After spending a summer serving in war-torn east Africa, where I slept in a tent for two of the three months I was there; I returned to the United States to embark upon a law education. Far less adventurous and for me difficult to be passionate about, I struggled my first year of law school. Though I passed the first semester of courses by the skin of my teeth, my grade point average was quite discouraging for someone thinking to make a career practicing law.
What was unique about those three months in Hong Kong during the summer of 1995 was that the British government was still ruling. Upon taking a trip to the high court, I saw Chinese judges wear white British style wigs. It was a funny and rare site to behold.
My passion in particular was helping oppressed people in forgotten nations where their human rights were being violated. Unfortunately I learned from my law professor in Hong Kong that international treaties to uphold human rights are rarely enforced by the United Nations or anyone else globally. For me that further diminished the relevance of international law and my interest in studying it.
In those days a particular religious group smuggled Bibles across from Hong Kong into Shenzhen, China. I was asked to participate, which I did. That day of smuggling Bibles was far more exciting than my entire summer buried in law books in Hong Kong.
Upon returning home after successfully completing my summer internship and academic program, I opened a disheartening letter from my law school encouraging me to withdraw based on my dismal grade point average.
Wondering what on earth I would now do with my life, when walking home to my Brooklyn Heights apartment I heard a voice. “Go east young man! Go east!”
Gripped by what I heard, I determined to go to Chinatown that week. Upon doing so I met a Chinese Pastor who immediately offered me a job to travel with him throughout Asia and be his English teacher. Without hesitation I happily accepted. Not long thereafter I found myself in Taipei, Taiwan.
Across the street from my new apartment was Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park honoring the revolutionary Chinese leader who established Taiwan governmentally. Suffering from jet lag the first week I was in Taiwan, I journeyed outside looking for some food when I discovered the lovely park across the street.
Many people were exercising, enjoying the cool morning air. Tai chi was a particular favorite, which I saw both men and when doing with the utmost concentration and precision. The Chinese internal martial art is frequently practiced for health and longevity. The slow and fluid movements facilitate internal harmony and oneness within.
Before the business day began, the raising of the national flag, along with a soldier salute occurred daily. It was a delight to be able to see and behold. Though I could not yet speak Mandarin, what I saw with my eyes captivated my heart and deposited a deep respect for Chinese culture.
By reason of my association with Pastor Ko and other reputable wise men, I soon became a highly sought out speaker. Others throughout Asia began hearing of me and invited me to their countries.
My trip to Burma was a somewhat covert operation considering where I was invited to speak was deemed a “blackout area” where foreigners were not permitted. Nevertheless after meeting my initial contact in Rangoon, we were able to exchange the problematic national currency and secure a domestic flight to the remote destination.
There was no electricity. I slept on a blow up mattress under a mosquito net, while large rats crawled overhead at night. We hung our meager supplies and fruit from a string to keep the rats from getting to them during the evening.
When I awoke in the morning, there were always some fresh rodent droppings on my mosquito net. Nevertheless I was happy to endure such light afflictions considering the tremendous response of the people when I spoke to them about personal empowerment and being a world-changer.
Since the Universities had been shut down across Burma, students did whatever they could to further their education and professional development. That is why they were so enthusiastic to hear me speak.
Historically student and monk peaceful protests in Burma were ended by brutality and killing. What troubled me most however was the lack of opportunity for bright youth throughout the country. Religious leaders from the monasteries begged for rice daily in the streets of Rangoon. Democracy would not be tolerated as those in power were determined to hold on as long as possible.
What touched my heart the most was the humility and hunger of young adults to draw near to foreigners to learn anything they could. Such a yearning for knowledge and self-development deeply moved my heart to commit to do all I can for the Burmese youth. I pray the freedom within the hearts of the youth and monks of Burma can somehow victoriously breakthrough and transform their beloved country.
Upon reaching my twenty-eight day limit on my visa in Burma, I was forced to leave the country. My next stop was Thailand, a lovely country with much sexual perversion.
Never in my life had I seen such open prostitution as I had in Bangkok and Phuket. Prostitutes and transvestites freely approached people on the streets soliciting payment for sexual favors. Commonly ladies and “lady-boys” approached me uttering obscenities and selling services.
