Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ha! Finally have internet connection for my laptop!

It’s sort of strange. When you’re a child, your birthday holds a special, almost magical appeal. At my age, however, it often seems like just another day. Today I turned 35. Big whoop, right? I mean, I’m away from my family, and it’s not like I’m getting a cake or presents. And besides, every day in Southeast Asia is unique; October 23 is just another in a long string of extraordinary days. All that having said, I did end up celebrating a little bit -- I’ll get to that later.

This morning, Tutu picked us up at 9:30 at our hotel, the utterly unremarkable Ratanakosi, a joint that’s fancy, but in a tedious, banal sort of way. We rode in her pickup truck to her church, which sits nestled 20 minutes outside of the city in the foothills of whatever the mountains are called that frame Chiang Mai. This was our first real opportunity to see the unspoiled natural beauty of this part of Thailand.

The church building is an open-sided concrete and steel structure that could easily pass for a picnic shelter at Highbanks Metro Park. The church property, I guess, could be described best as a meadow; wildflowers and long grasses stubble the ruddy land on which the main building and the bamboo secondary buildings rest. Thick groundcover, bushes and coconut palm trees carpet the areas closest to the premises’ perimeter, which is marked by a hand-hewn wooden fence.

We arrived just as the children from the orphanage were disembarking from the new Isuzu truck we recently purchased with funds from Asia’s Hope Canada. I was surprised to see the kids dressed in their native costumes. The Karen girls were dressed in their simple white robes, the Hmong children wore their dark, raw silk tunics embroidered with colorful brocade, and the Ahka were festooned in their ridiculously beautiful jackets studded with beads and laced with coins and bells. The Lisu and Lahu children also wore their distinctive outfits.

It was at this moment that I truly fell in love with Chiang Mai, with this church, and with our orphanage. As the kids filed into the church service, I was struck with a deep appreciation for spiritual significance of this rainbow amalgamation. The day before, all of the children looked the same to me, and appeared to be of the same race. Today, I realized that our kids comprise the most ethnically diverse church I’ve ever known. As the kids sang together, worshipped together and took the Lord’s Supper together, our team witnessed a bogglingly beautiful sign and symbol of the Kingdom of God. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, black nor white, Lisu or Lahu, Karen or Thai -- we are all one family, one tribe, one holy nation. Each of these kids represent a different ethnicity, a different culture, a different native tongue, but they live together as a family. The rest of the world could learn a lot from their example.

The mere existence of such an alliance is the best sermon I could think of, but for some reason, Pastor Luke still wanted me to preach. After about an hour of singing, scripture reading and praying, Luke dismissed the children to their Sunday School classes and summoned me to the small stage at the front of the auditorium. I asked him how much time I had. He said, “20 minutes.”

20 minutes later I finished my teaching from 1 Corinthians 13, prayed and returned to my seat. He spoke for a few minutes, and then said, “We still have another half hour in the service. Do any of your friends want to say something?” Apparently, he meant 20 minutes of speaking PLUS 20 minutes of translation. Whoops.

My dad saved the day by jumping up and giving an impromptu exhortation, and the service finished with the Doxology occurring only about 10 minutes early. We were directed to sit down at tables under one of the bamboo shelters, and were served a simple, but delicious lunch of noodles, potatoes and prik, a spicy Thai salsa. After lunch, we drank tea with the adults and chatted for about an hour, before loading up the trucks for the short return drive to the orphanage.

At the orphanage, my dad took individual pictures of each child, while I entertained a group of about 12 boys by teaching them how to play UNO. Kate hung out with the girls, giggling and drawing silly pictures of our team members. After all the photos were taken, the kids returned to their cabins and donned additional accessories to complete their tribal ensembles. Each tribe performed a song and dance in their tribal language for us to videotape. I think we got some fantastic footage.

After photos and video, the kids changed back into their everyday clothes, and we played various games -- badminton, UNO, soccer, tag and an extremely fun, but challenging mix between volleyball and hackeysack -- for another couple of hours. At about 4 p.m., Tutu blew her whistle, gathering all of the children into the dining shelter. She had bought some special cookies for everyone, and the kids sang “Happy Birthday” to me. It was very sweet.

After the cookies, we played for a little while longer, and then informed Tutu that we all felt like we needed to take a rest at the hotel and get some showers if we were going to have the energy to go out to dinner with Tutu and her husband and then visit Chiang Mai’s famous Night Market.

At about 7pm, Tutu and Luke picked us up from our hotel, and took us to a beautiful and charming riverside restaurant and bar called, somewhat unimaginatively, the Riverside Restaurant and Bar. We enjoyed a delicious Thai feast, some lively conversation and live jazz. Tutu drove us into the heart of the city to the Night Market, a vast network of shops and stalls selling everything from nunchuks to nightgowns. I bought a game for my sons, some Christmas decorations and a t-shirt. Tutu also took me to a tailor, who measured me for five dress shirts and a suit, which will be ready in 3 days. There were many other things there I wanted to buy, but Tutu assured us, “We can buy those at the day market for much lower price. Too many tourists for a good price at the night market.”

At about 10:30, Luke picked us up and took us to the hotel. My dad hit the sack, and Kate and John and I took a tuk-tuk back to the night market in search of dessert and libations to celebrate my birthday. By about 11:30, the market was starting to wrap up, and we still hadn’t found a great place to eat. We hailed a tuk-tuk and I said, “Do you know someplace nice to go?” The driver said, “Karaoke?” I declined; Kate hates Karaoke, and besides, Karaoke in Asia goes hand in hand with other, much older professions.

After passing through some very sketchy areas of town, we ended up at a place called “German Beer Garden and Restaurant.” We sampled some of the proprietors’ fare, and spent an hour or so in a deep conversation about politics, pop-culture and parenting. We took a stroll down the street, passed more than a dozen working ‘women (?)’ in a single block, and decided that it would be best to take the nearest taxi back to the Ratanakosi.

We arrived ‘home’ at about 1:50 a.m., and decided to call it a night. It’s about 2:30 now, but I wanted to try to get some of this down for posterity’s sake. Tomorrow we’re checking out of this hotel in favor for a cheaper one closer to the city center. I’m looking forward to being in the middle of Chiang Mai’s hustle and bustle. Today, I fell in love with the city, it’s people and places. I can’t wait to spend the next few nights within walking distance of decent restaurants, nightclubs and markets.

But for now, it’s off to sleepyworld for me.

Talk with you more tomorrow. Peace.

1 comment:

Karen said...

happy birthday john!!! (a little late)