Tag Archives: Chiang Mai

My Baanies *

To the fine bunch of ladies that I do life with…. I live in a house with six other girls, all of who are volunteers at Wisdom Tree Home, where I used to work. This is a glimpse of what life looks like in our creaky old house. 

 

Oh, we live in a house of seven girls

And bonny lassies are we

Seven girls and a dog (who cries when we leave)

All footloose and fancy-free

 

Where we’re from…

Lori and Crystal speak Dutch with each other

But Lori speaks it more to the dog

Nancy speaks Platt Dietsch when she talks with her mom

And leaves the rest in a fog

Kim hails from Canada, and so does Melissa

And Brit is a Buckeye at heart

She tries to speak Dutch but Thai comes out

Her brain can’t keep them apart.

Judi comes from where it’s cold all the time

And we like the way she says “sawlt”

We mimic the Canadians and the Thais and each other

And don’t always speak as we ought.

 

On Saturdays…

Brit goes to the market

And Judi goes to the mall

Where she walks and she looks

And buys nothing at all

Melissa goes to a coffee shop

Kim goes out with a friend

Crystal goes to the pool, and Lori,

Lori does homework till her hair stands on end.

 

Oh, we live in a house of seven girls

And bonny lassies are we

Seven girls and a dog (who cries when we leave)

All footloose and fancy-free

 

In the bathroom…

When Lori’s in the shower, she studies Chinese

And Brit plays songs in Thai

But Kim and Nancy play ukulele on the floor

By the tub where the echo rings high.

Judi sings songs like “Country Roads”

And also sings the song about the rose

But the dog outside outsings us all

When he misses his friends and howls out his woes

 

What we’re like…

Judi likes to kill things like mosquitos and snakes

But spiders make Brit turn white with fear

She’ll stand on her bed and shiver and shake

Till someone comes to smash it. Oh dear, oh dear!

Lori’s in a rush and can’t find her keys

Where Kim left her laptop is quite unknown

Brit wants to take a picture to send to her dad

But now she can’t do it cause she can’t find her phone

 

At a coffee shop…

Brit likes to journal and Nancy watercolors

And Kim always makes a new friend

Crystal studies Thai and Melissa writes an update,

And Lori does homework till her hair stands on end.

Kim swigs coffee, all black, by the pot

But Judi likes hers with cream

Brit walks the line between coffee and tea

But Melissa drinks just water, or so it would seem.

 

Oh, we live in a house of seven girls

And bonny lassies are we

Seven girls and a dog (who cries when we leave)

All footloose and fancy-free

 

At night…

Brit and Melissa go to bed early

Where Brit dreams amazing things

Crystal hums in her sleep, and all the rest

Wait to go to bed till the dtukae** sings

Lori sleeps up top at the end of the stairs

Where the others fear she’ll fall out of bed

Kim sits on her balcony where she sings all night

And Crystal smacks roaches in her room till they’re dead

 

In the future….

Melissa will get married and have 8 Chinese boys

That keep her on her toes and all look alike

19780487_1911757699103704_5034202987174124173_o

Brit will adopt kids, and kids, and kids

Half of which will be two-year old tykes

IMG_2668

And Kim will lead worship in a Chinese town

With her husband who’s 6 foot 4

28619519_2016148288664644_6609535045763801119_o

While Judi sips coffee at her own little shop

On the edge of the Grecian shore

IMG_5713

Nancy will marry and move to the States

Where she’ll make fajitas like a very fine wife

10200

 

Crystal will move to Africa’s horn

Where she’ll look after orphans all of her life

20108278_1945376402406650_8075197240217796450_n

While Lori  rides her horse from village to village

As she teaches in the mountains of PaiS_4927041878515

But for now we live in this shaky old house

Together and happy, in old Chiang Mai.

 

Oh, we live in a house of seven girls

And bonny lassies are we

Seven girls and a dog (who cries when we leave)

All footloose and fancy-free

 

* “Baanies” is a play on words that comes from the Thai word “baan,” which means “home.” Instead of saying “homies” when referring to our housemates, we call ourselves the “baanies,” which is another play on words in the English language, since it sounds like “bonnie.”

** a dtukae is a large lizard like creature that likes goes “Dtu! Gaa! Dtu! Gaa!” at night.

Advertisements

Voiceless

Words burn within me

To tell all the others

The beauty I saw today.

