My Daily Roadtrip

Sweet moments and chapter books

One of my favorite things to do the last few months has been reading aloud to my kids. We began reading chapter books last fall because we thought Elijah (4.5 years old at the time) might be ready for it. The first book I chose was Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. I remember this being a great book and thought Elijah would enjoy the relationships between all of the animals. What I didn’t remember (spoiler alert!) is that the first pages of the book start to detail how the little piglet Wilbur (one of the main characters of the book) was about to be slaughtered. Oops! I’m not about protecting my children from all of real life, but I am about protecting them from content they’re just not mature enough to handle right now. That and the fact that my kids love animals meant that this mama had to do some quick improvisation as I began reading the book!

2013-10-30 10.45.21We made it through that first chapter and Wilbur gets beyond the initial threat of his little life being ended. We were right about Elijah being ready to sit and listen to chapter books … and beyond being able to sit and listen, he loved the book! It was such great fun to sit and read together – Abigail joined in quite a bit even though she didn’t have quite the attention span, nor the comprehension, I suspect – and we read together every night when the kids were going to bed. I loved reading as a child and looked forward to sharing with and encouraging that love in my kids, and we’ve read a lot to our kids from early on in their lives. However, I never imagined myself getting to share some of my favorite chapter books with my kids as young as they currently are. It’s incredibly sweet and I experience a bittersweetness with each book we finish.

After Charlotte’s Web, we began one of my all-time favorite series; the Little House on the Prairie series. I’ve even had my mom dig out of my old copies of each book and send them over, one or two at a time. Oh, how I love those books! And it’s really fun to now read them about 2.5 decades (!) after I did the first time and catch nuances and things I can now understand because I’m reading them as an older woman, a wife, and a mother. But what I’m loving more is getting to share the stories with my son (sometimes Abigail as well). We’re now in our 4th book of the series and he is loving them! He has slowed down asking for “just one more chapter” ever since he learned to ride his big boy bike sans training wheels and wants to be riding all of the time, but there for awhile, he was asking to read together multiple times each day.

It has been an amazing thing to get caught up, as mother and son, in the lives of each member of the Ingalls family. (spoiler alert!) We were both sad when Jack, the family bulldog died. Elijah has smiled in delight and something close to pride when “Baby Carrie” says or does things that show she is getting older; he tells me, “She’s growing up, Mom! She’s really growing up!” We have talked about American Indians and a little bit about American history in regards to the Indians. We’ve learned about oxen and buggies and railroads. I’ve pointed out how different their lives are from ours; about how they would make their own house, or about how Laura and Mary were extremely excited to find a bit of candy and one penny in their stocking for Christmas (among many other details).

These are sweet days in our lives for many reasons. These moments with my son have been incredible and are a big part of the sweetness. Oh, how I am trying to drink them in because I know there will come a day, sooner than later, when he will read on his own and might not always ask his mama to read to him (although we plan to make this an ongoing family practice).

Until then … shall we read just one more chapter, son?

When you’re not a tourist

I always find it slightly amusing when people seem to think that I live an exotic life full of weekly elephant rides, hanging out at the beach (the closest which is around a 10-hour drive away), and soaking up the tropical sun. Sorry to disappoint folks, but I live here. I’m not a tourist. Imagine your daily life. My life is probably fairly similar to yours in many ways; it’s just that I happen to be in Thailand. Granted, that in and of itself introduces some huge nuances to how I live life, but the point is that living somewhere is very different from being a tourist in that same place.

Sorry, but I don't live here ...

