Passing the tiny villages dotted along my route, they are made up of a few tiny grass / reed huts set right on the road on shorts stilts, and seeing the children doing their chores reminded me of the story Tom in Vang Vieng told me. I had commented about being in a guest house and having dinner in the restaurant at 9pm and noticing that it closed at 10:30pm and opened for breakfast at 6:30am. When I went for breakfast at 7am the same two waitresses were serving. I was surprised to see them and asked how come they were serving breakfast when I saw them last night serving dinner. They were incredibly surprised at my question and said they work in the restaurant that is their job, no one else. Huh so I asked if they mean they work 7 days a week and was told yes. So I quickly worked it out this means a 16 hour day and 112 hour week. I was shocked I did not say anything and did not ask how much they earned but can only imagine.
When I spoke to Tom about this in our life the universe and everything conversation. He said I know it’s shocking but that is the life here, this is quite normal. He then told me the story of the young girl 15, who works in the guesthouse next door to him. She also works a long day but says she is very very happy because she has a job, gets paid, has a place to sleep, gets food and she loves the fact that in this job she has a life. Again I’m surprised and tell Tom that I understand that it’s normal and I know I need to try and separate my western beliefs and be more pragmatic when I view other cultures, it I so easy for us westerners to jump up on our soap boxes and shout about human rights but we need to do this in perspective. Well Tom gave me the perspective. At the age of 12 this young girl was sent from Laos to Thailand by her parents to work in a pig farm. She had no bed or bedding the children had to just sleep on the floor, she was given minimal food barely enough to keep her going. She worked 7 days a week and 14 hours a day and when the boss did not think she was doing her job properly would cut her arms, today she has scars all over her hands and arms. When she managed to return to Laos and get the job in the guest house she thought she’d hit the jackpot…perspective
So now as I ride along through these little villages and see these tiny kids doing physically demanding chores I try put it in perspective. I see a small boy maybe 5 or 6 washing something looks a bit like mat outside, small children with canvas sacs that they hitch on their heads which run down their backs filled with wood, tiny little girls squatting next to their dad sorting out chillies. I then start thinking about perspective, these villages have no running water, no electricity and if these kids did not do the chores that may make us gasp I guess their mum would be doing it all herself. I must quickly add that I see a group a young boys playing conkers, tiny kids chasing the poor chickens with sticks, a young girls dragging a piece of string for a cat to catch, and a group of children playing laughing splashing and jumping in the river. That is a sight I see a lot. These children have a childhood and play childhood games but unlike many kids in the west have a lot of pretty hard chores to do…perspective
It’s too easy to judge and it’s too easy to turn a blind eye. I do not think the answer is a simple one. I think children have a right to education and a childhood and to feel safe. I certainly don’t think they should be working in a pig farm or anywhere, but there is nothing wrong with family chores. The beauty and difficulty of travelling to far off exotic and wonderful places are the things you see, this broadens your perspective far more than TV or books could ever do.
One of the things I struggle with in Thailand is the sex industry. I have no problem what so ever with western men meeting and marrying Thai or Lao women and have more than one friend how is in such a marriage and it is no different to any other marriage. But what I am struggling to get my head around are the old men I meet with young Thai girlfriends, but they don’t use the word girlfriend they just say my friend. One of the reasons it gets to me is the way these men have treated me, which makes me wonder just how they treat these girls. In public they are ”’nice’ to them and attentive and caring, and ever ever so condescending, so much so I wanted to smack them just for the sake of these young lovely intelligent girls they were talking down to. The ones I’ve met who I am talking about here are between the age of 66 and 85, so old enough to be my father. They have no respect for my personal space and get very touchy feely and familiar far too quickly for my liking. Now they are just being friendly, remember they have young Thai friends so there are no anterior motives here, but they are just too flirty for my liking. Now one particular man the 85 year old kept on telling me over and over how fantastic, lovley, amazing, beautiful and sweet I am. Now don’t get me wrong flattery is lovely, but it’s often not what people are saying but the way they are saying it and this was too much and made me very uncomfortable. The next morning he promptly told me that ‘last night I dreamt about you and we were cuddling together’ EEEEEEEEEWWWWWWW he is a year older than my dad. I think I threw up just a little right there and then. Now what gets to me is that I cannot image these men acting this way towards me back home. There is something about them being in Thailand and having girl friends young enough to be their GRANDCHILDREN that just lowers their social sensibilities. Sorry but it just makes my skin crawl.