Monday, January 5, 2015

Backpackers Unite!

Backpackers unite!
Crowds of tall, blonde and
curly, strong merry wanderers,
balloon pants wave and
tattoos adorn.

See their beards and long hair
blow in the dusyt wind,
Lit cigarettes fall to the earth
beneath elephant feet
and ancient temple sand-stones.

"Another beer, please!" They cheers--
Proust! Salud! from the balcony
as dark skinned locals pour
them shots
and dance
the merengue.

`````````````
The List

"One, two, trois!"
Take a photo, quick,
before you get elbowed away by eager tourists
out of the spotlight.

Here it is, folks! The famous TOMB RAIDER temple.
Never mind that it honors the Buddha,
a Hindu god incarnate.
LAURA CROFT WAS HERE
as if spray graffiti and internet memes mark
the spot.
Quick! Take a picture!
It might
disappear.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cambodian Complexities: I have a feeling we're not in Thailand anymore, Toto

Today I'm typing from a close friend's apartment in the Udom Suk neighborhood of Bangkok. Yesterday I walked through graves in Cambodia: the Killing Fields, one of many sights where the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia's most notorious mass-murdering regime, slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent Khmer people not more than thirty five years ago. As I walked, my audio tour guide gently reminded me not to step on any bone fragments, as such remains tend to surface after the rainy season and the soil shifts. I couldn't take any pictures ( I was allowed to take pictures, but emotionally I could not), but I found part of a jawbone with a few teeth lying half-exposed beneath the dusty soil, and pieces of what looked like arm or leg bones appeared near by.

I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

The complexities of Khmer culture, both ancient and modern, overwhelmed me as soon as I stepped off the bus in Siem Riep. Before that, as my bus chugged slowly across the border from Aranyaprathet, Thailand into Cambodia, I was surprised at how similar it felt: rows of young and old women selling fruits and snacks, car repair shops and convenience stores dotting the drab, dusty landscape. But as we left the border town, I was struck by verdant beauty: miles and miles of lush rice paddies, palm trees and mangroves. Milky-white cows grazed on bright green grasses as local farmers squatted by their rice crops preparing to harvest. It was so calm, and it was so beautiful. I felt a sense of peace I hadn't felt in a long time.

Yet when we arrived in Siem Riep, the town closest to the famous Angkor temples, I realized that things operate differently here. First, there were no taxis--two or four wheel--in sight. As soon as I was off the bus, twenty or so men approached me asking if I needed a tuk-tuk, which is a motorized rick-shaw, the Cambodian answer to taxis. My first instinct was to walk away and search for a "legitimate" taxi driver, but as I did so I noticed that there were no taxi drivers. There were only rows of tuk-tuks parked along the street. I guess there was no other option. 

As it turns out, there isn't, at least if you're a foreigner, and especially if you want to see the Angkor temples, about 15 km outside of town. My first morning there, on the way to Angkor Wat, I turned around in my seat and couldn't help laughing: a sea of tuk-tuks paraded down the road behind us, fading into the horizon, as if this were a rehearsed, daily ritual. After spending a few days in Siem Riep, I believe this is exactly the truth. The part of Siem Riep that I saw seems to have been constructed entirely for foreign backpackers, and the glow-in-the-dark signs that hang overhead state my case: "Night market" and "pub street" illumine two crossroads like cheesy Christmas lights in a shopping mall. Rows of rowdy pubs with a ninety-eight percent foreign clientele make it hard to believe that this is still Cambodia, the small and ancient country that was up until very recently a United Nations protectorate. 

It's easy to forget this if you stay in Siem Riep, but as soon as you leave--on a drive through the countryside if you have a nice tuk-tuk driver who's willing to take you, or on a speedboat down the Tonle Sap--you realize how poor most of Cambodia is, and it hits you in the face like the hard, strong sun. Most of Cambodia's people are farmers--not commercial farmers, but subsistence farmers. Many take boats into the Tonle Sap river to fish and sell their findings at market, but they rarely make a large profit. I'm no expert on Cambodian economics, but I know that, materially at least, most of these people have very, very little. 

Still, I couldn't help but be taken in by the natural beauty and picturesque tranquility of the fishing villages that dotted the landscape as my speedboat whirred past. Mangrove forests, floating houses and family fishing boats came to greet us like beacons into another world. This was truly foreign to me--a lifestyle so untouched by modernity, yet so at peace with nature. I admit I felt jealous of them. 

