Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Saturday: Happy New Year


Saturday was jammed packed with  excitement. We started out early in order to make it to the market, which was enormous. Andy, the boys, and Susan stayed behind while Isaac, Caleb, Hillary, and I went to the market with Jen. When wandering about it, you rarely came across the same stand twice. There was an abundance of things to do here and a marvelous aroma filled the area as vendors sold a variety of foods. It was wonderful fun but over quickly because we had many other plans for the day that we would not dream of missing. 

After returning to meet up with the rest of our group we loaded up into the truck with snacks and drinks and began our travel a distance to have a New Years Eve lunch with some member of the Muang Thai Church. It was great fun with  incredible food, intriguing conversation, and kindly people. There was a copious amount of menu options at this gathering and we ate our fill. Even when our bellies were filled we were fed more and then more. And darn be it all if we did not indulge in the delectable foods they pushed our way. Food, while in variance to specific cultures, seems to have the sensational ability to bring so many together despite language or nationality. 

My most beloved memory from this time of celebration with these people was while we were in song. There is something about a strum of a guitar and the unity in voices that brings me great joy. While we may have sang in different languages at times, the praise was all the same. We lifted our voices together and shared love for our God. 

With some goodbyes and gratitude shared we made our way back to the apartment to get some much needed rest and began to pack up some of our belongings. Just before the boys went to bed we had a disco party. It was great fun. We danced, laughed, and enjoyed this time emmensly. After, we said our goodnights to the boys with big hugs and kisses. The time spent here is been fleeting. We are all so grateful for the friendships we have made and the memories we have shared. But lets not get ahead of ourselves...the New Year is still to be brought in.

Life, a friend of Andy and Jen and son of the Pastors, asked us to join him for fireworks. Innocent enough, yes? Mm. Well, one would hope. You see, Life can be interesing. And at times, Life can throw you a curve. We began by driving to a condo building, close to downtown Bangkok, and parked behind the parking garage. At this time we had to jump over a cement wall. Yes, all of us, including Susan. Gee whiz, the shenanigans we get into. From there we entered the building and ascended thirty floors by elevator. After exiting the elevator we climbed a few flights of stairs. At one point, we came to a stairway that had a red light on the wall. Life informed that this was a sensor and that we needed to stealthily climb underneath it. And so we did. After we had done so a few of Life's friends casually walked passed the light. Life can be crafty. He was pulling our leg. With a good laugh we eventually made it to a portion of the roof. Here we took a ladder only to be faced with a much larger cement wall that we had to scale by climbing and pulling each other up. Yes, all of us. And finally we were on the roof of a forty story building. Oh...also, there was no barrier to prevent us falling over the edge. Did I mention that?
While the journey to get to the roof was taxing, the view we received there was much appreciated it. After we shared some laughter, pizza, and song, we counted down the seconds and brought in the new year together and we were then surrounded by fireworks. For when it is time to celebrate all of Bangkok seemed to celebrate. 

It was now that we returned to Andy and Jen's. We promptly went to bed only to awake early in the morning to catch our flight. Saying goodbye is always bittersweet. We all are so thankful for our time here and the ability to celebrate Christ with each other but it is time we return. We will miss the May family but the truly beautiful thing is that we know we will all meet again. If not in this life, which I am sure it will be, but certainly in eternal life with our Lord. 


P.S. We will each be taking some time to post a blog of a our own personal reflections. I suspect they will be full of revelation and emotion. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday: Park, Shopping, and Girls' Night Out!

The day took an exciting start this morning when Andy drove us to the 58 acre par

k located at the heart of the city. Here, we rented upright bikes for 20 Baht and toured around. The park, Jen explained, was once a gold course. It had long, grassy patches, along with marshy areas. The city had done a marvelous job rehabbing it into a popular family place where children feel safe enough to come and play. For whatever reason, there was no school in session, so students were everywhere in large groups. It created a very lively atmosphere! After a few laps around the park, we quenched our thirst and our hunger at a local restaurant inside the park. These small dives and street vendors were very common inside the park. There is no permit regulation here, so anyone can set up a cart. It seems sketchy, but these tend to have the best food around, and for a good price!

