Tag Archives: Thailand

A Bit of the Journey

A friend of my mom’s who used to live in Kansas recently reached out to me after coming across my blog. One of the questions she asked was about my journey in coming to Thailand, as well as my journey in writing poetry. I had already been tossing ideas about in my mind in relation to writing about the latter topic, and her suggestion got my mind rolling. What exactIy got me started writing poetry, or writing in general? It’s hard to say. Books, events, people, words of encouragement, God… all these things. Perhaps explaining in depth about all the details of what poetry means to me and how I began writing poetry would sort of be like taking all the beauty and mystery out of the story, like Carl Sandburg said. He said, “Roses, sunsets, faces have mystery. If we could explain them, then after having delivered our explanations we could say, ‘Take it from me, that’s all there is to it, and there’s no use your going any further for I’ve told you all there is and there isn’t any more.’ If poems could be explained, then poets would have to leave out roses, sunset, and faces…” Perhaps if every detail of our journey could be explained then it would lose its mystery. All that to say, here are a few bits and pieces of the journey.

In the first grade, I published my first essay. Miss Denise told me to write about our hobbies as a contribution to the school newspaper. Not only were we supposed to write about our hobbies, but we were to write why we liked to do them.

Mine went like this:

I like to bike.

I like to eat.

I like to sleep.

I like to bike because I like to.

 I like to eat because I get hungry very fast.

I like to sleep because then I don’t have to work.

Brutally honest and to the point. (Some of my editors probably wish I would practice some of that “to the pointness” again.)

In the second grade, I got in trouble with my teacher, who happened to be my cousin as well. I didn’t hear my class of 3 called to the table for our lesson, because I happened to be happily lost in a book, probably something like Dan Frontier or the Mr. T.W. Anthony Woo, or (shudder) the Hardy Boys.

I had to stay in at recess and put my head on my desk as a punishment.

In the third grade, I wrote a story. It was read aloud to the class and published in the school newspaper. It was of slightly better quality than my first-grade venture and was something about a boy who went on a hunt with his uncle.

In the fourth grade I got a new teacher. To the embarrassment of my older siblings, I again had hearing problems when I was lost in a book. Mr. Wes was slightly more understanding than the other teacher. Instead of punishing me, he came to my desk and got my attention. That was the year we had the new history books with the colorful, fascinating pictures of the American History. The history books were the frame for the historical fiction and the autobiographies that were donated to the school and devoured by my classmates and I.

In the 5th grade, my teacher set aside a class period each week for Creative Writing. During this time, we did all sorts of writing exercises, including one about a dinosaur wearing pink pajamas. We wrote descriptive paragraphs and stories and got feedback on our writing. The word counts of our stories rose along with the lists of ideas in our stories. Where at first 500 words had seemed insurmountable, we now found that it wasn’t enough to say what we wanted to say. The most popular topics were stories of the Underground Railroad and runaway slaves. My brother’s stories usually included either cattle rustlers or American Indians or cops and robbers or detectives or all of the above.

In the 6th grade, I started to care about my grades and began to pour myself into school. I especially looked forward to the Creative Writing each week. Close to the end of the year, we entered some of our stories into the local library’s writing contest and I was dumbfounded when the librarian called and said that I had won second prize for my age group.

7th grade brought Rainbow Writing. Finally, I was away from Climbing to Good English and diagramming long, dry sentences and labeling adjectives and adverbs, and instead, let loose on creative assignments. We formed groups with the 8th graders and had Peer Editing Conferences. I struggled emotionally that year and found that writing could help me release and process. I think that was the year that we started being penpals with students from Sterling College. My pen pal was Rachel Wise, and I adored her. I found an outlet in writing to her, and to this day wish I could see those letters again. I started writing some poetry and was introduced to the names and work of some of the great American poets like Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe when I wrote a research paper on American Literature. Emily of New Moon and the Chronicles of Narnia became favorites of mine and influenced these early years of writing. That year I penned a poem called “Echo Dreams,” which was published anonymously in the school newspaper.