The U.S. Navy and Marines arrived in Phuket happy to party and take in some extracurricular activities. A few service men made friends with local girls. I can only imagine how many drunk foreigners wake up in the morning only to find they’ve slept with a transvestite.
Beyond the vice of prostitution, Thailand overall is a lovely place to vacation and visit. The food is fantastic. The people are friendly. The beaches are superb. Among the islands I visited were Krabi and Phee-Phee, the latter hit the hardest by the tsunamis.
A European restaurant owner told me stories of Burmese young ladies who had been kidnapped or promised work at upscale resorts. Once the Burmese girls were brought to the cities, their passports were taken and they were forcibly subjected to prostitution. I was informed that once the young ladies get HIV or some sexual disease, they are taken back to the Burmese border, given a fatal injection, and left to die.
Such human rights violations are rarely fought considering the limited economic opportunities in Burma. It is said even along the northeast region of Thailand families sell their own daughters into prostitution to make money.
Though I saw many beautiful young ladies, I managed to happily restrain myself. I was not interested in catching any sexual diseases, which I was told was quite common throughout Thailand.
I journeyed further south when I received an invitation to speak in Penang, Malaysia. Immediately upon entering Malaysia I could sense there was a stronger governmental hand upon the land. I found the Muslims in Malaysia to be very friendly and respectful.
My greatest adventure was traveling to East Malaysia, where I spoke in several poor villages. The precious people were very superstitious, practicing various voodoo like observances I had only before seen in Haiti. Some claimed they were harassed and troubled by demon spirits. Hence I spoke on the importance of guarding your heart, personal purity, and living fearlessly.
The villagers were overjoyed to have me as their guest and cooked innumerable dishes for me to sample. Their poverty by no means hindered their gracious hospitality, neither their generosity. I shall never forget the tenderness of heart the Malaysians showed me.
One unexpected visitor that showed up in a modest home where I stayed was a monkey. During the outbreak of Japanese encephalitis when the military was slaughtering all of the pigs, many were concerned about other animals contracting the virus. Thankfully we never fell ill with the disease and carried on through the outbreak unharmed.
While in East Malaysia (the island of Bornea), an invitation came to speak in Brunei. This small and oil rich nation didn’t have much to do socially at night, but the people were all very polite and industrious. Shell Oil and other petroleum contractors frequented the small country to do business.
What surprised me the most was to see over seventy people jam packed within a small house to hear me speak. The event was hosted by a Christian fellowship that legally was not permitted to meet publicly.
When I inquired further as to the laws of Brunei, I was told that only the Catholics and Anglicans are legally authorized to conduct Christian ceremonies. Brunei does not permit other religious groups to have churches or schools.
It was then I realized how priceless the freedom of thought and expression is, without which there can be no democracy or just government to serve the people. Such sacred freedoms we in the West so commonly take for granted are greatly cherished and only wished for abroad in such nations as Brunei.
Though Brunei has a prospering economy, it is a “dry country” meaning no liquor is sold in the country. Certainly forbidding the use of alcohol has its benefits. There are no drunk driving incidents to endanger people with, neither excessive substance abuse. As one who does not drink myself, such restrictions had no bearing upon me.
Nevertheless as a world traveler touring Asia, the laws of Brunei that restrict religion and consumption were very noticeable. On a more fun note, the free theme park the sultan constructed for all to happily use in the center of the country was a blast! Children and adults of all ages make merry and enjoy it very much! It is my hope the sultan’s generosity will extend over into social freedoms for the people of Brunei.
Upon leaving Brunei we were off to Jakarta, Indonesia. As a surfer Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, quickly became my favorite country in Asia. Considering I didn’t have much money to travel on, the inexpensive hotels and minimal cost of living made Indonesia very comfortable for me.
Even better the people were very generous. Wherever I spoke I always left with more money than I came in with. Upon going to get a hair cut at the salon, I was presently surprised to discover reflexology. Foot massage is very popular throughout Indonesia and only costs about $5 to $10 depending on where you go.
