Monday, March 23, 2009

8 years ago, but who is counting?

Here are two entries from my first trip to Thailand in 2001. It is funny to read back and think about my time there. I remember well all of the experiences I described, and my friend, and the places I visited and my enthrallment with Thailand. I feel older and more humble now. I know better now how broken and difficult this life can be, but I am glad to go back to those moments of excitement and wonder and thank God for the amazing experiences I have lived!

From 10/04/01
Hello Everyone. I have received alot of questions, and I have alot I want to tell everyone, so please be patient with me if I missed something. This will probably be a long email (I am giving myself about an hour to write it) so if you do not have the time to read it, I am warning you now!

To those of you I have not yet heard from, Come on and write and let me know about life back in the states!!! To those of you who have written, and I have not yet responded, please accept my apologies. The internet here in Thailand is very unpredictable, and sometimes I will sit at the computer for an hour and accomplish reading 3 emails, and responding to none at all before I have to go do something else. (I don't have the patience to sit here for forever while the computer thinks so after about an hour I give up!) I hope that this will answer alot of your questions, and I will try to get more personal emails out soon!

Preface to my letter: This coming week is very very busy. I teach 16 classes. (That probably doesn't sound like alot, but they are spaced out. For example, today is not too bad, I had a 9am class and I have a 4pm class. It is about 11:15 now, and I have not yet eaten, and then this afternoon I MUST do laundry so until this evening I am pretty booked. Oh, and laundry for me this afternoon included exactly NO machines, so you can see that simple things take more time than what I am used to. Please pray for me as I prepare and as I adjust. I still do not have my own mode of transportation, so I rely on others to help me, or I have to use the bus or motorcycle taxi, and those things are just not my favorite. It is also a hard adjustment to not be able to leave when I want, or to find the supplies I want (for example, I am having a very hard time finding index cards -- go figure!) and these little things stress my brain.

Culture Shock: I was here for a whole week before I got my first good taste of embarrassment here that made me want to go hide! We were at a wedding (yes, even here I cannot get away from them) and were sitting at a table with another american missionary, and his family, and about half a dozen Thai persons; we were all eating dinner. Dinner was served in courses, and between courses people would get up and walk around and visit etc as is prone to happen at weddings. I left the table and when I got back I found my seat was taken. (No big deal, right?) Well, when the person who took my seat (who happened to be Thai, and I girl I know somewhat well as she has stayed with me a few times) offered to get up and give the chair to me. I (in good loud american fashion) told her "No No, sit down! I am fine, I will find my own seat." This was accompanied by the normal "sitdown" motion of waving your hand in in downward motion at the person you are talking to. I must have been too loud, or bossy, or gestured in an inappropriate way because the missionary who was sitting there said very loudly, "THAT WAS VERY RUDE" and gave me a look that made me want to shrink to the size of the individual grains of rice on my plate! I was mortified! I had no idea what I had done. I was just doing what was polite in America, but apparently, it was not polite here. I think it just all hit me in a wave then that people here do not know me, they don't know "how I am" and that I am just loud sometimes. They don't know that I was trying to be polite, and somehow offended them without meaning to. I told Jon later that night that it was the first time since I arrived here that I wanted to go home. I wanted my car so I could drive myself around, and I wanted my house that I had a key to, that I can leave or return to at my whim, I wanted my dog who loves me whether I am offensive or not, and I wanted a hot bath, dang it, which they just don't have here (at least not one I have access to.) That night I asked Jessica (an american student who has been studying here for a year and a half) what I did that was so bad etc. and we talked about what is acceptable and what is not. For example, here you DO NOT touch an adult on the head (or even really on their shoulders), you do not show the bottoms of your feet at people, you do not wear shoes into any building/room where there is an altar (and they are everywhere), you do not give the thumbs up sign because it is just slightly nicer than flipping someone off. (Now, this last one is often broken because Americans use that sign when they want to show approval, and Thai persons here watch ALOT of american tv, so they are familiar with some of our quirks.) And, lets not even start on how to greet people here. If I were polite I would greet all elders and strangers older than me by putting my hands together under my chin (like a child praying) and nodding my head. Can I tell you how not comfortable I am with that. It is just awkward. It does not sound bad, but you try to remember to do it all the time, not to mention that I often have things in my hands when I meet people in such a way. My mind was spinning! I just hate the thought of offending people when I am visiting THEIR country, but I know I will do so over and over again, and this is just a hard thing for me -- for my pride, and for my emotions, as I don't want to displease anyone. This happened Friday night, and as fate would have it, Jon left that night for a week to go on a trip with some other friends here in Thailand. I wanted to cry with frustration.
Thank God that Saturday morning when I got up I had to go straight to teaching class all morning, and by afternoon I felt somewhat back to normal. I think that the outcome of that situation is that I am much more aware of how much there is to learn, and that culture differences don't have as much to do with circumstances and surrounding as I thought they did, but alot more to do with human emotions (not just mine, but the people I am worrying about offending.) AND the PRIDE I have in being able to represent myself well -- I cannot represent myself well here, and it is humbling. I look like the stupid american everyone warns you about! Ack!

