Saturday, April 26, 2008

Thailand - Part 4

Songkran - What an AWESOME holiday!

We were lucky enough to be visiting over the Thai New Year - Songkran. Their calendar is counted from Buddha's ours is from Christ's birth. Though they've accepted and used the same calendar as we do for many years, their New Year in April is still one of the most celebrated holidays in the country. How fun to see the new year of 2551 be born into Thailand!

There really is no way to describe Songkran with seriously just have to see it. The most obvious celebration of this holiday is throwing water. They dump water on you to 'shower you with blessings'. Basically, it's a three-day, country-wide water fight (also celebrated in Laos, Burma and Cambodia...I think). We were gently introduced to the holiday after church in Laos, when the members of the branch sat 8 chairs in a semi-circle for our family and the senior missionary couples. After we were all seated, member after member after member after member came around the circle with a cup full of rose-water.

We were instructed to hold our hands out in a bowl shape as each member poured water into our hands and voiced a blessing to us. Some blessings ran exceptionally long as water overflowed the 'bowl' and seeped through each gap between our fingers. We then were told to take our full hands and dump the water on our heads. Definitely not something I was planning on doing when I got dressed that morning! We couldn't stop laughing the whole time, and the members loved it! We were further surprised when they came along the back of us and started dumping cups full of water down our shirts.... :) This went on for a good 20 minutes, and boy were we soaked by the skirt and hair were literally dripping when I stood up!

My dad missed out on the 20 minutes of blessings, however the members were quick to greet him with cups full of water when he came out of his interviews. He lucked out, however, because he stood the whole time...his pants never got wet (and, he could understand what they were saying in their blessings!).

We drove back to Thailand that afternoon, and it was SO MUCH FUN to watch the celebrations from the safety of our enclosed van. :) Group after group of people were lined up along the highways with barrels of water, squirt guns and hoses, ready to douse any and everybody. We saw countless trucks loaded down with people out to get soaked. Friend soaking friend, stranger soaking stranger. Music and dancing and dripping and drinking were everywhere - EVERYWHERE!

It was rather hard to get good pictures as we traveled along the these are a little blurry...but notice the three pick-up trucks in a row in the first picture, loaded down with people and water. This was typical. The second picture cracked me up - how many people are in that truck? And their HATS! Notice in the third picture how the group of people has moved out into the highway...we're going 50 mph here, and they're waltzing out in front of the traffic signaling for people to slow down so they can soak them with water! The craziest part about it, is that people DO IT! The trucks slow down and veer to their side with their water guns and buckets of water ready to douse the people on the ground.

Seriously, why don't we celebrate this holiday?!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Thailand - Part 3

For our only Sunday in Laos, we attended the small LDS branch in Vientiane. Possibly one of the best Sundays I have ever had. I didn't understand much, but the spirit touched my heart more strongly than it has in a long time.

As Laos is communist, missionaries are not allowed to proselytize. In fact, the only missionaries there are two senior couples who can only provide much needed service; however, they don't speak the language, so their communication is severely limited.

I don't know specifics, but I do know that the church is still very new in Laos. The people of the branch have learned so much, but they still have so much more to learn - they are firm in their testimonies of the gospel and they are required to heavily practice their faith that, no matter what the answers to all of their many questions are, those answers will be true. I sadly admit that I'm not sure I would have such faith. I pray that someday soon, these people can have their questions answered by full-time, Laotian-speaking missionaries, who can take their small branch by the hand and help them achieve their full potential...which is great indeed.

During Sacrament meeting, I could visibly see the love that the people of this branch have for my mom. I loved seeing their smiles widen as she got up to speak! I then watched them scoot to the edge of their seats and lean forward when my dad stood up to speak. They hung on every word - starved for the knowledge and teachings that he shared with them. My dad spoke in Thai, not in their native tongue of Laotian; but the two languages are similar, much like Spanish and Portuguese. I found it touching to see the concentration in their faces as they put forth the extra effort to understand all he was saying. Even the children of the branch were quiet in reverence, sensing the importance of the meeting from the examples of their parents.

Relief Society was after sacrament meeting, and I watched the 10 sisters open up their Doctrine and Covenants to read. There was no lesson manual, there was no teacher, just sisters sitting together, reading the word of God. They would read a little, discuss a little, question a little... One sister spoke very broken English, and every once in a while, she would translate a question from the group to my mother. "If you haven't gone to the temple, can you still live with God?" A heartfelt, concerning question from these sisters who don't have much of a chance of raising the needed money to get to the nearest temple in Hong Kong. Not even the branch president has been to the temple. They asked my mom to give the closing prayer and afterwards each sister stood up front and, with the help of the sister who spoke broken English, bore her testimony to us. What a touching experience. One sister said to my mother, "You are like an angel sent from God to teach us." Another sister expressed her joy that Heavenly Father had chosen her to be baptized. No sister, save one, had been a member of the church for more than 10 years... but again, their faith was amazingly strong. My emotions got the best of me, and I sat with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face that, though large for me, seemed to pale in comparison to theirs.

