Monday 9 July 2018

Thailand, Briefly

While the end of the spring 2018 semester was smooth sailing, the summer of 2018 has started out on some rocky waters. Most recently, I had an unexpected gallbladder removal surgery and am now working towards recovery. Previously, I spent a good portion of time in between the end of the semester and the beginning of June preparing to head to Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand. I got my long, linen pants, bug repellent, and airplane pillow all set to go. On May, 31st, 2018 I flew from the Chicago O'Hare Airport to the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. We landed there on June 2nd, somehow losing a day in transit. I was the co-leader of the team with Dr. Kristy Ingram from Olivet Nazarene University, and we had a team of 14 students. Twelve students were from Olivet, and two students joined us from two different universities in Michigan.

Unfortunately, for me, the trip ended fairly quickly as some unexpectedly difficult circumstances arose with my husband's family, and I felt like I needed to come home to support him and his family. I was so disappointed and really sad to leave the team in Thailand, but Kristy and I both felt that I needed to be at home. I left Thailand on June 5th, and then miraculously, landed back in O'Hare just 12 hours later-- on June 5th. Timing in travel is so interesting.

While my time in Thailand was very short-- a total of about three days-- I do feel like I got a taste of the vibrant, dynamic city of Bangkok. Bangkok is the capital city in the Kingdom of Thailand, and in 2018 there are close to 10 million people who live there. Also, in 2017 it was listed as the most visited city in the world, with Business Insider citing an estimate of 20.2 million international visitors. It was colorful, noisy, crowded, inviting, diverse, and welcoming. Some of the students on the team had never traveled outside of the United States prior to this trip, but I know for all of us, the arrival into this bustling hub was a bit overwhelming. I didn't get a chance to go to Chiang Mai with the team, but I hear that that has a pretty different feel than the hustling city of Bangkok. 

Though I only spent three days in the country, I did get to experience some pretty special things. Namely, I got to tour, I got to eat, and I got the chance to help support the team. 


While in Bangkok, we stayed at the Bangkok Christian Guest House. The staff was very welcoming, and the guest house was large and well cared for. It was also a convenient hub from which to go out and visit the city. With the guest house as our base, we had the opportunity to tour the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, the King Chulalongkorn Memorial Exhibition, and the grounds of the Grand Palace. Of those three tours, I enjoyed the market the most. It was loud, colorful, and busy. We spent the day wandering the aisles of goods and testing a lot of delicious delicacies (more on that in the next section).

One note about our day at the market, and really every moment in Thailand, was that it was hot. And this kind of heat is no joke. I lived in the dry hot of the Arizona desert for two years, and I've grown up in the humid hot of midwestern summers, but the combination of those two kinds of heat was not for the faint of heart. The almost suffocating inhales of air that seemed to almost immediately transform to a layer of water dripping down my back was a lot to take. We had a six hour day at the market, and there was very little relief from the day. At one point I asked one of the students if she wanted to get a foot massage done at one of the many stands advertising. We sat down in a small stall with a large plastic sheet separating the six seats from the main mall, and the air conditioner blew down on us. It was lovely, and a welcome respite from the heat outside.

The Grand Palace area was also, just that, very grand. After touring the memorial exhibition we had received a lot of information about Thai culture, religion, government, and even architecture. That made walking around the palace area interesting and gave some good context to what we were seeing, even as the grand buildings stood tall above us. The Thai people greatly venerate their king, as they see him as a dynasty in the line of the gods. Their practice of removing shoes before entering any sacred place shows their devotion and respect for these spaces. These buildings are also set against the large, long skyline of Bangkok in an accurate representation of the way that the old and new, traditional and modern, and quaint and vast seemingly coexist simultaneously in this city, at once inviting the visitor to stand in awe and to feel at home in this vibrant place.


Another thing that I got to do in Thailand was eat. And as I said on my Instagram, when I say eat, I really mean consume rice and fruit. Before I left, a friend who had visited Thailand told me to be prepared to eat a lot of rice. I figured I do eat rice pretty regularly, but I really had no idea. When she meant eat rice, she meant at every.single.meal. Luckily, I really like rice, and it was paired with a lot of delicious sauces and sides. In addition, my cousins kept telling me about all of the delicious, ripe, varying fruit. I had visited Burkina Faso, Africa in May of 2010, and I still remember the taste of the fresh, sweet mango. I was so looking forward to tasting the fruit in Bangkok, and I was not disappointed.

