Category Archives: love

New York City (Vignettes of a Journey #4)

And by what charm do you claim to have

Dared to woo a country lass

Of western prairies and slow-going German stock?

Perhaps it was your soaring lines and arches,

The splendor of the gleaming lights,

The haunting cords of history woven,

Or your many-colored children.

What charm, I cannot rightly say,

But this I know,

I long to live your streets in the glimmer of the rain.

I flew from Zurich to JFK, arriving in New York on Monday evening, March 21. My sister, Sara, and a friend flew from Kansas to meet me where we toured NYC for a day and a half and then traveled by train to Lancaster, PA for REACH conference on the 24th and 25th. We stayed in Brooklyn, visited the Ministry Training Center in Queens, stopped in close to Times Square for lunch, rode the Staten Island Ferry, visited the 911 memorial, and finished off with Brooklyn Bridge. I am not counting all the various detours we took in trying to find our way through the city subways. It was a bit exhausting after having flown in from Thailand, but we loved every minute of it. Ok, well, the aching feet we didn’t love.

Requiem

Bury me beneath the prairie sod

Under the wide and rolling sky

Lay me down in the arms of the earth

Below where the meadowlarks flit and fly

Send me to rest in the cradle of the plains

By the meadow where the sunflower grows.

Where the wheat field whispers in the muted dusk

In the land where the south wind blows.

Photo by DapurMelodi from Pexels

Visiting Saohin

I drove up to Saohin for Children’s Day. Along with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Thailand also celebrates Children’s Day.

All last year, I had hoped to find a time and way to go visit Saohin again, but during the rainy season, it is very unwise to travel up alone on a motorbike and it was difficult to find a truck going up on Friday and coming down on Sunday, over the time I wouldn’t be working. Most people come down on Friday and go back up on Sunday.

So, when the invitation came to join in the Children’s Day activities on January 8, I jumped at the chance. Since it hadn’t rained for about 2 months, there was no flood danger and the creeks had returned to safe levels.

I learned and relearned many things about myself on this trip. I learned that when you are used to something it automatically looks much more doable. Like taking cold showers. And crossing creeks on a 110cc Honda Wave motorbike. And going up and down steep, stony hills. When I first came off the blacktop and got to that first frightfully steep hill, and the first stony part, and then the first creek, inside I thought, “This is worse than before.” But when I drove back 2 days later after over 30 kilometers of driving, I thought, “This is not so bad.”

I rediscovered the beauty of driving in first gear. There is something deeply satisfying about coming to an obstacle that gives you that jolt of fear— a deep creek, a steep hill- and then knowing deep inside yourself that you can do it. You can climb this hill, you can cross this creek. Especially when you put your bike into first gear. When you put your bike in first gear, you can do anything. Well,… ok, not quite. But going down some hills it is unwise to brake much because of the loose gravel and stones. Instead, you drop into first gear and ride your bucking bronco to the bottom. And the next day, as you rub your aching muscles, you wonder if you really had to get to the bottom quite that fast.

Different people find different things therapeutic. For my mom, it’s the garden. For some of my friends, it’s coloring and watercolors. For others, it’s creating. Horseback riding used to be my choice of therapy at home. I think that’s why I find that driving my motorbike in the mountains is therapy for me. That and writing.

I rediscovered how much fear can have an impact on my abilities. If I focused on not falling, or not getting wet, or not getting my bike stuck in the creek, I lost my sense of balance, and my sharpness of mind. But when I told myself that falling was not the worse thing in the world, or getting wet wasn’t really that bad, and if I got stuck then I would surely find a way out, things really went much better. I also realized how important it is to know your limits.

Arriving at Saohin brought a surge of grief for me. You would think I would only feel a surge of joy, but I felt more grief than joy. After poking the feeling a bit, I realized it was because I was coming as a visitor. I could no longer claim this place as my home. I was not going to stay there the next week and the next week and be a part of the flow of life and the daily routine. I was a visitor.

