Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Pepsi Wow...

Idyllic Sangkhlaburi

Just how much stuff can one person carry?
 Its been all change since my last post, I left Huay Malai for Bangkok -taking in a very relaxing overnight-stay in Sangkhlaburi. "It's a hard life this voluntary work" I thought as I sat sipping a mango smoothie watching the sunset over the river Kwai, but of course the real work was about to start! Lydia and I made our way over to Bangkok on the minibus service which meant a quick change over in Kanchanaburi- well it should have been quick only somehow I still managed to pack the equivalent of a small Thai family into my two backpacks- it weighed a tonne! Back to the penitentiary-like familiarity of the Guest House, this time with a double bed (bit of a Brucie Bonus), turns out the staff must have known that I would need the extra space. After waking up from a restful sleep (clever-me worked out how to turn the air con on this time) I found a half-crushed cockroach lying next to me, poor thing- Colin must have put a good word in for me and this is how I repay him... the thing was just wiggling slowly around like it was in the final tolls of death, horrible but strangely captivating at the same time. Well, Darren (as I later christened him) was sent to a watery grave, the whole incident was oddly reassuring as it didn't even freak me out, perhaps I am becoming Jo of the Jungle?

Lydia, my guide and companion over the past two weeks, was leaving Thailand to return home in the next couple of days, so we spent some time buying final prezzies and having a tailor-made dress completed. Due to last minute decision to try and get the dress made we had to go to an upmarket hotel tailor. It was hilarious to see Lydia and myself trying to wet-wipe our grubby legs and feet clean in the hotel lift as the rich and well-dressed stared at the out-of-place misfits invading their shiny 5star territory!

Final Goodbyes
Mike & Jane Fucella and Lydia
 I had the opportunity to try out some of the Thai-food tips that I had picked up over the past two weeks and cooked a goodbye meal at the Fucella's for Lydia and the rest of the crew. I think it was reasonable as everyone ate it, but on the other hand these are seasoned missionary times who informed me they have also enjoyed such delicacies as monkey-poo stew and deep fried bugs!

The biggest news of the week is starting Language School. I will be completing the first module of Thai Language at the Union Language School for the next 4 weeks... and what a start! From the moment we entered the classroom, we were put in our place- No shoulders showing! Skirts or long trousers only! No Chewing gum! Don't be Late (Yikes)! Stand for the National Anthem! And, of course, No flip-flops- the rather nice golden-coloured pair that were situated on my hot, sticky feet burned deep into my tanned toes as both the teacher and Principal laboured the point... not the best start ever. But despite this, I sat with my little notebook, pen and pencil ready to start conversing in Thai. Ha! For the next three days, 8am to 12 noon became a surreal world of guttural and barnyard sounds repeated hundreds of times over. The Thia language has many vowel sounds- each of which I have attached a similar sounding English sound to; for example: OO I remember as the Northern England O sound that my gorgeous little nephew makes when he says his Aunty Jo-Jo's name... then there's UU like the moo of a mournful cow, or aa like the Ah of opening your mouth for the dentist... but even with these explanations there are also some which just don't exist in English. The teacher introduced us to a vowel sound that she called Pepsi Wow, where we had to pretend to drink a can of Pepsi and make a burping sound! Hilarious in a class of ten. But it was only on the fourth day that I finally realised that she had taught us the Pepsi-Vowel (w's are hard for even the most proficient Thai English speaker!).

I have been very blessed with my class mates, we have a real mixture of ages and cultural back grounds. There are 2 Aussies, 3 Americans (there were 4 but we lost one along the way...), 2 South Koreans, a Japanese Guy, a Czech Guy and then me- flying the flag for the UK. We have such fun, everyone is really chatty and friendly, we laugh at each other and ourselves- which really helps or else the four hours would be way too intense! Most of the students in the class are planning for short or long-term Christian missions and I feel slightly sorry for the Czech and Japanese guys who seem to have fallen in with us without any real Christian background- but it's turning out to be great opportunity to share my faith (along with the others who are also giving it a go... the guys don't stand a chance!). I'll keep you updated with my laboured progress in to language learning- but keep the prayers going, I really need them!

