Tag Archives: Friends

Jakajan Hunts and Burmese Refugees

Tonight I write.

The heat of the day has fled with the coming of the darkness. The sky is clear tonight, with a bright moon coming up in the east. I know it is east even though my head tells me it is north.
The last few evenings have been busy, with little time to spare for things like writing. Kru Paeng asked me if I could make cookies for the children for their lunch. Enough so each can have two, she said. That is 160 cookies. By the time I finished four nights of baking, I had the recipe down in my head and cooking over a fire much more efficiently than the first time I did it. No more burnt cookies. Or barely. A brand-new thicker pan donated to the school from visitors on Sunday helped a lot. Still it took a long time to make them, and it didn’t help matters when Captain Joe came over and hinted broadly that he would like some. They were served at lunch this morning and were a hit.

So, now that the cookies are past, I write.

The days are still lengthening, and the heat gets stronger with each passing day. The smoke has lessened which lets the sun’s rays come through. In the afternoon, the teacher’s office which is made of wood gets breathlessly hot. There is not enough electricity generated by the solar panels to run a fan, I guess, so there is not even the comfort of a fan. At night I sleep with the windows wide open, careless to the fact that a loose buffalo might stick its head in the window some night, as it did to a previous teacher. The cats take advantage of the open window and jump in and out during all hours of the night.

Last week I experienced the danger of the mountain slopes for myself. I was planning to visit one of my third grader’s home since she had been begging me to come for a long time. On the way, I stopped to pick up Dauk Gulab, another third grader, and was driving up a hill to the home of another student, Wah Meh, to take her along as well. When I first looked at the slope, it looked doable, but it was longer than I had reckoned. I was driving in 2nd gear on my bike and the engine started dragging. I knew from previous experience that I didn’t want it to stop on me, especially with a rider, so I shifted down into first gear. This was a mistake and I realized it even as I did it. Since I was revving the bike to keep it going in second gear, it now shot up in the front, and we flipped over backwards (or so it seemed. I don’t really think we went over totally backwards but that was the feeling I got.) This was the first time I had ever really dumped my bike on the slopes, even though I had had several very close calls before. What bothered me most was my rider. We were both unhurt and she was cheerily brave about it all, but I felt a lump of guilt and fear gathering in my stomach all evening long. It helped to find out later from Wah Meh that her mom had dumped her bike there as well, and Kru Taum told me that he had run out of steam on the same slope before. There was something funny with my bike now, though, when I shifted. The next day I looked it over and discovered that the bar where you rest your feet had shifted. This was coming in contact with the foot shift when shifting down. Kru Taum led the way to Kai Muk’s house where Kai Muk’s dad brought out a heavy tool and whacked it into place.

The cicadas are here. They come in full blast and their noise in the morning when I wake up around 6 is deafening. They are known to be a delicacy and come at a high price in markets on the plains. One school day I tried fruitlessly to help the 4th graders catch them using nets and plastic bottles on sticks. I didn’t catch even one. The other students crowded around talked all at once, as they usually do, “You want to catch jakajan (cicadas)? Then all you need to do is make a paste out of sticky rice flour and paste it on a piece of wood and then the cicadas will come and stick on them.” This sounded more confusing then ever, but I decided to try it out. Pa De Bue and Itim and Yaut came to help me make the paste. We mixed some sticky rice flour with water and boiled and stirred it until it was a thick, sticky paste. Then carrying the still hot pot between Itim and Pa De Bue, off we went. We started off with their being only about 4 of us, but as we walked down the road to the bridge, we kept on collecting more and more schoolboys, until there were probably about 10 of us altogether. I felt like we should be waving a flag and blowing on a bugle, such was the excitement in the air. First, we marched down to a dry creekbed and spread some paste on pieces of wood and some trees. Sure enough, soon there were some jakajans stuck to the paste. “It’s not enough,” they all proclaimed, so we trekked over a buffalo pasture to another stream where the jakajans had congregated en masse. Again, we pasted the white substance onto sticks and walked along the creek bed, thrusting the sticks into areas where the jakajans sat. Pretty soon, our sticks were buzzing loudly. We had taken along two plastic bottles with some water in them and before we knew it, the bottles were full of very sticky, very disturbed cicadas.
Even though we could have caught hundreds more, we called it quits and headed back to the house. There several of the boys and I washed them and plucked the wings off the creatures. Then we mixed them with some seasonings and Yaut fried up the first batch. They seriously were really good.

