Saturday, April 13, 2013

Border Run 101

Your destination is Poi Pet, Cambodia.

Friendship Bridge
Before you go, make sure you have a picture of yourself. Not only will fresh pictures and fingerprints be taken of you multiple times throughout this endeavor, but they also wish to have a hard copy for their keeping. I assume it's because they like to scrapbook.
Yesterday I went to two places that advertised their ability to take passport photos. Neither could do it. Be advised, this part of the process could be tricky.

Next, you will catch a van which will stop a million times between Pattaya and the border. You might even get a driver who decides to cheat death the whole way, racing ahead and slamming on breaks just before he hits semi trucks and thinking the whole thing is hilarious. Don't worry, in the whole 5.5 hour drive, he will stop once for a bathroom and food break at a 7-Eleven. So you'll be fine!

BUT, if you get to the border and you only have an hour and a half to make it through before the last bus leaves to take you home... give up. You've already lost. Because this is what happens next.

First, you get your exit stamp from Thailand.
You walk across the Friendship bridge connecting the Kingdom of Thailand with the Kingdom of Cambodia. The Friendship bridge is buried under chicken wire and pointed stakes and is over a river of garbage. Symbolic much? Whatever you do, don't zoom past that thing that looks like a police office, even though it says nothing about visas or passports. If you go ahead to the next place that is actually marked with the word IMMIGRATION, the man behind the counter will just send you back. And by sending you back I mean, point off in the distance somewhere to the left and say "VISA."

Well, you go back there and you don't have your photo for the scrapbook. This makes them sad so they charge you 200 baht ($6). No big deal. Now $26 later, you are equipped with your Cambodian visa, You will only use it for the next hour.

Return to the immigration office to get it validated. Wait in line only to be turned away at the counter because you don't have a paper. What paper? Oh a paper from that unmarked desk drawer in the corner? This is the MOST IMPORTANT lesson of border crossing: Never get in any line without a little paper you fill out that basically has all the information already contained in your passport!! If you don't have it, you'll be waiting in vain, my friend. Unfortunately, this lesson took me all day to learn. Now that you have your paper, you can get that visa validated. Go across the street through a throng of motorcycle taxis to get your exit stamp from Cambodia. Cross the bridge again to re-enter Thailand. This line is crazy. Why does everyone have a paper that you don't? Go back and find it. It's 5:55 and your bus leaves at 6. There are 8 people in front of you.
Game over.

You could wander around town asking random people and bus drivers if there's ANYONE driving back to Pattaya tonight. But there isn't. And the Thai people do hate to see you cry... So don't cry. There's a nice little hotel at the border for people like you! You can take a hot shower, use the free wifi and bask in the cold glow of a new air conditioner. Then in the morning you can have a cappuccino and a cup of noodles because, hey, you've earned it. Catch the first bus home at 9am and you're good to go for another long claustrophobic ride home!

Finally headed home!

Congratulations, you've border crossed.

I was looking out the window on the way home. There wasn't anything too special out there, farmland, homes, trees, sky. Why am I still looking? I've seen it before. But it reminded me of Proverbs 27:20, "Neither do the eyes of a man get satisfied." They drink and drink and never get full.  It's just a joy to look. Another gift from Jehovah that will never wear out.

Enough about that, let's talk about how memorial went! Memorial was special this year for several reasons. 1.) I've never been to one in a foreign language 2.) I've never been to two memorials in one night 3.) The new outline was so refreshing 4.) People we invited actually came!

I loved how the talk reached out especially to the young and those battling health problems. But my favorite quote was 'It's difficult to obey someone you don't love. It's impossible to love someone you don't know.' Using that already...

Amy had two of her students come and six children! That was so encouraging. One of the boys who came that night is very shy. He had moved and Amy lost contact with him, but another sister found the family and they were able to reconnect. She gave him My Book of Bible Stories at memorial. He's already read half of it!

One Saturday, a sister and I gave an invitation to a man walking into a store. He seemed interested and it turns out he actually was since he's been coming to the meetings ever since! I'm so thankful Jehovah let me hand him that invitation and say my little presentation. That's the only thing I could really do. I couldn't converse with him, or study with him or explain anything really. But I could give him that piece of paper. And welcome him when he comes to the hall :) But I know my brothers are taking of the rest!

I have two studies with Buddhists both out of the Pathway brochure. It's such a perfect publication for them. At first, it lets them identify the Bible with other holy books that have good advice so that they feel comfortable. Then slowly, it presents the differences and builds their trust in God's word. One of my studies speaks very good English, but the other only a little so her studies take time to extra time to prepare for. Joy, one of my students, was telling me how she talks to the King of Thailand like I talk to God. Thai people love their king, truly love him. There are pictures of him literally everywhere. But I didn't know that some of them prayed to him asking for help with their decisions! I'm just not used to such a reverential view of a political leader. And you're not allowed to speak ill of him or insinuate that he will  e v e r  die. So that could be a sticky subject in the future.

