Last week, three travel wearied children and their parents stepped off of a plane in Bangkok beginning a new journey as missionaries in Bangkok, Thailand. For our part, we get the privilege of helping them get settled as they learn the language and culture in seeing God’s kingdom expand in this country.
With good things like new cool friends always come unintended benefits.
One such benefit for us comes as we see Thailand afresh through new eyes. So often, we grow accustomed to the ways of Thailand and the Thai people that we miss subtle nuances that have changed over the five plus years we have lived and served in Bangkok. We get to see this place once again through a new lens.
I love all the fresh excitement bubbling over in their kids even as they grapple with living in a new place where few people speak English. Things that have become commonplace to us, jump out to the newest members on our team as they see a band clump lying tossed in a field. I didn’t even remember banana trees grew in this concrete jungle known as the city of angels, the literal meaning of Thailand’s capital.
The new experiences and observations bring memories flooding back to us of our first days in a new country. Memories of pure joy, and sometimes thoughts of what were we thinking coming to live in such a strange place. Now this strangeness seems so normal. Yeah, normal to ride a motorcycle taxi sidesaddle with a baby strapped to your back as my wife recently tweeted. Oh yes, normal eat tasty food off of the street vendors carts. We just don’t ask how long the meat has been outside. Yep, this milk tastes normal. We forget how it took us over a year to be able to drink it plain.
As we are reminded of our initial bumps on the road and uncomfortabilities with the new life we took on, we have had a chance to reflect and see how we processed change and transition. I remember long nights lying awake in bed debriefing with my wife about observations and experiences. I remember asking our friends and other missionaries to describe and articulate what was happening around us. Another tool that helped us assimilate came in the form of a super friendly older man in the church who also taught in the school. He loved sharing his joy and passion for his homeland with all of the foreign workers that came to Thailand. He helped us take excursions around Bangkok and the surrounding area to see the traditional and ancient sides of Thai culture. We rode elephants, ate in restaurants built from bamboo on stilts over the Gulf of Bangkok, shopped in the famous floating market, visited Tigers, and a host of other activities. We fed off of his joy in seeing us soak in the beauty that is Thailand. Our friend, no adopted elderly uncle, loved prompting us to take pictures. I think he was almost as excited as we were to catch a glimpse of the monitor lizard on the side of the river bank. No, maybe he was more excited when he saw our love for his country grow.
Even as we reflect on our initial impressions of Thailand, we also see anew how culture continues to shift in Bangkok. This city is in hyper flux as it bounces from one fad to another led through such mediums as Youtube and Facebook. Bangkok recently became the world’s No. 1 city for Facebook with over 8 million users. But other things have changed as girls dress far more risqué than five years ago. Couples might be seen holding hands in public when that was a big taboo, even five years ago. Meanwhile the foundation of Thailand’s political stability continues to be fluid.
As we come along side our new teammates, we get an added benefit of reflecting on our own understandings of Thailand. I always hope to be a person that reflects and learns from my experiences. It is good to have a new perspective to Thailand again.
I must say, we love this place and the sweet people here.