Tag Archives: travel

Medley

Spurred by a whim, I wrote this tonight. Imperfect, but it was satisfying to put together.

Tonight I was wishing that I could write some of what was moving inside of me, but as I was reading other poems, I felt that so much of what I was feeling was already written so well in other poetry. You know that moment when you are reading a poem and you come to this phrase and you are like, yes, that phrase! It says it exactly! It hits that spot. And you want to crow to the whole world that you have found that phrase, but often you sort of feel a bit silly after the crowing.

Anyway, I just took some of those phrases (and others for gluing the others together) and made a poem. I am not sure what the purpose was. Inspirational? Maybe. Humorous? Perhaps some may find it so. Creative? Yes, partly. Cathartic? Yes, I think so.

Here we are:

The ache of the twilight is upon me but I cannot speak

The words will not come.

But many other have already written them for me.

Come, let us see.

The day is done, and the darkness falls from the wings of night

As a feather is wafted downward like

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean.

Yet, I beg you, tell me not in mournful numbers

That life is but an empty dream

That the road less traveled by is no different than what it seems

That nothing gold can stay; that there is no rest even in Flander’s fields.

And that the struggle nought availeth. Just because

I am nobody (who are you?), does not mean that I have never

Slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Or spent time alone in the night, on a dark hill

With pines around me spicy and still;

Or lived sad and strange dark summer dawns,

With the earliest pipe of half-awaken’d birds;

For I have loved hours at sea, gray cities,

The fragile secret of a flower…

Long have I known a glory in it all.

And yet, tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean

Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,

And thinking of the days that are no more

And, I must ask, does the road wind uphill all the way?

If so, let me rest here in these woods so lovely dark and deep,

While you come and read to me some simple and heartfelt lay

And these aches shall fold their tents like the Arabs

And as silently steal away.

(It was written quickly, and since it is not meant to be a masterpiece poem of any kind, I didn’t chew and meditate on it and edit it much, so if you have any ideas of more phrases that could be thrown in, I would love it. And I think I will write more of these in the future. For therapeutic purposes. )

I should leave you to guess where the lines came from, but I feel like putting the lines here without them really being my own is almost infringing on copyright purposes. I don’t know. But here you are:

The Day is Done, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tears, Idle Tears, by Lord Alfred Tennyson,

A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Road Less Traveled By, by Robert Frost

Nothing Gold Can Stay, Robert Frost

In Flander’s Fields, by John McCrae

Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth, Arthur Hugh Clough

I am Nobody, Who are You? by Emily Dickinson

High Flight, John Magee

Stars, Sara Teasdale

I Have Loved Hours at Sea, Sara Teasdale

God’s World, Edna St. Vincent Millay

Uphill, Christina Rossetti

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost

Gold

I thought Mae Hong Son province was at its finest in June when the clouds and mist hung low over the greening mountains.

But these days, I think differently. The rainy season is mostly past, and the days are beginning to be cooler now. The vibrant green has faded slightly, only slightly, and other colors are starting to emerge: browns, oranges and yellows. And still the mists come in the morning.

credit: Amy Smucker

Amy and I drove to the sunflower fields in Mae U-Kho, in Khun Yuam district yesterday. There are over 500 rai (1 rai is about .4 of an acre) of small sunflowers (similar to what we would call Texas sunflowers at home) that bloom every November and are one of the largest tourist attractions in the mountains of Mae Hong Son. I have heard several rumors of how the sunflowers were planted there, one being that it was a royal project by the queen, and another that they were introduced by missionaries.

We left after right after school yesterday, after a very odd week of teaching online, in which we only taught two full days since the students were getting vaccinated and tested for Covid before the planned onsite date of Nov 22. I was feeling very restless by the suffocating feeling that occurs from this kind of schedule and was very ready to see some different scenery instead of the inside of the office at school.

It took us about 2 hours by bike and by the time we got to Khun Yuam, it was dark and getting cold. Or cold to be on a bike. We were trying to reach our destination before it got pitch dark, so we didn’t stop to watch the full moon rising slowly over the eastern mountains. But it was there on the edge of our sights constantly as we maneuvered the curves and hills in the semi-twilight.

We slept at the empty house of a friend in Khun Yuam and left for the sunflower fields in Mae U-Kho early this morning.  There is something intoxicating about being out in the mountains on a motorbike in the early morning. It has to be intoxicating to induce me to set my alarm clock for before 6:00 on a Saturday morning.

