Tag Archives: Mae Hong Son

Life in Saohin

It’s amazing how humans can adjust. Take for example, the ability to adjust to things like squatty potties and cold dip showers in the middle of the cold season. I’ve experienced those before, but in the past few years, I have become someone who really, really enjoys hot showers, and even more than that, hot baths when possible. Also, the longer I live in Thailand, the wimpier I get when it comes to anything cold.

So for me, one of the challenges of coming on my internship in a village called Saohin in Mae Hong Son province was cold showers. The very thought of them made me shudder and I indulged in hot baths in Chiang Mai as long as I could. (Amazingly enough that rickety house even had a bathtub!)

When I arrived in Saohin the third of January to do my internship (the last step before I graduate), I realized there was more to adjust to than squatty potties and cold dip showers, but those other things are harder to pinpoint and measure my progress. Sometimes I still cringe and hold my breath and gasp as the water cascades over my back, but for the most part, I think little of it. The squatty potties themselves never really scared me. It was more the lack of toilet paper…… And I am getting used to that as well.

So, I marvel at what we humans can adjust to when we need to. Given the choice, we often prefer to stay with our old habits and routines, but it is extremely beneficial for us to be jolted out of our safety zone once in a while.

I’ve been here at the village for about a week and a half. I am still adjusting and there are still fears I battle at times. Fears like, what if I am faced with some kind of ethical dilemma and fail God. What if I do something that angers the other teachers? I am slowly learning to shoot down these fears with God’s word and focus on Him, reminding myself that even though I feel very alone in the village, He is here with me.

Adjusting takes energy too, I realize. At first, just getting up in the morning and figuring out how to live and where things belong and what my next move should be left me panting. I gave myself grace that first week when at 8:00 pm I felt exhausted and ready to flop into bed (even though no flopping is done on this bed. I might break a bone).

In the past week, I have had a full schedule of English teaching to the school children. They are delightful to teach. Far from perfect, they are a group of very lively, yet shy students, who are not addicted to cell phones. This non-addiction works wonders for their concentration and retention skills. These are forest-born children who know how to find minnows in the streams and weave baskets better than they know how to introduce themselves in English. Yet at the same time that I am teaching them, I find myself learning hundreds of things I never knew were there to learn.

Every day I need to write reports for my intern advisor. The first slot is for, “Things I learned.” I often find myself stuck at this point. I learn hundreds of things every day, but most of those things don’t really have anything to do with an English Communication degree.

Things like….

  • How to build a fire to boil the water for the coffee in the morning. You stack and lean the little pieces of kindling onto a larger stick and you light one small piece and hold it UPSIDE DOWN and stick it in there. You also have to scrape out the ash from the fire before, or there won’t be air for it to breathe. If you want it to light very quickly, you use a piece of pine wood.
  • How to boil rice on an open fire. First you need to wash the rice, and then pour out the water. You might need to wash it again. You then guess the amount of water and rice, but make sure there is plenty of water. You pour the rice into boiling water on the fire and then stir it until the outside is soft but the inside is still a little hard. You then pour out the water and put the kettle back on the fire and close the lid for it to finish steaming.
  • How to catch minnows in a stream. You walk from downstream to upstream with a net and carefully overturn rocks and catch the minnows in your net as they escape.
  • How to make field rats for lunch. I only saw the part where you hold them over the fire and scrape off the skin as it roasts, and then you gut them. I didn’t see the later part where they cut them into pieces.
  • How to see if the greens beside the stream are the ones that you can eat or the ones that make you dizzy.
  • How NOT to say a certain Karen word that I thought was the word for “book” but was a word for a certain unmentionable body part.
  • How to say the names of over 60 students, some of the villagers and some of the policemen from the nearby station.
  • How to wash your clothes by hand. I’ve done this before, but not on a regular basis. I still try to wash them while no one is watching to see how the funny farang does it.
  • How to live with a minimal amount of privacy. My room happens to be directly off the kitchen, which is where any cooking, socializing, or work goes on…..
  • Learning about a new drink I’d never had before called Green Mate. It’s a sweetened coconut juice that is refreshing on a sultry day.
  • I’ve learned how to go to bed early and get up early. It’s not unusual for me to be in bed by 9 PM which is a miracle in Chiang Mai.
  • How to make fried eggs Thai style. I never knew so much oil goes into Thai cooking.
  • How to sit on your bed so you don’t fall off. Honestly, this should not have happened on my bed at all, since it is quite a big bed with plenty of room. It has mosquito netting wrapped around the side. Each of the 4 corners of the netting is tied to nails on the 4 corners of the room. I was sitting on my bed doing work on my laptop, then I closed my laptop and leaned back against a pile of blankets and stretched. To make the stretch better, I lifted up my legs clad in PJ’s and stuck them in the air. Somewhere along the line, my center of gravity shifted, the blankets receded from my back, and my legs went up over my head and I found myself sliding head first on my back off my bed. To make it worse I had a round clothes hangar with clips for laundry hanging on the rope that held the mosquito netting. The net, the hangar and I landed on a confused muddle on the floor. I lay for about 2 minutes helpless with laughter on the floor, wrapped tightly between the bed and the mosquito netting and trying to figure out how to get up without tearing my precious netting. I don’t know when I have laughed so long and helplessly, and at the same time, trying to keep it quite so no one else in the house would hear me. Once I was able to inspect the damage, only the one string that held the netting was broken, and that was quickly fixed, much to my relief. I didn’t want to explain to the other teachers why I needed to buy a new mosquito netting.

