Five Minute Friday: Adapt #FMF

One of the first things you may hear when you’re preparing to go to the mission field is to be ready to adapt.  Obviously, when you move to a different country and a different culture and a different language, you will NEED to adapt.  I’m not talking about that.  Yes, that’s important and yes, that will be something to work on but I’m talking about a different adapting.  I’m talking about adapting your expectations.

You’ll be faced with a barrage of situations where what you understood going into the situation will not be how things will turn out.  You’ll need to be flexible and – wait for it – adapt.

It will require you to be humble, take the position of a learner and listener and observer (because how often is communication something done instead of something said) and release your understanding and preconceived ideas.

Adapting in this way will require you to accept a level of ambiguity but it will allow you to receive opportunities to deepen relationships and cultural understanding that will only aid your ministry.

It’s a small thing with the potential for a big impact.

The Beginning of Our New Term

Jet lag is over, the suitcases are nearly unpacked, and we continue to ease back into life and ministry here in Chiang Rai.

Tawee had his first full week back at work this week.  Our work week (not the normal Thai work week) runs Tuesday to Saturday, so he still has one more day to go to finish off his first week.

While I’m happy that he’s back doing what he loves, I have to admit that Kate and I missed him an awful lot the first few days.  Now, towards the end of the week, we’ve been finding our groove at home.

I haven’t started learning Tai Yuan yet as I wanted to get unpacked and give Kate some more time this week since we’ve gone through such a major life transition.  Plus, we have a conference that starts on Monday and lasts for a week.  But once we get back, I’ll be learning my husband’s heart language (not to mention the heart language of the majority of those around us!).

Moving back to Thailand is familiar to us, but not to Kate.  She was just over a year when we left for Canada, and is now two years old.  She remembers Canada and everything there but not so much of our life here.  She’s doing really well though.  She has moments where I think she’s sad and misses Grandma, or various Aunties back in Canada.  But, for the most part, she been pretty happy.  She is thrilled with the food options that we put before her, although she relentlessly asks for strawberries nearly everyday (which are really only available in cold season and are definitely not as delicious as the ones in season right now in Ontario!).

I’ve been sick since arriving back in Chiang Rai, and am limited to a very small variety of food right now.  I’m discouraged by this and am praying it clears up soon.  Thankfully, Kate and Tawee are still healthy though!

Earlier this week, Kate and I took a walk with the stroller in our village and talked about the various things we saw, and prayed for the people in our village.  It’s interesting to explain to Kate about the belief systems and worldviews of the people around us, but it also helps me to have a fresh perspective on all that we see and experience and use these things as fuel for prayer.  We saw idols and spirit houses and Kate commented that they’re, “cute” (because a miniature elephant and horse (the idols in this case) to a two year old ARE cute).  But the meaning and purpose behind them aren’t.  Try explaining THAT to a toddler!

But it’s in all these things that I’m thankful.  Thankful that God has called us here, thankful that we are his witnesses in this region, thankful for the grace of Christ (present and future grace!) and thankful to teach our daughter to love others in such a way that they will hunger for the Lord of Lords and King of Kings alone.

Here’s to our new term on the field, to all that it holds, the good, the challenging and the grace of God that will sustain us through it all.  Here’s to the answers to prayers we’ll experience, the souls saved, the children and families encouraged and empowered to reach for more, the relationships built and Christ honoured and worshiped by more and more of the Tai Yuan around us.

Kateful 3.0 – “_____, where are you?”

“Susu, where are you?”

“Meemee, where are you?”

“Story, where are you?”

“Daddy, where are you?”

Kate has clearly got this searching question format down.  All day today, she was calling out to her missing items.  Her soother, her lovey/blankey, her story (?), and her little person toy/figure that Tawee named Daddy – just for fun.

It’s so fun to see her mind at work; understanding how to form the question and replace just the beginning part of the sentence with the item she’s searching for.

She really is doing this language learning thing really well and it reminds me so much of how I’ve been taught HOW to learn a language.  She does it not because someone taught her to do it this way, but just as she continues to develop, this part of her brain just does it.  I don’t know.  She’s amazing to me.  And God is much much MUCH more amazing that He would create us to learn like this!

Later in the day, as I was making dinner, Kate brought in Tawee’s snow pants and wanted me to put her in them.  I still don’t know how she managed to shuffle along as her feet only went down as far as the knees in them – maybe.  THEN she brought in Tawee’s hoodie and wanted help to put that on.  A little monkey with the sleeves rolled up, front zipped up and hood pulled up.  I just love her.

perspective, adjusting and growing

I have written this blog post in my head as many times as I’ve driven on the road between my village and town. There are several ways to get from Sop Soi to the town of Mae Hong Son but the way I take, brings me past a long stretch of road along which an older man stands each day, late in the afternoon.