Sorry, but this is not the view* out my front window …

In that vein, I thought it would be fun to share ten things that set me apart from a tourist:

  1. I do not walk around wearing a large backpack on my back … or my front (seen a lot).
  2. My “to-do” list for the week does not (usually) include visiting Doi Suthep, the Elephant Conservatory, exploring the Old City, or taking a Thai cooking class.
  3. I do not have a return ticket to the country I came from. That is no small thing. It is much easier to say, “Well, I can deal with anything for 5 weeks,” than to deal with difficulties due to the move that will last an undetermined amount of time.
  4. I am not only in Thailand between the months of October and January (cool season).
  5. I do not walk around the streets of Chiang Mai with an opened Lonely Planet: Thailand book.
  6. I know how to say more than “sawatdee kah” (hello – feminine) and “khap khun kah” (thank you – feminine). Not much more, mind you; I speak Thai at around a 2 year-old level (if that), but I do know a few additional phrases and words.
  7. I do not ride around in a tuk tuk with my feet propped up in the air. To put it simply, “feet are regarded as unclean and symbolically (as well as physically) the lowest part of the body” (source) in Thailand. The “raised foot in the tuk tuk”maneuver is a cultural faux pas and I (now) realize that.
  8. I am not amazed on a daily basis at how cheap everything here seems. Granted, the cost of living here is lower than in America and I am not complaining about that one bit. However, I realize that some things (ie. a car/truck) can actually be more expensive than in my home country. I also have come to expect lower prices for many things and balk at times when certain things here have American price tags.
  9. I know that Thailand is more than simply “The Land of Smiles.” Like any culture, it has its dark areas, ways of doing things that can drive one mad, and is not all that it may initially seem.
  10. Although Chiang Mai has been ranked as one of the top tourist destinations in the world, our family leaves Chiang Mai to vacation.

No, I don’t think I’m better than the tourists who come through Chiang Mai. However, I am different. And now my perspective has been forever been changed about living in other countries … if Shun-Luoi and I ever talk about different places we’d like to visit and they seem so romantic and perfect, I now think, “Yeah, but what would it be like to live there?” Chances are, everyday life wouldn’t be as romantic and perfect as you imagine it would be.

Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble about living overseas or about our life here. I do hope that we get to ride elephants sooner than later and we are currently in the beginning stages of planning a beach trip. I am acutely aware that these (among many other experiences) are amazing opportunities that most will never have and I’m really grateful for even the prospect of experiencing them. But for now, I’ll head back to my grocery shopping and laundry-folding.

Because I live here.

 

* photo credit: mrkt (sxc.hu)

Regarding the resident artist

I recently realized that I have never blogged about the fact that my husband recently launched his new website, complete with both his updated still photography and video portfolios.

What kind of a supportive wife am I, anyway?! Sheesh.

I’m here to remedy that. As you may or may not know, the main reason we moved to Thailand was to base Shun-Luoi’s business here. Please take a minute to peruse his site, from checking out the still photography from the multiple countries in which he has done work, to watching some of the video work he has made. Some of my favorites are the videos from an ongoing personal project of his, “The home project,” in which he does a series of still imagery, a short video, and an interview after asking different people what the concept of “home” means to them. He interviews, among other interesting people, my precious grandma and awesome son, so I would definitely recommend watching those at a minimum. In addition, please “like” his professional Facebook page (D. Shun-Luoi Fong) so you can better follow his work as he releases it.

And while I’m at the task of promoting the “resident artist” of our household, I wanted to share the latest video he made and released (personal work begun in the US, but completed here). I will very biased-ly (nope, not a word, but I don’t care) say that it’s a great video; one by which I am inspired and challenged because of the artist, Cameron Moberg, who is highlighted. I think you’ll be inspired by him and his story as well.

Read here to find out more about Shun-Luoi’s heart for humanitarian photography. Have any further questions? Ask in the comments section and we’d be glad to answer them. Better yet, scroll to the bottom of his home page and choose one of the multiple ways in which you can connect directly with Shun-Luoi.

When the unbelievable becomes reality

I have lived in Thailand for 6 months now. Well actually, it’s been 6.5 months and yes, I am counting.

6 months!!

