughter's engagement ceremony. His daughter is 17 years old and she is already engaged. But, she is not engaged to a local man, no. She is engaged to a 37 year old American man. My driver - the father - really doesnt like the American, and he hinted that his daughter really doesnt like him either. But, he is an answer, an escape. The father explained that the scooter we had been driving around today - one source of his income - was given to him by the American. The American has the money to buy things that his fiance's family needs. And Im sure once she is 18 - AND LEGAL IN THE U.S. - the American will take his soon-to-be bride with him back to the U.S.

He had two other boys and another girl. All very kind and shy. Inside there was a bamboo bed as there was one outside. And a hammock as well. There were also 6 giant ceramic pots where they would pour the water that they bought from the market and boil to purify it. In the end though. It was obviously apparent that they were extremely poor.

From there I returned to my hotel, took a shower to wash off all the dust and grime that had clung to my sweat from traveling on the scooter, and had dinner. I then walked around the town a bit but I was nervous, and quick enough I was back in my hotel room watching the news on my television.


Sunday, May 16, 2004

May 16th, 2004 - Bangkok, Thailand

The bus arrived at 5 in the morning. An hour ahead of schedule. The bus stopped at Khao San Road which is a road full of back-packer hostels and guest houses and touts and crap. I dont like this road at all and so as soon as I got off the bus I got a metered taxi and left for Siam Square. I wanted to stay in the same Guest House as I did before but when I arrived it was way too early - 5:20 a.m. I paid the taxi driver and walked up and down the road but all the night security guys and gals in the Guest Houses explained that they were full and that I had to come back at 12:00. I decided to go to my old Guest House - The Bed and Breakfast - and sit on one of its outdoor chairs and read my book until 12 if need be. By 7:00 the owner of the Guest House arrived and she immediately told me that she had a room for me. I realized that the security guy - this includes all the security guys and gals I came across that morning - simply told me to come back at 12 because it was not his responsibility to check me in - thus he lied and said that they were full in the hopes that I would leave and not bother him.

Nonetheless I was very pleased to finally get a room. I went to bed and woke up at about 10:30.

Today I decided that I see for myself one of the three major streets that cater to Sex Tourists in Bangkok. I was a bit nervous for I wasnt sure what I come across. I took the BTS train to Ploenchit Station and walked to Soi 4 road which is also known as Nana Tai. This street is infamous for its Nana Entertainment Plaza. The other infamous roads in Bangkok are Pat Pong and Soi Cowboy. Soi 4 is about two blocks away from the Phrom Phong train station and the closer I got the more foreign men I saw either speaking to a young Thai woman, walking with a Thai woman or two, or on their way to Soi 4 in search of a Thai woman or two or more. Right when I arrived to Soi 4 I saw a man in his 40's with a book tucked right into the backside of his pants. I looked at the cover of the book and saw that it was a guide book to Sex in Bangkok. That was a clear sign that I had arrived at the right place. Right as I walked down Soi 4 I saw several bars with an open-air area facing the street. All, I mean all, the patrons were foreign men in their 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's, and 60's. And all the girls were young Thai women. Most of the women were more than half the age of the foreign men. All the men were being entertained and smiling. As I continued walking I saw more bars, and billiard bars as well, with Thai prostitutes standing outside trying to attract men into their establishments. Then to my left I saw the very infamous Nana Entertainment Plaza. It looked like s$%t!!! It was a hole. It looked beaten up, filthy, caked in grime. There is a large sign just above the entrance into Nana Entertainment Plaza that reads - you guessed it - Nana Entertainment Plaza. There is bar to both sides of the sign and past it is where men go to fulfill all of their sexual needs and fantasies. Right across the street from the Plaza is the Nana Hotel which is a 5 star hotel. There is a world of difference between this ultra clean 5 star hotel and the Nana Entertainment Plaza just across the street. But I think it is symbolically fitting. To one side of the street you have Nana Hotel which is posh, beautiful, well-kept, rich, and caters to middle-class to upper-class foreign professional men. Then across the street you have the filthy and decrepit Nana Entertainment Plaza which looks abused, dirty, and extremely poor. This is an exact reflection of the market and the commodity. The market is composed of foreign men from 1st World Nation who come to Bangkok to buy sex (a commodity) from poor, uneducated, Thai women from the North Thailand country side who have been sold into Sex Slavery by their own brothers, fathers, mothers, or friends. Here we see a fine example of Western men exploiting poor Eastern women.

