Category Archives: travel

The Road from Chiang Mai

Bright as the day through darkest night

From valleys low to mountains high

You go before me, you go behind me

Untroubled under a troubled sky

Through clouds that unleash stinging rain

On roads under sunfire in aching blue

Where fog shrouds the road in wraithing white

Yet still, still, I am with you.

Only a sojourner in a transient world

Weary on a road ever so long

Only a speck on a river passing,

Only an echo, a fragment of song

Yet your heart yearns for me from the brooding sky

As I crest the mountain in rain-washed hue

All through the winding journey home

Still, oh still, I am with you.

I am not sure how often and how long I have tried to write this poem, but each time, my words failed me. (This is the Purple Poem I wrote about in an earlier blog post). How to explain that feeling of God hand cupping over me as I do the monthly trip from Mae Sariang to Chiang Mai and back on my bike? How to weave into a poem the different emotions of the ride, the different scenes and backdrops? Finally, this morning I was able to somewhat put a tongue to it. Besides the obvious inspiration of those drives, Psalms 139 and James 4:5 were also inspirations for the poem.

I am also currently working on a new book of poetry and essays. I think it’s far enough along that I can say it’s going to happen, but it’s impossible to give any release date right now. I do, however, want to get it finished before I start my online course for my teacher’s license in January, which will take up all my spare time.

Stay tuned! 🙂

Gold and Green

A unique thing about life is the various shades that seem to color different periods of life. Some seasons in life are gray and blue, misty and melancholy. Others, for instance the last month I spent in Saohin, are characterized by browns and reds. This past season has been a rich mix of golds and greens, framed with wild blue skies and crimson sunsets.

October 7 was officially my last day of work before school break, although I took on some tutoring over our time off. On the evening of the 12th, on one a day when the air held a crisp hint of autumn, I set off for Chiang Mai where I met up with Amy and the rest of our INVEST team for our annual retreat as a team. Amy’s parents, Paul and Dorcas, served as speakers for our retreat. I felt like our activities and input at retreat were like a well-rounded meal, with a good amount of personal growth mixed with relaxation. It was an easily digestible meal: some meat, a lot of vegetables and light food, with a little bit of sweetness added.

This is our INVEST team, a ministry under IGo. INVEST stands for Igo Network of Volunteer Educators Serving Thailand. Missing in the photo is our team leader Phil’s wife, Jolene, and their sons, Chris and Clark, since they were sick with Covid.

Monday after retreat Amy and I headed off for Doi Chang with three other friends, Abby, Nancy and Glenda. We drove our motorbikes up the soaring heights of Doi Chang and among Akha villages, sipped coffee at coffee shops way up in the mountains, ate pizza while watching the sun set over a pond, woke up early to see the glory of the sunrise and feel the wind blow in our hair, and then made our way down again.

coffee beans

I left the others and headed to Chiang Dao to stay the night at my friend Louie’s house, taking the road through Doi Ang Khang National Park. I had been to this park years ago with Louie, but I had never come in from the east side. The heights were stunning. While Doi Chang had roads that were built high above patchworked fields, Doi Ang Khang was full of hairpin curves on roads that hugged cliffs and required me to drive in first gear. Every now and then, I stopped to savor the view and listen to the absolute silence of the mountain.

I spent the night with Louie and her hilarious sister in Baan Mai Samakkhi (which I wrote about visiting here 4 years ago), laughing over old jokes from bygone school days and making new ones. We talked about the time our instructor forgot to close the zipper on his pants and how I once accidentally hit a stranger over the head with a sweatshirt. Louie and her sister needed to leave early in the morning for a youth camp, so I spent the next morning with her mom and her younger brother. Louie’s younger brother, who reminded me of my high school students, took me to buy coffee, and to get the chain on my bike fixed. Her mom then loaded me up with avocados and a vegetable I don’t know the name for, then off I headed for Pai and Pang Mapha. I had already reserved a room in Pang Mapha since I knew if I took that way back to Mae Sariang, I wouldn’t be able to make it back to in one day without exhausting myself.

A blurry photo of Louie cooking. I chose a blurry one because she would prefer it.
The temple in Arunothai, the Chinese village right next to Louie’s and right next to the border. I wrote about Arunothai here
Nadech, the cat named after a movie star

The road from Chiang Mai to Pai and from then on to Mae Hong Son is renowned for curves, steep slopes, and the foreign, accident-prone tourists that drive them. I drove behind a motorbike with the typical long-legged, white foreigner look for a while, and thought to myself that it looked like one I might later see in the ditch. I stopped for lunch and about 45 minutes later I rounded a curve and encountered this very bike in a ditch with two bewildered foreigners standing beside it. I stopped, and we examined the situation, and I poured water over the young, excited man’s cuts. Whereupon, he sat down on a mile marker and then promptly pitched backwards into the ditch in a dead faint while I frantically tried to call 191. He then awoke and lifted one of the aforementioned long white legs and gravely stared at it as if trying to figure out how it was attached to him.