I realize that doesn’t sound all that long, but as I talked about briefly in this post, I was never one to dream about or desire living overseas. As I like to tell people, during our 6.5 years of marriage, my husband has said more than once, “Don’t you think it would be so cool to live overseas as a family at some point?” (Yes, I’ve told this before, but I’m telling it again.) And every time, I thought to myself, and would often say out loud, “Nope. I don’t.” Seriously, every time. Sometimes a small freak-out session would also accompany that thought. God definitely began doing a work in my heart last year as Thailand came onto our radar screen as a potential place to move for a season and as time went on, I became increasingly confident that Thailand was where God was leading us. The idea of living overseas still wasn’t a dream that had originated with me, nor was it something that suddenly became my greatest desire. But, because I knew it was how God was leading us as a family, I was able to move forward in the whole process that accompanies making such a  huge move. I was, by God’s grace, able to make the move and have begun to figure out what life here looks like for our family. Some really great things have happened. I am growing in ways I never thought possible and am grateful for. However,

Some days, I want to be somewhere else. I’m not sure where, but not here.

Some days, I refuse to be adventurous or try one more new thing. On these days, I go home when I can’t find my destination instead of trying just one. more. time. I don’t go anywhere where I think I might be inundated with the sights, sounds, or smells of Thai culture.

Some days, I think, “I just cannot do this. I don’t think I’m cut out for overseas living.”

But the emotions and thoughts that come on those days don’t take anything away from the fact that God clearly led us here. The fact that His grace has been enough for all we have encountered. The fact that He is enabling me to do this.

ME, Dawn Fong.

Me, Miss “No, I have never dreamed about nor desired to live overseas, and in fact, the mention of it makes me want to curl up in the fetal position.”

Unbelievable! Except, I’m having to believe it, because it’s now reality.

I’m here to tell you that a life following Jesus can involve crazy things. Crazy things you possibly never wanted to do or experience, places you never wanted to go. But beyond that, He enables us to do these crazy things. He does. I don’t often know how it all works, but He, amazingly, does it.

I’m living proof.

The things I’m getting used to (or not) here

In order to share some of the nuances of everyday life here in Thailand, I thought I’d write about things in terms of how comfortable  (or not) I have become with them or how I have (or haven’t) gotten used to each thing. For the sake of brevity, I won’t be expounding much on each one, but feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comment section and I’ll tell you more …

So far in Thailand,

I have gotten used to the sinks in my house having two options – off and on. (Well, to be honest, I can have more or less pressure if I want, but there are no hot vs. cold water options.)

I have grown comfortable with the navigation of the local hospital in order to check in, be seen by a doctor in the emergency room, and pay my bill. This one is compliments of my son, who recently had a run-in with one of our sinks falling off the wall, shattering, and cutting one of his legs fairly badly. After seven visits to the ER for stitches, bandage changes, and check-ups, I’m quite comfortable with the process.

I have not gotten used to seeing older, white, western men out and about with their young Thai girlfriends.

I have gotten used to seeing stray dogs running around just about anywhere and everywhere. I have not yet gotten used to said dogs barking, yipping, and sometimes riling up our entire neighborhood of pet dogs (who are enclosed within their gates). To be honest, it is one of my least favorite parts of living here.

I am getting used to how many of the smaller stores, restaurants, and coffee shops here are open … well, just when they are. A daily schedule of when they are or aren’t open? Not so much. In addition, these stores will often be there one day and gone the next with no explanation.

I have not gotten used to how, once you make friends here, they will care for you like family even if you’ve only know each other for 4 or less months. However, I absolutely love it! It really is unique and I am learning a lot because of it.

I am not always comfortable with the amount of attention (and sometimes touching) my children often attract when we are out.

These 2 cuties get A LOT of attention when in public!

These 2 cuties get A LOT of attention when in public!

I have gotten used to paying certain prices for particular foods, coffee, and the like, and now am slightly indignant when I have to pay $2 USD for an iced latte rather than $1 USD. I know, I know, I’m going to experience “sticker shock” big-time when I return to the States for the first time!

I have gotten quite comfortable driving on the left side of the road, although I often still head to the wrong side (left side) of our truck to get in when I drive (the steering wheel is located on the right side here), and sometimes still turn on the windshield wipers when I mean to flip the turn signal (reversed from how they are in American vehicles).

I have not yet gotten used to those times when we are the only white people amidst a sea of Thai, such as when at the market, at the park when the Thai are out exercising, or at the local hospital. I’m ok with that – I think everyone should at times be forced to be in places where they are somehow the minority, as it challenges the way you think and look at things and people.

