The Best of Both Worlds

 

Chiang Mai Update:

Every week I’m more in love with Chiang Mai. It’s so safe, so quaint, so delicious, so beautiful, and so full of people wanting to be your friend.  The Thais I’ve met are so quiet, sensitive, and smiley by culture that I’m endeared to the refugees in even the hardest of situations.

Our students are working hard at their phonics, and many have improved greatly in their pronunciation. Check out my facebook page for a video of this little guy teaching his classmates all the sounds of each letter:

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Phuket Update:

For the past week us three amigos have been in the South of Thailand on an island soaking up the sun and warm water.

We are here for Katie’s freediving competition. She competed in the event of swimming under water while holding her breath, and won at a distance of 105 meters! She is this year’s American women’s record holder in this event. You can see a video of her whole swim on my facebook page.

We also visited some islands outside of Phuket famous for their beauty: Koh Phi Phi Don, Phi Phi Leh, and Kai Nok Island.

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Jungle Update:

 

Tomorrow we are going in for a month to meet our new students for the year long leadership program. We may not have internet access for that month, but you should be hearing from me again in early November.

Please pray for our students this year. Pray that God would use what we teach them for good. Their situation is very complex culturally and we are outsiders who don’t understand their needs very well. Check out my other blog for a short history of the school.

Love you all. Thanks for keeping in touch.

Teaching and Learning

Hello, dear family and friends! We’ve been in Chiang Mai for 17 days and we will be here for 17 more until we leave for Phuket, Thailand, to visit the beautiful seaside and support Katie in her Freediving competition. Then we will be off to the jungle to teach.

Phuket

Phuket, Thailand

The other thing we have started doing is teaching English at Thai Freedom House, a volunteer community center for Shan refugees in Chiang Mai. There is currently fighting going on in Shan State, Burma, which is right across the border from Chiang Mai. There are many Shan refugees in our city because of our proximity to Shan state. Chiang Mai is also very close to Laos and Yunnan Province, China, both places we hope to visit while we are here:

Shan state map

 

At Thai Freedom House, students can take classes for free: English in order to get a tourist industry job, Thai to live in Thailand, Shan in order to return home someday, Burmese in order to return to their home country for school or work, or Chinese which is also a large ethnic and tourist group in Northern Southeast Asia. The students can also choose to take art, music, or traditional Shan dance for cultural preservation and enrichment.

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Students at Thai Freedom House

Thai Freedom House is very full– I teach 20 intermediate English speakers and Noel and Katie teach 25 beginning English speakers. The school didn’t take any new students this term because our space is quite full. We are developing a phonics curriculum for English as a second language. Our experiments seem to be working well so far! Our students struggle mostly with pronunciation and hearing the sounds made by native English speakers, which are quite different from their own.

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The teachers at Thai Freedom House

There are so many refugees from Burma/Myanmar in Thailand. Many of them struggle quite profoundly from poverty, racism, and lack of rights. It is difficult to have access to education and basic legal rights in Thailand for a poor person who doesn’t have an ID card proving their Thai ethnicity. Non-Thais can’t go to college and usually have to work in either a construction camp– subjecting their family to poor living conditions and inflated food prices which cause them to go into debt to their employer– or work in the sex industry, making them susceptible to trafficking because they have no standing legally if they are kidnapped or moved to another province.

Please pray that we would find ways to be effective in helping these people set up a livelihood for themselves in a foreign land, and for the fighting to stop so they can go home.

 

Noel and I are students ourselves. We have a Thai tutor every day for about an hour and a half. So far we have been exposed to a lot of the language, but still have a hard time hearing and reproducing the sounds and tones.

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Noel gives our teacher Nok some laughs when he tries to copy what she says.

Noel is also getting pretty good at driving me around on the back of the motorbike. I don’t drive very much. I took it out yesterday and only got a little lost, but I’m gonna keep practicing.

Noel and me on the motorbike, coming back from shopping for our house.

Noel and me on the motorbike, coming back from shopping for our house.

 

We also went on a great hike last week from the city to the top of the mountain outside Chiang Mai. On the top of the mountain is the famous Doi Su Thep buddhist temple.

