Friday, February 26, 2010

Three weeks!

I thought after two weeks, things would be normal, easy, fun, but I’m finding that while some things get easier, a lot of the time it’s still really hard. Sigh.

I started Thai lessons this past week. Pi Khwan, my teacher, says I have good pronunciation, even though I think I have a hard time memorizing vocabulary. I guess living overseas for the first 12 years and listening to a language I was never brave enough to speak well at least gave me an ear for non-English sounds. It’s really fun to practice the tones and start to recognize words and phrases in conversation.

I’ve been struggling a lot with not knowing what exactly my talents are. It seems like since graduating from college, I’ve only been doing things outside of my comfort zone (or talent zone), and the things I vaguely have an idea that I’m good at—writing, organizing, planning—haven’t been utilized in a solid way. However, I’m surprised and grateful that teaching is starting to satisfy those gifts and passions. Though planning the creative writing class has been a huge challenge, I get pretty excited about it at times because it lets me do a lot of things I love—researching, brainstorming, and putting together ideas; fitting lessons and activities into a daily structure; and thinking about both writing and cross-cultural communication.

Class has been genuinely fun a lot of the time, and I understand what the volunteers mean when they say they fall in love with their students. One day we were doing the sound of the day, where I have to read a bunch of words with difficult sounds—like final l and r—and they repeat them. Everyone is so cute, leaning forward and starting intently at me with perplexed expressions. One woman, Rungtiwa, is SO intent. She always strains way forward and repeats everything I say a million times. Another girl, Puky, started cracking up watching her, and soon the whole class (including me, and Rungtiwa too) was laughing so hard it was hard to keep going. I don’t want to make them think I’m making fun of them or disrespecting them (especially since most of them are older than me), but sometimes it is sooooo funny and adorable to hear them try these foreign sounds that to me are so simple. (Btw, they enjoy when I try to speak Thai—I think the role reversal is refreshing.) They are such hard workers, it’s awesome. It seems like everyone in Bangkok works incredibly hard. After all, most of them are here for the purpose of going to school or working to make money for their families. The Thai people are such a good mix of busy and relational. Anyway, my students have been bonding with each other and have been inviting me to a lot of stuff (though coordinating schedules is proving to be difficult). At the least, I'll have meals with both of my classes on the last day. I really enjoy eating out with big groups of people, especially because they order everything and put it on my plate for me.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I think I'm in Asia

The busy schedule I anticipated is beginning. In some ways it's nice because it keeps me, well, busy, but I also do enjoy spending time alone, relaxing, communicating with people back home, sleeping, stuff like that.

This past weekend was pretty packed. On Friday I got to visit my friend Nan's university. She is in my small group and is an English major at a respected university in the area. She gave me a tour and we met up with her friend who is Chinese but studying Thai. Between the three of us--none of us really fully speaking the same language--we had some fun conversation. :)

On Saturday I joined a big group outing to visit Kanjanaburi, the famous site of the Bridge over the River Kwai. There were about 25 Americans--the regional directors of the Baptist General Conference (they visited our classes on Thursday, and I happened to have Dr. and Mrs. Sheveland in my class, who I found out are the president of BGC and his wife...haha, no pressure)--and about 15 Thai students and staff. One of my students, Jan, came :) She's a sweetie. There's a girl from Bethel here with her dad, who's one of the regional directors. It was nice to have an American girl my age around, too, though surprisingly I find myself connecting well with any random people I meet these days.... I feel most comfortable with the Thai people who I've been getting to know, but I've had some good conversations with middle-aged visiting Americans, too. ANYWAY, the outing was nice. It was good to get out of the city, to see some green and some hills and some beautiful rivers. Very...Asian-looking, rice paddies and all that.

Sunday after church, I had ice cream with the girls in my small group, Nan, Gaan, Joy, and Jin. Then Rung invited me out for dinner. I wasn't sure I wanted to go because I hadn't done any lesson prep yet (and I really have to work on the creative writing class that starts in March!!), but I'm glad I did--it was one of the coolest things I've ever done. We went with four other Santisuk staff and drove about half an hour in a direction I'd never gone out of the city. It was getting pretty; the sun was setting and there were marshes and lighted restaurants along the way. We pulled into a parking lot and went into what I thought was the restaurant but turned out to be a dock where we boarded a boat and took off down a series of waterways (I can't for the life of me figure out the word for rivers and lakes that are actually part of the ocean). It was like driving down a street in a rural neighborhood, except that the car was a boat, the road was a river, the houses were on stilts, and the driveways were docks. We could catch glimpses of people in their homes; I guess walls aren't that necessary when you don't have close neighbors or cold weather.