As appetising as Spicy Shrimp Noodles
sounds, I opted for toast with a banana
smoothie- Yum,Yum !
All work, no play makes Jo a dull girl, so I have also had some lovely interjections to studying. Saturday was my birthday and I was staying with the always-gorgeous Fucella girls, who made me breakfast (including the offer of spicy-shrimp noodles) and gave me a Thai cook-book (very good choice). We went fake-posh make-up buying (too much fun) and mooched around the Art Gallery and visited a historic house, it was lovely (Thank you Rachel and Aylie). Then there was lovely Melanie K who just happened to be visiting Bangkok- we haven't seen each other since she was stationed in England with the US Air force well over 5 years ago. Another fantastic day of mooching, chatting and eating, it was great!

Gugenheim rip-off but a great
Gallery never-the-less

All change on the accommodation front, although I was of course sad to pass up the opportunity to meet the rest of Colin's family, I have moved in with a very hospitable American couple called Gary and Claudia. They are missionaries here with the Bible Study Fellowship and have generously (and maybe crazily :) opened their home to me. I am so blessed as their home is air conditioned, very nice with beautiful views and no uninvited bedfellows. I will introduce them more over the next few weeks... if they can put up with me for that long! What is that verse is patient, love is kind... love is long-suffering... love is using a set of earplugs?

Gary and Claudia
 On that note, known for being a person of few words I'd better wrap-up for this installment before I lose my audience... Easter provided the perfect opportunity to talk with my sisters and their better halves and of course to oo and ah (I'm using the English versions in this instance) at my beautiful nephews- they've grown so quickly! Despite being without my dear family and the startling lack of chocolate, it was great to fellowship with other believers and celebrate the amazing freedom and forgiveness given to us through Jesus' sacrifice and triumphant rising! England or Thailand, the mystery of God's grace does not lose any of its power, Thank you Father!  Happy Belated Easter everyone!  
What a cracking view

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Happy Thai New Year! Happy Songkra!

Songkra is here and what a weird, crazy festival it is. How its celebrated now-a-days varies quite a bit from the traditions of the Buddist New Year (they're keener on the rounded jolly guy, than our well known JC and reflect this in their date setting too -add on another 543/4 years to our AD calender date and welcome to the year 2555!). Traditionally Buddha images are brought out of their chapels and ritually washed to also celebrate the end of the 'dry season'. But this ritual bathing has evolved- frankly, its mutated into the biggest three-day water fight ever.

Songkran mayhem in Bangkok

These cheeky chappies wanted
20Bhat for taking this photo!

From the 13th-15th April this year, all over the news there are images of mass waterfights on the city streets and this 'festivity' is not missed out by the rural communities either. It's all good natured fun- fueled to some extent by a lot of alcohol but I found it totally crazy too. Just walking to the shops turns into a serious route planning exercise to try and miss the main waterthrowing stations or else a resigned drenched wander to get your food for the day! And they don't care if your driving! Cars, motorbikes and bikes get the same treatment, doesn't matter if your old or young and being a Farang (foreigner) is the prize soaking of all. Lydia and I were driving a motorbike on our way to Sangkhlaburi for a day and had several nerve racking moments on the twisting mountain road as passing pick-up trucks full of young revelers chucked as much water as they could at you from the back of the truck! Serious nervous laugh, not that walking around Huay Malai or the town was any easier- we were accosted multiple times with water and gloppy paints, creams and powders that were smeared over our faces and arms. I got smothered by this red menthol type paste that went into my eyes (the agony!)- bit of a weird moment as they realised I was blinded and took the opportunity to put even more water all over me to help wash the stuff out... and to add to the craziness, the stuff was dye that I couldn't get out of my skin. So the usual red, hot and bothered look was intensified for a day or so by a strange fushia aura. It has to be said, it would all end in tears if this ever took on in England- but here it was just a great experience and mostly a lot of fun! 