One of many fishing boats we passed. 

Homes built along the water. These are not built on stilts, though most houses are, to protect from floods.
There was something that appealed to me about this lifestyle. And yet I wondered what they thought of me and the other tourists in the boat. As we passed, many of them smiled and waved. I wondered how genuine was this gesture. There's no way of knowing, though to me it felt truthful. And that, in the midst of everything else, made me feel welcome.

There was one more place I had to visit before I left Cambodia.  I know most people don't travel for the museums, but I do. Having written a paper on the Cambodian genocide last spring, there was no way I was going to Cambodia without visiting Tuol Sleng, the former prison and interrogation center of the Khmer Rouge.

Tuol Sleng, or S-21 as it is also known, stands in the middle of Phnom Penh, the capital city. From the outside, it is nondescript and seems to blend in with the other beige cement buildings around it. But as soon as I stepped inside I felt chilled. Tuol Sleng used to be a high school; it was built in the sixties during a brief period when Cambodia had a sovereign leader, before the civil war began. When the KR took power, they emptied the city and turned Tuol Sleng into their interrogation headquarters. Here, they imprisoned and tortured thousands of innocent people: members of the opposition government, those with educations, those with glasses, and their families. They also imprisoned a string of westerners here. Their testimonies remain, displayed on the third floor in the original Khmer script for all to see. The kinds of confessions people made up are absurd. The whole thing is absurd. It's impossible to comprehend.

So I just cried. I cried a lot, and I couldn't really stop, but I told myself to keep it together, because these stories needs to be told. I felt so grateful to the hard-working men and women who are now running the museum and guiding tourists like me; they have a great responsibility to share these stories. It's chilling and gruesome to walk through the prison cells, and even worse when you continue on the 15 km journey outside of the city to the Killing Fields, where the mounds dug as mass graves are still deeply imprinted in the earth. I don't think I had ever been that close to human bones before. It's a terrible sight. 

So what now? I left Cambodia early; I didn't want to stay. I confronted reality, and it overwhelmed me, so I left. But for the million and a half that died under the KR, and for millions still living in poverty or under threat of land-mine explosion today, they can't leave. This is their reality. 

I didn't stay long enough to ask anyone about it. My tuk-tuk driver, Alex, told me a little about his life as a boy. He is twenty-six years old, and his parents survived the Khmer Rouge. But he didn't talk about how. He told me how he used to go on the Tonle Sap every day in a boat to fish for extra food to sell at market. He said they were very poor. 

Sympathy, empathy, guilt and a host of other feelings overtook me during my five powerful days in Cambodia. It's a lot for anyone to stomach, and I try not to shame myself for it, though I wish I had answers and cures. If all I can do right now is to tell this small story to someone else, then I can be happy with that. And maybe you can share this with someone else who may not know about it.  I visited Cambodia, and I found a world that was simultaneously untouched and hopelessly crushed by modernity. It isn't fair. Cambodia is so beautiful, and I wish I had stayed for a much longer time.

If you'd like to read more about Cambodia's recent history and to learn about excellent recovery projects like Land-Mine removal, I recommend these sights:

De-mining efforts in Cambodia (this contains information about the Land Mine Museum near Siem Reap, which I also visited. It chronicles the efforts of one former KR child soldier in de-mining Cambodia and helping land-mine victims. Absolutely worth a visit if you are ever in Siem Reap). 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Celebrating the End of the Semester with Fire and Sand

Hi everyone! Well, I made it. I began teaching at my university outside of Bangkok, Thailand on August 18 (incidentally, that was the same day I became an aunt for the first time). Except for that one glorious week in Chiang Mai, I've been going straight through since August--21 hours of college teaching plus office work, planning, grading, and a few major minor meltdowns. But finally, the grades are turned in, the exams are done, and I've spent the last two days making good use of nap times. I think I've even managed to learn a thing or two in the process. I say these things not to complain, but to give you a little insight into what teaching abroad actually is, and what it is not.