From 11/13/01
Well, my friends, it has been a while since I have written. News here comes in spurts and I am not as good at keeping you informed as I should be.
There is alot on my mind though, and I am not sure where to start. So I will start by saying that on the whole things here are going well. I really enjoy Thailand. There are many many great things about being here.

Great things about Thailand:
You can buy fresh pineapple on the street for 10 baht! It is so good. Unlike anything in the states. So sweet and juicy! How wonderful! And you can get these amazing fruit shakes for 10 baht! In the states the closest comparison would be those crazily expensive fruit smoothies they sell for 3.50 a piece. Here i pay $0.25. You cannot beat that.
Food here is good. I am still learning what I like, and sometimes I try things that just don't really tempt me at all, but on the other hand, if you get tired of new stuff, you can find pizza hut and KFC and Mcdonalds if you try hard enough.
The weather here right now is wonderful. It is in the 80's during the day, and the 70's in the evenings, and there is almost always a nice cool breeze. I am actually wearing pants and a long sleeve shirt today at 1pm! That is amazing considering how many days I was sweating gallons at noontime.
Life here is just more basic. There is not so much rushing around. You can walk to many things that you need, like food and most groceries. There are fabric strores and music shops and paper shops etc very close to the school. If you need to go further you can easily get a motorcycle taxi, or a taxi or take the bus. If you have to take an hour long taxi ride into bangkok you will probably pay 400 baht. (Approximatly 10.00) You tell me if you know of anyplace in the states where you can ride for an hour in a taxi for $10.00?
Family is very important here. In America if you do well financially you will probably move to a bigger house in a nicer "higher class" neighborhood. Here they just add to or build new houses right where they are living. Their community and family is more important than the physical "neighborhood". The result is that you will see straw huts and nice houses right next to each other. It seems to be ok though, because the people in the straw hut are your neighbors and you have probably known them for years. You also get to know your barber or hairdresser, the persons at the restaurants (or in most cases food stands) that you like to go to, you get to know some of the motorcycle taxi drivers, and my favorite, you get to know the lady who runs the internet cafe. She is adorable and makes us hot chocolate when we stay here til 1:30 am playing "Red Alert". She is supposed to close at 11pm. But when we are all here she will stay open til whenever, and if the internet cafe is full when we walk in, she will often kick kids out so we have a place to play. She is adorable! And it is not like she is making oodles off of us (at least not by american standards) - we pay approximately $0.50/hour to use her computers. so she might make 12.00 off of us in an evening! Doesn't seem worth staying up an extra 3 hours for, does it?
Which brings me to the number one thing that I love about Thailand. THE PEOPLE!!! They are just plain NICE. For example, at the food stands the girls ordered a bunch of food "to go" so the vendors put the food in bags etc so the girls could take it with them, then the girls decided to stay and eat at the tables there. In america they would have just eaten out of their take out dishes, but here the women rushed up with plates and forks and drinks etc and "served" the girls their food from their take out packages. Now, these women are not getting tips for their work! We don't tip them for serving or for cleaning up! They just do it because they are nice and they want to be our friends. Many of the vendors who are not as used to seeing "farangs" (Any foreigner not from asia) are excited when we want to order from them. There is a place on my walk back from the school I teach at in the mornings that sells these fried coconut things. They are really good and hard to describe, but anywho everytime I walk up they look like I have just "blessed them" and they smile and talk and say "thank you very much." They are just a very friendly sort of people and they love to practice their english.
It is strange sometimes to hear everyone talking about you. You learn pretty quickly what the word farang means, and so you hear it in the midst of all the other language you don't understand. I am beginning though to pick up on some of what they say. I think it is funny that I attract so much attention. I certainly don't think I am worth all the talking they do. (And I am sure I would not find all of it flattering) But for the most part people here are just so excited to get to know you, that they will go out of their way to make you feel welcome! They are wonderful!
They love it when you try Thai food. I will eat just about anything they give me just because it pleases them so much that I even care! So very different from America where we seem to have a "take it or leave it" mentality.

