วันพุธ, 27 สิงหาคม 2551 21:29
Four years on the six Klong Toey boys who came into the clutches of foreign paedophiles are still faced with the daily choice of either seeking out oblivion or fighting to regain some dignity, writes FATHER JOE MAIER

This is one of those oh-yeah-I-kind-of-remember stories: now that you mention it, whatever happened to those kids?

The Bangkok Post ran the original story in Perspective four years ago. There were six boys. The oldest 14, the youngest 12 and a few days: all sexually abused by foreign paedophiles. Heavy-duty type abuse - for almost a whole year. The cops stumbled onto the story accidentally. There was an IT conference in London on criminal use of the Internet. Police from Thailand, attending the conference in the UK to update themselves, were shown some child porn downloaded from the Net. Folks there saying, ''Take a look at this stuff. Don't these boys look like they're Thai?''

The Thai officers smiled stiffly with their faces, not the tiniest twinkle in their eyes. Although no one noticed, they were saying quietly to each other through gritted teeth: ''We'll be back home in Bangkok in two days."

And, oh, they didn't forget. They caught the gents in a heartbeat or two. The faces on the porn pictures from the Net were clear enough to identify a couple of the boys. The police asked if we knew the boys. It took some of our social workers who know the streets and the slums about an hour to track them down in Klong Toey, a neighbourhood where everybody just about knows everybody else. The boys, by this time fed up with the abuse and broken promises, gladly led the cops to the bad guys and told them what they did.
วันพุธ, 27 สิงหาคม 2551 10:35
For these 'slapped around' street kids survival may be just a matter of months or weeks, but friends are forever, writes FATHER JOE MAIER

Gee and Kao don't look tough or mean, they just are. It's something you become when you grow up on the street. No tattoos, no long hair, not much swagger. Tattoos are for prison, swagger is for cool. These two 15-year-olds are neither "prison" nor "cool". They're just pure essence of Bangkok street.

They met while foraging on the street. Though they never really "hung" together, they were street friends. That means loyalty. It also means they gave each other lots of space, never crowded each other, never pushed.

Gee is the first kid we ever met who was totally slapped around by 505, a newer combination of rubber cement and industrial paint thinner. It fits nicely in a pocket and can be discarded when a uniform shows up. Nobody ever notices it - except for the smell. Oh, it stinks! Not even garlic knocks out the smell.

Gee was living with his granny under a bridge near a brightly lit traffic intersection. When he got hungry enough or the 505 demanded his attention or granny hollered at him loud enough, he would go clean automobile windscreens for as long as it took to scrounge enough for food or 505.

Granny was weak and would walk around in slow motion, even on her spryest days. Eventually, we took granny in. Gee would prepare her food every morning. He got up at dawn and bought rice and cooked it up before he went to our special Mercy Centre school for teenagers who never got any education when they were young.
วันพุธ, 27 สิงหาคม 2551 10:21
A story by FATHER JOE MAIER about a phone call that brought a young woman back to the Klong Toey slum for a new start

They knocked down the door, then searched her house, and put handcuffs on her second son. Now Auntie Jan would have two of three in prison. Plus six brothers and sisters. More common in our fair land than you would want to think.

She kicked that junkyard dog, who then began severely distracting the arresting officers. That's when she grabbed her son's cell phone. "Mom! Help!!" He whispered to her. Begged her to "trash" the phone because all his friends' and clients' numbers were in it. It could be used in evidence. Auntie Jan, no stranger to a slum card game, and slight of the hand, quickly stashed the phone under the blanket of her Aids-sick, useless brother-in-law. Shouted at the officers he was highly contagious. She prayed the phone didn't ring.

It wasn't the Aids that made Auntie Jan's brother-in-law useless. There was more to it. He was out of prison for the third time _ drugs, just like all the rest _ and was on his way back in. The court didn't know how sick he was when he was sentenced. When the cops found out, they decided they didn't want him to die in jail because there'd be a lot of paperwork.

So they turned their backs and he walked away and they put it in his file that he'd escaped. He had gone to Auntie Jan's for refuge because he was married to her youngest sister, who also was in jail. Father of their two daughters.

The police left with her son sandwiched between the two officers _ cuffed _ on the back of a motorbike, and Auntie Jan retrieved the phone. Trash it? No way. The handcuffs ended any support she'd ever get from that son. You never throw anything away in the slums that might of some use. If things got really bad, she could sell it to the authorities. Not that she would.

But you never know. In Klong Toey's game of rock/paper/scissors, hunger wins of honor and loyalty. Especially if the hungry ones were children, and she was currently caring for four.
วันพุธ, 27 สิงหาคม 2551 10:14
The story of a deathly ill 'throwaway kid' who for simple reasons decided to make the struggle for his life.

