Change Yourself…Change The World.

Hello Everyone
November 23, 2008, 2:21 am
Filed under: Thailand


This is originally from my previous facebook group ‘Brittany Goes Global,’ (wanna know how I got the blog name? ;)) in which I sent messages to friends about my travels with Global College’s CRC Program through Taiwan, Thailand, India, and Turkey. This post was not originally associated with this blog, but I have put it up here in the correct date. As you can see, my writing is not quite up to par with what it is now 🙂 But I thought you readers would still find it informative and entertaining.

About this post: I know that many of you blog readers are into social enterprise and development. Looking back on this, I know how amateur this sounds– but this was a very significant moment in my life that inspired me to look into micro-finance in the first place, which started a long and winding path that has now lead to social enterprise.

Everyone has a beginning. This is my beginning. I hope you enjoy it.

I’ve been in Thailand for the past month now. For the first three weeks I felt like I was in a stationary place, I felt no ‘change’ taking place over me that usually happens in travel (though of course I know it does subconsciously). But then last week we went on a “Wat Suan Dok Meditation Retreat,” and if you’re both interested and have time, I’d like to share my experience with you.
So this ‘meditation retreat’ did not end up being about meditation at all- we probably meditated for at the maximum 20 minutes a day. But what we DID see were refugee camps on the Thai and Burmese border. We visited one of these villages for the week we were there. It was one of those ‘eye-opening’ experiences- seeing how these people are treated. There has been a lot of history of the Burmese army raping, pillaging, and killing local Burmese people. Many of the Burmese have fled to Thailand and are now ‘stateless,’- essentially they have no Thai citizenship and have no rights. They aren’t allowed to leave their villages, they can’t work any jobs, can’t send their children to schools, and are essentially helpless. But between staying in Burma and living under terrible oppression by the Shan army, or living in gross poverty but safeness in Thailand, these people choose Thailand. The monks have done the most amazing job in this particular village. They have built huts for a village of around 400 people, provided them with food, secondhand clothes, and either help the people locate jobs or pay them themselves for simple tasks. I have for the most part been against missionary work, after hearing of stories in Africa where children aren’t allowed to eat if they don’t accept Jesus as their personal savior. But after seeing the situation on the border, I realized I don’t CARE if the monks are spreading the word of Buddha, at least they’re helping these people when no one else will.

The first day we toured the village a senior monk took us to meet some of the local people. He took us into a hut that was inhabited by a man with his three sons, aged 13, 9, and 5. Their mother was raped and killed by the Shan army, and the kids barely have enough to eat. They were all thin and frail-looking. The father and 13-year-old looked so sad, but the two small children were innocent and smiling, happy we were there to see their life. The senior monk told us he was worried for their future. He told us that the monks helped institute a ‘one-baht-a-day school’ where the children could get an education for one baht a day each- but it is still too much for some people. He told us how hard it was for the adults to find jobs, and if they were lucky enough to get a job for the day, at the very most they made 50 baht. At this point I just wanted to pull out my coin purse and press my 1000 baht bill into this father’s hands. To see the terrible hardship they had to endure, the living situation of their hut, and the meager dinner boiling on their stove made my stomach turn. Every human being should have the basic right to eat food and not go hungry. Every human being should have the basic right to be able to sleep with a roof over their heads and feel safe, to be able to work a job, to have clothes on their back. And I looked around at this village and I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for these people if the monks hadn’t stepped in. They’re not even recognized as refugees by the Thai government, they are ‘displaced people temporarily living on monk lands.’ When I got back to internet, I looked up the Shan people, and there are about six million of them, most of them having fled the Shan state, most of them living in Thailand in statelessness. How many people know about this situation? Why isn’t anyone doing anything about this? I understand there are so many problems in the world, that so many people need help, but I had not known anything about this situation until now.

There have been major disturbances on the Thai and Burmese border about six years ago, and now there are land mines between the Thailand and Burmese border. I’ve seen some kids with no arms, with faces completely blistered and disfigured horribly. What I felt over and over again as I looked at these kids was outrage and sadness, and once again the chilling realization of uneven distribution. That some people are so rich that they can own 50 cars, and then there are children that are literally starving to death. And the fact is, this village is one of the good ones. Yes, people can’t find jobs, yes, they go hungry, but the monks have helped them a lot. I can’t imagine the villages where there have been no help at all.

