My Daily Roadtrip

Archive for the tag “living in Thailand”

Good-byes and the expat

Even though I have only lived in Thailand for a short time, I have noticed particular aspects of an expat life that are definitely unique* in comparison to those who live within their home culture. This isn’t all that profound of a realization, but I’ve been thinking more about one of these unique aspects as of late.

The good-byes. The hellos are part of it as well, but at the moment, I’m especially noticing the good-byes. Many expats who live here work for nonprofits doing work in either Thailand or the surrounding countries. New people move here all the time – I’ve witnessed this even in just 11 months. People also seem to be leaving all the time. This is sometimes due to a job change that leads them back to their home country, because they’re returning home for a furlough in order to fundraise or catch a breather from the cultural stresses, or a move to a different country within their organization. Other people travel extensively for their jobs and are gone for weeks at a time. And then there are the good-byes on the other end; when they leave their home culture to return here for their jobs. The goodbyes at the end of yet another skype call, another trans-ocean phone call, another email to their loved one who lives thousands of miles away.

As a result, expats are forced to decide whether or not they’ll take the risk of opening up their hearts and lives to other expats, not knowing who will leave and who will stay, or for how long. I’ve seen both choices being made. Some seem unwilling to open up because everyone ends up leaving anyway, and then there are others who willingly let you in even though they know the leaving could happen at some point. Thankfully, I’ve met multiple other women who took the risk of letting me into their lives, even though they didn’t know how long we’d be here. After being here for a bit and seeing this part of expat life, I am very cognizant of the sheer courage it took for these women to do what they’ve done. I’m impacted deeply by it that because I realize they didn’t have to take that risk.

They didn’t have to drive me around different areas of town to help familiarize me with them. They didn’t have to arrange getting some papaya leaf juice made in order to help treat what we thought at the time was dengue fever in my husband. They didn’t have to care for our son when our daughter fell off a wall onto her face and had to stay in a local hospital overnight to observe her neurological status. They didn’t have to ask how I was doing, nod empathetically when I cried about how hard life felt, or tell me to call them in the middle of the night if I needed anything while my husband was traveling. They didn’t have to.

But they did.

I could cry (oh, and believe me – I have) thinking about it as I write this. What an incredible gift these women have offered me and my family! I am humbled and challenged by them in numerous ways. And you know what makes it even more profound to me at the moment?

We’re leaving Thailand.

Yes. Now I’m the one saying good-bye, and this is much to our surprise, because we had already planned to stay beyond our initial one-year commitment. Over the past 1.5 months, we’ve seen that God actually has different plans, ones that require returning to America. I’ll share more about that in another post, but I’d rather get back to my friends and their courage. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I’m the best thing that has happened to these women; that they’ll be devastated when I leave. They won’t. What I am saying is that they took the chance on me and within a year later, that risk means they’ll have to say good-bye again. They invested in me and my family and while I hope part of the return for them was that I was a good friend to them as well, but do you know what another part of their return is? Loss. Yet another good-bye.

Before we finalized our decision to move back to the US, I cried a lot. The tears were cried for multiple reasons, but the biggest one was over the relationships I would leave behind if we made the decision to leave. I have met some incredibly brave and beautiful women here and it’s my loss that I will no longer get to live life with them or learn from them.

Chiang Mai friends (you know who you are), I respect and admire the courageous things you and your families are doing here. I am humbled that you took the risk to open up to me and invest in my life. Thank you for taking that risk – because of it, I’ve been changed. Being the recipient of your decision to open your hearts to me has been one of the very best parts of living here …

and I’m beyond grateful.

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* I imagine military families, or those with jobs that require moving at multiple points during their career would probably have similar experiences, but I cannot speak for those groups.

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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.

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.

A first time for everything …

There have definitely been many interesting, fun, and nerve-wracking “firsts” for me as of late. Some have been interesting and fun, but some were neither of those and only nerve-wracking. :/ When you’re in your home culture, it is fairly easy at times to control how many “firsts” you attempt and at what pace you attempt them. Here, it’s a bit different. Well, I could try to keep a tight control on such things here, but it would really keep me from things that are only going to make our time in Thailand richer, as well as “easier,” in some senses. Because of this, I find myself saying, “Oh, why not?” or thinking to myself, “C’mon, Dawn, you need to ‘put yourself out there’ on this one!” way more than I probably ever have. The process is tiring, exhilarating at times, and …. tiring. However, I’ve already done things I wasn’t sure I could do and my confidence is growing; more slowly in some areas than others, but nonetheless, growing.

