Thailand trip blog 2022

Management student group photo with President Manickam in Thailand

Journal Entry, Days 1 and 2

Friday-Saturday, 8-9 April 2022
By Luke Allison

Hey everybody! Luke Allison from Freeman, S.D., here. This is the inaugural blog post for the Birch Cohort as we begin our 3-week business expedition into Thailand! These travel days are sort of blending together, and a wee bit of time travel is involved in our trip, so bear with me as I try to roughly recount one of the longest (but one of the best) days of my life. The day of our journey begins with us meeting on Hesston College campus at 4 AM on Friday. Our lovely sleep-deprived group began our journey with an energetic and enthusiastic ride to the Wichita airport. From there we flew to Denver in an hour and got a time zone shift along the way. From Denver, we moved on to that beautiful city of Los Angeles full of famous people. President Joe had kept us rather in the dark about the details of what we were going to be doing for the day we were spending in the City of Angels, and now I understand why because if he had told us, I am not sure we would have believed him. What we did know, was that an alumni named Mark Troyer from Hesston way back in 1956 was now living in LA and was going to be taking care of us while we were in his town. And take care of us he did.

Mark is the manager for Johnny Mathis, you know, the crooner from the last century? So not only was Mark able to show us extremely generous hospitality, but he was also able to share some of his experiences and connections in Hollywood over the past 55 years. As we exited LAX to look for Mark, we were led to believe that we were taking two vans, one for our luggage and another for moving us, so when a limo pulled up in front of Mark we thought “Oh cool a limo! I wonder who that’s for?” But as the well-dressed driver stepped out and shook Mark and Joe’s hands, and introduced himself as Eduardo, we came to realize that MARK HAD GOTTEN US A LIMO! So we began our one-day tour of LA in style, piling into the Limo, queuing up every Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Surfing, California-related song we knew, hitting the Limo disco lights, and grooving our way through town. Our first stop was Hollywood Boulevard and the Walk of Stars. We visited the Dolby Theater, where those ever so popular and sensational and definitely not creatively bankrupt Academy Awards happen every year. Mark informed us that he used to be a regular attendee of the Academy Awards! He described himself as a guy who knows everybody there, but that not everybody there knows him. After having lunch Mel’s Drive-in restaurant where of course Arnold Schwarzenegger and Marylyn Monroe had eaten and had menu items named after them, we visited the Grauman’s Chinese Theater and saw the hand and footprints of Harrison Ford, the Avengers (Robert Downey Jr. just signed his RDJ), even R2D2 and C3PO! As the weather started to get hot, the limo swung back around, and we headed to Mark’s house in the Hollywood hills.

Mark’s house felt like it was straight out of a 70s Hollywood sitcom or movie. It was amazing, with fun and fantastic internationally inspired decoration and architecture choices everywhere. The front of the house was rather unassuming, but once inside, it was a different world, full of mirrors and awesome carpet. Walking out the other side of the house and into his backyard though, was like walking into a mountain jungle paradise. The view from his backyard was of the entire skyline of LA, in addition to parts of the Hollywood Hills, and the ocean! The way that the afternoon light sparkled off the traffic in LA made it look like the streets of the city were rivers of silver. Mark treated us to an astoundingly wonderful afternoon. We were greeted at Mark’s house by Mr. Kurt, our concierge for the day. Mr. Kurt would spend the day caring for us with immense graciousness and hospitality. Joining our group for a portion of the afternoon was Addalee, Dr. Digg’s (our Management prof from Hesston) granddaughter, and her family. Addalee is interested in attending Hesston College next fall! We spent time in Mark’s travel room, a room full of 200+ small flags representing the countries he has traveled to over the years. Mark has visited a total of 265 countries in his life so far, which included all of Africa, all of Europe, and many parts of the world. He told us some of his stories, and we shared about ourselves too. We were then treated to an astoundingly wonderful afternoon meal of cucumber-covered salmon, deviled eggs with caviar, and exquisite beef tenderloin. The meal was prepared by Chef Layne L. Sanden. Chef Sanden has also catered meals for Katy Perry, as it turned out. When we asked, he even pointed out to us from the backyard where she used to live in the hills, and it was just across the valley we were in! We spent the rest of the day resting at Mark’s house, enjoying Mr. Sanden’s food, Mr. Kurt’s hospitality, and the comfort of Mark’s deck and pool. It was a truly gobsmacking day.