“Pound sign,” he blustered. “Exclamation mark, percent sign, pound sign, asterisk, pound sign!” I ignored the language and upon examining him further, we decided we didn’t need an ambulance after all.

He then asked for something sugary to eat and I was grateful to be able to pull from my backpack mentos that had been gifted to us on retreat. He gulped them down like a starving man.

I ended up going with them and a helpful Thai guy to the next police checkpoint to look at the wounds a bit more, and then went with them to the hospital and stayed until they were looked at by a doctor and feeling less emotionally traumatized. Then I headed on to Pang Maphaa, racing the sun in order to get to my guesthouse before dark.

The last time I had made this trip, I drove through chilling rain and mist. The wet road had made me very nervous then, but I remembered the thrill of cresting a hill and the gorgeous views below. This time the road was half as treacherous, and I made good time, even stopping now and then to snap a picture. The sun was dying, shafting gleams of golden light over the mountains, nectar for the soul.

I feel like this picture and the two above it characterize the entire trip the most.

My guesthouse was adorable, and its price just as adorable at less than 8 dollars USD. There was one window and I kept it closed since it didn’t have a screen, so when I woke up to a dark room the next morning, I figured it was about 6:30. It wasn’t until I looked at my phone that I realized it was close to 9 instead.

As I sipped my coffee, I Googled Pang Maphaa and started looking at my maps in anticipation of the route home. As I studied the maps, I realized there was a road leading to the border, and that the border was only about 30 kilometers from my location. It didn’t take long to make my decision, and about half an hour later, I was at Baan JaBo on my way to the border. JaBo is a small tribal village, known for its restaurant where people can eat noodles while dangling their feet over the side of the mountain. (I thought it was a Lisu village, but I am seeing other sources saying Lahu)

Several times past Ja Bow, as I drove on towards the border, I was tempted to turn back. With the roads I have traveled on in the past, you would think I would have no fear of driving, but somehow the unknown road ahead struck a deep fear in me. They might be incredibly steep and stony, for all I knew. I kept on telling myself that I had driven worse than this, and that this was my only chance in a long time to do this. I knew if I turned back, I would always live with a feeling of regret.

About 3 kilometers away from the border, I came onto a lookout. I stopped to take a picture and ended up talking a while with the old man there. His gray hair was wild and unkempt, and he chewed on red betelnut as we talked, but he told me a lot about the village and surrounding areas. He pointed out a mountain in the distance. That’s Myanmar, he said.

I started off for the border checkpoint. The road ahead looked steep again, and I stopped again and almost turned back. No, I told myself. I won’t. Surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as steep as I thought at first.

I still feel disappointment when I think about what happened next. When I came to the checkpoint, the soldiers came out. I stopped my bike to talk to them and see if I could cross. I was a bit flustered, not having rehearsed what I should say, so I asked, “This road goes to Myanmar, right?” The soldier, looking equally flustered at having to talk with this strange foreigner who came chugging along, said, “Umm you can’t go.”

It was one of those moments where I looked back later and wished I had asked for more clarification. Did he mean the road didn’t lead to Myanmar? Did he mean, I as a foreigner couldn’t get across? Did he realize that I wasn’t going over to stay, but only to hop across to say I was in Myanmar? I still don’t know, and I should have asked, but I am someone who hates to cause a fuss or make a scene, so instead, I swallowed my bitter disappointment and meekly turned around with an odd, heavy feeling in my stomach, even shedding a tear as I left.

View of the checkpoint

The heavy feeling had lifted by the time I got to JaBo. I ate some noodles like a good tourist, and then faced the long drive to Mae Sariang.

About 6 hours later, by the time I crested the bridge over the Yuam River in Mae Sariang, the last of the pink sky behind the mountains was rapidly disappearing into pitch darkness.

I was home. And I had this odd feeling that God had given me a tour package designed especially for me.

*A note of clarification in case you are thinking I am crazy in even attempting to cross the border: in many parts of western and northern Thailand, it is possible to cross over into Myanmar by simply leaving your identification card at the border checkpoint as proof that you will come back. I did this in Saohin with Thai friends the first time I visited. However, I think it is easier for Thai people to do than foreigners.

**Secondly, as I looked at the map later, I noticed that the road doesn’t really seem to connect to other roads within Myanmar, but instead runs along the border, twisting in and out of the border line. It does lead to another village in Thailand, though, eventually. I am still unsure of the exact meaning of the soldier’s words and if I could have crossed if I would have argued my case.

