Monday, January 26, 2009

The Hospital Waiting Room

by Ruth

I've been to the hospital three times in the past week, but mostly just in the waiting room.
At the beginning of the week, I went with a friend who was having outpatient surgery done. She saw me on facebook the night before and asked if I wanted to come. She said she wouldn't mind going by herself and I was like, "You're having surgery! Of course you don't want to go by yourself!" So I went and sat in various waiting rooms for about 5 hours.
While we were waiting together in the hospital lobby, a middle-aged western woman came in and talked to a nurse. "I need to see a doctor about a bite on my leg," the woman said. The nurse said something we couldn't hear and then the woman said, "Well, I don't think the gynecologist would know what to do about the bite." The nurse hesitated then said, "So you don't want a pap smear?" She led the woman the direction of the gynecology unit, and my friend and I fell over each other laughing. Oh, the miscommunications!

The second time at the hospital was much shorter. Our teammate Christina was having her wisdom teeth out. When she told me about it, she was also planning on going alone. "I figured they could call a songtao for me" (the red taxi trucks). What is it with these people? I said, "You can't go by yourself!" Several other friends went at the beginning and Kevin and I came over later. I figured it might take hours but by the time we got there, they were already finished! Christina was sitting in the waiting room with swollen cheeks and a pained look. We made fun of her, caused her to laugh, and tried to get her to take pain medicine she couldn't swallow...because that's the kind of good friends we are. Kevin and I brought her flowers though, which we pointed out to her after apologizing for all the rest of the torture we were causing. I don't think she minded too much that we were making fun of her, I think it was more the problem that she couldn't talk back.

Today I went to the hospital for the third time. Kevin and I had dentist appointments. It was the fastest dentist appointment ever! Fifteen minutes and I was back in the waiting room. $50 later, we were both paid for and out the door. And no cavities. Which discourages me again from actually taking up flossing, since my teeth have always done okay without it. There's no dentists reading this blog, are there?

That should be all for the hospital visits this trip. It's not a bad hospital (they already do all their medical records on computer, kind of like America is hoping to do one of these days). Still, it smells all antiseptically weird and the colors are horrible. So hopefully no one else I know is planning a surgery in the next few weeks.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Celebration of Discipline

By Kevin

I'm done! Just finished up our development class here in Thailand. Now I'm a bit more free to write.

The last couple weeks of class have been really good. I am always challenged by our grad classes. Unfortunately, I also discovered that I won't be completely done next summer, like I'd hoped: I'll have one more session of Thailand classes before earning my degree.

I know Ruth wrote on this subject already, but it bears repeating. I too have been thinking about the idea of simplifying and scheduling “buffer zones” and margins into life so that I can be more intentional about rest and things other than just work. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that my effectiveness isn’t measured by how much I do.In other words, I need to be disciplined about times of silence and if I’m going to be effective.

Again and again in one class, we reverberated the need to “Be still and know that I am God,” which too often we disconnect from the rest of the verse: “I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” This is the reason for silence. It prepares us, even enables us, to be able to exalt Him.

A quote Dr. Gallagher shared from Deitrich Bonhoeffer really hit home: “We’re so afraid of silence that we chase ourselves from one event to the next…in order not to have to look at ourselves in the mirror." For some reason, silence terrifies us. Maybe it's because we come from a driven, capitalistic country, but we feel like we need to be doing something to occupy every minute of our day. Spending time that isn’t “accomplishing” something seems counterproductive to us. How often we forget that life is about relationship. Just like a father or mother wants to spend time with their child, and hear about their day, the Father wants the same from us. But he also wants us to listen. Without silence, it’s hard to listen.

I feel like believers (myself included) have too often bought into the Western idea that we need to be busy ALL THE TIME. The capitalistic idea that time is money has invaded the way we approach our service. We buy into the idea that we’d “rather burn out than rust out,” but it’s not healthy. If we’re not busy all the time until we’re exhausted, somehow, we see ourselves as failing. But it’s a lie. And it’s watering down our effectiveness because usually the result is we are disconnected from the source of life. No wonder the census says some 77 percent of Americans identify themselves as believers, but, when Barna asks people about their actual beliefs, only 8 percent of Americans fit the criteria most would hold as essentials for true faith.

I'm thinking about how many times someone asked "How are you?" and my instinctive answer was "I'm busy, how are you?" What message does that communicate? Then I compare my life to the son's. I'm certainly not busier than him.

It’s hitting me that I too easily pass over all the times Jesus retreated to spend time with the Father. I miss the times he even told his disciples to come with him to rest, while he was in the midst of serving people, even. We ignore the father restoring Elijah in the cave before giving him his next task.

But he knew better than we do. He knew, as Gallagher puts it, that being comes before doing. Even he had to be still and know God for God to be exalted through him.

We also forget history. “When we read the life of the saints, we are struck by a certain large leisure which went hand in hand with a remarkable effectiveness. They were never hurried; they did comparatively few things, and these not necessarily striking or important; and they troubled very little about their influence. Yet they always seemed to hit the mark; every bit of their life told; their simplest actions had a distinction, an exquisiteness which suggested the artist.” – Bridget Herman.

