A Travellerspoint blog

For Doc McGowan: Lockean Principles in a Filipino Prison

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This is perhaps the nerdiest (i.e. the most academic) blog I hope to write the entire year. Bear with me, but I understand if you don't actually read this one. (Wow, I'm really building this one up to be a popular one, eh?)

Several days a week, a group of World Racers headed to the local prisons to minister to the inmates. We bring food and offer encouragement at the smaller prison of several dozen inmates, while at the larger one we come bearing our joyful presence to the 700-something inmates. We sing songs with them, listen to their stories, and build relationships. The living conditions are deplorable, space is cramped, and the room is sweltering. Basically, I cannot imagine living there for years on end. But that is not the point of this blog. Sarah wrote a great piece on what it's like in the prison.

While at the smaller prison, I was talking with one of the men who had been there for several weeks. He was one of about 25 men sharing a small cell. He was telling me about his "leader." Curious, I inquired further. "Who was your leader? He's a fellow inmate? Did the guards make him leader or did you all pick him?" I learned that this leader was also an inmate and had been picked by his peers, not the guards, with a set of unknown criteria.

For some reason, I started thinking back to my time in class with Doc McGowan at Butler University, learning about the 17th-century philosopher, John Locke, who spent his free time writing treatises on human nature and the like (he had to be a hit with the ladies at parties, huh?). Locke reasoned that men are naturally outside of the confines of government. Without government, life in this so-called "state of nature" is anarchic and natural rights are not protected or secured. To remedy this, men put themselves under the rule of government in hopes that their natural rights will be protected. They give up some of their freedoms to gain protection and security.

Without knowing it, this man sitting in a Filipino prison cell has subscribed to the reasoning of a philosopher from 300 years ago who he has most likely never heard of. The inmates all decided to create and fill an underground leadership position in order to protect themselves. By electing this inmate as their leader and giving over some of the few freedoms that they do possess in prison to this man, they attempt to secure what little they have—their property is that valuable to them. This leader makes sure that everything stays "fair." I'm assuming he is the one who also sets the justice standards. (So they missed the separation of powers developed by the ancient Greeks, at least they unknowingly got Locke right.)

So, here's to you, Doc. I experienced Lockean principles lived out in a prison cell on the other side of the world. Nothing beats learning outside of the classroom. Be sure to hang this one on your office door for me. :)

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading. I know this one was rough.

Posted by lemorris 22:53 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Weekend Jaunt to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

sunny 32 °C
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Last Thursday, we took a few days off from ministry and caught a bus to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I’ve always wanted to go to Vietnam and learn more about the history there. Somewhere in the midst of switching between my grade school to my high school, I missed the Vietnam section in history class. I was terribly uneducated on the subject, and never took the time to learn about it independently. I am ashamed to say that I barely even knew that it was about Communism. (I’m not sure why I feel the need to confess that to the world.)

After the 6-hour bus ride, we were dropped off in the Pham Ngu Lao district of the city—a popular destination for backpackers. We had purchased a fairly extensive guidebook on the country, and it told us this was a suggested area for “budget travelers,” which we most certainly were. It’s interesting to see how differently I travel now. Before the Race, I would have made sure that I had secured reservations at a hotel, only after having thoroughly researched many options on the internet. I would have also called to verify the reservation several days in advance to make sure that everything would run smoothly (Thanks for the training, Mom). But here I was, headed to a different country, leading a group of 16 other people, with absolutely no plans of where to stay or what we were going to do, and I loved the idea of the uncertainty involved. As soon as I hopped off the bus, Danny, Brady, and I set off with our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook to scout out a place to crash for a couple nights, while the others waited patiently in a local café for our return. After about an hour of searching, we were blessed to find not only a brand-new guesthouse that could house all 17 of us (a rare find in a land of mini-hotels and hostels), but that had amazing amenities for us to enjoy.

We all checked in and immediately headed out to see the city; we only had about 36 hours in the city, so there was no time to waste. Danny acted as our tour guide—he was the only one that could read from the Lonely Planet book and relay the information to us while walking backwards so he could be heard—and navigated us through the moto-infested streets with ease, pointing out interesting landmarks and buildings of interest. Near the center of the city, we found a large statue celebrating Tran Nguyen Han, the first man to use carrier pigeons in Vietnam. His legend will surely live on throughout humanity. Across the street was Pho 2000, a restaurant that serves the classic Vietnamese-style noodle soup (called pho). When Bill Clinton visited Vietnam in 2000, he ate here; his visit is very evident from the multiple posed photographs with the staff that hang from every free inch of space. Even if you don’t like his politics, the man has good taste; the pho was delicious.

