I am currently at my school placement in Muang Phayao, in the north of Thailand. Due to a busy and somewhat overwhelming first week here, the following is only concerning my time in Hua Hin, before leaving for my school placement. I will have a more current update with photos as soon as I can (the wifi has been suspect, and not conducive to uploading photos). Thank you to those who take the time to read, taking part in my journey.
I apologize for the delay in updates, but things have been quite busy since arriving in Hua Hin. Here is a short recap of my last few weeks.
Hua Hin as a city, though necessarily large, hasn’t been the quintessential “Thai cultural experience;” it’s still somewhat loud and noisy and touristy, and at times it feels like I’m still waiting to “start,” as it were. I’m looking forward to having more of a cultural immersion at my placement, or at least more than what I’ve been experiencing. I know it will be here soon, so in that sense I enjoy the sense of familiarity while I’m in it a more “western” area, before I’m quite literally “on my own.”
There have also been moments of beauty in Hua Hin. One morning at breakfast, I saw a monk walking around with his bowl, collecting food and water (monks live off the generosity of the laypeople, since they are not permitted to earn an income). This is what I had read about, but it was the first time I had seen it. A young boy gave him food and took a bow before him. This is how monks live – off the generosity of others. Something about that is special and precious, and it’s something that brings a connection between the laypeople and the Buddhist monks. I also enjoyed observing the hustle and bustle of men and women going to work on their motorbikes, of pickup trucks driving groups of men and women to their jobs (most likely), of parents taking their children to school on motorbikes, of restaurants serving food, of street vendors selling food… There is life everywhere.
I have also been enjoying the 30-60 baht meals ($1-$2). For 3 meals a day it’s either rice or noodles with some vegetables, chicken or pork, an egg, and some spice, sauce, or peppers on top (give or take). The food here is fantastic, and I won’t soon be sick of it!
The first week here was essentially an orientation, with some introductory elements to the TESOL course. It was more of an “easing in” time and included visits to a pineapple farm, elephant sanctuary, Buddhist temple, and street dog rescue facility, as well as a beach pork BBQ, night markets, a Muay Thai fight, and getting to know others taking the course.
The second week was more intense, as the meat of TESOL course officially began, and we prepared our lessons for a local English Camp. It was most definitely a “trial by fire,” seeing as we had about two days to prepare and present lessons to our peers before jumping right into classrooms full of energetic and noisy children. Thankfully, most of us had partners for our lessons, and thankfully, we all survived the hot classrooms. Day 1 was the equivalent of around 4th grade with 6 one hour classes, and day 2 the equivalent of 1st grade with 4 one hour classes, with a one hour lunch break both days. Needless to say, it was exhausting. Some of the classes were decently attentive, while most were somewhat out of control and not necessarily too keen on paying attention (not surprisingly, with hours straight of English lessons)! Many of the students were talking, some (mostly) playfully punching or picking on each other. Some of the young children were simply uncontrollable, and it took quite a bit of patience to try to keep any sense of order. Many of them just couldn’t sit still (again, not surprisingly). Despite all of the challenges, it was a valuable experience for all of us. We were relieved after being told that this will probably be as hard as it gets. When we are teachers of our own classes, we should have more authority and thus should have more respect from students (which is not always the case).
After the second day of teaching was finished, we made Loy Krathongs (floating baskets) with some older students. They’re made of a thin piece of banana trunk, banana leaves, and are decorated with flowers. Then, candles or incense sticks are placed in the middle, to be lit when placed in the ocean. That night, we participated in the parade celebrating the new moon festival, Loy Krathong, celebrated all over Thailand. There were different floats and bands, with men and women dressed up in traditional garb.
What is Loy Krathong? From the little I understand, the Loy Krathong festival is celebrated during the new moon (lunar calendar). It involves floating lanterns on the sea or rivers. It has a Buddhist (purifying or letting go) and/or animist (water spirits) meaning. It may have eventually been adapted by Buddhists as a tribute to Buddha, with the candle venerating Buddha (“light”) and the act of “letting go” of impurities symbolized by the floating of the baskets. Supposedly, it’s believed a Thai goddess protects the rivers and seas, and that there are many spirits of the water. The goddess ensures health and well-being (of the water). The Loy Krathong is something of an apology to the water goddess for any pollution (or misuse) of the water, and may be an ancient ritual of paying respect to the water spirits. Also, many people put hair or nail clippings in their Loy Krathong and make a wish as they send it off, as something of an act of letting go of the past, worries, wrongs, impurities, etc.