The Russians had their second meeting! To celebrate, a Thai sister bought a truly HUGE pot of Hungarian salmon soup from a local foreign restaurant and fed all of us who were longing for the food of distant lands. It was...well, perfect. Salmon, dill, potatoes, cream...we're still eating it actually. Makes us feel a little closer to home. We just all hung out by the pool after the special talk, eating, relaxing and enjoying ourselves a whole lot. Her generosity was very touching. And super delicious.

Ok I think that's all for now.  Next time i'll be telling you about the zone visit and camping on an island with a huge group of witnesses! Good times ahead.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fish Tickle

I can't remember the last time I was dry.

The simple act of waking up causes beads of sweat to form on my brow. We take 3 showers a day. I'm so wet all the time that i'm starting to feel amphibious. At least when I get on the bike, evaporation does its thing and I cool down a little. But then I open the door to the house and step into the heat wave coming from the living room and i'm back to square one.

I take it all back about the cold showers. I was wrong. Now they can't get cold enough. Not in our little tile furnace of a bathroom. The ol' attitude takes a nose dive in the heat.

We couldn't take it anymore and went someplace to escape the heat and Thailand altogether. A place pure and untouched that neither alters nor fails. A place of renewed joy and endless coffee. A place called Starbucks. We ate sandwiches and drank a single Americano that cost the equivalent of $20. It was amazing. We studied in the window and even though I could see Pattaya outside, it wasn't Pattaya inside. Inside were the same cups, chairs and pastry cases to make you weep. Even the paint on the walls was imported. I could tell. Except at home the barista doesn't call you madam. Here I am madam. I've been upgraded. But at least it's a barista, not an old man with a cart he drives along with his bike who fixes iced coffees made from Folgers crystals and Carnation canned milk. No, it was a real barista with real espresso and it was good. But then we opened the door and we were back in Pattaya and after a short ride through crowded streets, home.

But little bits of air conditioning can go a long way. So can doing family worship in a pool. And today I was happy to see my old coffee man. Happy to buy vegatables from the stand next to my house and cook them in our sauna. I mean kitchen. I had an epiphany with the vegetables today. The leafy ones had been hit pretty hard, holes in all the leaves and I was trying to find the least damaged one when it hit me. These are ORGANIC!!! They have to be. Bugs eating them and all the little imperfections, which initially can be unappealing, means these have to be honest to goodness homegrown veggies. I perked right up.

The computer is broken by the way so I have to do everything on my phone until Compy is back from vacation in Bangkok. Yeah that's right, no one can fix it here.

Ol' Faithful
Other things that break: sinks. Our sink was getting weaker and weaker by the day. It could hardly get any water out, poor thing. Then it found a way to get the water out. Through the side! So when you turned it on, instead of coming out the faucet like a normal sink, it sprayed out in a perfect 360 degree circle. So what did we do? Just stopped using it of course. This appears to have made it unhappy. It sat there night after night, plotting and planning and then one day...
Amy came home from meeting. I was already in bed.
"What's happening in the bathroom?" she asked.
I was confused. There are only two people in this house and both of us were happening right here.
"Nothing's happening in there," I said.
"Then what's that noise?"
I got up to see why she was hearing things. Behind the closed door, it sounded like sombody had cracked a fire hydrant. We opened the door. The sink had blown up. Water was furiously shooting out the sides of the faucet. I went to turn it off and the handle broke in my hand, transforming it into a geyser. Well after frantically turning off the water and calling on an unsuspecting neighbor for help, we put a stop to old faithful.
Good news is, we love the new faucet!
Amy and I had the same talk this week. It's just that hers was in Thai. Fun! She got to explain what new nation was born at Pentecost 33 CE and with what purpose IN THAI. The brothers love us so much...

Fish Spa
I saw a fish spa today. Let's just say that's the stuff my nightmares are made of. Picture this, folks. There are tanks filled with hundreds of fish the size of your finger. They have flat heads with eyes on top and a round mouth beneath designed to suction to other living things. Well, you pay to stick your legs into these tanks. Are all the movies coming to mind where people disappear into a frothing sea of piranhas? Good. The fish go crazy. They love the legs so much that their little heads poke out of the water just so they can get at the last little bit of skin within their reach. How was this fish trauma advertised? The Russians call it a "fish tickle." I'm sorry, I don't want that. I already knew Russians were tougher than me and this proves it. Fish eating your skin? No no no. They're just tickling you. Well, not today fish, not today.

Went to the best barbeque of my life. We had a whole pig. They almost roasted it on a spit but the spit was broken so they just brought the whole delightful pig pre-roasted for us. Oh man. We sat and ate on the sun soaked grass surrounded by fruit and people of all nationalities. It looked like a picture of paradise.
Except for the pig.

The Next 21 Days
Did I mention that it's hot right now? That a fan is blowing hot air from my hot room onto my hot face? And yes I need to complain. For posterity. This is April, the height of summer and if we can make it through the next 21 days, we're home free.

For now, ice cream is not a dessert, it's engine coolant.
And 7-eleven is not a convenience store, it is a heat shelter.
And we are not girls, we are sweat monsters.

Sweat monster out.