After lunch, Andy drove us to an indoor market. There were 3 levels of hundreds of stores, selling just about any souvenir you can imagine. We took this opportunity to do a little gift and souvenir shopping. We even got to haggle! Very exciting stuff.

After this exciting adventure, we cleaned up and split up. GIRLS' NIGHT OUT and BOYS' NIGHT IN!! We let Jen decide what she would like to do on her evening free of her boys. Her original plan was to hang out in one of the many malls in Siam to eat dinner and get foot massages. This plan was almost derailed when everyone and their brother decided to also check out this mall and restaurant of choice. As if that wasn't already a bummer, the desired massage parlor had been shut down. We were so bummed, we almost headed home. On our way out the door, we saw a map and decided to look once more and see if there were any parlors. We were in luck! There was not only one parlor open, but they were practically empty. Our evening was saved! We then proceeded to have some of the most amazing foot massages EVER! It was simply wonderful. We talked about lots of girly things along the way and had a great time.

In other news, we have created a second photo album! Isaac has done a great job of taking/uploading pictures that we filled up the first one. I'll take this opportunity to post both links:

Thanks, guys!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thursday in Bangkok: An Urban Adventure

Hello, everyone! This is Susan reporting on our adventures.

After breakfast this morning, we did a bit of checking in to see how everyone is managing this experience. Andy and Jen said that no matter how long your stay here, it seems that emotions and energy ebb and flow in predictable patterns and that we were probably experiencing a small lull right about now. We talked about the contrasts between our experiences of home and what we see here. Andy and Jen seem to feel it is helpful to them that someone from Englewood has a sense of what their life is like in Bangkok.

Personally I have been interested in what is eerily similar to my experiences in Central America and what is surprisingly different. I have also not even tried to keep track of time since our plane landed last week. No watch, no cell phone and few clocks on the wall give the whole trip a rather dreamy, timeless, relaxed feel I have not experienced in a very long time. It is rather nice.

Today we headed off with Andy, Jen and the boys to the Grand Palace. To get there we took the Sky Train and a water taxi. We saw long tail boats, barges and tug boats on the huge Chao Phraya river. Although we have many wonderful photos (to be uploaded very soon) I have to say there is no way the photos can do justice to the scope of the Grand Palace. Each building glitters with color and fantastic shapes; gold leaf covers almost everything. Awe-inspiring is the word. We saw many Western tourists who did not know the dress code and who, when they tried to enter were sent back out to rent appropriate pants. Personally, I was grateful we had been warned (long pants or long skirts, collared shirts, closed-toe shoes are required) because those flamboyant rental pants were not very flattering and certainly marked you as someone who did not understand at all where you were.

Just as we took our shoes off and entered the Jade Buddha Temple, Hillary realized her purse was open. Ironically I had decided today not to carry my bulky purse and had asked Hillary to carry my wallet in her purse. Yep, my wallet was gone, along with a sizable amount of cash, my debit card, my drivers license and a few other items difficult to replace. I have to admit, this was not a great moment for me. Andy, Hillary and I retraced our steps, looking in hopes of finding it on the ground. We asked the Palace officials and many market vendors, all of whom sweetly and sincerely stopped what they were doing to help us. It was nowhere to be found.

After a quick lunch, Jen and I came back to the apartment with the boys and I checked my online banking account. Sure enough, three small, unauthorized transactions were pending. I was able to make a Skype call to my bank to cancel the card. My bank seems to think the thieves did not successfully get any money from the debit card, although sadly they did make off with quite a bit of irreplaceable cash. I was also able to report my drivers license stolen online and order a replacement. After Jude and Reuben got up, we played with some modeling clay they got for Christmas. Jen and I took the opportunity to have a bit of "girl talk" over the boys' heads.

While I was dealing with the bank, Andy, Caleb, Isaac and Hillary returned to seeing the sites. They also indulged in something Bangkok is famous for: massages. No, not the kind we usually hear about, but legitimate therapeutic massage, and for only about $15 per person for a full hour. They all enjoyed the experience immensely. They then rode in tuk-tuks and met Jen, the boys and me for a wonderful Japanese dinner.