The situation across the border in Myanmar gets continually worse ever since the coup in February when the army took over the previous government. Last week, Captain Joe brought over a report in English that the Myanmar consulate had written and sent to the northern parts of Thailand. He couldn’t make sense of it, so I summarized it. Basically, it was a defense of what the Myanmar army was doing in Myanmar against the protesters and those in opposition with the new government. Some people say they can hear the guns sometimes from across the border in Kayah State. The Burmese army has again shut off most of the internet service so those from Saohin who use Burmese sim cards for their internet are now without any service. (We are close enough to the border and far enough away from Thai phone service that many of the villagers, as well as the army camp at the border crossing buy Burmese sim cards for their phone service). This cutoff has resulted in the army officers needing to use the internet provided by the school and the police station. Last week we heard news that 5 important citizens from Kayah State were asking to cross the border into Thailand since they were in danger. In previous years the crossing was simply done but with Covid19 it is a much more serious endeavor. The army allowed them to cross over and right now, the refugees are quarantining in someone’s field. A day or so later, another request was made to allow 30 more citizens cross over. I haven’t heard yet if they would let them or not. I find it very interesting to be at this spot at this point in time. I have followed some of the conflicts in Burma for years and am very interested in the conflicts between the army and many of the minority groups.
I would love to add pictures, but its quite impossible right now with the slow internet.
This coming Saturday is the graduation ceremony. I will be heading down to Mae Sariang on Monday, Lord willing.

Hiraeth* (to my Baanies)

The nights are growing cooler now

You would be wearing socks as you come downstairs in the morning

Hair tousled, to fix your coffee at the kitchen sink

Knocking shoulders in the narrow space between the sink and the ant cupboard

That doesn’t keep out ants any better than it used to;

With only the muffled grunts of coffeeless “good mornings”

Before the clatter of another day.

****************************************************************

I’ve washed the blankets in the living room now.

You would be wrapping them around your shoulders as you sit

Beneath the lamplight in the living room, under the stringed lights,

Where it says “Everyday holds a miracle.”

And if the hot cocoa in our mugs would not keep us warm

The laughter ringing about the house would

I know it would.

*************************************************************

The motorbike rides are colder now.

You would be putting on layers before you leave, bundling up

In scarves and gloves and hoodies, layered beyond recognition

And breezing through the crisp night air with whiffs of woodsmoke

Arising from sleeping homes blanketed in fog

Under the streetlights like sentinels guarding and watching

On your way home.

************************************************************

The nights are growing cooler now….

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*”Hiraeth: a homesickness for a place which you can’t return to or never was. (noun/origin: Welsh/Heer-eyeth) This is a Welsh concept of longing for home — but more than just missing something, it implies the meaning of having a bittersweet memory of missing a time, era or person.” Credit: iamialeen.com

An Alphabet of Chiang Mai (through my eyes)

A is for ants

B is for backpack

C is for church

D is for donuts

E is for episodes ( I couldn’t think of a better word….. episodes meaning occurrences, or happenings at the station. This picture was a hit and run accident, but the poor foreigner driving did not realize he hit the mirror. )

F is for friends

G is for green tea

H is for homework

I is for iced coffee (on the way back from a accident call for which I translated, we stopped for coffee. Usually I don’t do iced coffee, but it was a hot day.)