First, teaching is harder than it looks. It's exhausting. Most weekdays, I'm up early, shoving books in my bag and coffee down my throat as I rush out the door and pray I didn't forget anything. Usually I do. It took me a few months to actually understand what I was supposed to be doing, and a lot of times I felt like I was naked on a big stage: thirty pairs of eyes were staring at me, often accompanied by raised or furrowed brows. Often I got the sense that they had no idea what I was saying. This really is true, and it's one of the most difficult parts of this job, I think. At its core, when you're teaching EFL in a setting where students have had limited exposure to listening and speaking, and they're being taught by someone like, oh, me who can't speak their language, there is so much confusion. I often had to repeat my directions three or four or five times, explain it individually to some students during class and again after class, and still they didn't always understand. Of course, part of this could just be because some students simply didn't care to learn. That's a whole other frustration in and of itself. But I've learned that--and I recall this when I was living with Hebrew and Arabic speakers in Israel--what is often said in English from someone who is studying the language is not what is meant. The underlying meaning gets misconstrued, lost in translation, and you're left often with apathy, hurt feelings or worse. It's a very confusing thing.

At the same time, this job has taught me so much about the nature of human communication. I use my own language for many different things. When I'm teaching, I am communicating rudimentary English for the purpose of learning a skill, yet when I talk to other English speaking friends, I find myself casually slipping into relaxed, comfortable conversation with silly metaphors and idioms and all sorts of convoluted talk. I've really come to value that time, because it requires less thinking and more feeling.

One thing I have definitely learned is that teaching abroad is not a vacation, not by a long shot. It's a real job with commitments and superiors and evaluations and meetings and clocking in and out (still not sure why I have to do that for a salaried position, but when in Rome...). It means getting up early and wearing pleated skirts and holding my tongue. I'm starting to realize that this is part of life, and no matter where I might be in the world, there will always be meetings, forms to fill out and boxes to check off. I will somehow always be an employee of someone or something (God willing!). This is something I struggled with, not necessarily because I was in Thailand, but because I was coming from a world of getting-away-with-so-many-ridiculous-things-because-I-was-in-college-and-anything-goes.

Still, words cannot express how happy and equally frustrated my students and this job made me this semester, in the best possible way. I feel a bit more like a working adult; I'm not sure if that's good or bad. But I'm looking forward to another long semester with new faces, names, personalities, games, laughs, failures, tears and hopefully some A's and smiles along the way...

One of my awesome English II classes. The peace sign fingers are standard practice in pictures over here :)

To celebrate the end of classes, I FINALLY went to the beach. I drove a few hours south with some friends to the island of Koh Samet. Now, it wasn't as picturesque and isolated as I had hoped...at least, not at first. We arrived by speedboat to a very cramped and crowded stretch of sand, tourists and seafood restaurants. I was overwhelmed at first, but thanks to some clever navigating by the lovely Mild, one of our group, we managed to find some really picturesque pieces of sand and sun..


Ok, so maybe I enhanced the colors, but I didn't enhance the scenery. I couldn't believe my eyes. I was standing in the middle of a postcard. We spent two glorious nights in Samet, playing in the waves during the day and eating seafood by night. The beach at nighttime is quite surreal. As soon as the sun begins to set and the tide goes out, workers come and lay straw mats, pillows and cushions and tables on the sand and open up their evening restaurants. All the tourists (and some Thai families on vacation) flock to them, order drinks and food and watch the waves crash upon the sand. At least, they do until these guys show up:

Cambodian/Thai fire dancers on the beach.

It's hard to tell from the picture, but these are young men swinging flaming batons around their bodies. They come out in brigades of ten or twelve once the sun sets and the darkness can offset their flames. They light up their batons and twirl them, throwing them hundreds of feet in the air and catching them--sometimes on the flaming end. I recall running my own fingers through flames in church as a child and marveling at how they didn't burn. Sometimes, they stand on each other's shoulders as they twirl. One of the nights, I saw a flame-lit jump rope. It's astounding and scary.

Samet, like many things about Thailand, possesses so much natural beauty and so much commercial tourism in one nice, neat little package. And yet somehow, you can't help but get sucked into the relaxation it poses to your tired body, especially when the moon is out.

Koh Samet's restaurants and waves under the full moon.


Maybe I'm a sucker for beautiful things. But if so, I think I'm in the right place. Merry Christmas everyone.

Love,
Mel

Monday, December 8, 2014

Addicted to the Yea-Sayers

Maybe I thought moving to Thailand would be "hard," but that is nothing compared with the internal metamorphosis of the post-college existence.