Recently, for the first time, I have …

… driven a manual vehicle on the left side of the street while sitting on the right side of the car and shifting with my left hand. I think I got tired merely just typing that all out – wow. Driving here makes me feel like I am 16 years old again, except for the fact that my husband is in the passenger seat coaching me instead of my dad … and my 2 small children are in the backseat literally cheering me on. That is just plain weird.

… gotten a Thai massage. I know, I know, I lead a rough life. But you must know this about me; I don’t particularly like massages. I am ticklish and the amount of mental energy I have to put into not wiggling during the entire massage generally makes getting them a total waste of money and is antithetical to relaxation. But here? I decided to go for it and actually enjoyed it! For a variety of factors, the massage was done much better than any massage (um, all 2 or 3 of them) I’ve ever had done in the U.S.

… made my first batch of homemade spaghetti sauce and french toast – in one week. If you don’t think this is a big deal, ask my family. They’ll tell you they are very, very grateful for a bit of variety in our menu. 😉 Making meals I would have back in the States has come slowly as I find out which ones I can make with cost-effective ingredients here. Because of that and because I am just beginning to learn how to cook Thai food, that sauce and french toast is a big deal.

IMG_0208

See, Mom? I wear a helmet – no need to worry!

… driven a motorbike out in traffic! The previous few times I had ridden our motorbike was just around our neighborhood, so getting out into traffic was one of the nerve-wracking firsts for me. I literally had to give myself a verbal rear-end kicking to make this happen (anyone else out there have to do the same sometimes?) – I’m not joking. I just drove down the road a bit to a coffee shop and back, but it was a start. I was possibly the slowest one on the road at the time (not a problem, other vehicles just drive around you – road rage is not an issue here) and one time I gave it gas instead of using the brakes, but all was well.

… gone out for a “moms only” night with a few new friends. This was huge because it meant that a) I have met some other women who are willing to spend their Friday evening with me, b) there were no children present which = coherent, adult conversation, and c) I had the best chocolate I have had in the last 3 months in the cafe we went to. Need I say more?

eaten fried insects! Ok, ok, I didn’t do this one, but I did have the opportunity to buy some at a market last week. I passed, deciding not to “put myself out there” on this one quite yet. However, I did try durian, which could be a close 2nd. Regarding durian, people either love or hate this particular fruit and it’s actually banned from some public places because of its smell.

… gone to Burma/Myanmar.  Granted, it was just to renew our visa and we spent most of our time in the immigration office, but we did it. It represents the opportunity we have to go places in the surrounding areas that I never dreamed I would go. These opportunities are one of the amazing perks of living here.

All these “firsts” are definitely stretching for me, but I’m forging ahead!

How about you? What “firsts” have you attempted lately? What things are you needing to try for the first time that you are putting off? C’mon … get out there and do them!

And, if you need someone to lovingly give you a “verbal rear-end kicking,” just let me know. 😉

12 signs that I no longer live in America

“Back so soon, Dawn?” you may be wondering, “what about your angst?”

Well, I’ve still got “blogger’s angst,” but I also have had some blogging ideas, so I’m posting. I can’t promise much beyond one post at a time, though, and I’m growing more comfortable with that.

Moving right along … 😉

When I stop and think about how much my life has changed over the past 2.5 months, it’s pretty amazing (and slightly overwhelming). I realize that some of you possibly have encountered some of the following situations in America. However, I had not, despite living in 6 different states in several U.S. regions over the past 18 years prior to moving to Thailand.

Here are a few of the ways things have changed; signs that I no longer live in America:

1. In addition to making noises like cats and dogs, my kids now mimic some of the large lizards we hear every night here. Take a listen – you have to admit, it’s a fun sound and definitely a great one for kiddos to mimic!

2. The majority of my neighbors speak a language different from mine. We do have a few Swedish neighbors as well as at least one American family living near us, but the majority of our neighbors are Thai.

