Friday, May 31, 2013

Date Night Ramblings

 Tonight we went to the Terminal 21 Mall in Bangkok for our date night. We walked from our apartment--which was about 3/4 of a mile. The entrance to the mall had a canopy of clear plastic umbrella with streamers hanging from the points. (Umbrellas were just added, for they weren't there the last time we visited the mall.) I thought it would be a cute idea for a bridal or baby shower.

We ate at Piri-Piri a Portuguese restaurant. We both had great hamburgers. Then we had German chocolate cake at a bakery, and then a scoop of Baskin Robbins ice cream. Splurge! We walked all over six floors of the mall. Each floor is a different country--Japan, Istanbul, and San Francisco represented the US.

Every floor has personality. On Japan's floor we found these huge sumo wrestlers. They look so real. Dennis would stand to the shoulder of these guys--that's how big they are. Thank goodness they hold up the building.

San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge spanning across the escalators. Next time I'll take a picture. There is also an escalator that goes from the 3rd to the 6th floor. It looks cool.

We decided to take the subway home, but could barely squeeze in [the subway] because it was so crowded. Rain fell on us from the subway to home. Look at us--big city dwellers! I look out my bedroom window at skyscrapers. We swim in the apartments' swimming pool and look up at skyscrapers. We walk to our office on crowded sidewalks--crowded with pedestrians, street vendors, and motorbike taxis.

 If Bangkok sidewalks were in the US, they would be
 a million lawsuits waiting to happen. I have tripped multiple times on uneven cement, holes in the sidewalk, missing tiles, etc. I've got to keep my eye to the ground to keep upright. There is no warning, caution tape, not a-frames to make you walk around the hazards. You are on your own. And make sure to watch out for the motorbike taxis because they own the sidewalks and appear out of nowhere. Surprise!

We've had more rain in the last week, which I am loving. It temporarily relieves the humidity, and being the desert girl I am, it is a nice change. If rain clouds come, it rains--not like in Arizona where if a raincloud floats by, there is only a 5% chance of rain.

But I'm rambling. Back to the date. It was nice to get out together--even in a crowded mall and subway.

I admit, I'm still in love with my companion.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Reflections on Driving in Thailand by Elder Sowards

I got my Thai driver's license on Tuesday and drove to Ayutthaya on Saturday and back to Bangkok on Sunday.  This was not as simple as it sounds. Driving in Thailand is a challenge. 
Elder Sowards' first time driving in Thailand

I never drove as a young missionary or on our visits in later years.
You must drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheel is on the right.
If that were the only difference, there would be no problem. But the Thais drive wild.

Driving is not a rule of right of way, but a rule of who got their vehicle into the space first.  Cars dart in and out of driving lanes, drive on the shoulder, straddle lanes, anywhere there is space or looks as space. Two lanes can become 4 lanes in seconds.

 Then there are the motorcycles. For every car on the road there are at least 10 motorcycles. These are not big Harley's but small scooters and bikes. Motorbike drivers feel they own all space and drive on the road- by, between and around cars, on the sidewalk, in the gutter, and anywhere else they can get by. One must constantly watch out for motorcycles darting around. 

The roads are not very wide and streets are very crowded. Add to that, cars & trucks stopping anywhere at any time to drop off or pick people or things.  Stopping may back up traffic for a long period. There are few stop lights, and if you need to return on a street you will mostly have to do a U-turn with much traffic coming the other way.  

This is why I never planned to drive on our mission; I am not crazy – well maybe not.

There are some positives about Thai drivers. No one wants to hit anyone else, so if you are in the space/lane first, they will usually slow/stop to allow you through. To make a right hand turn on a busystreet (like a left hand turn across traffic in the States) means edging out and hoping cars will stop/slow to allow you in. 

For all the driving craziness there are not a lot of accidents. People drive flexibly to deal with the situation not thinking who has the right of way by law. One blessing and curse of driving on the streets in Bangkok is that there are so many cars everyone moves slowly--so less chance of major damage if an accident happens. The down side is one may sit at a traffic light for 10 minutes or longer, barely moving forward. No one seems to mind or get angry. It is just their accepted way of life. 