At around 8:00 pm, we packed up, bid Mark, Kurt, and Layne adieu, and hopped back into the limo to get back to the airport. By now it has been a more than a 24-hour day for quite a few of us, but Mark delighted us so absolutely that we still managed to make it through TSA in a fairly good mood. We made it to our next flight, a 17-hour flight to Singapore on Singapore Airlines. Following a brief layover in Singapore, we took our final flight to Bangkok also on Singapore Airlines.

This has been a crazy, hectic, tiring last day and a half, but even so, I would choose to describe it as overwhelmingly and opulently hospitable and satisfying. The proper metaphor might be a full-day buffet of soul food and music. I am so excited that we are finally almost there! We’ve been building up to this experience for almost a year now, and it’s finally beginning! Here we go! I don’t have that many expectations other than to learn and enjoy a lot and grow even closer with my friends. Thank you for making it through this marathon of a day with me, and we Birches are looking forward to giving you more updates as we go along through this grand adventure! Have a fantastic Saturday for me, because when we crossed over the International Dateline in the pacific on our way to Singapore, we flashed forward one day to Sunday! See you guys on the other side!

Journal Entry, Day 2-3

Saturday-Sunday, 9-10 April 2022
By Rachel Weaver

“A day that doesn’t exist: April 9”

I woke up during the flight at 4:04 am at my current position over the Mariana Trench (the deepest ocean trench in the world), near Agana and Saipan Island. Meanwhile, the time in Singapore was 2:04 am on Sunday, April 10, while in Los Angeles, where we had recently departed, it was 11:04 am on April 9. We had crossed the International Date Line. During the flight, I kept trying to conceptualize our position in time but found myself giving up and letting the day be just that, a day that doesn’t exist. The sunset over the Los Angeles skyline was the last time we saw the light and ever since we’d been running away from the sun. While the world followed its strict perception of time, we pushed against it, flying backward to advance into a day not seen by the L.A. coast. By giving up a relative day in our lives, we hoped to gain experiences that would grant us lessons for a lifetime.

“Chrysanthemum Tea: April 10”

Upon arriving in Thailand, we were taken by a special COVID-19 van to a local hospital to be tested for the COVID-19 virus after which we were taken to a special COVID-19 hotel to be quarantined for until we tested negative for COVID-19. Within hours, it was confirmed that our entire group tested negative for COVID-19. Following a light supper served by the hotel to our rooms, the three women in our group, Romina, Kara, and I along with Acharn Joe (the Thai honorific for “Teacher Joe”) decided to go on an evening adventure to a Bangkok mall to get a local sim card for Acharn Joe’s phone. Walking along the lively community streets, we experienced the sounds of the local music and their most common mode of transportation: motorcycles. The humidity was a force to be reckoned with and with Acharn Joe walking at his usual brisk pace, it was even more daunting. With our stomachs full from the milk teas that we purchased at the mall’s food court, we walked back on the same road that brought us to our satisfied bellies. Just before we reached the hotel, Acharn Joe decided our evening wasn’t over and spontaneously decided that we needed to get massages at the small shop just down the road from our beds that we longed for. Despite our drowsiness, we decided a massage wouldn’t hurt our sore, swollen bodies. I was wrong. I was unaware of the pain I was about to endure from a Thai deep tissue massage but also how I would soon feel. The masseuse witnessed every wince of pain and every stubborn knot harbored in my shoulders that came from the intense flight that brought me to her. She used every part of her to get into every tense part of me, using her gift to alleviate my hidden ailments. After having her walk on my back and my back on her feet, flying me up in the air, we were given Chrysanthemum tea to reduce the inflammation we would have from our massage. Chrysanthemums, or Mums, are a familiar flower to me because of their appearance on every porch in my town in Virginia during autumn. How odd it felt to have this flower follow me to a place that would never experience Virginia, where I was born and raised for the majority of my life. At that moment, I felt immense appreciation for being in Thailand, a place that Virginia also would never experience but I myself and the Chrysanthemum flower get to indulge in both.

Journal Entry, Day 4

Monday, 11 April 2022
By Tobie Plett

Still adjusting to Thailand local time, I woke up at 3:30 am. With negative test results, we were free from quarantine so I went to work out and use the pool. Patrick and Jack joined me a short while after.