We trekked on through the city, determined to squeeze in everything that we possibly could that evening. Unfortunately, when we got to the museum district, we were disappointed to learn that they all closed at 5 o’clock. We were several minutes too late. Knowing that we were going to get a fair-share of history in the next day, we weren’t too disappointed, and decided to focus our energy on finding a place to eat dinner. We wanted to find a place good enough to write home about. We decided on The Black Cat, what CNN billed as one of the top-10 restaurants in the world that you must visit. CNN has never let me down before, so we crammed 9 people into a single taxi (an impressive sight, if I do say so myself) with great anticipation of our meal. The Black Cat is best known for a burger called The Big Cheese, a 500 gram (a little more than 1 lb.) beef patty topped with 6 pieces of bacon, 6 slices of cheese, a whole head of lettuce, 3 tomatoes and onions, and 1 pickle (let’s not get too outrageous, 1 pickle is plenty). Had we ordered only one of The Big Cheese for the whole table it would have surely satisfied us all, but Silas and Danny each decided to tackle one on their own.

When the burgers arrived, my stomach began to sympathetically churn, knowing that it was going to be a long night for the two of them. Each burger was about 1 foot in diameter and about half a foot high; it took up the whole platter. In total, it weighed in at over 3 pounds. The small Vietnamese man whole delivered them to our table had trouble carrying the two burgers at the same time. We blessed the food—the guys were going to need it—and everyone dug in. We watched in amazement as the burgers the size of a newborn baby began to disappear. Each had different strategies for finishing their meal: Silas took his time and ate at a steady pace, while Danny plowed in and ate without even setting the burger down. In his eyes, I saw determination that I’ve only ever seen in the eyes of champions of international hotdog eating competitions. After about 20 minutes, Danny successfully downed the 3-pound monster. Silas quickly realized his tactical mistake: he wasted too much time between bites, allowing his stomach to realize that it was, in fact, about to rupture. Rookie.

The group parted ways—some went home, while a few others, including myself, stayed out to soak in a bit more of Ho Chi Minh, completely ignoring the fact that we would have to get up at 6 o’clock in the morning the next day to begin a busy day of tours. We ran across a large Gloria Jean’s Coffee, which caused great excitement for me since I used to work at one in St. Louis while I was in high school. It was nice to be able to relax in a familiar atmosphere and have deep, coffee-shop appropriate conversation about life with good friends.

The next morning, we woke up bright and early, ready to explore even more of Ho Chi Minh and the history of the area. We booked a tour that would take us to the Cu Chi Tunnels just outside of Ho Chi Minh. This network of tiny tunnels, stretching more than 250 km, were used by the Vietnamese guerrilla soldiers to hide from the American forces in daylight during the War. Before seeing the tunnels, the visitor center shows an antiquated documentary of the war, clearly published by the Communist government, in which it refers to Americans as the “rebel forces” and “the enemy.” It was all very surreal for me, knowing that they were referring to my father, who had fought in the War.

We walked for a short distance, and came upon one of the openings of the tunnel system. It was ridiculously tiny, and only someone with a waist size smaller than 34 inches would successfully make it through the opening. A few meters away was an enlarged-version of the tunnel entrance so that fat American tourists could avoid the inevitable embarrassment caused by becoming lodged in the original entryway.

After a series of exhibits on booby-traps, fighting techniques, and life in the tunnels, it was time for us to crawl through them. The ones that were open to the public were, of-course, enlarged versions of the original, but they were still plenty small for my liking. The enlarged version is about 80 cm wide and 1 meter tall, just barely tall enough for me to walk completely hunched over. There were several options. I could crawl in the tunnels for 90 meters total, but was able to exit every 30 meters. Always up for a challenge, I was determined to go the whole 90 meters, but the second I crawled the 3 meters below the surface, my senses reminded me how ridiculous this proposition was, and they began every technique available to them to get me to exit at the first chance. My heart began to pound, I began to sweat profusely, and I began to hallucinate tourist-hungry bats hanging from the top of the tunnel, ready to jump on my back at any second. In fact, I couldn’t see anything because of the lack of lighting, except when the camera was flashed in my face to capture the look of terror that had become a seemingly permanent expression. I scrambled up to the exit after the first 30 meters, but felt no remorse that I did not complete my goal. It was horrific being under there for even a few minutes. I simply cannot imagine what it was like for men to live down there in 12-hour shifts.

