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PostPosted: Fri Oct 30, 2015 3:41 pm 
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How Thailand Became a Global Gender-Change Destination
October 27, 2015
by Jason Gale

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Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Beny and Yael Gangian spent more than $30,000 to help their transgender daughter Eimy complete her long-sought-for change of sexual identity.

For the Israeli family, who used money saved for 18 years, borrowed from a bank and donated by family and friends, there was only one place they felt would give immediate, affordable and high-quality treatment: Thailand.

The Southeast Asian nation is at the forefront of the growing practice of transgender surgery, capitalizing on decades of know-how, low-cost health care, and a ready supply of surgeons trained to perform the male-to-female procedures.

“They have the best doctors here and I feel I can count on them,” Eimy said in an interview on the eve of her surgery in Bangkok in September. While the 18-year-old could have had the operation free in Israel, the surgeon wouldn’t have been as experienced and she probably would have had to wait years — a delay her mother Yael says Eimy couldn’t have endured. “I want to undergo the surgery, to lead my life with happiness, in truth — to become a woman, completely, without any question at all,” Eimy says.

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Eimy Gangian, left, listens to Dr. Preecha Tiewtranon explain her gender-reassignment procedure.
Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Thailand is the most popular overseas destination for patients seeking sex-reassignment surgery, according to Josef Woodman, chief executive officer of Patients Beyond Borders, a consulting firm based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

“The surgery can be done for probably a third in Thailand of what it can be done for here,” says Curtis Crane, a San Francisco plastic and urological surgeon, who spent six weeks in Bangkok in 2009 learning from Preecha Tiewtranon, the pioneer of Thailand’s SRS industry. “For some people who have no insurance and who need to have the surgery, it’s the only option.”

Gender-affirming surgery, as it’s known in the transgender community, is a small but growing niche in Thailand’s medical tourism industry, which attracts more than 2 million visitors a year. Those patients generated about 140 billion baht ($4 billion) in revenue last year, an 18 percent increase on 2013.

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Dr. Preecha Tiewtranon, the pioneer of gender-reassignment surgery in Thailand, has helped more than 3,500 transgender patients. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Preecha, who performed Thailand’s first gender surgery in 1975, attributes the country’s popularity for the procedure to three things: “No. 1, it’s very cheap in Thailand,” he says. “No. 2, good result, and No. 3, good hospitality — they can have a side trip for tourism.”

Preecha and five surgical colleagues at Bangkok’s Preecha Aesthetic Institute perform two to three gender operations a week — a total of more than 3,500 over the past three decades. At least 90 percent of their clients are from outside Thailand — mostly China, the Middle East and Australia.

While there are no publicly available statistics on the number of people undergoing the surgery in Thailand, surgeons say that at least 100 Thai doctors are qualified to perform the operations. Websites show that at least 20 Thai medical centers perform them, including Bumrungrad Hospital Pcl and Bangkok Dusit Medical Services Pcl. Packages, including medical and surgical expenses, hotel accommodation, massages and a city tour start at $9,770. “It’s got the reputation and it’s well set up,” says James Bellringer, a urological surgeon who’s performed more than 1,000 male-to-female operations in London. “The Thais are doing a perfectly satisfactory and safe job.”

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Eimy Gangian was depressed and wouldn't go to school because of the distress she felt about her gender identity.
Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Demand for gender identity services are surging worldwide, often overwhelming government-subsidized centers. London’s Charing Cross Hospital, whose gender identity clinic opened in 1966, had 364 people on a waiting list for surgery at the end of September. Last month, it received 27 new referrals, almost three times the number of operations performed, with patients waiting an average of 72 weeks.

“There has been a massive increase,” said psychiatrist Fintan Harte, director of the gender dysphoria clinic at Melbourne’s Monash University, the only state-funded center of its type in Australia. “People are more prepared to come out of the closet, as it were.”