I woke up Saturday morning, aching and sore from the drive. Children’s Day was limited to only students and teachers, (and me) because of Covid restrictions. The children were glad to see me, but shy. I missed the 6th graders, who I had gotten to know the best. Towards the end of the day, they were warming up and not quite so shy.

The festivities were over by early afternoon so I took a nap and tried to get rid of a headache and then visited a former 6th grader.

The evening consisted of a campfire at the teacher’s house and making bamboo rice over the fire, doing some target practice with a 22, and some other activities that I did not participate in. Anyone who has had any experience with Thai mountain culture will be familiar with the drinking that happens nearly every evening. I went to bed around 10, but the sounds continued until midnight.

Sunday, I traveled down again. As I traveled down again, I felt an unsettled, unfinished feeling. I wished I could have stayed a little longer. I think I would have found more closure. I wanted to be a part of life there again, not just some visitor. Fragments of faces and places clung to the edges of my mind, even as I focused on the road ahead of me.

There was PaunSawan and her hair cropped close because of lice.

Pongsatorn, a tall, thickset boy, who struggles with learning. He gets heckled for it as well, even from the teachers.

Cholita, the girl from Myanmar, who is studying in first grade as well.

Oranit, a bright, spunky girl, whose father is one of the village leaders, and a devout Catholic.

Tawin and his shy, sheepish grin.

Di Di, and the way he used to jump around shouting out English words during vocabulary games.

Sawinee, with her large wistful eyes and sad face.

Kai Muk with her sparkle and laughter.

Paunyinee, who asked to take pictures together.

But maybe it’s ok to still grieve, to not have fully moved on from that little spot tucked into the edge of no-man’s-land.

Medley

Spurred by a whim, I wrote this tonight. Imperfect, but it was satisfying to put together.

Tonight I was wishing that I could write some of what was moving inside of me, but as I was reading other poems, I felt that so much of what I was feeling was already written so well in other poetry. You know that moment when you are reading a poem and you come to this phrase and you are like, yes, that phrase! It says it exactly! It hits that spot. And you want to crow to the whole world that you have found that phrase, but often you sort of feel a bit silly after the crowing.

Anyway, I just took some of those phrases (and others for gluing the others together) and made a poem. I am not sure what the purpose was. Inspirational? Maybe. Humorous? Perhaps some may find it so. Creative? Yes, partly. Cathartic? Yes, I think so.

Here we are:

The ache of the twilight is upon me but I cannot speak

The words will not come.

But many other have already written them for me.

Come, let us see.

The day is done, and the darkness falls from the wings of night

As a feather is wafted downward like

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean.

Yet, I beg you, tell me not in mournful numbers

That life is but an empty dream

That the road less traveled by is no different than what it seems

That nothing gold can stay; that there is no rest even in Flander’s fields.

And that the struggle nought availeth. Just because

I am nobody (who are you?), does not mean that I have never

Slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Or spent time alone in the night, on a dark hill

With pines around me spicy and still;

Or lived sad and strange dark summer dawns,

With the earliest pipe of half-awaken’d birds;

For I have loved hours at sea, gray cities,

The fragile secret of a flower…

Long have I known a glory in it all.

And yet, tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean

Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,

And thinking of the days that are no more

And, I must ask, does the road wind uphill all the way?

If so, let me rest here in these woods so lovely dark and deep,

While you come and read to me some simple and heartfelt lay

And these aches shall fold their tents like the Arabs

And as silently steal away.

(It was written quickly, and since it is not meant to be a masterpiece poem of any kind, I didn’t chew and meditate on it and edit it much, so if you have any ideas of more phrases that could be thrown in, I would love it. And I think I will write more of these in the future. For therapeutic purposes. )

I should leave you to guess where the lines came from, but I feel like putting the lines here without them really being my own is almost infringing on copyright purposes. I don’t know. But here you are:

The Day is Done, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tears, Idle Tears, by Lord Alfred Tennyson,

A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Road Less Traveled By, by Robert Frost

Nothing Gold Can Stay, Robert Frost

In Flander’s Fields, by John McCrae

Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth, Arthur Hugh Clough

I am Nobody, Who are You? by Emily Dickinson

High Flight, John Magee

Stars, Sara Teasdale

I Have Loved Hours at Sea, Sara Teasdale

God’s World, Edna St. Vincent Millay

Uphill, Christina Rossetti

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost

Kayah State, Christmas Eve 2021

Over these hills, sing the song,

Sing it over again.