**Warning: Existential Crisis Below**

As my dear friend Calen reminded me the other day, "don't trick yourself into thinking that if you were in the United States, you wouldn't be feeling these things, because you would. They would just be different."

Ok, she was right. And life after college is hard.

Is it hard in the material sense? Ok, no. No, in that sense, I am very blessed. But for me--and this might be different for you--material things are really pretty meaningless. I mean, I like having a house and a roof and shelter and clothing and food--and I recognize that many people do not have these things. But I don't derive much meaning or sense of purpose in my life from owning things. I've always been someone who likes doing things. I get my sense of purpose from trying other things and from making other people happy. Ok, maybe this is not wise.

In my life, I was always surrounded by people who loved me and who often knew me better than I knew myself. I felt safe with these people; I could let my guard down, just be myself, and not have to think about how my behavior was affecting them. I never felt like I was standing on ceremony in my own home.

In college, I worked, but I always stuck to things I was good at, making it easier for me to feel successful at what I wanted to do. I have always shied away from difficult things, because I hate feeling like a failure. I hate messing up.

Ok..but what now? What am I supposed to do with these feelings? Suddenly, I'm no longer surrounded by people who know me better than I know myself. When I came here, literally no one knew me and I knew no one. That means starting completely from scratch. Maybe that's exciting if you have a lot of baggage, but for me, I left everything I knew behind. And I left everything that was easy behind.

Perhaps I seriously took for granted just how wonderful my previous employers, coworkers, classmates, teachers and friends have been. But more and more I run into blank walls with no instructions, no past experience to draw from, and no one explaining to me how to tackle this. It's just me. 

Ok, and maybe one day when all is said and done and I have a lot of cats and sweaters I will look back at this point in my life and laugh, thinking, "How naive I was. Everything was so easy then!" But at this moment in my life, things are difficult in a way that surrounds and sometimes consumes me, because I can't walk away from it. I can't choose not to live, because I don't like feeling like a failure. I can't choose not to do this job because I don't like doing things that are hard and not easy. I suppose I could. But I'm not going to.

I'd really like to know--how have some of you transitioned from a cozy, predictable environment, to a life that's habitually difficult? How do you deal with the walls?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Trip Up North

This trip happened over a month ago, and yet I was in denial about its brevity, so I neglected to write about it until now. But I think I'm finally processing it all!

Over student midterms, for a much needed break from teaching and from city living, I took a trip up north with two friends and fellow teachers. We hopped on an overnight bus to the northern city of Chiang Mai, also known as Thailand's "second city." Think Chicago to USA's New York City, except zero skyscrapers and with an ancient, Asian city wall.

One of the entrances to the Old City.

I love these trees. They're all over Thailand. They remind me of the jungle.

Chiang Mai is a beautiful mix of ancient history, artistic tradition and modern innovation. If you're familiar with the term "hipster," it can almost be used to describe Chiang Mai, except instead of fourteen year olds skateboarding in flannel shirts you see sixty year old Greek and Italian ex-pats smoking rolled cigarettes and playing music in bars. But the feel is basically the same--laid back, adorably ironic and boldly unique.

The night markets were my favorite thing about the city. Sure they were crowded, but here you really see the heart of Thailand's artisanal craft making scene. Everything from hand woven scarves to purses to jewelry to wooden carvings, paintings, sketchings and etchings were for sale along the streets. And the best part was that you got to witness these crafts in progress. One market, referred to simply as "the night bazaar" features a lower level indoors where brilliant visual artists draw and paint on massive canvases for the entertainment and prowess of curious tourists, all while displaying the capacity of their artistic genius . Of course, in true artistic fashion, you can't take pictures of the work, so I leave it up to you to imagine wall to wall paintings of children, old men, Buddhist monks walking to temples in the rain, elephants, rice fields, wolves, Cherokee people and the like, all in the most beautiful colors and black-and-white charcoal depictions I've ever seen.

For me, the biggest treats of the trip were actually outside of the city. The first was a Thai cooking class at a special, homegrown farm in the mountains:

Our group enjoying our delicious creations.

