Tag Archives: Bangkok

12 Hours Off

My last day, I met up with a friend for a quick lunch before heading to the airport. My flight left at 6 pm. Or so I thought. 

Turns out, in my eagerness to leave Bangkok, I somehow confused the times. I didn’t leave till 6 am the next day. 

Which left me a whole night with no place to go and three huge suitcases. 

Thankfully, I made this discovery at lunch and my friend kindly offered to let me crash at her apartment. Thailand, as per usual, was not going to let me go without a traffic jam. We hailed a taxi for the 40 minute trip to her apartment…

And arrived 3 hours later. 

It ended up working out, however. My friend helped me repack my suitcases and we watched movies and walked around her local mall. She was flying out a week later also to move back home to the U.S. so it was a day of goodbyes for both of us. 

I made it to the airport by 2 am and managed to stay awake till I boarded my flight.

It all feels very symbolic, in a way. I showed up too early. A friend reached out her hand and helped pull me out of my confusion and anxiety. Traffic made things messy. It all worked out in the end. 

And that it did. It all worked out in the end. 

Church Family

Especially lately, I often feel like my frustrations with Thailand keep snowballing into bigger and bigger drama where I just throw up my hands up in exasperation and count the days till I get to go home. But you know, there is one area where I have no frustration and only gratitude. One area I probably don’t talk about enough on this blog: my church family. 

I am so grateful for my spiritual family at Calvary Baptist Church in Bangkok. They’ve been my strength, support, and encouragement this semester. From opening my eyes to the plights of the countless refugees in Thailand to filling my Wednesday night with laughter and fellowship, this church has served as a rock in an often stormy and confusing environment. 

I’m often inclined to make sweeping statements like, “I only have 3 friends in Bangkok.” Which is true if I look at the students I connected with at school. But if you look at the people I see every Sunday and Wednesday, the people I talk and laugh and eat with, the people who get me out of my apartment and out of my head, I must have easily 3 dozen friends!

I have friends from the Philippines, from Vietnam, from China, from Japan, from Australia. Friends from the U.S. and, yes, even from Thailand! I am so blessed to have had these last three months with them. I will miss their fellowship more than anything when I leave. 

It is easy for me to focus on the negatives: a taxi driver who ripped me off, a class presentation gone wrong, the perpetual stink of sewer in the air. But woven throughout my experience this semester, God’s love came pouring out through His church. I cannot imagine this experience out them. And I cannot wait for the day when every tongue, every tribe, and every nation will gather and we will experience even better fellowship for all eternity. 

First & Last Day of Class

First Day of Class:

A Monday. Class does not start till 2 pm but I show up at 9 am because I do not know where I am going. Orientation the week before did not include a tour. I wander around for over an hour before I finally get pointed in the right direction. I end up eating a chicken sandwich from a food stand nearby because I do not understand how the cafeteria (excuse me, canteen) works; yet another thing orientation did not cover. 

The class before mine runs late. Then the professor stays and chats with students. At 1:30, I impatiently walk in and sit down anyway. The professor in the class before me turns and includes me in the conversation. Air quality. Better wear a face mask. 

1:40 rolls around and I am the only person in the classroom.

1:50 and still no other students. 

2:00 and the cleaning lady comes in and starts shutting everything down. She turns off the computer and begins wiping down desks. I ask her if the class was moved. She doesn’t speak English. 

2:05 and the professor walks in. He is surprised to see only me. He gets the cleaning lady who is also apparently the tech woman to turn the computer back on. We wait. 

2:30 and no other students. He decides to start the lecture anyway. We wrap up without anyone joining us. 

We meet the next week but he informs me the school decided to cancel the course due to lack of interest. I feel rather bummed. I was really looking forward to Law of the Sea. 

Last Day of Class:

A Saturday. Since March began, I have had makeup classes almost every Saturday. For this one, the professor assigned us group presentations.

We had a month to prep, but my group started working Wednesday night. It involved a group phone call where we divided up the work and I had to keep reminding everyone to speak English since I don’t know Thai. As it was, they spent 50 of the 60 minute call in Thai. 

Class begins at 9:30. My group mates want to arrive at 8:45 to practice. I show up at 9:20. We are still missing nearly half our group. The professor punctually shows up at 9:30 and wants to kick things off. Unfortunately, all of the groups presenting are missing members. 

We wait nearly an hour. 

The professor asks if we have any questions. We don’t. He sits scrolling through his phone. My group is still missing a member. This happened the last time we did a group presentation with the exact same person. 

The professor asks if anyone will do the presentation without their missing group member. I’m all for volunteering us. Not like our missing member actually did much work anyway. Plus, his usual style involves reading straight from the slides. Any of us can do that! 