As I continued up the road I found more 5 star hotels and massage parlors inbetween them. I also found a Modeling Agency which was blatantly a front to fool naive young Thai and Burmese girls from the countryside to believe that their agent was not lying to them when he told them that they were pretty and could work as a model in Bangkok.

Soi 4 continues to a dead end. At the end of the street is the Thailand Tabacco Monopoly. I wonder if they have a part to play in the Sex Industry of Soi 4? And strangely enough I found compounds - literally an urban fortress - toward the end of Soi 4. Are these compounds used to keep the newly bought women from escaping before they are "seasoned" into becoming prostitutes? I do not know.

This is how the Sex Industry works in Southeast Asia. Which is the same as in South Asia (Nepal, Pakistan, India) to an extent. Bangkok is the central hub of the Sex Industry in Southeast Asia. Let us begin with the women. The majority of the women are from the rural Northern villages and towns of Thailand. From Chiang Mai on north and in all directions from there you will find pimps from Bangkok searching for girls (girls as young as 11 years old) and young women. The northern rural areas of Thailand are extremely poor and as a result it is not uncommon for families to easily sell their own daughters into prostitution. It can be argued that a few poor families have no idea that they are actually selling their daughters into prostitution but for the most part, from what I have read, I would have to say that these families are not blind to what is going to happen to their daughters. Thai agents (some of whom were raised by mother's who were prostitutes themselves) approach Thai families and promise that they will take their daughter into the city to work as a maid for a rich family. With the money she makes she can send it back home to her family and support them. Families - usually poor farmers - desperate for money - and in some cases not (some families simply sell off their daughters so that they can buy a T.V.) - sell off their daughters to these agents relieved that they have one less mouth to feed.

This is simply one way a Thai agent may acquire a Thai girl. Another technique is raping her. Since a girl's virginity is required for her to marry it is at times in the interest of the agent or one of his associates to rape the girl thus making her unable to marry, and thus simply worthless. Thus the family is eager to get rid of her since she can not be used to marry and forge a relationship with another family. As you can imagine there are plenty of variations of this. A father may rape his own daughter and sell her off, or a brother, or even her own husband may be found to sell her off thus serving as her pimp.

In one case a Thai agent fooled a Burmese girl into marrying him. He then took her to Bangkok after having his way with her and sold her off to a brothel.

The amazing thing is, is that these women simply except the fact that someone other than themselves is able to possess them and thus have the right to sell them off to a brothel. Since these women are uneducated and highly dependent on their families or husbands they do not know how to survive on their own and simply see themselves as the property of their families, and/or husbands, and/or brothels.

The more uneducated the girl the better she is able to be controlled by her pimp or brothel owner.

With the HIV/AIDS scare - which is very real, estimates place the percentage of prostitutes in Thailand with the virus at 50% - there is a high demand for very young Thai and Burmese girls. The younger the better for the market of men believe that she will be devoid of STD's and the HIV/AIDS virus itself. Foreign men (mostly Japanese) will pay a very high price to "deflower" a young girl as will upper-class Thai men. Girls sought after for her virginity may be as young as 9 years to 11 years old.

The younger the girl is the better for the brothel owner, for the prostitute will have a longer life span of attractiveness for her clients.

When girls are sold off to a brothel owner they do so under the understanding that they have acquired a significant amount of debt. The brothel owner paid a heavy amount for her - from the Thai agent middleman - plus the brothel owner has to pay for her food, her medical bills (abortions, medicine to treat her STD's), etc. The girl is made to believe that she is indentured to her brothel owner because of this "debt" that she must pay off. As a result most of the money she makes for her services as a prostitute goes directly into the hands of her brothel owner.

In some cases (mostly in Nepal, India, and Pakistan) girls are imprisoned in their brothels - sometimes never leaving their rooms, chained to their beds, guarded. The conditions these girls work in ranges. There is an entire spectrum of clients and women. Now, dont just think that it is simply foreign men that are buying sex. The number of local men who buy sex in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, etc. far outways the number of foreign men buying sex. As a tourist or traveler to Thailand you may not think so since at every corner you will see a foreign man with a Thai girl half his age hanging off his arm. The thing is this. Foreign men and they whole process of how they purchase sex in Thailand is completely out in the open. For the local Thai men they have their own streets lined with brothels that are very hidden and unseen by public eyes. Foreign men represent the high end of the industry. The girls they purchase probably work in descent conditions. Then there are the Thai's themselves in Thailand that dont have the purchasing power of the foreigners. As a result the women they purchase are cheap and as a result work in horrendous condition. At times these Thai women servicing Thai men sleep on couches in the lounge area of their brothel so that they are available 24 hours a day. Women can end up servicing anywhere from 2 to 15 men a night.