There are freeways and toll ways and these have less traffic but people drive at higher speeds and still shift lanes and cut you off.

Getting the driver's license was easy because I still have my USA one. Had it expired, I would have had to take tests. The only test they gave me was to distinguish between red, yellow and green lights and to know with which light stomp on the gas to hit the brake.

Driving was very stressful for me but Joan seemed to handle it well and as my navigator.  We drove the mission van, which is a Toyota with 4 rows of seats--what our children call a MobyDick van. The size is nice for protection but bulky to drive. Joan would remind me a few times that I was too close to the left side of the road. 

One other irritant is that the turn signal is on the right side of the steering column. Even with the steering wheel being on the right side it seems to my engineering mind that most people are right handed and would prefer to use the left hand to move the turn signal. The only reason I can think to put it on the right side is because they used to use the right hand to hand-signal turns. Regardless of what I want it is on the right side and I am used to it being on the left. Joan started counting haw many times I turned on the wipers when trying to signal. I think I hit 18 on Sat. and less on Sunday. We laughed a lot about it. (Many Thai drivers don't signal anyway, especially when changing lanes.)

We made it to and from Ayutthaya. When we finally arrived home in Bangkok, I felt like doing a Toyota jump/cheer. I am sure the 4 or 6 angels that protected us felt just as relieved.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Elder Heap Released

Elders Trabing, Unsworth, Engle, Heap, Sowards, and Chambers
Elder Brad Heap from Mesa has finished his mission and how is traveling with his parents Bob and Deena Heap in Thailand. Deena and I both grew up in Mesa 4th Ward. This picture was taken on Saturday at the Ayutthaya meeting house.

Deena Heap and Joan

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Buddhist Funeral

 We attended our first Buddhist Funeral. On arrival, our group knelt with the deceased's sons (one who is a member) before the casket for a photo. We were treated as honored guests. The funeral started at 6 PM and we arrived on time and stayed until 8:30 PM when it was over.

The casket was of gold leaf. The woman who was a fruit seller, will later be cremated.

Upon entering, we removed our shoes, which is the Thai custom. The funeral was in a pavillion open on two sides. Pictured: Sowards, Elder Unsworth, son of deceased, Elders Chamber, Engle, the member son of deceased, and Elder Trabing. Six more members of the Ayutthaya branch attended but were not present for the photo.

Each guest, if Buddhist, came and knelt before the memorial. After an hour and a half, four monks pictured far right came in and with the man kneeling before them did three chants or
prayers. Refreshments of soup and a sticky noodle were served between the prayers.
 These twin Buddhas greeted us as arrived at the Watt.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Wheelchair Gifting

Here are the wheelchairs lined up before the ceremony.
On Wednesday, we went to Ayutthaya with the Goodsons, the humanitarian couple in our mission, the Mannings who are the public affairs representatives, Wisan who represented the district presidency of the Church, and Mr. Watson, the Thai Rotary humanitarian rep, to give away wheelchairs.

LDS Charities paid for 40 new wheelchairs and the Rotary Club did the legwork of finding citizens of Ayutthaya who needed them. The Bangkok Rotary Club and LDS Charities have worked together for at least a decade helping people in need.

 The wheelchair recipients came an hour early before the ceremony and patiently waited for the fun to begin.

The first picture is of the 40 wheelchairs lined up before the ceremony.

This 2nd picture is of an 81-year-old man. You should have seen him zip away on his hand operated (pump) tricycle.

I expected to see happy faces as the people sat in their new chairs, but some looked scared, others bewildered, and I realized a lot of them were too handicapped to be able to react with even a smile. Their families looked happy, though. My heart went out to all of them.

This 4-year-old boy cried when his grandmother put him in his chair. He was so used to being held by his family, that sitting alone scared him. But he left in the chair and his grandmother was the one with the big smile.

