Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas family and friends! This will look familiar to some of you. It's a copy of the Christmas email I sent out a few days ago. Enjoy:

I hope the holiday season is finding you all healthy, happy and safe! And I hope you've all been enjoying the spirit of the season. There's just something so special about the feeling this time of year. I think our hearts tend to open up, and we recognize the needs of others around us more than we usually do at other times. I hope these feelings of generosity and love motivate us to take action and really give what we can to those who are less fortunate than ourselves.

I've learned so many great lesson about kindness and generosity from the lovely family and village who have taken me in during my time in Thailand. I've been living with a little Thai family in their home out in a very rural village called Keng Sanam Nang. Although these people lack many of the comfortable conveniences most of us are blessed with every day, they are some of the most cheerful, loving, giving people on earth! They go out of their way to make sure you are happy and taken care of. Each day as I walked through the village on my way to the school where I taught, the people would come out to the street just to wave and say hello as I passed by, and often offered me some of the food they were preparing for their own families. They help eachother harvest their crops without expecting payment, and simply show their gratitude by helping or sharing the harvest in return.
My host "mom", Suwaluk has been raising her neice's daughter for eight years, has provided housing and paid for the education of three poor college students, and gives clothing and support to their struggling families.
Wednesday was my last day in the village. At school, each of the students, one by one, handed me flowers they'd picked, flower leighs they'd made, notes they'd written, and pictures they'd drawn. I was so touched by their thoughtfulness. And as I walked home through the village, stopping by shops and people's homes to say goodbye, many of the people ran inside to find something...anything, they could give me as a going-away gift.
What wonderful people! They've taught me so much, not only about Thai cooking, rice cutting, Buddhism, and culture, but also about enjoying life, and caring for others. I just arrived in Malaysia today and will be spending Christmas here with my friend Carla, who was also doing volunteer work in Thailand. I'll miss being home with everyone,but I'm excited to be in a fun new country. I hope everyone enjoys their celebrations and remembers the true meaning of Christmas. I think that regardless of our religious beliefs, the principles of love, charity, sacrifice, and selflessness that Jesus Christ taught can be beneficial for us all! I am so grateful for Christ's influence in my life. I know that he is my Savior and that he strengthens me beyond my own capacity every day of my life. It's because of him that not only Christmas, but also LIFE is so meaningful for me. I love you all and hope the best for you this Christmas...and every day!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Twas the day before Christmas...

Christmas eve this year was truly a unique one for me.
To start out the day, Carla and I headed down to China town in Kuala Lumpur to look for some breakfast. As we wandered through the shop lined streets with chinese lanters hanging overhead, we stumbled upon an inscense filled Buddhist temple. As we kept walking, we came across an ornately decorated Hindu temple. The brightly clothed patrons with their wreaths of marigolds almost made me feel like I was back in India for a moment.
Later, a little further into the city, we stepped into a small mosque where dozens of men were lying down waiting for prayer to begin. The sound of busy car traffic on the street outside, the monorail above, and the mellow prayer call was quite an interesting combination.
We then made our way to the national museum and bird park. We ate lunch on the balcony of a great little restaurant overlooking the bird park and even had a few colorful flying visitors join us during our meal.
Late that afternoon we drove down to a lighthouse overlooking the Straits of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia. The trees surrounding the lighthouse were crawling with little silver monkeys...the friendly kind, not the mean ones who try to steal your stuff:) Apparently they really like green beans and peanuts, so we fed them as they climbed all over us with excitement. (Just a side note, little monkey hands are so human like! Almost like the hands of a little kid with slightly tough skin).
After feeding the monkeys, we fed ourselves too. We had a great seafood dinner of crab, prawns, fish, and veggies in an open air restaurant on stilts over the river.
We finished our meal just as the sun set then headed off to take a boat ride. But, this was no ordinary boat ride. The night sky was dark, the nearly full moon was dimmed slightly by surrounding clouds, and most incredibly, fireflies lit up the bushes on the sides of the river. It almost didn't seem real! There were sooo many fireflies twinkling in the bushes, it almost looked like the bushes were covered in flashing Christmas lights. Phenomenal!
There were monsoon rains on and off all day long, but luckily we had perfect timing and were either inside or in the car every time the rain was the hardest.
And to top it all off, when we finally returned home, I was able to sit alone quietly reading the New Testament accounts of Christ's birth!
What a memorable Christmas eve!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Elephant Riding in Kanchanaburi

Here kitty kitty...

While in Kanchanaburi, I visited a tiger reserve run by monks. The monks have been raising these tigers since they were kittens, so they're pretty harmless, yet as I crouched down to pet these amazing animals, I couldn't help but think of the book "Life of Pi" that I finished reading a couple of months ago(if you haven't read it, read it!)...oh, and Yan Martel was right when he said you should remove your hat before approaching a tiger.

Bridge on the River Kwai

Last week, I spent a couple of days in Kanchanaburi, the city in Thailand where the Bridge on the River Kwai is located. The history of this bridge and the infamous death railway is fascinating. During the Japanese occupation of Thailand during WWII, the Japanese wanted to create a more direct route accross Thailand into Burma (now Myanmar) to transport supplies, so they forced POWs from America, Australia, NZ, England, Austria, and other countries, as well as local Thais and other Southeast Asians to construct the railway. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives through disease, accidents, torture, and sheer exhaustion--hence the name "Death Railway". The bridge was bombed by allied forces a couple of times to try and cut off the shipment of supplies accross the river, but was rebuilt. This portion of the bridge is original. Trains (and tourists) still use the railway and cross the bridge every day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Grand Palace and Wat Pra Kaew, Bangkok

Friday, December 7, 2007

Long Live the King!

Tuesday was the King of Thailand's 80th birthday. And what a celebration! This crowd of people was gathered near the Siam Center (a giant shopping mall in downtown Bangkok) to honor the king on his special day. Nearly everyone wore yellow, lit candles, and sang the king's song and the Thai national anthem at the same time as thousands of other Thais gathered in other locations throughout the country. These people really love their king! In a small way he reminds me of King Benjamin--a king who truly has the welfare of his people at heart. He has been king for 60 years and for decades has worked to be one with his people and to understand their needs. I think he's the world's longest reigning monarch...and over the only country in southeast Asia never to have been colonized by a foreign power. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all the world's great powerful leaders were so genuinely good and loved (without propaganda) by their people!