These brothels could never exist without the approval and protection of the local mafia groups and clans, and with the mafia comes connections to police officers and politicians that they - the mafia - buy off and sometimes include in their Sex operations. You would be right to say that the Sex Industry is woven right into the very fabric of all cultures and societies with webs sticking to our own men, women, gangsters, property owners (someone owns those buildings the brothels are located in, corrupted police officers, politicians, tourists, etc.

The clientele: Who are these men that feed this industry? Simply said they are every sort of man you can think of from the C.E.O. to the college professor, to your business partner, to your neighbor, to your drinking buddy, to your friend at church, to your brother, to your father, to your uncle, to your son, to your grandfather.

Why do foreign western men fly half way around the world to Thailand for sex? The answer is this. Most of the men that partake in the Sex Industry are in their late 30's, to 40's, to 50's, to 60's, to 70's. They are single men, divorced men, twice divorced men, men who never had the balls to ask a woman out, some want to have sex with children, boys, etc. They are lonely in their old age and seeking affection and companionship. Many of these foreign men will take on a hired girl for a few days or a week or more. They - foreign sex tourists - will travel around Thailand with their "hired wives" or to Myanmar, to Laos, to Vietnam, to Cambodia with them. These "hired wives" serve the sex tourists who "bought them out" for a night, day, week, or more by translating for them in Thailand, bargaining for them, etc. as they spend time together or as they travel together. The funny thing is is that many of the foreign men are fool enough to think that the Thai girl they hired actually loves them or cares about him or has been touched by him. Most of the girls simply put on an act and pretend that they give a f@#k. All they want is their money.

Japanese men. They are the most brutal. Interviews with Thai prostitutes reveals that they at times go "crazy". On the outside they are very kind and polite but once behind closed doors they beat the girls, force them to act out degrading sexual situations, and so forth. It can be very easily argued that Japanese men are extremely racist toward other Asians. The darker the skin of the girl the lower they will look at her to the point that she is not even human. In Japan, Japanese prostitutes are extremely expensive and never treated as harshly as Thai girls are treated. If you go to Japan I suggest that you walk into a Manga (Comic book) store and see with your own eyes the type of twisted, demented, horrendous sexual fantasies that are played out in their comic porn. They are disturbing to say the least. All a reflection of the Japanese man's want to dominate a woman or women. From a psychological point of view it is argued that Japanese men are too smothered with love from their mothers. And I have seen this while living in Japan. Since wives do not get the affection and love that they seek from their Japanese husbands they seek it out in their sons by excessively caring for them to the point that their son will turn 30 or 40 and is still living at home for they can not function if they lived independently for their mothers cook for them, wash their clothes, and baby them. When they - Japanese men - eventually marry they find that their wives are filling the role that their mothers once had and confuse their wives with their own mothers and can not relate to them sexually. The Japanese have one of the lowest sex rates between husbands and wives in Asia. As a result the Japanese man may and will seek out "dirty" sex with an outsider - someone outside the borders of public societal behavior - a prostitute. It is with a prostitute that a Japanese man will unleash all his pent up anger, frustration, messed up sexual fantasies, etc.

Prostitution exists in all cities, towns, villages, countries regardless of the race, religion, government, etc. In regards to religion. The more strict and represize the religion is toward sex the higher the likelihood that there is a very strong and very hidden sex industry serving as an outlet - extreme forms of Islam and Catholicism are examples of this. The more laid back and tolerant of sexuality the religion is the higher the likelihood that there is also a very strong and very hidden sex industry - Buddhism is an example of this.

If you would like to read more about the Sex Industry in Thailand I recommend these two books:

Night Market: Sexual Cultures and the Thai Economic Miracle by Ryan Bishop and Lillian S. Robinson.
This is an excellent book. It is very well researched and well documented. It rarely puts forth its own interpretations and opinions. It is very objective.