Eventually we pulled up at a large, long restaurant on stilts, sitting alone where the river opened up into the ocean. The floor was an uneven boardwalk; there were spaces where you could see through holes to the waves below. There were no walls, just a thatched roof and a row of lights hanging from the beams. We sat at a low table on cushions on the floor and stuffed ourselves with fresh fish, crab, squid, clams, and shrimp. It was pretty busy, but it was awesome because it wasn't touristy at all--a perfect tourist setting but totally local. I was the only white person and for sure we were the only table that spoke any English (though I mostly sat and listened to Thai). It reminded me of eating outside in Tiwi with Fatuma and Juma--totally dark outside, good but unfamiliar food, and a foreign language drifting around on a warm breeze. It was so fabulous, I wish I could describe it better. Needless to say, we didn't get back until late, so I didn't get much sleep and I'm feeling even more crunched to work on class stuff.

Some new developments--Isaac is applying to teach here April-May! We talked and prayed about it for a while, and we both feel like it would be good. He is taking a break from school spring quarter anyway (starting film school in the fall) and I think teaching and working overseas would be a good fit for him. And of course we would both love love love to not be thousands of miles away from each other. There will be challenges, definitely, since we'll both be busy with different schedules and we'll have to adapt our relationship to fit what's culturally appropriate (haha...I'm sure everyone knows how hard it will be for us not to be able to hold hands). But it's kind of a dream come true, working in a cross-cultural setting together, both feeling like we're doing something to help others.... Any challenges will be worth it.

So. I think I'm in Asia. It's finally settling in on me. I live in Thailand, can you believe it?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Some pics!

Not the most amazing pictures ever, but they'll give a good idea of the area where I am:

Halfway done with class session #1


It’s a lot of work to come up with a 30-hour class from scratch! I knew I would probably be teaching a creative writing course here and that I had to prepare all the material for it, but I haven’t been thinking about it until now, when I realize the class in only two weeks away and people are definitely expecting me to teach it. It’s also hard because I don’t know the English ability of my students and because I have to take the American-style writing I learned in college and make it culturally relevant. Even one of the most crucial aspects of Western creative writing—critiquing each other’s work—isn’t really acceptable in a “saving face” Asian country. Anyway, I’m pretty excited to think about teaching my favorite subject, but also anxious about the responsibility. And about being able to come up with enough material in the next two weeks!

In case it’s not clear (which it’s probably not), I’ll be here for three class sessions; each is four weeks long. I’m already halfway through the first one! The second starts March 9th, and the third not until April 20th.

I think somehow word has gotten out to about half of the 130 students that I need friends. I’ve gotten gifts, notes, and offers to hang out from a lot of people. And Rung asks me how I’m doing—she says people can tell when I’m having a hard time. It’s really sweet, and I’m grateful for people to get to know :) At the same time, I’m grateful that I’m content alone, too. I don’t want to rely on having alone time, but I’m never bored and I’m only lonely because I lack close friends, a problem not solved by being with people all the time.

Tonight I’m planning to go to a night market with some girls after class, and then Friday to the beach with them. Saturday there is a school trip to Kanjanaburi, which I think is a scenic spot a couple hours outside the city. Sunday maybe another trip to a market with one of my students.

Good news—I mostly finished my FAFSA and my taxes yesterday, and it only took me maybe an hour. It’s amazing how easy it is to get W2s online and to file everything electronically. I just have to file my Hawaii state taxes and I’m all set. Yay! And I found another internet spot for weekends—a coffee shop a couple blocks away. Again, yay!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Three new ones

I had to write the last two entries from my room and wait until I had internet to post them. I found out there's a little internet place just down the street; it's a little crowded and the connection is slow but it's cheap and it's so nice to know it's here. I was getting desperate because the school is closed on the weekends and I can't find anywhere else with wifi.

Yesterday was good but really tiring. With Nit, Eng, and Janice, a couple students and the teacher of the public speaking class, I went on this river boat tour for about 8 hours (including bus, sky train, and ferries). We stopped and saw a couple temples and a barge museum. I'm not a big tour or museum person, but I love seeing new things and watching people, and it's nice to get to know some people. I know they appreciate practicing their English, too, and I'm glad I can help that way. Then I went to Chinatown with Rung, Ohn, who works in the Santisuk nursery, and Ohn's 17-year-old daughter Gwang. After a minor fiasco where the break lights on the Santisuk truck got stuck on and we had to find a repair shop, we had fun in Chinatown the night before Chinese New Year. Saw the pretty lights and the crowds of people, ate some good food (like no Chinese food I've had in the U.S.), rode some tuk tuks around, and saw a huge flower market.