Many of the students had never tasted a lot of the food that we were presented with and many of the fruits were new to me as well! We tried durian, which can be horrendous, but we caught it right in the ripe season, and it was soft, sweet, and light in taste and texture. The Thai people call it the King of Fruit. Paired with this fruit, we then tried the Queen of Fruit, and I loved it. It has a thick, deep purple shell, but the fruit inside is white, and it is both sweet and tangy, and so lovely. Really good. We also tried rambutan, which has a beautiful, pink, spiky shell. It is almost as much fun to look at as it was to eat. Then, of course, we ate lots of delicious mango, and I was in no way disappointed. Fresh mango eaten in tropical climates is one of my all time favorite foods/ eating experiences. I had it fresh, with sticky rice, in smoothies, in candy, pretty much anyway I could consume it. I probably ate at least a mango a day, and in reality probably more, during my short stint there. Other than maybe fresh Anago sashimi, I don't know that there is any better food in the world.

The students were brave in their eating! They tried the fruit, octopus legs, and all the various rice dishes placed in front of us. We ate at the guest house, at the market under tents in the pouring rain, in a long entry way at a church, and at street side stands on plastic tables and chairs. The food was as much about the kindness and welcoming nature of the people and places where we ate than the food itself. At the street side stand dinner, we were hot and tired, and I waited probably close to an hour to eat. I was ready to just head back and go to bed, but then a plate of Pad Thai was placed in front of me, and oh, man, I devoured the whole thing. I don't know why it came as such a surprise to me that Pad Thai would be so delicious in Thailand, but I loved it. It was sweet, spicy, peanuty, soft, and fragrant at the same time. At the church, we had rice and fruit with a delicious, spicy shrimp sauce. The community had come together to cook us a meal and welcome us to their church. Their kindness and willingness to serve us was so appreciated. 


The reason that this team of 16 left our homes and flew 24 hours (not quite, but ya know) around the world was to offer support to the missionaries and staff in Thailand. The life that these people live is one of service and sacrifice. Kristy and I were very clear with the team prior to leaving that we were not going to this place to go on vacation, or even to help the Thai people for a week or two and then peace out. Our goal in this trip was to be a support and a hope to the people who are working day in and day out to better the lives of those around them. The fact that we got to interact and be invited into these spaces to get to know these Thai people was really wonderful, but it wasn't our goal. We were both so conscious, as is MIA at Olivet, of the damage of "voluntourism" trips can have on spaces and people groups that they often intend to help. Instead, we went to Bangkok and then the team continued on to ask those who minister in these contexts everyday what we could do to help them. That meant bringing a lot of supplies from the United States, being ready to step up at a minutes notice to lead a service or group, or to simply offer a word of encouragement for the work they were doing.

The team stepped up to do this. While I was there, I got the opportunity to help lead them in preparing for a church service. Four students readily volunteered to share their testimonies, and then as a team we prepared and sang a worship song in service. The students were ready to jump into these roles and honor the people of the church through their service. Once I left, the team went to the Maetang Tribal Children's Home and served there for a week. They cleaned, painted a mural, played with the kids, and led a game night with the community. I know it was very hot and probably often uncomfortable, but they did this work with gratitude for the opportunity to be there.

Even from the United States, I was so proud of them and the work they were doing there. I was sad, of course, to not be a part, but I too felt honored to have had the opportunity to get to know these students, travel with this team, and support the work and effort they were making. I gave the students beaded bracelets before we left, as as symbol of the unity of our team and a reminder of our mission to be a support to the team members were were joining in Thailand. I was especially glad to have my bracelet once I returned home. I kept wearing it, and it helped me to keep the team in my heart and my mind and to feel a little less far away from them. There were a lot of different personalities on team. We learned that by doing the Hartman Color Code Personality Test before we left. On the team we had six blues, four whites, three yellows, and three reds. I made these color coded candy bags for them before we left to remind them that even though we are all very different, we each have value to add and a story to tell. I hope they remembered that throughout the trip and now as they are home.

The last month has been rocky, as I said, and more than ever I have begun to understand that life is short. It really is. We don't know what is coming next or what obstacles or hurdles we will need to face, but as I encouraged the students, approaching any and every situation with gratitude and an attitude of giving is one of the best ways to cope. Instead of asking, "why is this happening to me?" we can learn to ask, "how can I give of myself in this situation?" An attitude of gratitude for the little things and then one of giving of oneself or resources is so important. I learned that through my brother-in-law's life. I learned that through my time with team in Thailand. I hope I keep learning it my whole life.

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