The mountain’s high crest

The forest’s red haze

The foam of the river’s spray

 

A piercing of light

A wind tossed swallow

The mist of a mountain’s shroud

The boldness of color

The caress of a breeze

The wisps of a wind scattered cloud

 

But the deepest things

That are caught in my soul

In muted aching cry

Are the flash of a smile

The gleam of teeth

The light in a villager’s eye

 

A faint shy smile

A word exchanged

And laughter quick and keen

These are the treasures

That I long to share

From all that today I have seen.

 

Originally written in February of 2017, this poem came to mind after my day today.

God Hunt

I am on a God hunt.

I grab my friend’s camera, and set out on my bike, impatient, thirsty, and expectant. The western sky hangs heavy with soot red smoke and the dust stings my eyes as I drive first down the winding path behind our house, where suddenly the road pops out into a gap where a rice field lies, green and spring-like in the dying evening.

IMG_5495.jpg 2.jpg

Then I drive on, through choking Friday evening traffic, and wait at stoplights that are stonily unsympathetic to hunters who know the sun is steadily dying in the west. I watch the people around me and wonder if any of them are on a God hunt. Finally, I find it, a pocket of green field with a smoky view of the mountain and the silhouette of a church cross painted on the sky.

IMG_5537.jpg 2

IMG_5546

I breath in deeply the greenness and savor the glimpses of the setting sun. We leave with whetted appetites and wander on and on, down twisting alleys and darkening streets, seeking for more. I find it where cows graze on withered grass in the dusky evening, and two dogs bark menacingly at the strange foreigner pointing a black thing towards their charges.

IMG_5554.jpg 2.jpg

 

They escort me out the alley at a furious pace, satisfied that they have succeeded in disposing of me.

IMG_5568.jpg 2

I find a place, where the country and city meet, where the light from the street lights gleams over the rice fields and calls me home.

Where the blacktop ends.JPG

Soon it is too dark to snap anymore photos, which is good since I am thoroughly lost and need to focus on finding my way. Finally, I pop out on a large road close to a major university, about 15 kilometers from home. I make my way home, turning in the last road where the cool air nestles in a pocket of trees, and reach our gate, where our dog greets me.

IMG_5639 My eyes are dry and burnt by smog, my back is tired from driving, but I have found beauty, and where beauty is, God’s hand has been.

Beauty is God’s poetry.

Rumpelstiltskin

Almost three years ago, I posted this story. Recently, because of some research I’ve been doing at school, it came to mind again, so I’m reblogging it. Share on, and pray.

insearchofabrook

rumpelstiltskin-story-1Many of us know the story of Rumpelstiltskin and of the girl who was taken by the king and forced to spin straw into gold. It has a happy ending. But what we don’t know is that the story of the princess and Rumpelstiltskin is still lived out in thousands of places in the modern world. Here is a retelling of the story.

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom where jungles grew thick and green in the hills, and mountain-fed streams roamed wild and bold down rocky slopes where elephants and tigers ran free, there lived a girl whose name was Ruthai.

Ruthai lived with her family in the mountain villages, and she was more beautiful than the full moon on a midsummer night, or the brilliant splash of waves on rocks in the midday sun. Her raven tresses fell thick and long to her waist, and her eyes…

View original post 847 more words

14 Ways…

to know you’ve been living in Thailand for an extended period of time and are home on break. When….

  1. You enter a new bathroom, and you feel around on the outside of the bathroom door for the light switch, forgetting that in America they put light switches inside bathrooms.
  2. You stand in line while going through immigrations at the airport and munch chocolate, then feel bad for not sharing it with the person beside you. But you don’t want to share it because they would think you are weird.
  3. You cringe when people use their foot to motion or perform a task.
  4. You find yourself staring at dark haired people on the street, wondering if by any chance they might be Thai.
  5. You drink water out of the sink, simply enjoying the novelty of doing that again.
  6. You motion people to come with your palm down, and then feel really weird for doing it.
  7. You find yourself sitting on the floor more than on chairs, because it really is more comfortable.
  8. Just opening the fridge and looking into it is an adventure and feast for the eyes.
  9. You feel like a shadow of your old self, coming back to old haunts and realize that the haunts changed. People are fatter, thinner, older, more stooped, happier, sadder…
  10. You can sit down at the table to eat and not have to swat at mosquitoes.
  11. You feel funny when you think about the fact that you can speak another language. Like you just made up that language and no one else knows it. Or that you have some secret power inside of you that really is of no use.
  12. You realize that you actually do like Americans.
  13. You realize that since you live far away, you have become a neutral, “safe” person to others. People tell you things they never would have years ago.
  14. And you can pull off your clothes in one fell swoop instead of having to peel them off in a sweaty, sticky mess.