J is for Jimmy (Jimmy, incidentally, is not one of the guys in the photo, but the little truck that is sort of mine now. Our relationship is well…. complicated.)

K is for Karma. (Karma, simply stated, is the belief that what you do to others will eventually come around to you. While I do not believe in the Buddhist philosophy of Karma following you into reincarnation and you needing to pay in this life for sins in your previous life, I do believe that God rewards us when we do good, and that there are consequences for sin.)

L is for Louie (my classmate at Payap who has become one of my closest friends. Together we laugh idiotically, run through giant sprinklers, explore the border regions of Northern Chiang Dao, drink green tea, hold deep discussions, and make donuts.)

M is for mukata. (a meal made by placing a grill on the table and grilling your meat etc. as you eat. Soooo goood)

N  is for noodles

O is for Obchei (one of the most intriguing characters I have ever met.)

P is for police (the previously mentioned accident when we stopped for coffee)

Q  is for questions (those are all in my head, so no picture)

R is for rallies (You cannot be too careful currently what you say about the rallies in Bangkok right now, so I will refrain from even a picture)

S is for scorpions

T is for twilight

U is for uncles

V is for view

W is for We Club

X is for xenophobia (While I haven’t experienced much, there is some xenophobia in Thailand now because of Covid19. Foreigners are looked at with some fear because people are worried they might carry the virus. Borders between Myanmar and Thailand are being patrolled tightly to keep illegal immigrants from crossing over.)

Y is for Yussi (a friend’s daughter named this cat about 3 years ago. It’s a neighbor’s cat and hadn’t appeared for ages until one evening it meowed at my window. A cat was just what I needed at that moment.)

Z is for zoo (we took our kids club to a mini zoo last Saturday. In some ways it felt like we were the zoo. I have to laugh at Mint’s serious expression in this picture)

Of Stories

I love languages. One of the fascinating things I have found about languages is how after a period of time, some languages lapse into your subconsciousness until one day they randomly poke up without being asked to.

I’ve noticed this with both Pennsylvania Dutch and Thai. At first when I move into an English-speaking only environment, my brain is alert. I speak English clearly and choose my vocabulary carefully. After a few weeks, however, my mind becomes relaxed and suddenly a PA Dutch word or a Thai word will pop out in the middle of a sentence, leaving me apologizing to my listener, especially if they cannot speak the language.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon of knowledge diving into my subconsciousness in more than one way. A few weeks ago, I moved back from Thailand on short notice for about 4 and ½ months to wait out the Covid-19 crisis until my university can open again in August. At first driving on the right side of the road was no problem. As I grew more relaxed, however, I found myself struggling with remembering which side of the road to drive, and made several mistakes because of it. Also, the longer I am home, the more I find myself randomly wanting to “wai” people when I greet them or thank them. (The wai is a greeting in Thailand done by pressing your hands together like you are praying and lifting your hands to face level). It’s like you can stuff those languages and habits into your subconsciousness for a certain amount of time until suddenly they come popping out again.

This, I think, is the same way with stories. Coming home, my world changed drastically. Now that I am back in the states, living like a “normal” American, every now and then memories coming rushing at me unexpectedly. It’s as if my brain stores snapshots of life and then in my subconscious moments flashes them across my mind. The longer I am here in the states, the more they pop up. Sometimes I come to myself, realizing that I have been staring out of the window for the past few minutes, halfway across the world. Some of those memories are hard, hard memories. Others are ones I can laugh at. But all of them bring to me the scent of a country that I love.

How do I share those stories? Stories that seem somehow sacred?

Starting last July, I began working as a volunteer translator at the Mueng Chiang Mai Police station helping with communication between foreign tourists or expats and the Thai police. One day a week of volunteering became two days a week, sometimes three or even four. My time there changed my life more than I imagined it ever would and now many of those stories are submerged in my sub-consciousness. Between this, school, and the teaching ministry on the side, the stories are abundant. Eventually, many of them burrow into my mind, becoming a part of me.