But my group members are made of kinder stuff than me. They worry that presenting without him means he will not get a good grade. I think that sounds brilliant. Maybe next time he will show up on time. 

Eventually, someone walks in and the first group gets up to present. The professor announces he will interrupt with questions, so instead of 15 minutes, they can present for 30.

They present for 50 minutes. 

During that time, our missing group member strolls in. We present and manage to keep it around 30 minutes. During both presentations, the professor frequently looks bored and scrolls through his phone. 

The third group goes up to present. By this point, I’ve mentally checked out and all but pulled out my coloring book. Everyone around me stares at their phone or computer. The group fumbles around for about 40 minutes, laughing at their own mistakes and forgetting who to pass the mic to. Every now and then the professor glances incredulously across the room, as if to say, ‘Y’all saw that too, right?

We end 30 minutes early. The professor pauses to remind us about a take home test. It is the first I am hearing about this, and I suspect the first my classmates are too. Apparently he sent it to the office but they forgot to forward it to us. In acknowledgement, the professor offers to push the deadline back from May 31st to June 15. I now understand why it takes forever to get final grades. 

Instead of chicken, I take a 40 minute bus ride to get Domino’s Pizza for lunch. My resolution to eat only Thai food while in Thailand lasted until March. Still, not even deep dish pepperoni satisfies my craving for food from home. I swear Thailand has never heard of tomato sauce. WHY does all pizza here come with a weird sauce? 

I have finals over the next two weeks (at least, of the finals I know about) but I, for one, am grateful to be done with the classes portion of this semester. I’d say we’re not ending on a positive note but in truth I’m not sure we ever found one. 

Hello Kitty House and Songkran

The Songkran festival is the Buddhist New Year and everyone goes around spraying everyone else with water. My friend flew in to visit and it coincided with the last day of the festival. The good news? She got to experience all the joys of being splashed with water wherever she went. The bad news? Almost all the themed cafes she wanted to visit were closed for the holiday. (RIP Mermaid Cafe)

Thankfully, the Hello Kitty House did not disappoint! It was…quite an experience. I am not anti-girly girl. Far from it. But even I started feeling vaguely ill after spending more than five minutes around all that pink. (Actually, it might also have been a reaction to how sugary everything was.) 

It was an experience. 

But if Hello Kitty is your friend’s thing, you go to the Hello Kitty themed cafe!

Kaylie Comes To Thailand

Meet Kaylie. 

Image may contain: Kaylie Staggs and Amy Buchmeyer, people smiling, sky, mountain, cloud, sunglasses, hat, outdoor, nature, closeup and water

She is my supppppeeeerrrrr awesome friend who traveled all the way to Thailand to visit me! 

We’ve been friends since our freshman year of college when we discovered we were the only two Midwesterners on our floor–and basically in our entire graduating class. (Michigan and Wisconsin!)  

Image may contain: 2 people

I stood up in wedding last year. (Of which there is almost no photographic evidence??)

And she in turn came to visit me this past month! We spent a day in Bangkok enjoying the Songkran Festival and then flew to Krabi. It was gorgeous. 

Prepare for lots of amazing photos. 

I had the most amazing time playing tourist and I’m so grateful for a friend willing and able to drop everything and join me! It was a little taste of home to get me through my remaining weeks here in Thailand. 

The Little Things

My first two months living abroad were an exercise in powerlessness. By powerlessness, I mean the feeling of “I don’t know what to do.” Everything around me came with a learning curve. Transportation, food, working the air conditioning…literally all of it took effort. But over time, I mastered them. And then I moved on to the next set of challenges: developing a social life. It took a while. Again, though, I eventually made friends and found a church and braved the masses playing tourist. The last two months I feel like I really hit my swing.

But there are days like today when the last four months rewind and I feel powerless again.  When that happens, I’m generally not in a situation where you would expect powerlessness. I did not lose my debit card or miss my bus stop and end up on the outskirts of Bangkok again. I am not battling with hundreds of people to get my visa renewed. No, I feel powerless because all the little things keep adding up and I finally crack. 

Little things like:

  • My bus to school costs 14 baht instead of 13 baht. And I do not know why. Did it change permanently? Is it because I’m riding on a Thursday? Or because I’m riding ten minutes later than I normally do? Was I just taken advantage of? It is the same distance. The same bus. The same commuters. But some days I’m charged 13 baht and some days 14 and sometimes even 15. And I cannot find the pattern, the rhyme or reason. A tiny thing in the big picture, but then…
  • My professor absent-mindedly starts speaking Thai, or shows a slide in Thai, or tells us “since you all took Thai Civil Procedure, I will not spend any time on this part.” But of course I have not taken Thai Civil Procedure. I do not know Thai. I feel like I am missing something critical. Maybe a classmate sees my confused face and leans over to translate. Maybe the professor apologizes and explains to me. Or maybe I am just left in the dark. A little thing, but for a few moments I feel helpless and like I am missing something critical. I feel like a failure for not grasping the subject. 
  • My school cancels class. Again. Or schedules a make-up class with less than 24 hours notice. Suddenly, I’m scrambling to remember what is going on and where I am supposed to be. Chances are I have a class conflict. Then I’m wondering which course I should attend and if someone will grab notes for me in the other one. I feel like a terrible student but I do not know what to do. I cannot be in two places at once. I haven’t been to Fundamental Rights in 5 weeks. I’m a failure. 
  • The convenience store lacks whatever I am looking for. I cannot find the pattern for when they carry certain things and when they don’t. Some days the store overflows with food. Some days the shelves look bare. Some days I can find cake; some days they carry Oreos. But then the next month they do not carry either. Such a weird thing to leave me feeling unstable, but I do feel unstable. I am used to stores running out, but I am not used to stores not quickly replenishing their stock when they do. Or, you know, not ever carrying that thing again. Imagine a Wal Greens where the snack options randomly disappear and reappear every few months and only endless rows of dried seaweed and ramen stayed the same. But you have no explanation for why. It just is.

In the big scheme of things, none of these things matter much. An additional class, an extra baht, one less day with chips. But added together, these little moments of powerlessness add up. I cannot find the pattern. I cannot accomplish the thing. Panic sets in. And even though it is just momentary panic, add enough of them together and I feel a bit like a pin ball machine. 

Then add extreme heat, humidity, millions of other humans, and taxi drivers with a perchance for charging you triple the actual price and I start thinking nostalgically of the misery that was my schedule last semester. 

My friend, Ginnie, sent me a quote from a book she is reading and I love the way it sums up the emotion (albeit of Vietnam, not Thailand specifically): 

“Because life in Vietnam is one body-crushing, must-do, crowd-throbbing, mind-heavy, event after another. It takes all my energy just to react.” Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

All my energy just to react. Welcome to life abroad in Asia. 

Walking in the Sun

If I am walking down a half-shaded sidewalk, I will walk on the sunny part. If someone whips out an umbrella to use as a sun shade, I will politely decline. If waiting for the bus, I will avoid the shade of the tree. 

I do not know if it is an Amy thing, or a non-Asian thing, or an American thing, but it keeps happening and my friends here keep commenting: I gravitate towards the sun.

Partially, I think the reason is that I take other steps to avoid the sun. I wear floppy hats and sunglasses and long sleeves. I look like I have a sun allergy half the time. I might as well enjoy my protection. 

Partially, I think my Asian friends avoid the sun because they want to avoid getting tan. I have no fear of tanning. I mean, I burn. And, yeah, lobster red is not my favorite color. But I know at the end of the day it will fade and I will go back to pasty white. So, I do not fear the consequences of the sun (outside of a general fear of skin cancer, of course, but I doubt standing under a tree will help me much there.)

Partially, I think I gravitate towards the sunny areas because no one else is standing in them. There are so many people in Bangkok. If I see a square foot without another human being, I’m going to go stand in it. Because why not? 

Partially, however, I think I gravitate to the sun because…why not? Maybe I do not know better. I have managed to avoid bad sunburns. And while it has been warm, only recently have the temperatures consistently reached three digits. (Plus, once again, I doubt being under a tree will help much when it is 101 degrees with 70% humidity.)

But whatever the reason, it is noticeable enough for people to comment on my weird affection for the light!

(Joke is on them because as a redhead I need less vitamin D and will therefore survive longer when the apocalypse hits and we all hide in basement bunkers.)

The Trip Back From Mae Sot

Of course, even the best laid plans go awry and our trip back from Mae Sot proved no different! After another adventure plunging down the mountain in the back of a truck, we headed to the bus stop…only to find out there were no more seats available on the bus to Bangkok! We were told to grab a bus to a different providence, with the possibility that we could get tickets to Bangkok from there. 

So we got on a bus to Tak province. 

Unlike our bus ride to Mae Sot, however, this was not a smooth ride. The police kept pulling the bus over. Or maybe they pulled everyone over. I’m not sure. All I know is that every hour or so, the bus got pulled over and everyone had to bring out their passports and show their visa to the masked cop. 

It interrupted any attempts on my part to nap and put me in a very ill humor with the Thai police. 

Not that they actually showed much concern for me. In fact, compared to my friends, I barely got any notice from the police. One glance at my white skin (or even worse, syllable from my English speaking mouth!) would send them hurrying away. But the others underwent stricter scrutiny. Thailand is a very racial system. 

While sitting on the bus, one of the attendants walking around asked who wanted to go to Bangkok. (At least, I assume she asked that. Thankfully, some family/friends of Mae Sod’s were also traveling to Bangkok and able to translate a little.) We said we wished to go and the lady demanded a certain sum of money. She then scribbled on a piece of paper and told us to present it at the bus stop!

