Saturday, November 8, 2008

Smiling the Day Away - Arriving in Thailand

By Athena Boulgarides, Western Region Development Officer (North) for Christian Children's Fund

A group of Christian Children’s Fund sponsors are visiting Thailand to observe CCF’s programs. Here is Day One of their trip:

“Is there a McDonald’s in Thailand?” This is just one of the brilliant questions asked by our youngest Study Tour participant, 9-year-old Luc Dochterman from California.

I got to know Luc on the plane ride from Los Angeles International Airport to Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and learned that this is his third Study Tour with Christian Children’s Fund. He previously visited Ecuador and Mexico. And he sponsors two CCF children.

I feel so fortunate that all of the tour participants will have the opportunity to view this extraordinary experience through Luc’s unique youthful perspective!

We had a long day’s journey into night – or should I say into the wee hours of the next morning. We left L.A. at 1:50 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8 and landed in Bangkok at 1:06 a.m. Monday, Nov 10.

Time flies when you cross the international dateline!

Our tour guide Kiterom “Andrew” Kasemsri greeted our exhausted crew at the airport with a beautiful jasmine and rose garland called Puang Malai.

He taught us the proper Thai greeting, the Wai, along with the sentence Sawasdee ka for women and Sawasdee Krab for men.

I have to admit I did do some research on the rules of the Wai and was astonished. Suffice it to say “To Wai or not to Wai” will be the question du jour.

As we boarded the tour bus adorned with hot pink and light pink curtains we were excited to reach our final destination for the evening – the Royal Orchid Sheraton hotel. Sweet dreams of Thai smiles and the exciting journey that awaits us will assuredly fill our hearts and minds as we drift off.

I awakened to a remarkable view of the Chao Phraya River also known as the “River of Kings.” The group gathered at 10 a.m. in one of the hotel conference rooms for a briefing about the project we would be visiting in Chieng Mai.

CCF Thailand staff greeted each of us with warm Thai smiles, Wais and Saswasdees. If you ever watch a Thai perform the Wai, you’ll quickly see that there is more to it than meets the eye.

It is an amazing skill that requires patience, grace and lots of practice. I wondered how they performed it if they are carrying something? Do they just structure their day-to-day activities so their hands are empty and they are always Wai-ready?

At this point I was relaxed enough to really watch our CCF staff perform the Wai. OK, I think I’ve got it. Now my turn. My first attempt at really trying to Wai correctly – here goes. Hands together in Lotus position placed in front of the mouth, look at the person you are greeting in the eye, then bow slightly, as you rise look back at them, hands down.

Whew, I think I did. Surprisingly, I like it. It gives you time to really acknowledge another person’s presence and honor them in a way. I think I’m going to like the way of the Wai!

As the meeting began, we met Dr. Kanchada Piriyarangsan, the CEO of CCF Thailand. Dr. K, as they called her, treated us to a presentation about the project called “Love Beyond the Frontier.” The Chieng Mai Child Welfare project started in 1982 and now serves 1,872 families. In 1994 CCF Thailand started to work under the gracious patronage of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

Dr. K shared CCF Thailand’s vision – Thai children are cared for, protected and developed to their fullest capacity, enabling them to be smart, good and healthy as well as contribute actively to national development.

During the briefing we also learned about the school we will be visiting in Mae Kapu. The school has been pursuing a learning model called P+Learn or “P-learn,” which means having fun while learning. The P+Learn teaching model has a standardized curriculum that is used throughout Thailand, but can be adapted to the unique teaching and learning styles of individual teachers and students.

We were all excited to see the school, but that would have to wait a few days. For now we are headed to the Bangai Arts and Crafts Center of HM Queen Sirikit.

The center has a fascinating history. For years, one of Queen Sikrit’s royal duties was to visit people in all parts of the kingdom. During her visits she encountered tremendous poverty and substandard living conditions. She was determined to relieve poverty through job creation which focused on improving the quality of the products produced.

She arranged for instructors to help villagers improve their skill levels so they were able to sell their products to the queen.

The successful project continued to expand and was formally established in 1977. Eventually land was dedicated to the project in 1980 and on Dec. 7, 1984, the center was inaugurated as the Bangsai Arts and Crafts Centre, the SUPPORT Foundation of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand, or “Bangsai SUPPORT Centre.”

The center featured rooms filled with one-of-a-kind creations made from various materials including glass, ceramics and silk. It was truly special.

Throughout the day our youngest Study Tour participant Luc sang what I suspect might become the unofficial theme of the trip – the tune from “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” I think you might know it so sing along if you like … “Ooo eee ooo aaa-aaa… Ting tang … Walla walla bing bang …Ooo eee ooo aaa-aaa ting tang walla walla bing bang!

A long and exciting day left us in awe of CCF’s work in Thailand and filled with memories of new experiences, new faces and a whole new culture to appreciate.

I think I am beginning to understand the Thai smile. While Thai eyes seem to laugh and sparkle they give nothing away. At times they seem to reveal an entire world filled with unexplored adventure lying just beneath the surface.

And if you Wai, and your eyes meet, you can catch a glimmer of the deep sense of knowing and joy they possess that I believe may be born out of their faithful commitment to serving their fellow human being. I can’t wait to see what surprises tomorrow holds.

1 comment:

lfujimoto said...

As a fellow Study Tour traveler on this Study Tour to Thailand, this trip was a wonderful experience to get a glimpse of this beautiful country and the great work CCF is performing for so many children and families in need.

This blog is a wonderful treat for those of us who had the blessing to be a small part of a life-long memory! Great job Athena on this blog as we can relive our fond memories with your enthusiastic detailed description and wonderful insight.