There are multiple reasons for that, Harte says: the Internet and more societal acceptance, and legal changes that prevent discrimination. “A big part of it has been some of the people who are out there as role models — Caitlyn Jenner and Chaz Bono,” says Jaimie Veale, a psychology researcher at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Former Olympic champion Jenner and author Bono are among an increasing number of prominent transgender professionals from business, the judiciary, sports, science, and the arts.

Gender surgery is a growing niche in Thailand's $4 billion medical tourism market

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Beny Gangian and wife Yael spent more than $30,000 on their trip to Bangkok for daughter Eimy's gender-reassignment surgery. Brent Lewin/ Bloomberg

In May last year, Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset in the Netflix television series “Orange Is the New Black,” became the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine. Last month, Jeffrey Tambor won an Emmy award for playing a transgender woman in the comedy series “Transparent,” and dedicated his performance to the transgender community.

The media attention is eroding prejudices and helping people to see that “maybe transgendered people aren’t all sex-mad freaks who live on the streets and take drugs,” says Katherine Cummings, who lived as John, a father of three daughters, before transitioning in 1986 at age 51. “There has been a big change in societal acceptance,” says Cummings, 80, a librarian and information worker at the Gender Centre in Sydney.

That’s encouraging more transgender people to come forward for surgery, says Sam Winter, head of the sexology team at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. Still, he says, not all patients having their genitalia changed necessarily want the operation. In all but a half-dozen countries worldwide, the sterilizing surgery, which risks causing permanent disfigurement, is a prerequisite for a change of gender to be recorded on birth certificates and other official documents. “A lot of trans people don’t find it medically necessary to get surgery — it becomes a social necessity,” Winter says. “In that sense, it can be argued to be cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

For Israeli teenager Eimy, the 3 1/2-hour procedure she had at the Piyavate Hospital in central Bangkok was the final step in becoming a woman. “I want to get it over with and go home as soon as possible,” says Eimy, who prefers to go by “Amy — like Amy Winehouse.” “It wasn’t simple to come here,” she says. “It’s a big deal.”

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Eimy Gangian, who prefers to be called "Amy — as in Amy Winehouse," says she wanted to undergo gender surgery to become a woman "without any question at all." Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

For two years, Eimy was depressed, refused to go to school and wouldn’t leave the house, her mother, Yael, says. The family moved from Tel Aviv to a small town 20 miles away to make it easier for Eimy to transition at age 16 and make new friends. Now a slender young woman, brimming with confidence, Eimy works part-time in a hospital and wants to pursue a career as a classical singer. “If she’s happy, I am happy,” Yael says.

Eimy’s father, Beny, who sells and repairs carpets, says the $33,000 cost of the trip is a small price to pay for the happiness and wellbeing of a child who’s already faced many challenges and especially needs her family’s love and support. “I got here with my family’s help,” Eimy says. “All my friends supported me. There are always some who aren’t interested in supporting people like us — like me — who make the transition. The world needs to be open and to understand our situation.”

Source: Bloomberg.

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 30, 2015 7:44 pm 
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Report: Migrants exploited as "forced labour" in Thai poultry plants
27 November 2015

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Bangkok (dpa) - Migrant workers in Thailand suffer debt bondage and other exploitation at the hands of the country's export-driven poultry industry, a report by European rights groups said.

Excessive fees for recruitment, paperwork and social service are routinely deducted from wages, pushing workers further into debt they sometimes cannot repay, according to research by Swedwatch and Finnwatch. "After the deduction for documents and renewal processes from my 15 day salary, I have nothing left. How can I eat and survive?" the report quoted a Myanmar worker as saying.

The perpetuation of debt amounts to a form of forced labour, the report said. The report did say that the workers interviewed were paid the minimum wage of 300 baht (US$8.4) per day on paper, but the deductions were excessive and sometimes lacked credibility. One worker said that she had been paying social security for years but still had no coverage.