Today my student Puky isn't able to get together, but I'm actually kind of glad for some time alone. This morning I met with the women in my small group and had lunch afterwards. From here I'll probably go to a coffee shop and do some reading and writing. Ahhh.

The most amazing thing…. I am starting to be a little happy. I’ve had really good support and encouragement from a lot of people. Spent yesterday with the American volunteers, Julie, Rick, and Darlene, got $7 facials with the women and then swam at the water park on the top floor of the Mall Bangkapi, had American-style lunch and dinner with them. They packed me a big bag of groceries they’re leaving behind (they leave tonight) and it reminded me of the way my mom would stock me up when I came home on weekends in college: “Why don’t you take this can of soup?” “Do you think you’d use some tuna? How about peanut butter?” “Do you need any toilet paper?”

And my class last night was fun. I don’t think I mentioned my night class students: Rung, Rung (pronounced differently), Ket, Bum, Earth, Tai, Aom, Nok, Puky, Choke, and Son. They’re more energetic and fun-loving than my morning class (and of course I am also more awake at 7 p.m. than I am at 7 a.m.). I’m getting really comfortable leading the class and working in interesting/helpful tips and games. My favorite thing is doing the sound of the day and seeing 11 people leaning forward watching me, their faces intent as they strain to hear the difference between “sh” and “ch.” Most of them are so eager to learn. I’m learning some Thai, too. I’m surprised how much I can grasp after only a week. I mean I can recognize numbers and greetings and “yes” and “water” in conversation, stuff like that. The sounds in English and Thai are so vastly different; I totally get why my students have a hard time with English because I have an equally hard time with Thai.

Today after skyping with my parents (yay!), I had lunch with Joy. I appreciate her because she’s enough of an outsider to understand how I feel but is also Asian (from Philippines) and has been here for seven years so she has an insider perspective. Tonight was church, and I found that as I looked around at the pre-service dinner, I recognized and felt comfortable with almost everyone. How opposite that is from last week! I’m excited to get to know the women in my cell group, too (meets Sunday mornings)—Joy, Gaan, and Nan.

Tomorrow I will go with the advanced conversation class on a day trip, then go to Chinatown in the evening with Rung and a few others. My Sunday seems like it will be full too—cell group and then an outing with a student, Puky. It feels good to be busy.

First week of classes done! I can get some sleep now! In some ways, teaching at Santisuk is not as stressful as I thought it would be, and in some ways more. I haven’t been nervous speaking in front of people (7 in my morning class and 12 in my night class), and I’ve even been able to let loose and have fun playing games with my students. But it’s hard fitting each part of the lesson into the correct time frame and making the material interesting. And I think the worst thing is the expectation that I get to know my students outside of class and plan two class parties for each class. I’m honestly not sure I have the guts to do it. I invited one class to join me for dinner one night and no one showed up. I’ve been hanging out a little with some students in other classes—I hope that counts, haha. There’s Em and Te and Top, none of whom speak English well enough for conversations, and Som and Nit, who are level 3 or 4 students and are teaching me some Thai. Most of my own students are in their 30’s or older and a lot of them work right after class.

So far this week I’ve spent large chunks of the afternoon alone in the apartment. I feel lame and guilty, but I can only extend myself so far before I shut down or start crying.

If I had known ahead of time how hard it would be here, I wouldn’t have come. So I guess it’s good I had no idea. I knew it would suck to keep doing the long-distance relationship thing with Isaac instead of actually being together, but even that is more difficult than I could have imagined. I’m realizing how much of my reason for coming here was selfish—personal enrichment—and it’s really getting in the way of selflessly serving others. But the more I stress about how self-centered I am, the more I think about myself and the less I can love others. It’s an exhausting cycle.

I wonder if Americans struggle with culture shock so much because we are so individualistic and so in tune with our own feelings. And because we are used to having our comforts just the way we like them.