After dinner, we took the Sky Train back to the May's apartment where the boys had a quick shower and headed off to bed. Andy and Jen are out on the town as I write, enjoying a rare opportunity to have a date night. The kids and I are having a quiet night, reading and playing on the computers, trying to stay awake until Jen and Andy come home. The big excitement of the evening was Caleb and Hillary sampling some fried grubs. They report that the flavor is ok, but the texture is vaguely disturbing. There will soon be a short video clip posted so that you can share the moment with us. Fried grubs could be on the next Versailles camping trip menu!

None of us can remember right now what it is we are doing tomorrow, but we are looking forward to it with gusto. We think some part of tomorrow will be Girls Night Out; already the females have announced we don't even want to know what they guys do while we are kicking our heels up, but we picture some gratuitous belching, scratching, and farting. Or I guess they could do some laundry! Hey, it could happen!

It is really difficult to believe tomorrow is Friday already! Keeping track of the days has been a bit confusing. Mostly we try to just go with the flow and be ready for anything. Thanks for reading. You will hear more of our saga tomorrow.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Beach Part Two

Did we mention how awesome the beach was?
Yeah, it was pretty awesome. So this blog is actually about what we did on Tuesday, because we didn't have wireless access in the hostel or anywhere in Rayong. First off, Rayong is a beautiful place. The water was absolutely perfect. Unlike most Indiana beaches (like Starve Hollow), this beach was clear of any moss or vegetation. Instead, it was populated by quirky little crabs. They were fun to watch, and we even caught one. Once we got to the beach on Tuesday morning, April and I decided to walk down to the lifeguard tower at the other end of the beach. It was a really long walk, but it was nice to spend some time together in such a pretty place. Once we got there, we found this huge rock that came about 8 feet out of the water and was around 20 feet long. Of course, I felt the need to climb it, and so we did. It was completely worth the walk and the climb. From the top you got a really great breeze and you could see pretty far out into the ocean. You could also see straight through the water for 10 feet in all directions. The water had a blue-green hue.
After our walk, it was time for lunch. We had spotted this German restaurant on the way back, and so we decided to try it. They had traditional American foods, Thai foods, and, of course, some traditional German foods. I decided to go with the Cheeseburger and fries, but it was really made out of pork. EPIC burger. Andy and Chris tried the pork and potatoes and were surprised by the serving size. Altogether, it was a great find and I think we were all relieved to have some food that was close to what we were used to back home.
After lunch, we had our first session for our Sabbath discussion. Chris Smith put together a schedule for us to discuss the Sabbath together. The discussion mostly revolved around Abraham Joshua Heschel's The Sabbath. The book itself was fairly short, but the text was very dense; we found ourselves stopping to discuss every few paragraphs. It was a really deep conversation, and we got to hear some of Andy and Jen's struggles with the Thai culture. One of the things that stuck with me is that Sabbath is a communal practice, not just something that people do individually. This is hard for Andy and Jen, because they observe the Sabbath on Mondays while everyone else in Thailand is working. It was really great to see them unwind some of their stress in the conversation. Our discussion lasted for a few hours, and then we hit the beach again!
