Juliana Kocsis's Archive

A Last Night in Bangkok

139 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!

We Teach English Many Time Last Weeks

60 Commentsby   |  07.27.11  |  Chiang Mai, Thailand

I would venture to say that everything is going infinitely better even than when we first arrived because we’ve really adjusted to life here and have been able to make it more like home—at least for a little while, of course. The language is still a daunting challenge for all of us, but then again English is quite the struggle for most Thais. So we’ve all figured out how to better communicate with people in a mix of broken English and the occasional Thai phrase, since we’ve picked up quite a few in our last eight weeks of semi-immersion. Also, as a warning to our friends and family back home: we’ve become more accustomed to speaking simplified English even among ourselves, so be prepared for a lack of conjugated verbs and strings of very simple sentences. Expect phrases like this: “Yesterday, I buy some pineapple from the store.” Since there are no conjugations in Thai, saying things like “I bought” or “We taught,” produces in people who are just beginning to learn English those same blank stares we give when people ask us anything in Thai.

Speaking of English, we’ve been teaching quite a bit more lately, and as an English major, I think it’s fascinating. I’ve gotten to work with a range of English levels and have probably learned as much about English as my students have. Two of the students, Shell and Nam Fon (“rain”), speak very, very basic English. Let me say that again: very basic English. Similar to my level of Thai. So we’ve conjugated the verb “to be” as a starting point, then gone through things like basic greetings and adjectives, which they can use with “to be” and actually say quite a few things. Feeling accomplished is always a good sense when learning a language. But without a Thai-English dictionary and with only my charade skills at my disposal, it’s actually quite a challenge explaining what words like “embarrassed” or “lonely” mean. Or when I said, “Fantastic job today,” they thought I said “Atlantic,” and an inside joke was born. We’ve all laughed a lot and been very patient, and become friends who communicate mostly by laughing and smiling.

Then there are those like the three Chinese students who come to study vocabulary for the TOEFL exam. Melody, Celina, and Lohm usually come twice a week, and we go through a workbook that I’ve copied for them (see the previous post about the copy shop for more information about that). Yesterday we studied idioms. Strangely, I found that in defining idioms you often use other idioms, which produces the same blank stares and smiles. For instance: explain “that’ll teach you” without using phrases like “serves you right,” or “what a drag” without defining it as “that sucks.” Other idioms elicited some good laughs; after all, imagine not speaking English and hearing that we say “a little birdy told me” when we know someone’s secret, and “gesundheit” when someone sneezes. And I never did figure out how to explain “knock on wood.”

As much as we’re teaching English, we’re also of course learning a lot more Thai and learning 1) how it feels to not be in the dominant language group, which is a good perspective; and 2) how to communicate without language. So we can go like we did last Saturday and just spend an afternoon with children at an orphanage, which was fun for everyone I think. A little girl named Nuna held my hand nearly the entire time and became my friend for the day. If I may digress on a tangent for a moment: at one point, she led me into their bedroom area and through where the children eat—the rooms were dark and stuffy, and the beds were so close together you could hardly move. Thankfully they’re currently building a new facility, but I can’t imagine even one kid getting sick without all the others being sick, and with one hundred little kids and only about 15 adults, it was no wonder all the kids were just wanting to hold our hands and be close to us.

Anyway, we taught them the hokie pokie, and they (mostly the little girls) showed us some Thai dances and what we’d call “playground rhymes.” Then I pulled out my camera and all they wanted to do was take pictures with us, which was fun. But then it was time to leave, so with all the kids following us we got in the car and left–just like that, probably to never go back again. And we’re not the first to have done that, and I doubt we’ll be the last. So if you’ll allow me on a soapbox for just a minute, I think we all should be careful about how we approach things like missions and volunteering and understand that we’re creating relationships wherever we go—and be very aware and very cautious about how those interactions affect the other person, not just the rich farongs who have gone to have a new experience or whatnot.

“You’re Not Tourists Here”

43 Commentsby   |  07.27.11  |  Chiang Mai, Thailand

We’ve known that this whole time—we’re not here to be tourists. That’s what we told all our sponsors while we were fundraising, that’s what we tell our students when they ask why we’ve come to Thailand, and I think that’s what we tell ourselves even as we’re climbing up a mountain to a famous temple, going to movies and eating out with our students, or spending a day riding elephants through the mountains outside of Chiang Rai. By the way, riding an elephant might be one of the most “suhtyaaht” (awesome) experiences in the world.