8th grade brought the Lively Art of Writing by Lucille Payne. I loved everything about that book. October also found my class of three sitting in John Mast’s living room. The first day I found out that we were going to write a book compiling his stories, I lay down on my mattress and tried to soak it in. It seemed unbelievable to a 13 year old. That year we read through the A Beka Themes in Literature book, and the poetry in that book came alive for me like never before. Poems like, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and Longfellow’s The Day is Done are some of my favorites.

 Life in the 8th grade was less tumultuous than 7th grade. It was full of promise and hope and I was incredibly sad when it ended. 8th grade marked the last of my school career (at that point) but I wasn’t ready for it to stop. I seriously imagined refusing to take my diploma on graduation day. (But then again, I imagined a wide variety of things).

After I left school at the age of 13, life was no longer marked in grades, but in years. 14 and 15 found me at home, mostly milking cows and memorizing lists of cow genealogies and sire attributes and the names, birthdates, and histories of every single cow. Without school, my brain had a lot of thinking space and needed something to stay busy. Thankfully, cows were interesting to me or I cringe to think of what else I would have swallowed up had I access to other things. I started to read through our set of encyclopedias but only made it to page 76 of the A book. I dreamed of writing a book and wrote out some plots but I rarely made it past the hatching stage of the story. Poetry was easier since you could do it in small amounts and then come back and rework it. Also, I am bad at grammar, and poetry gave me more poetic license than prose.

Around the age of 14 and 15, I began reading my Bible daily, especially books like Job and Isaiah and the Psalms in the KJV. The Word slowly began to influence my life more and more, and I would read it for the beauty of the words. Who wouldn’t fall in love with words like this? “And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me.” (Isaiah 49:2 KJV)

16 was the year I could finally join the youth group at church and have a social life. It brought a lot of growing pains and secret crushes and joy and heartache. I began reading and writing more poetry as a way of expression. Shortly after my 16th birthday I discovered Tennyson’s “Sweet and Low” and would recite parts of that and the “Charge of the Light Brigade” to my horse as I rode down miles of outback roads that summer. Like the verses in the Bible that I had discovered, I fell in love with the simple uncluttered rhythm and beauty of “Sweet and Low.”

Sweet and low, sweet and low,
         Wind of the western sea,
Low, low, breathe and blow,
         Wind of the western sea!
Over the rolling waters go,
Come from the dying moon, and blow,
         Blow him again to me;
While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps.

While outsiders view Kansas as one of the most boring states in the USA, many Kansans are proud and appreciative of the unique beauty of their state. Whether it’s the seas of golden wheat, or the burnt orange and browns of the CRP, or the barren beauty of winter or the wind that Kansas was named after, I found my surroundings a goldmine for inspiration for poetry. Capturing the spirit of the prairie almost became an obsession at times. At 16 I penned “Dust and Wind.”

Wind, wind, endless wind

Fleeting o’er the fields

Dancing in, flying in,

One long roaring wave.

Roaring wave of dust and wind,

Of dust and wind,

Of dust and wind.

Whirlwind of the land

In one unceasing blow

Sweeping lanes and in each hand

One unending broom

Unending broom of dust and wind

Of dust and wind

Of dust and wind

Wind, wind, blowing wild

And talking to me now

Talking to its lonely child

Daughter of the wind

Daughter of the dust and wind,

Of dust and wind

Of dust and wind

I felt deeply, and still do, about death. The death of relatives, people from our church, and the parents of friends hit me hard. In 2011, I wrote this poem after a friend’s father was killed in a tractor accident, and another friend’s mom passed away after being attacked by a bull.

No Words

She’s gone

Like a fragment from a weaving torn

Leaving you who have felt the sorrow born

Through ripping, tearing pain

And we grasp for words that are old and worn

And suddenly seem vain

I have no words.

They fail me when I see the sorrow

The endless aching of tomorrow

Stretched out over the years

I have no words that I can borrow

Only tears.