So the middle of the week was pretty exciting thanks to Songkra, but the week also started off with a bang (well, more like a heart breaking thud) with dropping my Kindle and breaking it. Thank the Lord I had just ordered accidental breakage insurance the day before- phewee. But thankfully that is the only injury so far- although I feared a Wasp ambush. I had noticed last week a couple of wasp-things climbing up the outside of my mozzie net at night, but this week a whole swarm appeared around the outside light close to my room. After watching carefully, I then barricaded myself into the room by putting a blanket across the bottom of the door- so far so good, and they seem to have disbanded over the past few nights- only to be replaced by our little friend (Colin). I have never seen a cockroach (I think that's what it was...) so big, it made such a racket when it was flying around that I just wanted to catch the scene on camera, but as you can see, he didn't feel up to performing- although he still managed to frighten the living daylights out of us even when he was still... I hope at some point I will get used to the creepy crawleys!

Picture to follow

There have been a lot more storms over the past few nights, which has meant less access to the internet as there has been no electricity (so bear with me if I take a little longer to get back to your email messages). However the charm of cooking and eating by candlelight has not been lost and seems to add a certain adventurous edge to the most menial of tasks (possibly because you can't quite see what it is exactly that you are eating!) and forces an opportunity for International Scrabble (Dutch and English allowed- neither of us are good enough to add Thai yet, but watch this space!) .

I have had the opportunity to spend some more time at the hospital and other projects in the area. Despite my usual fainting tendencies, I even managed to watch a couple of operations (which hilariously the scrub nurse told my housemate Lydia I talked all the way through!), but due to the holidays it has been very quiet at KRCH and I am yet to see any of the Public Health Clinics that I will be involved in.  

I have met the local SafeHouse Project- which I hope to help out with when I return here. The SafeHouse is a charitable home for people with severe mental health problems, culturally these peoples are marginalised and dumped by their families to fend for themselves. The Home has been going for 18 years but is in dire need of finances to improve the accommodation for the residents. I wanted to cry when I saw that most of the rooms are not waterproof and each storm the residents have to huddle together in the middle of the room on the floor to try and stay warm, knowing they will be wet for the rest of the evening. Yet this home is the best place they could hope to be as their medical, emotional and spiritual needs are met by loving staff who genuinely care for their residents wellbeing. I will be taking more pictures and updating you on how you can be a part of helping this situation over the next months. In addition to the home for the mentally ill, they also have an Old peoples home and a Children's home that arose from offspring/dependents of the residents at the SafeHouse needing somewhere to live.

I braved my first public motorbike taxi to Sangkhlaburi to visit the Government hospital's HIV and AIDS programme. A devoted lady called DoDo heads up an outreach programme that supports people who are afraid they have HIV but yet to be tested and for those post diagnosis with practical help, counselling and health promotion. With so many opportunities to serve, I am praying that God gives me wisdom and guides me as to the best use of my time and skills to support the local community I will be living in.

Sunday was another service at the local church- It was palm Sunday so the children had prepared songs and came in waving Palm leaves, it was fantastic. I would have enjoyed it all the more only I was completely embarrassed by one of the dogs from home following us to the church, and into the church and proceeded to lie down in the middle of the aisle for the whole service... I was cringing- but to be honest no one else seemed that bothered so I think it's not uncommon!

So final highlights of the week, I had planned a glorious sun-rise photo to show how beautiful it is around here, but after getting out of bed at 4.30am today all that happened was that the view got gradually lighter- slightly disappointing and frankly not wow enough of a note to finish on. So instead I have opted for some real-life footage of a very afraid farang learning to ride a motor bike... Enjoy x

Saturday, 9 April 2011

A Week of Firsts in Thailand

Well hello there and Sawatdee to all my thousands of followers! This is the first (of many) installments of Stroudy's Adventures in Thailand. So where to begin? After some very last minute packing aided by my trusted side-kick Leigh, I managed to end up with a large back pack, x2 day packs, a hand bag and a very heavy Laptop- it's fair to say after carrying that lot on my back I have entered Thailand 2 inches shorter than when I started! I have been here a week now after a straightforward journey from rainy, cold England to humid, hot Thailand (Via clean, airconned Dubai!). Although I've been to Bangkok before, the sights, sounds and definately the smells, overload your senses from the moment you arrive. I had two days with the very welcoming Fucella family to find my feet and have an introduction to the realities of engaging with Thai, Karen, Mon and Burmese peoples and also some more insight into what might be some of the opportunties for me to be invovled with.

