Sunday, October 15, 2006

Wild and wacky

This promises to be a wild and wacky week. Life in Thailand is definitely different from that in Cambodia, but for our team, it’s no less hectic. Chiang Mai is, in Dave Atkins’ words, “What Phnom Penh could have looked like if it wasn’t destroyed by war.” In other words, it’s prosperous, lush, well-maintained and cultured. People obey traffic signals. All the roads are paved. Garbage isn’t dumped on the sidewalks, and police corruption is nicely hidden.

An hour or so north of Chiang Mai, however, one finds poverty and and deprivation quite similar to that found in Cambodia. The plight of the ‘hilltribes’ – ethnic minorities marginalized and mistreated by the rest of Thai society – is particularly grave. The Thais have for hundreds of years treated the hilltribes like the Americans treated its indigenous people groups: like slaves and foreigners in their own land.

Our orphanage is staffed by adults from various hilltribes and is populated entirely by tribal children. In fact, from the 72 children in our Chiang Mai orphans’ home, we have 7 of the 9 major hilltribes represented. Akha, Lisu, Lahu, Karen, Po Karen, Hmong (that’s all I can pull from the top of my head) all live together in harmony. Our staff works hard to provide the kids tools to survive in Thai society. They also strive to help the children maintain their ethnic identities by allowing them to wear tribal garments, learn tribal songs and dances, and make tribal crafts.

Yesterday, we went to church, which is held in the multipurpose building at the orphans’ home. After what seemed like an eternity of songs in languages I don’t speak, I led the group in communion, and then taught from the story of David and Goliath. To the kids’ delight, I stood on a chair and shouted “WHO WILL FIGHT ME?!!!” in my deepest, most gigantic voice. I talked about the giants that face these kids – fear about the future, sorrow about the past, and encouraged them to trust in God to help them overcome those obstacles.

After church, we ate lunch with the kids and then proceeded to exhaust ourselves quite thoroughly. We played every game imaginable, including one that will probably give me nightmares at some point in the near future. We played what I’ll call ‘Gulliver’ in which the kids wrestle me to the ground and try to keep me there while I try to get up. The game is accompanied by terrifying screaming and wild gesticulating – all from me – as I try to avoid both crushing and being crushed. This game begins to answer the amusing but grim theoretical question: “How many seven year olds do you think it would take to kill you in hand-to-hand combat, assuming they all attacked at once?”

Depending on the quality of my initial defensive posture, I’d say somewhere around 37.

At about 6pm, we returned to the hotel and set out for dinner. Remind me again next time to avoid Irish pubs in Asia. The food was bad and the service indifferent. I was trying to appease a team member who had an itch for fish-and-chips. Probably not the best choice. I bet this place as a good Thai restaurant or two.

After dinner, we headed out for the famous ‘Night Bazaar,’ a treasure trove of knock-offs and knick-knacks of an almost inconceivable scale. We all wanted to browse the souvenir stands, but our main objective for the night was to find the tailor who made clothes for me last year. Gary wanted Mindi to bring him back a couple of shirts, I wanted a shirt or two and Peter had some sartorial needs as well. No dice. Couldn’t find the place.

So, today, we have a work day at the orphanage, and then tomorrow we take the kids to a pool. On Thursday, we’re going to Burma. Yes, Burma. More on that development later…


Anonymous said...

The tailor was pretty far down on the right in a big building with a glass front up on the 2nd floor. Please get some pictures of Napaporn Sealao, and tell the kids that I really miss them a lot. Dad

erica said...

On the East side of the river, up from the main bridge, there's a fabulous if slightly pricey restaurant that has a gallery in front. It's on the river, really nice ambiance. I wish I could remember the name. I got my little elephant there.

Or, you could go eat at Sompon's restaurant, wherever that is, and have Peter and Julie pick up their own copies of the school cook book, and remember, Kori broke one of her coconut shell stirfry spoons and needs another. It was all forlorn and sad and destroyed on your kitchen counter two weeks ago.