That Immanuel is come, is come,

Is come to the world of men.

Up from the valley, down from the mountains

Sing it in darkest hour

Of peace on earth, of peace on earth,

Of goodwill of greatest power—

Oh, but now, my friend, hush your singing

And be still in this crippling pain

Come grieve among the ones who grieve

And weep with the weeping rain;

For from the shadows of these Burmese hills

Comes a wail that pierces heaven’s door

For Rachel still weeps, weeps for her children

Her children who are no more.

See the story of the Christmas Eve massacre in Myanmar here. While we safely celebrated Christmas in our homes, thousands of people fled conflict in the neighboring country. Please pray for Myanmar.

Image by seth0s from Pixabay

Mommi

My grandma is old.

She has always been old, to me.

I remember going to her house one day when I was 4. My mom was going to Hutch. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to go to my grandma’s house, or Mommi’s house, and play with the Berenstein bears in the log cabin that Doddi built.

She was old already, back then.

She was already old when Doddi died from complications from open heart surgery when I was 9.

She was old when I went to Thailand the first time over 8 years ago. And she has been getting older every time I come home again.

And each time I leave, I say goodbye for the last time.

Every time I see her, she is a little bit smaller, a little bit whiter, and a little bit thinner. But she is always, always as sweet and kind as ever. This last time is like that, when I go home for my visit.

My grandma is old. She has always been old, but now she is older than ever. She is 100 years old. She sleeps on a hospital bed and eats her meals from her chair. My mom and my aunts take turns staying with her every night and day.

One time I stay with her so that Mom can go to her cousin’s garage sale. I read from the Budget at the top of my lungs until Mommi has pity on me and tells me I can stop. Then I read through some of the 200 cards she received on her 100th birthday until Mom comes back to stay with her for the night.

She is starting to forget things, which is painful to watch, not so much because she is becoming forgetful, as would be expected for a woman of 100, but because she realizes that her sharp mind is not quite as sharp anymore and it bothers her. So, I try not to ask her too many questions about something that she might not remember well.

I give her a small handbag made by a team of ladies in Thailand. She is delighted with it, and keeps on commenting about it and saying thank you. “It’s so pretty that I won’t want to take it anywhere for fear something will happen to it,” she says. A minute later, she remembers and says almost apologetically, “Well, I don’t go anywhere anyway anymore.”

On my last day at home, I go over in the rainy evening to say goodbye. She is sitting on her brown chair with the colorful orange and brown afghan, eating her supper. Dorothy is there with her for the night. I sit down and we chat for a while before I say goodbye.

She is smaller than ever. I give her a hug and hold her hand for a bit, and then leave before the tears can burst from the floodgates.

The last I see her is as I drive past. Dorothy is waving, and so is Mommi, a thin white hand from the window.

I am glad for the rain streaming down the windshield.

Interlude

And all that has passed before us, this day, this rain

And the sunshine and the green, green meadow

Are swallowed in the night that comes softly,

Silent and dear and painful;

When the memories of those times and the echoes of that laughter

Throb soundlessly beneath the symphony of crickets

And the boom of the frogs in the marsh.

While we wait with wistful ears for a voice

That comes from beyond those thousand deep-set stars

To sing over us in the twilight of our hearts.

Abide with Me

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,

Light bleeds from the evening sky, and I know that
Somewhere the morning dawns. The wind rises,
Rustling the skirts of the evening’s brittle drought, the dust
Stirs.

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide;

Smoke grays the hills and smuts colors
Of the sunset that stream on the parched forest;
The heat off the day flees on silent feet, the dusk
Blankets.

When other helpers fail and comforts flee

Birdcalls echo from deepening shadows, and rasps
Of cricket’s melodies rise. Smoke from the evening fire
Drifts, and rice cooks, bubbling from the blackened pot. Fire
Crackles.

