Birthday cakes and scooters.

One of the things we all noticed in Thailand is that there is not a whole lot of OH&S going on. No, folks, it would seem that occupational health and safety hasn’t even come up on their radar.

The area it is most noticeable is on the roads. I thoroughly enjoyed riding in the back of a jeep for the entire first week, the wind in our hair, hanging on round corners. It engenders a feeling of freedom that we don’t have on our roads here.

Perching, and I do mean that quite literally, on the back of a fast moving vehicle also gives one a perfect view of what is happening on the road. Scooters are prevalent and are quite entertaining to watch. They weave in and out of the traffic, no regard for lane markings – oh wait…there weren’t any…no helmets and definitely not feeling the need to actually ever come to a complete stop at a red light.

I was walking on my own at one point, risking my life by simply trying to cross the road. I didn’t have my camera, or my iphone to snap one particular scooter that I watched come all the way along the road, so you will have to make do with me describing it for you.

The scooter was carrying a woman driver. The woman was carrying in a sling, a baby. Another child was on her knee, another was standing on the board together with the family dog. With her free hand, she was holding a mobile phone to her ear.

I laughed out loud. It was the most I had seen on one scooter. Normally there were two or three but four humans plus a dog was a feat of balance and the ultimate testament to multi-tasking.

On my return to Australia I am informed that in some states, children will no longer be able to bring a birthday cake with candles to kindy due to the germs expelled all over the cake when the candles are blown out by little 5 year old John or Mary.

And then another person relayed to me that she has been told to remove children’s books from her waiting room as books harbour sickness inducing germs.

Talk about polar opposites!

Going from  a country where rules – if there are any – are maybe too relaxed, to a country that wants to wrap us up in the proverbial cotton wool – I was struck by the disparity.

Now, you and I both know, somewhere in between the two is the optimum.

We need balance, don’t we?

Work too hard, the toll shows up in our health or relationships. Don’t work hard enough, we suffer the consequences of bills not being paid and again, it shows up in our health and relationships. Too much food…well, we all know what happens! Not enough food, we are malnourished and prey to sickness.

It started me thinking about how much we think, ironically 😉

Some of us analyse ourselves, make goals for self improvement, buy every self help book available, talk to our friends, seek professional help – and do all this obsessively.

Others of us barely give a second thought to our personal development and merrily coast along in life, sometimes oblivious to the wake of hurt and distress left behind them.

Now, I am probably more prone to naval gazing than not. And I know it’s easy to get so caught up in self betterment, that I miss the life that’s right in front of me.

So busy trying to be better, I forget to simply be.

It’s all about balance. I think the dictionary definition says it best:

Balance:

• an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady

• stability of one’s mind or feelings: the way to some kind of peace and personal balance
• sailing: the ability of a boat to stay on course without adjustment of the rudder
How is your life balanced right now? Does it need some adjusting?

What’s on your spirit shelf?

While in Thailand, I wanted to know as much about Buddhism as anyone was willing to tell me. I am fascinated by other belief systems and why people believe what they do.

One of the things I quickly realised is that Buddhism in Thailand is quite different to what we think of as Buddhism here. In Christianity, there is a major component of grace – you could even say that is the fundamental tenet that Christianity is built on. There is nothing that even closely resembles grace in true Buddhism. It is very much based on ‘what you get is what you deserve’ and earning your way to a better life, whereas grace is really getting what you don’t deserve and could never earn.

Up close, Buddhism isn’t warm and fuzzy with people exercising immense tolerance of others, not harming any living thing or living in a constant state of serenity. I found it to be harsh, ruthless and unyeilding.

My wise 15 year old pointed out that the practise of the religion was like the White Temple. Beautiful from a distance, quite frightening close up.

The White Temple glittering in the sun.

The White Temple glittering in the sun.

There were a lot of these pits depicting hands reaching out from hell.

There were a lot of these pits depicting hands reaching out from hell as well as other grotesque monsters at every turn.

 

The pastor’s wife we were being hosted by put it this way – in the West, Buddhism overlays a base of love, kindness and forgiveness, attributes left over from when the West was classed as Christian. So our Buddhism looks and feel different from what is practised in true Buddhist countries. She also talked about how, conversely, when Christianity is introduced into Buddhist countries, there is a tendency for people to simply add Jesus to their ‘spirit shelf’. He is seen as just another god to pray to, as they are used to having multiple gods/spirits of whom they ask assistance.

I found that so interesting. And realised with alarm but stark clarity, we who call ourselves Christians, are  just the same in the West.

Do I have Jesus as the only One on my spirit shelf? Or is it crowded, buckling under the weight of many gods?