I'm speaking to myself here: I need more discipline. I need more rest.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Land of All Good Things

by Ruth

My friend Ashley calls Thailand “the land of all good things,” and she’s right. Right now it is the middle of January and the weather is warm and sunny. The trees are a lush, full green and there are birds singing. In the past week, we have eaten Mexican, Thai, Mediterranean burgers, sandwiches, pizza, donuts, ice cream…there is so much variety. We get to see people we know, people “like us,” who say strange things and don’t quite fit in anywhere.

Of course, Kevin has to go to classes during this time. Go to classes, read articles, work on group projects, write papers. I’ve already taken these classes so I am just hanging out and dabbling in a distance learning course I’m supposed to be working on. And reading. Did I mention that Chiang Mai also has several used book stores full of books I haven’t read?

The strange thing about this time is that just hanging out and not having to do a lot has been hard for me. I don’t think I’m one of those crazy driven people who feels happy about not having a spare minute of the day. But I’ve realized this semester that I don’t relax very well anymore. When I have free time, I get antsy and invariably end up using it to work ahead or clean or waste it in a non-relaxing way. I feel nervous when I’m not accomplishing something. In other words, I feel driven to prove my worth by doing a bunch of stuff.

I visited Kevin’s class last week (about “inner growth,” so to speak) which was taught by Dr. Gallagher, the same professor we had in the summer. He is a really good professor whose token phrase is (in an Australian accent), “Take it easy.” He talked about some of the same things I have been thinking about: slowing down, focusing on “being” instead of “doing,” and setting aside time for God, for family, and for taking care of yourself. He reminded us to follow our passions and consider our limits.

I view my limits more or less as a personal enemy to be overcome. I keep coming up against my physical, emotional, and spiritual limits and getting frustrated. My personal expectations are much higher than my limits. Our culture is all about breaking limits and says “you can do anything if you try hard enough,” so I don’t like to accept the fact that I can’t. Sometimes I try harder and just fall apart. Athletes must push themselves but if they push too hard, they’ll end up with injuries.

Last summer, Dr. Gallagher said that many of us act like we are in a sprint. We do and do and burn out by 30. “You are not in a sprint,” he told us, “You are in a marathon. If you don’t take care of yourself now, you will take years off your life.” Just the other day he reminded us again, “Some of you still have 70 years ahead of you!” And I thought, “Oh my gosh, that could be true!” I have several relatives who are in their mid-90’s. Sometimes I forget how young I am. Our culture is so youth-oriented, I have the idea that if you plan to do anything useful in life, you better do it by the time you’re 30 or 40. Obviously, most people live far beyond that and do all kinds of meaningful things into their 80’s or 90’s even.

So really, I do need to “take it easy.” I’ve got so much life ahead of me. I need to pace myself and take care of my health so that I can still be doing useful things at 80 and 90. Hmm, seventy more years. That kind of takes the pressure off.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Getting There

by Ruth

Kevin bought a hugely-overpriced 7-Up for me in the Phnom Penh airport because I was feeling nauseous. This seems to be a common occurrence when traveling, even though we hadn’t actually started traveling for the day (although probably a loud, bouncy tuk-tuk ride through crowded, smelly streets counts). As I sipped on the 7-Up and thought about not throwing up, I noticed the slogan on the side of the can:

Getting there is half the fun.

And I thought, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Whoever came up with that logo obviously either has vastly different travel experiences than I do, or is one of those people who think that all manner of miserable, crappy situations are adventurous and funny.

I considered my past travel experiences. Sitting in airports, running through airports, getting stranded in airports, turbulent flights, long smoky train rides, long bumpy bus rides, sickening boat trips, buses breaking down, treacherous one-lane mountain roads. I was really having a hard time remembering the fun part. While Asia has more than its fair share of bad transportation, traveling in America isn’t usually joy-filled. Nit-picky security, long lines, stressed out people, delayed flights, traffic jams, endless road construction, getting lost…

As I walked through the Bangkok airport (the same one that held me captive for a couple of days/eternity last time I came through), I could really only think of two truly good travel experiences.

First, there was that one good plane flight with Kevin a couple of years back. That was one of the few times I wasn’t eager to just “get there” (and only partly because I was dreading China). It was the *significant* one where we really connected and then ended up getting married, so I’d have to say that was worth it.

Second, although chronologically earlier, a college road trip with friends. We got lost, pulled over by a cop, and almost smashed by a semi, but it was still fun. We laughed and talked and listened to Dixie Chicks for eight hours. I guess traveling with a group of friends makes things better. Except that some of my worst ever travel experiences were also with friends. Hmm.

Since my travel experiences seem to be generally bad regardless of the mode of travel, where I am or who I’m with, I am sensing one common denominator. That would be me. I am not a good traveler. I’m a destination kind of person. The Hanings, my past teammates, described our sort of travel mode as the brain shutting down to the lowest possible functioning level and focusing on the goal: arrival.

