“Flight 34A now boarding,” announced a woman’s voice over the intercom. I jumped up, grabbed my luggage, and sped towards the terminal. My family called from behind, telling me to slow down, but I couldn’t. Excitement pumped through my veins as I thought about our destination: Thailand. On the plane, we rummaged through brochures, guides, and magazines. Thailand looked so glamorous — the five-star hotels, fancy spas, service, and beautiful women. I was thrilled about living the “high-life” in this foreign country, but when we landed, Thailand was nothing like I had expected.
Bangkok’s streets were filthy, and the hot, humid air stunk of pollution. My parents called over a cab; and as we headed towards our hotel, our driver gave us a tour of the city. It was a pitiful sight: Surrounding the streets were little shacks made out of thin, rusted metal sheets and broken concrete blocks. The “houses” were overcrowded; I saw tiny, unclothed kids standing out in the rain, holding a branch of leaves over their head. As if it wasn’t bad enough, the gray, rainy weather further dampened the image. When we reached our hotel, I wasn’t too enthralled about staying there anymore. I couldn’t help but feel guilty. I was going to spend a full month, towering over these homeless, underprivileged kids in my fancy-schmancy hotel that came with complimentary bathrobes and a spa for lounging. The sight was ironic —a huge, luxurious resort in the middle of the slums — and was just the first of many juxtaposed sights of poverty, greed, and desperation in Thailand.
Another shock came when my family attended one of Thailand’s famous beauty pageants. Although we saw stunningly beautiful women as shown in the brochures, it was all a deception. After the show, the gorgeous “women” stepped outside. People began to take pictures with them, unaware that it came with a high price. The beauties shouted with manly voices, demanding baht (Thailand’s currency), pushing people around when they didn’t pay for their pictures. It was disgusting—not the fact that they were actually men, but the way they acted. I was disappointed because on stage they seemed so graceful. In reality they sold themselves for money.
Reality struck again when my siblings and I headed over to the spa for massages one day. After an hour, my sister and I came out of our room refreshed. When we got to the hall, we found our brother waiting with a look of disgust on his face. He told us that the masseuse offered him a “special service” for fifty extra baht. It was saddening to see how desperation could bring people to such low levels.
This experience showed me a new value of our American dollar as well. Dirty faces lit up every time a haggling seller got his hands on one. Children fought over it, punching, kicking, and stealing it from one another. They were all desperate for money. If people living thousands of miles away could struggle with poverty, what about the people living within my community? I never thought Thailand would be how it was.
Traveling to Thailand has brought me many surprises. The deplorable conditions I saw over a month’s period opened my eyes to the problems around me. I have developed a broader sense of compassion, and it has encouraged me to partake in community service; and recently, in Congressman Mike Honda’s Student Advisory Council (SAC). My trip to Thailand blossomed into something bigger than a simple vacation. This third-world-country excursion brought me out of the shadow of ignorance and into the harsh light of reality.
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