The view of the city while climbing the Doi Su Thep mountain, a third of the way up.

 

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The temple steps

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Doi Su Thep

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On the way down with a new friend, Katie’s roommate Aimee.

We miss you all so much. Lots of love!

Greetings from Chiang Mai

Greetings from Thailand! We have been here for a week and a half, and are enjoying many things and learning many more.

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Before I get into the things that are different, I must say that there are so many that are not. A Thai person told me yesterday that Chiang Mai is “not Thailand”. He explained that it is influenced by the west, supports a tourist economy, and is very comfortable. It is possible to live an impoverished life in this city, as well as a very rich life. You could eat at fancy restaurants all day, shop at pristine and gigantic malls, and have a really nice car.

We are definitely somewhere in the middle.

Here is Noel a few days in eating his first “phalong” meal, including a latte. Phalong is the word for white people, literally meaning “white fruit”.

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Something that surprised us is it is much cheaper to eat Thai food out than cook any type of food at home. There are restaurants on every corner and food booths lining the streets serving dishes for $1. If you go to the grocery store, though, it is as expensive as the US. So we cook at home when we want phalong food. Mostly Mexican.

Here are Noel and my greatest accomplishments so far:

1. Buying a motorbike and learning to ride it carrying someone on the back, advancing to carrying lots of groceries and a big box between us.

2. Spending hours trying to call airlines and airports in various countries and eventually convincing them to send us our luggage. Noel’s box came a week late and was a little worse for wear:

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Also, since he didn’t have any clothes for a week, he wore Kati’s t-shirt and a sarong call a “longi”. This outfit is tradition, but not in Thailand.

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3. Attending 3 Thai lessons so far. If we think long enough, we can count to 10 in almost the proper tones and ask how much something is and say we don’t like Japanese food.

4. Socializing. We’ve mainly hung out with Katie’s Thai friends who speak English and a bunch of Phalong. There is a huge missionary community here (90% of missionaries to Thailand are in Chiang Mai. It’s nice here. What can I say?) so you could hang out with Phalong all the time if you wanted to.

Lovely Italian restaurant:

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Phalong church:

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Something weird about Thailand: You can park your car out in the lot perpendicular to cars parked in the actual stalls, as long as you leave it in neutral. Then, when the people come back to their legitimately parked cars, they just push yours out of the way so they can leave. This guy just pushed the minivan back from behind his car:

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Coming up next: Tomorrow we start teaching English to refugees at Thai Freedom House.

 

Leaving the familiar

Golden spire in Chiang Mai

I am moving to Thailand. It’s not every day that people leave the comforts of America to live in a developing country that’s so different. It’s a big leap, and I’m a little anxious about it. Already, we’ve moved out of our house, moved in with my parents for a spell, sold a car, put our stuff in other people’s garages, and quit our jobs. We’re ending our life here in Boise, for a time. Just as I see our life in Boise, Idaho fading away, there’s a new image of our life in Chiang Mai: the apartment, the scooter, the volunteer work, the language classes that sit there, waiting for us.

My wife Hannah and I are living in Thailand to teach English and computer skills as volunteers. We’ll teach people who are often overlooked by national governments and international media who live in very rural areas in the jungle. Hannah’s a schoolteacher by trade, so you might say this is her forte. I, on the other hand, talk to computers all day, so I will need to learn just a much as I teach. When we’re not in the jungle, we’ll work those organizations in Chiang Mai that can use our skill sets. Hannah will probably teach at after school programs that keep kids off the streets (and away from those would enslave them), or help with PR or administration for anti-trafficking organizations. I’m tentatively committed to writing backend software for an organization that fights government oppression of ethnic minorities.

Our flight is soon, on August 20th. Most of our logistical puzzle pieces have been put together by Hannah with a little help from me. We’ll settle into our new apartment and head out to the jungle after a few weeks (going to Phuket first). In about a year, we’re planning to head home, but perhaps our stay will be longer. We’re ready to begin this new life. If you’re interested in reading updates or seeing pictures of our travels, please subscribe.