Recently someone asked me what I would say if I were accused of having a “White-Savior” complex. I told them I would reply by saying that I have received much more from Thai people than I have ever given. I have also learned much more from Thai people than I have ever taught them.
I have no way of measuring it, but living in another culture is an education in itself. I have learned hundreds of things over the past 8 years, not even counting the Thai language.
This includes things like learning how to wash dishes Thai style, eating with your spoon and your fork in each hand, cutting things with the knife turned outward (ok, I am not very good at that) and learning the nuances of communication outside of spoken word. (And I am still learning that too).
And then if you count language, I have learned even more. One thing I was reminded of recently when talking with Amy, is how much space language can take up in your brain. We were talking about how we tend to forget some of the simplest English words when speaking Thai. I remember learning about some bilingual theories at Payap from dry Dr. Saber at whose name was horribly mangled by us in both Thai and English. The theories were about bilingual children and whether or not the brain can absorb both languages at once, or if one language is absorbed at the expense of the other, or if you go into modes, like using an English mode and a Thai one.
I can’t remember which theory won out in the end, but if I examine my own brain, I would say that I have several modes. One is English. One is Thai. One is Pennsylvania Dutch. When I am in one mode, it is hard for me to switch to other modes. For example, I might be teaching a low-level English class, so I am speaking Thai. When a student asks me in Thai how to say a certain sentence in English, sometimes my brain freezes and it takes me a bit to think of how to say it in English, if I can think of it at all.
Other times when I am speaking a lot of English, my Thai starts coming out stilted. It seems as if once I am in one mode or the other, it’s hard to immediately switch. This is tremendously exhausting when you are translating for two parties in both languages. More than once, I have caught myself speaking the wrong language to the wrong person.
While I have gained so much and learned so much, a constant battle remains. That battle is to feed myself mentally from quality sources in the English language. I am not talking about a spiritual battle of making sure I get my spiritual food, but more of a battle of reading good literature. Books are scarce here, and although I have a Kindle, I do need to pay for books. Libby doesn’t work for me to borrow books since my home library does not participate. Not only that, coming home tired from a day of school, it takes discipline and energy to read. If I want to learn to write well, I must also feed myself well.
I am hungry. I am hungry to sit in a library surrounded by shelves and shelves of books, books and books. Big fat books with collections of short stories and poems. Books you can touch. I would give almost anything to study at summer term or winter term at Faith Builders and discuss what I am learning with like-minded people. I would love to join in on a book club and attend discussions from knowledgeable people fluent in English. I want to talk about the beautiful things we have read. I love my Thai friends, but our tastes in literature are as far apart as the North and South Pole and few, if any, are fluent enough in English.
But in the meantime, I make do. I read from some high school readers I brought over with me. I find books of poetry on Kindle, some of which are free. I recently discovered Spotify (yes, yes, I am wayyyy behind the times) and discovered that you can listen to poetry on Spotify. I try to follow blogs that stimulate the mind.
This hunger is one reason I like the Curator so much. The Curator is, in their own words, “an organization dedicated to developing a literary conversation with values sourced in the Christian worldview, particularly as Christianity has historically been understood by Anabaptists (but not confined to the Anabaptist community). We want to build a community of writers and readers who inform each other, a culture that recognizes quality and strives to create things of value. Our mission is to provide good content to engage in and to train writers and readers to be able to engage in it.”
I often find myself out of my league here, but I look forward to each Thursday morning when the Curator releases their weekly poem. Not only this, but they also provide the occasional short story or essay, and an annual collection of art, poetry and stories called The Leaf. Last year they had some Zoom seminars, which I actually managed to attend several times, despite the time difference.
Do you have any suggestions for ways to keep my brain mentally stimulated in English, and my mind cultivated when it comes to the arts? Any resources, books, or websites you would suggest? Let me know in the comments!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.