By Father Joe Maier, Bangkok Post Sunday, Spectrum Section, Nov. 22, 2009
With the sound of that lady judge's voice still ringing in her ears - even after three months in the kids' slammer for girls - Miss Angela came to us here in Klong Toey in a prison van from a Bangkok Girls' Remand Home - middle seat, sandwiched between two custodians.
That lady judge had said: "This is outrageous! Eighteen-hundred pills? Lock up this child and throw away the key, to protect her." Then sternly to the arresting officers: "You catch those criminals who used this child. Take her away. Hide her. Protect Her. Educate her as long as you can, at least till she's 18. Do whatever you have to do." And she added bitterly: "You tell the mother, if there is ever any buying and selling to do - and I do not want to know about any of it - tell her to sell herself - never her children!"
Through thick and thin, 'almost momma' Rin and her two little sisters are always up for another round of 'phong pah' By Father Joe MaierPublished in the Bangkok Post: 18/10/2009. Spectrum section.
It's a love story that needs telling. Three of the most fabulous children on the planet and their giggles galore version of phong pah - something like "blind man's bluff", with a Thai whiff of "hide and seek" added for spice.
The old man and the sea, and his granddaughter
by Father Joe Maier
The Moken people might struggle to eke out a living, but their spirits - like those of the sea - endure
It's true. The kids do swim and wade in water up to their neck to school when the tides are in. And they love it. Stilt houses on the shore have no connecting bridge so they swim the 50 metres - clothes and books held dry above their heads with one hand.
Great fun for 7-year-old Miss Jhin and the other children. Not every day, but according to the tides. And cameras. The tide had gone down and a boat arrived from the mainland with the camera lady - not the regular morning boat bringing the teachers and fresh food to cook for the school breakfast and midday meals.
Miss Jhin's favourite teacher, the one she trusted the most, Ms Phrong, introduced her kindergarten class to the camera lady from the government census office. Miss Jhin pulled her shirt over her face: "No Way! No pictures! I don't' trust anybody that much!" She was absolutely certain - no doubt - for sure - that she'd be captured in the camera and would not be able to get out. She didn't know why or how, but she just knew. Just like the television: how did they get out of the picture? But she suggested to the camera lady that she take not just one but several pictures of her four-year-old brother. She didn't dare giggle as she told her this wonderful idea!
No parents, no food, no home
It's the pits to be hungry when you're eight years old. Even with practice. And Master Moe had lots of practice.
Once again Mum and Dad were doing "government service", as it's called. Not locked up in a cell, per se, but it was suggested to them that they stick around the station for a few days and nights. If they strayed? The evening news would report they were "shot while attempting to escape". Lethal, most serious stuff.
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
It starts that way with the Fabulous Five of Klong Toey Kindergarten Class of 2009 – 2010. This paddle of ducklings are growing up to be among the most beautiful young men and women on the planet. Maybe not swans, but certainly the greatest of all ducks!
First there’s Miss Bhai. (Her nickname means, “ the highest branch of the tree touched by the morning sun.”) Three years ago, when she was two, the drug cops special branch did a 3:00 a.m. blast into her momma and papa’s Klong Toey shack without knocking; then cuffed and took her folks to the station for possession with intent to sell.
It wasn’t pleasant, as intent to sell brings with it an industrial-sized prison term. Plus momma and papa were small players: they didn’t have the ten thousand baht or so, cash up front, that might have helped them on the way to the station. On top of that, when their agent got word a few minutes later, she wasn’t really interested in helping at the police station, as momma and papa, in her eyes, were dumb, and had been caught before.
Everyone assumed Bhai’s Granny would come to bundle up the baby and take her home as soon as the uniforms left, since they were locking up Momma and Poppa in the Ta Rua (Port Authority) jail, on their way to court and a long stretch in prison.
But Granny got distracted. She got the news in the middle of an all-night-all-day card game with some cronies; it was one of those “I won't quit till I win my money back, or lose everything” moments. And she let the news slip by her.
She broke it, her almost-magical finding stick. It happened in a panic, while she was frantically prying her rented pushcart off the Klong Toey slum railway tracks. You can only expect so much from an old piece of bamboo.
The 3:30pm Klong Toey freight train demolished her cart. She herself had fallen backwards to safety when her stick broke. Total disaster - the rented cart was destroyed, her day's rummaging of maybe 20-bahts-worth of recyclables ruined; plus bruising her bottom when she landed and losing face.
She's had to support herself ever since her parents died when she was 10, and has been a used goods collector and seller for 41 years. She says that the almost-magical finding stick used all its magic powers at the moment it broke, throwing her back to safety away from the tracks. And that the stick secretly had never gotten along very well with that rented cart anyway. High class stick, low class cart.