Our four full-time elders also attended--Elders Trabing, Unsworth, Engle, and Chambers. Since the MC needed to entertain the audience for the hour they waited, she interviewed all four elders. The crowd applauded as if they were celebrities. The elders were helpful in translating for us, talking with the attendees, and they stayed until the last wheelchair rode away--even after we had to head back to Bangkok. They handed out all their English class card/invitations. What great exposure for the Church.

This last picture is of our MC-- who did a great job--and a gentleman in his new wheelchair. He's holding one of the gift bags the Rotary Club put together for each recipient.

 Since Elder Sowards and I are assigned to Ayutthaya, we were invited. This was the first time I'd been on the ceremony side of humanitarian service, and found it very heartwarming. Also, thank you to the Rotary Club for being so efficient and generous.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Stand Ye in Holy Places

I'm sharing this video to go with my 2013 Young Women song "Stand Ye in Holy Places." The song is also translated into Thai. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mission Photo

Thailand Bangkok Mission photo with Elder Neil L Andersen (center.) May 18, 2013
Elder and Sister Sowards on 2nd row right. (Bright blue blouse.)

Elder Neil L Andersen Visits

by Elder Sowards

Yes it was another hot week in Thailand – it is always hot but seemed hotter this week when the A/C went out at the church where we teach an English class. It was a big night with many people who came for the first time. There are several levels of English – ABC (basic), beginning, intermediate & advanced. We teach the intermediate class of about 25 students. There were over 60 people waiting to be taught and no A/C in the classrooms. We held the class outside until it was too dark to see and too many "yungs" (mosquitoes) to continue. When we arrived back at our apartment (that has A/C) we discovered we were really soaking wet.

On Friday all the missionaries in the whole mission arrived to meet with Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the 12 this weekend. We offered to house some 6 elders and ended up with 8. We held a mission fast in preparation to  meet the apostle, so we didn't feed them Friday night or Sat. morning. One elder even remarked, "I bet Sister Sowards makes great breakfasts!" We felt bad to not feed them. It was fun having so many energetic missionaries in our home.

When we woke up Sat. morning it was pouring rain. Not unusual for Thailand except we haven't seen heavy rain since the last time we had all the missionaries together – our first week here. (What is it about getting all the missionaries together and rain?) At 7:30 am we assembled at a "small" stake center size building about 30 minutes away by taxi. We practiced assembling for a picture with the apostle. Organizing about 160 missionaries together for a picture is not easy. We did get it set and practiced singing"Called To Serve" in Thai. Elder Andersen and company arrived about 9 AM and we sag as they entered. With Elder Andersen was his wife, Elder Clayton a president of the 70's quorum, his wife, Elder Watson, president of the Asia Area, his wife, Elder Wilson and his wife and Elder Woo, both of the Area presidency plus our mission president and wife.  We took pictures and then Elder Andersen shook hands with every missionary. We had a special meeting with all these leaders speaking or sharing their testimonies with us. What a great meeting. We ended our fast with this meeting. Afterwards, the young missionaries went to another church building to do their transfers. Most of the senior couples went to lunch. Since I am in the branch presidency I stayed for a priesthood leadership meeting.

I ended my fast with water, that helped a lot.  The priesthood leadership meeting was for all stake and district presidencies, high councils, bishops and branch presidents only for all of Thailand. The branch president for our branch hasn't been around since a week before we arrived so I was asked by the mission president to go. They had to ask the area presidency for permission for a non-branch president to attend. I was not sure if it was granted. They had special name badges to make sure only those invited attended. When I went to get mine, it was missing so I wondered if I was to attend. I was again old to go in and a makeshift badge prepared. Turns out a counselor in the district presidency (like stake presidency on we are in a district) had picked up my badge to hold it for me. The problem was that he didn't know what I looked like having not yet met me. (I wasn't the only non-Thai there and all foreigners look alike!) The branch preside did show up to eh meeting but since I had never met him the district president introduced him to me. We had little time to talk but I told him the branch needs him. It was a great leadership meeting like any one would attend with an apostle presiding. I have never seen so much Thai priesthood leaders in one meeting. What a great experience. I even randomly sat by a Thai who is the branch president in Korat, where I served most of my mission as the branch president. He seems to be a great man.