I really do believe that God is no respecter of persons. These women added a new layer to my testimony that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are with us, and that they guide us and love us...all of us. Such humble circumstances in Laos - such joyful people.

After church the young women and relief society sisters crammed together in the kitchen to prepare lunch for the branch, while the kids played outside.

When lunch was prepared, the children came in to help 'set the table'...i.e. put plates of food down on colorful mats that had been spread out on the chapel floor.

We ate, talked, and laughed while the food was passed around and around until everyone had had enough. Then, these two cute little girls came out carrying an empty tub and cleared all the dishes by throwing them, one by one, into their tub. I thought this was so cute...especially since that little girl in the pink dress held onto those four cookies the whole time!

Random pictures of the day-

More later!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Thailand - Part 2

Two words that describe Thailand: It's hot.
Now, for a few hundred more words that describe Thailand (or a few thousand...if you count the phrase 'a picture is worth a thousand words').

Would you like to walk down this sidewalk? My mom says biking missionaries fall off sidewalks like this all the time...then they have to start taking antibiotics, cause who knows what kinds of bacteria are lurking in those waters! As for the telephone pole - what more is there to say?

What would it be like to live in that house? And the cart of brooms - amazingly, not uncommon!

This is one of my favorite fruits in Thailand (not the taste, so much as the look). It's called a Gna. Pronunciation: say the word 'sing' take the last sound of that word (ng), add an 'ah' sound, put a staccato mark on it, and there you have it. Gna!

This lizard-like thing is called a Duka (Doo-Kaa). I guess they're nasty little buggers - if they bite, they don't let go. The vehicle in the next picture is called a Tuk-tuk (Took-Took). They're the taxi of choice if you're going fairly short distances, and so fun to ride in! This one struck me as cool because a Monk is riding in it.

Luggage Problems

We've had a little trouble with our luggage here...when we first arrived, none of our SEVEN bags made it. It took 2 days to get them delivered, and on the same day of the delivery, I decided to pull out my camera to get a few shots. Problem - where's my camera? We searched and searched and searched until Brian finally found it on the lost and found website for Korean Air. Yep, I had left it on the airplane from Korea to Bangkok. Frustrating! Thankfully, we'll get it back, and until then my parents are generously letting me borrow their camera!

As if that weren't enough, the first weekend we were here we flew up to Udon Thani (in the northern part of Thailand) and, as fate would have it, one of our bags was mistakenly taken by another passenger. I do realize that our bag is black and very similar to many others, but COME ON FOLKS! Check the tag! Luck was in our favor, however, and the hotel we were staying at offered not only complimentary shampoo and soap, but laundry detergent. So, Brian became our washing machine and washed our underwear out in the tub that night so they would be clean and dry the next morning. Thankfully, the accidental thief realized his mistake and returned our bag to the airport the next day. I can't help but wonder, what did he think when he opened up our bag?

Driving to Laos

After a couple nights in northern Thailand, we crossed the border into Laos - where they've come to their senses and drive on the right side of the road. :) (Thailand drives on the left)

We had lunch on a boat as we floated down the Mekong river. Do you really want to know what Brian is eating? Egg soaked in horse urine. Yes, he really did eat it. I'll leave you for now with a couple more of my favorite pictures from the lunch boat... but since I'm sure you're not sick of hearing about my vacation, I'll be posting much more!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Thailand - Part 1

We made it to Thailand! We’ve been here visiting my family for just over a week, and have 2 weeks left to enjoy this crazy country! I find myself smiling, frowning, double-taking and laughing at the differences between the life I'm used to, and the life I see here... This crazy country where:

Scaffolding obviously has no safety regulations; They eat fruit that stinks so badly that they don't allow it indoors;

Translations are less than perfect; Signs can be hilarious

They paint lines on the roads by hand; Pineapple trucks can be spotted anywhere;

The highways, roadways, and walkways are sprinkled with sleeping Thais in hammocks; and the Thais risk heat stroke to avoid getting any darker in the sun (I guess the whiter the skin, the more beautiful the person...I must be GORGEOUS here!)

“To market, to market to buy a fat pig
Home again home again jiggity-jig”

This nursery rhyme has been told several times since we arrived here – one of the first things we did on the 7th was take a trip to the market to buy some food for the next few days. How cool! Weird fruits, beautiful, fragrant flowers, disgusting animal innards, dirty walkways, sweaty people, and many Thai faces turned our way. We bought some 'lotus flowers' so that my parents' housekeeper, Sister Noi, could show me how to fold them. "Fold flowers?" I thought..."why not?"

In the evening, the whole family took a walk around my parents block – so beautiful! The flowers are just amazing, the humidity in the air made it feel like we were swimming, the dogs were a favorite of Carson’s; but the best thing for me was to just be with my family…and see them interact with my children.

That night, I was grossed to find out that Thais enjoy experimenting with their toothpaste flavors. Unfortunately, I didn't find that out until after I stuck the toothbrush in my mouth. Seriously, who wants to brush their teeth with 'Salt Herbal' toothpaste? Might as well just drink salt straight out of the bottle.

Stay tuned for more Thailand adventures! (Believe me, there are plenty!)