Workers from all the factories reviewed said passports or work permits were held by the employers or recruiters, and circulating without papers exposed them to abuse and extortion from officials. Workers arrive in Thailand with a debt to their broker, the report said. Workers from Myanmar can pay up to 650,000 kyat ($500) for the trip and the introduction to an employer. "We cannot go back home, but neither can we stand to work here," said another Myanmar worker in the report, which interviewed 98 migrant workers in six factories.

Thailand is the world's fourth-largest poultry meat exporter, supplying three-quarters of its exported processed chicken to Japan and the European Union. Thai industry as a whole relies heavily on migrant workers, amid a labour shortage and an ageing population. The country has 1.3 million registered migrant workers, and up to 3 million if undocumented or illegal workers are included.

Since 2014, several reports have slammed migrants' working conditions in Thailand's fishing and fruit-processing industries. The reports prompted the European Union to warn that it could ban seafood products from Thailand, the world's third-largest seafood exporter. The United States said Thursday it will review Thailand's right to export some goods there without import duties, amid the concerns over working conditions.

Source: dpa

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2016 7:03 am 
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Wee are not amused: $40k toilet for Thai princess unflushed
February 23, 2016

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Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen walk past honor guards upon her arrival at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on February 22, 2016 (AFP Photo/Tang Chhin Sothy)

A luxury commode custom-built for a Thai princess's visit to Cambodia was left unused despite its hefty $40,000 price tag, local officials said Tuesday, in a poor country where the majority of rural dwellers do not have access to a toilet.

The convenience was built for a visit on Monday by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn to Yeak Lom lake in northeastern Cambodia. But her two-hour visit ended without her ever having experienced the lavish water closet, community leader Ven Churk told AFP. The toilet was later "removed" and the adjoining bathroom will now be turned into a security post for tourists visiting the tree-ringed lake, he added. "She (the Princess) did not go inside the bathroom, she just looked at it from outside and took some pictures," he said. The toilet took more than two weeks to build and cost an estimated $40,000, Ven Churk told AFP. "I have never seen such a bathroom," he said.

Provincial governor Nhem Sam Oeun confirmed the toilet was unused, adding the loo is "very modern, very good... it can't be kept because it is for royals." The Thai side covered the construction costs, he added.

Local media reports said the luxury pan was built by the Siam Cement Group, a Thai construction giant partly owned by the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the Thai royal family's assets and investments. SCG could not be reached for comment.

While the pricey privy has made international headlines it has not received any media attention in Thailand, where a severe lese majeste law punishes any perceived criticism of the royal family with up to 15 years prison.

Tin Luong, the chief of Yeak Lom commune, told AFP he was impressed by the "very beautiful" bathroom. "Thai engineers have constructed the bathroom," he said confirming all of the materials were brought from Thailand. "I estimate that it could cost up to $40,000 to build the bathroom. It looks like a house with beautiful decoration," he added.

Figures released last year by UNICEF said 61.5 per cent of Cambodians living in rural areas practice open-defecation -- one of the highest rates in Southeast Asia -- as they have no access to latrines. Thailand's monarchy is among the world's richest, with its fortune in part built through investments in major local businesses such as SCG and Siam Commercial Bank.

After visiting the lake, the princess opened a new health centre that was donated by the Thai royal family. She also met with Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen during the visit, which ends on Wednesday.

Source: Yahoo! AFP.

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 01, 2016 5:29 pm 
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Japanese visitor gets bag full of cash back from Bangkok cab
30 June 2016

BANGKOK (AP) -- A Bangkok taxi driver says he didn't know what was in the green backpack a Japanese customer left behind in the trunk of his cab, but he knew what he had to do - hand it over to police.

When he did, Thanakrit Hengniran learned that inside were 16 fancy T-shirts, a Macintosh computer and 800,000 yen ($7,800) in cash. Thanakrit said he had no regrets, hoping that his honesty gave visiting Japanese businessman Keishi Kobayashi a good feeling about Thailand and its people. For his good deed, he received a 5,000 baht ($140) reward on Thursday from Kobayashi.

