How to begin…
Today I ate fried pig blood (that looks like jello and tastes like nothing much) and ate an ice-cream sandwich with one hand (while holding onto a scooter with the other hand, flying down the highway). That’s just kind of how it goes here…
(This title is dedicated to my older brother, Michael. With love – Eva)
These first days living in Thailand have been eye opening, to say the least. Every day I seem to have too much to write in my diary – exceeding my goal of one concise and witty page per day.
As I gradually fall into a wonderfully-flexible routine, I find myself considering the idea of home. The cliché saying, “Home is where the heart is,” has always bothered me – it seems too simple. However, in some ways, this saying is true. Whenever I am experiencing unfamiliar circumstances, the concepts of “Me” and “Home” compress into an indistinguishable single core. Then, as the new surroundings continuously augment and infiltrate that core, these ideas of “Me” and “Home” expand once again, accepting parts of the new and retaining parts of the old. Each fluctuation produces a more diverse understanding of these inseparable human qualities. I believe travel and/or experiencing the Unfamiliar positively shapes the minds and hearts of those brave enough to take those journeys.
Experiences in Thai Culture
My hosts, Jake and Honah, have been fun and welcoming. From helping me with rides to and from Faithful Heart to buying me hot sauce, they have been intentionally respectful and hospitable… they’re my kind of peeps ;). I have also enjoyed spending time at Cornerstone and getting to know some of the other staff, besides Jake (and soon to be Honah).
We have been to the night bazaar as well as day markets. The streets are lined with vendors haggling their prices, taxis asking if you need a ride, and customers perusing through the crowd. Different sorts of shops have their doors wide open, with lights, smells, and sounds flooding out onto the street. Fresh fruits, fish, and flowers are piled into baskets and burst out of the sidewalks. Monks in their orange robes pass by red song tows (taxis) that drive around the patches of parked scooters. People with hats, face coverings, and umbrellas skillfully pass by each other on the narrow pathways. Colors in Thailand have a mind of their own – but in a place with so many wares and products, the colors are in full strength, as they play hide and seek within the forest of patterns and textures. Most of the products here are handmade, yet mass produced. Stuffed elephants, flowy pants, and beaded jewelry are some common products. There are so many choices – good thing I have time to pick out presents to bring back home 😉
I have also learned how to get to and from Chaing Mai (even up to Doi Suthep mountain) on my own in a song tow (taxi/bus), as well as where the elephants camps and night safari’s are!
Below are some notes about Thai culture/Chiangmai:
- Waiters bring the food out whenever it is done – they don’t wait until the whole table’s food is ready
- “Chiangmai” is the way Thai people spell the city – “Chiang Mai” is the farang (foreign/Caucasian) way
- Motorcycle licenses can be issued as young as 15 and helmets are always required (or you get a ticket – police set up “traps” on the side of the road and just wave people over without a helmet, or expires license plate, and ticket them)
- Police wear brown and drive cars and motorcycles. A wonderful Thai woman told me some police are good, some bad… sounds like any place I suppose. Private security is very prevalent here. They can be hired by businesses, individuals, etc.
- When Thai people receive their paycheck, they often go and buy gold with it – kind of like they are saving the money in gold, functioning as their own bank. So, I frequently see gold and silver shops covered wall-to-wall with bright necklaces, bracelets, bars, etc.
- Walking away from someone haggling a price with you will help them agree to a lower price.
- At Chiangmai’s center is a moat. This moat is a square river, not very wide, with bridges over it. On each corner of the moat, the remnants of the old city of Chiangmai remain (red brick). On the outside of the moat, the road travels right to left, and on the inside the road flows from left to right. Insides and around the moat, the red song tows (taxies) can take you for 20 – 30 baht, but if you are foreign they will try and jip you.
- Most of the sex trafficking happens on the upper, right had side of the moat, where many farang/tourists are, in the buildings just behind the houses lining the street (or so I believe/remember). However, trafficking happens all over the city, usually within business fronts. Apparently, in a massage parlor, if it has a smiley face and/or foot on the sign (or both?) it means the massage can end with a “happy ending”, if you want it to
- The expatriate community in Chiangmai is a very transient, so stable friendships are difficult to find.