And yet. I still travel a lot. I guess that’s because most of the time it’s worth it. Seeing family, seeing friends, visiting students, skipping out on winter to spend a month in Thailand. So now I'm sitting in Chiang Mai, listening to the birds chirping, feeling the cool breeze, looking out on the lush green trees, with practically no plans for the next two weeks. Getting there was a pain. Here is my new slogan proposal: "Being there makes the rest worthwhile."

Monday, January 5, 2009

Wandering around Malaysia

by Ruth
Travel is always more difficult than it seems like it should be. This travel experience started out with our bus breaking down before we even got out of Weinan. I try not to be needlessly superstitious, but this didn’t seem like a good sign. Our flights to Malaysia went okay though, and twelve hours after walking into the Xian airport, bundled up in coats and scarves, we stepped off the plane into the warm Malaysian night. We had plenty of time to enjoy the night as we walked a few hundred yards across the tarmac to the actual terminal. The low cost flight obviously meant we didn’t get to use an actual gate.

I had spent hours looking up information on Kuala Lumpur so we would know where to stay, what to see, and how to get around. After losing the papers where I had written all the information, I spent several more hours looking up more information. Unfortunately, at least half of it wasn’t useful and I left out a lot of things we really needed to know.

First of all, we found out that we had arrived at the “low cost terminal” which was 20km from the rest of the airport (where the train we were planning to take was located). So instead, we sat around in a bus until it filled up and took us to the city. Once we got to the city, when we wanted to take a taxi to our hotel, we realized we didn’t have any idea how much taxis should cost. (They have meters but don’t seem to use them, and one taxi driver told us he could also make the meter run extra fast and cheat you that way.) We finally got to the hotel at 10pm, having eaten very little in the past 12 hours. We were thrilled to find that the Subway conveniently located in the hotel was still open.
We spent most of the first day in our hotel room, very small and only a small sidewalk away from a busy six-lane road – but clean and cheap! After venturing out for lunch I decided I was feeling too sick to stand any longer. The second day I was feeling somewhat better, and now I am okay. My health hasn’t necessarily made traveling easier, however.
We went up this big telecommunication tower (the 4th tallest in the world) to look over the city. Kuala Lumpur is a pretty nice city. It has a lot of interesting architecture, lots of trees, and is surrounded by mountains. The city is also very diverse. Every where we go, we see Muslims, Hindus, Chinese, Indians, and Westerners. Many women wear headscarves and long sleeves. Some wear saris and have “the Hindu dot” (really can’t remember what that’s called) on their foreheads. Some of the public transit stations have prayer rooms. We have seen several mosques, a number of Buddhist spirit houses, and yesterday went to visit a Hindu cave-temple.
Despite all the public transportation, getting around has been quite difficult. Last night we walked all around an area that was supposed to have street food and never found it. Today we tried to go to a rainforest preserve. First, we took two different trains to the outside of town. When we got off, were in the middle of nowhere – not rainforest nowhere, but industrial nowhere. This was the first time we really got stared at for being foreigners. On the map, it really looked like this rainforest place was just off the train stop. After walking and walking and walking through a maze of little streets in midday, tropical sun, we were totally lost and confused. Finally, a kindly McDonalds employee helped us out. He drew a little map and told us to take a taxi since we were still 5km away. The taxi dropped us off at the gate of the Forest Research Institute…and then we walked and walked and walked up hilly roads in the midday, tropical sun. We passed rainforest signs and saw forested areas in the distance but never could find where we were supposed to be going. Finally, exhausted and dehydrated, we turned around and walked back, mosquitoes feasting on our sweaty legs. I still don’t know what we were actually looking for or why it was so hard to find. So our last day in Malaysia basically consisted of walking around for hours and hours in the hot sun and finding nothing. But then tonight we found a Dunkin Donuts, so that makes things a little better, right? :)

Tomorrow our taxi is arriving at 3:45am to take us to the airport. The taxi will cost about as much as the flight (which was pretty darn cheap), and will probably take about as long. Be the time morning hits for real, we’ll be in Cambodia. Malaysia hasn’t been all bad, but hopefully Cambodia will be a little bit easier…

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Southern Migration

By Ruth
And we're off! In half an hour, (hopefully) we will have started our migration to warmer climates. By tomorrow evening we'll be close to the equator. We'll probably be sweating. It's gonna be great.
First we are going to spend three days in Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), then six days in Cambodia (Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat is, and then Phnom Pehn, visiting some friends), and then we will head to Thailand. So that gives us five flights, two buses, and four countries in the next 10 days. It'll be a little busy, but it should be really interesting too. We'll be adding two new countries to the list!
We'll be in Thailand for the remainder of the trip. Kevin will be taking classes for two weeks in Chiang Mai while I hang out and *technically* get a lot of work done on my distance learning class. By the pool or in a little coffee shop or sipping a coconut smoothy. :) We will have our conference in Chiang Mai also, and then head down to the beach for a few days.
We should have internet for a lot of the time (especially the part when we aren't traveling insessantly), so we should be able to put up some updates. In fact, if I am hanging out in Thailand trying to avoid grad work, you might get a lot of posts from me! And we'll try to put up pictures of the cool places we get to see as well.
I love having a job that allows me to spend the entire month of January in a warm climate. If I didn't get to live my life, I think I would envy myself.