Help of the helpless, O abide with me

Night falls, the deepening watches calling forth the ache
Of wonder and hope and longing. Stars in their glory
Glisten and promise. This is the hope, the watch, the story
I live.

A Field Trip with Saohin School

Saohin School is for students from kindergarten to 6th grade. After that, many of the students head to the city to study for their education from M1 to M6 (same as 7th grade to 12th grade in the States). For each class that graduates from 6th grade, the school provides a field trip to different places in Thailand. This year, we went to Mae Hong Son town and Pai. Even after living in Thailand for over 6 years, I am still struck by the differences between Thai culture and my own culture when it comes to sightseeing and traveling, especially when it comes to taking pictures.

Kru Paeng taking a picture of Kru Duen.

I have also never traveled with such a group of carsick people.

Serm and Tukkata who both were carsick a lot of the trip. Their lively, bouyant personalities became quiet and solemn.

On Tuesday morning we started off from Saohin for Mae Sariang. Since I had driven my motorbike up from Mae Sariang several weeks earlier, I also drove it down. One of the sixth grade students, Paeng, sat behind me for the first leg of the trip.

Paeng and I a few kilos from Saohin. The air was cool and wearing a mask made my glasses steam, but with the dust and smoke, I didn’t want to take it off.

The first 32 kilometers from Saohin are the worst, where you have to cross through streams close to 20 times. During the current dry season it seriously is not that bad, since the streams are low and water rarely comes up to the gears or brake. I am slowly learning where the best places are to cross the streams and how to find the tracks of bikes that have gone before me, as well as where the shortcuts are to avoid as much water as possible. During heavy rains, crossing some of the streams becomes dangerous on a motorbike, and in some cases nearly impossible.

Once we reached Mae Je, a village about 27 kilometers from Saohin, Paeng switched with Serm, since Serm was getting carsick on the back of the truck. Surely, if Serm sat with me on a motorbike, she would be fine, so we thought.

Not so. By the time we reached Mae Sariang, I had to stop twice to let her throw up. Poor Serm had a hard time the entire trip. So did the majority of the other students, who if they were not throwing up or carsick, were groggy from the effects of carsick medicine. I clearly remember one moment when Pa De Bue was sleeping on the seat beside me, with his head resting on my shoulder. He woke up suddenly, shot me one agonized look and grabbed for his plastic bag. After that, he probably threw up another 4 or 5 times before we reached out destination.

We ate in Mae Sariang and then went off on a bunch of different errands, taking student pictures for the 6th graders who needed them to apply to new schools for 7th grade, and hitting various markets and grabbing supplies.

Squished onto the back of a truck in Mae Sariang

Shopping with 6th graders is fun. Actually, doing almost anything with 6th graders is fun.

Chawin, a bright, quiet boy who will be becoming a monk at a temple after his 6th grade studies.

We slept at two of the teachers’ houses and in the morning headed for Mae Hong Son. We visited several museums, two different caves, an electrical plant, went swimming, visited a historical bridge, a waterfall, a national park, a strawberry farm, a canyon, several lookouts, a Chinese village, a Karen Longneck village and more.

At a large cave in Bang Ma Pa. This was the first time I ever got to visit a cave, and believe me, it gave me thrills.
Pa De Bue inspecting the works at the electrical plant.
Yaut trying out the crossbow at the longneck Karen village.
Discussing botany at a national park in Mae Hong Son.
Kru Duen at Baan Rak Thai, a Chinese village from where you can see the cliffs of Myanmar towering beside the village.

It was exhausting. But so much fun. My favorite parts were interacting with the students and co-teachers, especially Kru Duen and Kru Yuri, who are two Karen teachers from the village. We slept together three in a bed one evening and shared laughs and experiences all throughout the trip.

Other than all the carsickness and the hectic schedule, it was a really good trip. We made it to Mae Sariang on Friday evening, driving through forest fire smoke smothering the valleys. I stayed there for another day or so, and then went to Chiang Mai for 4 days.

School starts again on Monday the 8th. In a few short days, we will be up on top again. 🙂