I developed friendships with many new people, some of who I admire and respect wholeheartedly, and others who I love but cannot admire because of some of the things they are involved in.

I sat across from a fourteen-year-old girl, asking her to consider not getting married the next month to her fourteen-year-old boyfriend, and instead finish at least two more years of school, which would get her at least into the 4th grade.

I sat with a man who had found his young friend dead in his bedroom of a suspected drug overdose. I listened and translated for him as his voice cracked with grief as he described the details of walking into the room and finding him dead on his bed. I listened as he talked with his friend’s girlfriend on the phone, beside herself with grief.

I communicated with a British man whose brother committed suicide in Thailand, trying to figure out the complicated details of funeral arrangements. The police report gave details of the death, but it was all in Thai. That was the saddest piece of written translation that I ever did.

I went to court. The first time in my life. My job was to translate for a European man who had tried to pickpocket another foreigner in broad daylight, since he was running out of money. I stood on very shaky legs and translated for him as he received his six-month sentence to a Thai prison. I also got warned twice by court police for sitting with my legs crossed.

I translated for a case in which a girl walked into a supermarket and randomly stole a fruit knife, attempting to carry it out with her as she left. The evening was filled with moments of tension, hilarious laughter, and an odd feeling of camaraderie with both her and the officer, as well as the supermarket employees.

I sat across from a fellow American from a state not too far from my own, and listened to him as in obvious shock, he told me how he found his wife lying lifeless in the kitchen. His beautiful 5 year-old daughter watched him uncomprehendingly as he sobbed. Tears flooded my own eyes when one of the older officers at the station put his hand on the American’s shoulder and tried to comfort him in a language he couldn’t understand.

I sat in the waiting room office of the prosecuting attorney with a Canadian hippie and a Russian lady and listened as they quoted poetry and waited for papers that needed to be signed.

I went with an immigration official and a foreigner who was being deported for having possession of marijuana, a grave mistake in the Kingdom of Thailand.

There are so many, many more stories, many that impacted me deeply, and some that I am not at liberty to share. Tears push my eyelids as I think of them. So many small memories, like the coffee that one officer would offer me whenever he saw me. Or the time I accidentally erased the video games off one of my “uncle’s” computer while trying to help him free up space, much to his chagrin. Or the time I joined my friends in their small flat for a delicious meal and a rousing discussion of the latest police news, the same friends who accompanied me to the airport to see me off in March.

These are the stories that God has given me, and yet they are more than stories. I share them, not to boast about my experiences, but because they so much a part of me and who I have become. They are people, lives, friends, souls. Some people I see only once, for a few fleeting minutes or hours. I have failed many times in reaching out to them, but I pray that the presence of Jesus inside of me will give them an awareness of God as they leave.

The pain of loving and losing is intense, but I am richer for it.

Souvenirs

Do not tell me, please,

That I have memories left to be my souvenirs

These are not souvenirs.

Souvenirs you put in a box on the top shelf of the closet behind the winter blankets

Where ten years later you pull them out and dust them off

To laugh over and touch and remember

And perhaps

Shed a tear or two.

 

Do not tell me, please,

To be glad for the memories.

Memories are good, but these, these!

These are not just leftover scraps of life,

But pulsing, moving, breathing

Faces and names and lives and places

Woven into the fabric of my being.

No, they cannot be boxed up

Or fitted into photos,

Slotted into albums,

And then stored away and lost

Like the postcards in the greeting card boxes

Buried behind the 4th grade A Beka math book.

 

Do not tell me, please,

To forget the past

And simply move on.

Five and a one-half years of life

Lived unstopped and unfettered

Are not just old scribbled journals

Or letters from some forgotten lover

To be conveniently shelved in the attics of memory,

Put out of harm’s way and where they can do no harm

Not even for only 5 months on this side of the Pacific.