Sex Slaves: The Trafficking of Women in Asia by T. Louise Brown
This is a good book but I must say that it is full of the author's own opinions thus making it not a very objective read. But, it paints a wider and more interesting picture of the Sex Industry in South Asia and Southeast Asia. It discusses the type of men who purchase sex and why they do so, the pimps, the brothel owners, the politicians, the Mafia, the Japanese mob, and so forth who are all apart of the industry. It also makes it very clear that the number of foreign men who purchase sex in Asia is far lower than the number of Asian men who purchase sex in Asia.

This journal entry is simply my attempt to display a bit about how the Sex Industry works in Asia, in particular in Thailand. There is so much more that I havent been able to touch on or discuss. I recommend that you read more about the topic to paint a better picture for yourself of this industry and the awful situation these women who are often forced into prostitution must work and survive in. They more we are aware of the "evils" of the world Sex industry and the more we openly discuss it with our friends and family, and the more we educate ourselves about it the more we can put a dent into it by aiding organizations that are fighting it, donating to organizations that are caring for the children who are victims of it, by protesting it, voting for politicians who oppose it, etc.

Domenico Composto
May 15th, 2004 - Vientiane, Laos

Since I felt that I had covered most of the city the day before I decided to leave Vientiane and return to Bangkok. My bus was an overnight trip which would depart from Vientiane at 5:00. In the morning I decided to walk west on Thanon Setthathirat where I came across a few more temples on both sides of the street. I took more photo's with a wonderful background of a magnificent blue sky filled with some of the most amazing clouds I continue to see in Laos.

Now, I must say that the skies of Laos in an of themselves should be considered a tourist attraction. Now that I type this here in Bangkok and have only seen dull skies today I am simply reminded by the amazing view that I saw in the blue heavens of Laos. The cloud formations in the country are some of the most amazing and beautiful I have ever seen in my life. I have reviewed my photo's of these cloud formations and I eagerly wait to show them to my friends and family back home for they will take your breath away.

I later had lunch and spent the time after reading a book detailing the Sex Trade in South Asia and in Southeast Asia. I am nearly done with the book and I will discuss its contents soon.

5:00 soon came and so did my bus which picked me up just near my hotel. I hopped on an the bus continued picking up more backpackers. Once we got everyone we drove about 20 minutes or so outside Vientiane to the Friendship Bridge where we would exit Laos and enter Thailand. At the Lao border crossing I saw a few Lao women crossing over to the Thai side. I looked at their passports as they were being stamped and I could see the dates. It appeared that they crossed the border nearly everynight. It was my guess - based on the observation of their passports, their clothes, and tattoos, that they were Lao prostitutes crossing over to the Thai side for work. The Thai baht is stronger than the Lao Kip and so there must be a large incentive to do work just across the border and bring back a stronger currency.

The bus ride back to Bangkok was pleasant. No accidents or anything :) It was a bit cold though, especially since I was sitting all the way in the back right next to the air conditioner. But no worries.

May 14th, 2004

Today was to be dedicated to the exploration of Vientiane. Just as in Luang Prabang all you need is a single day to discover the entire town, or in the case of Vientiane, city. Vientiane sits right along a huge curve in the Mekong river. On the other side of the river you have Thailand, which is within clear view. If Thailand wanted to launch an attack on Laos and take over the country they can easily do so. I must admit that placing the capital of the country within a few hundred meters of the Thai border is no defensive strategy. But in all honesty who would want to take over Laos? It is the poorest nation in Southeast Asia and the most bombed country in the history of warfare. They only have 20 people per square mile. I think I could single-handedly take over Vientiane in an afternoon if I wanted to. Okay, Im exaggerating. Give me 20 U.S. Navy Seals and then I can easily take over Vientiane and thus Laos in an afternoon.

The streets that cater to tourists have more than enough three-wheeled taxi's. But Im really not sure how much business they get from the tourists since most of what you want to see in the city is easily within walking distance. I guess that is why most taxi-drivers will look at you and ask if you would like some pot because as one taxi driver put it, "I have some!" "No thank you," was my constant polite reply.

I decided to change hotels that morning since the one I was in was not nice by any means and having to use a public bathroom did not help. So I found a nice and brand new Guest House on Thanon Setthathirat. The owners of the establishment were very nice. They did not have a single room so instead I got a double with a fan for $6. The room was very clean (it was only a week old) and I had a private bath which was the bonus, or incentive rather.

At the front desk of the Guest House I met a Lao man who was helping out with the opening of the Guest House. He explained that he lived in California and that he came back to Laos to help his wife's sister with the opening of the hotel for she owned it. He was a very nice man.

