For the most part, Thailand is a very group-oriented culture. Your identity is generally not an individualistic thing but comes from your group. While I would still call myself more individualistic from a cultural standpoint, we’ve created quite a group identity here in Chiang Mai. We have a wonderful community here and we’ve done such great things together. I love my friends and I’m so thankful for having them in my life.
Here we are at the Sunday Walking Street in Chiang Mai. In Thai, it’s literally, “street person walk.” I don’t even think we went there together but just happened to meet up at this temple where they sell great food. I always get the kebabs, admittedly not a Thai cuisine but one of my Sunday night favorites.
A group of us went hiking up Doi Suthep the other Saturday. It was fun and we got to know each other better as we hiked along and through the cool mountain air.
We’ve also had a couple sweet weekend breakfasts with the hopes of more to come. The Nest, where I live, is the perfect place. Esther and Rob are so hospitable and it’s become a nexus for young people. When I think of the Nest I think of laughter, meaningful conversations, games, security, healing, food, love, the occasional critter, pizza, pepsi, prayer, and popcorn.
There have been a couple fun weddings recently as well. A couple from my church got married. They made a hilarious video of themselves reenacting their meeting and falling in love. It was very professional looking and extremely Thai! My favorite part is them walking along a bridge at Payap, the camera goes into slow motion and it catches both of their perspectives as they walk past one another and smile.
In the midst of a busy month of work I didn’t get to play frisbee as much as I’d like but I was able to play at least once a week in our first ever Chiang Mai Ultimate League. We had three teams and Wednesdays were League Day, where we would play games with our league teams. Our team was Chiang Fly and we ended up winning the league! Ultimate in Chiang Mai has been one of my favorite things of life here and I’m so thankful for my friends and community at ultimate. I can’t wait for our 7th Annual Chiang Mai Hat Tournament and then the Bangkok Hat Tournament the weekend after in January!
One of my friends out here who very closely resembles my mental picture of John the Baptist fights Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) and had a great fight last month. Literally about 50 people came out to support him. I brought Payap’s American Flag and ran around the ring waving it when they announced his name. I was a little worried at first because he got kicked right in the head and it took him to his knees. I thought for sure he was toast. He got up and kept fighting and after he laid a knockout punch I ran around the ring again waving the flag. It was a blast!
We’ve had some fun holidays in Chiang Mai recently including Loy Krathong, which has many meanings but is mostly a sort of quasi-Buddhist/animistic ceremony of apology to the river goddess as well as a time to send away sins and make merit. In practice, it’s a time of shooting off fireworks, lanterns, and letting little biodegradable floats down the river. I was busy with planning for Payap’s International Day but managed to hang out a little with friends during the festivities. Esther’s father, Al, was also here to join in the fun! Here was a big float parked outside the Nest.
It was also His Majesty the King’s birthday last week and I took out my Scrabble-buddy students to a fancy place for lunch and desserts. I’ve known these girls for 3 years now and we’ve played about a hundred games of Scrabble together over the years. I love them both dearly. Under my tutelage they’ve both become quite adept Scrabble players and I came in last place that day. The girl on the far right even went to Bangkok for a national tournament last year. Since it was father’s day they called me their father for the day.
I often wonder about the effects living in Thailand has had on my life and what life would be like if I never came here in May of 2009. How much of the culture has rubbed off on me? How much have I rubbed off on people in Thailand? The longer I spend here the more I understand the intricacies of culture, how underlying values drive beliefs and practices; how we see others and the world around us. It’s a priceless and beautiful process to be totally uncomfortable and out of one’s element but have the patience, respect, and perseverance to learn and grow from the discomfort. And the goal is never to peg or label a culture or a people group. “Oh, Thai people are like _________; Americans are like _______.” The point is rather to further embrace the complexity of life and what it means to live in relationship with others.
I love you all.