When I was in India and I saw this extreme poverty around me, it made me wonder (to more of an extent) why was I born into such a privileged life, with more clothes and food and material possessions than one person could ever need? Why was I the lucky one chosen to live such a carefree life while others starve and suffer? And the only thing I can do is to look at it, and know that I must have been put in such a place so I can be in a position to help the ones that are starving and suffering. It doesn’t really matter how I help them, or to what extent, as long as I am. It was like what I learned in Calcutta, making that one small step in their lives that they’ll never remember, that they’ll never realize I did. I taught English to two classes in the refugee camps. I taught one class “I am JUMPING!” “I am laughing,” “We are eating,” and made them laugh while I acted out each verb. Kids who volunteered to do these actions got candy. I taught the more advanced class ‘That’s cool,’ the difference between ‘weird’ and ‘normal,’ and ‘whatever.’ It’s not much. But it made them all laugh. And maybe I made them laugh, but they made me grow. They made me look at their situation and know that SOMEONE has to do something about it, and if no one else is going to step up and try to make a change, then I will- whether it’s working on statelessness, or world hunger, or education, or sex trafficking, or anything I can do that will help provide humans their most basic needs. So thank you, Wat Suan Dok meditation retreat, for reiterating what my needs are. To be the change that I want to see in the world.

Thanks for listening everyone.
Much love,

The Sex Industry in Thailand
November 17, 2008, 10:53 pm
Filed under: Thailand


This is originally a reflection paper I did while attending Global College’s CRC Program. This post was not originally associated with this blog, but I have put it up here around the estimated date written. I thought readers would find these informational, educational, and entertaining. Please note that these posts are much longer than the usual ones, since they are papers.

Names have been changed for this particular post to protect the privacy of certain individuals.

I hadn’t heard much about sex tourism or sex trafficking before I got to Thailand. I had no idea it was the largest industry in Thailand, surpassing even the export of rice; I had no idea that some people came to Thailand JUST for sex; and I had no idea that on top of this sex industry, there were sex slaves that were being taken from surrounding areas of Thailand and forced to sell their bodies without their consent.

Dave and Laura’s presentation opened my eyes to such atrocities. Dave and Laura are Americans who have had much experience in the law and legislation and public health sectors. They had been living in Thailand for the past ten years, and continued their work in Chiang Mai. Dave and Laura’s presentation on the social issues in Thailand astounded me. I was in complete awe of them and in complete disgust of the presentation they showed us. I learned a lot about human trafficking in Thailand. It is generally expected for the female to take care of the family, so poor Burmese girls are told from human smugglers that they can find work in Thailand like babysitting or washing dishes, and they’ll be able to send the money back to their families. Once these girls get across the border, however, they are sold into sex slavery and locked up unless sold to tourists for sex. Most of these girls are then told that they’re in ‘debt’ to the sex shops, and that they have to pay them back. They get a substantially low income that usually covers the bare minimum cost of their survival, and they don’t have the opportunity to send back money to their families. If a woman absolutely refuses to sell her body for payment, the shops then send a ransom to their family demanding that they pay an indecently large sum of money for these girls to be returned. If the family can even come up with the cash, usually the girl is just left outside the border and has to find her way back.

I was shocked to hear of this, and my immediate thoughts were of ways that I could personally help these girls. Along with learning about institutionalized corruption, statelessness, and the pedophilia problems in Thailand, I came away with an urgent sense of need to help these people. I felt so much respect for Dave and Laura, who had seemingly dedicated their lives to get these people out of such situations. I felt whole-heartedly convinced that Dave and Laura’s presentation was true, because they had done case studies themselves, taken pictures as evidence, and given specific examples of the things they personally encountered in their jobs that showed how serious this situation was.