I want to write about how the colors glowed, and how the gold of the sunflowers looked from the distance over patchworked fields, and how the sun popped through the clouds and how the sea of fog in the distance looked and it felt to weave along the curving roads in the middle of a November sunrise.

But I don’t know how to write it. I feel lost. I only know to say that there is something excruciatingly beautiful about the way rolling fields of sunflowers look on a backdrop of blue and black mountains that layer their way to the horizon and then touch a deep blue morning sky edged with clouds.

So I will say it with pictures. I believe they will tell the story better than I can.

“There’s gold in them thar hills.”

Walking up to the first lookout
Amy
Me
Our trusty steed that carried us all the way up and balked only once on a steep hill. Amy had to get off and walk while I labored on up the hill in 1st gear.
Our breakfast “Yom Gai Saep” or Spicy Chicken Salad.

In Which She Addresses Some Frequently Asked Questions

On my recent visit home, I realized through various conversations how little many people know of what I am doing here. I realize this is a breach in my communication, since I have not done as well in communicating as I did several years ago. Below are some of the questions I am often asked as well as questions I am often asked from Thai people.

Are you in the mountains?

Many people know my dream of living in the mountains. The answer is, right now, no, I am not exactly living in the mountains, but I am surrounded by them. We live in a narrow river valley about 2 miles wide. Just behind our house, the mountains start again. Mae Sariang, the town we live in, is approximately 35 kilometers from the Thai/Burma border, but because of bad roads would probably take close to 2 hours to reach. Mae Sariang is about 4 hours from Chiang Mai and about half of that is through mountains. Many, many surrounding villages come to Mae Sariang for supplies and medical care. Mae Sariang is located in the Mae Hong Son province.

How big is Mae Sariang?

It’s a little hard to say since it is a district that is stretched out pretty widely, with about 7 subdistricts. The total population of the district is about 50,000, as of 2010, according to Wikipedia. The actual town, or municipality, of Mae Sariang, I would venture to make an educated guess of 15-20 thousand people. However, it is very difficult to see where the town starts and stops and where one village starts and stops, at times. Dotted all around the surrounding mountains are also many small villages.

Do you live by yourself?

No. My good friend Amy Smucker arrived in June. We teach together at the same school. Amy had lived in Thailand before this, so she was not a stranger to the language or the culture.

Are you paid or are you a volunteer?

We are both paid teachers, but we teach on half the salary normally paid a foreign teacher. This was due to a prior agreement, in which the school agreed to hire both of us for the price of one, since I did not want to live by myself, and the other schools I had contacted did not have the financial means to hire a teacher.

What subjects do you teach?

English. This is not English as we learned it in school, but English as a foreign language. This would be similar to students in America studying Spanish. English teaching in Asia is in HIGH demand and foreign native English speakers are seen as having magical capabilities to instill language abilities in students without even having to try. (This is a myth).

What age students do you teach?

I teach grades 10, 11, and 12. Amy teaches students from all levels between 7-12.

How many students do you have?

Approximately 600 students. This term I have 17 teaching slots. I meet each class once a week. Do I like this set up? Not necessarily, but they want each student to study with a foreign teacher once a week, because of the above-mentioned myth.

How big is the school?

It is the district high school, and students from other districts also attend. There are about 1700 students in the high school. This is the main school in the area that boasts grades from 10-12 so many students come from other areas. (Most area high schools only go to grade 9).

How long do you plan to stay in Thailand?

Indefinitely. In other words, until God says, Move.

What kind of qualifications do you need to work in Thailand?

To get a work visa, you need a bachelor’s degree in any field. To get a temporary teaching license, you need that degree. To get a permanent teaching license, you need a bachelor’s degree in education, or a Master’s in education, or another certification in education that is approved by the Teacher’s Council of Thailand.

Do you see James or Amanda often? (friends who are both from my home church and are both currently living in Chiang Mai.)

No, not very often. Under normal circumstances, Amy and I would be travelling to Chiang Mai once a month to attend INVEST meetings and church at IGo Christian Fellowship. Because of Covid restrictions that discourage travel, and due to the fact that we both work at a large high school that could be shut down were we to bring Covid to Mae Sariang, we have not been traveling to Chiang Mai for these meetings.

What are Covid 19 restrictions like there?