I am not finished learning and adjusting yet. I still have a long way to go, but it feels good to have some adjustments behind me. Instead of moving to another province it feels like I am in a different country and time zone. It feels like years since I rode my bike among the streets of Chiang Mai and ate TomYum noodles at Lung Chang’s restaurant and sat in on a class at Payap. It’s also hard to believe that it’s been a week and a half since I’ve had a lengthy, intelligent conversation with anyone in English. At the end of the month, we will take a week off and drive to Mae Sariang for our breaks. I had planned to return back to Chiang Mai for a visit, but will likely not do so because of Covid19.

This gives me a good month for adjustments before a week in town. If I learn as much in the next two weeks as I did in the first two, I will be one happy person.

*note. I would love to add photos to this post but the temperamental wifi won’t handle it for now.

The Stuff of Dreams

Maps are the stuff of dreams-

The remains of journeys past

The visions of journeys to come;

Whispering of woodfire smoke in early morning mist,

Of roosters crowing in crisp mountain air,

Of smiles flashing in dark faces.

They speak of vistas that lie beyond, beyond

Of mountains where unknown fires burn,

And roads that run like veins in twisted valleys.

Maps, they are the stuff of dreams.

The Road to Saohin

The road to Saohin is rough and steep.

Saturday, February 1, six years after my initial decision to move to Thailand, was the first time I traveled the road to Saohin. And probably not the last.

On Friday January 31, I drove to Mae Sariang, a town in Mae Hong Son 5 hours away that I am quickly learning to love. The drive there, though long, was relaxing, and there was a sense of adventure and hope and “this is a day off of school” that I felt in the air as I drove. I stopped in a pine forest and took off my shoes and enjoyed the spicy smell of pines, making me think of both Sara Teasdale’s “pines, spicy and still”(Stars), as well as the words: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep” (Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, Frost).DSC00696DSC00685DSC00711

I arrived in Mae Sariang around 5 and checked into my hotel. I left several times, once to buy food, once to go to a coffee shop, and once to chase down a song I heard wafting over loudspeakers.

The next morning I went to Saohin. They had told me the road was bad and life was rough there. Would I come look at it first before I would decide whether or not to do my 3 month college internship there? Could I come Saturday?

So I went with the teachers who had come down to the city for the day to run errands and pick up some other things besides this odd farang who wanted to live in the mountains. Aside from the fact that I spent the first two hours sniffing mentholatum in a desperate effort to keep my lunch of noodles from reappearing, I loved the trip up. After the first 61 kilometers, a rest, one little drammamine pill, and 20 children piling on the back of the truck, we tackled the final 37 kilometers. It took two hours (during rainy season it can take many more), crammed into a double cab pickup with 4 other people. I got to know them. And I like them.

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Saohin was small, with a school, a police station, a temple and a few houses, more like a wilderness outpost than a true village. They said a church was up the road a bit in another village. Most of the 80 plus children come from other villages to study at Saohin.

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(photo credit: กรุงเทพธุระกิจ) Sometimes this even happens, according to the news.

We went to Burma on Sunday, crossing over the border passport-less about 3 kilometers from Saohin. We toured some places, ate some sweet desserts and came back.

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No phone service exists for most of the 98 kilometers from Mae Sariang to Saohin. Electricity is brought to the village via a few solar panels, but most daily work is done without the aid of electricity. Most of the cooking is done over an open fire, and washing is done by hand. No refrigerators exist.

I came back to Mae Sariang on Sunday night, mulling my experiences in my mind. Three months. Could I handle it for three months? Maybe.  More than that? I don’t know.

