Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or Treat!

Just for the record, even though I'm in Thailand, I'm maintaining the Bell family tradition of hotdogs on Halloween....afraid that I'd have 7 years of bad luck or something dreadful like that if I dared stray away now :) Actually, I'm not alone in this celebration. I've been amazed at how the holiday has been embraced and promoted by the local merchants. I don't think I'd be exagerating if I claimed that it may be an even bigger deal here as I can't ever recall seeing a larger than life pumpkin patch in front of Houston's Galleria (...for my nonTexan readers that's one of the city's very upscale shopping centers). The kids in my apartment building are being treated to a party in the lobby by the apartment's management and everyone has been invited to dress in "fancy" costumes and "play" trick or treat. Such fun and of course such sweet memories!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lessons from the River

As Sam and I were floating down the historic River Kwai on Tuesday, I had this heightened sense of awareness that I was experiencing a once in a lifetime moment that I needed to savor. I pray I'll never forget the blessing of the quiet...the lush tropical landscape... cool river water... looming limestone cliffs... and the shared adventure of floating past water buffaloes resting along the river's edge.

Being so aware of the transient nature of life, I began to wonder how many far more important moments had I failed to appreciate with this same intensity. Things like the first time I said bedtime prayers aloud together with Vanessa, or maybe the first time she ate her first chocolate chip cookie. I know these were both moments of pure joy, but to honest, I probably took them for granted trusting that there would be many more prayers... Then there are all the last times that escaped me like the last night I said good night to my dad. Even though I knew our time together was limited, I fully expected to have at least a few more days. Had I only known that that last night was my last opportunity...

Although I know it's impossible to live life as "all knowing", I can savor the experiences and commit to living them thoughtfully. What a blessing it was to be so aware of the gift I'd been given to experience Thailand in that special way. All of life is a gift...full of precious moments that God has placed in our paths. I pray for the wisdom to slow things down a bit...kind of like floating on a river... so that I recognize and take time to appreciate God's goodness.

There are 2 new albums posted on Shutterfly. They are actually under construction as I've not had time to add the text. One album has pictures of my students, and the other contains the snapshots from our bike tour. Enjoy!

P.S. I'm so excited to share that Sam and I will be home for Christmas! I'll be arriving on Dec. 1st. Sam will come into town on the 15th, and we'll both leave together on the 28th. Though it seems like a long visit, at least for me, I know it'll fly by! We'll be taking time when Sam first arrives to visit his family in Missouri (Dec. 17-21). Then, we'll be in Corpus Christi on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day...until we leave on the 28th. I know it's a busy time for all, but I hope we can seize some precious moments to spend together. How we miss you all!

Monday, October 15, 2007

The 100 Challenge

Recently, a few of my friends have posted lists of 100 or more little known facts about themselves for their friends and family. Though I've thoroughly enjoyed reading the lists, I really don't think I could come up with that much info about myself. However, I've thought it might me fun to try and list unique sights, sounds, smells and experiences of Bangkok as a way of sharing our life here in Thailand. I'm not sure I can list 100, but I'm willing to give it the good ol' college try. Wish me luck!

