Street dogs in Bangkok will probably always continue to capture my heart. They are so free to just be dogs – quite a bit less attached and dependant on humans, but usually still very friendly and full of personality. I have asked Iven to take many dozens and dozens of pictures of street dogs over the past year and a half there we have been here. Within this in mind, I found myself laughing last week when we went to a photo exhibit of pictures taken by the Princess of Thailand from her travels around the world. One of them was a picture taken in America entitled, “Waiting”, that showed a dog on a leash, tied to a fire hydrant, fixated on something unseen – no doubt the door that his owner disappeared through when last seen. It made me giggle to think of a Thai princess going to my country and finding that all dogs are on leashes and get tied up outside, and finding that a noteworthy subject to photograph. The world is indeed a big and strange place.
Sunday afternoon I went to 7-11 to buy yogurt, stopped a passing fruit-cart to get some pineapple and then walked through our alley to fill up our drinking water at the water filtering machine. The street seemed quieter than usual, except for occasional shouts and cheers that seemed to ring out from all over the alley.
On my short walk through the alley I realized every television was on (every home but ours seems to have one), and people were gathered, fixated, around each them. It was the final moments of the boxing competition that would determine whether or not Thailand would get the gold. As I filled my water bucket and peered over the heads of those gathered in the nearest (open walled) house, the inhabitants of the whole alley began to count down in unison, “3, 2, 1…Hayaaaah!!” All around me the quiet alley erupted in sound.
Many Americans love the Olympics, but I think it means a lot more for smaller countries around the world who have less to be known for. Thai boxing is something all Thais are proud of, and proud to be known for. At least, I know my little neighborhood had their hearts in China that afternoon, and I am proud to be part of them.
The normal things of life we experience every day sometimes make me laugh. For a year now we have lived in this same house, and taken the same route to and from Thai class every day. That route leads us on a sidewalk that runs along a small canal. Dozens of families live in very humble houses along our little canal. One middle aged-woman, missing most of her front teeth, has taken an interest in us and starts a conversation with us every time we walk by. The thing is, the conversation is pretty much always the same – at least on her end…
Eh…where are you going? If Iven isn’t with me: “Why are you alone? Where is your boyfriend?” And of course the age-old greeting: “Have you eaten rice yet?” Over these months of answering the same questions, usually twice a day every day, I feel a bit like I’m a character from Monty Python’s “Quest for the Holy Grail” – remember the scene? There is a bridge that journeyers must pass and there is a sorcerer guy that guards the bridge. In order to cross the bridge they must answer correctly three questions: “What is your name?”, “What is your quest? “, “What is your favorite color?”. A moment’s hesitation leads to a zap from a magic staff followed by sudden death. Usually my answers are the same: “I am going to study Thai” or “I am coming back from studying Thai”. Easy enough. But…when my journey differs from the usual destination I find myself having a mild panic attack… “I am going to the market” or “to visit a friend” is simple enough, but what about “I’m going to the city to pray and talk to men who are working on the streets”?? Even with the simple answers I find myself thrown, like the man in “The Holy Grail” who took too long to answer correctly what his favorite color was. My rational brain doesn’t expect the woman to pull out a staff and send me flying into the canal for saying I am going to the market when I am actually going to the post office, but it still makes me sweat a little more than I already have to.
Found on an advertisment for “Beauty & Spa”, note 100 B = $2.85: Face Massage: 100 B. Face Scrub Massage: 100 B. To Attract A Small Pimple: 100 B. Cool Marsk: 199-300B.
Last week we had some of our first visitors from home come and spend a day with us._ Two couples we know from New Horizons and Rainier Avenue Church were vacationing in Thailand and had a stopover for a day in Bangkok before heading out to visit the mountains and the islands._It was SUCH a blessing to share a day with them in our new city._ We took them to see and experience some of our favorite pieces of Bangkok – street food (a MUST), a temple on a “mountain” that overlooks the city, a canal river boat taxi and more._ At the end of the day they joined us to prayer walk the two neighborhoods we are most invested in through prayer._ Their prayers, questions and encouragement were a real a gift for us. YOU TOO can come on vacation to the wonderful Kingdom of Thailand, and visit us in the process!! : )_ If you happen to be_”passing through”_Thailand we would love to introduce you to our beloved Bangkok!!
This week a friend of ours invited us to come with a group of Thai and foreign friends to see the new movie, “The Bourne Ultimatum”._ We decided to go and ended up being 2 of 30 who responded to the invitation (pretty much everyone but us was single…one of the side effects of having one of our main groups of friends_being connected to a college ministry)._ The movie was fun, and even more fun to walk in a giant pack afterwards, chattering in English and Thai, and to take over an unsuspecting bus on the way home._ What really had me in stitches though, was when we shared about the outing with our Thai teacher the next day._ “What movie was it?”, he asked in Thai._ I hesitated and then answered, “Bourne Ultimatum”._ Without missing a beat he responded was a quizzical expression, “Huh…Born on Tomato”._ It makes me wonder what kind of phrases and words we actually “repeat” back to our Thai friends.