I love 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” It seems so backwards…. Christians are weird! And yet I would choose this backwards kingdom over any false sense of peace and satisfaction the world can offer.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Day one (almost) down

My first day of classes went surprisingly smoothly. I was less nervous than I thought I’d be and I didn’t have to stall for time too badly. I think the main challenge will be having enough material and enough variety to fill each 2-hour class. I’m working on coming up with activities and games to provide relief from all the lessons. All the main curriculum is provided for me. Every day students must write several sentences from words provided, practice the sound of the day (for example, th vs. d), and work through reading activities in a workbook. There are 4 short essays and crossword puzzles and 2 exams as well.

My students’ names (most people use nicknames; even Rung’s real name is Rungrudi/Lungludi): Kong, Tui, Jam, Pisamai, Afaf. They are all in their 20s or older, some students but mostly they work or are looking for work.

It is odd having a ten-hour break between classes. Unstructured time can be stressful for me, so I set several tangible “challenges” for myself, like going grocery shopping, planning some class parties, and figuring out the post office. I’m hoping to take Thai classes, so that will help. This morning after class I had breakfast with some students (cashew chicken and rice; not the breakfast I’m used to), played Phase 10 with them, and then had lunch with some other students. There are always people around Santisuk, so when I get hungry, I plan to hang out around there until someone invites me to eat with them.

I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to communicate mostly in very basic English every day and spend lots of time listening to a language I only know a few words in (sawatdeeka=hello/goodbye, kobkunka=thank you, chieu(l)alai=what’s your name, mai phet=not spicy, ar(l)oy=delicious). It is as hard to think and speak in simple English as it is to read and discuss really lofty technical English.

When I think too far in advance, it stresses me out. Right now, I can’t imagine having to get up at 6, teach two classes, and figure out what to do for 10 hours and three meals for the next three days. Let alone doing something similar for three months. One day at a time. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so challenged as I do here. At least I can say that I didn’t take the easy road. I am totally out of my element. I’m exactly opposite my element.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


I've still been going through a lot of ups and downs. Many times a day I ask myself what I'm doing here and how I possibly thought it was a good idea to come. I'm so anxious and so focused on myself I don't think I'll be good at building relationships with my students or helping or serving anyone. Everyone else seems to know what they're doing, or to have someone else to be bummed with, or to be so independent that they flit around without a second thought. I start teaching tomorrow (my classes are 7-9 a.m. and 7-9 p.m...awesome) and I'm totally freaked out.

I'll try to keep the emo stuff short on the blog posts and focus more on descriptive things and stories.

Yesterday was a good day; I should have written yesterday because I was happy and creative. Rung took me along to the Bang Sue train station (we took a bus and the subway to get there), where she teaches English to the kids whose parents sell food when the trains come in. It was a lot poorer than what I've seen so far in Bangkok but still not quite reminiscent of Mombasa. Then we went to this huge weekend market at Jeje Park, which I think Bangkok is famous for. HUGE HUGE HUGE. Never seen so much shopping in my entire life. I'm not in a shopping mood quite yet, but I'll keep in mind that if I want ANYTHING for under $5, I'm all set. There were so many foreigners there, too, Europeans and Koreans mostly, and I LOVED people-watching. Then we took the light rail downtown to see a few HUGE HUGE HUGE fancy fancy fancy malls (there are 10 in this one area) and eat lunch. And then took the water taxi back to Bangkapi (Bangkok is super huge and the area Santisuk is in is kind of on the outskirts...well not really but it's not downtown), walked along the canal past a pretty temple and a mosque, and took a little tuk-tuk-like "subalu" back to the apartment. Then last night there was a farewell dinner for one of the staff who is moving to Vietnam, and we ate traditional food--grilled fish, noodles, clams, and sweet and sour peanut sauce wrapped in lettuce leaves--sitting on the floor. I got to talk to some new people and some people I'm starting to get to know. I'm FINALLY remembering names, which is hard because there are some letters that exist in Thai that don't in English, and vice versa. So there is Kwahn/Gwang and Sally/Saree and Rung/Loong (and the r-l thing isn't to make fun of Asian accents--l and r really are interchangeable). Some of my favorite people here are the Filipina missionaries, Ethel and Joy. They speak amazing English and are a lot of fun. And they both know Martha :)

Anyway, I am going to meet Rung for dinner (she's taking me to get bak, or worms, haha). I'm glad this post turned out much happier than I actually feel.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

29 hours down!

Because this will probably only be my really free time before I launch into a busy schedule, and because so much is changing every single minute, and because I have internet in the air-conditioned library at Santisuk, I'm going to blog twice in one day.

