Enchantment of Chiang Mai

I stared out at the open night with the wind brushing my hair back. My hands clasped onto the metal ladder that was attached at the back of the song teow. The signs, sights, and sounds are familiar to me. The sound of the motos. The horns. The sights of the flashes of lights. The smell of exhaust, people, and rice fields. Three months of living in the place of my dreams has brought a love and an awe for the city of Chiang Mai. I remember first arriving with bright eyes and wonderment. I still have the same bright eyes, the same wonderment, but something more has stirred inside of me. Before leaving Thailand, a friend asked me what I was looking for in going. At the time I was not sure, but I feel closer to being able to answer that question. I was looking for adventure. For laughter. For heartache. For learning. For a dream realized. And realization if the world was what I thought it was. I have had the wonderful experience of it all, and it has surpassed all I thought it would be. Hanging off the back of the song teow headed home,  I could not help the smile. I felt completely myself. Completely alive. Completely humbled. And in awe.

I have continually contemplated why so many people are enchanted with Chiang Mai. I have come to the conclusion that the awe comes from the fact that the city changes. It looks wildly different during the day as opposed to at night. During the day the shops are open and the streets are calmer, but at night the city is bustling and on many nights there are markets. If there is a festival, then the city once again changes. The only consistency is the signs that are on the second story of buildings and familiar landmarks. It has taken me three months to understand the city, and even still there are things I have not yet figured out. It is a magical city that has captured my heart. Even past the brokenness it experiences, it still awakes the soul. The crowds are not overwhelming to me, the sounds are not too loud, and the sights are a joy. Being on my own adventure here has forced me to be less fearful in cities, which in turn gives me strength in returning home. I remember I used to hate Portland when I was in High School. Too many people, noises, and scary happenings. When entering college, I found a new love for the city and it’s people. A couple weekends ago we made a border run to Myanmar. My first time crossing over into Burma before, I was afraid of the homeless and poor people. Perhaps out of shame of my wealth or the uneasy feeling of what could happen if I engaged in conversation. I know that part of that fear comes from being a girl and growing up near a major city. I have been trained not to engage with strangers to keep me safe. Those same thoughts ran through my head as I crossed into Burma, but something changed in me. I smiled at the old lady sitting on the ground and greeted her. I honestly shocked myself in this action. And I noticed I kept doing it. I made eye contact with almost every person on the ground asking for money I saw. Knowing that I did not necessarily have to engage in conversation (probably could not anyways cause of the language barrier), nor did I have to put myself in a possible dangerous situation. I just smiled and recognized their humanity. Perhaps that is a problem I now truly understand. In our Bible Study called Owning Poverty, we delve into some of the issues and types of poverty. Lack of self-worth plays a large role in poverty, even amongst people who have money. It is poverty of self. I see it happen on the streets in cities, we walk by and turn away. Unsure of what to do, or perhaps fearful. Now I look and recognize their humanity. I wonder how things will change when I return to Portland. Will I look away out of habit? Or will I acknowledge humanity?

The week consisted of class, productive homework time, singing, and delicious food. I also constructed a prototype vest just out of fabric, which everyone was impressed with. I am surprised how simple clothes can be and how much one can do with fabric. It inspired me to make more of my own clothing. And who knew you could sew two scarves together just to make a poncho, or to turn a long skirt into a dress, robe, or blanket! I am amazed by the creativity here!

My wrists and elbows are doing a little better, but get bumped a bit when going to the city. It is not nearly as painful as it was, but I just have to stop using my arm, which proves to be difficult. I did not realize how much I do with my right hand. Thank you everyone for your prayers and advice!


Bethany Jane


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