After about 5 minutes on the beach, we saw this guy come around in a speedboat. Chris pointed to him and said, "Aw, man! You guys should do this! It'll be fun!" He was pointing to a long, inflated tube tied to the back of the speedboat. The man driving it saw Chris point and drove the boat over to us. After some negotiation, April, Hillary, and I decided to do it. There are some pictures of this, and we are hoping to post a video soon, but it was pretty hilarious. The guy would punch the gas for a few minutes and we would all just fly through the water. Then he would slow down and turn the boat before slamming on the gas again. The first time we didn't fall off, but every other time we did. It was a ton of fun. We paid about $15 for a 15 minute ride, which is great because it probably would have been $10 a person in the US for a much shorter ride.
In case you hadn't noticed, there's a common theme of awesomeness in these blogs: the food. Dinner that night was pretty adventurous. We had plenty of leftovers from the German restaurant, but finally decided to just find some other place to eat. So, we hopped in Chris' truck and did some exploring. We finally found this dinky little tarp-covered restaurant about 2 miles down the beach and decided to try it out. I think my favorite part about the place was that the instant we hopped out of the truck we were able to see tanks filled with different varieties of fish and crabs. One of the ladies saw us looking at them and opened an entire cooler filled with squid! Definitely awesome. So we all sat down and we ordered a TON of food. I don't think anyone mentioned it before this, but most of our meals (excluding the German restaurant) are family style, so we all share giant platters of everything ordered. We ended up ordering some sort of fried fish, garlic prawns, a crab curry platter, flathead lobster, and a squid dish. I had never even heard of flathead lobster before (they look creepy. Check the photo album. You'll know when you see them), but they were really good. Think shrimp, but better. I think my favorite was the crab curry.
Chris and Dora had mentioned before dinner that they had an idea that they wanted to bounce off of us. Chris' mother had shipped him some cookies from the US as a Christmas gift. Unfortunately, when the cookies got to them it seemed that the postal service had played a few rounds of soccer with the box, which had reduced the cookies to crumbs. This hadn't been a problem with us, as we had just been eating them crumb by crumb, but again there was an excellent idea: ice cream + crumbled cookies. We were enamored with this idea, and so we set off on a quest to find a ton of ice cream. We had to drive to several Seven Elevens, but we finally found a couple quart-sized containers at a Jiffy store. So we drove back to the hostel and did some epic mixing. After eating too much ice cream with cookie crumble, we had a brief second session. We read more from Heschel's book and had a brief conversation, but we were all pretty wiped out from the day's events.
On Wednesday morning, we had our final discussion time, where we talked about some of the hospitality aspects to Sabbath. For me it was really interesting because we got to hear some of the aspects of Thai culture that can make being a foreigner very frustrating, but there were also some situations discussed that were very relatable to our lives. After our discussion, we hit the beach one last time and then enjoyed our final lunch in Rayong before hopping in the van. Rayong is a really great place. Unlike other touristy places in Thailand, we were pretty well isolated and had a lot of privacy in our group. I mean, it isn't often that you can be a short walk away from the Pacific Ocean and only pay $20/night per room. That being said, there was a bit of sadness to the quiet. One of the main reasons for the emptiness in Rayong was because of the flooding. Many of the vendors told us that they hadn't had much business this season because everyone is cleaning up. It was sad, but it was great that we chose to come here and that we supported their businesses in every way we could.
After dropping Chris and Dora off at the airport, we headed back to the church to drop off our stuff. After that, we headed to Siam Paragon, which is a huge mall in Bangkok. Their food court was ginormous, and even had its own supermarket in the middle. After eating at various shops, we headed up through the mall, passing stores like Lamborghini, Lotus, and some other really crazy shops. We ended up spending the majority of our time in a bookstore before heading home for the night.

