It’s been only four nights now I’ve spent in Asia, a place of mixed chaos and calm, poverty with patches of wealth, delicious food and roasted dog, everything adding together to become an entirely different world than my American hometown.
I got to my hotel in Bangkok about 11pm Monday night, and spent the next day eating breakfast, reading, and generally just hanging around the hotel waiting for the rest of the team to come in. I stood at the window and watched the traffic flow outside on the busy street but wasn’t quite brave enough to walk around by myself. I moved around my room and the hotel lobby like I was in a stranger’s house, cautiously examining everything and feeling aware I didn’t know what was culturally acceptable.
I did finally step out of the air conditioning and was chatting with a taxi driver when the team arrived around 2pm. They piled out of the van and after a hello exchange headed to their rooms for a quick nap, being pretty exhausted from their long flights.
Afterwards we grabbed some cabs (3 to fit us all) and headed to the Bangkok center. Hello, driving in a third world country! The lines are completely ignored and the shoulder is used to create another lane – motorcycles weaving between everyone. All the locals do just fine, following the unspoken rules of how to merge and move – but I’m positive I would last all of ten seconds driving on these roads before hitting someone.
We walked down KhaoSan Road, a popular place for tourists to come that’s lined with restaurants, stalls selling clothes and souvenirs, and bars. We ate our first local meal together (one of many to come) at a restaurant just down the road, and as we were eating in their outside covered area it began to rain – hard. Hello, tropical rain.
During a break in the rain they also shot off fireworks – for the king’s birthday, I believe. We were at first startled and unsure what was going on, as the sound was more like a gunshot. Funny how small things, things you don’t even realize can be another way, are different.
The next day we took easy: taking another excursion into Bangkok, this time escorted by a local missionary from Ireland, Johnny. He took us to several prominent monasteries with the Reclining Buddha and other Buddhas. Everything was beautifully made – they press small pieces of colored mirrors into the walls to make mosaics that glint and sparkle in any bit of light, then paint the trim with some sort of gold lacquer. Within these sites everything was clean, whitewashed and swept, a stark contrast to the city outside that was filled with debris and piecemeal buildings.
The whole team enjoyed 30 minute Thai massages as well – an experience that was relaxing though a bit painful at times. ;) The massage was about $9! Everything here is incredibly cheap, though being unknowing tourists we often go to the touristy places which is comparatively more expensive. Taxis are only about 9-10 dollars for a 30-45 minute ride.
We used just about every form of transportation that day: tuktuks, train, ‘tourist boat’, and taxi. The evening meal we would enjoy with the Johnny and his family, relaxing in their community’s salt water pool after.
I know. What a hard trip. ;)
That night the real purpose of the trip began (no, we didn’t just come to sightsee! ;) ), as we carried boxes and boxes of Bibles into a hotel room and divided them amongst our backpacks. We figure we had about 200 Bibles total, as each of us carried about 15-23 between our checked and carry-on. We stuffed clothing around the Bibles to make our bags look less “boxy” and weighed our packs on the hotel lobby weight/horoscope machine to ensure they were below the 20kg limit.
The next morning we sunk the hotel shuttle low with the weight of our bodies and packs, and rode it back through the weaving traffic to the airport where we took a plane to Hanoi, Vietnam. The Hanoi airport seemed more quiet than usual, the guards more serious and a bit intimidating – but that may have just been in our minds.
Us Americans received Vietnamese visas OK (the Europeans didn’t need one), and we all piled our bags onto wheeled carts and pushed them through customs without incident – no one stopped us to scan our bags. Praise God!
Just to be clear, it is not illegal for us to bring the Bibles into Vietnam. It is illegal for the tribal people these Bibles were printed for to have them. It is humbling to know that while what we’re doing is very needed and good, it is others who daily face the real danger – if caught, they face eviction, pressure to give up their faith, and even death.
Our next drop will be in a few days, so again we are sightseeing, as well as daily devotions talking through concepts from the book Radical by David Platt.
This trip has been cross-cultural in more ways than one, as within our team we have a Scot, an Irish, a German, two other guys also from America, and the rest are from England – in all, twelve of us, seven guys and five girls. We curiously compare everything from education to terms to candy, and so learn about many parts of the world at once.
Annnd this is where the rest of the post I’d written has dropped off a cyber cliff into cyber space for an unknown reason. *heavy sigh* Twice now I’ve compiled pictures into a gallery only to have it disappear. Technology is a gift from God to teach me patience.
Really I was just going to wrap up this blog post by talking about what I’ve not talked about – and by that what I partly mean is, in these 4/5 days I have experienced two countries and cultures that are different from my individual experiences, from my home world. Just a bit. And I’ve no idea besides a long dinner and slideshow when I get home how to tell you what I’ve seen, where to even start on this blog post, so it’s been a struggle writing (and rewriting) it.
The other part I mean is that no matter how well I capture in words what I’ve seen, ultimately these days and this trip are but a glimpse, a skim, of a rich world with a deep history. I see only the surface, but I know there is so much more I could learn and understand. This trip I’m doing little more than snapping pictures, but I could sit and learn and attempt to slip over the language barrier to truly know these people.
The words that have come to my mind a lot during this trip are “humbled” and “privileged.” In many ways – for this chance to be a part of this important work, with such a solid and wonderful team under a strong and godly leader, shown around by missionaries that inspire me with their examples of obedience and service. To be given this chance to see these cities and lives.
The pictures below will fill in this blog post a bit more. I’m not sure when my next post will be, as these take ridiculously long when I’d rather be spending the free time with my teammates or journaling… but I’m still taking photos, and I promise there will be another post, someday, Lord willing. ;)
First culture lesson: how to use the toilet (Tokyo Airport)
Tokyo airport displays
Tokyo airport displays
The first time someone’s waited for me with a sign of my name!
View from the Bangkok hotel. Stray cats walked by on the roof
First night with the team – Khaosan Road
Riding a tuk tuk
Some of the Bibles we brought in