Self. Money. Reputation. Possessions. Looks. Religion. Righteousness. Financial security. Popularity.

Gods, every one of them. And all things we use and turn to in times of need.

I will even go so far as to say that we turn to these things first and that God is waaaaaay down the end of the shelf. Forget being our Plan A, God is often not even our B, C, D, or E.

How does your spirit shelf look? Is there just one God on there, or many?

Love is the air.

Valentine’s Day. Not a fan, myself – but will accept flowers, wine, chocolate if offered them ;). If are looking for a warm and fuzzy post about love, go to this post, and be sure to read the comments :).

However, it’s a good opportunity to focus on love. And I’m not talking about the mushy, sloppy, Hollywood romance type of love.

I mean fierce love, outrageous love. Love that makes you stand up and applaud.

The theme of love has been popping up a lot lately, and if you are a long time reader of this blog, firstly, thank you :), and secondly, you will know that I love love!

A couple weeks back in church the well known verses that go like this were read out:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

When you dissect it and take it piece by piece, it is extraordinarily powerful. I’m still mulling over and trying to put into practice just the first sentence! I figure by the time I’m about 347 years old, I’ll have perfected the whole thing.

And then in our family devotions just the other day, we read the words of Jesus:

 

…love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you….If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?

 

Mmmm…I don’t like that very much! It’s a bit harder to love those we don’t like, isn’t it? I find it no trouble at all to do and say nice things to my friends, even for strangers on the street. But the people that I know, who I know I don’t like??? That’s a different story.

Yet, it appears that’s what we are called to. And not to just pretend to love them and be nice…but to actually love them.

When in Thailand, I was struck by the love the staff at Destiny Rescue have for the children, the staff and the Thai people in general. And they even love the perpetrators of the heinous acts these girls endure. Yep, I saw Jesus in every single one of the staff there.

What the world needs isn’t more sloppy, weak love. It needs love that is prepared to get it’s hands dirty. Love that will feed people on the streets. Love that will go into brothels and give girls hope of a better life. Love that cares for the whole person. Love that will clothe, feed, shelter and protect. Love that loves just as people are, with all our differences, faults and ugliness!

We need love that will move out of our comfort zones. We need love that is patient, kind, puts itself last. Love that never gives up, love that loves the unlovely. Love that loves the annoying, hurtful, rude and nasty people.

The world needs people who don’t see love as optional.

The world needs people who see love as essential.

 

 

The good, the bad and the bumpy.

Well, I thought by now that I would know where to start in telling you all about the trip but I don’t.

It was so full of activity, poignant moments, life-changing moments, joy, homesickness, good food, bad food, laughter and tears that there seems nowhere to begin…but here goes anyway.

Overall, it was fantastic. And if I didn’t love every single minute, I at least tried to make the most of every experience. The balance of things I loved and things I didn’t, is heavily weighted to the love side but, just like in all of life, there certainly were things that challenged me.

My overall impression of Thailand is mixed. I loved the people, loved the culture but running right alongside that was the knowledge of what the culture and the people do to their children. That for a section of society, children are a commodity to be bought and sold. And that for another section of society, children are to be used, abused and treated as less than the animals that roam the streets.

It seemed a land of contradictions. One where elders are respected, for no other reason than they are older than you, and regardless of how they have treated you. Where on the everyday streets, no-one yells at their kids yet parents find themselves in such a state of poverty that selling their children to a brothel is their only option (can you imagine being faced with that sort of choice??).  Where it is ‘good karma’ to feed the stray dogs and cats on the street, yet children go hungry. A nation that preaches ‘karma’ yet, in most cases, will not lift a finger for their poorer neighbour (how can they practice karma?? If you do good, you get good. If you do bad, you get bad. So, if someone is in a bad life situation, it’s their fault, so you don’t help them for fear of interfering with their karma. How then do you do good and get good back??? It simply made no sense to me.) A country where it is impolite and improper to agree if someone compliments your spouse or children, where, in fact, you are expected to vehemently disagree and say the opposite to the compliment. A country that tells their children they are stupid and dumb because it’s seen as proud to tell them they are smart.

I couldn’t wrap my head around some of it. It seemed so illogical to me, just as, I am sure, our ways seem illogical to them. I couldn’t reconcile the smiling, welcoming faces with it’s sinister night life of brothels where children as young as eight are forced to service an endless stream of ‘clients’ all night.

But the people were lovely and friendly, the countryside beautiful, the culture rich and diverse…and the work of Destiny Rescue simply outstanding.