I have grown comfortable with the fact that small geckos live in my walls and ceiling and run wherever they please whenever they please. I have not grown comfortable with how these geckos also poop wherever they please. Nasty!

leaving our shoes outside the room we went to a meeting in

leaving our shoes outside a meeting room

I have gotten used to having to take off my shoes at the door of some businesses, gatherings, etc.

I am growing more comfortable having to use squatty potties at times when in public bathrooms. I am still getting used to the fact that these public bathrooms often do not have toilet paper, soap, or paper towel available in them.

I am not used to, and am in fact uncomfortable with, the fact that the majority of public advertising in Chiang Mai uses only white models or light-skinned Asian models. (In America, darker skin is often considered more “beautiful.” Here in Thailand, however, lighter skin is considered to be more “beautiful.”)

I am getting a bit more used to there being a different set of “rules of the road” to which people abide to here. I am still getting used to the graciousness of Thai drivers (Road rage? The only time I really experience that is when I ride with westerners!), but being a new driver here, I am grateful for it!

This list is just the tip of the iceberg, folks! Maybe I’ll share more in a “part 2” post at some point in the future. Until then, you’ve gotten an idea of some of the things we encounter in daily life here and how comfortable (or not) I’ve grown with them.

Slower and simpler mothering

Being a mother is one of the hardest things … actually, make that the hardest thing I’ve ever done over a longer-term basis. Despite it being so, it’s also one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of. I think most moms can probably appreciate the complexity of such a statement.

Moving overseas made things a bit harder in the area of being a mom, as I explained a bit about in this post. While my philosophy behind parenting did not change when moving to Thailand, my personal stress level and amount of struggle did, as did the tools and resources with which I usually mothered. During my now almost 6 months of overseas living, I have thought much about being a mother and about the kind of mother I have been since moving here. There have been days and weeks when I have been a “worse” mom here than I was in America. (No need to comment and reassure me that I’m doing just fine as a mom – it’s not a bad thing to do some self-evaluation and see if changes need to be be made, while keeping in mind my true identity in Christ, right?) I have struggled with the same things, but to an even larger degree, that I struggled with back in the States. Things like anger, impatience, and selfishness have resulted in countless times where I have not been the mom God calls me to be.

However, at other times, I find that I’m a “better” mom than I was back in America. Now living outside my home culture, I see how easy it is for American mothers to become distracted. There are classes, co-ops, playgroups, and activity after activity to sign your child up for, no matter how young. There are numerous friends to have numerous play dates with. There are “mommy wars” and the pressure to make sure your child doesn’t miss any kind of opportunity for “growth.” (I happen to live in a city where there is a large western presence, so I face some of the same things here, but to a lesser degree.) Please hear me say that I don’t believe most of these opportunities are bad in and of themselves. However, I think it is far too easy to let them distract us from living slower and more intentional lives with our kids and family.

Since arriving here we have made some friends, whom I’m grateful for. We continue to meet more families, and we’re grateful for that as well. However, Abigail and Elijah have one consistent playmate – each other. For over 3 of the 5.5 months we’ve been here, I did not have a vehicle in which to take us places, so we have spent much more time at home, taking walks around our neighborhood, or going on outings to nearby places we could easily get to via “public transportation.” I have spent a ton of concentrated time with my kids around the home – we’ve read a lot of books, cooked together, created things out the materials we have lying around the home, and read more books.  I realized that I was living a slower, simpler life with my kids one day while I was reading the book (full-length version), Dumbo, for the 2nd time in one day. This book takes 20 minutes to read from front to back with interruptions (yes, I timed it once out of curiosity). It then occurred to me that, while I did read to the kids in America, things were often done in short increments because we needed to run out the door to this or that.

