A Bad Day in Bangkok – RGAT

20130624-074857.jpg When I think of Bangkok, I can’t help but quote my favorite musical “Chess.” The song is catchy and fun and paints the picture of a beautiful city, despite it’s shortcomings. I don’t know if it molded my expectations at all, but only one line from the song really stuck true to my experience.

“One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble.”

I traveled to Bangkok for the first time a week ago. Not gonna lie, it was pretty vicious. It was fast-paced, crowded, hot, and all I wanted to do was go back to Chiang Mai. It was like New York in ways, but terrifying because the culture was altogether unfamiliar.

Per the title, I had a really bad day in Bangkok. And calling it simply humbling does not begin to describe it.

But to those who read this blog or know my character, you know I’m not one to post something negative!

The day began fine. We got of the train, tired and a bit sick, but all in one piece. Then everything started piling up until, by noon, everyone was at each other’s throats.

First, I was surrounded by scary street people with circus-like make-up on. I’m also pretty sure half of them were lady-boys. They dumped corn all over me, insisting I pay them for feeding the birds. The rest of my group didn’t realize they’d left me behind and I really just wanted to cry. They tried to take all my baht and I barely got away.

Secondly, the rooming plans for Cambodia didn’t work out like I wanted it to. It was disheartening. *Spoiler-alert,* it worked out fine, just not like I’d originally hoped.

Thirdly, I didn’t have near enough baht to get into the Grand Palace because none of us had been certain of the plans to begin with. Instead, I had to wait outside for over an hour while the people who had enough money toured the temple.

Fourthly, my Pad Thai at lunch had mini-shrimp all over it. Which I totally would have enjoyed if shellfish didn’t make me incredibly sick. I nibbled on noodles and walked away unsatisfied.

Last complaint, I promise. When I finished shopping, I got locked out of the church we stayed in. Of course, I was alone. And it was pouring rain. Peachy.

Wow! Look at all those complaints! Now that I’ve officially shared my sorrows with you all, I’ll get on to the positive parts of this post.

Everything is an experience. Though not every experience is a good one, all of them are for good. You may not feel like getting several hundred baht peeled off your person is for good, right? But the birds got to eat something. And the lady-boys may have enough money now to eat dinner. Why did they try to get into street scams anyway? Do they have much baht to begin with? I honestly don’t know their lives.

It isn’t always easy to see how the bad experiences influence good consequences. But without the positive outlook, the negative experiences will become overwhelming! People don’t like being consumed by the negative. I mean, Debbie Downer isn’t exactly the favorite friend of the bunch. Either the bad things that happen to me will help someone else positively, or the bad things that happen to me will help me grow, change, and learn more about myself. That in itself is a good result!

This isn’t even about just looking for a silver lining. It’s about trusting that every “experience” you undergo – good or bad – is an experience that will bring about good. Let every experience humble you. Let every experience grow you. Even when you can’t see it, believe it. Or else, every day would be a bad day, wouldn’t it?

Unable to Leave — RGAT

20130628-223652.jpg I would be lying if I said that my trip to Thailand wasn’t – in part – an attempt to escape West Texas. It wasn’t the whole reason. And it wasn’t an escape like the kind I talked about in my post “Escape to Atlantis“. I just needed a reprieve from the dull, rolling plains and the reminders of heartbreak. What better cure for emotional and mental stagnation than an adventure full of inspiration?

So when I think of being unable to leave the States, it’s difficult to grasp. This trip has been so rewarding. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was so easy for me to do! Hop on a plane, fly around the world, pass through customs, and voila! But my best friend (Venezuelan) can’t leave the States. And the girls I met in Mae Hong Son (the Karenni girls from left above, Ida, Dima, Mimi, Mithi, and Symmetweh) can’t leave the border of the forests that surrounds them.

It’s been over a week since I left their peaceful, humble village in the mountains and I miss them so much. I could go back to visit them, of course. But they can’t visit me. They are refugees who crossed the Thai border from Burma and now live in the mountains. They are wonderful young adults who stayed up with me every night to laugh and swap stories. Then they showed us city-folk how to bathe in a stream. They demonstrated using rocks to exfoliate and teased us when we tried to rub our faces with them. And most heartbreaking of all, they cried when we left.

20130628-224757.jpg These girls hardly dare to dream beyond the surrounding trees. It almost makes me feel guilty for daily pursuing a dream to write. My feet ache to move, so I travel. My fingers itch to type, so I write. For the girls, they settle on a future within the camp. They have so many dreams and wishes, but so little hope that they will come to fruition.

Since this was more of an open-ended thought with no real conclusion, I will end with a few words of encouragement:

To those who wish to roam, don’t take your leave for granted.
To those still stuck at home, don’t forsake your dreams.