We are required to wear masks whenever in public. In Mae Hong Son, there is a 20,000 baht fine for not wearing a mask, which is over 600 USD. (Most Thai people do not complain about wearing masks since wearing a mask is something very cultural. If you are sick, or around someone else who is sick, or if you are driving in smog or dust, many Thai people will immediately don a mask.) In many restaurants or shops, there are thermometers to check temperatures, as well as alcohol gel that you are required to use before entering. Travel to high risk areas is discouraged, and quarantine upon return from those areas is not unusual. In some tourist places that are re-opening, negative antigen tests are required for entering for unvaccinated tourists. Students and teachers are required to wear masks when in the classroom. In public schools, all teachers are required to be vaccinated, as well as all high school students and vocational school students before Nov 15. Currently we are teaching online but plan to move back onsite after Nov 19.

What organization do you work under?

We are working under the English for Life team (EFL) which is a part of the larger INVEST team (IGo Network of Volunteer Educators Serving Thailand). INVEST consists of EFL and Wisdom Tree, as well as teachers working at the skills center. INVEST, in turn, is a ministry under IGO, Institute of Global Opportunities.

Are you allowed to share about God openly?

In our school, which is a government school, if someone asks me about what I believe I answer directly, but I do not openly evangelize or present the gospel, unless someone asks. Outside of school, I am more free to do so. Our desire is, however, to be a bridge for the local church to evangelize. Through relationships we build in school with people who are interested in learning about God, our desire is to be the bridge to bring them in contact with the local church and support them in discipling and teaching.

What kind of church do you go to?

We go to a small Karen and Thai church not too far from our house. It is a small house church, and the preaching is done in Thai and translated into Karen for older members of the congregation. A few of our students also attend. We are very blessed by the servant attitude of the pastor and his wife, something that is not always found in Thai churches where position and power are coveted.

Is this your final landing place?

I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so. I love Mae Sariang and its melting pot of people from the surrounding villages but my desire is to move deeper out of town into the mountains and work in a place similar to Saohin, where I had done my internship. However, I feel like Mae Sariang is the place where I can build connections and research other opportunities, as well as work until I have won my permanent teaching license.

What is the weather like?

There are 3 seasons: hot, rainy, and cool. In the hot season, temperatures go over 100 F, with usually no rain for 4 months. This is often when burning is done in Northern Thailand and Myanmar, which culminates in smog that hangs chokingly over the mountains. The rainy season in Mae Sariang is heavier than in Chiang Mai, with lots of flooding on the mountain roads that lead up to villages. The cool season I would imagine is similar to Chiang Mai (where the coldest is in the lower 50s upper 40s) but that depends a lot on the elevation of where you are in the district.

How fluent are you in Thai?

This is an awkward question for me to answer, but I answer it honestly. I am fluent. Not on a native speaker level for sure, but I can trick people on the phone. I also do some translation, although not nearly as much as I did as a student and living in Chiang Mai where there was an abundance of foreigners.

Are there many foreigners where you live?

Before Covid19 hit, there were tourists who would pass through town on the Mae Hong loop route. Few would stay for more than a day, but they were in existence. These days, though, if Amy or I see one in town, it is news that we share over the supper table, “Oh, I saw a foreigner today at the 7-11.” Or, “I saw a farang driving past Tesco.” Fluent English speakers are rare to find. Of course, Amy and I talk English to each other, but sometimes we throw in Thai, as well as the occasional Dutch word. When we find Thai friends who speak English fluently, it’s refreshing to be able to converse in English, not that we don’t enjoy speaking Thai, but to be able to converse in one’s own language is a treat.

Frequently asked questions from Thai people:

How long have you been in Thailand?

About 7 years.

Are you half Thai?

Nope

How long do you plan to stay in Thailand?

Until God leads me somewhere else.

Why on earth do you live here when you could live in America?

Well…..I…  where do I start?

Can you eat ________________? Fill in the blank with any kind of very spicy food.  

Probably.

Can you speak Northern Thai?

Some. Not much.

Can you speak Karen?

Very little

How much do you pay for rent?

3000 baht a month (100 dollars)

Do you send money home to your parents?

No.

Do you miss your family?

Yup.

Do you have a boyfriend?

Nope

Why don’t you have a boyfriend?

Cause, ummmmm…..

Do you want a boyfriend?

