Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Our first week in Thailand

Dearest Friends,

We have now been in Thailand for 8.5 days, and it has been a fun
adventure. I thought I'd send you a stream of consciousness to give you some idea of what our life has been like. A lot of this will
eventually end up on the blog, once I have enough time to learn how to do it myself! Chad Purviance has provided invaluable help in making our blog a fun site.

Our Trip

The trip was more or less uneventful. Getting out of the country and out of our house was EXTREMELY exhausting for not only us, but for my parents and sister, who provided hours and hours of help packing up and cleaning the house. We are so grateful! We ended up checking 3 extra suitcases (so 13 checked bags/boxes in all -- including a cello), which cost us an extra $530 in fees. That was somewhat unexpected. Our longest flight was 17.5 hours, from LA to Bangkok, and the kids had fun playing video games on their individual screens and controllers. I mostly slept!

Our Arrival

Our good friends, the Allens, were there to greet us and transport us and all of our stuff to our new house, which had been freshly painted and prepared by our landlord. We had developed a relationship with the previous renters, who sold us all of the furnishings and household goods they were not taking back to the states. We basically walked into a fully furnished, ready to live in home, with food in the pantry and refrigerator, to boot! The Allens immediately took us grocery and cell phone shopping. Kendall's first day was a little rough, due to severe coughing from bronchitis, but he was quite the trooper. All three kids immediately hopped on bikes with the Allen girls and
started learning the neighborhood, which is very safe and bike friendly.


We are finally getting over the jetlag, which causes us to crave naps in the afternoon, crash by 9 or 10 pm, and wake up by 4 or so. We are getting normalized now.

New Friends

We have all had a very warm welcome from the "farangs" (white
foreigners) who live here. Many in the missionary community are gone during the summer, but those who are here (Grace families) have really gone out of their way to make us feel welcome. Our first week, we were so busy going out to eat and to other people's homes that I hardly had time to unpack! We have new friends from all over the US and the UK, which has been fun. Most have 2-4 kids and have been excited to include our kids in their circle.

Driving in Chiang Mai

We bought the car belonging to the previous renters. It is a 4-door Honda sedan, stick-shift, with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car! Driving here can be quite scary, because there are a bizillion motorbikes zipping along on BOTH sides of you, passing and weaving in and out. And most motorbikes have multiple passengers on them, including babies and toddlers! It's crazy! So, you're driving on the wrong side of the road, using a stickshift with the opposite hand, watching in all directions for suicide bikers, looking for streets that have no names, with everything written in Thai (which is mostly unintelligible swirls). So....Tom is driving and I am not yet. I think I'll start putzing around our safe neighborhood this week to get the hang of it. Pray for me! All of that said, Tom is doing a great job, and we have managed to venture out quite a bit for shopping and visiting. I'm very thankful for his skill. He is now officially my chauffeur.

Realities of Living Here

OK, so what is my daily life like now? Well, we're really not in any
kind of routine yet. Obviously, basic survival needs top the list of
priorities, like "what will we eat today?" and "how long will it be
before the landlord delivers the bunk beds so Kendall doesn't have to sleep on the floor anymore?" "Our helper didn't show up when we thought she would, so how do I use this washing machine?" And "I know takeout Thai food is very cheap ($1.00 - 1.50 per person), but how many meals can we eat out and still stay within our monthly food budget"? I am having to completely reevaluate the way we eat. Breakfast cereals cost $6-8 per box!!!! And you thought YOU were paying a lot for Corn Flakes! Miyakawa staples like cheddar cheese and hamburger are also extremely high, and sour cream is sold in containers the size of individual yogurt cups. So, how much money can we spend on these American things each month? Good question. My new
friend Marcia commented on how you throw out everything you learned about reading food labels and good nutrition because .... you CAN'T READ the food labels! Thankfully there are several very large grocery stores in town that cater to farangs and have at least the price tags labeled in English, so that helps.

It is very hot here, but we have great air conditioners. However,
electricity is very expensive, so we are learning how to live with
indoor temperatures in the high 70s, low 80s so we keep the bill in check. This is the hottest season, so this next month or so will be the worst. Our bill should still be somewhat less than the States, but relative to other costs, it is high.

I have a part-time maid, which we call "helpers" over here. There is a lot of important etiquette around this house help. As Americans, we are not used to people being put into "classes", but we can not treat our helper like a member of the family, or the helper will expect things that are not right. Our helper, Lani, is from the Karen tribe, and she is a Christian. She came yesterday for the first time. She washed the dishes and started a load of laundry (we have a nice, large washer, which takes about 1.5 - 2 hours for one load), then started sweeping and dusting the house. She went upstairs and cleaned the bathrooms, tidied up, then came down and put laundry outside to dry, mopped the floors, ironed some shirts, did more dishes, more laundry, etc. I think I'm going to like her. :) She didn't come last week like she was supposed to, because she was nervous about our inability to communicate. We worked it out with our wonderful translators, the Allens. She will come Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 - 2.