A Quick Note from Cambodia

A quick note to my followers (and those who care to read this blog):

My time in Cambodia has consisted of food poisoning, smoke-filled lungs, and little to no wifi. My apologies for the lack of posts. Everyone should expect a slew of them over the next couple of days. Okay, maybe not a slew. I have at least three that should be posted relatively soon (one every other day or so). Hopefully you’ll enjoy them and won’t get sick of me typing to you. 🙂 Love to everyone from Cambodia!

Going Out On a Limb (Or Leaping Off It) – RGAT

20130621-100050.jpg Meet Lima. Lima lives in a tree near one of refugee camps in the mountains of Mae Hong Son. She hates cameras. Point a phone or camera at her and she’ll screech and try and grab it away. Mainly it’s the flash, but she is completely unwilling to get to know you. The first time I offered her my arm, she grabbed my Kindle and began to chew the corner. After a moment of pulling it away from her, I set all of my stuff down out of her reach. From that point, she was completely happy to be my friend.

Lima would bound toward me across the ground, jump on my leg, and run all the way up to my shoulders. Her favorite place to perch was my head, which made it difficult to hold my neck straight. She was a heavy little devil. I had monkey footprints up and down my arm. Then she would sit, immovable, on my shoulder and stare at me while I scratched her head and back. I felt like I’d made a good friend (because she was brilliant, guys, you don’t even know).

Anyway, I’ve ranted about Lima too much. I need to get to my deep, philosophical parallel. I just really loved the monkey, okay?

One of Lima’s favorite pastimes was wrapping the rope she was tied to over a branch, leaping out of her tree, and swinging by her “leash.” She would propel herself towards the other trees by lunging off her trunk and flying through the air. At first, I thought she was struggling, with her limbs flailing everywhere. But Lima is a monkey. The second she wanted, she could grab the trunk, or easily pull herself up to the branch again, untangling herself. Next, I thought she was showing off to me her cool tricks. But Lima didn’t even care that I was standing there while she swung. Finally, I realized she was pushing off to try and grab the smaller branches of a nearby tree. When she reached it, she would clutch the leaves, staying awkwardly suspended in air.

Lima went out on a limb to reach a goal. She couldn’t extend her leash, but she could reach beyond her boundaries to the unattainable. Not only did she go out on a limb, she leaped off of it! Why isn’t the whole of humanity more like my monkey friend, Lima?

When I was staying in the refugee camp, hardly anything was within my comfort zone. I bathed in a stream. I slept on the floor. I stayed off of Facebook. I pulled a fin off of my already cooked fish. I lived in 90 degree weather with no A/C (or fan to speak of, most of the time, since the electricity refused to be consistent). It was amazing! But not within my comfort zone. I think the Karenni people even laughed at us for the silly things we did.

But in an adventure, what good is staying within a comfort zone? Where would the happy ending be if the prince refused to challenge the dragon? What fun would life be without a little risk?

Thailand is my adventure of the moment. I try and make adventures from everything: a trip to the beach, a visit to barren West Texas, a walk downtown, et cetera. (Every time “et cetera,” y’all.) But this was a huge step for me! This was flying around the world! Oceans away from home! For two months! With very few familiar people! To a country with ridiculously spicy food! And very few fluent English speakers! And different cultural norms/expectations/traditions! I mean, holy crap! What was I thinking?!

I was thinking I needed a step out of my comfort zone. I needed to take a leap of faith off the branch in the hope that the result would ultimately be beneficial for me! My life had been too plain, too full of drama. I’d been broken-hearted multiple times in the past year and staying in my boundaries would never have helped me heal. By going on an adventure, I get to experience new things, learn more about myself, and more about the amazing world! You probably all think I’m silly for my over-enthusiasm right now. Yes, Renee. It’s a monkey. Yes, Renee. You’re in a different country. But, hey, the excitement is what makes it easier to take the risk and have a blast and make a difference!

Looking silly doesn’t matter. Feeling foolish doesn’t matter. It’s about living to the fullest. It’s about having fun. It’s about going the distance and beyond. It’s about jumping away from the tree, maybe flailing for a bit, but eventually grabbing the leaf in the distance.

Bubble Shows – RGAT

While showing me several video clips on YouTube, my Chinese friend Karen asked me if I like bubble shows.

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Lately, she’s been showing me all of her favorite Thai, Chinese, and Taiwanese dramas and introducing me to some of the actors she likes.

“You think he’s cute, yeah?” she’ll ask.

Of course, I’ll agree. It’s hard to argue that some of these men are very attractive. I’m not gonna argue if a handsome Asian man is walking around without his shirt on. (Sorry, I’m single. No regrets.) Every time I admit the man is attractive, she’ll tell me, “You have yellow fever, huh?” Sure, Karen. I have yellow fever. Really, I just think attractive men are attractive men.