But the second was far more edifying and less simplified. My two friends and I elected to go on a three day, two night "trekking tour" in one of Chiang Mai's beautiful mountain terrains.  The morning of the first day, we were driven to an elephant camp that, unfortunately, did not treat the elephants humanely. I will refrain from posting pictures here. Needless to say, I learned a lot about the benefits and complications of the Thai tourism industry on that day.

Yet our journey grew increasingly authentic and unpredictable after that. We drove to our beginning pathway and hiked to a beautiful waterfall for lunch. After a quick dip, we continued on, our quick footed guide (nicknamed "Louis" but pronounced like the French) always stopping to point out tasty snacks like fire ants (I'm not kidding) and various kinds of mushrooms.

That evening we arrive at a small village belonging to the local Keren people. The Keren originally migrated from Tibet, settling first in Burma and now in northern Thailand. They speak their own language, though their alphabet is similar to Thai script. Our guide, Louis, belonged to a neighboring village but was treated as one of their own, and they extended the same warm hospitality to us.

Our guide Louis...jokingly feeding me a bottle of water.

Inside the cooking room. 
After a luxurious sleep on straw mats, listening to the rain patter on the bamboo rooftops, I slid my way up the dirt path to rejoin my group for breakfast and our second day of hiking. Day two proved to be very, err, wet, as we encountered a serious downpour about an hour into our hike with no shelter in sight. Nevertheless, we soldiered on, and thank God for Louis, who was able to guide us through steep paths that had quickly turned into raging rivers. We made it to our second camp for lunch.

Before we left the Keren village, we passed through the local school, where we peeked in on children learning Thai language songs. I had forgotten what it felt like to be around children (having spent the majority of my time with college students), and I wanted to cry seeing the sheer joy on their faces. I'm including a facebook link to the video that my friend, Emi, took, because seeing them was such a beautiful reminder of what all people share in common. We may all have different words for "head, shoulders, knees, in toes" but those precious body parts are what we all have and need to protect.

I'm eternally grateful for the trip to Chiang Mai, and most especially to the Keren people for letting me into their homes for a little while. Being there was a great reminder of why I came to Thailand in the first place. Yes, I love English, and I really like teaching, and I have my beliefs. But what I have to give pales in comparison to what I have to learn just by meeting people. Sure, it can be uncomfortable--like walking through the pouring rain--but on the other side, always, always the sun comes out and dries up all my insecurities.

It's been four months since I arrived. My first semester of classes are coming to a swift and jarring end. There are days when I feel completely, inexplicably ordinary, when I forget that I'm in Thailand all together, and it feels like just another day. I think these days are important to keep my sanity at a healthy level. But far more important to me are those days--precious few they may be at the moment--that take me outside of the ordinary and into some of the ancient and secret worlds of God's creation. I pray that He will give me the courage to pursue these extraordinary moments with as much vigor as I try to pursue the ordinary.


With love,
Mel

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Time Has Come (The Walrus Said) to talk about Home Sickness

It's finally happened.

I'm homesick.

The feeling has been creeping on slowly like a cold for the past few weeks.

I've been trying my best to combat it. I'm taking regular doses of social events, drinking lots of classroom prep, and getting at least 8 hours of Thai commuting a night, but still, even through preventative medicine, I'm homesick.

I know I shouldn't be. I have regular access to the internet, Skype, Whatsapp, and I'm sending postcards. But frankly, I'm beginning to wonder if my internet addiction is actually fueling my homesickness. I've noticed in the past few weeks that I'm spending more time in my apartment with my face glued to facebook or gmail or even the Huffington Post than outside making new friends. Today I saw an issue of TIME magazine for the first time since being here, and I gobbled it down like a sickly sweet dessert. To be honest, making friends takes work, even in one's home country, and sometimes I just don't feel like expending the energy to talk with more people. Some days, I'm really talked out.

Additionally, being here has made me much more aware of my Western-ness. I'm an English speaker, I thought to myself today, and that categorizes me in the eyes of so many people, most of whom are not (native) English speakers. Today, for example, I received this well intentioned but unsolicited advice from a fellow (Thai) teacher while grabbing a juice in between classes:

Be careful. Don't go outside alone, because you know, Thai people, they kill foreigners.

I smiled politely and paid for my drink. Then I left, feeling confused as to whether that was a warning or a threat.