Well, I mean, I ……

Do you want me to introduce you to my uncle?

Ummmm, don’t worry about it.

Any more questions? I would be glad to hear them, whether awkward or non-awkward.

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. 🙂

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.

9 New Words About Quarantine and Travel You Never Knew Existed (maybe because they didn’t)

A year ago, I blogged about new words I had coined about life in Southeast Asia. At that time, we had never heard of coronavirus. The idea of quarantine and wearing masks was foreign to us. We were blissfully ignorant.

Now we have all been highly educated. Not only that, but with my recent travel to Thailand, I acquired a whole new set of vocabulary, including words such as ASQ, CoE, Fit to Fly, BioFire, and more.

In addition to this, here are 9 new words pertaining to travel during the Covid19 outbreak! While this is coming from the perspective of a traveler who traveled to Thailand, it may be relevant for those traveling elsewhere. Travel anywhere has become synonymous with quarantine. Thus, the words to be revealed are all related to travel and quarantine.

Plussle—the rustle of the plastic of the Personal Protection Equipment that the quarantine hotel staff wears when interacting with hotel detainees. Can also be used as “plussle-plussle.” Sample sentence: I always knew when one of the hotel staff was coming with my food because I could hear the plussle-plussle of their plastic coverings as they walked.

Certivaniphobia– A common disorder experienced in travelers, especially those who are traveling abroad for the first time, or in unnatural conditions, such as during a pandemic.  This is the fear that while the traveler was not looking, the traveler’s passport or other important papers may have jumped out of the said traveler’s backpack in an unprecedented move. A common symptom of this phobia is frequent checking and rechecking of the traveler’s backpack, often checking up to 10 times within a minute. No cure is known for this disorder.

Glunge– the smudges left on the windows of a quarantine room, left by either the hands or the forehead of the inmate of the room while gazing outside.

Pasaphilia—The delight experienced by a traveler upon hearing a foreign language being spoken after being stranded in one’s home country for an extended period of time.

Solivance – The feeling of being in one’s own world, in a vacuum or a capsule in which time is static while the world continues to revolve outside. This is a kind of “wood between worlds” that C.S Lewis describes in the book, The Magician’s Nephew. This is often experienced by travelers in quarantine, especially if they are able to see outside during their incarceration.

The Squaneeze – a sneeze that is muffled to the lowest degree possible. This kind of sneeze is usually observed in areas of high security and Covid19 health monitoring of travelers. Some people who emit squaneezes try to disguise them in the form of a guffaw or the sudden clearing of the throat.

Chimeracination – Entire imagined scenes of things that could possibly go wrong from the beginning of travel to the end. These are usually experienced at 2:00 AM in the week before traveling in tense conditions due to a Covid19 pandemic.

Stickeression – this is a rare disorder occurring mostly in quarantined travelers. Signs of this disorder usually occur in the window of time between the 5th and 14th day of quarantine. Symptoms are usually seen most in Line users (Line is a popular messaging app used by many in Southeast Asia). Described in basic terms, it is an over-usage of stickers sent in the app in an attempt to release extreme feelings of restlessness.

Selfationism – the realization that you are the only one to blame for anything that occurs while being isolated in quarantine. Meaning, if there is no toilet paper on the toilet paper dispenser, it means that YOU and not someone else have not replaced it. Or if you have mislaid your favorite pen, it means that YOU were the one who mislaid it.

What You’ll Need to Get to Thailand During the COVID19 Pandemic

There are thousands of people still waiting to be able to reenter Thailand after the country closed its borders last March. I am one of those who managed to reenter on a student visa.

Since coming back was far from easy, I told myself over and over as I sorted through documents, sent off emails, and made hundreds of phone calls that I would do all in my power to help those coming behind me. I was grateful for all the help I received from those ahead of me and wanted to do the same for those coming behind. Keep in mind that circumstances change. What I experienced may not be what you will experience. Also, I applied for my return with the Chicago Royal Thai consulate . Each embassy operates slightly different, so what worked for me may not work for you. This post is geared towards Americans. However, if what I have to share is helpful, then my mission is accomplished.

The post will mostly be of links to documents and helpful websites. Following that, I’ll throw in a few tips that were helpful for me. If you want to read a more detailed experience of what it actually was like, check out my post here.

While this may be old information for some of you, here are the requirements for anyone entering Thailand as of August 11, 2020.