Perspective

I looked at the world upside down for a bit

Just for a little, to see

How it was like and if it would right

Some of the world’s problems for me

The ground was a sea of cotton below

And the sky a green carpet on high

But the funniest sight that I saw upside down

The trees hung like chandeliers down from the sky

And ever since I righted my aching head

The strangest things have crossed my eye

Cows walking like spiders in the oddest of places

And birds swimming down in a soupy sky

Just Some Pictures

I realize that I haven’t been writing a lot lately.

My dad had open heart surgery on June 16 and it was excruciating to be so far away from home. During that time, I wrestled with 2 different urges. One was the urge to dump it all out, the other the urge to clam up and feel sorry for myself. And being pressed for time, I didn’t do the dumping out part.

But that time passed, and my dad is now safely recovering at home, although my sister reports that life at home is sort of like living in a nursing home, since my mom has also been to see the doctor several times recently, and my aunt has to go on a weekly basis for chemo.

But believe it or not, life goes on here in Thailand. And I realize that I take a lot of good pictures, or I like to think of them as good, but I don’t share them much.

And as the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words” so I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

These are students from our Gifted English program that just started this year. The room is on the same floor as the teacher’s office, so some of the students like to come over in the afternoon and practice their English and play Uno. I do believe the air conditioned room is a drawing factor as well. I recently bought a tiny model house to teach vocabulary to a class, but I didn’t have time to assemble it so these students helped me. We have listened to a lot of stories during this time, such as stories about evil spirits haunting houses and the whiskey used in spirit ceremonies. (While most Karen people are Buddhist or Christian, in the past, before Christianity was introduced or before the Karen integrated more fully into Thai culture, they were mostly animistic, with practices steeped in spirit worship. This is still a huge factor today, and many nominal Karen Christians wear amulets for luck or safety.)

Some of my former Saohin students came over to make cookies after going to church with me. I found it amusing and heartwarming how they sat in front of the oven to watch their cookies bake as if they were watching a movie.

There are times I wonder about my cat…..

Our pastor finished his doctor in theology and we had a celebration at the church. Taking pictures with each other at celebrations is an important thing in Thai culture.

Jiu, one of the girls at church, with Che Che (I think that’s his name).
Prayer time for our pastor

Yes, that spider is for real, and yes we found it in our kitchen. I think that might be an egg sac it was carrying underneath?

Rainy days are plentiful in July. Most days I make my afternoon coffee at school, but some days I splurge, especially if it is a particularly rainy day that calls for a hot latte.

No matter how the world might be behaving around me, I still find rest and relaxation in making a batch of good homemade chocolate chip cookies.

And enjoying cookie making is not exclusive to women either. One evening, before my birthday, several of my former Saohin students (this time the boys, not the two girls pictured earlier) called me. Can we come make cookies at your house?

The above picture is not mine, but one I found online. At the time that I found myself driving through these waters, I was too busy trying to stay upright and moving to take any photos. The picture was taken beside the Mae Chaem River between Hot and Mae Sariang on a day when various parts of Northern Thailand flooded.

Another picture that makes me shudder when I see the brown angry river to the left.

On the evening of Amy’s birthday we went to the church to practice the song we were singing with the youth group. The sky gave us an extra special display that evening.

These people make me happy. Most of the people in this picture are students who are staying at the church while they go to high school. On Thursday evenings, I have the privilege of teaching them English at the church. They are the most dedicated group of learners and laughers I have ever taught, I think I can say.

Every morning the national anthem is played at assembly and every morning the dogs at the school howl along with it.

This was not a fire, as it might look, but a random round of mosquito spraying in hopes of cutting down on dengue fever cases. I had just gotten to my class and started teaching when we were all told to evacuate and stay out of the building for about 25 minutes while they sprayed. Mae Hong Son is highest in the nation for dengue fever.

This shirt is special to me. One of my students who is an avid football player, asked me if I wanted a football shirt for my birthday. He then let me choose a color and gave me one of his own shirts. This young man is actually half Burmese, but lives in Thailand.

It’s not often I get to eat Mexican food, but on my last visit to Chiang Mai, some of my friends took Amy and I out for our birthdays and this is what we got. It was soooo good.

Mae Toe is a local tourist attraction about 60 kilometers from here. I have now visited there 4 times, twice just recently. In the middle of June, I went up with some students and then yesterday with some teachers. Someday, I think I should like to take a book along and simply curl up and read on top of the world.