3. I see more stray dogs roaming around than I see pet dogs. I rarely see dogs being walked and the majority of pet dogs who live around us seem to stay on their own properties behind gates most of the time.

4. I eat rice, on the average, as part of about 8 meals each week. I haven’t gotten tired of it. Yet.

5. My kitchen is completely separate from the rest of my house. Traditionally, any Thai who would have lived here would have cooked back behind in the house in an open area (I haven’t been in many Thai houses, so cannot tell you if this is very common at this point in time). At some point, the house was converted to be geared more toward westerners, so a separate little building was build behind the house – it houses my kitchen, a storage room, and my laundry room.

kitchen on the right and the rest of the house on the left

kitchen on the right and the rest of the house on the left

6. All of my clothes are hung on a clothesline or drying racks to dry. Yes, I did that some back in Colorado, but I had the option not to if I so desired. Dryers here? Not all that common.

7. Driving here looks *a bit* different – although I haven’t yet learned to drive here, my husband has. He makes driving on the left side of the road, in a vehicle that has the steering wheel on the right side of the car, look easy. Oh, and it’s a stick-shift, which means he shifts with his left hand. Seriously, the guy sets a high standard for the rest of us who still need to learn such skills.

8. Many coffee shop drinks you find here are SWEET (as in, sweet in flavor). The reason? Sweetened condensed milk. The Thai baristas love their sweetened condensed milk! I speak just a bit of Thai, but have already had to learn, “Ow latte yen. Mai wan.” (“I want an iced latte. Not sweet.”) And then, 8 times out of 10 it’s still somewhat sweet.

9. I can buy some foods much more cheaply here than in America. If the food comes from a market (vs. a store), I can get medium-sized pineapples for about 50 cents/each (in US dollars) and 6 smaller cucumbers for about 35 cents. Oh, and another bonus is that flowers are cheaper. I now get a small bouquet for our dining room table each week because 6 smaller roses with some filler or a bouquet of smaller daisies are about $1 each. (note: Not everything is cheaper here, lest you think we’re living on several hundred dollars each month ;)).

a squatty potty (this was not taken in our house, in case you were curious)

a squatty potty (this was not taken in our house, in case you were curious)

10. After using the bathroom, I throw the toilet paper away in a basket next to the toilet. I was unaware that the plumbing/septic systems in some countries cannot handle having toilet paper put them, but it’s true. There are actually many places that have “squatty potties” rather than western toilets here. It’s interesting to realize that some things you thought were very common are actually luxuries – I’m learning how little I actually know about how people in other parts of the world live.

11. I see more ahem, “creative” ways of transporting oneself/one’s family each day that I ever have in my life. I have seen many interesting ways of fitting entire families on a motorbike (scooter) as well as in/on the back of a pick-up truck.

12. My children are often treated like rockstars. We were at a popular waterfall and national park last weekend and at one point, were surrounded by Thai people who wanted to take pictures either of or with my kids. I felt like a handler for a couple of childhood stars in Hollywood!

Yep. I definitely am not in America anymore.

If you’re an expat, what are some of the signs that you no longer live in your passport country? If you’ve never lived outside your passport country but have done any international traveling, what was some of the “evidence” that you were away from home?

Letting a friend be a friend

As I have communicated with close friends lately, I will often hear the qualifier, “But I’m not the one who has moved to another country,” when sharing anything even hinting of struggle from their own lives. I have been thinking a bit about how we can dismiss our own struggles, whether its to minimize their intensity or not even bring them up, when talking to others we feel have much bigger struggles in  their lives. I realize there are times to keep our own struggles to ourselves, but I’m guessing we often do it when it’s unnecessary and when it might not be the best thing for the friendship.

Friends, you are hearing it from the horse’s (at least one particular horse) mouth. I want to hear about your struggles. I am not sitting here in Thailand thinking about how my life is so much harder than yours. When you do share any current difficulties in your life, I do not compare it to how difficult my day was or wasn’t. Believe me, I don’t. I care about you and I care about your struggle. While it is true that life as a new expatriate in Thailand is pretty intense with different daily struggles, there is still a lot of joy that comes in the midst of it all. And you know what? I don’t want to just think about my life and talk about my life; I’m already prone to being self-focused and don’t need any help in that area. 😉 I want to hear about your life. I want the opportunity to encourage you, to mourn with you, or to celebrate with you, depending on the circumstances of your life. Basically, I need the opportunity to be your friend.