Joe and I went out to scope out potential breakfast places. We stopped at the local 7/11 to buy some local snack favorites. (Fun fact: did you know that in the city of Bangkok, which has a 16-mile radius, there are 1 7/11’s!). One of the incredible differences is in looking at ingredients for packed foods in Thailand vs back home. For the most part, these foods are without processed ingredients, bad sugars, or corn products.

For breakfast, we landed at a noodle restaurant in the street market. The bowls had only the freshest ingredients in addition to being massive. So big in fact, that none of us could finish, and all for a price of less than $2 a person.

We checked out of the quarantine hotel afterward and checked into the Bangkok Christian Guest House, where we will be staying for the next couple of days. We met with Pam and Shahnaz, former colleagues of Joe, and our guides for our trip. They provided us with more orientation on the do’s, don’ts, culture, language, and customs of Thailand.

In the evening we visited Cabbages and Condoms, a social enterprise promoting safe sex and family planning. The restaurant had condom-themed decor including condom lampshades, condom flowers at each table, and condom-themed art and mascots.

For our nightly shenanigans, we went to a massive mall in central Bangkok. 6 stories, with each floor themed after a major world city. We returned back to The Christian guest house using the Bangkok subway system. The subway system which was developed over 20 years ago was built under much skepticism from residents who doubted that underground transit could be developed considering the city already sits below sea level. It is, however, in my experience the nicest subway I have ever traveled on, beating the Chicago & NYC subway system, and the Vancouver sky train.

I finished the day dead tired, getting locked out of my hotel room and having to sit in the 90-degree hallway until my roommate Luke finally decided to open it. (Don’t worry, I forgive him). It was a fantastic first day interacting with the Thai culture and examining their economy through the lens of a customer.

Journal Entry, Day 5

Tuesday, 12 April 2022
By Patrick Hildabrand

On our first morning at the Bangkok Christian Guest House (BCGH), we met in the dining hall to eat a traditional Thai breakfast. The BCGH was serving a porridge that contained rice, pork, greens, and an egg, served hot and filled our stomachs. This porridge is said to be popular on days it pours rain.

The day’s first destination was to BlueKoff, a coffee company involved in the production and sales of coffee and coffee-related products. At BlueKoff, we met an inspiring young woman- NutRada Kunavivattananon (she goes by Noon), the CEO of BlueKoff for five years. Since she became CEO, the company’s market share grew twenty-five percent, and other big coffee companies have been attempting to buy the business. Noon and the owner/founder of the companies like the attention but have no interest in selling the business.

Noon had only praise for the owner because he refused to implement business strategies that disadvantaged smaller coffee shops. Something I admire about BlueKoff is the story about building the shop. BlueKoff bought a location owned by a failing mom-and-pop bakery. BlueKoff would move their bakery across the street as part of the purchasing deal, giving the shop more capital. BlueKoff being a specialty coffee shop, brings in customers to their door and area, providing more business to surrounding businesses, such as the bakery across the street. It was also important for BlueKoff that they do not operate their own bakery, thus taking business from their friends across the street. Noon is also excited for a 7-11 opening just down the road. Noon is also the president of the specialty coffee product association in Thailand. She has described her work as “cleaning all the mess.” She is fighting money allocation problems in the association. Noon is Thai and was born in Thailand, but 100% blood Chinese and comes from a Chinese background. Noon is also proud of her Tattoos on her skin but has a more difficult path because she is Chinese, female, and tattooed. Noon has accomplished far more than people her age. What stuck with me was that Noon claimed she could confidently say that she had to work four times harder because she is a young Chinese woman with tattoos in Thai culture. Some accomplishments Noon contributed during her time as CEO have been putting BlueKoff coffee in high-end supermarkets (but only their high-quality stuff), increasing BlueKoff’s staff by 20%, and making BlueKoff the most extensive specialty coffee shop in Thailand. What made BlueKoff a special place to visit was hearing the human struggles that Noon is/has been dealing with.

For lunch, we headed to Rama the sixth’s palace; the palace has been partially converted into a cafe. At the Cafe, we met the caretaker. Jack and I found him incredibly inspiring in the way he shared his motivational insights for inspiring business people. The main point that stuck out to me was that you have to work as hard as possible and never give up to accomplish your passion.

After a busy day, Acharn Joe took us to the streets of Bangkok and shared the history of Thai culture and what’s changed in the last decades. Today I was inspired by three people- Noon, who succeeded in finding a work-life balance after being disadvantaged; the cafe caretaker who followed his passion and is determined not to give up, and Joe Manickam, our Acharn (teacher) in Thailand.