When I started teaching part time at the age of 20, I felt like I had found my happy space. My only disappointment was when my students weren’t always as excited as I was about the writing projects I assigned. As I taught English, I also began to get much better at it myself. That Christmas I read Jesse Stuarts The Thread that Runs so True for the first time. At 21, I had the opportunity to go to Faith Builders for summer term. As I had written about in this post here, I sat in on Jonas Sauder’s Poetry Appreciation class, which was the first time I really had a lot of interaction with other people who knew and loved and wrote poetry more than I did. It was there that while homesick, I wrote the poem, “Harvest Song.”

Harvest Song

And I must go down to the fields again

Through the shimmer of summer heat,

And walk through the waves of deepening gold

The oceans of ripening wheat;

Then I’ll stand on the edge where the grass still grows

Green by the amber shore,

And feast my eyes with a fierce wild joy

For the harvest is once more.

And I must go to where the sky is pinned

To the earth like an up-turned bowl

Where the hot wind sighs its searing breath

Against my face, and I’ll feed my soul

By the wide expanse of dying wheat

That moves and ripples and flies

And sings the song of my native blood

Harvest beneath the Kansas skies.

The next year at school, I did a poetry week with my students. At the end, I let the students choose a poem to recite at our program on the last day of school. It was interesting to see how each student chose a poem that seemed to fit their personality. Davy chose “The Turkey Shot Out of the Oven” (Jack Prelutsky), humorous and well-written. Micah stood at the front of the audience and recited innocently and soberly while his stick-out ears and wayward hair belied his innocence,

I did not eat your ice cream

I did not swipe your socks.

I did not stuff your lunch box

With rubber bands and rocks

I did not hide your sweater

I did not dent your bike

It must have been my sister

We look a lot alike

(I Did not Eat Your Ice Cream, Jack Prelutsky)

Javin read “Little Brown Pony” with a bridle in hand. And Jessamy in first grade recited,

The fog comes

on little cat feet

It sits looking over harbor and city

on silent haunches

And then moves on.

(Fog, by Carl Sandburg).

I started talking with friends about the possibility of publishing a book of poems. I had seen some compilations that sparked the idea, and after a few years of thinking about it, self-published a book of poems called Echoes of Eternity. Beulah Nisly, my mom’s cousin, agreed to donate her photography to the book. I have sweet memories of the fall of 2012, selecting the photos and discussing poetry. Her photos were exquisite and evocative. She captured Kansas in such a way that sometimes it felt like it would be better to leave the poem out.

The book came out in the spring of 2013, just a week or so before I traveled to Thailand the first time. Bad timing. Could I do it over again, I would do many things differently. One of those things would be finding someone to edit it more critically, but I had few of those kinds of mentors to turn to.

After moving to Thailand in 2014, I kept on writing, but perhaps more sporadically. During my college years I struggled with writing academically because I felt encased in rules and regulations. I hated it. College and living in another culture took a lot of brain energy, so there were times when I wrote little poetry. In December of 2019, however, I compiled a “tradebook” of poems, which was much less ambitious than my first venture, (I had more sense and less money) but with better quality poetry. This I titled, Through a Glass Darkly.

There you are, a taste of where and why and how I came to write poetry. I think I used to write poetry as a young girl because I loved the cadence and the imagery and the thrill of being able to take an event or a feeling and express it in words that touched my own heart. As I grew older, I wrote it more prayerfully. These days in addition to that, I find myself writing poetry as a way of reaching out to God in the empty and lonely spaces of my life. It’s a way that I can pray without really even knowing what I am praying for. Sometimes after I have written it out, I can finally understand what I really was feeling. And often only then feel relief.