I fell in love with the girls and boys we met. I fell in love with their infectious laughter and sheer joy for living, with their thankfulness for the lives they now are able to lead. I fell in love with the workers who care for these kids (our little three year old sponsor boy’s carer was an absolute treasure – limited English but her smile said all she needed to say!). I fell in love with the smells, the sights, the food, the markets. And the smile on their faces if they said an English word correctly and their giggles when you said a Thai word totally incorrectly! Priceless 🙂

I found the similarities interesting too. Parents who could barely afford food, made sure their kids had the latest phone, or that the biggest flat-screen TV graced the living area – just like people here. Kids at the school acting up, vying for attention and getting restless and cheeky by the end of the day. The fact that, sadly, they all knew who Justin Bieber was and knew all the words to Gangnam Style…bad taste is universal, my friends.

I would love to go back to Thailand, especially to Chiang Rai to see our sponsor kids but I’m not sure I could live there. And the culture shock of coming home to the Western world that everyone warned us about was a bit of a no-show. I think we went over there already having a healthy appreciation for what we have here and, in our family, trying to practice thankfulness as a way of life, meant that we were okay. Certainly though, I don’t sweat the small stuff like I did before, so there has certainly been a reinforcement of the right perspective. Before I left, our consumerism in the Western world turned my stomach, and it still does now but strangely, I have more compassion for those afflicted with the disease of materialism than I did before. I think it really hit home just how sad it is that we try to fill the voids in our lives with ‘stuff’.

So, has it changed me? Yes, most definitely. Some of the changes I expected, some are a surprise. I’m looking forward to sharing some of those with you all over the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

The trip in pictures.

I am still trying to collect my thoughts (could take awhile! 🙂 ) but I thought I would share some photos with you to give a general outline of some of the things we got up to during the two weeks. There will be posts on certain aspects and specific experiences coming up over the next few weeks 🙂

So, we got on a plane,

Landed in Thailand,

Untitled

Street in Chiang Rai.

Ate these,

Crickets

Crickets! They were actually not too bad 🙂

Which made Charli do this,

Charli crickets

She didn’t agree with me.

We went here,

White temple

The White Temple. Amazing architecture.

Saw this,

White buddha

The White Buddha.

Rode a big grey animal,

Charli elephant

She was allowed to ride on the front where the handler normally sits. He then sat with me and, gesturing to Charli, said the Thai word for beautiful. I learnt that one pretty quickly as it was said so often in reference to her 🙂 No-one else in our group was invited to sit up front….

Fell in love with these two,

Girls

Crossed this border,

Untitled 2

Felt sad at this state of living,

Untitled 3

On the Thailand side of the Burma border. It looked like it would collapse if a butterfly landed on it. The beggars on the bridge made it even sadder to me.

Helped create this,

Deck

Took this amazing shot 🙂

Boats

Bought a kilo of these,

Mangosteins

Mangosteins – yummy! Wish we had them here.

Ate this,

Squid

Met the man who changed my life who lives here,

Andy

Twenty year old Andy lives here with his mother. He will get a whole post, or maybe two, just to himself and you will hear all about him 🙂

Were very happy to find this,

Coke

I wanted the bottle as a souvenir but they were the ones that get handed back and refilled at the factory…had to settle for bringing the bottle top home.

Ate here,

restaurant

And here,

Green restaurant

And ate this,

Food

Declined to eat this,

Tiny

Due to my allergies and the language barrier, I erred on the side of caution and didn’t try it. Found out later that it was just some sort of sweet made from a certain palm tree. I was so annoyed as I had vowed to eat everything presented to me!

Met these crazy cats,

Lila and David and Jeff

And finally, came home to this,

Welcome home

And much more of course but you’ll have to wait for the rest 🙂

Honey, I’m home!

Well, we are back from Thailand.

And what a reception we received from our home town! Floods, 100km winds, no power, no phones, no internet – from nice, sunny weather in Thailand, to this! It meant that the first few days home were quite surreal, with no time to really process our trip, let alone talk much about it in the face of the immediate need to keep the things in the fridge from going off, find torches, batteries, worry that we had no communication with family to say we were even home safely and generally try to (literally!) keep our heads above water!

Now, four or five days since we returned, and with the weather settled and the immediate crisis over, I can begin to work out how I feel about everything.

So, this post is just to say I am back, that we had an awesome time, and that I will be writing many posts about our experience. Right now, I need to re-group my thoughts (I’m trying to spare you the incoherent ramble that is going on in my head at the present moment!) and will share with you all in due course.

In the meantime, how has the last two weeks been for you? What have you been up to while I’ve been riding elephants and eating yet another bowl of rice? 🙂