The first time I saw him, I pitied him. He doesn’t look too old – maybe in his 70s or so – but he has a cane… or rather a cane with four points on the bottom – I don’t know what that’s called. The first time I saw him, he was maybe 5 or 6 feet out from the edge of the road and it looked as if he was trying to cross the street. On I drove, past him and into town. The next several times I saw him, he was in the exact same position, at some point along that stretch of road. Again, I pitied him but, I have to admit, didn’t stop to offer any assistance.

It took me a fair amount of time to really see what this old man was doing. He had a cane. He was clearly out on the road. He was positioned perpendicular to the road – as if he was trying to cross the street. But finally I realised that he wasn’t trying to cross the street, he was edging his way down the street. Shuffling along with his cane he moved sideways down the road. All that time I’d seen him and driven past and it took me this long to realise that he was a man, out for a walk.

He moved slowly – like he was relearning how to walk again after a stroke. He was determined. And as time has passed, I can attest that he has gained both strength and speed.

Years ago, on one of my trips in or out of town, God spoke to me and told me that I was like that man. From one perspective, my perspective, I was like him as when he seemed to be trying to cross the road and was barely moving. He WAS moving – just in a different direction.

There have been many times during my time here when I’ve struggled to see my progress. At times, the same struggles seemed to be constant, language learning had plateaued, day after day the same frustrations arose, nothing changed, culture shock would still get me – again, village living would be hard, having less privacy would still be hard… and my list of woes would go on.

Then I’d see this man out walking and the Lord would say, “You ARE moving. You ARE making progress. You ARE growing. You HAVE overcome certain struggles or culture shock issues or whatever… But new ones have come up and there are new things I want to teach you…Keep going…Press on…”

I saw that man out walking this evening. He was posed like a statue at the top of the road, cane in hand. His stature is taller, and stronger now. I don’t know how he sees himself. Maybe he doesn’t even think about that. But seeing him always reminds me about perspective… and how sometimes it may look like we’re standing in one place but in actuality we are moving forward. Or sideways. But from God’s perspective, we are moving along on the road He’s marked out for us.

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I have one week left in the village – thereabouts. Still a lot to be done with the house but I will stay in town from the 25th until the 28th or so, when I head off to Chiang Mai. I still can’t believe that my time here in Sop Soi is nearly done. I went to pay rent for the last time this week and when I arrived at my landlord’s house, his 7 year old daughter bellowed from out of the house and into the yard saying that I’d arrived. Then she promptly went back to watching tv. Oh Nong Boom – I’ll miss you. Uncle Phut and his young wife Kham Lu came and when I told them that I move out at the end of this month, Kham Lu said that she’d miss me. I’m not sure how sincere she was but I’d believe it more from her than I would from other people in the village. They told me to come and visit them when I come back to visit Mae Hong Son.

Although I’m ready to leave the village, I’m not ready to say goodbye to my close friends in Thailand. Although I’m looking forward to going back to Canada for 9 months, I’m not ready for what those 9 months entail. Still much to pray about and process and entrust to the Lord.

I guess the Lord’s words to me can still apply: “You ARE moving. You ARE making progress. You ARE growing. You HAVE overcome certain struggles or culture shock issues or whatever… But new ones have come up and there are new things I want to teach you…Keep going…Press on…”

pick-up lines and couplets

Recently I heard that back in the day Thai-yai people would use couplets while they were courting to tease each other and, essentially, “pick-up.” I asked my friend about the use of couplets in courting and then gave an example. She laughed and then tossed a new one out that I hadn’t heard before. Soon after that, several more kept coming out. I asked if people used the couplets nowadays and she answered no. Not even when she was young did they use them. In her uncle’s day and age, she said, they used them. Her uncle used to say them and they would all laugh about how they were so ridiculous. Kind of like these pick-up lines here perhaps?

Basically the couplets would start with a question: ‘Gin phak ii sang kha?’ (What did you eat (for any meal)?) Then the answer would come…

…’Gin maak paak, kai haak, jong ma’ (ate pumpkin, want to love, will you come?)
…’Gin phak khiaw, non gor laew’ (ate greens, sleep alone)
…’Gin maak ler, ber yaow, mer’ (ate (some kind of fruit/vegetable I don’t know), bored of him already, go home)
…’Gin maak paang, gang taang’… (ate (another kind of fruit/vegetable I don’t know), middle of the road (ie. you don’t know the way to my heart))

It seems that in courting situation, when the guy would ask the girl what she ate for dinner, she would just answer the name of the food and from that, the rest of the answer would be understood.

…’Gin maak paak’ (ate pumpkin) – (understood answer: ‘kai haak’ (want to love), ‘jong ma?’ (will you come?))
…’Gin phak kheaw’ (ate greens) – (understood answer: ‘non gor laew’ (sleep alone))
…’Gin maak ler’ (ate (some kind of fruit/vegetable I don’t know)) – (understood answer: ‘ber yaow, mer’ (bored of him already, go home))
…’Gin maak paang’ (ate (another kind of fruit/vegetable I don’t know)) – (understood answer: ‘gang taang’ (middle of the road) (ie. you don’t know the way to my heart))

Are you yawning yet?