So…. yesterday, I had thought the original plan was to park our bikes on the bottom and walk the rest of the way up, but it didn’t quite work out that way since the others in our group zoomed up before me. To make a long story short, I was trying to get up this hill like the people before me, but kept on stalling my bike. I got off and then managed to dump it on its side, and it being a heavy bike, couldn’t get it up again. With the help of Amy and this kind man, we got it to a place where we could park beside the road and then walked up. Driving on these concrete tracks is complicated because if you happen to stop, you are in trouble because there is simply no place to plant your feet to keep you from falling over. It doesn’t help if you are helplessly laughing either. I still have to giggle just to look at this picture…. and the expressions on our faces. Bless that man’s heart for stopping and helping (the others in our group were out of side beyond the next hill and curve)

The view was worth the hike, though.

We parked our bikes halfway up and walked the rest of the way….but these village boys who couldn’t be more than 12 had no such intentions.

Walking down from the 360 degree lookout.

Kaning and Mint, the two student interns, and Kru Jack, one of the Chinese teachers. Kru Jack’s method of hair control always makes me grin.

Amy on the top of the lookout, dreaming of Mr. Willoughby.

And me, probably dreaming about cookies.

The Salawin River

I really wanted to write a poem about the river yesterday.

But while there were words rolling around in my head, they refused to order themselves coherently when I tried to put them on paper.

Perhaps that is because a river is already a poem. And to write a poem about a river is maybe like trying to make a poem of a poem.

Mmmmmm?? Yet Robert Louis Stevenson did it.

I don’t know. Someday I still hope to write a poem about it. But for now, I will just indulge in my fascination with this river.

Amy and I had a day off yesterday since it was the current Queen’s birthday. We took the chance to go to Mae Saam Laep, something we had wanted to do for a while.

Mae Saam Laep is a border town between Thailand and Myanmar located about 47 kilometers from Mae Sariang and is known for its trade with the other side, the other side being “Kawthoolei” ”(meaning “land without darkness) or Karen State. I had it my head that Kawthoolei was just a town in Karen state. I didn’t realize until yesterday that Kawthoolei is Karen State. Mae Saam Laep was evacuated at least once last year when the fighting on the other side came too close for comfort, and in the past shots have been fired on civilians in boats on the river. The village is built oddly, perched precariously on the mountainside above the river. Many people travel to Mae Saam Laep and from there travel by boat on the Salawin River to other more unreachable parts of Thailand and Myanmar.

I already have a fascination with rivers, probably fueled by memories I have of canoeing down the Arkansas River. But when I saw the Salawin river, and started researching more about it, it only increased my fascination.

The Salawin, as I learned from Wikipedia, has its base in the Tibetan Plateau where it is called the Naqu River, meaning “dark and deep.” It flows down through China through Yunnan province, known there as the Nujiang River and nicknamed the “Angry River”. Once it reaches Myanmar, it is called the Thanlwin River, and along the Thai border is known as the Salawin. It eventually flows into the Andaman Sea. The river provides a livelihood for millions of people.

I followed the river on Google maps from its source to where it spills into the ocean, which stirred up my dreams again for all things Tibetan and reminded me of my short trip to Pu’er and Kunming in China years ago.  The river is quite tame by the time it reaches Thailand, as most things are. I feel in my secret soul that whether its mountains or rivers or wildlife, Thailand is mostly just a shadow of China or Nepal. However, that doesn’t take away from my fascination with this river. My dream is to travel to the source in Tibet and follow it all the way down to the Andaman Sea.

But perhaps for now I will keep my teaching job here and start out first with a little boat ride here in Thailand.

A fisherman bringing in his morning catch/
Rain on the river
The sign on other side says, “Welcome to Kawthoolei”. If you look closely you can see a boat in the river, which gives you a bit of perspective on the size of the river.
Amy lost in thought
Again, notice the boat in this picture.

sources:

http://en.chinaculture.org/library/2008-01/08/content_21769.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salween_River

Small

This is the road

It is a ribbon running through the mountains

Glistening black in the rain, fading gray in the sunlight

Checked with yellow, edged in white

Swooping and diving between and around the mountains

Like a swallow homing forever.

The road carries me down into the valley

Into the shade of forest, dusky and dark,

Curving in the lowlands, trapped and winding,

Now, suddenly it flings me arching up, up, up into the heights

Floating on a ridge on the top of the world,

A patchworked world of fields and villages

Some intricate masterpiece quilted by skillful hands;

Along the sunlit crest the road flies until we twist and turn,

Turn down dizzying curves to reach the river

The brown, brown river running swollen from the rain.

The river and the road take me away, and the sun splashes

Through the canopy of wild trees, spilling flickering light on the road

As it moves along the woodlands

Past a pregnant goat grazing by the way, and a field of buffalo,

Past smoke rising gray against the blue and green,

And mountains upholding a bluing sky until a

Sudden flood of rain; and inside my pink raincoat and visor,

I become a kingdom of myself, a muffled, moving, pink kingdom.

But the rain ceases

And a sudden orange of blossoms bursts against the sodden sky

The road is not a ribbon.