1. We live on the 20th floor of a high rise.
2. Our building is called Bann Jamjuree and it's close to a sky train stop, which makes it very easy to get to other parts of the city quickly.
3. Our apartment has 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, office, 2 balconies and a service porch.
4. Each room has its own air conditioning unit.
5. The apartment also has a maid's bedroom and bathroom. Our maid only comes 2 half days and doesn't use the quarters.
6. Our driver's name is Ton and our maid's name is Tawan.
7. Ton is 21. Tawan is 32.
8. Ton attends English classes 3 times a week and is learning English far more quickly than I'm learning Thai. Tawan can speak English enough for us to enjoy each other's company.
9. Speaking English in Thailand opens many doors of opportunity.
10. I hope to give my Pre-K and K students a head start in learning English so that they might be able to one day live outside of the slums.
11. We're worshipping with The International Church of Bangkok and I go to a Tuesday night BSF Bible study on the book of Matthew at Calvary Baptist Church.
12. The International Church of Bangkok is celebrating their 75th anniversary this year.
13. The embassy of Myramar (Burma) is a block away from the church.
14. There are weekly protests outside the embassy on Sunday mornings. The group I work with (Urban Neighbors of Hope) have been participating in the protests.
15. It is a common sight to see people wearing hospital masks because of the pollution.
16. Pedestrians have no just have to be bold and take a chance as you race across the street.
17. You cannot walk more than a block without crossing paths with a food vendor...lots of other street vendors too!
18. The food vendors set up sidewalk kitchens daily...some of their kitchens are transported on a charcoal barbecue grill and all.
19. Speaking of motorcycles, whole families use them for transportation. I've seen 5 people on one motorcycle!
20. All major intersections have motorcycle taxi stops. Motorcycle taxi drivers wear an orange vest....and usually a helmet.
21. Pink and orange taxis (cars) are owned by a company.
22. Green and yellow taxis (cars) are owned by the drivers.
23. I usually walk around breathing very shallowly as there can be a strong sewer smell that comes from the street holes and exhaust from the tuk-tuks.
24. Balconies are for clothes drying.
25. Street vendors wash their dishes in basins of cold soapy water guessed it- the street!
26. Most Thais shower in cold water....they don't have bath tubs.
27. I have 2 bathtubs in my apartment with hot water!
28.Traffic is horrible...thank goodness for the sky train! However, many times we sit in traffic just so our driver can get the hours.
29. The police and security people blow whistles constantly when directing traffic...kind of like the national bird of Bangkok!
30. The streets are swept by hand with handmade brooms...usually by women.
31. At 6:00 in the morning and 6:00 in the evening, everyone matter where they are to honor the King. They play the national anthem.
32. Everyone stands before a movie to honor the King.
33. Everyone wears yellow on Monday to honor the King...He was born on a Monday.
34. All the days of the week have a certain color.
35. Everyone wears blue on Friday to honor the queen...She was born on a Friday.
36. Father's Day is the King's birthday. He will be 80 on Dec. 5. He has been King for 60 years and is dearly loved...just recently had a stroke.
37. Mother's Day is the Queen's birthday.
38. Building scaffolding is made from bamboo.
39. People believe that beggars and handicapped people must have been really bad in a former life. Many have little empathy.
40. 90% of the population is Buddhist.
41. People "make merit"(offer food, incense, flowers) at local shrines in order to keep evil spirits away and to gain favor for the next life.
42. Local shrines...temple houses are everywhere.
43. Foreign visitors pay a higher admission price to attractions like national parks.
45. Service charges are added into restaurant bills so tipping is not the custom.
46. Most women don't wear sleeveless shirts with out jackets.
47. Women carry umbrellas much of the time...mostly to protect themselves from the sun.
48. Thai women use a whitening cream...they don't want their skin to turn dark.
49. The whole chicken/duck is eaten.
50. It's common to see the boiled chicken/duck hanging from it's neck waiting to be cut up for some dish.
51. I've seen just the duck's head served with some rice.
52. I've yet to see Thai road rage.
53. The tradition is to smile no matter what.
54. Thai smiles are beautiful and welcoming...but sometimes you wonder if they're really happy about something or just acting that way. It can interfere with honest communication.
55. Dairy products like sour cream and cheese are expensive...if you can even find them.
56. Fruit is delicious and cheap.
57. I especially love the lime juice drink served with soda water.
58. I could eat fresh pineapple every day if I wished.
59. A major section of the grocery store is taken up with rice, oil, and fish sauce.
60. Thai beer is inexpensive and good.
61. Thai wine is expensive and bad...all wine is very expensive due to a tax.
62. You can't buy alcoholic beverages between the hours of 2 and 5 in the stores.
63. Most people don't cook at home as the street vendors provide good food at a cheap price.
64. "Street" drinks are served in plastic bags.
65. "Street" soup is served in plastic bags.
66. Emergency vehicles use a siren, but traffic is so bad, there is no way to get out of their way. I hope I never have need of an ambulance or if I do, I hope it's about 3:00 in the morning.
67. All drinking water is bottled. I cook with bottled water also.
68. Fruits and vegetables are weighed and priced before going to the check out stand.
69. You hand paper money to the cashier with the King's picture facing up out of respect.
70. Thai people love corn, and they eat it as a sweet. They even have yogurt with corn in it.
71. Tuk-tuk drivers do not have a set price. You must negotiate it before you travel...same with motorcycle taxis.
72. Most property is gated and security is posted. I don't think security is because anything is dangerous, but rather because it provides a job to someone and it protects property from being used as a parking lot.
73. Sidewalks are a luxury and are often times treacherous.
74. Thai foot massages are the best!
75. Thai body massages can be very physical...I've been advised against them as they can injure you.
76. Toilet paper is not flushed. There is usually a hose for washing.
77. Most toilets in Bangkok are western style.
78. There is a pet duck that lives at a house just below our balcony. Most mornings, I wake to the sound of it quacking.
79. The city is never silent.
80. Department stores all have doormen.
81. Department stores are usually 6-8 floors high and include a grocery store.
82. There is no lack of fast food...McDonald's, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dairy Queen, Dunkin Donuts, ....
83. Sticky rice and mango is the best dessert!
84. I'm too big for most clothes here.
85. 8...maybe 8 1/2 is the largest shoe size.
86. There are plenty of tailors...but I haven't explored that world yet.
87. One of the most annoying sounds in the world is a young Thai lady with a microphone selling something...a very common sound in the grocery stores and malls. It's kind of like nails on a chalkboard.
88. I'm commonly addressed as "Madam" ...with the the last syllable pronounced "dawm"
89. A dishwasher is very rare...we may be the only ones who have one in our building as it took 4-5 months before they could figure out how to hook it up.
90. It's tradition to remove your shoes before entering a home.
91. It's tradition to not point with you should use your whole hand.
92. It's tradition to not touch the top of some one's head.
93. It's tradition to not show the bottom of your feet.
94. It's tradition to eat a bite of plain rice before eating any other part of the meal.
95. Eggs are not refrigerated in the stores and are barbecued in the shell by street vendors...I haven't tried one yet.
96. Gift cards are called vouchers.
97. Thai street dogs are so ugly...I feel very sorry for them.
98. The yellow royal flag always flies side by side with Thailand's country flag.
99. Bank accounts are extremely difficult for foreign residents to establish.
100. Trash is hand sorted and that which can be is recycled, is.