But the next day turned out to be incredibly confusing. We had another class at an organization (which will remain unnamed)- an organization that helps ‘sex workers’ (as they called it) learn about HIV/AIDS, teaches them English, gives them a place to relax, and essentially lets them know what their rights as sex workers are. The organization was incredibly up front with us about the sex tourism industry, and portrayed sex tourism to be an industry where all of the girls ARE willing to work, and AREN’T victims. The organization came from an experiential side- they meet with around 2,000 sex workers a week, and told us that RARELY are there underage or over-the-border sex workers. They asserted that a law was passed in 1996 that essentially helped institutionalized corruption, but demolished underage and over-the-border sex workers. The law was that a police officer had a right to come to a bar every month, and if he found an underage sex worker, they could fine the bar 50,000 baht per person. If they found a sex worker without an I.D. (an over-the-border prostitute), they could fine the bar 100,000 baht a person. It immediately became unprofitable for any bar to have an underage or over-the-border sex worker, and the numbers for these reduced DRASTICALLY and are essentially nonexistent now.
It was completely contradictory to what Dave and Laura had asserted. It was strange too, because Dave and Laura came to Thailand in 1998, and this law had been passed in 1996. I was overwhelmed with two different sides of information from very reputable resources. Which one was right? Who was I to believe?
A few weeks later Dave and Laura took us on a tour of the prostitute bars in Chiang Mai. We drove by high-end prostitute bars designed to look like movie theatres, prostitute bars staged as massage parlors, bars you could go to pick up prostitutes, curtain-car places to bring prostitutes, and used Jeff and Kerry (two members of our group) as an example that you can ask any tuk-tuk driver to take you to prostitutes. It was a really eye-opening experience, to see all of this right in front of me rather than just hearing about it. Dave and Laura thought that a few of the prostitutes we saw were underage prostitutes. I asked them about the bill passed in 1996, and they said that the organization was inaccurate in that it cut down over-the-border and underage prostitutes to basically nothing. They said that a lot of policemen themselves own prostitutes. They said that in 2003 there was a huge raid in Chiang Mai where underage prostitutes were found under lock and key, that the situation was not under control, and that I had to be really careful with any group that is an advocacy group, because they’ll spin the truth to fit their needs.

But I was confused and angry at this news. I was definitely apt to believe Dave and Laura, but both of them and the other organization advocate the same thing, although in a different way; human rights. If the sex worker’s organization claimed to be meeting with 2,000 prostitutes a week, was an organization for human rights, and wanted to make a positive change in society, why WOULDN’T they be honest about the situations going on? Why would they lie and say that there are basically no underage and over-the-border prostitutes when there clearly are? And if I’m a young, naïve person going to learn information about prostitution, I would’ve just believed them and had a totally skewed viewpoint of the problems with prostitution. People who want to change things need to know ALL of the facts, so why would they lie about it?

It was a really hard thing to wrap my head around. It made me feel really lucky that I had met Dave and Laura, who had been able to not only tell me the truth about it, but show it happening right in front of my face. I feel completely indebted to their services to us. But I also learned an important lesson: we have to be incredibly careful of the information we’re getting, whether it’s from the Internet, from books, or even advocacy groups.

Tourism and Thailand
November 13, 2008, 5:29 am
Filed under: Thailand


This is originally a reflection paper I did while attending Global College’s CRC Program. This post was not originally associated with this blog, but I have put it up here around the estimated date written. I thought readers would find these informational, educational, and entertaining. Please note that these posts are much longer than the usual ones, since they are papers.

A summarization of this reflection: Globalization and Tourism, and whether it has taken a toll of Thai culture.

KhaoSang Road, Bangkok, is quite possibly the most touristy part of the city. As soon as I stepped foot on the street the first thought that came to my mind was “Finally, India again!” Call centers and Internet cafes loomed at me from every corner. Men in tuk-tuks trundled by, hoping to swindle a tourist or two into paying large sums of money to show them around Bangkok. Clothes, shoes, books, and food stalls spilled out onto the street, and every step I took was followed by a flurry of Thai men chorusing “Hello, ma’am? Yes?” As overwhelming as these sights can be for a new traveler, I felt right at home.

It was the most relaxing and luxurious week of my life, and the entire city catered to every pleasure I felt like indulging. I got a massage almost every day for as little as seven dollars an hour. I bought clothes and books, I ate delicious and filling Mexican, Indian, and Thai food, and I stayed in a nice little hotel for only two hundred baht a night. I spent my days napping, eating, and reading. And whenever I felt like venturing out, there were countless things I had at my disposal. I could walk into KhaoSang and enjoy a delicious Italian meal, or I could wander over to a small food stall and get some Pad Thai, or I could go out at night to a bar or shisha hut and hang out with some farangs and local Thai people. It was blissful, it was heavenly, and it was the perfect week off from school.