It is a gray and yellow asphalt snake, and I am a beetle riding on its back.

(Inspired by my bike trip to Mae Hong Son today (and other trips similar to it)).

A rural gas station. I love places like this to fill up since you usually can have fun conversations with the owner. Photo credit: Abby Martin
Abby Martin and I on a recent trip

Munich, Germany (Vignettes of a Journey #7)

Someday I would like to visit Munich when I am NOT jet-lagged and cold.

On my way back to Thailand, I flew from Wichita to Denver, and from Denver to Munich, Germany, where I had a 13 hour layover. I visited Dachau Concentration Camp and several different churches in Marienplatz area in the city center of Munich.

I told some friends that I would write about my time in Germany and give some details on it, in case anyone else wants to try to do a layover like this. I struggled with knowing what to write and what to omit since I don’t like to post something with thousands of details, and yet when I was preparing for my trip, I found posts like that extremely helpful. So, if you don’t enjoy the details, skip them and enjoy the pictures instead. (Apology: I only had my phone camera which is the budget phone type and does not give very good quality photos either, so just take it as is 🙂 ).

Since I was vaccinated in Thailand and my Thai vaccination certificate was originally not accepted by Lufthansa when I sent it my documents for a pre-boarding check online, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get into the country because of Covid restrictions. When I checked in in Wichita, I was asked for both my vaccination papers and my negative Covid test. In Denver, I was only asked for my certificate, and in Munich when I went through immigrations, the officer did not ask me for either one. So, if you ask me if you need to be vaccinated to enter Germany, I think the answer is yes, but it also probably depends on the officer who stamps your passport.

I had 2 hours of sleep on the flight from Denver to Munich, so I was rather tired the entire time I was there. Ok, rather is too soft a word. It was more like exhausted. When I landed in Germany, upon boarding, I just followed the signs to the baggage claim instead of the signs marked transfer. Just before the baggage claim, I went through immigration. There I gave my passport to the officer. She asked me a few questions and gave me my stamp in my passport. From there, I headed to the bathroom and repacked my bags. I got all the stuff out of my backpack that I needed for my time outside of the airport and then put my backpack into my carry on, taking only my purse with me.

I made a few mistakes, like leaving the airport before stowing my bags that I didn’t want with me. In Switzerland, the place to leave the baggage was just on the other side of the airport, and I was thinking this would be the same thing. Instead, it was inside the airport. For anyone doing the same thing, as soon as you leave customs and the “point of no return” look for signs saying, “Service Center.” Follow those signs and you will find the service center where the guy takes your baggage and gives you a slip and reminds you not to lose it. You will pay when you return to pick it up. The service center closed at 9 PM, so do NOT come back after that hour if you have a flight leaving in the night and need your luggage. It might be a good idea to ask for sure what the closing time is since it might be different from mine.

Next you want to get your ticket. You can actually get this inside the airport, but I got mine in the subway station. I had written out some instructions on what kind of ticket I needed, and was very glad I did so, even though a few more details would have been appreciated. Watch for electronic machines where you get your own ticket. On the screen, tap the flag that stands for English (I assume, if you are reading this blog, you speak English) and then tap the square that says MVV. This will open up the options of the different kinds of ticket that you will need. Choose the Munich Zone M5 ticket, which is also called the Airport City Day pass. Also be sure to get a day ticket, also known as Tageskarten instead of an Einzelfahrtkarten, which is a single journey ticket. If you get the day ticket, you can ride any bus and S-Bahn trams/subways for one full day until 6 AM the next day. (This does not include the regular railroad). If you are traveling by yourself, get a single day ticket. If you are traveling with a group, you can get a group ticket.

The subway entrance is located across from the airport exit. Follow the signs for the S-Bahn, or sometimes it might just be an S logo in a circle. Once you are inside the subway, you will want to get the S1 train or the S8 train to go to Hauptbahnhof (also known as Munich Central Station). Make sure you are taking the train in the right direction. One tip that I found helpful was searching on google maps how to get from the airport to the Munich Central Station via tram. Google maps will show all different stops that you will make. This gave me a bit of assurance that I was going the right way.

I took the S8 subway/tram from the airport to Munich Central station, and then from there took the S2 train (in the direction of Petershausen) to Dachau station. There are also other ways to go there, but this seemed the simplest so I chose that. I did get mixed up in the Munich Central Station and got on the S2 train that was actually going back the way I came, so I had to do it all over again. If you go from Munich Central station to Dachau make sure the sign says Petershausen or Dachau. Or you can ask someone. I felt like in general the trains and the monitors with times and directions were much better marked than the Metro in NYC. I rode the S2 train to Dachau. There I got off the train and, following everyone else, walked under the tunnel and went to the sign that said, Bus 726, which was very clearly marked. To get to the concentration camp, you can also walk along the Path of Remembrance, which marks the same path that many of the prisoners took when walking from the station to the camp. On another less jet-lagged day, I would have preferred taking this path instead of the bus, but knowing that I needed to conserve my energy, I took the bus. The bus stops there at the station for at least 5 minutes and then headed to the camp.