  1. A Certificate of Entry (CoE) from your embassy or consulate granting permission for you to return
  2. A Declaration form filled out and signed 
  3. Fit to Fly health certificate, issued within 72 hours before departure 
  4. Medical certificate with a laboratory result indicating that COVID -19 is not detected (COVID test must be by RT-PCR method), issued within 72 hours before departure
  5. Copy of an insurance policy which covers COVID and no less than 100,000 USD 
  6. Copy of your confirmed booking at an Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) hotel in Thailand
  7. T.8 form (while I took a T.8 form along, I was also given one on the plane)

Here is a page for FAQ’s for people wishing to return from the states. This is from the embassy in Washington DC. Read this first.

These are the visa types that are currently allowed to enter Thailand. It has been announced that four other types will be allowed, but it takes a while for the announcements to become reality.

Some of the consulates in the states (not all) allow you to fill out the application form for the CoE online. This is available on the Washington DC Royal Thai Embassy’s site here. It will automatically be diverted to the consulate that is in charge of your individual state.

For people in the US, technically you must book or reserve a repatriation flight before you can apply for the CoE. (This can be avoided at times. Talk to your embassy if you run into problems with this, like not being able to see next month’s flights). This can be done at three different booking agencies. The agency I used and would recommend is Hanatour of Philadelphia. They are professional, helpful and efficient. They allow you to reserve the flight without paying for it and give you a letter to submit to your consulate when you apply for your CoE. Below is a picture from the Thai embassy with other booking agencies. They may be just as professional and helpful as well.

Book your ASQ as soon as possible. While each week more ASQs are added to the list, they rapidly fill up and some are booked ahead for months in advance. In order to book an ASQ you need to have a flight. This can be a problem if you do not yet have a repatriation flight or are wary of getting one before you know for sure that you have permission to enter the country. What I did was reserve a flight without paying for it and then use that to book my ASQ. Be sure to check with the ASQ what their policy is on changing dates and times, or even canceling the entire thing. In the end, I only switched my dates to one day earlier than what I had originally planned. Here is a site that keeps on adding the hotels as they become certified by the government.

For what its worth this is what my COVID19 test results looked like and my Fit to Fly. I also was given the details of the test here to take along since the actual results did not specify that it was done by RT-PCR method. I was still petrified that they wouldn’t take it since even then it only said PCR, not RT/PCR so I copied something off the BioFire website that stated it was an RT/PCR test. My Fit to Fly I designed using the logo of the clinic that issued it and a template shared by others else who had traveled over. Most clinics in the states do not have their own Fit to Fly certificates. There are also other types of templates that have passed, but I chose this since it seemed slightly more professional. Be sure to add a phone number and address of the clinic on the header as well. Here is a template I used from a friend to design my own.

The T8 form can be gotten here. My declaration form was a part of my online application but it is also available here.

Once you are pretty sure your visa type will be accepted its a good idea to start working on insurance as soon as possible. I used AA Insurance Brokers in Thailand and got their cheapest insurance which was about $220 for one year. They were very good to work with. I would advise to start working on it soon since with the influx of people needing insurance, it can take a while for your application to be processed.

A few tips…

Try to contact your embassy about what all you need and if they have any advice for you. This is easier said than done since some consulates/embassies are notorious for not answering. Also, they are extremely busy during this time.

Start looking around for places to get your Covid19 test NOW! These can be extremely hard to find if you are not symptomatic and you need the results at a certain time. There has been some confusion on whether or not the test itself needs to be done within 72 hours or if just the results need to be issued. Others have confirmed that it is the results that need to be issued. (Or this has been the experience of some in the USA. Check with your embassy if possible. However, they did not answer my email with this question.) I was able, to my surprise, to get a Rapid BioFire test done which gave me the results in less than 2 hours. One encouraging bit of news that I heard was that some airlines will begin to require a lot of people to get a Covid test done before any kind of travel, so in the future Covid tests for travel may be much easier to get.

One thing you might want to consider is getting your own personal doctor. I did not have a doctor and in my area it is extremely difficult to get in to see a doctor if it is not an emergency or you do not have a personal care physician. Line one up now for your Fit to Fly certificate. Also, you may need a doctor’s order to get your Covid test done. These are just some considerations.

Any more questions? Feel free to ask.

