Hey there! Have you all missed me? Good, because I have missed you too! I will try to catch you up on things and paint a picture of everything I've been seeing and doing since I was last able to write.
We picked Pat up early Friday afternoon from the school where she teaches and set out for the roughly three hour drive, some of it in blinding rain, to Kanchanaburi (can-CHAN-au-ber-EE) on the River Kwai. This is the very river made famous in the movie, "Bridge Over the River Kwai."
The trick was to get out of Bangkok before the traffic got too bad, which is a relative term since the traffic is always horrendous! Despite the fact that there are police everywhere, there are no posted speed limits and so no speeding tickets are ever issued. It seems strange until you realize there isn't isn't much chance to speed in all the congestion, though everyone seems to make a valiant effort.
It's indescribable! Imagine the BA or 169 at rush hour, only with three times as many cars, people honking incessantly, and motorcycles and mopeds, some with families of four on them (two adults, a child sitting in front of the driver and a woman holding a baby) driving in between the speeding, tailgating cars. Most ignore the lane stripes and are constantly change lanes, merging into your lane even if you are still in it! They only need a couple of inches in order to think there is room to move in. Pat says you have to "drive defensively" here, but there is a real sense of taking your life in your hands the instant you get into a car. Though I must say, P and S are both excellent drivers. I can't wait until Jay gets here. He won't ever be able to criticize my driving again!
As we were going along I noticed a disproportionate number of people wearing yellow and I was told that it's the color of the king commemorating the day of the week he was born. On Mondays particularly, about 80% or more of the people wear yellow to work. We talked again about what will happen once their beloved king dies and Sam made the comment that if we were having the same conversation in a Starbucks here we would probably be quickly surrounded by policemen. To even openly discuss the eventuality of him dying is, to their minds, wishing it so, or could effect it coming to pass sooner than it would happen otherwise.
There are 65 million people this country that is two thirds the size of Texas! 94% would say they are Buddhist, some 5% are Muslim and the remaining 1% claim Christ. It is a never-ending mass of humanity.
In another blog I said to imagine everything along the highway from Owasso to Jenks being built up, but it would be more accurate to imagine the entire turnpike from Tulsa to OKC and beyond being one steady, endless stream of buildings, shops, car dealerships, street vendors, clinics and every manner of enterprise without a single break in the scenery. It's hard to fathom even as I'm driving past it all!
It gets dark here about 6:30, which has been very hard for me to get used to having come from daylight savings time and much later sunsets. It always seems later than it actually is. Anyway, it was dark when we arrived. We checked out a couple of places to stay right on the river and settled on one Sam found on the Internet called, coincidentally, "Sam's Raft Rentals" or something close to that and checked in. When I say on the water, I mean, literally, on the water. The small building of ten rooms, five on the water side, five on the land side, were built on concrete pilings in the river and were accessible by crossing a short grated metal bridge that linked it with one of several wooden decks of various heights.
The walls in the rooms were made of heavy rattan mats, the floors wooden, the roof corrugated metal. There was a narrow wooden railed walkway that wrapped all the way around the building. We got two rooms next to each other on the water side and when we were checking in Sam joked that they were probably wondering why he needed separate rooms for his two wives. I thought he was kidding, but apparently it is quite common here. It's a sign of affluence that indicates you have the means to take care of more than one family. As if one isn't enough trouble!
We dropped our bags in our rooms and walked over to a nearby restaurant. I left the ordering up to them and they decided on a delicious coconut soup, a shrimp and coconut dish, some sort of fried fish brought whole to the table and always, the ubiquitous rice. It was all quite delicious.
Our bellies full, we walked back to the rooms and Pat soundly beat us at cards, then turned in for the night. Though I am decidedly a Ritz girl, I opted to leave the air conditioner off in my simple but adequate twelve dollar a night room and relish the tranquility and quiet of the river. As I lay in bed I thanked God with all the gratitude I could muster for allowing me to enjoy such wonderful new experiences.
The next morning I sat in a chair on the walkway just outside my room, the river just a foot away, and had my prayer time. The water was very brown from all the run off from the rains, the current noticeable, with boats and floating covered platforms you could rent for a party being tugged along by long slim boats with huge semi engines on the back. P and S said the river was high, and though it looked narrow to me, it was still plenty wide enough for the various boats to easily navigate.
Breakfast was "Western style" eggs, toast and coffee which we ate on a large wooden deck above our rooms overlooking the river. To the right were mist covered mountains carpeted in lush greenery and overhead the ever present billowing white cumulus and indigo rain-filled storm clouds. A large lizard some five feet long swam lazily past us, occasionally poking its head out and flicking its long, rope like tongue.
