Wanting Less

At the floating market in Amphawa on my last days in Thailand

So I’m finally back in the West. I have actually been back in Canada for about a month now but the adjustment has taken time for a girl. The first week it was dealing with the time change. How did that go? Let’s just say I had a very early bedtime every evening. But after a week I was fine. It was the psychological part of the adjustment that has taken a bit longer.

The truth is, you don’t know how somewhere has changed you until you go back to where you were before. I was told I would have reverse culture shock. But no one told me it would come at me at the most random moments and in the strangest forms. Like my disgust at the amount of time I have to spend getting from one place to another; or my disdain at the excessive amount of ‘things’ in my home. It’s funny, when I was in Thailand, I met so many people who wanted to come to Canada. But now that I am back in Canada, there are moments when all I want to do is go back to the simplicity of my life in Thailand. It has been like seeing my Western life through new eyes and wondering what the big deal was anyway.

I guess it is similar to the experience of coming to know God. A lot of things get tossed off as you walk closer to Him, and sometimes you stop on the road and look back at the things that were so hard to let go of and wonder what the big deal was anyway. Personally, I am learning to appreciate this feeling of wanting less. I hope it never goes away.

A Temple worth a thousand words (TIP)

White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Thai temple beauty at its best

Wat Rong Khun, known to many tourists as the White Temple, is a huge beautiful temple in Chiang Rai Thailand. I got the chance to visit it earlier this year, and believe the picture doesn’t do it justice. One thing I have noticed is that Thai people go all out with the temples. They are truly a beauty.

Life, death and a stack of stones

rock stacks in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand

Stacks of rocks in Phataem, Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand

Yesterday I went adventuring in Ubon Ratchathani, the Thai province in which I have been living for the past 8 months. We saw many beautiful natural phenomena (see my facebook page for pictures) and it was amazing. At almost every location I noticed these stone structures pictured right. I asked my Thai friend about them and she explained that the stones were stacked there by Thai persons, the belief being that if your stack of stones remained standing for a long time then you would live for a long time. But if your stack somehow fell over, you were going to die soon.

It is amazing how across, culture and race and continent, there seems to be a common aim to somehow control death or at least the timing of it. Continue reading

Things Thai people do that I’ve picked up

It’s hard to live in a country for 7 months and not pick up some of the habits. In fact, the other day my roommate (she just got here) saw me doing number 3 and claimed ‘I could never do that’. I give her 2 months.

Here are my top 5 new habits:

5. Powdering my Face
Okay, so I was overweight at the airport and my make-up bag got the boot, which is okay since I’ve been slowly cutting ties with it for a while now. But needless to say finding foundation for black girls here is like finding comfortable shoes in Payless. It’s not going to happen. So to keep my face looking cool I’ve resorted to dusting it with a bit of baby powder. Might sound strange to you, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a Thai woman (especially one with children) without a little bottle of baby powder in her purse.

4. Adding lime, sugar and fish oil to everything
Almost every meal you purchase here I’ve noticed comes with sugar and half a lime as condiments. And on the centre of your table there is likely a container with vinegar, and one with fish oil. Whether it’s kao pad (fried rice), soup, Pad thai, or anything else, you can be sure, in Thailand it will taste better with sugar and lime.

3.Eating with a fork and a spoon
Dinner knives are also another rarity here in Ubon, even in upscale restaurants. That’s okay though – I’ve become pretty adept at eating with a spoon and fork (spoon in the right hand, fork in the left).

2. No shoes in the house
If you visit a Thai home,(or church or temple, or some stores) chances are you will see a pile of shoes at the door and you will be asked to remove yours as well. My mother already started enforcing this in our own home when she got her hardwood floors, but it is pretty much gospel here in Thailand. I’ve side-eyed my roommate enough so I think she is getting that it applies in our apartment as well.

1. Socks and Slippers
I know, this is so not western, but with #2 it should make sense. Plus, when it gets cold here, it’s nice to have warm feet. I notice this trend a lot when I travel far on buses or trains in Thailand, and when you see something long enough it starts to look normal. On the upside, you get to show off your cute socks!

Turning Thai

Today I went to a birthday dinner for my Thai student. She is turning 21 again and we wanted to celebrate her. It was a fun evening even though I was exhausted from six hours of teaching, which included 4 straight hours in the evening.

During the dinner we started talking about Thai dramas (soap operas). And the foreigners at the table found it interesting that Thai dramas, which take bad acting to a new level, are in some instances more dramatic than an episode of Days of Our Lives. However, Thai people in day to day interactions are not at all dramatic. And yet they LOVE these dramas. (I have Thai friends who do not go out on certain nights because that is when their drama comes, and others who cry when someone in their drama dies.)

But Thai people generally shy away from extreme displays of emotion. Crying in public (even at funerals) is almost taboo, as is shows of anger or great displeasure.