Don’t get me wrong, I do the same thing. I can be talking with a close friend and if I know they are going through a time of intense struggle, I may not share my own struggle. I often do so as to not be a “burden” to the other person, which can at times be either a good or bad reason. But I sometimes do it because I’ve compared our struggles and somehow decided that my struggle does not warrant our attention. By doing so, I have just taken away an opportunity for the other person to be an encouragement to me and help bear my burden; essentially to be a good friend to me. I realize it’s not a black and white issue; that there are many factors involved. But isn’t it true that we often do this, that we take away the opportunity for people to love on and encourage us?  By doing this, we are basically saying, “no” for them to the potential opportunity to be a good friend to us.

Let’s be gracious to each other when our own struggle is so intense that we have little to offer in the way of encouragement and “burden-bearing” to one another. But let’s also give each other the opportunity to be a good friend before dismissing or minimizing our own struggles and making the decision for them.

After all, shouldn’t we let our friends make that decision for themselves? Wouldn’t we want them to let us do the same?

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In case you’re wondering, this post is not an underhanded way for me to communicate with my friends about how they are screwing up in our friendship (because they’re not). I don’t tend to communicate things I should merely talk to them individually about via blog posts. Just fyi. 😉

Restocking my tool belt

A few weeks after moving to Thailand, I had a few days of feeling sad and a bit down. I’m guessing neither emotion is particularly uncommon to have in the midst of our current life circumstances. However, being the introspect I am cursed blessed to be, I wondered where those feelings were coming from. Was I down because I was feeling a bit like a bird who had had its wings clipped due to my loss of independence? Was it because I missed my friends back home? Maybe it was because my husband had returned to work and I missed seeing him as regularly as we did the first few weeks here? Actually, it was probably a bit of all of those things plus others I was unaware of.

I was eventually able to put my finger on it. I was struggling because I had lost many of my tools.

We’re not talking about power saws, hammers, and screwdrivers here, but the tools each of us uses in order to navigate the roles we hold. I have a specific set of tools that helps me to be a somewhat “competent” (whatever that means) mother, manager of our home, and wife, to name my three biggest roles. If I don’t yet have some necessary tools, I (hopefully) am working on developing them. Let’s take my role of motherhood as the example for the remainder of this post. A few of my  non-tangible “mothering tools” are the attitudes and philosophy I approach parenting with. Other tools are tangible – for example: the list (often mental) of activities I often do with my kids, the skills I want to be working on with each of them, the snacks and meals I feed them, and the groups of friends I often initiate playdates with, just to list a few. These tools help me to mother my kids individually in the ways Shun-Luoi and I feel are best for them as well as our whole family.

But what if I can’t easily get to the grocery store? What if the foods or snacks I am accustomed to feeding my kids are somewhat expensive here or I can’t even read the labels on the food in the stores? What if I don’t have a car in which to take my kids to try out different kid-friendly places I would normally have been to by now? And if I did have a car, what would I do when I don’t know how to drive in the right side of the car and on the left side of the street? What if my kids have no friends with whom to even initiate playdates?

Moving to Thailand has caused me to lose most of the tools I had acquired in America that helped me be the competent (again, used loosely) mother I knew how to be. Now what?

Some days, I feel as if these are the "tools" I am working with ...

Some days, I feel as though this is the extent of the “tools” I am working with …

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the answer to that question. However, I spent a day or two of “chafing” under my new reality bemoaning the fact of not being able to do this or not having the resources to do that. After those few days, I realized that chafing was not going to be helpful for anyone. Is any kind of chafing ever a good thing? Not that I know of, although I’m sure I could find some instance where it is if I researched long enough. But, in relation to this discussion, chafing is a bad thing. I needed to move past the chafing stage and instead accept my new set of life circumstances along with the reality that I was going to need to develop some new tools. See? No rocket science needed to make that deduction. 😉

Along the way, I’m learning some important principles about the new tools I will develop for my tool belt.