Over the weekend, we had a much-needed two days off. I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a wedding with a YWAM friend from down south. It was a serene setting on the beach, simple and pretty. There were many westerners there, mostly missionaries and/or YWAMers, a few of whom I met. At Thai weddings (or at least the one I attended) the couple does not kiss after the ceremony. This makes sense in context, considering PDA is often not appropriate in Thailand, even among married couples, which apparently means the wedding as well. All in all however, the wedding was at least somewhat casually “western.” Another interesting fact is that they served Chinese food in multiple courses for the reception, which is supposedly seen as something of a delicacy, and may be common at some Thai wedding receptions.
During last weekend, I began to wrestle through where I should pursue being placed in Thailand. Initially, I had been aiming for somewhere in the north. However, after speaking with my friend from YWAM in the south, I began to rethink my plan, as there are many connections and open doors there. My fear was that it would be taking the easy way out, and going from one “Christian bubble” to another. However, generally speaking, there are more Christians in the North, and very few in the South. There are fewer missionaries, fewer churches, and the percentage of Christians overall is very low. There would be schools to teach at, many ministry opportunities, and community.
I was then offered a position to teach 14-18 year olds (high schoolers) in the north, in an area called Muang Phayao (just south of Chiang Rai and east of Chiang Mai), which looks like a fairly rural placement. There’s a large lake very close to the town, a national park nearby and multiple others within a reasonable distance, not to mention a Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai are only a bus ride away.
While wrestling through the decision, I had to stop, remember, pray, and ask myself some questions. I wrote:
What does my heart say? Why did I come here in the first place? Why am I here now? It took a step of trust and a leap of faith to come to Thailand. Am I willing to take another now that I’m here? Or would it just be an attempt to be “the hero”? But I already know I’m not the hero, I’m not the savior of anyone – Jesus is.
Do I want to go ankle-deep, or jump in completely, surrendered and with abandonment? You said, “Risk big.” You said, “I made you for adventure.” Trust grows in the unknown. Faith grows when I can’t see the outcome. True trust requires no response. True faith requires no answer. In their truest forms, these are based upon our greatest knowing — the reality, the truth, of who our God is. This is all we need, because he is all we need.
I can’t rid myself of the sense of unknown and insecurity. Could it be that this is what God desires, so that I may know him, and be secure in him.
So, I decided I’m going to make the jump. I sense the call into the unknown, into the insecure. I need to take the risk, to immerse myself in the adventure. I need to surrender with abandonment. From the beginning, this is what this journey has been about; this is what it must continue to be about. The temptation to fear and be anxious is constant, but I move ahead all the same. Yes, it will be harder and more uncomfortable, but because of that I believe more growth and maturity will occur.
The final week in Hua Hin was busy and somewhat overwhelming. Every day in class was filled with lectures or lesson presentations by the students. On top of that, the anticipation of waiting to leave for our school placements continues to build in everyone’s minds, while the rest continue to wait. For myself, the idea of going back south created a struggle that I hadn’t previously felt, and it became a difficult, back and forth decision. Without a clear yes or no, only a slight sense, I said yes to Muang Phayao in the north. Opportunities in the South weren’t solidifying very quickly, so I’m off to the north, to what I think may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m not even sure I’m making the “right” decision, but I have to make one; I make it by faith and in trust.
It’s one thing to think about faith and trust as theologically abstract ideas in a predictable and secure context, and quite another to enter into a reality where you are actually required to live in them. As I prepare to head north, I’m really not prepared at all. Yes, I’ve just taken a TESOL course, but nothing prepares you for the heat of being thrown into the fire. What I can’t forget is the process that led me here, that faint whisper which turned into a call: of adventure, of risk, of insecurity, of the unknown. But how can faith and trust be built apart from such?
As I continue onward, there will be many more stories to come…
Stay tuned for photos…