People Are Interesting

One of my favorite parts of traveling is watching people. I love the way that God designed each individual to be his/her own colorful character.

Like these colorful characters above.

Recently I took a trip to Laos to the Thai embassy located there. I needed to leave the country and request a student visa at an embassy outside of Thailand. (perhaps more on that change later)

I realized again how much I’ve lived in my own little world in Chiang Mai, going back and forth to work each day, attending church at my Thai church and at the local group of Mennonites. Leaving the three- year-old “familiar” of Chiang Mai and traveling into the “unknown” of northeastern Thailand (also known as Isaan) and southern Laos was exciting. And considering it was my first day off of full time kindergarten teaching, it was a bit of a shock.

There were some people I met that I wished sincerely I hadn’t. Like the tuk tuk driver that poked his head around the bus door in Nong Khai even before I had fully descended.

“Tuk Tuk? Where you go? Tuk tuk?”

I perked up.

“I need to go to the Friendship Bridge,” I said in Thai.

“Oh, I will take you there. But do you have your Laos visa yet?”

“No, I will get it at immigrations in Laos. I just want to go to the bridge.”

“Listen, listen. I will take you to get your papers for the Laos visa first. Then I will take you to the bridge.”

“No,” I said. “All I want to do is go to the bridge.” I had heard about these people. They take you and they do stuff for you that you are perfectly capable of doing yourself and charge exorbitant prices.

“But listen to me. I will explain it all to you.”

I have never been able to say no to these people, usually because I myself don’t know enough about what I am doing. But I used to think that once I knew Thai fluently, I would be able to say no, and to harden my heart. But I can’t even haggle at the market. I just give in to the price they ask, even if it’s ridiculous.

In the end, I gave in. It was my first time crossing this border, I was by myself, and I was unsure. It was stupid of me, and I was mad at myself all through the next hour until I left the Laos entrance. I was mad at him too, for persuading me.

“You see,” the man said as we sputtered off in his tuk tuk, “They will cheat you at the Laos border if you don’t do it beforehand.”

“Yeah, right,” I thought bitterly to myself. “Like you are doing now.” I ended up losing 600 baht. (close to 20 dollars)

IMG_6331
Friendship Bridge that spans the Thai-Laos border, view from the Thai side. Photo credit: LH

The next interesting character I met was a red-haired Norwegian who reeked of perpetual smoke. We were sitting in a van going to the Thai embassy in Vientiane. He leaned forward from behind and tapped me on the shoulder.

“Are you a nurse?” he asked, pointing to my veiling.

“No,” I said, and explained.

“Oh,” he said, and proceeded to tell me all sorts of things about Amish people. I nodded and smiled to myself. As if you knew.

The girl beside me was from Palestine, and worked in Pattaya in Central Thailand. Then I chatted with the aged cab driver, who spoke Thai well, and told me tidbits of Laos history and language and how the police lock up his wheels when he parks beside the road for even a few seconds. I felt like his granddaughter.

IMG_6270
The Patuxai War Memorial was erected after Laos fought its battle for independence from the French. Photo credit: LH

 

One of my favorite parts of the trip came on the way back the next day, headed back to the Thai-Laos border to cross over into Thailand again. The cab driver was gruff and honest. He talked mostly Laos with a spattering of Thai, and I talked Thai to him with a spattering of Northern Thai. (Thai, Northern Thai, Isaan Thai and Laos are languages that are very closely related. Usually one can understand the other quite well) I wanted to share with him, but felt at loss on how to begin. Finally I told my Father that I would at least ask one question and then if the man wanted to listen I would share with him.

I asked him if there were any C’s in his country. I knew very well there were.

“Yes,” he said, and gave some other facts. Then he leaned over, turned down his radio and said, “Tell me what you believe.”

So, in the best Thai I could muster, I gave the story of the Father in a nutshell. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but at the end, I asked him if he understood.

“Yes,” he said, but didn’t say much else.

The rest of the ride we chit-chatted, and at the end I gave him a J film. He was very excited for it.

The next person I met was a French lady who traveled the world. She was at least 60. I was sitting under an outdoor shelter that had a beautiful view of the Mekong River, the river that divides Laos from Thailand, at my guesthouse in Nong Khai.

IMG_6334
A Laos boat on the Mekong River. Photo credit: LH

 

“Do you have Skype? Can I use your Skype?”

“Sure, you can,” I said. As I was getting signed in, she told me all about herself.

