A Last Night in Bangkok

78 Commentsby   |  08.10.11  |  Chiang Mai, Thailand

Sawadee ka!

Almost ten weeks ago I wrote a post called one night in Bangkok. Last Saturday, I spent my second night there this summer, waiting for my 6:00 A.M. flight in the morning. Out of curiosity I read back through that first post. Coincidentally, maybe, I was sitting once again on my tiny balcony listening to the crickets and breathing the heavy evening air, even more humid after the afternoon rainstorm.

I’d just gotten back from wandering the streets near the hotel for a few hours, seeking out my final bag of saparote (pineapple) and moo satay (grilled pork in peanut sauce) and rotee (a crepe-like dessert from India). These all came from local streetside vendors, which I love more than any fancy—or as the Thais say, “high-so”—restaurant. It felt like the only way to conclude the summer here; any visit to a tourist site or other location would have seemed too un-Thai. And having left Chiang Mai and said many goodbyes, I was already missing it enough to want to cling to whatever moments of Thailand I had left.

Quite a lot was going on in the last couple weeks of our summer, and every time I would sit down to write a blog post I either had to leave soon or couldn’t decide what to focus on. So to summarize as a sort of farewell post:

Major Events and Memorable Happenings

– Taught English and Thai to some women and children at a camp for migrant Myanmar workers and their families, located just down the road from the Zone. We mostly played with some of the little girls, who were shy but beautiful just like the women. And it was an eye-opening experience for all of us to a reality of life for many people in the world that we usually only hear about.

– Spent several afternoons at coffee shops with some of our friends as they were preparing for midterms at Payap; I learned everything I never knew about linguistics and the English language in the process of trying to help them.

– Attended the 50th Asian Mission Forum and met nearly two hundred wonderful people from all around Southeast Asia. We spent four days at a hotel downtown, going to classes (including one taught by ACU’s very own Dr. John Willis), enjoying a traditional Thai dinner and cultural show (where we learned some Thai dances), and hearing some amazing stories about things going on all across SE Asia.

– Consumed large amounts of guay teoh (noodles) and saparote (pineapple) in anticipation of the lack thereof back in the U.S.

– Took hundreds of pictures as part of saying goodbye to everyone, a long and emotional process that lasted a couple days.

– Ended our summer appropriately just as we started it: with major flooding, this time even more substantial.

– Watched a stunning sunset over the Pacific from the window seat of an airplane while flying out of Tokyo.

Important Lessons and Interesting or Otherwise Significant Observations

-Remember all that delicious Thai food I spoke of so fondly all summer? Well, my midsection remembers it just as fondly and has a five-pound souvenir to prove it.

– Having now flown across the Pacific yet again, 10 hours is an eternity when you can’t sleep and the best movie option is Beastly.

– Thailand is beautiful, suuay makk. The Thai people are even more so, all incredibly hospitable, friendly, and jai dee (in Thai, literally “good hearts”).

– The things I’ll miss most aren’t all the tourist sites or elephant rides; rather, my friend Pii Oi the fruit vendor, playing games at the Zone and sitting with friends at the restaurant next door, eating together before Cell Group, talking with my English students about life and such when we’re supposed to be studying idioms; the list goes one.

– Welcome and inclusion are highly undervalued but incredibly powerful. Even taking 30 seconds to translate a piece of a conversation for a foreigner can mean a great deal.

– English is still a difficult language to learn, and we should be careful about how it’s exported. Granted, a common language is necessary, but we should be aware of the fact that we happen to have landed in the language of power—and be critical about and responsible in how we use that power. Going anywhere with English often gives you the upper hand without you even trying to take it, and we should try to occupy that position with understanding and equality in mind.

– Treat the foreigner as you want to be treated. Better yet, as the Thais would treat her. Better still, as the Thai Christians would treat her. Hospitality and friendship are profound.

– When in another culture the best position is an open, vulnerable one. You’ll learn more that way. And you’ll realize how much more you have to learn too.

– Realizing how much there is to learn and recognizing the potential in the relationships that you’ve created, ten weeks feels so insufficient a time to spend in another place. We felt on the brink of forming even stronger bonds with many of the students and the church members—and then we had to leave. Saying goodbye at our last Cell Group was difficult. Especially after they gave me, Mark, and Fish as a farewell gift our favorite dish, sticky rice with mango.

– That being said, let’s of course not avoid short-term missions entirely, but let’s be wary about their implications. They can very easily verge on colonial—we go in, have an experience that benefits us, and then leave. Part of a mission trip will and should be about the missionaries. In Thailand, I believe far more was ultimately done for us than we did for anyone there; it was incredible and I think made us want to do even more for other people. So while there’s nothing wrong with that at all, I only say all this to suggest we carefully consider our motivations and our impact in going somewhere to “serve.”

– And finally: when taken seriously, the way of Christ spurs people to love and create community that I just haven’t run into elsewhere. If you want to convince a questioning, logical skeptic like myself, then don’t necessarily answer her questions. Invite her into love and community like we were this summer, and while questions will still be important to consider, they will no longer take precedence. Though far from perfect, the lives and the relationships that can result from living inspired by the gospels are profound. I really can offer no other explanation for the church here or what we’ve experienced this summer except that the faith purported to stand behind it is real.

Korp kun makk ka for all for your love, support, and prayers. Should you ever get a chance, I’d highly recommend a visit to Thailand. And please take me with you if you go!

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