Book Review: Bangkok SlaughterHouse by Father Joe Maier

Bangkok SlaughterHouse

I got to know about this book when the rockstar-lookalike lawyer Josephus Tan recommended it (Thank you, Josephus!) Actually the title of this book is ‘Welcome To The Bangkok Slaughterhouse – The Battle for Human Dignity in Bangkok’s Bleakest Slums’ but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll just refer to it as ‘Bangkok Slaughterhouse’ here. πŸ™‚ I highly recommend that you borrow a copy from the national library and have a read. Extremely insightful especially if you have an interest in Bangkok, aside from the shopping haven that it is. πŸ˜€

The book is written by Father Joe Maier, aΒ Redemptorist priest from the United States who went to Thailand in 1967 as a missionary. He has lived and worked in Bangkok’s Klong Toey slum for more than 30 years. Why “Slaughterhouse”? Because some of the residents in the slum slaughtered pigs for a living. But I do also think that some of the residents appear to be as helpless – they are caught in a downward spiral of poverty, lack of opportunity, drugs, gambling, debt, etc.

If you are able to find a copy of ‘Bangkok Slaughterhouse’ in a bookstore, do purchase it. Royalties will be donated to the Human Development Foundation charity. πŸ™‚

And here’s a video clip in which you can see Father Joe and his interactions with the locals:

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To be very honest with you, I’ve become rather nauseated by the oft-reported cases of child abuse (usually of a sexual nature) in South-East Asia by white people. Of course, this doesn’t happen just in Asia. Last year, I was shocked by the reports that one of the people I had previously interviewed for this blog, Jared Fogle of Subway fame, had been sentenced to 15 years in prison after being charged for sex with minors and for receiving child pornography. (I kid you not, go do a Google search) And reading about how parents in this Bangkok slum actually get their kids to go sell trinkets in street corners, and then even their bodies to (disgusting) men is mind-blowing. These parents want the money to either fuel their drug habit or to pay off gambling debts! It’ll prompt you to think “how can this be happening?!” as you read this book.

I’m indeed thankful that there are people like Father Joe who do not exploit these people, but instead help them, and give them a leg up in society by providing access to education, food, etc.

In the foreword written by Jerry Hopkins, the author of ‘No One Here Gets Out Alive’, it is stated that “when Father Joe guided Mother Teresa around the Klong Toey slum in 1971, she said something quite simple that changed his life. She told him to stay in the slums, where the need was great.”

Late last year, I went on a volunteer trip to KL, where ASEAN youth (yes I’m still considered a ‘youth’ :P) helped feed the homeless and take part in other volunteer activities. This year, I did also go to Cambodia to visit an orphanage, bring them supplies of stationery and food, and spent some time with the children. And it pains me to read articles written by people who claim that such ‘voluntours’ (volunteer work while touring a country) are simply for self-glorifying reasons, e.g. for pictures to put on Facebook. For me, it has 3 purposes:

  1. It makes me thankful. There’s so much to complain about in Singapore, that we sometimes forget there’s so much to be thankful for too. Trips like these help me snap out of this ungrateful state.
  2. Reminds me to contribute. Often, I think that I’m only one person. What can I do? These trips show me that even when I’m going through a rough patch in my personal life, I can actually still lend a helping hand to others. And in helping others, I might sometimes be able to help myself too.
  3. Reminds me we are one big human family. There are instances when there’s absolutely nothing I can do. I remember meeting a lady when I was on a missions trip to Batam. There was a huge language barrier – I had difficulty understanding what she was saying about her husband being in prison and her having to raise a young kid on her own – but as I prayed for (and with) her, my tears just kept falling, my false eyelashes fell out, and it’s like our souls spoke when our tongues failed. I understood the depth of her sorrow and I was crying as if it was my own. It was a truly unforgettable experience.

When I read a book or attend a seminar, I ask myself if I’d learnt one thing from it. If I have, then it was worth the money, time and effort already. Likewise, I believe that if the people I meet on these volunteer trips even learn one thing or benefit in one way (e.g. have a fun afternoon of games and laughter), that’s enough. There are many kids in our part of the world who live with AIDS, and won’t live long with AIDS either. If you can even bring a little spark of joy into their lives at one point in time, I think that’s a good thing. Doing a little something is always better than doing a lot of NOTHING. And whatever you do, there will be someone who will question your motives and frown upon your actions. Do it anyway.

And know that the more times you fail, the more likely you are to encounter success.