Even after writing this, I find myself hesitating to publish it because it feels like when people write something like this, they write from the viewpoint of someone who has already arrived. I don’t think a poet ever quite arrives. And even as I write that, I realize I also hesitate to call myself a poet. But now, after throwing all political correctness and sensitive conscience to the wind, I will publish it. This is simply the story of an ordinary person who loves words.

photo credit pixabay

Interlude

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

And the sunshine and the green, green meadow

Are swallowed in the night that comes softly,

Silent and dear and painful;

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

Throb soundlessly beneath the symphony of crickets

And the boom of the frogs in the marsh.

While we wait with wistful ears for a voice

That comes from beyond those thousand deep-set stars

To sing over us in the twilight of our hearts.

Shoes (spoken word video)

Two years ago, I wrote one of my favorite pieces ever, “Shoes.” This was done for my Intercultural Communication class in which my teacher had us study different aspects of identity and culture, and various social issues. At the end of the class, we were asked to creatively express ourselves in relation to what we had studied, as a cathartic activity (the word cathartic to me is such an ugly word. It always makes me think of the sound people make when they cough up mucus).

At the time, I wrote and performed the poem as a piece of spoken word poetry. I then published it on my blog, and a reader commented that I should do an recording of the poem. Since I am currently in quarantine and “between jobs,” I was suddenly inspired today to do just that.

As I read through the poem the first several times, I nearly cried. It’s odd, or perhaps not so odd, how social issues do not disappear in 2 years. The poem, for me, is just as relevant as it was then. Perhaps even more so, in this day and age when as a white minority, we may try to express our understanding or sympathy for a minority group, only to be told that we have no way of understanding and that our sympathy is demeaning. Perhaps we understand more than we realize. Each person has pain, and each pain that person faces equips them to some degree to empathize with others.

I did struggle with the recording. It was extremely difficult, with my lack of equipment, to find a place where I could record without outside noises infringing on my voice. In the afternoon, it was the roosters. In the evening, it was the Tukae. I finally found a cardboard box and stuck my phone into it, and with my head halfway in, lay on the floor and recorded it. I feel like I would do better recording in front of an audience, where, as I heard one preacher say lately, they sort of draw the inspiration out of you.

But finally, I had to finish it, and be ok with it not being perfect.

Below is a link to the video.

Frog Hunt

The night sky cups the world

We are 7, and then 8, and then 9 searching

Like small boats in a foggy harbor

Scattered and seeking

Muffled voices call out like small foghorns

Floating alongside the lights that spread over the field,

And melting with the murmur of men’s voices from the small house beside the road

Silence, then the small burst of a song,

A small child’s shriek and laughter

Echo, and then are lost in the thin mountain night;

Cows tread through the marshy field

A low call, the patter of small feet,

Frogs frozen, caught in the patch of light

Then wiggling and wet in small hands;

The bags grow heavy.

Above, clouds shift and reshape

And the stars began to glimmer

Over this small place we call ours

Over the fields hard-won from the forest

Cradled in the mountains’ heart

Lost in the rolling ranges that lap from the edge of Burma

The night sky cups over the world

We are 7, and then 8, and then 9 searching.

A Poem a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Image by Mariangela Castro (Mary) from Pixabay

I told some friends recently that I think I will no longer tell people what my plans are for the next day or week or the next month. This is because after I tell them one day, I need to retell them the next day because of the constant change of landscape these days.

Instead, I will tell them after it happens. Like last week when I actually did get the chance to make a quick trip to Saohin.

Ever since the beginning of April, life has been a pretty consistent roller coaster. If that combination of words can be put together. I just found out yesterday that I won’t start work for another three weeks. This is because of the current Covid situation in Thailand. Schools in Thailand won’t start until June 1st but until yesterday I was told that I would be working from home and perhaps doing some online teaching. Then yesterday I found out it would not be so.

So. Here I am in Mae Sariang with three weeks of “vacation” in front of me. I will be filling those weeks with some informal teaching, some teaching prep for the upcoming semester, maybe a trip to Chiang Mai or two for visa purposes and to move some items still there. Otherwise, I will be weeding out the orchard behind my new house and trying to figure out how to crack up the coconuts that fall from the tree. Church isn’t really happening currently because of the half-lockdown the town is in. Most of the fun evening markets are closed, and even national parks are closed. Many of the mountain villages (other than Saohin) have closed off their gates to outsiders.