Jon took me to his "special place" out by the water on Monday. It was the quietest place I have been since I got to Thailand. There was no one around, we were in the middle of nowhere with the ocean on two sides of us. There was a wall you could walk along and look down in the water (no beach there at all) and you could see the little "walking fish" and crabs and snails that had attached themselves to the wall. There was a nice breeze. There is an old abandoned frame of a building. Just a concrete slab floor and concrete posts and a concrete slab roof. Just a big skeleton of what maybe was once an office or warehouse or something. It is littered with broken glass and dirt and such, but it was a wonderful place to me to just to get away. And it smelled GOOD out there. Not like the stinky city smell or the fishing boat smell that we have in mahachai. (It most often smells like rotting fish at the school where I live.) It was a wonderful time to just get away and think. And one of the most wonderful things was having time in the afternoon to just get away. In the states at about 1pm I would look longingly out my window and wish to be sitting on the grass in the sun enjoying the outdoors. I never had time to do so. Here jon and I just hopped on his bike and took a 15 minute ride out to no where and just sat for 3 hours. Amazing! It is one of the things I like about Thailand!!!! Life here is just so different.

More serious stuff:
Life here is not perfect. (Though sometimes to me it seems to be.) We visited a church this past week in Nontha Buri that is undergoing a big split. It seems the missionary that was working there and the national that started the church had some conflicts that could not be resolved. I have heard a little about them, and I have to say that there is (in my opnion) no good reason for the separation. I can only imagine the scathing letter that apostle Paul would write to these people were he given the responsibility of addressing their issues. It was a big dose of reality. And an excellent example of the kinds of things that send missionaries off the field and back home. It grieves me. The truth of the matter is that it is easy, it seems, to get so caught up in your own little sphere here that you lose all accountability and perspective. I have seen alot of problems with missionaries since I got here. Family problems, church problems, problems accepting the culture, but for the most part the missionaries don't see that they need any attitude changes, and their ministries suffer for lack of counsel!!! This is a HUGE problem. Please pray for the unity of missionaries around the world. I feel satan is just crippling the effectiveness of the missionaries I have seen, and he is using silly unimportant things to do so!!! On a personal note, I know I am not immune to the same stubborness and self-centeredness that I have seen here and it terrifies me. One thing that I see that often seems to hinder is the committment of the missionary to their ministry instead of their family. That means the one small piece of balance and counsel they do have they sacrifice and by doing so they damage the very ministry they are sacrificing for. I know that is not something that happens only to missionaries either. This is a big problem in the church and one that I feel we need to address. God set up a clear line of responsibility (at least as far as I can see.) We focus on Him first, on family second (as a reflection and example of God's relationship with us) and ministry 3rd!!!!! I do not believe it is God's will for family to be sacrificed to ministry!!!!
Sometimes teaching can get tiring. You have good days and bad days with the kids. You have good subjects and bad subjects. Some days other teachers are very encouraging and somedays they are infuriating. Sometimes you have enough money, sometimes you don't. Sometimes you like the food across the street, sometimes you just eat potatoe chips and soda. Some mornings you wake up feeling great and somedays you don't want to get out of bed at all. Pretty much it is exactly like life in the states. Only here everything seems bigger. You spend most of your time with the same 7 or so people. If you have a conflict with one then that makes a 20% or so difference in how your time is spent. This means little things can get way out of hand and it is easy to get disappointed or discontented with the way things are. This is something that I think God uses to teach us, but the learning is not always easy. Please pray for everyone here that we will learn to look at things from God's perspective and not our own. A big part of that is learning to think of someone else's interests before considering your own. THis is just not the normal human way to think, and it can be VERY DIFFICULT!!! Especially when our initial reaction is to protect ourselves from hurt or embarrassment. I have failed at this many times since I got here, and I have been very disappointed with myself on more than one occasion.

I am heading to Chiang Mai this weekend. I fly out Friday and return Monday. Chiang Mai is about 12 hours north west by car. It is in the mountains. I am very excited about getting to see more of Thailand. I have not yet seen the beaches though, and I doubt I will get a chance to this trip, so I will just have to plan that when I get back. There is a missionary couple in Chiang Mai that I knew when I was at CIU. Since they left they have been in Vietnam and now are here. I am excited to hear their story and I look forward to getting to see their work in Chiang Mai. (Chang-MY) Please pray that I will be open to anything God wants to teach me, and that I will enjoy this brief time away from the good and bad things about Mahachai.
I am considering going to India for a week before my return home. The major factors are whether I can get my plane ticket changed, whether I can get a visa, and whether I can afford the trip at all. It will cost me about 500.00. Not bad at all!!! I really would like to go, but have been dragging my feet about getting it all worked out! I need to hurry up and decide and get task oriented. Please pray that I will be open to and aware of God's will in this decision.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I look forward to hearing from or seeing you all very soon!

Christy Rich