Father Joe shared a success story in this book:

“Samlee’s story is happy in a Klong Toey way. She’s our kind of hero. Beaten up but never beaten, Samlee never (not once!) ever thought of quitting. If we hadn’t helped her, she would have found another way on her own.” As a single parent, Samlee managed to raise two children who do brilliantly well in school. Read the book to find out how she did it. πŸ™‚

Also, Father Joe encourages us to help out when we see kids peddling stuff on streets – just buy a little something. With enough money, hopefully, these kids (and their parents) will be able to say ‘no’ when some crook decides to try and lure these children into his van with the promise of a lot of money and food.

I’m glad I read this book. It sure gave me a different perspective about Bangkok. It’s not just about shopping, mango sticky rice, coconut ice cream, or Chatuchak. At some point in your life, you have to stop thinking about ‘you’ and start thinking about ‘them’, about ‘us’ and how we all share the same fate actually… we’re not getting out of this life alive.

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Chatuchak Market Map: 2014 (Jatujak)

This map was exactly what I was looking for online before I headed to Bangkok last week. Unfortunately, I didn’t find a suitable (and updated) one online. So I picked up a map when I was at Chatuchak, and have scanned it for you! πŸ™‚ (Leave me a comment if it’s useful for you)

Map of Chatuchak:

Chatuchak Map

Chatuchak Map

The whole market is kind of like a maze, but if you work your way through it systematically, you’ll be able to cover most (if not all) of the market.

If you are heading there anytime soon, do note that it can get quite hot in the afternoon, PLUS there is always the possibility of sudden rain. So ensure you have water, a handheld fan (if you cannot stand the heat) and a poncho or umbrella just in case it rains.

*I’m sounding like a nag but do carry your backpack in front of you and avoid carrying thin/flimsy totes which pickpockets can easily slash with a penknife.

Happy Shopping! ~

Bangkok: Platinum, Palladium, Hello Kitty Cafe, Siam Center – Greyhound Cafe

[Day 4 in Bangkok – Reporting ‘Live’ from the Land of a Thousand Shopping Malls (or more)]

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(Above) Is that a Batman shirt?! Oh wait… it’s ButtMan. πŸ˜€ LOL

Platinum is probably a 15-20 minute walk from Chit Lom BTS. We decided not to hire any tuk tuks or taxis on this trip, relying on ourselves and the BTS to get us everywhere.

Pratunam (opposite Platinum) looks terrible so we did not head there.

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At Platinum, we had lunch at Yum Saap. The longan and crab stick salad which the wait staff had said would be “little spicy” for us turned out to be very spicy. #eatitallnonetheless

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He had a green curry chicken and fishcake set while I ate the pad thai, which is good ‘cos it’s sweet, which I like. Will be back for this again. Total bill: 274 baht.

When we got tired of walking & shopping, we headed to Red Mango (at the Platinum building below Novotel) and had frozen yoghurt with mango and lychee toppings. Total cost: 159 baht.

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Because it was raining when we left Platinum, *thankful I brought ponchos and an umbrella!* we went to Palladium which is across the road from Platinum. Massages are cheaper there: 250baht at Platinum but 199 at Palldium (150baht for 40min).

I also bought a pair of rainbow flats for 100 baht here.

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At Platinum, I did not buy much though I saw many people dragging trolley bags filled with their purchases.

The only shop (on the ground floor) which earned the most money from me:

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I bought 3 dresses here at the “wholesale price” of 390 baht each. Really love the tulip print! πŸ™‚

*Tip: Money changers at the basement offer better rates than those upstairs.

After Palladium, we headed back to MBK for his shirt fitting and ate at A&W on the way there. Oops. Could not resist!!! πŸ˜€

And of course, like any self-respecting Hello Kitty fan, I had to visit the Hello Kitty cafe at Siam Square 1. There was a really long queue outside (the cafe was nice enough to provide benches). The cafe is located at the back of the mall on level 1. It is impossible to miss.

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I did not want to queue for kitty food, which likely will not taste nice anyway; just good for photography purposes. So we went to Greyhound Cafe at Siam Center.

He ordered the Buffalo Burger made from squid ink while I had the fettuccini with shrimp and mushroom cream sauce. The fettuccini was really yummy. Usually, pastas with cream sauce do not taste very good after the first mouthful. But this one was mindblowingly awesome. Must try!