Our day had one more surprise for Romina, whose birthday was today. To celebrate her birthday, we surprised her at the end of the day with cake and ate together. The cake had many different flavors and was weird; we all laughed together, shared the various slices, and talked about our trip.

Journal Entry, Day 6

Wednesday, 13 April 2022
By Kara Longenecker

We are halfway through the first week, and I feel like I’ve been gone for weeks, yet like I’ve also barely dipped my toes in the water. It’s a good feeling. 🙂

Today started out with Acharn Joe making us look like a bunch of American fools. As we made it down for breakfast, Acharn Joe told us to go up to the counter and ask for, “The Great American Breakfast”. So, Romina, Rachel, and I went up to the counter and did just that. Rachel said, “Can I please get three Great American Breakfasts?”. We sit down, and then Tobie does the same thing, “Can I get two Americans?”. At this one, Acharn Joe starts bursting out laughing. They only make one breakfast dish a day… Acharn Joe just wanted to mess with us. And I’ll give it to him, he got us good. Who put this guy as our leader anyway?! 😉

After that embarrassing, but tasty breakfast, we took the sky train to the Haroon Mosque, where we met Imam Thanarat at the visitor center. When he and Acharn Joe first saw each other, it was the sweetest greeting. An old friendship being reunited. Under their double masks, you could tell their smiles were as wide as they could go. They embraced in the tightest hug, and I just couldn’t help but watch in admiration as I held back my tears. It was so pure. Imam Thanarat then greeted us with the same kindness. He ordered food and drinks for us right away, and we ate a delicious meal inside the AC, which consisted of roti and pad thai. It was some of the best food I’ve had on this trip so far. As we ate, Imam Thanarat talked to us about Islam coming to Thailand, some of his background, and his business advice to us. I appreciated everything Imam Thanarat had to say, but what stuck out to me most during this experience was the kindness and hospitality I felt. We came to hear HIM speak, yet he ordered us a meal. He is fasting, as it is the season of Ramadan, yet he still ordered US food to eat in front of him. I have just been blown away on this trip by the amount of compassion I have been shown, when they know absolutely nothing about me. Thank you Imam Thanarat, for your words and your kindness.

After eating and talking for a while, we headed inside the Mosque, and I was in awe. It was gorgeous inside, but not in the fancy, elegant way. The beauty was in the different patterned and colored prayer rugs on the floor, the gold writing on the walls, and the calming, peaceful environment. As I stood in my bare feet between the vibrant rugs, I could feel that I was in a sacred space. Backing up a bit… When Romina and I first stepped into the Mosque, Imam Thanarat gave us a covering to wear because of our short sleeves. I felt very special to be wearing such a covering, and it really represented the importance of being respectful and covered up in a Mosque, no matter what I believe. We spent a good bit of time talking in the prayer room of the Mosque, but then Imam Thanarat had to get going, as a song ringed throughout the streets signaling prayer time.

Next was JoJo Coffee, where we met Khun Jo and Khun Oh. They provided a delicious, authentic Thai Muslim meal, and we just got to talk amongst ourselves and enjoy the afternoon. Khun Jo also had a really cool piece of technology that we played with, where you could adjust volume and pitch simply with the motion of your hand. He made this to prove that AI technology is something everyone can do, and I appreciated that. After resting our legs for a while, we walked to the pier and had a boat ride on the Chow Praya river. It was a beautiful day for a boat ride, and I really enjoyed looking at all the detailed architecture along the river. We also got to feed some HUGE fish at our stop before heading back. They devoured the bread, scrambling and pushing their way to the surface to get a bite. Then after riding the boat back, we had a bit of a walk to get to the sky train that would take us back to our hotel. The smell of flowers accompanied us on our walk, and we each got a jasmine flower necklace as a souvenir.

Once back at our hotel, we had a little bit of down time before our Thai massages in the evening. And not just any massage… a blind massage. We went to Perception Blind Massage, which is the social enterprise that Tobie researched for class. They are a company that employs blind people to give massages, as they are able to fully focus their sense of touch in a way others cannot. One of my favorite quotes I saw inside was, “The eyes are useless when the mind is blind”. With each careful push and knead, my body was thankful. All of us had a full body massage, which gave our tired, traveling bodies some needed relief. The woman I had was so sweet, and even though we did not say much to each other, I felt so cared for and loved by her in that hour of time. Thank you, Perception staff.