Already scrambling to make ends meet, Bangkok taxi drivers are facing increasing competition from motorbikes and services such as Uber.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 13, 2017 10:27 pm 
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Transgender Thai 'ladyboys' cause a stir after turning up for Army conscription wearing skirts and make-up
By Nick York and Rachel Bishop
4 April 2017

Stunning Patra Wirunthanakij - the former Miss Mimosa Queen of Thailand - was among dozens of trans women forced to take part

This is what numerous trans women go through in Thailand each year as they are forced to attend conscription for the nation's army.

Every April, Thai men who turn 21 must either volunteer to serve for six months in the military or take their chances in a lottery, where a choice of black ticket lets them go home but a red ticket means they must serve for two years.

But because Thai law dictates that trans people are not allowed to change their gender on their ID documents they must also take part - unless they can provide an exemption certificate.

A decade ago, transgender people were considered mentally ill by the military, which could create problems including future employment prospects.

It took a six-year fight by a trans women’s community before the Administrative Court ordered the designation changed to someone whose gender doesn’t match with their sex, or gender dysphoria, so that trans draftees could be exempted.

Now, while many are mostly exempt from taking part in service, if they don't get the proper exemption documents they have to go along.

This has caused huge embarrassment and stress for many Thai trans women, and caused outcry from LGBT communities, Khaosodenglish.com reports .

'Draft day' is held each April, around the time of the traditional New Year, reports Thailife.com .

Pictures from this year's process show three selection centers in Phayao, Prae and Korat, where several hundred citizens from nine districts waited to hear their fate.

In Phayao on Sunday a seven day selection procedure was taking place in the gym of a school.

Among the recruits was Patra Wirunthanakij, better known by her nickname Nadia, who is the former Miss Mimosa Queen of Thailand – a contest open only to 'Katoeys' - often controversially referred to in western culture as 'lady boys.'

Also among the potential recruits was Anchada Duayamphan, who told reporters: “I’m nervous and excited. I am studying in the first year at uni in Ayuthaya. I am not a 100% woman yet – I have not had the op”.

Her pal Rusanan Reuanmoon smiled, adding: “I don’t want to be a soldier. I want to be a woman. I’m not 100% yet as I haven’t had my extra bits removed”.

Meanwhile in Prae Thai Rath reported that eight trans women escaped selection.

There were 60 men chosen from 500 attendees.

In Prae, Wisanu Nuanjan, from Wangthong sub-district, said: “I work in Chiang Mai. I haven’t switched over entirely yet.

“I have been in many beauty contests and I always come in first. I was scared of being a soldier – it is great not to be chosen”.

Ahead of this year's event, members of the media, government and LGBT community gathered in Bangkok to discuss new guidelines for better treatment of transgender recruits.

Ronnapoom Samakkeekarom of the Transgender Alliance for Human Rights said during the event at the Sukosol Hotel.: "Many in the Thai media still portray such news in a humorous way.

"Some of them even cause more stress to transgender recruits."

Source: Mirror UK

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 22, 2017 3:54 pm 
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Thai 'Sin City' finds abstaining from sex hard
17 April 2017

PATTAYA, Thailand (AFP) -- In a daring nautical themed outfit, sex worker May confidently predicts the survival of Thai sleaze town Pattaya despite a junta attempt to tame the kingdom's "Sin City".

She is bullish because she, like tens of thousands of others in the industry, have no plans to give up their jobs. And there are no signs the hordes of foreign sex tourists are abating. Two hours east of Bangkok, Pattaya's bawdy reputation hails from the Vietnam War era when American GIs partied in their downtime. Today it spins money off its no-holds-barred reputation and its most successful sex workers earn anywhere between 70-150,000 baht (US$2,000-US$4,400) a month, as much as ten times the national average wage.