It was not the most formal way to transfer buses, but thankfully it worked. Once we arrived at our destination, they whisked us onto the next bus to Bangkok. We got back around midnight. 

By this point, neither Mae Sod or I had working phones. No buses run that late. We decided to bite the bullet and take a taxi. With great trepidation, we got into the one hailed for us. Our last driver made us fear for our lives. This one…was absolutely a gem!

He spoke very little English but cheerfully did his best to maintain a conversation. “Thailand very hot! You try food? Is spicy?” 

We originally planned to drop her off first and then have me either stay the night or hail another taxi. However, we liked our driver so much we asked if he would be willing to take a “second” trip. He did not know my address, but thankfully I could direct him from that point. He was definitely an answer to our desperate prayers! 

An Inauspicious Beginning

For an amazing trip, my journey to Mae Sot did not start out amazingly! In fact, it started with me losing my debit card.

More precisely, I must have lost my debit card about a week earlier. That’s the last time I remember having it. Almost everything here runs on cash. Accordingly, I spent the hours before my trip slightly panicking and trying to leave a list of instructions with my groggy Mom before getting on a bus and potentially losing data connectivity. 

My Mom, however, was amazing ❤ ❤ ❤ and got it all sorted out for me. I still did not think I would be able to make it on the trip but my friend offered to lend me the money to make the trip happen. I am eternally grateful to both of them.

Mae Sod and I then jumped in a taxi to head to the bus stop. Except our taxi driver did not know what he was doing. That’s the kindest spin I can put on it. Since we were using the Grab app, he did not get extra money for going out of his way, so I’m not sure why he could not seem to find the right road. I did, however, wonder a time or two if we were going to get murdered. He kept going down dark roads under construction. (In his defense, that might be the only way to get to the bus stop. And every road seems sketchy at night.)

We arrived at the bus stop much later than expected and met up with Phuc and Sunny. And then we began to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

There was a delay, of course. This is Thailand. But we sat at the spot our tickets told us to for over an hour waiting. Thankfully, my friends started chatting with a fellow passenger also headed to Mae Sot and he somehow knew when our bus came in. As it was a spot several rows away from where our tickets said to go, I do not know how anyone found it. I certainly do not know how we would have found it without him!

I am afraid I did not take this delay with much grace. You see, I like sleep. I consider 8 hours a night barley tolerable. 9 hours is necessary. 10 slightly extravagant but occasionally necessary. To achieve this, I go to bed by 10 pm. Back home, I promptly fall asleep within seconds. Here it sometimes takes me as long as fifteen minutes, which is certainly irksome. But overall, I embrace my superhero like ability to fall asleep almost instantly anywhere. 

Our bus originally left after 10 and actually left closer to midnight. As you can imagine, I went from “sleepy” to “overtired toddler” mode in record time. It also did not help that we waited in the steamy, hot bus terminal packed with people You could hardly move without bumping into someone. Every time a bus needed to back out, it sent people scurrying into one another while dragging boxes and bags out of the way of the bus! Too many people, far too humid, and no sleep: a combination I never want to meet again. 

Thankfully, I quickly crashed on the bus!

None of Them Speak Thai

It sounds like the start of a joke: a Vietnamese, a Chinese, a Burmese, and an American travel to Northern Thailand. 

None of them speak Thai.

And yet, that is precisely what my friends and I did last weekend! Though to be fair, only I spoke no Thai. (Despite much coaching by everyone, I have yet master ‘hello’ or ‘thank you.’) The others could ask a few basic questions. But all things considered, we traveled with a language barrier. 

The next few days I will post a bit about our trip, but first let me introduce the characters:

Mae Sod. She studies with me at Thammasat University, though in a different department. We met on the Lampang trip and became friends when she asked if I wanted to join her at church. She is Karen and was raised in a refugee camp here in Thailand, but her family later moved to the United States where she became a U.S. citizen. We visited her relatives at Mae Sot. She is smart and super kind! She loves Jesus and encourages me with her calm reminders to pray in stressful situations. 

Phuc. He is Vietnamese and attends a different university here in Thailand. He speaks several different languages – including Mandarin, English, and Italian – and loves his WiFi. This posed a problem as the village we visited had only limited access to WiFi! We all met at church and his zeal for the Lord is evident in everything he does. 

Sunny. She is Chinese and a classmate of Phuc’s. She also attends church with us! Her sweet smile and kind heart makes every moment around her a joy. Even when her English fails, her love for the Lord shines through! 

Amy. Me! Slightly clueless but (hopefully) good natured American who loved almost every moment of the trip and really appreciated the passion and joy of her travel buddies!