La la la la la…..

So I am trying to find the best way to use my time wisely. Maybe I should do a week of fasting and praying. That would save money, at least, for sure. Maybe I could try building furniture from the bamboo beside the house. Or study Karen.

One thing that I have been rolling around in my mind lately is my recent lack of immersion in good, deep literature. I attribute this to several factors, one my focus on language study, two when in college and on my internship I lacked the energy and time to read deeply, and three, bad habits. One of my goals for this summer is to stretch my brain in relation to good, English literature.

So, with this in mind, I have decided for the next week to post a poem a day. This might be a poem that I have previously written and/or published, it might be a poem I have freshly written, or it might be a poem written by someone else that I enjoy, along with a bit of an explanation of what the poem means to me. I do not pretend to be a great poet, or a great poet analyst. I like poetry that makes me think, but does not make my brain do cartwheels to figure out what the author is driving at. But I do enjoy sharing poetry that is meaningful to me, as well as hearing poetry from others.

I plan to do this for a week, but if I see that its going well, I might stretch it out to two weeks. I also have been a bit traumatized (ok, that’s too strong a word but for lack of a better one) by the constant changes of plans, and so I feel a bit scared to commit to a poem a day FOR SURE. So, I will say, barring a sudden trip to Chiang Mai or Saohin, a storm and a subsequent blackout, the sudden rising of the creek (very literally if I do go to Saohin) or a wave of dengue fever or any other insurmountable obstacle, I will post a poem a day.

And I would love to hear thoughts on the poetry from my readers.

Here goes.

Home

The poem below was written in January 2009 at the age of 18. Or that’s the date I have on it, but I think I actually wrote the first draft a few months earlier in August of 2008. Recently, I opened up a copy of Echoes of Eternity, the first book of poems I published. I realized that few of my poems in that book had ever been published on my blog. Even though I feel like some of them fall below par (and I cringe when I see that), I also realize that there are some really good ones in the book. Also, there are a few that never really were good friends with me (for instance, they never seemed to quite say what I wanted them to say, or sound like I wanted them to sound) but when I returned to read them years later, I find that they are much better friends than I ever thought them to be. Below is one of those, called “Home,” mostly because ever since I left the village, homesickness has been harder.

Home

Someday I’ll travel all the world

And sail the oceans wide

I’ll climb the highest mount on earth

And row my boat against the tide

I’ll view the Alps of Switzerland

In their majesty unswayed–

Unless my little grain of faith

Reduce them trembling and afraid;

And yet I’ll still look back and see

That no matter where I go,

Near or far, wherever I roam

Across the broad world I know–

Still burn the lights of home.

I’d see them still, the lights of home,

Imprinted on my mind,

No matter how much Persian wealth

Or Yukon gold I’d find

They’d call me still and stay with me

Even as the Sphinx I’d view

I’d think of them as I’d kneel down

And wash my face in China’s dew.

If I could climb Mt. Everest,

Cling victorious to its peak-

Almost to touch the sky’s vast dome–

Still my eyes would ever seek

For the hearth fires of my home.

In Africa’s huts or Bedouin’s tents,

In the palaces of Spain,

In sunlight on the purple moor,

Or in the fog of London’s rain;

In the tropics of the south;

Or in the blinding Arctic snow,

My soul would always think of home

Beneath the elms and my heart would know

That whenever rejected by the world

Or saddened by its sin

Through the weeping rain, I’d gladly come

And always find rest within

The burning lights of home.

-January 10, 2009

Abide with Me

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,

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

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide;

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

When other helpers fail and comforts flee

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

Help of the helpless, O abide with me

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

A Field Trip with Saohin School

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

Kru Paeng taking a picture of Kru Duen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Squished onto the back of a truck in Mae Sariang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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