And after my week of haven in Bangkok, Chiang Mai only made it better. Absolutely delicious gourmet food served for dirt-cheap. A gorgeous hotel with a large queen bed, bathroom, balcony, and room service, just for me. Everywhere I went were signs for a massage course, a cooking course, a Thai course, an opportunity to ride the elephants, an opportunity to rent a scooter for the day, an opportunity to study Yoga or meditation. The possibilities for tourists in Chiang Mai, and in Bangkok, and probably in all of Thailand, are endless.

But as soon as I stepped into Bangkok, a little seed of doubt in me started to grow, continuously throughout the days until I got to Chiang Mai and finally addressed the problem head-on: where was this CULTURE? What were the Thai people about? What was it that they liked to eat; that they liked to do as a pastime; that they think is socially acceptable and culturally normal? Every single Thai that I’ve met has been a Thai that has catered to my needs. Whether it is Chai, the incredibly nice man who has a bar across the street, or Adam, the sweet old gentleman who owns the hotel- without me being here as a tourist, these things would not exist.

Not only that, but what exactly is tourism? It seems every ‘tourist’ that comes to Thailand, or India, or Bali, or any such destination HATES being called a tourist. To be a tourist is to just pay money to relax and enjoy the things around you instead of working. This is exactly what we are all doing. But we don’t want to be called ‘tourists.’ “Oh I’m a photographer,” says Jason. “Oh, we’re in Chiang Mai studying for two months,” explains Brittany. “Oh, I’m here to study meditation and further my spirituality,” pronounces Sam. But we’re still all TOURISTS. We still all eat in the restaurants that the Thai have built for tourists, we still stay in the hotels that that Thai have made for tourists, and we still pay for the courses that are created for tourists.

I felt this incredibly strange energy in KhaoSang Road, like all of the foreigners were trying to avoid each other because they’re in search for something more ‘authentic’ than conversing with someone back in the West. Pico Iyer explains it perfectly. “Bangkok was the heart of the Orient, of course. But it was also every Westerner’s synthetic, five-star version of what the Orient should be: all the exoticism of the East served up amidst all of the conveniences of the West” (Iyer, 312). While everyone is in this search of the ‘exotics’ of Thailand, we’re all looking at each other, judging each other, speculating who is the rugged traveler and who’s the tourist, who’s coming to experience the culture and who’s coming to buy tacky over-priced ‘hippie’ things (though we all do it), who’s here to experience new things and who’s here to experience the same old thing in a different way? It’s a question of who is real and who’s not.

In retrospect, I associated India with Thailand solely because of the tourism in both countries. KhaoSang Road, Bangkok, is just another Pahar Ganj, Delhi. India and Thailand both know exactly what it is that tourists are drawn towards while traveling. “The Thais, moreover, seemed to know exactly what their assets were- melting smiles, whispering faces, a beseeching frailty, a luxurious grace- and exactly how to turn those virtues into commodities that the West would covet” (Iyer, 313).  And now that I look around Thailand, I wonder, where exactly IS the culture that I came here to study? Everyone that I’ve met seems to be catering to my pleasures. Pico Iyer asserts that it is in part because so many poor countries of the East idolize the West. “If money does not buy happiness, neither does poverty” (Iyer, 314). And moreover, because of this constant state of tourism coming through to the East, the people are slowly starting to lose their own cultural identity. Everyone, inadvertently, helps with this. I have even helped with it, whether it was giving pens to little children in India, or sending my Tibetan family some American CDs.

I don’t want to be thought of a tourist here, in Thailand. I like to tell myself that I’m here to study, that I’m here to learn about religion and social issues and the true culture. How can I learn about the culture in Thailand when everyone is urging me to go bungee jumping, or to spend a day at the tiger kingdom, or to take a cooking class? Should I accept that this is truly what Thai culture IS? A culture that is there to accommodate foreigners? Certainly tourism has greatly contributed to their economy. Thousands of businesses have sprung up, tuk-tuk and taxi drivers have people to drive, and places of attraction to what Thailand is “really about” is all that I see and have known in Thailand for the past month I’ve been here. Has their country turned into a culture that is solely for the entertainment of the ‘richer’ ones? “Now the question that has arisen is whether this opening up, internally and to the external world, is threatening to deform Thai culture and its style, whether these will be ‘modernized’ in the process of the globalization of culture to the point of becoming a mere caricature of their time-hallowed image.” (The Thai Opening Up to the World, 13) And what’s amazing about this is that it seems to be OUR fault that their country has turned into this. “Probably the most powerful single factor that led to the opening up of [Thai] society was America’s massive involvement in Vietnam” (The Thai Opening Up to the World, 13). Since Bangkok became a station for the American army, tourism flourished there. People saw that they could make businesses catering to the ‘rich white man’s’ needs.