Okay – so the fun of all this is totally lost in translation. But trust me – it’s good! Just learn some Thai-yai with me and you can laugh over the couplets as well… or just take my word for it.

talking to myself

It’s funny learning a third language. When I come across something frustrating or discouraging in my language studies, I’m reminded of when I had to deal with this exact same issue last year when I was learning Thai. It’s kind of strange to be encouraging myself. For example, “It’s okay Beth. Remember last year? You went through a time when you could ask questions but couldn’t understand the answers. Just give it time…” I am thankful that these languages are related at least, even if they are still very different.

visit visit

Sometimes I wonder what I sound like when I speak Thai. I don’t sound like a native speaker – I know that much. And although I get compliments from Thai people, it’s important to keep in mind who they’re comparing me to – any farang in Thailand. These farang may be tourists or they may’ve been living and working in Thailand for years. Often these expat workers don’t make the time to learn Thai well. So yes. If you compare me to people who barely speak Thai, I guess I’m doing pretty well.

The reason why I’m wondering what I sound like is because on Sunday, a friend at church corrected me. I totally love and appreciate when Thai people correct my use of Thai because HOW ELSE WILL I KNOW!!???! I have recently been studying a module on Thai society. In this module you also learn about some Thai idioms. I only have a few memorized but let me tell you… I’m trying to make good use of them. Perhaps a little too much use though, as was the case on Sunday. One form of idiom uses two Thai words, one immediately after the other, that mean the same thing. The idiom I was using basically means “to visit.” So I was going on and on about how my friends at church could come visit Faye and Lilli and I when we move up north, and then how Faye is now visiting her family and friends at home in the States, and so on… Visit, visit, visit… So finally my friend “O” stopped me and told me when to use this idiom and when I can just use the one word for visit. Thank you O for clearing that up!

I later thought about what it must’ve sounded like to her. Just imagine some English (or whichever language you want to insert here) idiom and how it would sound if you said it all the time, even when it’s not appropriate. That’s been me – except in Thai.

language blunder

This language blunder happened on Wednesday and I thought you’d get a good laugh out of it. I was at the restaurant across the street from my language school (Raan Jum) and was ordering some food to take back to eat in the school , although normally I eat at the restaurant. I ordered the food and then I intended to ask for a Pepsi in a bag with ice (which is how you buy a drink if you’re taking it away with you – you don’t keep the bottle). What actually came out of my mouth in Thai was this “I want a Pepsi in a bag with cheese.” With cheese!!

You may be wondering how I could make this mistake. In Thai, the word for ice is ‘naam khang’ (literal translation is ‘water hard’) and the word for cheese is ‘nuh-ee khang’ (literally ‘butter hard’). I’m not quite sure why I said cheese instead of ice – as soon as it came out of my mouth I knew what I’d said was not really what I’d wanted to say. It was so funny though. The guys at the restuarant had a good laugh too.

a sample of my Thai studies

Saturday morning I spoke with a few of my friends in Canada over Skype and they were curious about what my language studies looked like. So I thought I’d show all of you.

Currently, I can only read and write in phonetics, using English script. The phonetics include all the proper Thai consonants and vowel sounds (both short and long vowels) and the 5 different tones. Although the script is in English, the sounds are not. For example, C’s are pronounced as j’s and k’s are pronounced as g’s, except if there’s a h following the k (kh) and then it sounds like a k in English.

Next month I’ll learn to read and write in Thai, which will be a huge help. I remember when I first started to recognize even just a few words – the world opened up to me. Reading and writing will be very liberating. Mind you, I’ve heard that the stories that we get to practice our reading with are… a little odd, and a little gruesome for a child’s story (a deer was shot by a hunter and then fought over by a bear and a lion, but who ended up being eaten by a fox – how the fox managed to drag away the deer is a mystery). When I get there, I’ll let you know about the thrilling plot lines.

[Note: I thought I should add a few things about my language learning. Each week I have classes from Tuesday until Saturday, with two 50 minute classes on each of those days. 99% of the time those classes are private, although occasionally on Saturdays I have a private class and then a group lesson. My language book is divided up into days (so far it’s been 19 days per module). On each day, there will be a list of new vocab, and then sentences helping me use those new words, and demonstrating new sentence structures. There are tapes and cds available so I can listen to a Thai speaker go through the vocab and sentences for each day of each module.

At the end of each module, I have a “language check” or a “module check.” This is not a pass or fail examination but rather a session in which I converse with one of the other language helpers at the school (not my usual language helper). One of the directors of the language school sits in as well but only to observe. Both the language helper and the director take notes regarding my tones, vowel and consonant pronunciation, comprehension, sentence structure, as well as a few other things. At the end of the session, they go over each of my mistakes (the big picture of them) to let me know what areas I need to work on. So it’s really a constructive criticism time. They really want to see you do well and progress in your language learning, and so it’s wise to take note of what they have to say.

This is just a small glimpse into my world of learning Thai, but I hope that gives you a bigger and better picture of some of the things that fill my days. Please keep praying for me as I study Thai.]