There are always those times when the dreams we dream start to become true, and reality hits us like the freezing splash of water of the dip shower I took on Saturday night in the teachers’ house. And odd little things start niggling at our minds. Can I give up my midnight habit of eating cornflakes each night? (no fridge= no milk.) Take cold showers? Live with no phone service?

But when I came back down, pictures of the village kept flashing through my mind. And I KNOW it sounds cliché, but a piece of my heart was left there in that dry mountain forest on the western edge of Mae Hong Son. And I knew I wanted to go back.

But the road to Saohin didn’t start on Saturday, Feb 1 when I left Mae Sariang. It didn’t even begin on Friday, when I left Chiang Mai. Or even when I started looking for an internship, searching through Google maps and finding places that became further and further away.

Perhaps it began one day under a little thatched roof when two of my friends and I were dreaming about what we would do when we would get “big.” I never thought the things we wrote down that day would actually become true.

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Perhaps it started the day I traveled with the CMCC youth group to a Karen village in Doi Dtao, Chiang Mai, up roads similar to those of Saohin.

Perhaps it started February 1, 2014, when I made my decision to move to Thailand. Or perhaps the day I signed up to go to IGo.

Perhaps not. Perhaps the road to Saohin began when I was in the 5th grade and listening to the speaker with the funny Carmel name talk about her experiences in South America. Perhaps it started when my teacher gave me the book Peace Child to read. Perhaps it started when I picked up my history book and started learning about far away countries with odd sounding names.

Perhaps it started one day on the sandpile underneath a bunch of green ferns when I prayed to give my life to Christ.

I don’t know. But I do know that “road leads on to road” (Frost). I know that it looks like Saohin will be my home for three months starting hopefully sometime in June, with week long trips to Mae Sariang once a month. But that doesn’t mean the road to Saohin leads to my final destination. Perhaps the road to Saohin is only a road that eventually leads to other roads.

I don’t know. But a sense of deep joy and expectation fills me as in my mind’s eye I look up that road, winding, muddy and steep, to what lies ahead.

Thank you, Jesus.

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December

Christmas break from school has been many things. Relaxing, no. But interesting, educational, and enlightening, yes. It’s hard to believe that I am in my third week of Christmas break already.

I had been hoping to be able to get into one of the refugee camps along the Thai/Burmese border over my Christmas break. This has been a dream of mine for a long time, but I’ve never had the time off long enough to do it, whether it was time off from work or from school. This didn’t work out for this break, though, so I was left with a variety of other options.

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One of my first ideas was to make donuts to sell over my Christmas break. Has it been successful? Not sure how to answer that question. Yes, I have made some money, but it’s been more tiring than I expected. However, it’s been delightfully refreshing to my brain to be able to do something with my hands while letting my brain wander, pray, or listen to poetry or music.

Then there was our Christmas party with our Thai cell group from church. We had it at our house and invited friends outside of the group, played some games, shared a short version of the Christmas story, and ate tons of amazing food.

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I also picked up several hours of teaching during the break. A friend knew of a young woman who was wanting to study English. Next one of her friends wanted to study as well. So, along with some of my regular teaching, I also had some extra one on one teaching. I have loved getting to know these students; they are young ladies who are very interested in learning English and are lots of fun.

My friend Amy is back visiting in Thailand too, after moving home last year. Getting to see her again and have some good chats with her have been fun.

There are several highlights that especially stand out from my Christmas vacation. It’s not over yet, so some more highlights might still pop out. However, in looking back, I can almost narrow it down to three main favorites: the EMA student graduation, my trip to a Kachin village in Northern Chiang Dao with a college friend, and a 4 day bike trip into the mountains that my sister and I did. I hope to blog more extensively about these in the next week or so, so look for some posts on these in the future.

But for now, here are a few peeks of photos.

EMA graduation:

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Baan Mai Samakki, the only Kachin village in Thailand:

Dten Rom Manao is a festival that happens once every several years.

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Not far from the Kachin village is a Chinese village, Arunothai, about 15 minutes from the Thai/Burmese border. While these people live in Thailand, their children’s first language is Chinese and they still practice many aspects of Chinese culture. Below is a boy from that village.

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My friend’s grandfather beside their fire.

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A sister trip from Chiang Mai city to Doi Intanon, to Khun Yuam to Mae La Noi, and from there to Mae Chaem:

Coffee made on the fire at Baan Mae Klang Luang, a Karen village on Doi Intanon.

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Drinking more coffee on Doi Intanon.

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A sister shot early in the morning as mists were rising from a valley close to Mae La Noi, Mae Hong Son.

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On a morning jaunt through the mountains of Mae Chaem at the Karen homestay on the last day of our trip.

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