After a good workout at the hotel health club, I even managed to get a full body massage lasting one hour for just $10 to $15 USD. I suddenly felt like a king, though I was living on a pauper’s budget.
While traveling to different areas of Jakarta, my taxi driver pointed out to me a former hotel which had been bombed during the riots a few years ago. The building was utterly destroyed. I was told that Islamic terrorists had blown it up in anticipation of President Clinton and other Americans being there.
I learned about the May riots in which Chinese businessmen were also targeted by Muslim extremists who vandalized their homes and sought to kill them. Like clockwork every May, Chinese would leave the country fearing for their lives.
It seems the Chinese living within Indonesia made the locals jealous. Their business acumen and astute intellect provoked struggling Indonesians.
Nevertheless the same opportunities exist for all throughout Indonesia. Yet many people were easily aroused by the protestation calling for violence. Sadly many died over the years as a result.
I fell deeply in love with Indonesia and returned numerous times. I particularly remember my time speaking in East Timor during the war in 2000, before the United Nations granted them national sovereignty. It was a time of hardship and unrest, as war killed many innocent people. Thankfully Timor Leste, as it is now called, is a land dwelling in peace.
When the tsunamis swept through the island of Sumatra, I was moved with compassion to find my way to Banda Aceh. The longtime renegade province of Indonesia had historically killed dissidents and religious leaders of other faiths. Eventually the leaders of Banda Aceh forbid international aid workers altogether.
That all changed when Banda Aceh and the bordering towns were devastated by the tsunamis. International aid workers from around the globe were suddenly greeted with open arms, waving hands, and smiling faces.
I met men who had lost up to five children and their wives in a single day. One Muslim man told me he cried for two months straight.
Endeavoring to do what I could with what little finances I had, we helped a Muslim young man rebuild his home. His home had been leveled by the tsunamis and he washed to the top of a nearby mountain when the waves swept through.
It was nothing short of a miracle that those alive survived. As they all pulled together to rebuild their homes, bureaucratic delays from the government impeded progress. Nevertheless many proceeded to build with or without authorization.
Other allegations later surfaced that corrupt governmental officials nationally and locally were pocketing charitable contributions and not getting them to those most in need. Such corruption is widespread throughout Indonesia as is evident by the poor and faulty infrastructure across the country.
Bribery sadly is commonplace. Even more troubling was the drug epidemic I witnessed among the youth, many of whom use ecstasy. It is said some 15,000 youth die annually from ecstasy overdose.
The island of Java also has its problems with prostitution. Not something you would expect from an Islamic government.
The Bali bombings during which discos were set on fire and tourists killed sent fear throughout the tourism industry. As the economy took a nosedive, the Indonesian government and police quickly responded to terrorist elements seeking to thwart national stability.
The dangers of terrorists remain throughout isolated areas of Indonesia, as one never knows when a radical may strike. Overall Indonesia however is very peaceable, polite, and warm toward foreigners.
I often felt like a movie star everywhere I went in Indonesia as people shouted at me with joy hoping to get a wave or smile in return.
The sweetness and sincerity of the people stole my heart. Though I am an American born citizen, I left my heart in Asia. Every chance I get, I happily and wholeheartedly return to the continent where two-thirds of the world’s populace lives.
Here at home in America I survive, but afar in the east I thrive! Asia is where my heart comes alive!
Paul is seeking sponsorship for an around the world travel writing expedition. His nonprofit organization Dream-Maker Inc. provides a charitable tax exemption for contributions.
Paul Davis is a highly sought after worldwide professional speaker, purpose coach, and change master transforming individuals and organizations.
Paul is the author of several books including United States of Arrogance, Breakthrough for a Broken Heart; Adultery: 101 Reasons Not to Cheat; Are You Ready for True Love; Stop Lusting & Start Living; Waves of God; Supernatural Fire; Poems that Propel the Planet; and God vs. Religion.
Paul’s compassion for people & passion to travel has taken him to over 50 countries of the world where he has had a tremendous impact. Paul’s organization Dream-Maker Inc. builds dreams, transcends limitations & reconciles nations.