That morning I had breakfast at JOMA Cafe. You may recall that I also had breakfast at JOMA Cafe in Luang Prabang. It is a chain. They have only two locations. The JOMA Cafe in Vientiane was much the same as the one in Luang Prabang. As soon as I sat down with my "Egger Bagel" and apple juice I noticed a Caucasian man walk in. He was very friendly with the staff at the cafe and after getting his cinnamon roll and coffee he sat at the table next to me. He then introduced himself to me by asking the question I never fail to hear now - now that I am a fulltime traveler - "How long have you been traveling?" I answered his question and explained that I was originally living in Japan. He then told me that he had been living in Laos for about 10 years with his family. He is an English teacher in Vientiane, and originally he is from Miami. He is dedicated to "The Lord" and a Pastor of a Christian (or Baptist) congregation. He was very talkative and extremely friendly and to be honest it was nice to listen to him and how dedicated he was to his faith, his relationship with God, his work, and his family. He has 7 children. The oldest and the youngest are boys and girls inbetween. By 10:30 he had to run to work and he invited me to have lunch with him. We agreed to meet at 12:30 but I knew that I wasnt completely sure if I could make it or not since I had just arrived to the city and wanted to explore it first before sitting down with anyone for a chat.

Well, as soon as I was finished with breakfast I decided to check my email. I did so and grew nervous as I found some complications with a website I am managing. In the end though everything worked out. After that I decided to walk around town. I set out to the Namphou Garden which is sort of the center of town. There is a water fountain right in the middle of this garden area which is all new. It seems like the water fountain and the brick walkway around it were built just a couple of years ago. From there I went north for a block and the east and then north again until I came across That Dam (Black Stupa) which is a Stupa made of bricks that literally looks heavily abused my all elements - nature and man. Just next to it is the U.S. Embassy. I saw the old "Red, White, and Blue" waving beautifully from a high pole behind high white walls. I walked toward it and realized that the Embassy actually occupied both sides of the street. Lao security officers and police men sat lazily along the street. You could see nothing of the Embassy itself. The walls were too high. It was a fortress and not a very friendly place to walk past. But, it did feel like home in some sense. From there I continued north soon walking past the Talat Sao (Morning Market). It was afternoon so the market was completely dead but no worries. I think by now Ive seen enough markets. I soon came across Patuxai which is a sort of Lao version of the Arc de Triumph in Paris. Remember - Laos was originally a colony of France as was Vietnam. I found a curious sign when I walked under the Arc. This is what it said:

"At the northeastern end of the LaneXang Avenue arises a huge structure resembling the Arc de Triumph. It is the Patuxai or Victory Gate of Vientianne, built in 1962, but never completed due to the country's turbulent history. From a closer distance, it appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete. Nowadays this is a place used as leisure ground for the people of Vientianne and the 7th floor on top of the building serves an excellent view point over the city."

I thought it was funny that it describe the Arc as a "Monster of Concrete." I guess you could say that. It isnt particularly attractive but I wouldnt say that it is a Monster. Behind the Arc is a park where I found locals (families, kids, teenagers, etc). using the grass to lounge about or to play soccer. It was a pleasant little area. From there I saw something that I could not explain in the clouds. It was some sort of black dot in the sky and just below it I saw the golden stupa of Pha That Luang (Great Golden Stupa). It seemed a bit far and by this point the sun was beginning to set. I eventually decided to walk toward the stupa and the strange black dot in the sky. It took me about 20 to 25 minutes to reach the stupa. Along the way I saw Vientiane College which was simply a 4 story building and a row of embassies. The Pha That Luang is impressive. Before it is a gate and before the gate there is a large car park sort of area, but there are no cars. I saw many women and a few men jogging around the area. People on scooters sped past me. I walked through the gate and saw that the black dot in the sky was actually a very large kite that three foreigners were flying. I took some photo's of the stupa and made my way back toward the city for I was no on its outskirts. On the way out of the large car park area devoid of cars I saw a public aerobics area. There was a stage with the aerobics instructor going through the motions and locals of all ages moving their bodies to techno beats. It was very cool to see that. And as I walked back toward town I found more and more locals jogging and staying fit. It seemed like the whole city was into exercising.

Soon enough I was back near my hotel and for dinner I sat down at an Indian restaurant reading my book, eating, and listening to the loud conversation that a group of young travelers were having about sex and other related topics.

I left as soon as I finished my meal, went to an internet cafe to send a few emails, and I retired for the night.