The other night, I visited a karaoke bar with my team. We usually do bar outreach Bangkok’s most popular red light district, a tourist hotspot where the hangover was filmed. It’s full of neon lights and is always packed with visitors. This weekend, we wanted to do something a little different and go to a local bar instead.
It was much smaller, less glamorous and filled with locals. As I walked in, I noticed the familiar smell of cigarette smoke, the beat of pop music, the background chatter as the bar started to get crowded. I had been warned that this was going to be a difficult night, that I needed to brace myself for what I was going to see; but so far, it didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary.
And then I saw it. A glass wall with women behind it, just like in the documentaries I’d watched. Somehow when I saw fishbowl bars in documentaries, I’d always imagined that they were rare, and that they were in the darkest, dirtiest parts of town. But this was just an average local bar. It dawned on me that this is just the norm here.
The women behind the glass played on their phones, reapplied lipgloss and chit chatted with each other while customers on the other side of the glass examined them and bargained the prices of each woman they wanted to buy. The women are called by assigned numbers, not by names. These people were treating them like commodities, like property. Almost like a bike or a boat you could rent for a few hours and then return. And everyone was acting so casual about it. It was sickening.
Once they’d chosen a woman to buy, the customers could rent a private “karaoke” room at an hourly rate. It’s one thing to watch something this repulsive happen in a documentary, but to experience it firsthand was surreal. I felt physically sick, like I was suffocating. I had a conversation with a girl younger than my sister, then minutes later watched her leave with a customer she’d just met, looking back at me with a forced smile as she walked away. It made my stomach drop.
As infuriated as they make me, I don’t think the customers who buy these women (and sometimes men) are the enemy. They’re broken, and their actions are the product of a corrupt way of thinking. There’s not a quick fix to the complex, heartbreaking issues of exploitation and trafficking. But there are lots of small steps that can be taken to fight against it, to advocate for people who are being exploited, to bring hope and healing.
We need nonprofits to support women and men leaving prostitution, lawyers and social workers to bring justice to people who perpetuate sex trafficking, better job opportunities so people aren’t forced to turn to prostitution out of desperation to provide for their families. We need change, hope, and justice. I’m forever thankful for each of you who bought a t-shirt or donated to support my trip. I’m changed because of the chance I’ve had to serve women and their families, and walk beside them as they build new lives.
If your heart is broken for people trapped in the cycle of prostitution and you’d like to support the ministry I’ve been working with, you can do so through this link: :https://warinternational.org/donate/ (choose "missionary" and "Killar" from the drop-down menu.)
Note: I’m not including any photos in this post for privacy and security reasons, but I recommend watching this documentary if you’re interested in learning more about fishbowl bars in Thailand and different types of prostitution around the world. It's available on Netflix.
Hi! Welcome to my blog. Whether you stumbled upon this page through your friend’s friend’s Instagram or you’ve been following for a while, I’m glad you’re here. Thanks for stopping by and letting me share my life with you.
I write mostly about the places I visit and the people I meet. I love to write for the same reason I love to travel: because it teaches me a new way of seeing the world.
Other things I love: thrift shopping, sustainable fashion, big sunglasses, deep conversation, a good book, digital marketing, messy hair, planes, poetry, hot tea + long distance running.
This blog is about saying yes to the things that make you feel alive. It’s about rolling with the punches and embracing uncertainty because not everything will be smooth sailing. A life of adventure is full of challenges but I think it's worth it. Here's to saying yes to adventure, whatever that looks like for you.
Thank you so much for reading and experiencing this journey with me! :)
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