Well, that's it for now, but look forward to my mom's blog post tonight (your tomorrow morning) about today's events!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Rayong Beach!

We managed to rest up after the Christmas craziness and prepped for the next leg of our journey in Thailand, the beach!
We all loaded up in a hired van and drove for about 3 hours to Rayong. The trip provided us the opportunity for most of us to have McDonald's for the first time outside the US. The trip over was pretty demanding on some of our stomachs, the Expressway within Bangkok was the worst with the constant shifts in elevation and very soft suspension making it sick for me and Mom. We joined up with Chris and Dora Barbie (Yes that is their last name!) along with their baby daughter Natalie who are serving in Northern Thailand to spend the next 2 days in Rayong, a beach town off the Gulf.

Luckily we managed to get there without much incident or delay and we also got to see some of Thailand's beautiful mountains along the way. If you ever get to see our pictures, you'll love how lush and green it is.

When we arrived at our Hostel we were absolutely blown away by how beautiful the building was. There aren't a lot of words I could use that could describe, other than the fact that it looked like it was part tree house. The lobby was outdoors along with several meeting areas around the hostel, simply put it was awesome. I can't say the same about the bed, as it was a back breaker. But it is one of the most memorable places I have ever stayed in.

After unpacking all of our gear we immediately set off for the beach, which was right across the main road from the Hostel. We might as well have just dropped all of our stuff and just jumped in. The cool and clear ocean water and roaring waves made all of us forget that it was the height of the winter season back home where is was probably cold and rainy. After some time in the water we hit up a nearby beach side restaurant and savored some local foods like fried shrimp. Andy and Chris found the food to be subpar and felt that we could've done better. So with that challenge in mind we all packed into Chris' pickup (Thai style) and drove to the ferry pier. Along the way we drove through the bustling nightlife of Ban Phe, which included a massive wedding party with Karaoke going on in one building and partying going on in others. When we got to the pier we found a seafood restaurant with no one else there but us and ordered up a family style dinner (also referred to as Thai style) and ate down on some Thai food goodness. From the Pad Thai that blew everyone away (even missionaries who live here) to coconut milk soup to spicy squid, we didn't hold back. Needless to say, I think we hit the awesome margin on the food scale.

We drove back to the Hostel and it was pretty clear that the beach managed to suck the energy out of everyone today. Tomorrow we plan to enjoy the beach some more and begin a discussion on a book talking about the Sabbath. Should be fun!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sunday: Happy Birthday Jesus

Merry Christmas from Thailand!

Today was a very emotional day for many of us. We attended service this morning at the Muang Thai Church. It was exciting. The children of the church put on a performance of the gift of Jesus. It reminded us of our own silly children. We sang some familiar songs; Joy to the World, Santa is Coming to Town, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and even Silent night. We all enjoyed the service so much but were especially moved during the singing of Silent night at 11:20 a.m., 11:20p.m. Indy time. The thought that all of you would soon be gathering to sing this song to celebrate the birth of Jesus came to mind. It was a bittersweet moment that brought tears. We miss you all and longed to hold you, sing with you, and simply be with you. But you were here with us. We felt the love you were sending us and were so thankful to share all of that love with our brothers and sisters here at the Muang Thai Church. They are all so kind, peaceful, and amiable. Their love of Christ shined today and we are so blessed to share this moment with them.

The Pastors really appreciated the gift we had brought with us, made by the Aaron and Kiyomi. We presented it to them as a gift of our friendship and life together through Christ. Susan spoke beautifully of Englewood and how delighted we are to build a relationship with them.

After church and eating a wonderful meal (The food here is fantastic!) we hurried our way upstairs to prepare for the Christmas party with Andy's students. There was a star making craft, organized by Hillary. We played pin the star on the Christmas tree in which we blindfolded the children, spun them, and they had to place their star as closely to the top of the tree as they could. Also, we decorated cookies! Yumm. Andy had a fun Christmas gift game planned. He began this game by speaking to the children about why we give gifts. I wish I could tell you what he had said but unfortunately I don't speak Thai. After eating an American breakfast for dinner, we handed out the stockings that Helen Webb and Jenny Dickinson had made and the missions class had decorated. I wish you could have been here to see their excitement. They loved the cards that our Englewood kids had made for them! The children left soon after this and boy were we all exhausted. Jet lag is still taking its toll.

A while later, other missionary friends came to join us. We took this time to share gifts, eat birthday cake, and light the candles on the advent wreath, not specifically in that order. I wanted to take this time to share with you of how grateful I am that we are here to share this time with the May family. Andy made a comment that after being here for six years that this is the closest it has felt to Christmas. Wow. I have no words to let you know how that one sentence impacted us. This trip was absolutely worth it. If we can bring the love of Christ to them and share this moment, even if it be only for now and I pray that it is not, it is worth it. They needed this, we needed this. It is humbling to remember what this time is truly about. Giving and receiving love. Pure and simple. Friends, thank you for the love. The love for us, the May family, and for each other. God is love. Jesus is love. We are love. Love.


P.S. Make sure to take a look at our photos.
Also, we may not be able to post blogs for the next couple of days. We will be at the Beach! Wooohoooo. And may not have internet access. Blogs will be written, but not posted until we return to Bangkok.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Saturday: Christmas eve and Samaritan's Purse Extravaganza

Today's update is written by Hillary. Good evening, friends! I apologize if I ramble. I am very tired, so I don't feel terribly articulate.