We then found some street food for dinner, got to hear more stories from Acharn Joe, and finished the evening by trying some Durian fruit. I have to be honest… I was not a huge fan, but I’m glad I tried it. 🙂

And there we have it, another full day under our belts. I am left feeling very full, with a full heart, mind, and stomach.

~ Kara Longenecker

Journal Entry, Day 7

Wednesday, 14 April 2022
By Romina Xhari

It’s the fourth day and it looks like we have been in Thailand for a month now, because of all our busy days filled with Thai culture and business learning.

On our fourth day in Thailand, we had breakfast in the guest house of rice and egg which was delicious. We had to leave the guest house at 9:00 to go and visit Roastology coffee House and meet the owner Khun Choa. He was a really nice man and we got a lot of good lessons from him. He talked about how important is to him to use local products because that’s what Thai people would mostly prefer. His wife also handcrafted an original fresh cola drink. They were really focused on doing the products themselves. Khun Choa had been in the coffee business for 10 years now and he has started 8 other businesses. He said that you should be prepared to fight alone and especially when you are starting up and then make sure you partner with the right people. He served us this amazing rose drink which was really refreshing and smelled so good. We all really enjoyed talking to him.

Then, unfortunately, our next enterprise which we were planning to visit was closed but at least we had the chance to go and see and touch some of their work. Folkcharm offers products with the right blend of contemporary living and traditional wisdom with the vision to grow a community of conscious consumers. They make sure that the material that they use is chemical-free, cotton farmers, hand-spinners, and hand weavers in the communities receive the fairest share in the process.

After that, we had to buy packed lunch and dinner for our overnight train ride later that evening. We had to pack and leave the guest house at 4:00. When we arrived at the train station with plenty of time. All the seats in the big hall waiting area were full so we sat on the floor in the middle of the hall. Once we boarded the train, each one of us found something to do to entertain ourselves. Kara, Luke, and I had our AirPods on and we were listening and dancing to the same music. Rachel spent some time on her own journaling and Patrick and Tobie spend some time on the laptop. After that, I went to sleep and also enjoyed the view from my window while falling asleep which was really calming.

Journal Entry, Day 10

Wednesday, 17 April 2022
By Tobie Plett

Happy Easter from Thailand! The morning started with another exquisite breakfast at our hotel. We left for Easter service at Sripanalai Church. We were greeted so warm-heartedly by Acharn Kung— who was our host for the day— and by others. The Church had a selection of Thai worship songs, a message, and prayer. We had the help of English translation Bibles (New Testament only) and hymn books as well as Joe’s translation of the message. One unique part of the service was the traditional Dum Hua celebration which was incorporated into the service. In this ceremony, younger people in the congregation present a gift to older members of the congregation asking for forgiveness for wrongs they may have committed in the past year. In return, the older member offers words of prayer and blessing to and for the younger. This is also a meaningful expression of deep honor and gratitude for the leadership and example of the older generation in the church continues to offer.

Following our morning service, we went to the Church basement to have lunch with Acharn Kung, her family, and other members of the congregation. Normally the Church celebrates with massive feasting where the whole Church attends. Instead, COVID restrictions forced members to hand out boxed meals for folks to take home.

Following the service, we visited the Church graveyard, where the church’s Easter Sunrise Service was held. Acharn Kung said that every Easter, outside Church tradition but in normal Thai tradition, they have a celebration of the dead, celebrating their eternal security with Christ.

We returned to the hotel for a rest day. I had actually felt quite empty this weekend being away from my home congregation and family for Good Friday and Easter. I was so grateful to be surrounded by my Christian brothers and sisters who remember and celebrate the risen Savior. And to see worship in another part of the world is very special, because of the same, awesome, infilling Holy Spirit that is shared among believers.

Journal Entry, Day 11

Wednesday, 18 April 2022
By Kara Longenecker

From Research to Reality

Today was a very special day for me, personally. And to start it all off, our missing piece finally arrived… DEBBIE!! She met us for breakfast at the hotel, and what a sweet reunion that was. Today we finally felt complete with her.

After breakfast and catching Debbie up on everything, we headed to meet Khun Lee. Khun Lee is the owner of Akha Ama Coffee, and he is the reason this day was so special for me. First, some background.