 

No, that would be shelving me

And I am not a souvenir

Child Bride

I asked her if she loved him. She said yes,

Her nut-brown hands clasped in her lap

Hands that instead of scratching sums and wiping

Chalkboards of the second-grade classroom

Would soon be cradling sons and daughters and

Threading flowers to sell at the intersection

On smoggy March days

 

She asked me if I had someone. I said no,

But I didn’t tell her of the cloud of pain that

Hovered over me or the knife that still pricked my heart

She wouldn’t understand why anyone would put

A knife into their own heart

 

I wondered if she knew what love was. But I didn’t ask,

She felt sorry for me that at 29, more than twice as old as her

I did not yet know love as she did

(What she did not know was that I knew love,

But only the kind you let go

Even if it meant turning the point of the knife)

 

We wondered what the other was thinking. But we didn’t ask,

The table and a world between us,

The dirt floor swept clean

Open windows, a motorbike droning somewhere,

Smoke from a fire wafting through the room

Time frozen

Only a smudge caught in the air

 

January 28, 2020

Duet of Words

Woven through each day like colors in the rain, the words

Couple together in a sheen of mist, these two words.

 

And when the pain throws its curtains gray over the world

Its anguish cloaking, I do not despair; I know the words.

 

For when its shadow lifts, the rain throws light like prisms

Into the sky where I catch them as they fall; these words.

 

These two words spell out my days; each gives wings to the other

Piercing through the rawness– alive, quivering, these two words.

 

For my name is Rung*, and when grief comes stealing through the rain

I know hope follows. It will, for I know these two words.

 

*Rung (รุ้ง) is my Thai name meaning rainbow

This is a Ghazal, written for my poetry and drama class. A ghazal is originally an Arabic form of poetry, must have 5 or more couplets, ends its couplets with the same words, and includes the name of the author in the final couplet.

Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay 

Grief

Who am I anymore?

I’m not sure.

I thought I knew who I was. On the about page of this blog I confidently wrote about who I felt myself to be.

I thought I went through this identity crisis 4 or 5 years ago when I first moved to Thailand. I thought I worked through it again three years ago that month I went home in October. I thought I processed who I was when I started college two years ago.

I wanted to write, to blog, for quite a while to dump out my feelings. But I didn’t trust myself. I’m still not sure if I do.

The month of November was anything but normal. Because of some things I believe and some of the values I hold, I had to say some really hard things to someone I cared for. It was like holding a knife to a living part of me. It hurt. Like crazy. I cried like never before and slumped into a blurred sort of depression. I started doubting my identity. I started doubting what I believed.

And then I got really mad at God.

I’m ashamed to say the reasons. But I asked God why he even let me hold these values like this? Why did He give me these convictions? Why did he let good things come into my life and then snatch them away? Why did He put me in this place at this time? Wouldn’t it have been much less painful if He hadn’t? What would it be like to be a “normal” person? Why did I have to say things I didn’t want to say?

Then one evening when gathered with friends, on a day I was feeling especially angry, a friend shared a poem and a verse with us. The poem was about how God sends people into your life, each person for a reason. It talked of how we are at a certain place at a certain time for a reason. And then he read off the verse from Esther 4:14 where Mordecai tells Esther, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Esther wasn’t a normal person either. Maybe she wished she hadn’t come from the place she did, or carried the convictions she did. Maybe she wished that she could just be like the people around her. When she came into that palace, I’m sure she doubted whether she was at the right place at the right time. Maybe she loved someone else before she married the king. Maybe she got mad at God too.

I would have.

But God placed her, uniquely her, in the palace at just the right time. If she would have denied her values and her people, her story would have been vastly different. Thousands of people would have died.

As for myself, I still don’t understand why this had to happen. I don’t know if I ever will.

But maybe, maybe I can start believing that God lets each thing happen for good and for a reason. Maybe I can start trusting that God is good and He knows what He’s doing. Maybe I can start believing that the plan He has in mind is much better than anything I could have imagine.