- If you are going shopping and you know someone who is Thai, ask them if they would be willing to haggle for you, because the starting “Thai price” will be half of what a foreign starting price would be… even hide around the corner so the merchant doesn’t know you are together 😉
The Context & Faithful Heart Foundation (FHF)
My first days interning for Faithful Heart Foundation have been successfully completed. I am very excited to be a part of this organization. They specifically reach out to hilltribe (ethnic minority group) orphans, that have no citizenship rights. Country borders have changed and laws have developed accordingly, but many hill tribes have slipped through the cracks (IJM). So, although these 600,000 to 1 million humans are born within Thailand’s northern and western highlands, complex regulations, lack of access to resources, prejudice and government apathy block them from getting required identification documents and registration status to prove their citizenship, which results in detrimental vulnerability for exploitation within sex and labor trafficking (IJM). This “statelessness” is one of the reasons why sex tourism is so rampant in Thailand, as Thai businesses exploit young hilltribe children to cater to foreign tourist demands for commercial sex/abuse. Thailand has a long way to go within human rights, as can be seen from their classification of a Tier 3 country (Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so), according to the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report. In addition, according to IJM (International Justice Mission), many abusers frequently rationalize their behavior, believing that they are benefiting the women and children they are abusing, as well as the local economy, since they are paying them wages. Unfortunately, this same rationalization is one I myself have used in reference to the forced labor that has produced my purchases of clothes, food and other items. We all need to self-examine as well as recognize the unjust actions of others. Without demand there would be no supply #LocustEffect .
I know I just threw an array of facts and realities at you, but this gives you an idea of why I am halfway around the world learning how to eat fish skin and use a squatty-potty. No matter where we are in the world, exploitation festers and slowly strangles freedom and life. We need to notice the lion lurking at our doorstep and use our resources to being justice to the poor and defenseless…. #TruthSeeker .
Internship at Faithful Heart Foundation (FHF)
As far as my internships goes, the general plan is that I will spend a week or two at homes/dorms that house children under Faithful Heart Foundations’s care. Between each home visit, I will spend a week or two at Jake and Honah’s house to recharge and work at Faithful Heart’s office. While working in the office, I will be creating an interactive art project for the kids, which was Dave and Shirley’s idea (yay Dave and Shirley! – the Directors), as well as spending time with the college students.
Faithful Heart Foundation (FHF) supports 4 homes with about 5 kids each and 3 dorms with about 20 children each. One of these homes adjoins the office, where the college kids stay. I have gotten to know the two college-age girls, Tida and Pring. We have worked out a fair trade – I will help them with their English homework and they will teach me Thai and teach me how to drive a scooter. I haven’t met the 2 college boys yet, but I know one of them is raising shrimp in a tub sitting behind the dorm. I have been able to visit one dorm, in Maerim, called Home of Comfort. They grow rice (jasmine and sticky), veggies, fruit, as well as raise chickens, ducks, pigs, carp, and catfish – for the benefit of all FHF’s homes.
In one week I will be adventuring on my 1st dorm visit. This orphan care ministry is located in the Phrao district, about an hour from my host home. The Surin Foundation has supported a school and church in this rural town, called Little Candles, that reaches out to the disadvantaged children within their sphere of influence. They are an NGO (non-profit) that focuses on spreading the Gospel through church plants, while fighting problems like poverty, abuse, and violence. While volunteering at Little Candles, I will be serving in their kindergarten and weekend Sunday school programs by teaching the kidos English and Art. I am very excited for this adventure. The “parents” are a lovely couple whom I am excited to learn from. The wife is from Australia, while the husband is from Asia – so I will be able to communicate through English, which is great, especially for my first dorm visit. Apparently, I will have to practice using a squatty potty – I have yet to master the art.
In Other News…
At the church I attended with Jake and Honah, called The Gathering, I met a woman who works for the International Justice Mission office here in Chiangmai! She is in contact with their HR department, asking if I could be of service to and involved with them, and they seem open to it, which is very exciting. In addition, I met a woman yesterday at a Meditative Arts Retreat at The Well, who cares for orphans with her husband and responded positively to my offer to volunteer. I’m also babysitting for our neighbors for a week and possibly joining a Bible study in our mu-bon (neighborhood). So, in additional to Faithful Heart, it looks like I will be involved in various activities…. no surprises there.
Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask me questions about Thailand/what I am doing here! (inappropriate ones will be deleted…)