Before this trip, in our social entrepreneur class taught by Acharn Debbie, we were asked to research a social entrepreneur or social enterprise in Thailand and give a presentation on one of our choosing. Well, Akha Ama was what I decided to research, and getting to see Khun Lee and the Akha Ama facilities today was surreal. Back in Kansas, I did so much research on Khun Lee and his company, and to actually be in Thailand and see all of that today was more than inspiring. I was in awe. Khun Lee is the perfect definition of the kind of business owner I hope to be someday. His story is powerful, and the passion he continues to have today does not go unnoticed.

We first talked to Khun Lee in their factory where the coffee is roasted. He told us his personal story, the story about Akha Ama, and offered advice for us business majors. I think the main takeaway from Khun Lee is that it’s not just about the coffee. It’s about what he does WITH the coffee. How he saw this opportunity to use coffee as a way to educate, be sustainable, and grow his community. He found a way for his indigenous tribe (the Akha Tribe) to profit more fully from their labor through direct sale. As his coffee business is now successfully launched, he spends much of his time empowering and educating members of his community on sustainable coffee production. What a dream to have that same passion and motivation that Khun Lee so clearly has.

After talking with Khun Lee and asking lots of questions, we got a tour of the facility, which was in a beautiful environment that they have created. From the designs of the building to its eco-friendly coffee roaster, this place had a clear purpose: to educate and inspire. I think I can confidently say that we were all both.

Lunch was next, at Kao Soi Sa Mer Jai. I had one of my favorite dishes so far, Kow Soi, and then some coconut ice cream to wash out the spice. After lunch, we then went to visit one of Khun Lee’s Akha Ama Cafés in downtown Chiang Mai which was opened just seven days earlier. The café was architecturally designed to tell the story of the Akha people and their mountainous region. As we approached the café, the smell of coffee welcomed us right in. We met again with Khun Lee where we are able to ask deeper and more thoughtful questions. Khun Lee continued to inspire with every response.

Once we bought some coffee and said our goodbyes to Khun Lee, we headed on over to the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) location in Chiang Mai. Here we met the area directors and Khun Min, the office manager. From them, we learned about MCC, what they do, and even some programs we college students could join upon our graduation from Hesston College. It was cool to connect with them and learn more about the efforts that are happening right now through this branch office. They fed us a delicious dinner, and we then just got to relax and hang out for the evening. As the sunset and the cool wind rolled in, my heart was filled with contentment from the activities of the day.

What a dream today was. Khun Lee will forever be a motivating voice in my head. His drive and passion today really inspired me and confirmed for me why want to use this business degree for way more than just creating an income for myself. Thank you, Khun Lee, for being a living example of who I can only hope to be someday.

Journal Entry, Days 13 and 14

Wednesday, 22-23 April 2022
By Rachel Weaver

A Village Overnight stay at the Karen Village
After a night in the Karen village, I’ve challenged myself to withhold complaints. The long four-hour ride in the van promoted an ungrateful attitude towards the heat and the mosquitos attacking every inch of exposed skin, making me forget the privilege of being in Thailand in the first place. When our group arrived at our host family’s home, we were met with the hospitality I’ve never experienced in my life and my discomfort with it humbled me. We were quickly led to a dining area that hung off the hill that the house stood, exposing the hidden village valley, and promptly served with bananas and bottled water, however without their company. They kept to themselves on the side, allowing us to take full advantage of their home, something I feel I would only do to royalty. We were given the best rooms in their open village home, leaving our hosts to sleep on the lowest level of their house without the cover of a mosquito net since they had given us theirs. But it was how they treated us during meals that made me sit in disbelief. The mother and daughter would prepare the food for us, have us eat first, and whatever were left of the dinner, they would allow themselves to eat.

Following dinner that evening, our class sat in a circle on the floor with Acharn Somboon, our primary host for our village stay. As Acharn Somboon started his brief lecture on Karen history and culture, we noticed that our host family began to gather around our circle so they too could listen in. Acharn Somboon lectured in Thai as Acharn Joe translated. Interestingly, we noticed that the family was gathering around us as the evening conversation began. Our host family stood behind us, but we decided the separation needed to end. We invited them to join our circle which they delightfully accepted. As the evening went on, a guitar was brought out. With Jack’s strumming and Kara’s musical leadership, we shared songs familiar to us as they joined us as possible. The songs echoed throughout the hushed village. In the morning, we came to find out how much the neighbors also appreciated our singing.