It still hurts. But maybe I can at least start.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

The Chiang Mai Expat Dictionary (Specifically Conservative Anabaptist Oriented)

Sometimes we experience things that we simply have no name for. Craig Thompson, who blogs at Clearing Customs, wrote about “In-flightisms.” This inspired me to come up with my own lexicon of words that describe specific people, places or things in Chiang Mai. Here are seven new words I have coined.

  1. Farangogation: the interrogation that occurs on the first meeting of a Thai person and a Farang. “Can you speak Thai?” is usually the first question asked. If the answer is yes, and usually only then, the interrogation proceeds. How many questions are asked is usually dependent on the Farang’s Thai speaking ability. The more they are able to answer clearly, the more questions are asked. If the first questions bring undesirable results, the last questions are usually left unasked.
    1. Where are you from?
    2. How long have you lived in Thailand?
    3. Where do you live in Chiang Mai?
    4. Can you speak Northern Thai?
    5. What kind of job do you have?
    6. Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend?
    7. How much do you pay for rent?
    8. Do you teach English?
    9. Can you eat Laab? (substitute Laab for Somtam or another very spicy food)
    10. Are you half-Thai?

Questions in a farangogation are usually directed by a group of Thai people at one farang. Questions are asked in rapid-fire succession, leaving the foreigner little breath to answer. A farangogation is usually held in order for Thai people to be able to analyze the farang’s “expatnicity” or in some cases “foreignicity.”  Farangogations can occur anywhere without previous notice, for example, at police checkpoints, at fruit stands, at gas stations.

2. Foreignicity: The type of foreigner in Thailand. Usually foreignicity can be divided into two categories: expats and tourists. The most common identifying factors are noticed while driving the roads of Chiang Mai. Characteristics of tourists will be as follows: sleeveless shirts and short shorts, shiny, smooth helmets with the names of rental shops, riders holding smartphones or selfie sticks, and lots of white skin and long legs.

3. Expatnicity: This is similar to foreignicity, but differs in that expatnicity concerns foreigners who live in Thailand for an extended period of time. Examples of different types of expatnicity may be but are not exclusive to: Old white men with young Thai girlfriends, rich retired divers, homeschooling missionaries driving Avanzas, young, single English teachers, university students seeking an experience, restaurant operators and more.

4. Whistutter: A quiet, almost inaudible type of voice employed by busy English teachers when asked in public what their job is. The whistutter is used in case someone with children wanting to study English privately is in earshot. The whistutter rarely works.

5. Mennusters: Not to be confused with clusters of men, this is what you call the group of Mennonites that gather at the Chiang Mai International Airport to say goodbye to staff leaving permanently. These Mennusters form long before boarding time and disintegrate in trickles. They can be identified by the long dresses and head veilings the ladies wear, as well as  cameras, forlorn looks, groups posing for pictures, and farewell cards.

6. Terrapinack: A unique kind of backpack used by teachers who commute to their job by motorbike. This backpack is classified only as a terrapinack when it used to transport everything that is essential to the teacher’s life. Certain items stay in the terrapinack permanently, for example eye drops, billfold, phone, pens, socks, tissues, Thai vocabulary lists, planners, and sunglasses. The terrapinack is so called because it is similar to that of a turtle’s shell—it goes everywhere the teacher does. When terrapinacks are lost, teachers may automatically go into a frenzy of anxiety, exude excessive sweat or completely faint away.

7. Tingutch: A form of language that has evolved among speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch who currently reside in Chiang Mai. The language contains structures and similarities of Pennsylvania Dutch, English and Thai. One sentence can contain words or structures from 2 or 3 of these languages. An example of a sentence may be: “Ich bin puuting pasa English and you still can’t versteh me!” (I am speaking English and you still can’t understand me!) According to Ethnologue, linguists predict that in approximately 20 years, the language will be established in Chiang Mai as a language of its own.