Friday, July 31, 2009

Thailand Adventure

This is me at the feet of the reclining buddha. Five days in Thailand is more of an adventure than I had imagined.

The Bangkok Christian Guest House is a beautiful missionary retreat center in the heart of Bangkok. The BCGH is so central that it is on Silom Rd; better known as the Red Light District of Bangkok. Now, Bangkok has somewhat of a reputation for being a shady city, but the Guest House is in the shadiest part of the shady city.

It was quite an experience. There were hookers on every corner and you never knew if anyone was a guy or a girl. I tend to be an open minded person, but even I was overwhelmed by the surroundings. It was a great jumping off point to the culture.

This is one of the go-go bars on the street. Guys On Display. G.O.D. Really. This is real.

Even at the most beautiful buddhist temples there is a gay and lesbian presence. This was quite a shock, coming from South Korea where they don't even know what gay is. When I was waiting at the airport (11 hours) I read a book in the bookstore about Ladyboys, the gay/transgender population in Thailand. It was a really fascinating book. Apparently they come from all over Asia to the one place where they can find acceptance, Bangkok Thailand.

Lumpini Park, right down the road, was crawling (heh ... literally) with gila monsters. It was so cool to get right up close to them and get photos.

A fellow TFC grad doing mission work in Thailand, Ruth, met up with me in Bangkok for Sunday evening worship at Christ Church and dinner. It was fun hearing about the country and culture outside of the tourist trap I was experiencing.

This is beautiful Wat Pho. THE Thai tourist attraction, it houses 3 huge golden statues of buddha. Including the reclining buddha. It was ok ... much too tourist-y for my likes, but on this particular trip I was nothing more than a tourist.

A truly tourist event, a Tuk Tuk ride. At less than a dollar, it's a fun way to get from point A to point B ... as long as you have a strong death wish.

During this trip I made my first visit to a Hindu Temple and Muslim Mosque. I had seen Hindu Temples in India, but none of my teammates wanted to go inside of them.

M.R. Kirkut was a prime minister, foreign dignitary, and member of the royal family. His home is now a museum. It's off the beaten path and not exactly a high tourist destination. This stunning woman and her husband were being prepared for a professional photo shoot in the home. I told her that she was very beautiful and asked if I could take her picture. She quickly agreed.

When we got to our hotel I opened the Thai newspaper, I immediately recognized the man standing in the picture and then saw the woman I had talked with. The caption highlighted the prince and princesses who attended the birthday party of the King.

I met the prince and princess! What a crazy event.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thailand is great.

We went to an English speaking church this morning. It was superb. I miss the sense and vibe of liturgical worship. We ate lunch at the church and met engineers form Germany, Billy Graham Association evangelists from Holland, and two of the pastors from the church (Irish and British)... all in one lunch. It was great.

The internet is slow, but I'm having a good vacation. Thanks for prayers. Life is better now, and when I have time I will explain better.

Love, Michael.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I'm going to Thailand tomorrow. Originally the trip was to go and pick up my visa. Korea has weird rules about English teacher visas, one of them being that the visa can only be issued outside of Korea. All of the paperwork and processing happens in Korea, but the actual visa can only be issued overseas. So, I had to take half of my vacation days to make a business trip somewhere outside of Korea. So, I chose Thailand because it was the cheapest flight I could find and a country I wanted to visit. I figured it would be a perfect chance to sightsee.

Two days ago I found out that my English teaching visa was put on hold because of problems with the school I'm working for. So, I will not be getting my visa this week. At least I will get another opportunity to visit another asian country in the next few months. Where should I go next?

I'm really excited about going to Thailand. Although I'm disappointed that I won't be getting my visa, that does free me up to do 2 more days worth of sightseeing! I probably won't blog during the week, but I plan on taking pictures and blogging next week!

Comfortable in my own skin

I'm a big person. I'll give you a moment to absorb that.

In America everyone (except mean middle schoolers) is polite enough to never mention another person's weight. Overseas everyone comments on my size.

I usually just say, "Thank You." When I'm greeted with, "You're so BIG!"

The other day the pastor was introducing me to a group of visiting Americans. He said, "This is brother Michael. He's handsome ... but, SO BIG!"

I wish you could hear a recording of this statement. His voice zoomed into the heavenlies like a 90s horror princess realizing the killer is behind her. SO BIG!

Indescribable. The Americans audibly gasped, it was such a rude statement by American standards.

So, I'm working through the process of being comfortable in my own skin.

I'm getting used to the gawking masses at the swimming pool. I'm laughing off falseto exclamations of my gigantic size in public places. I'm framing pictures where I'm thrice-and-again the size of my asian friends.

I'm accepting that God loves me at any size and called me to the mission field with the full knowledge that I will be huge anywhere I go in the world.

I'm getting comfortable in my own skin.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

This is a class. C-L-A-SS. Class. Good.

This is my first class of the day. They're cute kids, but they are also mischievous. They don't speak any English, so class is difficult but occasionally rewarding. I get to catch them young and help them pronounce words correctly. You can only learn so much from a text book; for instance, they can't make "si" sounds. They pronounce them "shi" ... so sit and city are always dangerous vocab.

Take note of the Obama poster, and our beautiful first lady. Everyone here loves Obama. I was told that I would be teaching High School kids, so I brought posters accordingly. If I had known the age range I would have brought High School Musical 3 stuff!

These kids can be a lot to handle. They are easily placated by food. It's simply impossible to grab a snack in their presence without them queuing up for a taste.