So we’re here to build relationships, work with the church, teach English, organize events to involve the university students, etc., etc. So we’re told. And for the most part, I think we’ve done that as best we can all summer, though we’re always learning more and finding ways to do things more effectively. Lately, especially, having seen most of the tourist attractions here and become accustomed to life in Chiang Mai and met more and more people, it’s been a lot easier to really focus on things like teaching and encouraging relationships.

But there’s a different point I’d like to make about this tourist vs. intern conundrum, and it’s one that a church member articulated over dinner one night during our weekend away in Chiang Rai. A few of our friends from the Pepperdine group were leaving the next day to spend time on the beach in Phuket before going back to the states, and one of them said that he was really going to miss Chiang Mai. To this our friend Oi, one of the church members, said, “That’s because in Phuket you’re just tourists; here, you’re family.”

That sounds cheesy—like a low-budget advertisement for a family-style restaurant or something. But at the moment, over a bowl of traditional Northeastern Thai soup that she’d bought specifically to share with us, it wasn’t.

And it still doesn’t feel trite or cliched or oversimplified or tag-lined. If anything, I think it’s been the most compelling—and surprising—aspect of our summer here. We were given the warmest welcome both by the Thais and the church when we arrived, and since then we’ve been more and more included, more and more a part of things. More loved, even.

What I find most remarkable is that they really have no reason to befriend us: we can’t order our own food except by pointing, we can’t drive anywhere, we can’t speak Thai even to the people who try their hardest to speak English to us, we’re completely oblivious to our swelling noise levels and the positioning of our feet (which should stay on the ground pointed away from people), and I’ve spit out an entire chicken foot while sitting next to a judge at a table with ten government workers.

Part of it, I know, is that many want to learn English and create connections that will get them to America one day. There’s also a fascination with “farong culture,” which we’ve tried to avoid encouraging and inadvertently promoting over Thai culture. And we’ve also experienced a willingness among Thais to bend over backwards for farongs, which I think goes beyond even the friendliest hospitality into a misguided glorification of the “farong visitor.” I don’t, however, want to discount the sincere friendliness and genuine hospitality among the Thais. It’s certainly not just because we’re Americans.

That spirit is even more evident within the church community. They invite us to their homes for dinner, or throw a birthday party for a young Thai man whose family never celebrated with him for the last twenty-four years (the picture above and at right). I could go on and on with examples.

The point: I’ve taught English classes, we’ve tried to include and invite as many people as we can, and we’ve tried to serve in many different ways. But we’ve been served much, much more than we’ve served. We’ve learned more than we’ve taught. We have ended up being neither tourists nor interns, but something else entirely that we never would have expected.

Define “Hang Out,” Please

65 Commentsby   |  06.21.11  |  Chiang Mai, Thailand

For a more aesthetically pleasing blog, complete with pictures, see http://jkthailand.blogspot.com.

You may have noticed that we seem to be doing very little “work” here in Thailand. That’s the impression I get when skimming back through my blog posts and scrolling through the pictures I’ve posted to Facebook. You may be wondering what we’re doing out here besides teaching a few English classes, eating, hanging out, and climbing waterfalls.

Okay fine, so we’re pretty much just eating, hanging out, and climbing waterfalls. And teaching some English. But that’s exactly what we should be doing, and I promise I won’t just be using subtle rhetorical tricks and clever word choices to make a summer of having fun seem like “ministry.”

When we eat all the delectable Thai food I’ve talked about, we’re usually eating with Thai and Chinese students we’ve met at Payap University or with members of the Payap Church. Many of them also join us for dinner on Thursday nights when all the church members get together for Cell Group. When we spend entire afternoons hanging out and playing games and going to local coffee shops, then evenings wandering the city and seeing movies, we’re with these same students and church members. Many of these students start coming around because they want to get to know a bunch of “farongs” and practice their English; then, we try to encourage them to continue coming and get to know the church members so that when we leave they won’t leave too.

We’re here to have relationships with the Thais. Most of them are college-aged students, so these relationships look a lot like “just hanging out.” Everyone who works here long-term says that without us being here, very few new people would ever end up coming around to begin with. We try to welcome them and invite them to be a part of the community here, so we take group trips to spend a day at a waterfall or have dinner downtown. The rest can develop from there if they want it to. Just look at how youth ministers spend their summers; I rest my case.

And now for the cast of characters:

Tum (“Tuhm”) is studying linguistics at Payap, and he and I study advanced English from a TOEFL book three times a week. I also get a ten-minute mini-linguistics lesson because I find it fascinating and because Tum is incredibly intelligent, even if a tad awkward. He’s studying linguistics so that he can develop a written language for the hill tribe he comes from. Which is suutnyaaht, awesome.