It's funny what it takes sometimes to turn a life around. For Cookie Crumb James, all it took was a tasty meal, some cookies. And crumbs.

He came to us a total mess. Basket case material. Couldn't walk, couldn't crawl. Barely speak (or didn't want to), large industrial-sized migraines that fried his brains. Not a friend in this world: he was born with HIV and has AIDS. Perfect example of a "throwaway kid". He was eight years old. Size large for a HIV/Aids kid. That means normal size of an ordinary eight year old. Scarred face, bad left eye: shingles (herpes zoster) did that. But he ain't ugly! He's our Cookie Crumb James. You'd like him if you met him. Great lopsided grin.

When a child is brought to us out of nowhere - end of the line and "junked" on our doorstep - in hospice lingo we call that a "dump." A few days after the "taxi dump" at our Mercy Centre, we bestowed on Cookie Crumb James a special ribbon for bravery, valor, and determination. But by the second day, James slobbered rice gruel all over the ribbon. So much for valor.

We rarely do such ribbon ceremonies. In eleven years with AIDS children, we've only bestowed a ribbon of honor once before - to a very special girl (but that's a story for another day).

Cookie Crumb James of the Soiled Ribbon decided to get better. Not right away. Nothing is ever that easy. The effort and energy you need to get well and just wanting to live can be an unbelievably difficult decision. But eventually, make the decision he did. Probably for lots of heavy duty type awesome reasons. But heck, on the surface, like so many of the "calls" that flip our lives upside down, Cookie Crumb James' biggest reason seemed so simple.
วันพุธ, 27 สิงหาคม 2551 10:09
And they came on a no-license motorcycle - the Night Riders - two men on one bike, helmet visors down, the man on the back with a pistol in hand, special 9mm bullets, ready to shoot. Ready to scratch another name off their "list". It's blood and death when the Night Riders find their man. There's never any mercy. It's a job, a name, that's all. Just meeting their quota for the Biggie Bigs. And so they shot "Motorbike Kheng." Three shots in the head, close range. He was a good man, somebody you'd cheer for if you knew him, somebody who will be greatly missed by family and friends in the slaughterhouse here in Klong Toey.

Motorbike Kheng never used drugs in his 31 years on earth. He despised drugs. But suspected drug dealers repaired their bikes at his shop. Plus a few motorbike racers and lots of ordinary folk. They shot him anyway. Just for good measure. Just to be sure.

At the time of the killing, he was fine-tuning a carburetor on a souped-up 125cc bike. Squatting, chewing on a toffee, a cell phone to his ear, he had just finished talking with his wife and was saying good night to their nine-year-old son. Every evening at nine o'clock, Motorbike Kheng called from his repair shop to say good night and "three Hail Mary's" together with his family. His son had just said, "Daddy, I love you," and Kheng replied, "Daddy loves you, too." Those were his last words. Shots rang out. His son screamed, "Mommy, what are those noises in Daddy's shop? They hurt my ears! Why doesn't Daddy talk to me?"

The Night Riders work for some authority who seems beyond authority. By day, these cats are smug. Not smirking but hinting. Not threatening outright, which somehow makes the threats more ominous. They come and talk to the slum community leaders like they would to recalcitrant children, telling our poor neighbours things they already know: that there are still folks flogging drugs in our fair city and all over Thailand. That there are motorcycle shops that "soup up" bikes. All the while ignoring the fact that we all played street football together, listen to the same pop songs on the radio, grew up together. Like they've forgotten where they're from.

Motorbike Kheng was probably a witness to a crime or two. Certainly knew a lot of folks. That's all. Perhaps he knew some things; most likely he didn't. He wasn't that kind of person. Even as a kid, he didn't care about who was dealing, who rode such and such a chopper. It wasn't in his nature. But witness or not, he was on somebody's list, somebody who decided that he wasn't on the right side, and so the Night Riders came.
วันพุธ, 27 สิงหาคม 2551 10:04
Granny Sing is the grandmother you read about in storybooks, the one that hardship and tragedy cannot stop, writes FATHER JOE MAIER

She'll never win the Bangkok Grandmother of the Year award, but she's definitely Granny of the Year in the Klong Toey slum. Yai Sing, or Granny Sing as she's known _ and I'll explain that in a minute _ rolls her own smokes and earns her own way from her motorcycle-propelled coffee cart. Sports a trademark ancient pair of second-hand 20-baht "shades'' her granddaughter Mot swapped from a "trader'' in a back part of the slum. Two plastic bags of Granny Sing's original blend of ice coffee for the shades.

Seventy-three years old plus some change and, wow, she's out there seven days a week, kick-starting her funky, three-wheeled red motorbike with a cart attached, bouncing through the potholes and rainy season puddles, stopping where she can find some shade to dispense hot and iced coffee, hot and cold sweet tea, Ovaltine, and assorted, sugary pick-me-ups.