Other than the multiple NO PROSITUTION signs throughout the place (advice noted I may add), the little guest house I stayed in was as expected-pretty functional, although it did take me a hot restless night to work out how to turn the aircon on! I did seek refuge from the heat in the cinema with Aylie (the youngest Fucella) and found it strangely disconcerting to be hearing Russell Brand's voice which was #1 coming from a bunny and #2 being laughed at with great hilarity by the Thai audience...

So main things to be logged in my brain for immediate use 1. Cover your shoulders up, good from a sunburn point of view and also to prevent any offence or misunderstanding with the locals 2. It is almost impossible to get cheese where I will be staying in Sangkhlaburi (guess what my backpack will be full of next time I return from Bangkok to Huay Malai?) 3. Thai people really love their King (even more than we love Will and Kate) 4. There will be bugs, lots and lots of them and some are very nasty and Mozzie's can bite anywhere- even the sole of your foot- I have one to prove it! (thanks for the top tip Rach- DEET really is my friend) 5. The proper greeting is "Sawadekha" and reciprocating the wai with full clasped hands is essential- even if your hands are full! 6. Eat everything you are offerred, better to take two bites and leave the rest then offend through rejection (please God no Tripe!) 7. Chopsticks are for noodle dishes only, the rest of the time you use a spoon and fork and you have to use both for the whole meal or else you can offend 8. Everyone drives a motorbike... and in all probability I will have to as well (with closed toed shoes I promise, but not full leathers... sorry mum) 9. The fighting and systematic ethnic cleansing of tribal peoples is really happening across the Burmese border areas and the world remains largely ignorant in its silence. 10. Don't eat Thai chocolate because its some weird waxey sustitute for the real thing... I'll wait until I'm really deperate for a choc-fix until I test that one out.

I arrived in Huay Malai on Sunday 3rd of April having taken a breathtaking journey from Bangkok in a taxi. it really is beautiful up here... and remote! It's very hilly and covered with jungle. The main town of Sangkhlaburi is about 15 kilometers or so away from the village of Huay Malai where I will be based for the main of my visit. The Kwai River Hospital is here and is a bustling hive of activity that I will gradually become a part of and on my return from language school, I will also live in their on site staff accommodation. But for now I have been living with three other OnTrackers in a missionarie's house. At points it has a Dr Dolittle feel to the place with four dogs, four cats, fish, turtles and many other random beastie lodgers. but at in all this place has been a blessing as there is a reliable water and electricity supply (other than in storms) and internet access! I don't want to peak too early so I'll introduce you to life in Huay Malai over the coming months...

So before I take up too much time for my first post, I'll summarise my other firsts of the week, My first Pomelo- the largest fruit of the citrus family and Jack fruit- a large spikey yellow fruit that has a latex barrier to get through before you get the prize flesh- YUM. My first motorcycle ride- where we failed to reach the top of one of the steep hills and I had to get off and walk, much to the amusement of the locals! My first night of sharing a bed with a colony of ants- little itchy but surprisingly not enough to stop me sleeping. My first attempt at some Thai language- the less said about that the better. My first tropical rain storm, My first face-to-face encounter with a Du-gkai - a large spotted lizard that you have to kill if it bites you as it will not release its jaws once its bites- on the up side if you manage to kill one you can sell it for medicinal uses for up to 10,000 bhat! My first use of breastfeeding advice - I just can't leave it alone! My first few hundred bites and random strips of sunburn are developing nicely and of course completing My first Blog....

That's all for now, next installment this time next week, until then thanks for all your continuing thoughts, well wishes and prayers...

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Starting at the very beginning...

well, a blog... hmm not sure how well we'll get on but I have plenty of time to get to know each other. This is the first of many posts...I'm sure :)