I find that I do enjoy Thailand more than I liked Taiwan, but it made me question whether I liked Thailand better because I’m in this perpetual state of living in a place where the culture is looking to cater to MY needs, because I’m the rich white Westerner who will pay to live in their hotel, eat at their restaurant, and buy their products. And this makes me look to Taiwan. What exactly about Taiwan is more ‘authentic’ than Thailand? Because they aren’t catering to every tourist’s needs in Taipei? But hasn’t Taipei become another Westernized city? There are 7/11’s EVERYWHERE, strip malls all over the place, McDonalds, Burger King, advertisements for face cream and jean shorts, the MRT. Taipei is the more modernized (and expensive) version of Thailand. Moreover, reading the “Playing in the Valley” handout that Kerry has given us has shown exactly how even tourists in the East have transformed tiny little hill tribe cultures into vast entertainment industries to cater to tourist’s needs to ‘get away to the mountains for a weekend.’

What exactly am I looking for when I travel? Where is this ‘authentic culture’ that I am seeking? Is there even an authentic culture anymore? Or is it because travelers and foreigners like me have come to Taiwan and Bangkok and the East and befouled their cultures with my iPod, my camera, my face cream and designer clothes?

Weekly Update #3478
November 9, 2008, 1:20 am
Filed under: Pictures Post, Thailand, Video Post


This is originally from my previous facebook group ‘Brittany Goes Global,’ (wanna know how I got the blog name? ;)) in which I sent messages to friends about my travels with Global College’s CRC Program through Taiwan, Thailand, India, and Turkey. This post was not originally associated with this blog, but I have put it up here in the correct date. As you can see, my writing is not quite up to par with what it is now 🙂 But I thought you readers would still find it informative and entertaining.

Hey everyone,
So first off I just want to say how happy I am that OBAMA WON! It was around 10 AM in Thailand when the news broke out and my teacher ran out to buy us all beers and we sat around the huge TV in the hostel’s office watching Obama’s victory speech. We celebrated all day long and went out partying at night (We drank ‘Obama cocktails’- props Chai’s bar), and we lit up an ‘Obama’ Thai lantern and sent it flying in the sky, along with fireworks. It was a pretty tight celebration in Chiangmai. Wish I could’ve spent the day in Kenya though, where apparently they went on national holiday. I was so happy and proud to be an American that day.
So we’ve completely settled down in Chiangmai now and taking in the area. One night we decided to sit in on a Chiangmai town meeting- oh guess what, we heard people talk in Thai for 2 hours. Super interesting.
But I did get to sit down for a ‘monk chat’ and talk to some monks from Cambodia. Yes, I know what you’re all asking. I now know monk jokes. I can’t ever reveal them to anyone, though. Just like they can’t reveal the knock-knock jokes Mira and explained to them.
We also made a pilgrimage to Doi Suthep, the most famous Buddhist wat (a Thai monastery) in Chiangmai. Pretty much everyone got sick from the crazy winding mountains and Rachel threw up. Sweet, don’t worry about it.
On a more serious note, we went to a Thai orphanage for a few hours to play with the kids, and I kind of had that feeling like I was in Calcutta again volunteering at Mother Theresa. Some of the people in my group didn’t really want to interact with the kids or play with them. I came with the feeling that I have a much better life than these kids and if I can donate a few hours of my time to make them feel wanted and loved, then it’s the very least I can do. I felt that thing about volunteering again, you know, helping these kids taking that one small step in their life that they’ll never remember you for, whether it’s changing their diaper or washing their clothes or pushing them around on a merry-go-round. But I will remember.
Unfortunately this whole ‘giving back’ plan gave Jeff, Rachel, and I something in return: some kind of crazy stomach virus. So I’m not sure whether it’s from the kids or if there’s a crazy little parasite in my stomach but it hasn’t been a fun weekend. One of the wonderful things about traveling…
OH also forgot to mention, I hacked off all of my hair. I decided the dreadlocks, while they were fun for a bit, not really my thing. The cutting-of-hair was a complete impulse decision; I was about to go to bed at 2 AM and then I just got up, went over to the mirror, and pulled out some nail clippers. I cut off one of my dreadlocks and I was like ‘alright, let’s do this.’ I got Amy to help me cut everything else off and we took lots of pictures, which you can find below!