"I make good money here, for me and my family," May told AFP as she touted for clients near 'Walking Street' –- a mile-long drag festooned with bars and clubs pouring out ear-crushing EDM music.

But concerns about the impact on Thailand’s reputation have spurred authorities to act, while frequent reports of underage sex workers, drug abuse and mafia operations further muddy Pattaya’s name. May, who is transgender, said the strip has felt more subdued in recent weeks as police and soldiers conduct frequent patrols as part of a clean-up ordered by the censorious ruling junta.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Sulasak Kalokwilas is one of those tasked with what many might deem the ultimate Sisyphean task: weaning Pattaya off sex. "We are suppressing obscene and dirty shows. We're trying to make those bars disappear," he explained. As he spoke, lines of women stood behind him in revealing outfits enticing punters into bars with names like Taboo and G-Spot as well as Fahrenheit -- a nightspot boasting "The Hottest Girls in Pattaya".

"The lady boys and women working there, they are not involved in the sex trade," said Pattaya's police chief Colonel Apichai Kroppeth, echoing the kind of Thai police rhetoric commonly divorced from reality. "They work as waitresses, sit and chat with customers, some dance in shows," he said.

For many residents of the city the latest moral outrage fits a familiar pattern: negative overseas headlines prompt authorities to launch high-visibility -- yet limited -- crackdowns on an industry that pays the bills for everyone. "You're expecting the poachers to be the gamekeepers?" said one westerner who has made Pattaya his home, when asked if the latest clean-up will work.

The sex trade is a cash cow for the bar owners, girls, massage parlours, hotels, taxis, mafia and, many have long alleged, the cops charged with policing. Thais call it "pon prayote", says British journalist Andrew Drummond who reported on crime in Thailand for two decades. "It means everyone benefits... it brings in massive amounts of money and simply couldn't happen without police connivance." Apichai insisted there was "no bribery for sure" in his force.

Prostitution is illegal in conservative Thailand. Yet it remains ubiquitous for local and foreign customers alike. Businesses use a well worn loophole to avoid prosecution, hiring sex workers inside the bars merely to entertain and talk to patrons. A small "bar fine", usually around 500 baht (US$14), secures private "short time" away from the bar where any deal struck for sex is purely between the punter and prostitute.

While authorities have vowed to shutter the trade, there is little discussion on what happens to the sex workers -- who often support large families with their earnings. There are no exact numbers, but a 2014 UNAIDS report suggested some 140,000 females are employed by sex work across Thailand. Tens of thousands are thought to operate in Pattaya alone.

Tourism officials are optimistic for change, citing the increasing number of families coming to the town's resorts and its popularity for sports, such as jet-skiing and golf. "In terms of facilities I think we are already there," said Suladda Sarutilavan, Pattaya's director of tourism. Last year some 12 million tourists -- seventy percent foreigners -- visited a city which now boasts over 100,000 rooms across 2,000 hotels, from cheap backpackers to swanky golf courses and family apartments.

While not everyone who comes is a sex tourist, she admits the city's seedy image and crime headlines are a problem. "It makes us feel a little bit uncomfortable," she said.

Two recent killings have renewed the spotlight on the city's reputation as a bolthole for foreign criminals. In January, British businessman Tony Kenway was gunned down as he left the gym, a hit police linked to "boiler room" scams. In 2015 an Australian former Hells Angel was kidnapped in broad daylight and murdered.

Foreigners who have made Pattaya home lament the killings, but say they fail to tell the wider picture of a largely safe, affordable city. "Every night I went out in Coventry there was always one or two fights. I feel completely safe here," said Briton Bryan Flowers, who moved to Pattaya a decade ago and now owns a dozen bars.

Others argue fancy hotels, malls and golf courses can flourish in step with the town's party reputation. "It's why a lot of people come here," Simon Peatfield, another Brit who owns restaurants and sports bars, said. "There's only so much golf you can play."

Source: AFP via Channel NewsAsia

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