It turned out that she travels the world as lightly as possible. She told me the amount of underwear she carries with her, (5 pieces, I think and sometimes she washes them out twice a day. Sorry.) how many changes of clothes she takes with her, (two, and she rarely uses the second one), a blanket or a scarf, and a good pair of shoes, and several other small items that I forget (not as memorable as underwear, obviously). So, that was why she was using my Skype, since she packs only enough to get by on.

When I had successfully signed into my Skype, she called her home in France, only to have her mother answer.

She switched from French to Dutch, “Alles is goot!” Her mother was very hard of hearing, so the rest of the guests at the hotel got in on the conversation as well.

After a short conversation, she hung up and turned to me. “Will you be here in the morning? Can I use your Skype again?”

“Sure,” I said again. She offered to pay, but I didn’t let her, wondering to myself what was the best method for cleaning spit off a screen.

The next morning I hauled out my books and laptop and was going to enjoy the river view when the chain smoker lounging at the end of the table spoke up, “Are you Mennonite?”

“Similar to Mennonite, yes,” I said, looking longingly at my breakfast omelet that had just been delivered. We chatted as I ate. It turned out that he was from Chiang Mai, from the same neighborhood as a few of my Mennonite friends. So he knew about Mennonites in Chiang Mai.

“What’s the difference between Mennonites and Amish?” he asked.

As I was explaining, a face appeared beside me.

“You are still here!” It was the French lady.

She used my Skype, while the chain smoker looked on with a bemused expression (in light of our recent conversation on Mennonites and Amish.)

“This is ironic,” he said. I laughed. The French lady finished her phone call. She addressed the chain smoker, “You should stop smoking. It is very bad!” And proceeded to give him a piece of her mind.

We chatted some more. He was your typical “farang” living in Thailand. There for the cheap, easy life, with a Thai daughter and a Thai ex-wife. Bored with Chiang Mai. Smoking away his life. He pumped me for information on Amish and Mennonites. He had a live one on his hands and wasn’t letting the opportunity pass.

“I hope you don’t mind these questions,” he said. “It’s not every day I can ask someone these questions.”

I actually didn’t mind. Much. I only wished he would stop smoking.

We discussed separation from the world.

“I guess you and I are separated from the world,” he said, with a nod at the other hotel guests. “We’re sitting in the smoking section.” I almost choked. Not because of smoke.

“So have you ever thought of like,” he stumbled over his words as if unsure how to ask. “Like you’re over here. You could dress like you wanted to and no one would ever know. Like if it were me, I would hate to get noticed like that. You could just dress like everybody else. Like, sort of like, undercover Amish?”

I laughed. Undercover Amish. Like, what is the world coming to?

Looking back, I feel like there would have been better ways to answer some of his questions. But I always do that—think of those things I should have said.

I left Nong Khai for Udon that evening and in Udon, caught the bus back to Chiang Mai.

“Excuse me,” I said to the girl in the aisle seat as I went to slide into the window seat in the front row of the top story of the bus.

She looked up. Beautiful dark eyes, pale skin, cultured face.

At first, she had her earphones in. Then she took them out and we started talking.

I’ve never experienced such a quick bond of friendship before. We clicked. Almost instantly. She was 19 and her name was Mint. We discussed family and friends and dreams, usually looking straight ahead at the road in front of us because we both got sick easily.

WIN_20170719_11_22_30_Pro.jpg
View from the top story of the bus. Photo credit: LH

She was studying to be a doctor in Phayao. She wanted to go to the poor mountain regions of Thailand and be a doctor there. I told her of my dream to be a teacher there.

Her eyes lit up. “Let’s go together!”

I grinned, “Sure!”

We both liked the color green. We both love eating gummi bears. I tested her English a bit and taught her some words. She asked if I had Facebook.

“No, I don’t. But I do have Line.” (a popular messaging app used a lot in Asia.)

She was getting off in Lamphun where her boyfriend was working, and I was getting off in Chiang Mai. Before we reached there, I told myself, I would get her Line ID or number. This was a friendship for life.

The night drew on and we both fell asleep. Her head would come bouncing over onto my part of the seat as we hit bumps and I would stick my feet over on her part. We were both awakened in the middle of the night by a group of tourists that came on the bus, babbling in some European language. For some reason, both of us thought the sound was hilarious. We giggled hysterically.

“It sounds like when we were children and would just talk nonsense,” she whispered to me. I agreed, and we tried to smother our giggles in vain.

We fell asleep again and suddenly we woke up and the sign said Lamphun. It was only a short roadside stop, so she had to hurry and was gone before I could sleepily scribble out my number on a piece of paper.

