Land of Smiles

Book, Music and Lyrics by Erin Kamler

LAND OF SMILES is a fictional, full-length musical about the trafficking of women in Thailand, as seen through the eyes of migrant sex workers, grassroots activists, international aid workers, and human rights defenders. Journeying into the brothels, detention centers and NGO rescue operations of Thailand’s north, LAND OF SMILES forces us to change everything we think we know about human trafficking.

The story focuses on the aftermath of a brothel raid in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand. Lipoh, a young Kachin (ethnic minority) migrant from Burma, seems to be underage, making her an automatic “trafficking victim” in the eyes of the law. Emma Gable, an NGO case worker from Cedar Falls, Indiana is sent to prepare Lipoh to be a witness in a trial to prosecute her trafficker. Emma must convince Lipoh to be the person everyone sees: a trafficking victim. But Lipoh is unwilling to cooperate. She insists that she is eighteen, and was working in the brothel willingly. Not only that—she wants to go back.

What transpires is a journey into Thailand’s anti-trafficking movement—a world burdened by politics, morality, and the rhetoric of human rights. Dedicated to her mission to save this young girl, Emma struggles to convince Lipoh to comply with the NGO’s mandate.

But as the story of Lipoh’s past unfolds: saying goodbye to her frail mother, Shata; leaving her village and embarking on a journey with her “auntie”, the commanding, matriarchal Soon Nu; crossing the Meh Nam Khong, or “Great Mother River” into Thailand by foot; working in a brothel and sending money home so her family can survive, Emma discovers that grave atrocities are being committed by the Tatmadaw military against the Kachin people of Burma. But these atrocities are being overshadowed by a narrative about trafficking that serves the needs of the anti-trafficking NGO, rather than the women it is trying to help.

Emma scrambles to help Lipoh without putting her own assignment at risk. Digging deeper, she learns about sex workers union organizers immersed a decades-long struggle to claim their rights; female combatants who brave jungles riddled with landmines to transport cash across the Thai-Burma border and fund an armed resistance; and mama sans who become like family to the ethnic migrant women of the north—their last hope in an unforgiving country that sees them as disposable, immigrant “others.” Caught at the center of this world of activism, resistance and struggle is Lipoh, whose determination to return to Burma and fight for her people’s survival grows stronger by the day.

As she confronts her failure to be the savior she expected herself to be, Emma realizes that in order to help Lipoh she must accept the truth: that everything she thought she knew back in Indiana—about trafficking, Thailand, and the women in the crosshairs of its notorious sex industry—has been turned on its head.

With time running out, and facing a choice between helping her new friend escape or following the status quo while more Kachin people are killed, Emma makes a risky decision that will alter the course of her and Lipoh’s lives forever.

Click To Listen
1. Home To You
2. Meh Nam Khong
3. Women Power
4. Kachin Women Are Proud and Strong
5. Emma Gable

LAND OF SMILES is the first work in award-winning composer-playwright Erin Kamler’s MONSOON TRILOGY, a series of musicals about human rights issues in Southeast Asia. For more information visit www.landofsmilesmusical.net