At least once a week we spend the better part of an afternoon/evening walking and praying in Bangkok, usually in a neighborhood we know men are working as prostitutes._ One of these afternoons we were in Chinatown (an older neighborhood) and saw a big building with a cross on it, looming above the two-story roof lines._ It was about 4:00 in the afternoon and on the street right in front of the church we saw nearly a half dozen women clearly “working”._On a whim we decided to go in and see what we could learn about the church, and their ministry in the neighborhood._ Ten minutes later, after several broken-Thai conversations with security guards and random people, we found ourselves sitting with the Pastor of the church (who was MUCH more comfortable in English than we are as of yet in Thai)._ Talking with him we learned that we had stumbled into the oldest continuously meeting church in Bangkok – a Chinese Baptist church – which also apparently was the first Chinese Baptist church not in China._ They were preparing to celebrate their 170th anniversary the_following week. For_more than 170_years now, this church (which currently has about 700 members)_had been located in the same spot._ They have seen a lot of changes over the years; as have the Thai-Chinese people who_make up most_of the church membership. When the church first started, Chinese people in Thailand were in general looked down on and lived in poverty; 170 years later the Thai-Chinese tend to be wealthier and more educated than most full Thais._Consequently, the Pastor shared, most of his congregants have moved out of the neighborhood – into wealthier areas areas and suburbs of the city – and now often commute into the neighborhood_only on Sundays. We couldn’t help but think of how much the history of this church seemed to mirror the history of many formerly-urban focused churches in the States._ As the congregants get wealthier and the neighborhood gets “worse”, the people move out, and the church (if it does stay where it is) becomes less and less focused on the needs of the community where it is located._ We asked the pastor about the neighborhood, and the women working on the street right outside their door. He was well aware of the hardships of the people who lived nearby, and he shared about various ways that his congregation has tried to reach out to the neighborhood. Unfortunately, as with many third and fourth generation Christian families, he described what a struggle it_has been_to help his congregation see the role that they could play in reaching out to their not-yet Christian neighbors._ We prayed together and thanked him for his time._ Heading back out on the street, and walking by the women who were looking for mid-afternoon customers, we couldn’t help but_pray that God might someday use this church of more than 700 members to once again reach out to the poor and the needy at their doorstep.__
One of the many, many delights Thailand has to share is the variety of FRUITS._ Yes, there are the tropical fruits we know in America, cheap and abundant, but there are also exotic fruits that pretty much never make it to North America._ Many of these little delights have English names as well as Thai, which I find very funny because the English names are just as “foreign” as the Thai (although often they are easier to pronounce)._ Take, for instance, “Ngauh”._ Apparently English speakers familiar with the fruit may know it as “Rambotan”, but to Thais (and us) it is called “Ngauh” – yes, you say it like it is written…when you can master the Ng sound (as in “song”) at the beginning of a word, you are well on your way to speaking Thai. Ngauh is, in taste and texture, quite similar to Lyche (also abundant in Thailand, but that one actually makes it – at least canned – to The States), but the outside looks like a cross between a red tennis ball and a green_alien._ In the heart of Ngauh season they are EVERYWHERE and CHEAP…piled high above the heads of many people walking around fruit markets._ One time our Thai teacher brought us a_branch_off_of a Ngauh tree, which I found very exciting._ Reminded me of a Christmas tree decked out with ornaments…only edible.
This past weekend, Iven and I have had the privilege of spending most of our time with students from Baan Jai Diaow, helping out with an outreach activity and party to celebrate the beginning of the new school year. Friday was “orientation day” for new Freshman at the Ram 2 campus. The walkways on campus were lined with various campus clubs and groups advertising who they are with banners and booths, and flooded with students in the standard Thai university student uniform: white button up shirts and black skirts or pants.
Our little BJD group handed out punch and candy, invited people to English class (2x each week), explained what Baan Jai Diaow is and just were generally friendly. There were probably close to 30 BJD students involved throughout the day, and we “collected” maybe a dozen or so more at various times. As all things are with BJD, it was a lot of fun, and a great chance to practice listening to and speaking Thai. One of the “different from America” parts of Thai culture (at least for University students) is that people are quick to gather in a group and sing silly songs, while dancing silly dances. We have become pretty familiar with many of these songs, as we have been spending time with BJD for over six months now. They have a song about a gecko, a chicken on a stick, and a fruit song, to name just a few. Everyone is embarrassed, but also loves participating. I found myself at one point sitting and talking with a girl while 2 separate groups of students did dances/songs nearby. She asked me if orientation days in American colleges were the same as here in Thailand. I looked around at the dozens of 18 year-olds spinning in circles and flapping their arms like chickens. “Not exactly,” I giggled.
Recently, I invited two Thai girls who are on staff here with YWAM to come and join me as walked and prayed in the Silom neighborhood, one of the areas famous for prostitution in all forms. They were both excited to come, and I was delighted to have their insight and companionship (as well as being able practice speaking Thai ALL day!).Neither of them had ever been to this neighborhood before, and hadn’t had much exposure to the visible sex industry. I admit I was a little nervous – I didn’t know how they would respond or what they might say to people we would meet. We arrived in Silom in the mid-afternoon; few bars were open and only a handful of men who worked there were milling about. These two wonderful women quickly sprung into action – walking slowly back and forth down the street, reading the signs on the windows, and quietly praying in Thai for each bar, club, massage parlor and shop. I was so encouraged by the initiative they took. Nothing about them was bashful or ashamed to be praying to Jesus, in Thai, in this neighborhood. After a while we started talking to some men working at a massage shop. Boom, a man in his late 20s, shared his story with the girls. He had been working at this massage shop for three years and didn’t like doing that kind of work, but said it was really the only way he could make as much money as he could there. He asked what kind of work we do and the girls tried to explain; they asked if he knew about Jesus and he said he had heard of him and didn’t understand and didn’t know any Christians. Poom was friendly and eager to talk; he invited us to come back and chat with him and the other guys whenever we could. Afterwards, the girls shared their excitement with me, “This is good,” they said, “God has brought you here for these guys, and He wants them to know His love – you will help God share His love with them.” They prayed for me there, right around the corner from the “boys’ street”. It was so special, to be welcomed, and commissioned, by these faithful Thai women, into this ministry that God has brought us here for. Their prayers and enthusiasm were certainly a gift.