I felt a loss that I couldn’t describe. Like I had met a little sister for a brief 12 hours and then suddenly, she was gone.  Only an act of God could let us ever meet again.

But I am glad I got to meet her. And the others, too. No matter how short the time that I got to know them, in some small way, each person impacted me, whether it was my pocketbook or my heart.

Which reminds me, I still haven’t cleaned that spit off my laptop screen.

Dusk: Doi Sutthep

Below is a poem set to the same style as Sara Teasdale’s  Sunset: St. Louis  

 

Hushed in the still gray fog of July rains

When humanity teems below in wild chatter

How many times have I seen my eastern mountain

Dream by her city.

 

High and still, shrouded in fathomless mist

That feints and flickers in a fickle ballet

Beneath muted sky she stands silent and strong

In lengthening shadows.

 

And when the light from the western sun breaks through

In soldered bars of gold and bronzed creation

Striking the clouds, my mountain still stands shining

In green and gold glory.

 

But I love my mountain most in rainy haze

When the gray rains come furtive and silent at dusk

And the lights blink on, gleaming through mist as my mountain strong

Dreams by her city.

-July 2017

 

Fog

IMG_4633

Suddenly I plunged into it. Up and upward I climbed, deeper into the heart of the mist. The echo of the Chinese tourists’ jabber faded and nothing remained but the winding road, the forest and the fog. I was alone in the world. Curve after curve we went, the fickle fog wisping in the hollows and around the mossy tree trunks, now fleeing in fear, now advancing recklessly, reaching around my hands, my neck, my arms, chilling me with welcome numbness. We climbed up  and then bounced down, my motorbike and I, through rutted tracks and mud, deeper and deeper into this alien world. When I stopped at the lookout to pull my camera from my backpack and turned off my bike, the silence hit me with a shout. Only the wind spoke its emptiness in the treetops, like a December breeze in a muffled midnight snow. Beneath me the fog rolled out in an fathomless ocean. I thrilled. I was alone in a world of fog. Alone.

Glimpses

Sometimes I have those moments of lying awake in bed at night and wishing I could take the next plane home, get out of the city, spend time with my family, visit my favorite haunts again, listen to the laughter of old friends, and tear down the road in a madcap gallop on a sorrel horse.

I do have those moments. In no small measure. But on the other hand, I also have moments of pure joy as I experience life in Southeast Asia.

It helps to count those moments. To look at pictures of them and savor the beauty and the joy. And the laughter. I face a thousand decisions a day and one of the decisions that come up the most is whether to laugh or to cry. Or lose my patience. And when I do make the right decision to laugh, it’s always a relief. Like the time I walked into the bathrooms after naptime and caught three of my three year old male students sleepily peeing into the toilet all at the same time. Sadly, the funniest moments are usually the most difficult to snap a picture of because they come at unpredictable moments.

Below are several snapshots of what life has been like in the last month. Beauty, laughter, and just plain cuteness.

IMG_3236

This is what life looks like for me most of the time. Minus the green and yellow. We only wear these uniforms Wednesdays and smile with relief when the day is past. This photo was taken at Wisdom Tree Home during the exercise part of the day. The rest of the day is spent teaching, playing, eating, napping, and prepping for more teaching. In my room alone, we have 20 students, age 3.

IMG_3824

This is Peem, one of my more solemn students. And sleepiest.

IMG_3830

We get lots of giggles, as shown in the picture above.

IMG_3397

Sometimes its really hard to wake up from naps, even when our blanket gets pulled out from underneath us.

We do art projects, we just simply look cute with our curls, we find worms and we fall asleep at the table. A lot.

S_6106741500438

Sometimes this happens!

IMG_3931

Going to the market on Monday night is bound to bring me some sort of joy, whether its talking to the vendors, seeing people I know, or a tasty bite of fried chicken strips.

S_6083197477229

One thing that keeps me sane is horseback riding, usually done on Saturdays.

DSC01067

We got to go to a Karen wedding one Saturday.

IMG_2663

These two, a coworker and her daughter, keep me in laughter.

IMG_2669

And these two make me smile.

IMG_3732-PANO (1)

We went to Maun Jam, a local mountain lookout one Saturday.

IMG_2801

At a local village, we spent some time with the children and later watched them play this game similar to volleyball.

IMG_3927

Sometimes just looking at the sky brings me all kinds of joy.

IMG_3086.JPG

One Saturday we spent time with a Thai friend at a 3D Art Museum.

IMG_3125

And when you combine rivers and coffee, life just becomes too much to handle. 🙂