All the Way Home

March 23, 2020 found me at the Suvarnabhumi Airport trying to process the realization that I was leaving my home in Thailand for 4 1/2 months and going to my home in America. I knew this was the right thing to do at the time. What I didn’t know at that time was how hard it was going to be to get back. I naively thought that surely by the time August came around, travel would be back to normal. When June arrived and international travelers were still not able to return to Thailand, I started worrying. I’m sad to say it, but I did. A lot. Below is a summary of my journey back and some of the hurdles that needed to be cleared before I was allowed back. For those unfamiliar with any of the process of returning to Thailand, those who wish to return need to accomplish a checklist of things, mainly get a special insurance that covers Covid 19, reserve a special certified hotel for quarantine, get on a chartered repatriation flight, get full permission from the Embassy (CoE), submit a Fit to Fly Certificate and results of a Covid 19 test upon check in at the airport (Especially for readers who are planning their return to Thailand: stay tuned for another post that gives links to helpful websites and examples of documents needed). 

June 9—I call the Thai Chicago Consulate for the first time and am able to talk with someone. No Americans currently allowed back in, he says. But next month there’s sure to be good news. I hang up feeling strangely elated that I get to talk Thai to someone.

June 17, 2020: Journal Entry “Father, my prayer this morning again is let me get back into Thailand in August, on my ticket date. Perhaps I should have searched your will more when I bought that ticket. I don’t know. Father I pray that you would open the doors to let me back in. Your will be done.”

June 18: Journal Entry “Still no definite news on getting back to Thailand. I’m glad my departure date isn’t until August because hopefully by then the bottleneck of people reentering will have eased a bit. Father, I pray let me get back in time. Without spending thousands of dollars. Zachariah 8.”

June 21, 2020: Journal Entry “About 3 months ago already that I decided to come home. In some ways it’s gone so slowly, in other ways so fast. Jesus, getting back into Thailand looks harder and harder. Help me, Father, to wait for news. I think I should write a letter to the embassy but I don’t know what the best timing is. Lord, these things are in the future, yet you already know. At least Aug 9 gives me something to work for, even though I know it might change. ‘No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.’” Isaiah 54:17

June 23: I email Payap, my university, about my dilemma, asking for advice. Not much advice comes.

June 26: Journal Entry: “Coming into Thailand looks slightly more hopeful, except for the possibility of the extension of the emergency decree. But I have seen students listed as possibilities to come back in.” I finish my letter to the embassy in Thai and send it to a Thai friend to edit.

June 29: I receive word that students were to be let into the country.

June 30: I receive the letter back from the friend. Send it to the Washington DC embassy. Main problem—what kind of documents do I need to apply for a Certificate of Entry (CoE, a special document required to enter Thailand during the Covid pandemic) as a student?

July 2: I call the Thai Consulate in Chicago. At first, I am told again, No Americans are allowed to reenter. But I have a student visa, I say. Oh! Well, then, go to the DC Thai Embassy website and go to the application for a CoE. Once I am able to check the website, there is no spot open yet for students to apply. The only visas types still able to apply are non-immigrant O and B, even if technically students are allowed.

July 6: I begin the arduous process of calling around to find a Covid19 testing center and a place to get my Fit to Fly issued. Within the course of the week I make close to 30 phone calls trying to find a place to get tested without symptoms and receive the results within 72 hours.

July 7: I receive an email reply from the Thai embassy saying that while students are now allowed into the country, the embassy is still waiting for the policy from Bangkok on how to proceed. Would I please continue to check the website for updates?

July 8: I contact AAinsure about getting my Covid19 insurance policy covering 100,000 USD.

July 13: I hear that people need to mail in their passport in order to get a COE stamp put into the passport after getting their Covid 19 test and Fit to Fly. How on earth am I to do that and get it back in the 72 hour time?

July 14: Desperate for information, I contact the embassy again, asking if they could give me a list of what students need. I find information later on other Thai Embassy websites. Jumping the gun, I contact my university, asking for the correct papers. The problem seems to be that it is not clear if the specifications on those websites are for students who already had visas or just for those without. Exactly what do I need? Worry and fear continue to circle my heart. It seems like a giant fist is clenched around me. I start contacting hotels about ASQ. I am now aiming to leave July 7 instead of July 9. This makes sense to me since I would have 4 working days before my departure, rather than leaving on a weekend and risking not having Covid testing places open or sending back results. ASQ hotels are getting full, fast. If I want one for those dates, I need to get it, even if I don’t like the price.

