Monday, May 23, 2011

Before I Go

I don't think anyone out there knows what a weird week it's been.  With finals over and only eight days until I go on my great adventure, things in the here and now don't feel normal.  Mentally I've checked out and I'm already overseas, but physically I'm still in America.

Around April I remember sitting down to eat some larb I cooked (find recipe here ) and then I imagined myself eating the food in the middle of a crowded night market lined with vendors selling everything from silk scarves to fried fish cakes, and customers clogging up the street and trying to avoid the motorcycles that would honk and cut through traffic.  Sounds and scents I had all but forgotten returned to me.  I realized, "Gee, this is really going to happen––and really soon!"

Now about once every hour I have such an episode.  Though now it's becoming more focused.  Instead of random moments I'm thinking of that first week when I get off the plane, find my apartment, and spend a few days settling in before beginning my work in the prison.  I'm already planning out a weekend trip to Sukothai from June 10th through the 12th.

As for the here and now, I've been spending the week saying goodbye to peeps.  Everybody wants to see me once before I leave, and regrettably I can't get to see everyone.  So for those who I failed to see once more, I'm sorry.

There were so many people and so much i wanted to do before I left, but that won't happen now.  Other than not seeing more peeps one last time, my other big regret is I never finished a novel I began writing last March.  I was hoping to get the thing done, but there are only so many hours in a day.  It'll have to sit at 200 some pages unfinished for at least three months.

Monday, May 16, 2011

In the beginning...


So I'm finally getting around to making this thing.  After telling so many people, "You'll need to follow me on my blog!" I decided it was best to actually sit down and create the thing!  So here it is, in all it's glory...

The Back Story:

For those who don't know, I'm Charles.  Back in 2008 I was just like any ordinary college student, and then I found myself wanting to go study abroad for a semester.  To make a long story short, I wanted to go to Italy, but the Italian Embassy fudged up my paperwork, and despite admitting it was completely their fault decided not to give me a visa.  Wanting to salvage my hopes of going overseas, I went down to the Gustavus Adophus study abroad office and asked what my options were.  Basically, I was told, "Well Charles, you can either stay here in Minnesota in the bitter cold, or you can go to Thailand."

So needless to say I took the prize behind door number two.  If only someone had told me what I had signed up for.

Before Thailand, I thought I had everything in life all mapped out.  I was an art history major, and I had this vision that I'd study abroad in Europe, go get advanced degrees in European art history, and ultimately stay in school for so long that one day they'd pay me to get up in front of the class and teach.  It seemed like a brilliant plan––until Thailand.

I spent a good amount of time over in Thailand thinking, "Great!  Now who is going to want to accept me to grad school to study European art?"  It upset me thinking my career could have been over before it had a chance to get off the runway.

Then something wonderful happened.  Part of the study abroad program was an internship component.  Of the options––AIDS orphanage, rural village Bible school, Buddhist temple––I choose the juvenile prison.  Why?  Well, two reasons.  For one, I had done a number of summer art programs for youth, and I thought, "Heck, how different can teaching kids in jail be?"  And second, I thought it would be something I could look back and laugh at.

But then when I went to the prison and saw the looks on the kids faces, and heard their stories, and saw how they lived, it moved my heart in a way nothing had before.  I met eight year olds who were locked away for drugs and theft.  There's nobody alive today that can convince me an eight year old chooses that kind of life out of his own free will.  The way I understood it, while yes the boys had done some awful things, in many cases they were set up for failure.  I went into that prison in the beginning wishing I were anywhere else, but when I left I wished I were nowhere else but there.

And that was when I felt the call to ministry.  I hadn't really been too religious growing up, so it was a surprise to me.  But spending time with those boys and realizing there are many millions more––children and adult––in my own country who need somebody like me.  When I came back from Thailand, I knew what I had to do.  I had to answer God's call; I had to go to seminary.

In the Present:

I'll never forget orientation day at seminary, where in front of all the faculty, staff, and everyone in the incoming junior class, I said my goal was to somehow go back to Thailand and to the prison where I felt the call to ministry.  I sat back down thinking I had just set myself up for failure.  I had no clue where the money would come from.  But with the help of scholarships to pay for all my first-year tuition, shelling out what little savings I had, working my tail off at the local community center, a generous donation from a church in northern Minnesota, it all magically came together.  I still don't believe that somehow I was able to come up for the money to pay for this thing.  I'm surprised I don't have churches and state governments calling me asking for help fixing their budgets!

So in two weeks of writing this I'm about to spend eighty-five days in Southeast Asia, with the bulk of it in Thailand, but also some short excursions to Laos and Cambodia.  I'm going all by myself.  I'm looking forward to all the adventures I'll be having, and all the great people who are about to become my friends.

What's With the Name?

I figure someone will ask me that soon, so I'm taking care of it now.  Thailand has two seasons: the dry season and the rainy season.  The first time I went was during the dry season, and now I'm about to get the opposite.  While the rainy season will surely bring some difficulties, I'm really looking forward to it.  Not many tourists come to Thailand during the rainy season, so I'm excited to see Thailand without its guard up.  It'll be like how after six months a new couple begins to get more relaxed and comfortable, and each person doesn't try as hard to impress the other.  The whole time I was there in 2009 I couldn't help but feel Thailand was putting its best face forward cause everyone knew tourists were everywhere.  I'm looking forward to seeing the real, authentic Thailand that the Thai people see.

So about the name.  Back in August of 2010 I was at a Jon Anderson of Yes solo concert.  After the show I was in the bathroom, and had some trouble getting the automatic sink to work.  The guy next to me pointed and said, "Where the raindrops are."  Sure enough, I put my hands under the drops of water and out came fresh rushing water.  I liked the way those four words sounded, and so I wrote them down.  I at first thought maybe I'd write a novel with that title, but then when I decided I was going to create this blog, I thought, "Hey!  I got a great idea for a name!"

The Purpose of this Blog:

I'm writing all of this as a way to keep in contact with others back in America, and to reflect on my own experience.  It's also a place where I can still communicate in English.  As I found out my first time around, you never know the value of the English language until you meet people who can't speak a word of it.  There's a chance I might go the whole summer without a conversation in English.

I never thought I'd ever make one of these things.  I'm not much of one for technology or social media.  I know too many people who live their lives in front of a computer screen.  Nonetheless, computers and tech are useful tools.  Though I hope this blog can be used as a supplement to face-to-face communication, and not a replacement of.  I look forward to going back to America and having discussions about Thailand in person.

A Note of Caution:

Be respectful.  Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, and the Thai people love their King and royal family.  Failure to be kind when talking about the King and his family can result in imprisonment up to fifteen years.  Please, for my sake, refrain from any disrespectful comments about the monarchy.

This summer will be a delicate time for Thailand as national elections will be held.  While I am sure I'll see much political activity, you will find little posted here.  This is an issue that involves Thai people, and I'm leaving it at that.  If asked questions, I will not answer.  If you really want to know what is going on, you can look at the news.  The news can probably tell you more than I can anyways.