The bus took us back to Ho Chi Minh and dropped us off in front of the Museum of American and Chinese War Atrocities, now renamed as the War Remnants Museum to be more American-tourist friendly (are you seeing a pattern?). The outside yard displayed many American armaments that had been captured or destroyed in the war. Inside were countless photographs from the war recounting the destruction. Having never been exposed to this side of the coin, it was all very difficult for me to take in. I sat outside on the steps and waited for the others to finish looking around.

We walked several blocks to the Reunification Palace, where the South surrendered to the Communist North in the spring of 1975. When I heard that we were going to a palace, I expected something along the lines of the Biltmore Mansion in America, but I was quickly faced with the reality that it was built in the 1960’s, and thus “an excellent example of 1960’s architecture,” at least that’s what our Lonely Planet guidebook told us. We arrived just before closing time, so we had the entire building practically to ourselves. Honestly, it was pretty ugly. But I guess you might like it if you enjoy Indochinese design from the mid-century. Regardless, it was historical and a good experience.

We called it quits for our self-taught history lessons for the day and headed home to relax for a while before heading out for dinner and more evening sightseeing. I flipped on the TV and was delighted to find that we had American cable channels. Having no access to TV on the Race (other than a few downloaded episodes of The Office), my life has been TV-free since June. It was nice to indulge for a while, even if I was watching a horribly made documentary on lavish 16-year-olds’ birthday parties on MTV.

We ate dinner at an Italian restaurant in the Pham Ngu Lao district near where we were staying. Afterward, Colleen and I walked around the area and did a little shopping. I found a whole store dedicated to purses, one of my weaknesses. There were so many stacks that my little heart couldn’t take it. I was able to restrain myself from buying several dozen only because I couldn’t muster up the energy to shift through the hundreds of disordered piles. We walked into another store and Colleen noticed The Purpose Driven Life sitting on a side table. Intrigued, she asked the man working there if he had read it. It’s not often that you find Christian books in South East Asia. He said that he had read it and really enjoyed it. We talked with him for a while and found out that he has been a Christian for 2 years now, but only has one other Christian friend, which is very difficult for him. We were able to encourage him in the Lord, and we prayed with him that God would continue to send Christians into his life.

After a few more shops, we headed home and immediately crashed in bed, hoping to get as much sleep as possible so our bus ride early the next morning wouldn’t be entirely miserable.

Posted by lemorris 23:42 Archived in Vietnam Tagged educational Comments (0)

Same Same, but Different

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In about 60% of your conversations with a Thai, you will hear the phrase “same same” or sometimes even “same same, but different.” Hearing this is really quite surprising because most Thais speak very little English, if any. But all Thais know this phrase in English.

It seems to be somewhat of a cultural icon. In tourist locations, they even sell “Same Same” t-shirts. It’s the country’s own little inside joke with itself. I couldn’t figure out where this phrase derived from, and it was driving me crazy. What would cause a whole country to use an English phrase that wasn’t used by anyone who spoke English as their native language?

While we were out at the bars last night, I asked our new friend Neng about it. She spoke English well, and I thought maybe she would be able to explain it to me.

“Neng, what does ‘same same, but different mean?’” I asked.

“’Same same’… you know, both things are the same, but not in all ways,” she replied. slightly confused why I would ask her such a simple question.

“Yeah, I know. But where did that come from?” I prodded further.

“Well, it’s like this. We are the same; we are humans. We have the same heart. We have the same mind. But we are still different. I am from Thailand. You are from America. We are the same same, but different.”

Beautiful. As we travel to more and more places, I am learning that this more true than I ever imagined. As humans, we all share the same universal desires for love, security, and hope of a better future. The whole world yearns for these things, but a Christian, I am blessed to have these desires quenched by the Lord.