Made it home about 5 PM and we fed 4 missionaries who stayed with us Sat. night. All the missionaries, who are not serving in the Bangkok stake or north Bangkok district (our district) returned home. These 4 are serving in or branch so we invited them to stay with us. Joan fixed a pork roast (beef is not easy to find) with potatoes, carrots and gravy. I made a Kool Aid drink too. I can't find Kool Aid here and did bring a few mixes so it is special too. One of the elders said it was the first home cooked meal he had had since coming to Thailand. He came the same time we did. I think the all loved it by the way they ate it up. Joan had chocolate chip cookies and milk for dessert. What a feast. Then the phone rang and it was Sister Goodson, the humanitarian service missionary couple. She said she had fresh baked brownies and wondered if the elders staying with us would like them. I didn't mention that we had already had cookies and said "sure." She brought what I call (and love) Texas Sheet cake, my favorite. We all had more dessert and milk. We were well fed today.

Just a note on Elder & Sister Goodson. This is there 5th mission counting his mission as a young missionary to Hawaii. They served an English teaching mission in Thailand 10 years ago. They also served a mission in New York City among other missions. You can guess they are older than us. They love serving. Sister Goodson loves to bake, but Bro. Goodson doesn't eat many sweets so she is happy to share and we were happy to receive.

On Sunday we went to the "Impact Center", a large and very modern convention center for a meeting with Elder Andersen. In my work, I have visited many convention centers around the US and this one would outdo most of them. It was beautiful and fitting to host an apostle of the Lord.  There were about 1500 people in attendance – the most Thai members I have ever seen in one meeting. It was great and Elder Andersen promised the Thai members that they would have a temple someday in Bangkok. He said it may still be many years and hoped it would be in his lifetime. He said the decision to place a temple was a decision between the Lord and the prophet and not even the apostles have part in anydecision. He invited them to pray and to build their priesthood worthiness to get more stakes.  His testimony of the savior was very personal and I felt the spirit tell me that he know the Lord.
Ayutthaya Branch members attend the conference with
Elder Neil L. Anderson

We returned from the meeting spiritually feed. We took a nap (don’t tell our president) It was our first Sunday (or anytime) nap in a long time. It was a great weekend.

We love you and appreciate your prayers.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Buddhist Wat

On our river ride we passed many Buddhist wats (temples) but this one was one of the more interesting ones. As we approach, the sitting Buddha is facing away from the river. Thai Buddhas are slender in contrast to the chubby Chinese Buddha. This Buddha is sitting on two elephants.

 There is also a reclining Buddha. Notice the lions. Across the river was another wat, a tower in the shape of a bell. These temples are ornate and have much gold leafing.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Two Rivers and an Ear Doctor by Elder Sowards

May 5-11
Hellfire Pass where WWII POWs were forced to carve railroad passage out
of solid rock.

Another crazy week. Monday I had my ears tested. I have been in denial that my hearing is OK – it isn't. I went to a Thai doctor at the hospital. All doctors have their offices at the hospitals here. After the testing they said my hearing of higher pitched sounds in about half what it should be, but the rest is in the normal range. The doctor said there is no treatment for this and I just must try harder to listen and read lips. That means I must read their lips in English & Thai – not easy. Most Thai women speak softly anyway.

We received news that this coming Saturday and Sunday, Elder Neal Anderson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will come to Thailand. What a great blessing. We knew an apostle was coming, but not who.  As missionaries we will meet with him in a special meeting Sat. morning.

We attended a senior couples conference this week. Part of it was a tour of the museum, graveyard and some spots on the river where the Japanese army force many prisoners of war and Asia natives to build a railroad from Bangkok to Burma. It is where the story Bridge over the RiverKwai takes place.  I had read the book and see the movie but did not realize that about 100,000 prisoners died during the project. About 5000 were British, Australians and Americans. Many died of tropical diseases and starvation. What a waste of lives. The best part of the conference was getting to know all the other couples. Some are assigned in Laos and Myanmar (Burma) and don't come to Bangkok often. One of the couples in Myanmar is Don Hobbs from Mesa (Maricopa Stake.)