At the camp, I wanted to get an audio guide since I had read that it was worth it, but since I didn’t have any Euros for a deposit, I was not allowed to do so.

Visiting the camp was surreal, but again, I would have gotten more out of it had I not been so tired and cold. In my state of exhaustion I felt very numb and emotionless.

It was worth it, though. Now in my mind, I can see the way the camp looked. It was also a fresh reminder of how quickly human society can disintegrate into brutality. I kept on wondering how I would have responded had I been living in Germany during that time. It’s easy to think that I would have done the right thing, but would I have had the perception and discernment needed, not to mention the courage?

A replica of the door at the entrance of the camp that says, “Arbeit macht Frei.” (Work makes free.)
I understand this area was where roll call took place.
A work of art in the shape of the Nazi symbol
Each time a prisoner entered Dachau, a tally was taken of the items the prisoner owned.
A guardhouse
The washroom
The bathrooms
This was the lane between the barracks. Most of the barracks have been removed except for two that stand as a part of the museum display.

I had originally planned to stay 2 hours, but I was tired and cold. I took the 726 bus back to Dachau station, and from there took the S2 train back to Munich in the direction of Markt Schwaben. Instead of getting off at Munich Hauptbahnhof, however, I went two stations past to Marienplatz.

At the station in Marienplatz, I tried to use the bathroom. I say tried because you needed to pay Euro in order to use it and I didn’t have any. There was a slot to insert a card, but it wouldn’t accept mine. I found this extraordinarily annoying. I mean, when you can’t even find a place to use the bathroom, what kind of day is that?

Climbing the stairs out of the underground Marienplatz station, I was stunned. Suddenly, I was thrust into a world that looked like a snapshot from the 1500s. A drizzle was falling, and sprawling architecture rose up on all sides of me.

Peterskirche, or St. Peter’s Church, was first on my list, so I went there. This church is known for its tower from where you have a beautiful view of the city and can see the Alps on a clear day. However, when I got to the church, a service was going and I couldn’t find the place where you could actually go up to the tower. (Only later did I discover online that there was another entrance I could have tried.) I sat in on the service a bit and had so much fun listening to the German and comparing it to the German I knew.  I caught words like “Barmherzigkeit,” and “ess gibt kein elend….” Many of the words in the sermon were easier for me to catch than the street German I had heard earlier because I grew up reading the Bible in German and listening to it in church.

Part of the reason I didn’t try very hard to go up the tower in Peterskirch was because I wanted to climb the tower at Frauenkirche just as much or more, so I decided that I would do that instead. On my way to Frauenkirch, however, I stopped at a café for some food and coffee, and use a bathroom. The café was packed full, however, and it took me a long time to order and pay and stand in line for the bathroom. I was also reminded how different the German culture is from our culture. I tend to think that because the language is similar to mine, and because we are Caucasian, the culture must be similar. The people seemed much more self-assertive than what I was used to. Everything seemed to simply be 15 degrees different than what I expected. Even the bathrooms were odd, and I found myself getting a little grouchy about some of the differences, until I realized it and gave myself a talking to. After finally getting finished in the bathroom and figuring out how to get the door open again, I ordered some coffee in the café to eat with my cheese bread. The lady who got my coffee spoke only German to me. I could follow what she meant, but found answering harder. When I ordered, she asked me if that was all. I recognized that word, “alles,” and nodded and said, “Alles, ka.” (Ka is a polite word used at the end of a sentence when speaking Thai). After that I decided to simply speak Pennsylvania Dutch in return if they spoke German to me. It seemed every time that I tried to speak German, the Thai part of my brain went into high gear and spewed out words instead. After I got my coffee, I asked if she knew where I could buy an umbrella.

“Oh,” she said, “I have one right here!” So, she sold me an umbrella made of clear plastic that said, “I love Munich,” and I marched out proudly in the rain holding my coffee under my umbrella. I was very happy by now, since the coffee helped with my grumpiness, and I love rain, and what better way to explore Germany than from under an umbrella in the rain?

Me on a temporary boost from the coffee and happy in the rain with my umbrella, which was clear which made it a bit hard to see.

Next, I went to Frauenkirche, but because I had spent so much time buying my cheese bread and coffee and umbrella and trying to figure out how to get in and out of the bathroom, it was already after 4.30 which meant the towers of the church were closed. That made me quite sad. Frauenkirche was much less ornate than Peterskirche. Not too far from there, I also found another church called St. George’s Church. It wasn’t on my list of places to go, but I stepped in anyway. I found this one to be the most beautiful of the three churches I had visited.