In this way I feel that I am becoming Thai. Over the past couple weeks I have gone through more mood swings than a pregnant woman in her first trimester, but I can’t show any of it. Sometimes I wonder if Jesus got mood swings. Did He ever feel like screaming? Like hurling a rock at someone’s head? Like telling a sister a piece of His mind? I seem to remember him weeping a couple times, but people don’t like to think about Jesus emotional like that. I don’t know. But in a culture where displays of emotion are taboo, and even in Christianity where people sometimes call you unchristian for expressing your true opinions on an issue, I can’t help but wonder if I am turning Thai. And as I do I wonder if I will hide my real emotions for so long that one day I will wake up and find they no longer exist.

Something to ponder.

The little yellow book

Thai Sunset

It’s been over a month since I posted (I know I am a terrible blogger) but in my defense it has been a truly intense month.

I have passed the halfway mark for my time in Thailand and so now the end is closer than the beginning. My mother who is counting down my return to her nest is extremely happy about this. But as I look at the first six months I can already see how much I have changed, how many weird Thai habits I have picked up (more on this later) and how I have stretched myself in ways unimaginable.

Over the six months I have also been making lists of my prayers in a little yellow book that stays in my purse or on my bed-head. I am pretty delinquent in writing all my requests, but usually the big ones make it on the pages. It has been such a blessing to see how God has answered so many of them. Requests for friends who were sick; requests for help teaching my classes; requests for help writing my manuscript; requests for my parents, my brother, my other relatives and friends. Everything from the simple and mundane (help me to like Thai food) to the complex (help my Thai friend to come to our Visitor’s Sabbath at church) have made it into that little yellow book. And the vast majority have been answered – not always in the way I want, but they have been answered.

It is an encouragement to me to see how God answers my prayers. It gives me hope that He will do the same in the future. Try tracking your prayers and answers and then count your blessings.

You may be surprised at how much God is listening to you.

The hand that works the loom

Recently I went to see bronze pourers and silk weavers on my day off. The ones we visited live in a little craft village about 30 minutes outside of Ubon.

The bronzers (that’s all I can think to call them) were kind enough to explain (through our Thai translator friend of course) the whole process of how the bronze sheets get made into bronze pots, bells and other items. It was fun seeing dude pour the bronze (which looked like liquid fire) into the clay moulds. The furnace for the clay moulds was so hot you could see the shimmer around it like you do when you look at the exhaust pipe of of an 18wheeler truck on a hot day. Made me think of Daniel’s friensies.

The silk ladies are the ones that impressed me (I am sure there is a proper name for them but I don’t know it). The threads they used are so tiny and the intricate and time intensive process of weaving the scarfs on their hand looms is worth the price you pay for it. We bought a couple of scarfs on the visit. The asking price for one was 500Baht, which in US is about $16. The woman I asked said it takes a good couple weeks to make one scarf. Even assuming that she makes and sells 3 scarfs a month, she would still take in less than US$50 for work that in my opinion is worth so much more. I am not sure how many people would be okay with that ROI. I find however that people in Thailand don’t seem to worry about things like that as much westerners do. I guess perspective is everything.

I survived Bangkok

This weekend Thailand celebrated the King’s birthday with fireworks, food and festivities. In honour of his birthday, I celebrated a day off from work and spent the weekend in Bangkok with friends.

Bangkok reminds me of Toronto in a way that all big cities remind you of other big cities. The bright lights, the traffic, the pollution, the glaring commercialism, it was all there in its boisterous glory.

And then there are the tourists. They are everywhere. Sometimes I think that is more bad than good. Especially when I see the young Thai girls with old white tourist men. The guidebooks warn you about it, and in the back of your mind you know that the sex trade exists in Thailand, and many men come to the country just for it. But in Bangkok it is more in your face than in your mind. I look at these girls and I wish I could shake them – ask them what they are doing; tell them that it’s not worth it; that they are worth more. Continue reading

Things your mother didn’t teach you

I love my mother dearly – but I have found there are a few things she neglected to teach me growing up. Like how to ride a bicycle in a skirt. I can’t fault her for this. Its not the kind of thing you find in a ‘Growing Up Baby’ book, but it is definitely a skill worth having here in Ubon, Thailand. Especially, if like me, your main mode of transport has two wheels, a chain and pedals.

It has taken quite a bit of trial and error to figure out how to get from my apartment to the school without flashing the Thai people along the way. There is bit of riding against the wind, pedalling gingerly and holding the skirt with one hand involved. Sounds complicated but so far it has been working.

Just riding a bicycle on a Thai road is an adventure in itself. Last week I bravely took my bicycle up Chiangun Road (think Eglinton Ave in Toronto) to Tesco Lotus (think Walmart anywhere). In the 40 minute bike ride there and back I nearly became road kill for several motorbikes and a SUV. Thankfully I got to my destination and home without major mishap (although I did almost fall off at one point. I would have been embarrassed but most Thai people probably think foreigners are a little crazy anyway.)

I am pretty impressed however at how fast I’ve been able to ride, seeing that I haven’t been on one of these things in at least ten years. It seems like the memory really does stay with you. It really is like…riding a bicycle.