This concentrated time has been great. It has also made me a little crazy at times, lest you think I’m the mom who now wants to stay home everyday and all day with my kids. Also, there have been times where I haven’t handled the concentrated time well by putting the kids in front of one too many movies, escaping to social media, or coping in other unhelpful ways.

my kiddos after going on a nature walk

my kiddos after going on a nature walk

But, this simpler life has led to good things that I cannot deny. I am learning that it’s ok to not have to be on the go all the time, that staying at home with your small children all day for multiple days each week will not kill you. Seriously, it won’t. It might be uncomfortable and you may feel that you’re losing your mind at moments, but it won’t kill you. I’ve learned to be creative with the resources I have at home. I’ve learned things about each of my kids that I may have missed if we were too busy running from this to that or always spending time with other people. I’ve been reminded over and over that it’s good for children to have alone playtime and be allowed to just be, rather than having everything scheduled or being guided toward what to do every moment of their day. I’m learning that child-paced exploration is an invaluable teacher. I am figuring out how to better love, encourage, and correct each of my children and, on the flip side, the things that I do that can easily discourage them or tear them down.

It’s good. It’s hard. I’m learning. As we get to know more people and I learn about more kid-focused opportunities here in Chiang Mai, I know I will be tempted to return to a life that is too busy, too fast-paced, and less intentional.

But, although sometimes harder, I’m finding that simpler and slower is better.

******************

I am not against having your kids (or mine) involved in organized activities, nor do I think that particular seasons of life won’t ever be busier than others. I think it’s great if our kids have more than one friend and/or if we own vehicles (which we now do). What “slower” and “simpler” looks like for one family may be different than what it looks like for another family. I am proud to be American. I hope this clears up any misunderstandings or feelings of judgement experienced from reading this post. 😉 End of disclaimer.

“So, do you like it here?”

About a month ago, I was hanging out with a group of women and  was talking with one in particular who had just arrived in Chiang Mai 1.5 weeks before. In the midst of our conversation she asked the question,

“So, do you like it here?”

Umm, do I what? Like it here? This may not seem like that difficult of a question, but I don’t think anyone has asked me that since I moved here. I’ve been asked many things, but not that question in particular. And you know what? I didn’t know what to say. I had to stop and think. Even after doing so, I gave some kind of feeble answer because it was a question that was actually bigger than I knew how to process at the time.

To be honest, even after 5 months of living here, I’m still somewhat in “survival mode.” Survival mode is the place where you feel fairly incompetent at most things and a high level of baseline stress is palpably present on more days than not. It’s the place where you spend a lot of time figuring out things like how to make tasty but cost-effective meals using local ingredients and how to get your clothes clean and mildew-free even though it’s rainy season and you don’t have hot water in your washer. It’s the season when you engage hard questions such as, “How do I continue to care well for those around me when my own world has been so rocked?”  While I’ve learned a lot about living here in the past 5 months, the overall learning curve continues to be high and I have no idea when it will level out (or does it?).  I definitely enjoy and find joy in many things here. However, when so consumed with relearning how to complete everyday responsibilities, working through my own personal struggle, and caring for my family and home, it’s hard to think about whether or not I like it here.

But, I can think of multiple things I like as a byproduct of living here:

  • I “like” that I have to walk by faith in Jesus during everyday life here on a more consistent basis than ever before. This is the kind of “like” that is painful, but good. Wow.
  • I like that I’m encountering people and a culture very different than what I’ve always known. My world is being opened in incredible ways and I doubt (and hope) I’ll ever be the same because of it.
  • I like that my kids are becoming good friends, possibly because they only have each other as consistent playmates. This does my mother’s heart incredibly good.
  • (Somewhat related to the first one I shared) I like that I am, by God’s grace, learning to do hard things.  I am facing fears and learning to see struggle not as the enemy, but something that must be walked through with God and seen through a biblical lens. I’m learning this struggle is something through which I can be changed in really big ways. Do I like this process? Not so much most of the time, but I’m learning to be more comfortable with it.
  • I like that our family is doing this together and all the things that brings along with it.
  • I like that I have met some great people who are teaching me about living in community even when you haven’t known each other that long.
  • I like that I get to drive a motorbike. Hey, does this all need to be so heavy?

