Thailand, Day 3

What I didn’t write about while in Thailand but I will remember the longest.

On day 3 of my Thailand trip, I didn’t go to the school where I was working, but instead I stayed at the hotel to work with my colleague, Bob Probst, who had arrived the day before. We wanted to make sure we had all of our keynotes and workshops in order for the weekend conference.

We headed to the 31st floor of the Landmark Hotel to work together. It’s a big space with comfortable chairs and tables and floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to the stunning landscape of Bangkok.

In the states, this floor might be considered the “executive lounge” floor and only accessible for folks with certain Hilton or Marriott status levels. But in this hotel, access wasn’t limited to anything, that we could tell, so I met Bob there and we set up our computers, got our coffee, and began to work.

And then I noticed something odd. A 60-something-year-old man walked in with a teenaged-looking Asian girl on his arm. He sat down and said to her with a dismissive waive of his small hand, “Go get what you want” as he pointed to the buffet breakfast. He was speaking English, but not with an American accent. Pot-bellied, balding, and smugly confident, I was positive he was not her husband, father, or benevolent uncle. Within minutes another man – same description – arrived with another very young, wide-eyed Asian girl. He, too, sent her off for food. Seated near them, I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation.

SOB #1: Yours looks like a high-flyer.

SOB #2: She’s great. Was getting another tonight but will keep this one.

SOB #1: Mine, looks aren’t so great, but she is fa-bu-lous, if you know what I mean.

Me to Bob: No, you can’t throw them out the plate glass window. 
Bob to me: Watch me.

Two other “business” men joined them and the four of them moved to another nearby table and discussed something that I’m sure made their small parts feel bigger. I swear, if I had heard with enough clarity the type of work they were doing or the company they were with, I’d blast either or both all over the web. The young girls with them, both sitting at other tables, ate hungrily, never looked up, and said nothing to each other. They both sat. Waited. Not anxious. Not anything other than waiting. I kept trying to catch their attention. That would have required that they look up.

Bob and I left. I couldn’t stand being there and Bob’s idea of throwing the men through the plate glass windows of the 31st floor didn’t seem like the right thing to do. Yet, it seemed the perfect thing to do. I wanted to rescue those young girls. They didn’t act as if they understood anyone thought they need rescuing. I didn’t understand what I was seeing, and I completely understood it. I was sickened and heart-broken.

I told one of the conference organizers what I saw and she was as appalled as I was, but admitted I wasn’t the first American to see such a thing at that hotel. She explained that they had put other Americans at that hotel and another speaker – also a women – had encountered a very similar situation and now refuses on subsequent visits to stay there. I will, too, should I ever go back.

The problem, as it was explained to me, is that this hotel is located in the business area and some foreign business men enjoy sex with young Thai girls. That’s it. They enjoy sex with young Thai girls and it’s not illegal and the hotel is near the what the men want – where they conduct their business and where they can find the girls they want.

Sex-trafficking in this area is a huge problem and prostitution is not illegal. As one local explained to me, many families consider that when their young daughters are good enough for “town work,” they are able to move out of working in the opium fields. This is a step up. What I saw was a step up.

The most important association I might have right now is with Pam Allyn‘s work with LitWorld. This global organization helps girls worldwide find their own voices, discover what it means to be valued, figure out what it means to value themselves. What Pam is doing can help change the lives of girls. Everywhere. I deeply appreciate that Pam has invited me to serve on her advisory board. This board isn’t worried about Lexiles or state tests or leveled libraries. This board is worried about the lives of children, and especially of girls. There are girls out there in the world, in 2017, now, tonight as you read this, who have been convinced that a step-up is accomplished by lying down. With old men who leave their wives at home. Shame on those men. Shame on them. Shame. On. Them.

And as I condemn those men, I realize that I have done so little in this world. I have done so very little.

Yes, I want to go back to Thailand. I want to show all those girls that the next step up is there for them. That giving yourself to someone who does not value you, does not respect you, does not care for you, is not the next step for you.

And if you want to help, then donate today to http://www.litworld.orgbecause when girls find their voice, then girls find they have a choice. It’s one of the organizations my husband and I support. I encourage you to do the same. Any amount. You will be changing the lives of girls.

And as you do, those SOBs, and all their friends, will discover that they are only sad, fat, old, pompous, desperate, cheating, lying, bald men. Alone. On the 31st floor.


Thoughts on the Hobby Lobby position

Dear Hobby Lobby Owners,

I shopped at one of your stores once.  To be honest, I’m not a very artsy-craftsy type of person, so no longer shopping there won’t change my life much at all.  But there was that day when I wanted something for my Christmas tree and your store was near and so off I went.

I loved the wonderful Santa Clauses every place.  They were such fun and the prices were great, too.  And the elves and flying reindeer–those were plentiful and they certainly helped get me in the shopping spirit of the season!  I don’t remember seeing anything to do with the birth of Christ, but I bet there was a crèche someplace, just under the Santa statues, I’m sure.  And there in the far corner, on one small shelf being readied for the next big retail season, I saw a wonderful Easter bunny.  It’s always such fun when the holiest of days in the Christian calendar is remembered with the tale of a rabbit delivering brightly colored eggs!