  1. Attempting to re-create similar tools that “worked” well for me in America while here will probably lead to frustration. I live in a very different culture with different resources available. I can’t try to transplant all that I did in America to here, and that’s ok.
  2. Ask expatriate mothers who have lived here longer to share specific ways they have learned to carry out their role as mothers while living here. Other women here are already doing it – I need to be humble enough to learn from them and be open to new things, even if I would never have previously considered using the tools they suggest.
  3. Watch how the Thai mothers mother their kids (and/or ask them if possible). For pete’s sake, if I won’t be open to learning from the Thai in their own country, then how arrogant am I? At the same time, I need to accept that not every tool will transfer across cultures and not try to force myself into mothering like a Thai woman when I am not Thai.
  4. Get comfortable with the fact that re-stocking my tool belt will take some time. Just as I gained some new tools when I first became a mother of one, then some different tools when I had my 2nd child, my new tools will also take time to acquire.

Enough time has been spent chafing. Now it’s time to learn, grow, and add some new tools to the old belt. It will surely be interesting to see what that belt holds 6 months from now!

Have you ever had a season in life that demanded you acquire some new tools for a role you hold? What did that process look like? Expat moms, do you have any advice to pass along?

Getting out of the comfort zone

I might know a thing or two about being out of my comfort zone.

I mean, moving to a new country, living among neighbors who speak a different language, eating a lot of new foods, and not having any form of getting myself around sans help might just qualify me as someone out of her comfort zone.

Let’s put it this way. After getting married, Shun-Luoi would often remark, “Wouldn’t it be so great to move our family overseas to live for a time?” to which I would usually freak out, both internally and frequently outwardly. Nope, I had never had that thought. That didn’t sound “great” to me on any level, really. And while I promise I did not move to Thailand kicking and screaming and that I really do believe coming here was God’s best thing for our family, I am out of my comfort zone.

Being out of that zone can be really hard. On the other hand, it can be really rich. I am trying things I never thought I would try. I am doing things I never thought I could. Sometimes, I “fail.” Sometimes I don’t. It’s all part of it. However, even though I don’t have to try to get out of my comfort zone these days, I still try to be intentional to try new things and attempt new challenges each week.

Here’s an example. Two Swedish families live near us (Note: there are many westerners based in Chiang Mai while they do work with different NGO’s … living near Swedish folks isn’t all that weird of a phenomenon here.) and one of the families has 4 kids, 2 of whom are boys the ages of Abigail and Elijah. After meeting the family, the dad invited us down to play anytime. Awesome! But there’s one small “hitch” – the boys speak mainly Swedish and Thai. But hey, my kids need playmates and would it really matter to the kids that they speak different languages?

I won’t lie. A playdate with the Swedish kids went on my “challenges to undertake” list. Not because the kids didn’t speak the same language, but also because their nanny speaks Thai, which means I would be able to communicate with her very little. However, because my comfort really wasn’t the most important thing, I knew we needed to take that play date challenge sooner than later after meeting these particular neighbors.

We went for it about 1.5 weeks ago. I asked someone if I needed to call and make arrangements with the nanny for us to come over. Nope, no need for that, I was told – just show up and see if they’re home (everything is much less scheduled here; I’m sure in time I will enjoy that aspect of Thai culture ;)). So, off we went – Elijah and Abigail excited to play with some friends and let’s be honest, to play with some fresh toys, and me excited about the opportunity for my kids, but also a bit apprehensive at how it would all go.

I wish you could have seen it. These four little blonde kids checked each other out, the 2 little Swedes brought their toys to my kids to share with them, and eventually, the 3 boys played while Abigail did some cooking at the play kitchen. The boys’ nanny and I would engage different kids, I helped the older Swedish boy with counting in English, and Elijah chattered away like his new friends could understand him perfectly. The nanny and I communicated mostly through smiles. And do you know what? Everyone survived. And beyond survival, everything went well! I often just wanted to sit back and laugh at the entire scenario; it really was comical at times.

I am grateful we went. I’m grateful God is giving me the grace to put myself/us out there to try new things even though I have to intentionally plan for such times. Our entire family is being stretched and challenged in ways we never would be if we just holed up in our “comfort zone,” whatever that is right now. It’s scary at times, but I’m finding the apprehension of trying the new things is scarier than actually doing them 98% of the time. And so my confidence is growing … and so am I.