We have a nice kitchen by Thai standards, but it lacks storage space, and the counters are low, even for me! There is one smallish sink and no dishwasher. I learned a lot of tips watching Lani efficiently handwash the dishes yesterday. I think I will adopt her method. Thai homes don't have many, if any, closets. They use wardrobes instead, and they don't really have many drawers. So we use a lot of extra plastic storage containers, etc. We bought a used dresser for our bedroom.

The Kids

All three of them are having a ton of fun. They've all joined baseball teams that are playing this summer in our neighborhood. They can bike to many friends' homes in the neighborhood. We can go swimming at the school any afternoon. There is a big soccer field nearby for them all to enjoy. They are getting their bedrooms set up the way they want and are enjoying the special things we brought over with us. Just yesterday we started imposing more of a morning routine of quiet time, instrument practice and math. The boys are being treated for bronchitis after a visit to the favorite local pediatrician who is also a pastor. (!!!) He charged us $60 for two office visits and six medications. Kristen had her first orthodontic appointment to prepare for braces next month. Office visit, x-rays and impressions of her mouth: 2000 baht, or $60. Yes, medical care is cheap and good here.

Lists of Things to Do

Just like a move in the States, there are many little things we need to take care of. The only problem is that some of them involving speaking with Thai people, which is more difficult to do. We rely heavily on the Allens for help, so we are trying to be patient so that we don't tax them too much. Our internet connection is not working properly (thankfully there is someone nearby with an open network, so we are currently "borrowing" a connection). We have pay-as-you-go cell phones but don't know how to refill the minutes. We had to go to the US consulate today to have a bunch of papers notarized that are part of the packet for Tom to get his Thai teaching certificate. We have to figure out how to pay our neighborhood fees, our water bill, our electric bill, etc. We need to finish registering kids for school. We need to learn how to order water refills. We need to place orders at DaCheeso's for milk, cheese, etc. I need Tom to take me to THE PLACE for buying good ground beef. Again, though, this is NOTHING compared to what most missionaries go through.

Ministry Opportunities

It has been great for both of us to have time just to begin getting to know people. The Allens have been dear friends since grad school, so just catching up with them and better understanding their 15 years here has been great. One of their team members is helping Tom understand evangelism in Thailand. Another new friend is the head of sports at Grace and is also running many sports camps that reach out to local kids. We will be participating in one in July. Tom can already see an opportunity to involve men, particularly teachers and staff at Grace, in a men's accountability group. He will be starting a "Don't Waste Your Life" study next week. We have visited one church so far and plan to visit two or three more before we settle in to one. Summer is atypical because of so many people being gone, but we can still begin to understand the spirit of each place. The more we learn about both the pleasures and the challenges of living here for most missionaries, Tom and I really see our roles as encouragers of others while we are here. In keeping with typical Miyakawa
activities, I think we're going to have a summer concert at our home and invite area kids to be part of a little choir (I know, I can't help it.) A couple of ideas are brewing for us to actually visit one of the tribal groups in northern Thailand before school starts.
Please pray about that. We'll keep you posted as God reveals more to us about how to minister to others.

Prayer Needs

It has been brought to our attention just how real fleshly temptation is here in Chiang Mai, apparently worse here than even perhaps Bangkok. It is not uncommon for married missionaries who come here to experience difficulties that never even existed in the States. This came as something of a surprise to us, but it is crucial for us to know this. We do not know what God has in store for either of us as we work with others more closely, but we would covet your prayers, specifically a hedge of protection around our marriage. This is a topic that we have discussed openly and in depth over the years, but, if indeed there is serious spiritual warfare here, we cannot have enough Saints praying for our faithfulness to Him and to each other. Please also pray for the 3000+ missionaries who make Chiang Mai their home, that they would stay strong and resist temptation.

In Summary

We can already tell that this is a very special group of people here. Chiang Mai is so unique because of the unprecedented concentration of missionaries who are working literally all over Asia. We know we will enjoy living here. We hope to have a Thai tutor in the next week or so, to help us as a family before things get really busy. You should have seen me trying to buy a mattress today on "furniture street". Lots of sign language! Ha! But it arrived at our house 2 hours later.

Thanks again for your encouragement and prayers. We are so thankful to God for a very smooth transition so far. We really have it so easy compared to most missionaries. This truth is not lost on us. Be watching the blog for updates very soon. You can sign up for our RSS feed, so you will know when new material is added.

Many blessings to you all! We'd love to hear from you, as well!
Robin for the family