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Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Mien Wedding

 The Milagros Sponsorship Program run by Mekong Minority Foundation works by providing scholarships to minority hill tribe students to go to school from eighth grade through graduation from University.  It is a great program which enables young people to get a good education when they otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity.

This past Saturday morning, Bluak, a young man in the program from the Mien tribe, was married.  The wedding was held in the open-air dining room of a resort with a central pond surrounded by grass and small bungalows.

The bride and groom in traditional Mien clothing.
Now, to be fair, I've been to plenty of church services and other events here to know how things generally operate.  Kids run down the halls.  Cellphones ring, and are answered and talked on in the midst of the service.  (Generally with a hand covering the talker's mouth to be "polite".)  People moving around, getting a drink of water, going to the bathroom.  But I have to say, even this was a little bewildering for me.

When we arrived just a couple of minutes before the ceremony was set to start, the dining room was still relatively empty and we chose a table near the front.  Not to worry, we had plenty of time to enjoy the ice water and pork rinds waiting for us there before the ceremony actually did begin.  A lady was playing hymns on the keyboard and the MC was talking non-stop into the microphone the whole time.

Once the ceremony did start, the only change was that the bride and groom were up on stage.  People still talking and walking around.  Waitresses in t-shirts and cut-off jeans refilling ice buckets.  Liters of pop were brought out to all the tables mid-way through and the sharp hiss of a newly opened bottle could be heard periodically throughout the room.

The dining room during the ceremony.  Notice the wrapped headpieces the Mien women are wearing in the back row.
My table during the ceremony.
Not even their parents (who were the only ones facing forward for this event) stayed put.  During one part of the ceremony, the bride and groom came and knelt in front of each of the parents, touching their feet as a sign of respect and presenting them with a garland.  The bride's father was just returning to his seat as the new couple arrived at his chair.

Granny even got in on the action.  At one point during the pastor's message, the groom's granny came up to the base of the stage, beckoned him to come over and kneel down so she could whisper something to him before she turned and walked out of the room.  I think she must have asked him to do something for her by  the conflicted expression on his face, but the MC waved his friend back into position as he went off to do the errand himself.

I just giggled to myself and had another sip of icy orange soda.

All in all, it was a wonderful event, and our group was even honored with a picture on stage with the newly wedded couple (but not until Granny had all the family pictures she wanted).

Granny in the front wearing the white skirt.  All the Aunties off to the side.

At the end, we stayed at our tables and had a delicious six-course feast while the bride and groom visited each table and hand-delivered a commemorative key chain to every guest.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Thing About Culture Shock

is that it is so shocking.  It always takes me by surprise.  Just going about the day, minding my own business, and  wham, it hits.  Like a train.

The experts say that people living overseas go through stages of adjustment to their new culture.  In the first stage, everything is an adventure: buying soup in a bag on the street, navigating the city, intelligibly asking the price of some unknown fruit and getting an intelligible response, and being able to pull out the right amount of colorful bills and coins to pay for it.

About 6 months in, some of the newness burns off and culture shock sets in.  I guess I'm right on schedule.

The train hit me the other day as I pulled up to a red light.  According to the traffic timer, it took 126 seconds of waiting for green for me to transition from placidly taking in the views on my way to Thai class to simmering irritation that the basis of the Thai road system is built on U-turns, which is why only one lane of traffic is able to go at a time.  The turning lane is so full of cars needing to U-turn that oncoming traffic must wait at a red light.  Hence, at a 4 way intersection, each light is red 3 times longer than it is green.  Seriously?  Is this really the best method?

When the light turned green, three dozen vehicles in a spectrum of shapes, sizes and degrees of wear sputtered back to life as their owners ground into first gear.  Then the inevitable long pause just a couple of seconds later as those gearshifts were jammed down into second.  Black exhaust plumed out of a large truck loaded down with old plastic for recycling as it inched forward in front of me.  A string of vehicles that had begun using the shoulder as a third lane of traffic (to circumvent the long lines already waiting at the light) aggressively cut into my lane between the motorcycles whizzing around us.

In the end, I made it to the intersection just as the light clicked back to red and I felt the timer smirk down at me as it restarted its countdown at 126 seconds.  The irritation was still there, but laced with a distinct feeling of tiredness over the surprise I still feel when a scenario like this takes place, even though it happens several times every day.  Longing for the familiar - where reality meets my expectations.

In the end, culture shock is just a phase, too.  So for now, I'll use each of those 126 seconds to remind myself of all the things I love about Thailand, and just plan to leave home a little earlier in the morning.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Deep Waters

See the streams of living waters,
springing from eternal love,
well supply thy sons and daughters,
and all fear of want remove.
Who can faint while such a river
ever while their thirst t'assuage?
Grace which like the Lord, the Giver,
never fails from age to age.
~John Newton

"...but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers."                
Psalm 1:2-3