We came home from the conference on Sat. After a 5-hour ride, we unpacked, repacked and took a shuttle to Ayutthaya. It was a long day of travel. We had good church meetings. There was no mention of Mother's Day. It is celebrated in June by Thais. A sister did bring Joan a birthday cake (pictured in an earlier post) and the whole branch sang Happy Birthday to her.

We received many answers to our prayers this week. None are huge, but all were answers from a loving Heavenly Father.

Yesterday was Mother's Day and Joan's birthday was today (May 13). We celebrated Mother's Day with a DQ dipped ice cream cone. Today, for her big 60th we went on an evening boat ride around Bangkok, then ate at Tony Roma's (the only one in Thailand). Ted, Rex & Von sent Joan flowers, and when they were delivered it was a real surprise and treat. I tried to find a store that sold German Chocolate cake but with no luck.

Did I mention that it is hot – on Thursday it was 99˚F and about 300% humid.

We were so excited to talk with our our children and their families this week. We love you all.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Passing from April to May. One Month Out! by Elder Sowards

April 29-May 3 

Mosquito swatter
This has been another exciting week. We worked on the panels for a visitors center we are helping to create. The hopes that it will eventually be part of a temple visitors' center. We teach English every Tuesday night--the mid-level class. We teach about 20 students conversational English (American spoken English). There are 24 lessons developed by some senior missionaries n 2006. It is fun to help these students learn to speak and also to share with them gospel principles. Most Thais have English training starting in 3rd grade, but have had few chances to speak it.

During our first class we had had some mosquitoes in the room so this week we took our trusty mosquitoes swatter (see attached). It looks like a tennis racket but has a battery and when it catches a mosquito it zaps (shocks) it. I zapped 2 just before class started.

Every morning we awake to the hustle of a large city. Attached is a picture of what we see out our window. Many buildings have trees on the roof and upper levels. We are on the 5th floor, and have to remind ourselves that Bangkok (12M) is larger than New York City (8M people) and we live near the city's center. The streets and sidewalks are very crowded every day.  We try to smile at everyone in hope of getting them to smile back – some do.

In our branch, I was made the 1st counselor in the branch presidency. The branch president has not been seen in 4 weeks and the man we thought was the 1st counselor is the 2nd counselor. So I became the acting BP today. I conducted my 1st branch council meeting and did not even understand all that was said. I have invited the young missionaries to the meeting and at one point I looked at one of them and said (in English) "I don't know what was just said." The elder just shrugged his head and said he didn't either! We did identify several inactive members to invite back. I should mention about Thai names.  Most Thais go by their first name even though they have a family name like we do. I would be called Brother Dennis if I were Thai. However many Thais use a nick name so someone may be called Brother Maa (means horse or dog depending on the tone used.) Reviewing a branch membership list is really hard as I nearly read Thai and the nicknames by which people are called are not listed.

I helped do the tithing and FO contributions. These hadn't been done in 4 weeks so we had a lot. The branch clerk is just learning his calling and the 2nd counselor is not that skilled with the computer or the MLS system. The MLS system is almost the same as in any ward only all the text and buttons to click on are in Thai. We had to make the deposit at a bank – no night drops and the only bank branch that was open was at a mall. It felt odd walking through a busy mall on the Sabbath.

Wed. May 1st was a holiday. Tomorrow (Monday) is also a holiday. There is another one later in May. We have been here 4 weeks and there have been 6 holidays but 2 were a Sat. & Sun.

Sat. night in Ayutthaya, we participated with the elders in teaching a couple. They have 2 sons – one is 21 and the other 15. They asked to learn about how the church can help them raise their sons to be responsible. They said the older son is addicted to compute games. It was a first lesson and they were so humble and willing to listen to he message about families and the plan of happiness. It was great to be part of the lesson. They didn't come to church today, but they had said they have to work everyday and can only study at night. We will have to work on their faith.