Today got a lot better after 12:30 p.m. While Rung was at appointments and work, I stayed in the apartment in the morning and called Isaac and my parents (using precious minutes on my Thai's worth it) and cried and read and journaled and fell asleep again. Then I got my act together and ventured out into the neighborhood. I walked a little less than a mile down one side of the street, explored a Costco-esque grocery store, walked into and out of the mall, felt overwhelmed, walked down the other direction and found a coffee shop my dad had mentioned. Coffee (and a somewhat familiar coffee-shop atmosphere) made everything better, and I made a list of things I am thankful for. Here are some of them:

-small accomplishments, figuring out one thing at a time
-people here who welcome me
-the incredible blessing of having the resources to come here and stay so long
-the opportunity to serve others and grow in my relationship with God
-finally feeling like writing!
-REALLY supportive family, friends, and boyfriend
-internet access and some phone access
-a chance to be challenged professionally
-a home in a strange city and a Thai roommate to show me the ropes
-cheap living expenses
-excitement to get comfortable here
-independence and maturity, seeing how much I've changed over the years
-a worldview that encourages me to travel and learn and do things that are hard
-God's incredible grace, blessing, and strength. He is all I need.
-a church to automatically be a part of
-appreciation for Isaac because he wouldn't be afraid to venture out and order food and make mistakes
-SO much to explore still!
-learning about myself (for example, I love observing but am afraid of engaging)
-being a minority again...for real, not like in Hawaii...but being stared at a LOT less than I would in Kenya
-seeing pretty Thai writing on signs
-knowing I'll have a real schedule soon, for the first time in a year and a half
-freedom from fear and anxiety, if I'm willing to accept it and let go of my own control
-knowing it's only four months here and not longer
-laundry washed, line-dried, and folded by someone else for less than a dollar

I'm sure I'll go through a million crises in the next few months, but I think I'll make it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


And here come the emotions I thought I was somehow free of.

Almost all 30 hours of travel time between Portland and Bangkok went well. No mishaps or late planes or lost luggage, nothing too confusing in the airports. I actually slept for 6 or 7 hours on my longest flight (13 and a half hours), which was great because I had the worst headache I've ever had, I think from the pressure in my sinuses (I have a cold). My ears were also plugged the whole time and I felt like I was in a tunnel. I really do love that time of transition; it makes me feel creative and intrigued by my surroundings.

Rung, my roommate for the next few months and one of the staff at Santisuk, met me at the airport. We've been skyping, and it was cool to get to meet her in person. She brought me back to the apartment, a little studio with white tile floor and a balcony that looks out onto a very Mombasa-like scene. Bangkok totally reminds me of Kenya...muggy, dirty, loud, crowded, colorful. I love it. Well, perhaps love is still a strong word at this point. Then she gave me a tour of Santisuk, a tall but cozy nice corner building just across the street from her place (there's a little pedestrian bridge to get there). I met a bunch of people, felt overwhelmed, went to this huge mall, felt overwhelmed, ate at the foodcourt at another mall, felt overwhelmed, went to this market, felt like I was in Mombasa and totally enjoyed it, and then came back to the apartment and cried for a while. I sat in on part of an evening class and then crashed a little before 9.

I'm so bombarded by emotions.... It's nice to be able to overlay everything with what I know about culture shock, giving myself room to freak out a little and know I'm not crazy, but it doesn't make it easier to be suddenly cut off from everything and everyone familiar. I wanted to call my parents and Isaac so many times and I couldn't. I don't get internet in the apartment (I'm using Rung's computer right now--she gets it through her phone). I've never felt so alone, even worse because everyone here is so together, so comfortable with each other. I didn't really think about what it would be like to live for four months in a place where I don't speak the language and most people outside of Santisuk don't speak English. I didn't think about a lot of things, I just dove in.

I feel a little bit like when Jeanie and I moved to Hawaii--overwhelmed by all the things we had to do to adjust, literally and emotionally. It would have been so easy to get buried under the weight of all of it, but we could push each other forward. Now there's no one, I have to push myself forward.... Or I guess I have to learn God really is enough and his strength will get me through anything. My faith has never been tested quite like this before.

Really, it could be worse, and I think about friends who go somewhere for a year, who don't have internet access at all (I can get wifi at Santisuk), who haven't lived overseas before.... I can deeply sympathize with them.

Anyway, I hope to eventually write more interesting things than how bummed I am, but it might be a little while.