The towers at Frauenkirche
The bells at Frauenkirche
Some of the architecture at St George’s Church

I had originally hoped to visit Munich Residenz, which was a former royal palace located not far from Marienplatz, but I was getting running out of coffee and inspiration. As I walked along the street with my umbrella, listening to the church bells and the music from the street bands, it seemed perfect. I love rain and I love umbrellas and old cities with history. But I didn’t want to stay. All I wanted to do was go home and take a hot bath and curl up with a good book and open up my living room windows and watch the rain in Munich from there. Or sleep.

Marienplatz

But I couldn’t go home. So, I went back to the airport. I took the S1 or the S8 back. I am not sure which, but it went without mishap. I slept on the way back and talked with the man on the seat opposite of me who was visiting from England.

I picked up my luggage, and went to my gate early.

*note: one piece of advice. For anyone planning to do a jaunt out of the airport on a Munich layover, or in any other foreign country, the best thing to do is to plan ahead. This may vary according to personality and travel experience, but when you only have a short time in a country, every minute counts and every minute that you waste trying to figure out how to get from one place to the other is one minute less of exploring. This article is by no means an exhaustive commentary on a Munich layover. For more information, google “what to do on a layover in Munich,” and you should have all sorts of articles at your fingertips. On both my Switzerland and Munich layover, I mapped out my route beforehand and how I would get from one place to another and was glad for every single bit of research I had done before entering the country.

Kansas (Vignettes of a Journey #6)

Only in sleep I see their faces,

Children I played with when I was a child.

Louise comes back with her brown hair braided,

Annie with ringlets warm and wild. “Only in Sleep” by Sara Teasdale

Nostalgia is one of the biggest emotions that hit me when I am home. Half of my time at home, I spend reminiscing and walking around old haunts or digging through shoeboxes of letters and photos and school papers. The above poem brings a lump to my throat as I think of my past visit home.

It was a memorable visit, filled with out-of-the-ordinary happenings, not all that were nice.

After traveling home from Reach, I got sick the first week. On the last day of March, it snowed enough to cover the ground and then it all melted by noon. The next week, my nephew fell off his horse and broke his wrist and we had high winds almost every day. The following week was windy again for a few days and then we had some really warm windy weather, along with hail, rain and then again, some snow! The day before Good Friday a gas plant in Haven blew up and some people could see the flames from our area. The last week I was home we had about one nice day, and the rest were cold and windy.

I loved the snow we got, though, even when others were quite glum about it. And there were other highlights to offset the unhappy surprises. My nieces and I took a little trip one day to the library and to the Dutch Kitchen. Sara and I spent a day at a coffee shop together and I also joined her at work one day. Our family got together for Good Friday, and Mom and Dad and Sara and I went out for supper one evening. I got to help at a community sale one Saturday, attended baptism services at our church one Sunday, and listened to a school program the last evening I was home. I visited my grandma’s grave one afternoon. Most Mondays I went with Aunt Miriam to the doctor where she did lab and chemo.

Wednesday evening before I left was a perfect spring evening, and my nephew Eric, the one who had not broken his wrist, and I went horseback riding. We saw 5 turkeys, one deer, and another animal that we decided was either a coyote or a mountain lion, both of which have a tail, a tawny color and a loping run. Both of us hoped it was the latter, but we weren’t close enough to make sure. Friday before I left on Saturday, I went with Grandpa and my Aunt Miriam and Dad to the doctor. In the evening, my nephew Davon, the one who had broken his wrist, came over with his .22 youth rifle and we went bird hunting in 40 mph winds, shouting to each other over the howl. I shot at several birds and was always secretly glad that I hit none. Somehow, shooting things does not have the same appeal as it used to, but I did pray that Davon would hit something and he did.

This time, saying goodbye harder than it had been for a long time. The last two times I had been home, Covid restrictions made it complicated and difficult to travel back to Thailand, so the last few days of my time at home had been spent stressing about travel back. This time was different, with eased restrictions. It was also the first time I was home after grandma’s death. This made it harder to say goodbye to my mom, since she seemed smaller and whiter than before.

Saturday morning dawned rainy. I am always glad when it is rainy the day I leave, since it fits my mood. Before I left, I ran out to the apple tree and cut some blossoms that had just appeared overnight.

And then I left for Wichita in the middle of the endless Kansas wind.