After breakfast we drove to the railroad bridge and walked across it then back again. We strolled through a large cemetery where so many young Australian, Dutch and other prisoners of war were laid to rest after they succumbed to the harsh conditions of the disease riddled labor camps and the back-breaking work of building the supply railway that ran from the eastern coast of Thailand to Burma in the west. I was deeply moved as we walked among the grave markers and I read the names of young men, most in their twenties and early thirties who died and were buried so far from their homelands. The inscriptions were brief but riveting. They were tributes from their families commemorating their bravery, how much they are loved and missed and promises of never being forgotten. My favorite one read, "To have, to love, and then to part, is the greatest trial of the human heart." It was a somber reminder of the sanctity of life, the permanence of death and the brutality of war.
From there we walked across the street to "The War Bridge Museum" and read about the history of the war and the bridge. I found it all fascinating. We met the Australian man who was responsible for the existence of the museum and he told us to drive up the road a bit to a place where the railroad ran through the limestone mountains and we could try to imagine the passage being cut and dug out mostly by hand by malnourished men.
Next to it was a "Monkey School" which a sign proudly told us was "the only one in town!" I thought it was just a quirky name for some sort of school. Turns out it's where they train these small, fawn colored monkeys to climb coconut trees and pick the coconuts. Who knew? It takes about three months for "the smart ones and a little longer for the not so smart ones." So next time you buy a coconut at Reasor's you have a monkey to thank!
Sam stopped at a street vendor and bought some fried bananas. He asked the price and surprised at the cost, told the old woman that they were cheaper in Bangkok. She started flapping her arms and yelling and squawking in Thai telling him he could go buy them there if they were so much cheaper! It was very funny but as we were walking away, overpriced fried bananas in hand, they explained that such an outburst was rare indeed because Thai (and all Oriental) people are very conscious of the idea of "saving face." It is very unusual for anyone to do anything that would be even remotely construed as embarrassing or shaming to another person.
After we'd seen the sights we went for a foot massage. It was very rewarding after walking all day. I moaned and groaned in appreciation and the woman kept asking P and S if I was enjoying it or she was hurting me! Trust me, I was enjoying it. I would have gladly paid her five dollars more to keep it up for another hour!
The girl massaging Pat said I had a beautiful nose! Pat said I'd probably never heard that before, but actually, Jay used to tell me all the time how cute he thinks my nose is. Not the thing most folks would think to comment on, but hey, I'll take what I can get!
I found it hilarious when P and S were telling me the Thais think all Westerners look the same! I mean, how often have you heard it said about Orientals? They have very different but equally descriptive ways of describing a person to another Thai. For example, they will say, "She has two eye lids," meaning their ;ower lid isn't hidden under their upper lid. They value and go to great lengths to protect their whiteness of their skin to much the same extent we go to great lenghts to get a beautiful tan. You would never see them sunbathing on the beaches the way we do. They will describe someone as being "black" who is just darker skinned than they are. I found it interesting that different cultures think different things are beautiful but have in common that we all aspire to some measure of it!
That night we ate at a floating restaurant and again I let P and S order a smorgasbord of delicacies new to my taste buds.
Sunday morning I sat outside on the walk in front of my room and watched as the rain pelted the water just two feet away. It was invigorating!
After breakfast we took a short ride up the river and back in one of the long, thin boats with the giant engines. They are somewhat hard to describe as they aren't like anything you would be familiar with. They are brightly colored, probably some 30 feet long, and at the widest point just big enough for two people who are well acquainted to sit together though you generally sit single file. The front comes up to a long graceful point. You are sitting right on the water under a cloth canopy. Coming off the back of the engine is a long pole with a small propeller on the end which is used for steering.
From there we drove about an hour up into the mountains to visit a young couple who have been through the YWAM DTS (discipleship training school) and have returned to his native village to plant churches, nurture the few believers that are there and set up other ministry opportunities. They fed us a delicious lunch we ate under the metal roof of a building they are constructing to house visiting YWAM teams just behind their rather primitive but adequate house. As if on cue, it started raining just after we sat down to eat and stopped the moment we got up to leave! The view down the mountain was spectacular! There was sugar cane on one side of the narrow property and tapioca on the right. Or so I was told. It looked like marijuana to me! Or at least like the pictures I've seen...
I was really impressed with the many visions for service this young man has. He is raising sheep and goats to help finance the call of God on his life. If any of you are so inclined, you would do much to advance the Kingdom of God in Thailand by planting a monetary seed in this young couple's ministry. After a short time of prayer we loaded ourselves back into the car and began the long drive back to Bangkok.
It's Monday morning here and while you are soundly sleeping, I am getting ready to shower and take a taxi ride into the city for some sightseeing. More tomorrow. Thank you again for your prayers, your comments and your interest in all God is doing. It is a thrill to be here and to have the opportunity to allow the Lord to use the gifts He has given me to teach and encouage others in their realtionships with Him.
I leave you with a final thought from George Muller: "The most intimate knowledge of God is possible on one condition--that we search His holy Scriptures prayerfully and habitually, and translate what is found there into obedience."