Check out the short clip of my reaction to my newly shorn hair.

Alright so here’s to laughing through the parasites feasting on my intestines, here’s to learning monk jokes, here’s to cracking open beer at 10 in the morning, and here’s to experiencing the ups and downs of traveling the world.
Check out the haircut pictures below!

The Haircut Chronicles

Chiang Mai! is AMAZING!
November 1, 2008, 1:11 am
Filed under: Thailand


This is originally from my previous facebook group ‘Brittany Goes Global,’ (wanna know how I got the blog name? ;)) in which I sent messages to friends about my travels with Global College’s CRC Program through Taiwan, Thailand, India, and Turkey. This post was not originally associated with this blog, but I have put it up here in the correct date. As you can see, my writing is not quite up to par with what it is now 🙂 But I thought you readers would still find it informative and entertaining.

Hello from Chiang Mai, one of the most amazing places on earth! (For those who don’t know- and don’t worry I didn’t either- Chiang Mai is in Northern Thailand). Mira and I took a flight in today and entered ‘Old Town’- it’s the central part of Chiang Mai that’s surrounded by a moat. Yeah, I’m living around a moat, don’t worry about it. But seriously I might has well be living like a queen anyway, our hostel is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. I mean…I have never stayed somewhere so nice. I have my OWN room with a cozy queen bed and a wicker desk and wardrobe, my own huge bathroom and a balcony, plus a fridge and a TV. Plus WIRELESS internet (novel concept in Thailand), and our hostel has a kitchen! Life can’t get more amazing. I seriously look around at my surroundings and always wonder how I got so lucky.
PLUS the area around Chiang Mai is so awesome. There are tons of restaurants everywhere that serve GOURMET food for super cheap- Mira, Heidi, and I celebrated the beginnings of Chiang Mai with chang, bruschetta, and vegetable tempura (for 3 dollars- not bad!)- not to mention the amazing dinner I ate too- and we wandered around the area and popped into a photography shop, hung out with some locals and played guitar into the night. It’s so peaceful and quiet around here also. I seriously feel like royalty. Can I never leave, please?

But we did leave Bangkok with a bang(….kok), and it was definitely the best Halloween I’ve ever had. Last night Mira, Adam, Amy and I dressed up in halloween costumes (I was a hula girl, but Adam took the cake- he was a ‘sexy’ sheep? Bahhhhh!) Khaosang Road was PACKED with people, bars were open on every corner with music blasting- we danced on stage and about a million people came up to us asking for photographs- it was one of the most fun nights I’ve ever had, and hanging out with an Angel, Frida Kahlo, and a sexy sheep was the icing on the cake. Thailand is- amazing. I love it here. I love traveling. I love my life.

Check out this video taken by MTV covering Khaosang Road on Halloween. You’ll see Frida Kahlo, a sheep, and a hula girl dancing onstage 🙂

Much love,


October 28, 2008, 1:10 am
Filed under: Thailand


This is originally from my previous facebook group ‘Brittany Goes Global,’ (wanna know how I got the blog name? ;)) in which I sent messages to friends about my travels with Global College’s CRC Program through Taiwan, Thailand, India, and Turkey. This post was not originally associated with this blog, but I have put it up here in the correct date. As you can see, my writing is not quite up to par with what it is now 🙂 But I thought you readers would still find it informative and entertaining.

About this post: This post was about Bangkok, where I went to for fall break, before going north to Chiang Mai.

Things you may find of interest:

1) I ate bugs. I had a cricket, a grasshopper, and a worm. We dubbed it bar food while we drank our chang.

2) I have dreadlocks.

3) I’ve been meeting the coolest people in Bangkok.

4) Vacationing is tight.

Fall Break Bangkok ’08!