Posted by lemorris 22:47 Archived in Thailand Tagged educational Comments (0)

Hanging out in Bars

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Our team has poured many weeks into praying for this month of ministry. We knew that going out and building relationships in bars with the young girls who are forced to sell their bodies would not be a task that we could accomplish through our own power. We are working in an area that satan has had a long-time hold on, and he is not going to give it up without a hard fight.

We are partnering with SHE (Self Help & Empowerment) Ministries this month in Patong on the island of Phuket. Started by Mark & Sharron Biddell from England, SHE is still in its developmental stage, but aims to help women at risk by establishing centers which can offer a safe environment, training and educational programs, counseling, rehabilitation and sustainable employment opportunities. Currently, there is one micro-enterprise project running, which employs 4 amazing girls (Kae, Kung, Glon, and Wan) who decided to leave their job at the bar and come to SHE to make jewelry (more on this in a future blog). The girls are paid a salary and work a normal 9-5 job. They make enough to send back a portion of their earnings to their families in their home villages, which is why many girls start working in the bars in the first place.

Patong is the most rowdy beach on the island, and it’s known internationally as a popular destination for sex-tourism. This is the Las Vegas of Thailand, with many streets dedicated to bars, discos, strip clubs, and brothels. There are more than 300 bars in an area the size of 3 city blocks, each catering to a different clientèle. Some are “school girl” themed, some feature “ladyboys” (transsexuals), and some are sadly themed with cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh.

We headed out on Thursday night, not really knowing what to expect. Even though I was prepared for the worst, my heart still ached for all of the empty people that I saw. The girls, the bar owners & managers... they all had an emotionless, blank stare on their face. The ones that did show some emotion were clearly intoxicated. Everywhere I turned I saw young Thai girls walking hand-in-hand with old, white men. It made my stomach churn. Men frequently stoop down to kiss their “property” for the evening while walking down the street. More often than not, I would observe the girls wipe the kiss off with their hand the instant the man looked away.

We didn’t even venture into the darkest places. SHE has a policy to only work in the outdoor bars; we never go behind closed doors where the worst-of-the-worst happens. Mark first took us to Joy’s Bar, where they have already built relationships with some of the girls. I took a seat at a barstool and ordered a Coke Light (I’ve come to learn that Diet Coke is purely an American product). A beautiful girl named Aj came and sat next to me and asked in broken English if I would like to play a game. I told her that I would love to. The next thing I know she comes out with an armful of games including Connect Four and Jenga. All of the bars are stocked with games for the girls to play with customers in an attempt to overcome the language barrier that often exists. I am going to be a pro at Connect Four by the end of this month.

After talking with Aj for a bit, I asked her how long she had worked at the bar. I think she said 8 months, but I can’t be certain.

“Aj, are you happy working here?” I asked.
“Yes!” she immediately responded.
I asked again to make sure that she really understood what I was asking, “You like working here?”

She understood this time. A wave of sadness flashed over her face and she lowered her eyes and shook her head. She didn’t need to speak; I understood everything she didn’t tell me. I told her about SHE and the job that was waiting for her if she wanted to quit working at the bar. In that instant, I saw a flash of hope in her eyes. That hope quickly dissipated as the fear crept in. She told me she would think about it, and we left it at that.

Leaving the bars is not easy for the girls, even though they are promised a job with a steady income. They have very little reason to trust anyone as they have been betrayed so many times in their lives.

When we were saying our goodbyes to our new friends, I saw genuine happiness in these girls for the first time all evening. They knew they had made true friends who genuinely love and care about them.

God is so much bigger than the hold that satan has on this place. The next day, 4 girls came into the shop (where we also live) for lunch saying that they were ready to leave the bars and start working with SHE. Praise God! Please keep these 4, as well as Aj, in your prayers. Pray against a spirit of fear that satan would love to instill in their hearts.

Posted by lemorris 22:50 Archived in Thailand Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Train Hopping

overcast 21 °C
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After a long day of racing through Pretoria and Johannesburg, we were all ready to get home. Teams Concrete and Awaken left the Top of Africa observatory deck on the 50th floor of the Carlton Center in the heart of downtown Jo’burg. We needed to get to the train station so we could catch a train back to Pretoria in order to get picked up and taken to Alabanza.

