The summer humidity was tension made tangible
as I begged you not to go into
the kitchen.

When I was a child,
I used to watch you cook
You sat by the tiny grill making satay
skin sticky from sweat, back hunched over
while the party went on in the living room
Your cooking gathered warmth gathered family gathered love

When I was a teenager,
you made snacks for me to eat on the way home from school
You made toast with kaya
You made curry puffs and kueh lapis
You cut mangoes
You cut papaya

You never told me you loved me
and yet you did, so many times
with the kitchen

And that summer day, 
     the kitchen
I begged you
     the kitchen
knees on the floor
    the kitchen
voice wailing between sobs
     the kitchen
not to go into
     the kitchen

where you wanted to take a knife
and cut yourself open
like the papayas you used to prepare for me.

 

 

Did eating your own cooking not fill you
with the same magnitude of love
that filled me?

A crevice on the pavement clasped tightly
onto an Abraham Lincoln, its
bronzed beard blotched by callousness, its
face touched by countless fingertips, its
body soiled with germs. Created in 1992,
it had wandered from hand to hand to pavement,
tread upon by indifferent feet. “Liberty” - it read
as it shouldered streams of people’s weight.
Rendered invisible by its worth, 
no one stopped to claim it —

Until your curious eyes spotted it. 

We were walking on the sidewalk when you picked
it up and held it against light. It was
inspected by your eyes, your lips forming
a question mark – was this worth keeping?
As you and honest Abe faced off, I thought
about how you would tuck yourself away, 
like small change in a pocket. There
were fingerprints indented into your
impressionable skin that no amount
of soap could wash off. People had thrust
their hands into your chest to plant their germs
into your heart—erupting into black
swarms of viruses fueled by shame. Trampled
by words and spoken to with fists, you had
wandered from hand to hand to pavement. 

The one person you could not embrace was yourself. 

Disgusted, you released your hand — the sound of copper hit-
ting the ground was softer than the explosion
of my heart. You walked away, and I caught up,
hands full, the right holding your hand learning
to trust — the left cradling the penny. 

A letter to the people I love

To the friend who sends me letters in the mail,
thank you.
Thank you for reminding me that I am cared for.

To the friend who cooked soup for me when I was sick,
thank you.
Your kind action healed my body and soul.

To the friend I wronged,
thank you.
Thank you for forgiving me with such grace.

To the friend who hurt me,
thank you.
I took the elements of truth from your harsh words and grew from them.

To the friend who opened yourself up to me with such raw vulnerability,
thank you.
You've given me the courage to share my own story.

To the friend who believed in me when I didn't even believe in myself,
thank you.
I repeat your words to myself when I'm discouraged. 

To the friend who was there for me in my darkest months,
thank you.
Thank you for reminding me that I am worthy of love.
 

It took a community of people to ripen my heart and teach it how to love.

The Other Side of Things

There's a saying: "Good men go to heaven. Bad men go to Pattaya." Pattaya, Thailand is where many tourists go to solicit women. Some farang (foreigners) settle down in Pattaya and find themselves a Thai wife. A typical crowd of people in Pattaya is peppered with old, white men. 

Who am I to judge.

I've been volunteering at two organizations. One is a preschool education program that helps prevent child trafficking. The other is a living center for neglected and abused children. When I see the beautiful and naive smiles of the children, I feel so sickened by the fact that anyone would abuse them. The evidence of their abuse is still there: the burn marks of iron meeting flesh; the emotional wounds from being sexually assaulted at just age 9.

The city is littered with bars and places to solicit a woman. Some women were tricked into this lifestyle; others just want to make ends meet for their family.

Right around the corner near where I volunteer is a brothel in the guise of a massage parlor. Through the windows, the interior looks pristine and ostentatious, with white walls, golden chandeliers, and large, curving staircases. But nighttime brings darkness and women can be bought for 90 minutes at $100.

The most popular tourist attraction in Pattaya is Walking Street. It's lined with food, bars, and "ladies of the night." And for those who swing the other way, men of the night can be found too. And for those with utterly perverse tastes, children can be found in discreet, hidden areas.

Somehow, in the midst of this despair, gentle waves of hope trickle in. I've met some incredibly inspiring people who dedicate their lives towards anti-human trafficking: a man who left a comfortable life in Italy; a brave young woman from Singapore; an Australian lady who co-founded an organization for children; a Thai woman who would walk for hours a day into the slums, finding neglected children and taking care of them. 

"Greater thing have yet to come 
And greater things are still to be done in this city
"