Things like this happen all the time--not quite to that extreme (and by the way, my experience with Thai people so far couldn't be further from this apparent "truth"), but I'm often singled out for my foreignness. Most of the time I just laugh it off, but deep down, sometimes it gets to me that I'm judged for my appearance without people bothering to talk to me first.

Then of course, there is the whole language barrier thing. Suddenly, everything I studied in my history classes makes sense. On the one hand, I'm very grateful for the opportunity to feel like I don't belong. In this day and age, with migration and immigration and asylum seeking abounding, I can't imagine how confused and scared and misplaced refugees, migrants and immigrants must feel in any country other than their own. And on the other hand, sometimes it's just plain irritating.

But I'm learning a lot. For instance, I know that I can successfully direct a taxi driver to my given address with the help of a GPS and a rudimentary knowledge of Thai direction words. I know that Thai people smile in all sorts of situations that I would normally find confrontational or irrational. And I know that when the power goes out, there's nothing you can do but pray by the light of your cellphone.

But I'm still not really getting it yet. There's still a million things about Thailand's bureaucracy that don't make sense to me, and I wonder if they make sense to anyone else either. And I still marvel at how the sky can just open up and pour rain sideways until the roads start to smell of sewage.

All this, and I'm only on month two.

I'm trying to find a way to wrap this up, but I'm not finished yet. I'm struggling to give myself encouraging words. How do you deal with homesickness? Does it help to talk to your family more or less? Does it help to get out in the real world, close the laptop, and go make a new friend?

Or does it help just to get a good night's sleep?

I'd really love to know. For now, I'm looking forward to the upcoming break; hopefully I'll finally get to go exploring.

Mel


Sunday, September 28, 2014

"They Have Pizza in Thailand?"

In trying to convince my parents that I am living comfortably as a teacher in Thailand, I've been telling them all the familiar things. "Yesterday, I went shopping. I bought linens, and I had pizza for dinner with friends."

"Really? They have pizza in Thailand?"

They do indeed.

But make no mistake about it; I am in a foreign country, and with that come many highs and lows. I feel so comfortable at church, speaking English with my friends, and yet as soon as I enter a van I am dropped down to the level of humility it takes to remind me that my language is like that of a baby. The little girl who collects the money tells me to sit in the back, where there is room. I know this by the nod of her little head, not by the words she speaks; those I cannot yet understand. "Abac Bangna?" I ask her. "Yee-sip hah," she responds. Twenty five baht. I pay my fee and scoot to the back of the crowded van with my many bags of groceries, linens, and leftover street food; my spoils from the weekend. And yet I was too focused on making it to the right bus stop to remember that I had extra food in hand, and perhaps the homeless man curled up on the street corner might like it. I gave him my peanuts, but I forgot that I had more to give.

I always have more to give, and yet I always feel like I am not enough. I grew up thinking this way about God, too. No matter what I do, I can never be a good enough Christian. I can never make God love me enough, because I constantly fall short of His will. But in thinking this way, this dangerous mind game that the devil likes to play, I forgot that I have already been redeemed. He already loves me, no matter what.

That love comes and goes in Thailand, like it does in any place. We tie our love in with our expectations of good grades, praise and recognition for our worldly achievements. I tie my self-worth to my ability to be a good teacher, a good person, a good daughter and sister and friend. I am never enough.

But I am enough. I am enough, sitting here on my patio. My little bedroom is enough, situated here in Abac's campus. And living in Thailand is enough.

They have pizza in Thailand. They have soda and hamburgers and Iphone 6's (on pre-order). They have Bible studies--Thailand is remarkably accepting of other religions, unlike some other places I have lived. Thailand is enough.

Yet Thailand is still growing in many ways, and I am growing along side it. Maybe our relationship will only be temporary, but I will love it and love my time here in whatever capacity God gives me. I will not be perfect. But if I could be, I wouldn't need God.

And then I never would have come here in the first place.

I am not enough without God. But with him, I am everything because He is everything. When He is in me, I am enough, through the mispronunciations and the mistakes and the stress. I am enough because God made me. And He will always be enough.


Tonight I'm feeling grateful for religious freedom; it's a rarity in many, many places. I am vexed by more things than I understand, but perhaps I should also be grateful for the simple pleasures, like sun shining on freshly fallen snow. They certainly don't have that in Thailand :) But if God made the whole world the same, no one would feel compelled to travel, would they?