We also ordered some vietnamese spring rolls – not bad but not awesome either. I could taste only the egg yolk:

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We then went to Pat Pong Night Market, near Sala Daeng BTS station. (That’s for another blogpost) πŸ˜‰

Review: Boss Suites Nana Hotel – Bangkok

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The hotel looks great in pictures online but it’s actually not that awesome. The bed is huge but hard. And shower facilities are old.

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The hotel is pretty far from the BTS station. So they provide a free “tuk tuk” service to Nana BTS station. There’s no particular schedule to this. You can get a ride any time when you are leaving the hotel in the morning, but on the way back, there is no way of knowing when you can hitch a ride back. So we walk.

Grand Sukhumvit is much nearer to the BTS station. Boss Suites is another 10 – 15 minute walk from GS.

The massages here aren’t more expensive than outside the hotel though. So that’s good. 300baht for an hour of foot massage is just what I need after a long day of shopping. Great that I can just head back to the hotel room and wash that massage cream off immediately.

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We must have unknowingly booked a hotel in the ‘red light district’. At night, one cannot help but come across streetwalkers at every corner. Others work in pubs and wear the skankiest of outfits while they stand at the door and beckon to passerbys. If you’re a guy in search of nocturnal adventures, you’ll be very happy in Bangkok.

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Also, there are mothers (some very young) begging at street corners and on bridges while carrying their infants. It is a sight I don’t see in SG but it is pretty common in BKK. I have so many questions: Where’s the kid’s dad? Why do you have to beg for a living? Why don’t you get a job or start a stall selling something? These questions will probably never get answered.

Chatuchak Weekend Market, Terminal 21 and Nana Square

[Day 2 in Bangkok – ‘Live’ report :D]

To get to Chatuchak, take the BTS to Mo Chit station, head out of exit 1 and literally, “follow the crowd” right to Chatuchak Market. πŸ˜‰

*Keep an eye on your belongings! Police patrol the area but it does not necessarily stop all crime! If you need a map of Chatuchak (and some air-conditioning), head to the police post.

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We reached Chatuchak at about 12 noon. And the heat was amazing. I was just sweating buckets! It’s a miracle we didn’t get heatstroke. (Bring a handheld fan if you are coming by Chatuchak)

We were done shopping in about 4 hours’ time. Here are some pictures:

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I bought a pair of shades for 39 baht. A ridiculously low price! That’s not even 2 Singapore dollars!

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(Above) Big guy cooking a big pan of paella. He was throwing ingredients, such as long beans, into the pan as he was walking away from it. Inevitably, many of them fell to the ground. But it still attracted many tourists.

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Hand-painted shoes at 350 baht. I really like colorful stuff. The first pair caught my eye.

Bf bought many shirts on this shopping trip. I didn’t even buy any dresses and shoes!!! Shopping skills gone rusty. Lol.

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Then we were off to Terminal 21 next to Asok BTS station.

We had a steamboat dinner at MK Restaurant (level 4 of Terminal 21). The bill came up to 676 baht.

When we got tired from exploring the huge mall, we stopped at a dessert place specializing in matcha desserts for a Matcha Latte Float (110 baht) which was yummy! The vanilla ice cream is really good!Β 
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We then walked all the way to Phrom Phong station where a mall – Emporium – was supposed to be. Sadly, it was under renovation. 😦

On the way back to our hotel, we made a detour to Nana Square and had pizza at The Pizza Company cos the place is packed. It’s open till midnight too.

Bbq chicken wings and Seafood Cocktail pizza cost us 528 baht. Both items were dripping in oil. The pizza had lots of butter, strangely. I like the chicken wings, don’t quite fancy the pizza.
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Time for bed… and MBK tomorrow? πŸ˜€

Getting from Don Mueang Airport to Mo Chit BTS then Grand Sukhumvit Hotel Bangkok

[Day 1 in BKK – Travel journal]

Scoot flies only to Don Meang Int’l Airport in Bangkok now. So when you reach the airport, head to Gate 6, and wait for bus A1. The fare per pax is 30baht. The bus was packed but we managed to get seats. πŸ™‚

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Alight at the second stop and follow the crowd to Mo Chit BTS station – up the second escalator.

It costs 42 baht per pax to get to Nana station (near the hotel). Get train tickets via the machine. You can exchange your notes for coins at the passenger service counters.

The Grand Sukhumvit Hotel Bangkok is located very near to Nana station – probably a 3 minute walk. You can spot the hotel from the train platform too. πŸ™‚

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The staff seem overworked but are friendly enough. Lots of PRC people here though.

(Close to midnight: time for bed)