DUDES!!!! Jet lag is still making this adjustment very difficult. I woke up at the ungodly hour of 1 AM, completely awake and ready for breakfast. We have all struggled to stay awake, but Andy and Jen have given us lots of work to occupy our tired minds and bodies.
Today, we planned to get everything ready for all of the Christmas festivities for this afternoon and tomorrow. We needed to go to the market to buy all of the last-minute supplies for baking and games. This adventure required us to split up-- Jen went to the Big C while Andy took all of us to the local market on the other side of the canal. If you look at Isaac's pictures, you will see some of the amazing things we saw as we walked through the slums, including fish, crabs, turtles, and edible bugs. We also took canoes across the canal.
The market itself is filled with people and a huge variety of food. It is divided into sections very much like a grocery store. One was dedicated solely to rice. There was white rice, sticky rice, brown,wild, etc. It was wrapped in plastic or loose in giant wooden barrels. The colors were so aesthetically pleasing and artfully arranged. There were many foods that can be commonly found in the USA, many that were unique to Asia, and others still that were distant relatives to our familiar fruits and veggies. It was a fascinating experience. The market was also teeming with people, both Thai and Western. Many vendors followed us around because they adore children, are were particularly interested in playing with red-headed Jude and Reuben. This also happens frequently on the streets. The people are curious and want to hold their hands or touch their face and say "Narak." This means "cute" in Thai. Their culture is very affectionate toward children, and we are a spectacle everywhere we go.
On our way back from the market, we passed through a huge amulet market that took up several blocks. Tents lined the streets very much like food vendors. Andy explained that these amulets were not jewelry. Thailand is a Buddhist country, and they worship these amulets as idols, believing they have magical powers.
After we regrouped at the apartment, we frantically started baking and planning. This afternoon,we were asked to prepare a game for the school children who would be receiving the shoe box presents at the Samaritan's purse program. We were expecting from 90-200 children, so we had to be really creative and plan a few games just in case things didn't work out. We also baked cookies, cake and pumpkin pie for the Christmas parties tonight and tomorrow.
At 3:30, we all went downstairs to the sanctuary for the program. We practiced singing in Thai and helped set up. At 4 pm, the children all filed in. Before the program, we were asked not to take any pictures of the children during the program. This was simply to avoid cultural discomfort. So, we only have pictures of the boxes themselves. During the program, the pastors of the Muang Thai Church led the children in a variety of silly songs, Christmas songs, and then a short story. Andy later translated this, saying that it was a story about a wall dividing land. On one side, there was paradise. The other side contained scarcity, death, and sadness. The animals on this side desperately wanted to get to paradise, but had no way through the wall. Eventually they find a door, but they must give up the sin clinging to them. This is a beautiful metaphor for the birth and gift of Jesus. The children were enthralled by the story.
After storytelling, we played the game "I am a Christmas Tree" in which the children worked together to make giant Christmas trees with their bodies on the floor. It was hysterical to watch them gleefully toss toilet paper-tinsel all around each other's heads. The group with the best trees received gift bags with presents. At first, I didn't believe this was a good idea, but the children started going through the bags and sharing the gifts with their friends and siblings who did not win. It was so touching to see them eagerly share their winnings. Following this activity, we passed out shoe boxes. When the children received their gift, they were ushered outside to eat dinner. Once we finished,we all joined them to watch them try on new shirts and show off their new toys. There were no tears of jealousy, nor any snatching things from each other as many American children are occasionally known to do. They rejoiced in each other's happiness, and it was truly inspiring.
After this program, we ate dinner: part 2 with the church's 20-something's group. I found myself drawn to two young girls, the granddaughters of the pastors, who dragged April and I all over the sanctuary and compound to admire puppies and ornaments. It was a lovely party, but we were all so exhausted that we left after an hour or so. Now, everyone is asleep and I am hoping to head that way soon. Before I go, I wish peace to each of you faithful readers. Christ be with you on this Christmas eve night, and may joy find you in the morning. Who knows what tomorrow may bring!

To all you Englewood folks: Remember the Christmas Kangeroo? Well, this year, it's the Christmas Gecko!! They are everywhere in Thailand, including the May's apartment walls. :)