At breakfast, we were served food that was familiar to us: eggs, sausages, cooked slices of ham, and toast. Such food was not part of their diet but they made the effort to make us feel at home as much as they could. After we were served, they sat and began to eat their traditional breakfast consisting of things such as rice, fried pork, soup, and vegetables. As we looked over their way with curious looks, they offered their uneaten breakfast to us as a second course. After finishing our second course, they again sat and ate what we did not of their breakfast again, extending hospitality to levels we have rarely experienced.

With the reality check, I found appreciation for the village's quiet and simple living. The community lives in the nooks of the mountains with dozens of fruit trees among them. Chickens and mutts coexist freely in the surrounding jungle with a cow meandering the entry road outside the village.

Though the Karen people in this specific village grow a variety of agricultural products, coffee remains their primary income generator. Acharn Somboon explained that coffee is a way for the Karen village, and many other indigenous villages in Thailand, to not only bring income and self-sufficiency through the revenue generated by this bean, but it also promotes their right to the surrounding lands that the government can claim at any moment. The Thai government and the indigenous people have a history of tension between the land (often seen as “unused land” by the government) the indigenous take care of and ownership of that land from officials. I have observed a similar pattern between the government of the United States and the Native Americans. Though those tensions exist, the indigenous communities often lose what they have maintained over generations.

I hope to catch my own complaints, not because I think the Karen village life is an underprivileged place to live but because its people get to the root of humanity. In my life of privilege, why complain about the heat and the mosquitos when I can take in the moment of where I’m at right now. With the life I’ve been given, I can’t escape from it, but rather use it for justice that I see personally in these humbling communities.

Journal Entry, Day 17 through 19

Wednesday, 25-27 April 2022
By Jack Shingler

So today we traveled from Chiang Mai to Krabi and I had some time to reflect. I spent a lot of time thinking and processing the way the trip had impacted me up until then. The flight was absolutely a beautiful way to have done that, and luckily enough I had a window seat and a row to myself. So I thought in comfort.

The thing I constantly come back to is the Monk Chat we had in Chiang Mai, and how our hour with him affected me so immediately. He had formed his perspective of the world on the opposite side of the world to me. He also formed his perspective through Buddhist teachings as I had formed mine through Christian teachings. In listening to him, I came to realize the limited framework with which I had been raised. Growing up in the United States, I had heard from friends and family that no religious perspective other than our own Christian faith had fundamental truth to it. Interestingly enough, the monk said that Buddhism isn't a religion but is a way of life. According to my understanding of what the monk shared with us, the way of life he spoke of was prioritizing mental, spiritual, and physical health in their various facets with the teachings of Buddha being their reference point noting Buddha, himself, was not a god but a human like him. I thought it was good food for thought, and I have been thinking a lot about it.

A specific point he made that touched me deeply was his framing of the process of grief. His perspective, as I understand it, was this: Grief is natural and human and part of our human life and we need to recognize its existence. However, dwelling on it ignores the important fact that grief in itself is temporary. The issue is if you constantly dwell on this grief, you won’t grow past it. Having had some things in life that have caused me a great deal of grief, this new perspective offered me hope and it connected in a way like nothing else has.

I was really excited to see Krabi and experience a beach in Thailand. We had a 2 1/2 hour flight and because of the books I was reading and because I was processing some of the words/experiences I had in both Bangkok and Chiang Mai, the flight felt pretty quick. After landing in Hat Yai airport, we drove another 2 hours to Krabi. Upon arrival at our hotel, we were quickly informed that we had been upgraded to a resort next door. There was a really stark difference between this smaller tourist beach town and the past two places we had been to. Mainly, sales vendors seemed desperate to get us in their restaurants or buy their products. I later learned that this was because COVID had effectively shut down all tourist-related businesses. Moreover, it seemed COVID ramifications are a lot bigger here than back home. This made me sad. I wanted to help how I could, but there wasn’t anything I could do. It's just an unfortunate situation.

We went to the beach that first evening and the water was so warm! I had never experienced ocean swimming like this (think a heated pool) but that being in the ocean. The water was super nice all the time. And the next day, when I saw the color in the water I was blown away even more. I had never seen an ocean so beautiful. It was a fantastic day filled with adventure, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute at Krabi!