I’m glad we’re here (most days). I like much of what’s happening in our lives because we’re here. And someday, I look forward to being at the place where I can better engage the question of whether or not I like it here.

Someday, but not today.

Some of my favorites …

I’m finding that living in a culture very different from my own, separate from my family and support system, can be pretty stressful (no surprise there). When I first arrived, I asked other women who had lived here awhile for advice how to cope well as we transitioned to Chiang Mai becoming our home.  An answer that frequently came up was – find things you enjoy and do them. This list is not all-inclusive but includes, as of late, some of my favorites things to do/read/listen to/consume …

  • Djibouti Jones (blog): Rachel Pieh Jones is one of my favorite writers. I discovered her blog before moving to Thailand and appreciate her thoughts on life as an expatriate,  something she has experienced for the past 11 years in various countries. I am rarely left without questions or new ideas to wrestle with after reading each of her posts, something I deeply appreciate.
  • Zen Habits (blog): Leo Babauta writes here about, “simplicity, health & fitness, motivation and inspiration, frugality, family life, happiness, goals, getting great things done, and living in the moment.” (source) In just about every post, you get the “why should you care?” behind the topic, personal examples from his own life, and some practical thoughts on proceeding forward with making change. His writing is easy to read and even the design of his blog is calming in its minimalist feel. Good stuff.
  • Exercise: Although sad to say, I haven’t exercised consistently in the past, ahem, almost three years since my little Abigail was born. I decided to make it a priority after moving here and have been at it, about 4 times/week, for the past 1-1.5 months. I exercise in the morning before my kids are up allowed out of their room (they are super early birds!) and mostly do interval training involving my bodyweight. I’m loving it and am glad it’s back in the routine of my life!
  • Iced lattes: I know, I know, I’ve mentioned these numerous times in my posts since arriving in Thailand. But hey, this is a post about my favorites and these delicious, much-cheaper-than-in-America drinks, continue to be a favorite of mine here. Do I really think iced lattes and exercise go together very well, you ask? Absolutely!
  • Beth Moore’s bible study, Believing God: Oh, man. Where do I even begin about this study? In my opinion, Moore is an incredibly God-gifted Bible teacher. This study is rocking … my … world. Since moving to Thailand, God has been addressing some very specific areas of my life,so much of which comes back to the kind of faith I have or don’t have. I am being challenged to walk in a different kind of faith these days, one of more continual dependence on and faith in Jesus rather than just every now and then when things feel especially hard. God is using this study as part of the challenge and it’s so good. Not comfortable, mind you, but good.
  • Parenting Beyond Borders: Surprising lessons parents around the world can teach us (book): I was probably primed to read this book because of our recent move resulting in my being consistently challenged that just because American culture dictates to live life one way doesn’t mean its the best way; that actually, the American way is fairly contrary to how people in other cultures do things. This is not a surprising thing, but until you are faced with that reality by living amidst people who do some things very differently than you do (internationally or not), it isn’t an idea that most probably engage all that much. In this book, Dr. Christine Gross-Loh, researches parenting practices in multiple countries and then compares them to the ways most American parents do the same things. This book was fascinating and challenged some of the culture-driven practices I have bought into in terms of parenting. While I disagree with the author on different points, I think the book is a great read that encourages thought … and potential change.
  • The Christy Nockels station on Pandora Radio: Nockels is one of my favorite worship leaders and I am especially loving this song of hers right now. Her songs beautifully speak truth about Jesus and life and I tend to enjoy most songs that come up when tuning into this “station” while on Pandora.
  • Voxer, Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, email: These are the ways in which I keep in contact with family and friends back home. A few of them are probably things you recognize and the others are smartphone apps that allow me to text with and leave voice messages on other smartphones.
  • my kids and husband: While we are making friends here in Chiang Mai, it has also been a time where we’ve had a lot of great family time. Before we left Colorado, a few wives of retired military men back in Colorado Springs shared that, although the first year of a new assignment was always tough in certain ways, they both really enjoyed that year. They explained that it was because they knew they would have opportunities for more time to spend just as a family before activities were added to the schedule, new friends were made, etc. I loved their perspective and it has challenged me to embrace this somewhat slower and simpler (in some ways) time as a sweet one.
Shun-Luoi and the kiddos boat-watching on the Ping River

Shun-Luoi and kiddos boat-watching on the Ping River

What about you? What are some of the things you especially enjoy these days?