Palm (“Pahm”) is a Payap student who wants to learn English, graduate, and one day start his own business modeled after philanthropic ones like TOMS Shoes because he grew up poor, is paying his own way through college, and wants to help other people like himself. He doesn’t have many friends, at least that we can tell, and he’s already become a regular part of our group and comes around nearly every day. He also really likes rabbits and brought his pet rabbit, Moo Grawbp (Crispy Pork) to visit us one day. That’s (mostly) why he wears Playboy glasses, he says—they have a rabbit on them. Right…

Sea Game (by the way, these are all nicknames because their given names are all exceptionally long; but don’t ask me how they come up with ones like this one) is a high school student who wants to learn English so that he can pass the TOEFL test and study in America. He’s a great teacher when it comes to learning Thai.

Iris, Ivy, Faith, Michelle, and Piiyao are Chinese students studying abroad in Thailand for the year. Remember the little aliens from Toy Story who all look similar and respond to things in unison? Well, just envision them as 19-year-old Chinese girls, and you’ve met this group. I study English with them, and Fish is continuing some Bible studies that they’d already started, and they teach us some Chinese. Ivy wants to be a tour guide, so we let her practice by showing us around, and Piiyao wants to become a professor in China. They’re all going back to China in a few weeks, and we’ll miss them.

We also spend a lot of time getting to know the church members. Ball (“Bon,” don’t ask), the other intern here, is a self-proclaimed soccer “superstar” and likes to teach us various slang Thai phrases. Berm (“Bum”) was the first member of the church here and is now an art teacher who breeds chihuahuas on the side. Then there’s Ying and Ahn and Ohn and Uhn and several others whose names sound the same except for a slight difference in vowel sound or intonation. And they’re all wonderful, even when you call them the wrong name.

Hope that gives a somewhat better idea of what we’re up to all summer. Miss you all and love you all! Now off to coffee…

First-Week Highlights

79 Commentsby   |  06.06.11  |  Chiang Mai, Thailand

Sawadee ka! So I’ve been in Thailand less than a week, and already way too much has happened to fit in a single blog post. I apologize for falling behind. We’re just having too much fun, I guess. So to summarize:

1. Major events and memorable happenings
a. Stumbled onto a major Buddhist festival at the largest and oldest temple (“wat”) in the old part of Chiang Mai
b. Played volleyball at 11 p.m. when it was still 85 degrees and humid enough to soak our clothes before even getting to the court
c. Visited the Agape Home orphanage outside the city where three of our friends from ACU are spending the summer working with AIDS orphans
d. Swam in a huge mountain lake in Sri Lanna National Park, where we also spent a night and morning on house boats on the lake
e. Consumed two full helpings of homemade Mexican stack–aroi! (delicious)
f. Drove through a legitimate flood: the water was covering the hood of the car and pooling at our feet. Rainy season has begun in Thailand.
g. Attended my first church service in Thai and English
h. Almost fell asleep during a Thai massage while the masseuses laughed at us farongs (white people)

2. Important lessons and interesting or otherwise significant observations
a. Sticky rice and mango is the second best thing after pad thai. The end.
b. Well, not really the end. When eating pad thai, watch out for full-sized insects, cooked unintentionally (I assume) into the dish, who are missing one or both of their wings. Then, don’t think about where the other wing might have gone.
c. Accenting a word even somewhat incorrectly changes what you’re saying. Thais find this phenomenon quite amusing.
d. Texans have nothing on the Thais when it comes to friendliness and hospitality. (And, yes, even when it comes to pad thai versus TexMex.)
e. There are mosquitoes, and lots of them. And they will bite you. And because Asians are apparently not attractive to mosquitoes, the damned insects will bite you even more to compensate.
f. Thailand might be the most beautiful country on earth, hands down.
g. Curly hair gets curlier in humidity, and what we consider cool clothing in the states may as well be winter bundling here.
h. The Arabica coffee grown just outside Chiang Mai in the hills is way better than Starbucks. Aroi.
i. If mission work means hanging out with fun people and meeting even more each day, then no wonder the Bible department is so big at ACU.

For pictures, look at my Facebook. If you’re not my friend, ask and it shall be given unto you. Miss you all and love you even more.

One Night in Bangkok

14 Commentsby   |  06.01.11  |  Chiang Mai, Thailand

I’m not sure what day it is. I believe it’s very early morning on Tuesday in Bangkok. That makes it about 2 p.m. in Denver, which probably explains why I’m wide awake even after sleeping only about six hours in the last 45.