We asked about 6 different coombi drivers if they could take us to the Metro (train) station, we finally found one willing to plunge himself and his vehicle into the heart of rush hour traffic in the largest city in South Africa. Many were reluctant to drive us because the Metro station is the heart of the city with streets pulsing out from it, especially at 5 o’clock on a Friday evening.

The ticket line was long, but it was nothing that we hadn’t conquered before. We secured our third-class tickets for 8 Rand each, which is about US$1.15, and headed down to Platform 11 where our train was scheduled to depart from. We stood next to the train and found out that we were in luck: the train would be leaving at 5:13, only a mere 23 minute wait. At about 5:10, the train doors were still not opened, thus creating a long line outside each car, as everyone was hoping to obtain a seat. It’s a long ride if you are forced to stand the entire time. In a flash of confusion, everyone in line started bailing and racing for the train sitting at Platform 12, about 50 yards from our train. We weren’t sure why everyone was making a mad dash, but we knew we didn’t want to be left behind, so we joined in the stampede. The doors to this train were open, so we all managed to push our way onto the car and somehow we all got seats. We plopped down next to each other and began to chuckle at the situation. We were all so exhausted from running around Pretoria and Jo’burg all day that we were beginning to get slaphappy.

About 3 minutes later, I noticed two men quickly get up out of their seats and run back to the original train at Platform 11. I wanted to make sure I got a seat, so I jumped up and ran after them, as my team followed after me. I managed to be one of the first ones in the train car, so I took up as much room as possible by sprawling out on the seat bench to save seats for the rest of the team. Luckily they were right behind me and quickly slid into place. Once the shock wore off, we began to laugh hysterically at the situation that we had found ourselves in. Not only were we running back and forth between two trains with South Africans during the rush hour commute home, but with each switch we somehow managed to always sit across from a woman who had a necklace made of long blonde hair that radiated out from her neck like the sun. She carried her young child in one arm and a small bag of groceries in the other. After the first train switch, she had discovered that her ice cream had a small hole in the bottom of the container. To rectify the problem, she decided that she would make sure that she, her small child, or whoever happened to be sitting next to her was constantly sucking on the bottom of the ice cream container so that it would not leak in the bag. This remedy even occurred during the mad rush of the train switches; it was quite impressive.

We aren’t sure what triggered the mob of people to run to the other train. We think that there was some sort of announcement made over the PA system that we were unable to understand. Somehow, we were fortunate enough to experience this mad dash another two times, each time between Platforms 11 & 12. With each switch, more and more people were boarding the train, making the search for a seat increasingly more competitive. On the forth stampede, I tried to be smart. I wasn’t the first one out of the train car, but I knew that I could run faster the South Africans who had just gotten off work, and were thus still wearing their dress shoes while I was wearing my tennis shoes. I think I ran faster than I ever had in my life, weaving in and out of masses of people fighting for comfort on their long commute home. I meant business this time.

By the grace of God, I was the very first one on the train, but I knew that the rest of the World Racers were a little bit behind me back in the crowd. I found the longest bench in the train, laid down, stretched one hand out horizontally over my head to save a few more seats, while sticking my other hand up and out the window so my team could identify which train I was in (the white hand was a big enough clue, since we were the only white people on either platform.) All of this was done in a split second, since the mob was quickly entering the train car. Seats began to fill up quickly, but I still didn’t see my team. One man didn’t like the idea of me saving seats, so he promptly grabbed my feet and swung them off the bench so he could have a seat. I argued with him and tried to scoot him with my hips, but he was just as determined as me, if not more so, pushing me back with his hips. The rest of the team arrived and slid into the seats that I had managed to protect from seat-snatchers.

We were rolling with laughter at this point. We couldn’t decide if this mass chaos was a normal occurrence for South Africans trying to get home from their jobs. If it were normal, we felt both sadness that they would have to endure this agony every evening, and jealousy that we didn’t get to experience this adventure more often.

The train finally left by 6:05, only about an hour late from it scheduled departure time. The irony is that we ended up pulling out of the Johannesburg Metro station on the very first train car that we started on. Only in Africa can you get that much entertainment for only $1.15 per person.

Posted by lemorris 22:28 Archived in South Africa Tagged transportation Comments (0)

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