July 15: Frustration. I need to know what papers I need from Payap. When I try to contact the embassy, they only reply saying I need to apply for a CoE. I KNOW that. Could you tell me what I need to have in order to apply? The application for CoE is not yet up for students, but I need to prepare my papers. The date I was hoping to apply by was July 17. My insurance is not finished yet. I contact them to see where it is. The company is overloaded with requests and is working on it as fast as possible. I contact my travel agency. Rather than change my Eva air Flight to match the dates I need my Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ), I get my travel agency to reserve a Qatar flight without paying for it. I can now reserve my ASQ for arriving in Thailand August 9, leaving August 7. Now the decision remains—to I try to keep this ticket? Will commercial flights be allowed? Or should I let it go and get a repatriation flight. No repatriation flights are scheduled yet for August. I stay up late, communicating with the ASQ hotels about payment details.

July 16: Relief. I am able to talk with a live man at the Chicago consulate. He refers me to another number, a man who is extremely helpful and friendly. He is surprised that I got his phone number, since it is usually for emergencies.  I ask him what papers I need. He says if I already have a visa, all I need is a letter of confirmation from my university. Nothing else. He says to call him any time I have any questions. I am comforted beyond words. Later that day, I’m struggling again, feeling heaviness, fear, worry. I cry out to God. Five minutes later, my phone rings. Its my boss. It seems I mislaid the keys for a company van and they can’t find them. I rake my brain for any clue where they might be. It seems like one more thing on top of everything I’m wrestling with. God, why this now? Can’t you tell me where they might be?! Something as small as this—if you could just tell me where I left those keys, I feel like I could trust you more with this whole Thailand thing.

July 17: Still struggling with a cold/allergies/cough that started way back in June. Praying for healing. Waiting for insurance papers, papers from my university, and for the application to be available for students. We go camping at the lake overnight and I take the night to relax and try to forget everything.

July 18: I suddenly remember where I probably put the keys. I text my boss and tell him. They are found! It feels like confirmation that God really does care!

July 20: Early in the morning I receive the certificate of enrollment from my university. The application for the CoE is up and ready for me to apply, but I do not have a repatriation flight. Now they are saying, buy a repat flight, and get your ASQ before applying. After you get the CoE, you can then get your Covid test done and fit to fly. Also, the CoE is emailed to you. No stamp in the passport. Things are being streamlined.

July 21: I call the Consulate in Chicago about applying since I have no repatriation flight yet and no August flights are available. He tells me to go ahead and put in any flight itinerary when it asks for a repat flight. This way, he says, I would be in the system. I apply that afternoon. I do not have my insurance letter yet, but there is nothing on the application that asks for it. After submitting, I feel a tremendous relief. Finally, something is done. I do receive an email a few hours later, telling me I needed to submit proof of insurance. I contact the insurance company again to see what is happening.

July 22: I stay up during the night communicating with the broker of the Thai insurance company, replying to questions about my health and arranging payment. I then fall asleep and miss checking my email for one last one in which I could have received the paper I needed.

July 23: Insurance letter stating I am covered for Covid19 received and uploaded. Now waiting for the flights to be released. I contact a friend about arranging for my school tuition to be paid, since I feel like I might need a receipt of payment as proof that I am enrolled for this next semester. I upload a picture of the receipt to my application as well.

July 27: flights for August released! I reserve a flight without paying through Hanatour which coordinates the Korean Air flights.

July 28: Early morning I am able to upload the flight documents to my CoE application

July 29: Waiting all day. My imagination runs away from me and I review all sorts of scenarios in my mind. After 5 that evening, I receive my CoE, and scare my mom half to death with my yells. She thinks something is on fire somewhere. I immediately pay for my Korean flight.

Coe

July 30: One of the hardest days. I contact the place that had told me several weeks ago that they could give me a Covid 19 test. I need to make an appointment. They tell me this time it is not possible to do it there without any symptoms. I crash. After calling several places, Pratt Regional Medical Center tells me that I can do it there with a doctor’s order. But I have no doctor. After calling several clinics to see if they could take me, I am still at a dead end. Finally, I contact a friend who works as a nurse at a clinic. She tells me that they’ll take me there as an outpatient and give me the doctor’s order. Pratt says they can give me the Covid test that has results between 24-72 hours. I end the day exhausted.