But, I think what caught me most were your low prices. That was much appreciated.  Of course, when I turned over the Santa I bought, I did notice it was made in China.  I didn’t think much of it at the moment because, frankly, I buy a lot of things that are made in China.  Actually, I know many people who buy things made in China even when their attitudes toward religion and rights of the individual don’t match those of the Chinese government.  What bothers me is that your rejection of individual freedom seems to be consistent with China’s rejection of individual freedom.

China certainly is in favor of birth control and the Chinese government certainly ignored what everyone understood was happening with infanticide. I’m not suggesting that you or your company known as Hobby Lobby support this abhorrent practice; in fact, there is outstanding evidence that you and your family value the sanctity of life beginning at conception.  I applaud your individual convictions.  And this is where it gets tricky.

Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, your very generous health care insurance provided benefits that included contraceptives for women and that included Plan B pills.  It was only after the passage of the A.C.A that you reexamined your coverage and decided that the Plan B pill was against your religious convictions.  Now that’s interesting and your post-Obamacare decision certainly looks political, something like using religious beliefs to promote a political agenda, but let’s move on.

This is where you claim that because of the First Amendment you shouldn’t have to provide coverage for what you consider to be an abortion pill (which it is not), something you are devoutly against.  It’s that dear First Amendment that grants us religious freedom that you’re hanging your hat upon.  The First Amendment that protects all of us: the David Green family, the John Doe Family, the Jack and Joe, and Jane and Jill families, the never-going-to-go-to-church, the Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, twice-a-year Christian, and tree-worshipping families.  You, Mr. Green, seem to believe that letting your company provide insurance that provides coverage for a particular type of contraceptive means you personally are now endorsing abortions, something against your individual religious beliefs and your First Amendment rights, something that infringes upon your company’s religious beliefs and its First Amendment rights.  It’s hard to see a company as holding religious beliefs.  Faith and belief seem to be about free will and it’s hard for me to think of a company as having free will, but our conservative Supreme Court leans toward granting companies human status, so that’s that.

But it sure seems silly for you to think that as an agent of Hobby Lobby if the corporation provides coverage that includes the Plan B pill that I should interpret that to mean that you, David Green and all your family, individually support this practice.  Hobby Lobby’s insurance coverage that includes Plan B pills no more means you endorse abortions than a dental package that provides for root canals means you want all employees to go get a root canal, or coverage that provides for maternity costs means you want all Hobby Lobby employees to go get pregnant, or coverage that provides for catastrophic care means the company hopes a catastrophe hits each worker.  The corporation called Hobby Lobby (not you the owner Mr. Green) provides insurance.  Not care.  Not religious beliefs.  Not mandates on how an employee spends that insurance.  Just insurance.  How the employee chooses to use that insurance to get the care he or she chooses to get is up to that employee.  The choices that are made are between the employed and his or her God or god or mother or whoever it is that employee feels he or she for some reason owes accountability to.  That’s what freedom means.   If you, Mr. Green, were personally writing the check for someone’s insurance I might have to rethink my thoughts; but, it’s a corporation called Hobby Lobby that writes the check.  But, back to China.

You are in favor of your religious beliefs—which you claim cannot be separated from your company—setting the parameters for what can and cannot be included in insurance coverage.  That sure feels a lot too much like imposing your beliefs on those of others.  And, for me, that’s too close to the Chinese government imposing its beliefs on the beliefs of its people.

Being such a Christian company, I’m sure you’ve figured out how to reconcile doing business with a country that marginalizes women, restricts a family’s right to choose how many children it will have, lets workers work in factories with slave-like conditions, and imprisons those who claim to be Christians.  Maybe you’ve confused turn the other cheek with turn a blind eye…

Perhaps since my last visit there you’ve stopped doing business with your Chinese partners.   If so, good for you!  I wouldn’t know that, because, like I said, I’m not too artsy-craftsy and I won’t be heading back to your store to see what the bottom of those Santas say.

But if you haven’t, then, I’ll repeat, I can’t quite reconcile your willingness to buy products from a country that obviously rejects your religious beliefs while being unwilling to let your employees reject yours—unless you like the idea that you and the Chinese government hold similar beliefs about the rights of workers.  There is that to consider.

What I’m hoping you’ll do next is show some good judgement here, better judgement than what I think we saw from five of the Justices today.  Now that the Supreme Court has said it’s your choice, please make the choice that respects your female employees’ rights. Please say “Gotcha!” and show the nation that there really is a distinct difference in the respect of individual rights between China and Hobby Lobby.  Stand up and say you wanted the right to make a choice and now that you have it, you will extend the same right to your employees.

That might get me back through your door, because, after all, those Santa Clauses and Easter bunnies you sell to mark those holy days really are great.