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. 🙂 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. 😀
The book is written by Father Joe Maier, a 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. 🙂
And here’s a video clip in which you can see Father Joe and his interactions with the locals:
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 🙂
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.