Making new friends (or not)

The process of moving to a new location and making new friends is always interesting. When moving here to Chiang Mai, we had multiple contacts; a few of whom helped us extensively via email prior to us coming. But friends who chose to be our friends because they really knew us and not just because they knew someone else we knew? We had none.

friendtalking

photo credit: central @ Stock Xchng

I have moved multiple times as an adult and know about that initial period after each move that can feel a bit lonely. I realize that period can last for just a few months or sometimes a much longer time. And even if you happen to know a few people in your new location, there could very well be no one who knows your “back-story;” no one who knows the brokenness that story includes but who still chooses to love you. I knew all this coming to Thailand, but had no idea what it would be like starting over with local friendships in a culture that was not my own.

Before arriving in Chiang Mai, I was aware that there is a fairly large expatriate community here. Many humanitarian organizations that work in the SE Asia region base their headquarters, or at least a regional office, here. Because of this, seeing other westerners is not all that uncommon of an experience, especially if you live in certain areas of the city. However, I am coming to find out that living in an area with this many western expats also brings with it some interesting dynamics I didn’t anticipate. The one that most relates to this post is the fact that many westerners here, for one reason or another, are not necessarily looking for more friends. Whatever the reasons for this, whether they seem “good,” or “bad,” it’s just a reality.

I remember the first day we were here … one of our contacts had picked us up and took us to a local mall to withdraw money in the Thai currency. I remember seeing a white woman and smiling broadly at her, thinking, “She’s western, I’m western, we can at least connect with a smile!” (Hey, I’m from the midwest – that’s how we do things!) Nope. I don’t even think she acknowledged me because, as I would soon find out, seeing another white person is not uncommon here. I also remember those first weeks where I would meet other women at a playgroup or at church and feel this almost desperate, “We’re both western and speak the same language – shouldn’t we be friends?!” kind of attitude, to which interest would often not be reciprocated or other circumstances would prevent further meetings. Just to clarify – it’s not that I don’t want to develop relationships with the Thai people I come into more regular contact with. I do, but the language barrier currently (until I learn more Thai) is a large deterrent to these relationships developing. As a result, as well as for other reasons, meeting others who speak the same language I do is something I’m really thankful for.

I also remember that period of time when I came to accept the reality that many others here were not looking for more friends or community. It was then that I stopped internally striving for friends (I doubt anyone I met would have sensed this striving, but I did). It was then I decided that I was going to reach out to encourage or make that first contact with the other women I met, no matter what I got back in return. It was then I decided to trust the Lord with the friends He has for me here, as well as the timing of them. And because of this decision, I have hung out with different women in the last months while holding loosely to whether or not those times will lead to deep friendships. I have tried to be a good friend, but try not to strive to make friendships happen that God does not have for me here. I feel a deep peace about it all, which is definitely a result of God’s grace, because the desire to have close friends in the same hemisphere (well, I do have a dear friend several countries away, but having close friends in-country could be nice) has not diminished.

I still don’t know how the whole friends “thing” will turn out here. But I have met several women (who I really enjoy) who have already gone out of their way to encourage, help, and show kindness to me, for which I’m really grateful. Yesterday my son became pretty sick, something that was unnerving for me in this unfamiliar place. While experiencing some fear that he may have dengue fever, I texted 2 friends here to ask them to pray, to which they both responded in encouraging ways. Throughout the day, other women here offered information regarding the doctors they take their kids to and several offered to help in any way they could. I believe their offers to be sincere and am acutely aware that it can be rare to know a few others who are willing to care for me and my family so early into living in a new location.

I know this is just the beginning of the process of having friends and being a friend here in Chiang Mai. I don’t know what that whole scene will look like 3 or 6 months down the road. But God is at work. And I am at rest.

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