Whew! Now I'm positive I'd not be able to complete this exercise with info about myself. What you have here is a bizarrely random list, but maybe it'll give you a glimpse into my life in Bangkok after close to 3 months. I imagine that, with time, my focus will change and many things that seem note worthy today, won't be something I'll give a second thought to a year from now. It'll be fun to look back, but for now, I can't imagine anyone I'd rather have travelling along with me than y'all! Thanks for checking in on the blog.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In Memory

Remember those middle of the night phone calls I wrote about a few weeks ago? Well, last night I got one from my girlie, but this time it wasn't good news. She was calling to share that a very good friend of hers had just lost her mom. Her mom was my age... probably younger and had fallen on the tile floor in their home during the middle of the night. That simple accident caused a fatal injury. My heart just breaks for their loss.

As I struggled to think of words of comfort, I remembered what one of my favorite poets, Flavia, wrote-"That which brings us sadness has once brought us joy. May you cherish forever all that was yours." If you didn't have a chance to listen to the song from Point of Grace yesterday, this would be a perfect time to give yourself a gift as it so beautifully reminds us all of "How to Live."

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Blessings to you!

I've always admired artists...singers, songwriters, poets, painters... They have a gift that touches my very being and at least for a moment, lifts me up to a higher place...a place I aspire to be. My dear friend, Anita, shared a blessing with me that I'd like to pass on to you. Go to and listen to their new song called "How You Live".
Blessings to you!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Check out the new pictures on Shutterfly!

It's been an active week. Since I last wrote, I've explored a national park, experienced a bit of Bangkok's nightlife, shared a 25km bike ride with a lovely group of women, started a BSF Bible study, observed the Thai education system first hand, and toured the Mattel toy factory where Hotwheels are produced. Hard to believe that was all in a's no wonder I've not had time to write. Rather than trying to tackle the entire week, I'm going with the old saying that "a picture is worth a thousand words". Check out our new album on Shutterfly and hopefully the pictures of the park, nightlife, and bike ride, along with their subtitles will speak for themselves.

Unfortunately, you won't find pictures of the toy factory tour as photography was not allowed. This tour was very unique in that it's not a routine experience the factory offers. We were only able to go because the president of the American Woman's Club's husband is friends with a big guy from Mattel. Lucky us! What an eye opener this activity was for me as, to be honest, I'd never even wondered about the production of toy cars. If you'd asked me how I thought they were made, I would've described a totally automated system with people supervising the work of sophisticated machines. Not! I'm surprised that Hotwheels don't cost way more than they do as they are virtually hand assembled. The employees work 10 hours a day (2 hrs. overtime), 6 days a week doing the same job over and over during peak production. During non peak times, about 40% of the workforce is cross trained on another task required to make the cars. The reason they are so labor intensive is all economics. In order to keep the price down, the company doesn't invest in the technology of automation because there is an ample workforce willing and happy to do the job for less money. I guess we all benefit- consumers, employers, and employees. However, after this tour, it all seems a little more personal. From this day forward, I hope to try and pause to admire the the skill and individual effort put into the products I buy...and also to think twice before I complain about the cost!