This is my really smart class. They're a little camera shy, so this was a candid shot. They're great to be with, but they get impatient pretty quickly. I imagine that I would have fit in well with this class. If I had my way we would go for a field trip every Wednesday with these kids. I got yelled at for spoiling them.

This is my other class. They're using the same book as my smart kids, but they just aren't as clever and want to rely on translation machines and dictionaries. Sometimes when a person wants to get serious about learning a language, he or she will buy a big dictionary or a small computer to help them out. These are NEVER the people who speak a foreign language well.

These are my middle school girls. They should speak English well, but they don't. The one on the right has a terrific amount of grammar and vocabulary knowledge. The one on the left is semi-comatose most days so I don't know how much she knows. I can't understand a word they say in English. Sometimes I have to ask if they are trying to speak English. Their wealthy parents make them come and they hate it. This is by far my least rewarding class of the day.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I had a really special night. I taught my Sunday School class in Toccoa, GA ... from Asan City, South Korea. My parents visited Toccoa First UMC and brought their laptop. I skyped my wonderful Curtis Trogdon Wesley Class. I told them about everything I was doing here, and then we had a question and answer time.

My good friends Jared and Janet Kaup listened in, too.

There was so much love and positive energy in the room, that I could feel it across the computer screen!

Sometimes it's hard to speak honestly about problems encountered on the mission field. Missionaries have a unique problem; their paycheck and prayers come from the same people! We emphasize the positive and downplay the negative.

I write about mission opportunities, progress in classes, dawn prayer, and special dinners. But, those experiences aren't the extent of my stay here. I've had some rough moments. -- I don't write about arguments with other foriegn teachers, frustration with students, or the number of meals I've eaten here that were spicy to the point of pain.

But I think my supporters know those things are realities in my life.

I think it goes without saying that I miss my friends and family very much. So being present with 20 of my biggest fans for an hour was a real treat. It made my week.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Lazy weekends are always best.

The new Harry Potter movie is playing one town over, but the rain prevents us from walking to the train station. The wind blows doors open and closed and turns umbrellas inside out. It's fun.

A group of Americans is here from Texas on a short term mission trip.

We were taken out to a very expensive restaurant and had a very nice dinner with the pastor.

I'm reading Good to Great by Jim Collins. I don't know anything about business, but I've always loved this book.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Don't let their smiles fool you.

Look Mom, I'm three times the size of anyone else! We took our kids to the trampoline place.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Postsecret Billiards

I love this postcard. This is part of the Postsecret project. At Postsecret, people send their secrets in artful postcard form. The site runs in English, French, German, and Korean. There are English translations for every language except Korean. So, I have no idea what these little robots are sad about. But, someday, I will.

After another good day at school, I met the pastor's oldest son. He taught me how to play Korean billiards.

There are no pockets on a Korean billiard table.

The point is to hit your opponents ball after hitting the neutral ball and 3 walls. You hit your ball into the neutral ball, watch it hit (boom, boom, boom) three walls, and then pray that it bounces into your opponent's ball.

It's a game of extreme strategy. It's a lot of fun, and I'll get better at it before I leave.

Every day I'm learning more about Korean life and how to live here. I'm doing a little bit better at blending in every day.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Recycling Poet

Yesterday was recycling day. Now, in America, we talk a good talk about recycling. We even paint things green to let people know that they ... are green ... which is synonymous with environmentally friendly. (Along with being bad at recycling, we're bad at differentiating between synonyms. Honestly, just because the Hummer is painted green does not mean that it is environmentally friendly.) But here in Korea they walk the recycling walk.

Because the country is so small, land is very expensive. There's no space for landfills. So everything is recycled. My roomates and I are just starting to grasp the reality of these facts. This Tuesday was the first night we remembered to do our recycling. This special event only happens once a week, and the whole community is involved. All 500+ apartments in our complex are represented in this special celebration. Food waste, plastics, glass, cardboard, etc. are collected. There are different collection bins for different containers. Some bins are reserved for one type of bottle exclusively. It's very confusing. The buildings security guards are omni-present to make sure you don't mess up the system.

So this was also our first time to meet all of the neighbors. We met one woman named Linda. Well, her real name is Kim Something Something, but Koreans who speak English usually have an American name they use. Linda invited us over to her home. She gave us her business card, which claims she is the president of a multi-national company with offices in China, the Phillipines, and Korea. Her husband was very nice. Their home was beautiful and packed full of exciting souveniers from all around the world. She cooked some food for us and made fresh Tomato juice. She showed us books of poetry she had written and her poetic contributions to other books of Korean poetry.

She was super fun and Molly and I will return shortly for another visit. She has invited us to climb the mountain with her to retrieve fresh spring water. Oh, did I mention that she's 71? Making friends of any age is good when you're in a new country.

In other news, some pastor friends from Russia were ordained. The Shishkins are the two on the left in the picture. Hearing good news from Russia is always nice.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Not much to report on this end. Life here is going well. The summer months are hot and humid. I've been feeling a little under the weather.

I'm flying to Thailand at the end of July to get my English Teacher's Visa. It's been a mess getting all the paperwork together.

I'm going to Chuneon in the morning to watch a movie and eat Burger King. I'll probably go to youth worship and youth dinner tomorrow night.

We're starting to put some plans together to start an English worship service. There are a few other schools that employ English speaking foreigners, but there is also a relatively large immigrant population in Korea. There are a number of Filipino and Indian workers who live here and speak English. A good number of Koreans speak English and would enjoy a free chance to practice their English.

My roomates and I will have a planning meeting in the next few weeks, I'm so thankful for my years on the Alternative service planning team. They will come in handy now.