I digress. Once I began to think about the clips she’d showed me so far and she hesitantly added the word “opera,” I realized what she meant.

“Soap opera!” Karen and I both died laughing when we realized the misunderstanding.

It’s been amazing to get to know all of the interns that I didn’t know before the trip. Especially the foreign ones. Karen is Chinese, Mit is Malaysian, and Mahya is Japanese. P’Ball and Na are both Thai, though Ball isn’t exactly an intern. We just all live together in the same building. Which is good and bad.

It’s like having a roommate or, I suppose, a spouse. There’s always someone who leaves the dumplings out on the counter, or doesn’t refill the toilet paper when they use the last of it, or something, et cetera, et cetera. (Please enjoy that King and I reference. I am in Thailand, after all.) We’re also getting closer and closer to each other. We’re enjoying the bonding time we have and growing into our spiritual gifts. We take silly pictures and have inside jokes (especially when Karen says something hilarious, like “bubble shows”). We are all working together for the service of others.

However, two months is a long time to be with a select group of people. We’ve only gone two weeks. Before I came overseas, my dad wrote me a letter that reminded me 5+ times to avoid drama. It seemed like an easy request, and I still think it is entirely possible. I’ve just begun to realize that traveling so far from home can bring out unseen characteristics in others. This is good! You get to know all of their traits! But it can also lead to tension over time when traits don’t coincide well.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there’s drama among the interns. They may read this and think, “What the heck, Renee?” But that’s not what I mean. This is more of a post about thoughtful prevention. I just know that drama can tear a close knit group apart in seconds flat and I don’t want any of us to feel like we’re stuck in the middle of a bubble show. We head out to displacement camps in Mae Hong Son tomorrow and will basically be roughing it for four days. Not to mention, cramming 17 people and their luggage in to a truck for a trip through the mountains. These are the exact conditions that make for a brilliant bubble show.

Bubble shows are hilarious to watch: tense, overdramatic, and often intriguing. Real life drama, on the other hand, can quickly be devastating. This intern team has a positive purpose in Chiang Mai and should not be brought down by negativity even for a moment. We have too much to do to waste any time bickering. We have too many blessings to spend time complaining. We are on an adventure together and need to maintain our joy, camaraderie, and friendship.

Drama always has negative consequences. I hope we continue to stay away from real life bubble shows.

Feet to the Floor – RGAT

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Shoes come off upon arrival, sandals slip off at the door. Heels hit hard on tile, feet flat to the floor.

Shoes are considered the lowest part of the body in Thailand and it is a huge disrespect to wear any shoe within a school, church, or personal residence. Many salons and shops also require bare feet. Talk about a contrast to “no shoes, no service.”

In a way, taking ones shoes off is very freeing. Shoes are protective against many elements: sharp glass, hot pavement, dirt, and several infections. But shoes can also be restrictive. Shoes were made by man for man. And for Barbies. They are decorative. They are collectable. They are practical. When worn all the time, though, feet become dependent on them. It becomes painful and hard to adapt when not wearing shoes.

Every day in Thailand, I wash my feet before I go to bed. I can think back on where I’ve been during the day. For instance, today:

-I went to the restaurant next door for lunch for kao putt gai.
-I went to the tea shop twice because Thai tea is addictive, arroy (delicious), and cheap.
-I went to the laundromat to run a load of laundry.
-I’ve stayed inside the Zone, skipping, running, and dancing barefoot.

Maybe I’m not making any sense. Or maybe you’ll think I’m a hippie. But when you put your feet to the floor, you have more of a connection with your path. Every step is more meaningful. You can feel the vibrations in the soles of your feet. You are constantly conscious of every place you set your feet.

Perhaps not everyone is enjoying taking their shoes off everywhere. But I find a beauty in every step, in every destination, and every time I clean away the dirt of a day.

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Also, P’Ball says I should blog about him right now. So here’s a shout-out to P’Ball.

“Fasting and Study” Haiku Series

Inspired by the equipping lessons at my summer internship. These discussions were led by Emily and Mahya respectively. I just can’t help writing about some of the awesome topics we discuss. Still, I apologize for the haiku spam:

After our hunger
Satisfy our ev’ry need
Let us break our fast

Emotions surface
Our personal weaknesses
Flaws for us to fix

I need not my wants
I want instead your desires
Fill me up inside

Just, pure, true, beauty
Knowledge to set mankind free
Only through study

When we lack the truth
We lack the other virtues
That apply to life

Simply beautiful
Marvel at the little things
Value small wonders

Copyright Renee Rhodes June 13, 2013