One of Elijah's new challenges is learning to ride his bike without training wheels!

One of Elijah’s new challenges is learning to ride his bike without training wheels!

What about you? What are some new challenges you’ve tried as of late? How did they go?

10 lessons from our first month

First month in Thailand, that is.

Yes! Today (May 6th) is the one-month mark from when we first arrived in Chiang Mai. There have been difficult times, somewhat brutal heat, and tears, but there have also been moments of laughter and joy along with sweet family times. When Shun-Luoi thought it would be fun to blog separately on the top 10 lessons we have learned this first month, I was mostly in. Except for the “top 10” part of it. It’s a bit too much pressure to wade through all of life’s current lessons and pick the top 10, so I instead give you simply …

Ten lessons I’ve learned in our first month of living in Thailand (in no particular order):

1. Having lizards and cockroaches in my house is not the end of the world. I still hate cockroaches but have finally killed a few myself. And the other day when a small lizard darted around the wall behind our bed, I didn’t even flinch. Hooray! Baby steps, people, baby steps …

2. Having small children is both one of the greatest things and hardest things right now. Having 2 little dependent ones keeps me from having too much excess time in which to overanalyze every thought and feeling I experience (see #10 below). However, having Elijah and Abigail is also really hard because they’re so dependent on me (yep, the old double-edged sword). There are times I wish I had a bit more space to process life and just “be” in the midst of all we’re adjusting to.

3. Thai food is very tasty. I’ll be honest – when we went out for any kind of Asian food back in the States, I would order the same “safe” dish; stir-fried vegetables with chicken and steamed rice. I know, I know … boring! But hey, I’m not a hugely adventurous eater and I like to order food I know I’ll enjoy when paying for it. I was pleasantly surprised by the use of potatoes in one Thai dish – yes, I’m from the midwest – and have really enjoyed trying multiple different rice and noodle dishes, as well as a delicious mango with sticky rice dessert. Yum!

mango with sticky rice, anyone?

mango with sticky rice, anyone?

4. Being in contact with loved ones in the States is hugely important for me, but I have to be careful to not misuse social media. Doing so could easily keep me from living life fully here. I also have to be aware of not using social media to simply numb myself to any loneliness or other difficult emotions I may be currently experiencing.

5. The familiar can be incredibly therapeutic. Things like spending time with other Americans/westerners, eating familiar foods from home, and listening to American music (from the 80s, 90s, or whenever; it doesn’t matter!) are really good things for my soul. Seriously.

6. Figuring out “life-giving” ways to care for myself is imperative. Things I have found so far that accomplish this? Listening to worship music, iced lattes, writing, sweeping our driveway (!), resting in our air-conditioned bedroom during the hottest time of the day, and morning walks.

7. Flexibility is highly valued by the Thai people. As a result, living here is some sort of cruel joke on me. 😉 Actually, I think it’s going to be a huge gift because even though I have grown in the ability to roll with the punches and let things go, I still have much to learn in this area. I’ll have no choice but to do so in this laid-back culture.

8. My capacity here is very different than in America. I don’t even know the nuances of how that all works at this point (nor may I ever), but I do know that simply living day-to-day life is much harder. Accomplishing even small things takes much more effort. I’m not sure how much is due to the heat, language differences, being car/motorcycle-less at the moment, or other things, but it’s just harder. When I’ve talked with other expats living here, many have mentioned that what I’m experiencing in this area is pretty typical.

9. My tendency toward introspection is both a great gift and great curse. I am wired to always want to get at the heart of why I’m feeling or thinking certain things. My training as a counselor adds an additional dimension to that. BUT – sometimes you just don’t need to analyze your thoughts and feelings. In our current life circumstances, introspection helps me have a better sense of what I’m struggling with or … causes me to freak out. [insert pulling of hair]

10. I need to allow Jesus to meet me where I’m at these days. Whatever I am going through or struggling with is not beyond who He is or His reach. This song, passed on as a reminder to me from my brother, speaks to that truth beautifully.

And believe me, those ten are among many other lessons I am learning. The learning curve is high these days, folks!

Are you curious what Shun-Luoi chose as his ten lessons? Read about them here.

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