We have been in Thailand for several days now, and it’s taken up until now to feel like I am actually in Asia.
Perhaps it was because we were in such a large city, but Kuala Lumpur felt like it could have been a large city anywhere in the western world. There was plenty of English everywhere and almost everyone I met was quite fluent in it. In the Philippines, English was the second language of the country, so it was everywhere there too. The culture itself was also quite westernized due to American colonization. Life in our homestay families, or at least the structure and expectations of them, was similar to life at home. There was very little about our daily routine and actions that we had to adjust to.
Thailand is different. While I truly enjoyed my time in Malaysia and the Philippines (especially the Philippines), I already feel like my time in Thailand will be more of the cultural experience I was hoping for when I left Canada. Our homestays are no less loving or hospitable than out Filipino families, but there is a sense of formality found here that was not present there. Here, when greeting someone, we must wei (bow to) them, we are expected to speak their language as much as we can (sah-wah-dii-kah!), and we are taking Thai language classes. Serious adjustments must be made in our daily activities in order to adopt Thai ways and be respectful of them. This is a good thing, for sure, but I now feel very very far away from Canada, and quite outside my comfort zone. I think all of us are feeling this way. Some more than others, as some have homestay placements with families who speak no English at all.
We’re all struggling through the adjustments and basically flailing our way through, hoping to not offend everyone at once and get ourselves kicked out of the country. While it is difficult, I am very grateful for these difficulties. Not only is it “building character” in us all, it is building stronger relationships between the members of the Asia team. Of course, we still have our issues and drama, we are inevitably overcoming them and becoming closer as a community, a team, and as friends. This is encouraging, and I think we have a chance of becoming an even closer group as long as we continue supporting each other and ‘putting up’ with each others’ insanities. Some smart guy once said, ‘I shot an arrow into the air, it fell to earth, I know not where.’ This applies to a lot of things, but on this trip it’s most evident in the small acts of kindness. You never know how far a compliment, or a smile, will ricochet and how many people it will affect. You really can completely turn someone’s day around with just a little positive energy. And this, obviously, applies to everyone, not just those of us on the Asia trip. So I encourage all of you, when you see someone looking a little down, whether it be a friend or a stranger, give them a little smile! Maybe compliment their outfit, or their face, or their toupee, anything you can think of. Not only will you brighten someone’s day, but you’ll be showing just a spark of godly spirit in one of the best ways possible.
With that, I leave you. Thank you for your prayers. (Many thanks also to the small groups for the lovely cards! It brought smiles to all our weary faces.)
Less than three weeks until we return!
Peace and blessing,