We stayed overnight in Ayutthaya again, but at a different hotel. This one was only $32 while the one last week was $35. This one had a top sheet – more of a comforter. It also was more old style Thai decor.  The rate is low because most hotels in Thailand are less expensive unless they are American chains like a Hilton. It had an A/C unit so we liked it.

We sometimes forget how low some things are – for instance to ride the shuttle from Bangkok to Ayutthaya, about 60 miles, is only $2 per person. However, to ride the tuk-tuk (small truck like taxi) from the hotel to the church about 5 miles away is $4. Chocolate chips are almost $10 for a small package. We did buy an iPhone this week and it is the same price as in the states. We are learning to use it.

We miss you and pray the Lord's blessing on everyone.

What is a Farang?

My good friend Mira Daniels asked what was a Farang. It is anyone who is not Asian living in Thailand. Dennis claims the word originally meant "big nose." Most people think it means foreigner, and maybe it does. Most Asians have small noses. Large ones are a minority.

Bangkok is very international. In our apartment building we have met Asians, people from India, and blond Brazilians. The only other Americans we have met here are the Elders who live directly below us. Muslim women walk the streets wearing the hijab scarf and others in full length black robes.

We walk .6 miles to the Church office building every morning. It is very hot and humid. The sidewalk is crowded with other people hurry to work, too. Every place in Bangkok is crowded--the trains and subways, the malls. Where else are 8 million people going to go who mostly ride public transit. The streets are jammed with traffic always--taxis and motorcycles rule. The sidewalks are lined with street vendors cooking or displaying wears. Drivers pay little attention to traffic laws or lane markers. The only police I've seen are directing traffic when the crosswalk sign isn't working--which is almost daily.

One morning the sidewalks were deserted as we made our way to the office. We shared the sidewalk with no one. No street venders were set up along the sidewalk selling fruit, fried meats or rice. It was a holiday equivalent to Labor Day in the states. It felt a bit strange to be so alone.

We have been in Thailand for a month now. It is beginning to feel like home. My birthday begins in a few hours--it is the big 6-0. I am hoping my companion with take me for an evening boat ride along the Chao Phraya River to honor the big day
. I will wear extra mesquito repellant. :-)

Here is a picture of the cake the Ayutthaya RS provided for our weekly potluck lunch. Isn't it adorable? If you can't tell, it is Elder Sowards and I.

 Love it!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Back to Ayutthaya

I am amazed at the members of the Ayutthaya Branch and what strong commitments they have. This picture is taken from the front door of the church. Many members come on motorbikes. Few have cars. See the motorcycle with the pink umbrella on the front? The man driving the motorbike is taking his wife and 9 year old son home. They are on a small cart attached to the front of the motorbike, sitting under the pink umbrella. The man in the blue helmet (elders' quorum president) is waiting for his wife and small child to climb on the back of the motorcycle to head home.
The truck is owned by a single sister in the ward. Several members will pile in the back for a ride home. Today she took and elder and his bike and companion somewhere to fix a tire. The branch is like one big happy family. They do a potluck after church each week--all Thai food--and then linger longer to visit. Everyone is fed well. Most members live many miles from the church and come by motorbike to attend. The sister who owns the truck lives 30 miles away.

Oh, and a lovely view of the neighborhood trash collection spot. Right out the front door of the church.

These girls are our Young Women and YW president. They are beautiful--inside and out. I can't help but love them all!

Today, Elder Sowards was sustained as the 1st counsellor in the branch presidency.  After the potluck they held a ward council. 

The sisters who had to wait for husbands and rides sat in a big circle with me. I asked about it being impolite for a woman to cross her legs in public. I often find myself crossing my legs during church. It takes effort not to, and it is so hard to change! I asked them to cross their legs with me in the circle so I could get comfortable. Some did. A few would not. They all giggled. I told them that during a typical Relief Society lesson, most women would have their legs crossed. 

They appeared amazed. 

These sweet sisters are patient with me and delight in teaching me Thai. I am willing to learn.