July 31: I head to my friend’s clinic. The nurse practitioner there sends the doctor’s order to Pratt. She also gives me a physical for my Fit to Fly certificate. Bring the papers down next week, 72 hours before you fly, and we can finish everything up for you, she says.

August 3: Monday morning I head to Pratt. Before they test me, they ask, are you staying in town for the results? What, I ask? Doesn’t it take 24-72 hours? Oh, they say, the doctor said that you need it 72 hours before you fly, so we’ll give you the Bio-Fire test, which gives the results in about 2 hours. (This is the test usually allowed only for first responders and emergency personnel.) In that case, I say, can I come back on Wednesday? The 72 hour window is not open yet. Sure, they say. I walk out, relieved but a little shaken. This would be helpful since I would not longer have to worry about the results coming in too early or late. But how often will my plans be changed? Once I reach home, I tell my dad I am not sure what to think about, since I don’t think I have anything to worry about right now.

August 4: Another monkey wrench. The Fit to Fly certificate has to be signed by a doctor, not a nurse practitioner. There is a chance that they would let it go, but I am not about to take chances. I call around. My friend at the clinic makes an appointment with their “mother clinic” where there is a doctor. This clinic is about 45 minutes away in McPherson. My appointment is for the next day.

August 5: Covid test taken. Extremely uncomfortable and undignified. We shop at Walmart and a second hand store while waiting for results. I go back to pick up the results. They are negative, but the paper says nothing that it was done with RT PCR testing method (even though it is that method). I ask about it, and soon there are a group of people around me, discussing this. They say they can’t change it. Finally, I call the embassy and miracle of miracles, talk with a live person. He assures me its ok, that as long as I have the results in the 72 hour window I am fine. I shed tears of relief. The head lab tech is very kind and wishes me safe travels. Later in the afternoon, I go to McPherson for my Fit to Fly certificate. All goes smoothly.

August 6: Wrapping things up. Final goodbyes. No more monkey wrenches, even though I am still a little nervous about my Covid Test.

August 7: I leave home at 5 AM in the morning. I am no longer emotional at all, and although I shed tears the evening before about leaving, I am too much on edge to even realize what it means to be leaving home again. My flight out of Wichita to Chicago is on time, an answer to prayer. I get to ride first class, for the first time in my life. This is because my ticket to Chicago was bought using credit from a canceled United flight. I am very grateful for the first class seat since it doesn’t take long for me to get off and get my luggage. I wait in a long line to check in to my Korean flight. This is where my documents will be examined for the first time. I am amazingly calm at the counter. They ask me questions about my visa, and some of the other documents, but only scan the Covid test. Once I get my boarding passes, I grin all the way back to my gate. It actually WORKED! The flight to Seoul is rough with hours of turbulence. My seatmate and I become good friends. Both of us are/were students, and she is a recent new Thai believer nervous about going home to her family.

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August 8: My flight lands in Bangkok. I am one of the last ones off the plane and herded through various checkpoints by people in full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). My papers are inspected several times, I am given an ASQ tag, moved from place to place. There is no way I could leave if I wanted to. Soldiers are on guard, as well as immigration police. It is probably close to an hour by the time I get through all the health checkpoints and immigration and out the door where my ASQ driver waits for me. Once we reach the hotel, I am checked out thoroughly again and do some paperwork for the hospital that is in charge of my quarantine. I get to bed around 1:30 AM Sunday morning, tired but grateful. I will be in this hotel quarantine for the next 14 days. (below: waiting at the airport for inspection and the view from my quarantine hotel)

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273

Tiny

The grasshoppers have come now

Gold, green, brown and bronze they fleck the barn walls

Every evening as I wash down.

Tonight, a grasshopper perches precariously beside the drain

One little nudge and he would be gone,

Washed away in a torrent of water.

 

This is my favorite part

When the cows have gone

And I wield the hose in vengeance

Scourging the dirt from the walls and concrete floors;

Giving way to some kind of rage that has built up from regulations

And uncertainties and helplessness at the way

Turmoil sweeps around me and I am tossed

From one phone call to the next,

Email after email,

Document after document.

 

The rush of water sweeps the dirt to the drain,

This is my kingdom.

This is my victory.

 

The grasshopper sits by the drain.

Only a nudge and—

I move the hose away.

 

I too am a grasshopper.

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.