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.
Thanks for stopping by. A little about me — I have a latte each morning and drink about 7 cups of tea a day (not exaggerating.) I live in Atlanta where I'm going to law school. I like long distance running and I love my city and I love exploring our beautiful earth. I believe in following our passions & being free.
I started this blog to document and share my favorite moments while traveling. This is a place where I process my ideas, share the aches and joys of my heart, speak truth, and shine light on the beauty I see in the world.
I've realized that what I probably love most about traveling is the same thing I love about writing — the way it connects me to myself and other people. I hope as you read my words, you feel connected to our shared humanity.
Thank you for reading. :)
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