Of Reach and Mennonites and Lancaster and Boxes and Shoo Fly Pie (Vignettes of a Journey #5)

A few days ago, here in Hutchinson, KS, I went with my aunt for her weekly chemo treatment at the local clinic. We were waiting in front of the elevator when the door opened and three elderly ladies disembarked. Upon seeing us, the one immediately exclaimed, “Oh, my ladies from Yoder!” The next one saw us and exclaimed as well, “Oh, I love Yoder. We spend a lot of money in Yoder.” And they chattered away about Yoder without giving either of their subjects the time or airspace to say, “Well, actually, we are not from Yoder. We are from Hutchinson.” (Yoder is a small town about 12 miles southeast of the Hutchinson area. The Amish in that area are more “well-known” by tourists than the Amish in the Hutchinson area).

Anyone from Yoder will quickly correct you if you think they are from Hutchinson. Anyone from Hutchinson will do the same. We are quite different, in our minds anyway. But to the non-Anabaptist outsider, we are basically the same.

I experience the same thing when in Thailand and a fellow American discovers my roots. A common remark is usually similar to this, “Oh, then you must be from Pennsylvania!” And such comments follow such as, “I’ll bet your mom makes the best shoo fly pie.” When I say, “No, I am actually from Kansas, and I don’t think my mom has ever made shoo fly pie,” their brow inevitably wrinkles and they blink several times as if to say, “She is confused by her transplant into Thai culture. She actually is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania and eats shoo fly pie on a daily basis, but she is simply confused.”

Actually, I have only been to Lancaster twice in my life, which would come as a shock to the aforementioned fellow Americans, who consider Lancaster to be the hub of all that is Amish and Mennonite. And it probably is.

My second time in Lancaster was just last month at REACH, which is an Anabaptist missions conference held every 2 years in Lancaster, PA. REACH is a stark reminder of how many different stripes of Anabaptists exist. I should make sure to say that not all the people who attended REACH this year were from Lancaster and I am sure thousands of Lancasterites did not make it to REACH.

I am sure that the ones who organized REACH this year did not do it to show off all the different sub-denominations of Anabaptists that exist. I am sure that they planned REACH in order to give God glory. And it certainly did.

But forgive me if I marvel a little. After spending 7 and a half years in the tropics of Thailand where the sighting of a Mennonite causes no less excitement than a UFO streaking across the night sky on a summer’s eve, it is overwhelming to spend 2 days at a mission’s conference with 2500 Anabaptists.

It is rather like eating 5 meals of pizza after subsisting on rice and spicy minced pork for 2 years.

Or like drinking a gallon of chocolate milk after you have been drinking Pepsi all your life.

Or like reaching a desert island in the middle of the ocean after you have been at sea for 5 years. You should be overjoyed at being on land once more, and you are with one part, but another part of you longs for the jostling of the waves once more.

Doing REACH is especially mind-boggling if you do it while you are jet-lagging after an 11 hour time change. Jet-lag has a way of bringing out the worst in you, whether it is feeling totally void of emotion and energy at 2 in the afternoon, or whether it’s giggling helplessly and immaturely at an ill-timed comment during one of the regular sessions at REACH.

Even with all of the overwhelmingness, I really did enjoy REACH.

The three things I enjoyed most was reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and attending the breakout sessions. I got to stay at my friend Abby’s house, and go out to eat with my childhood friend, Tina. I got to see Judi and Barbara and Diana and Rosa. And I will stop listing names there, because soon I will offend someone for not putting their name on the list.

Then there was meeting new people. People that stopped by the INVEST booth who knew so and so who used to live in such and such a place. People who were friends of a friend, or who had spent time in Thailand years ago, or parents of a friend, like Amy’s mom and Abigail’s parents. I met someone I had been told various times I should meet, and then found out she had been told the same about me.

And the breakout sessions. The general sessions were good too, but the breakout sessions tended to be more informal and specifically tailored. I got to listen to my good friend, Janelle, speak on mentoring young women, and then another good friend, Carolyn, speak on discovering steady joy in a life of following. Another of my favorites was a workshop by Allan Roth, on the advantages and disadvantages of being an Anabaptist on the mission field.

Between all these delights, I sat behind the table at the INVEST booth and watched all the different tribes and kindreds and tongues of Anabaptists stream past and enjoyed talking with some of them. Being on the more conservative end of the Anabaptist spectrum at a mission’s conference has interesting consequences because of the tendency to be put in a box. I find this strangely enervating, and yet at the same time exhausting, since shattering preconceived notions can be somewhat exhilarating and yet you do get tired of jumping out of the boxes that hundreds of people put you in. Can I not just be me and not the box you put my church constituency in? Yet, I realize that Anabaptists thrive by placing people, and figuring them out, and well, putting them in boxes. I do the same and in some ways it is a natural human instinct. One of my teachers once called it a survival instinct.

Once REACH was over, we spent a groggy evening at Janelle’s house and then she drove us back to Abby’s house.

That night I went to sleep dreaming that I was trying to find a breakout session in the church where REACH was held, and using Google maps to find it.

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.