So now, having taken perhaps the most needed shower of my life, I’m sitting crossed-legged on the tiny, tiled patio in the room where I’m spending the night in Bangkok until my flight leaves tomorrow. Earlier, when I stepped outside the impressive new terminal of the Suvarnabmuni (“Su-van-a-pum,” go figure) airport, the heavy tropical air met me at the doorway and hung in my hair and recurled my unwashed curls all the way to the hotel. The air condition in the van and the room was welcome.

Now, I don’t want to go back inside. The air condition feels so sterile and, in a very cool, refreshing way, strangely stuffy. Outside, I’ve never smelled air like this before. I suppose it could just be the smell of pollution, but the tropical air is heavy and muggy; the crickets are chirping, just audible above the hum of the air conditioner; the occasional insect buzzes between the palm trees while they rock back and forth in the breeze; and the city lights make the clouds glow like giant rolling sheets of mist. Motorcycles are passing by in the street just beyond where the hotel is tucked away from the highway, and Thai music is pulsing from one of the neighboring apartment rooms. It’s almost a drugging effect, all of this. I would like to sit here for a very long time.

But about the trip. The Pacific Ocean, as it turns out, is rather expansive. That translates into a very long flight. But I did sit next to two very friendly girls from Singapore on the way from LA to Tokyo–they’d just spent a few weeks studying in Oklahoma City. A thrilling study abroad experience, I guess.

We landed in Tokyo, and the Narita airport is either nothing too exciting or I was half asleep. Our flight left in the evening for Bangkok, and I watched from my window seat as twilight fell over Japan, the cities lighting up all along the islands that are surrounded by this great wall of ocean on both sides. The water literally looked like it was having to be held back.

On the way to Bangkok, I sat next to a woman from Thailand who has lived in Oklahoma for years. Apparently Oklahoma is a popular place nowadays…who knew. She was telling me all about Thailand and teaching me a few Thai phrases. But since landing in Bangkok, people’s faces seem to get this amused smile each time I say hello or thank you, so I wonder what I’m actually saying.

Strange feeling #1: landing in the airport, tired, taller than just about everyone, and clearly a tourist with a confused, half-awake stare that, I assume, had a lot to do with why everyone was being so overly helpful.
Strange feeling #2: actually considering asking the three-year-old Thai children for help when I overheard them speaking Thai fluently.
Strange feeling #3: chasing down the terminal after a well-intentioned shuttle driver from another hotel very quickly whisked my suitcase away. He was smiling and apologetic every time he walked by while I waited for the right shuttle. I assured him it was quite all right.

Oh, and it’s started thundering now–long, rolling swells through the sky like a soundtrack to the lightning show in the distance. Yes, I think I love this.

Away We Go to Thailand

20 Commentsby   |  05.28.11  |  Chiang Mai, Thailand, Uncategorized

Facebook has just informed me that three of the interns who I’ll be traveling with this summer have already made it to Chiang Mai, and another is set to leave tomorrow. Facebook will also inform you that I’m leaving on Sunday–in about 31 hours, actually. Next time you hear from me, I’ll be about 14 hours ahead of you and probably a bit jet lagged, but hopefully doing fine otherwise and ready to spend the summer in Thailand.

I’ve had no idea what to expect or how to prepare for ten weeks in Chiang Mai. Apparently we’re in the tropics, so after much prompting from individuals concerned with my well-being this summer, I’m stocked with enough bug spray to ward off a jungle, enough medicine to ward off the most irksome of intestinal concerns and general health issues, and the most lightweight clothes I’ve been able to find. So the challenge really is packing these “necessary” supplies into a suitcase and backpack. Which is, of course, a more fitting activity for more like 8 hours before I leave.

But prepared or not, I would mostly like to thank everyone again for all the support you’ve already given us. I can’t begin to thank all of you who encouraged us in this process, donated money to fund our trip, and prayed so sincerely. I was asked the other day how it made me feel that so many people have given so generously and been so supportive, and quite honestly I’m not entirely sure. The word that comes to mind is humbling. I suppose there is a sense of responsibility as well. Really, though, all I know to say is thank you. Khop kun mak ka.

And thank you to my family who is 1) letting me spend the summer away from home and 2) trying not to worry too much, or at least not showing it. I love you, and I promise to be very careful.

I’ll be posting more as soon as I recover from jet lag–and excitement–and gain a basic orientation with the places and people in Chiang Mai. These posts will, I hope, become substantially more interesting in just a few days.

May God bless our team and all the teams around the world this summer.


you can visit my personal blog at http://jkthailand.blogspot.com