Thursday, January 27, 2005

A Different Venue

Last Sunday morning, we stepped off the plane into Thailand, the only country in the world whose king actually still has power. Or so we've heard. I don't know what that really looks like, except that when you go to a movie here, you have to pay homage to the king before you can watch it.

So we go out to the curb and remind ourselves constantly, "They don't speak Chinese, they don't speak Chinese." It's instinctive, when you're in anothe country, to pull out whatever language you might know. We're back to pantomime and speaking slowly.

The long lines of cabs are silent. To save gas, they leave their engines off and push their cars forward when needed. We ask our driver to take us to the Baiyoke Suite Hotel. He is agreeable, but wants to give us a set rate instead of using his meter. We counter, "Use the meter. It's cheaper." He fights us, offering 300 baht and giving us all the typical reasons, "Much traffic, ok, no meter." He weakens, "Use meter, no use meter. No problem. Same same." Well, if it's same same to you, we'd like to use the meter. Score one for the Butz family.

Taxi drivers in Thailand drive like they are trying to break the sound barrier. There are no seatbelts. We hold on for dear life. This part of Thailand looks like Singapore and China combined - all the tropical weather in a dirty urban setting. The same partly built highways and buildings still line the road. We've seen them every year we've come.

We are only in Bangkok for one night, to go to the dentist here because it's so much cheaper. My dentist's first name is Wawit. Erik's is Choosin. These names crack us up. We have a hard time finding the dentist because none of the taxi drivers understand the name of the hospital. I find a man who will take us for 100 baht. I'm annoyed because I know that it should be half that price if he uses the meter, but I am at his mercy. As we drive, I realize this man could be taking my children and me somewhere else and I cannot stop him. I say, "The hospital is very close right? Shouldn't we be there already?" He slows down the car and starts to pull over, "Maybe you want to take another car," he threatens. "NO!" I cry. Ok, I'll shut up.

After the dentist, we want to swim. Well, the kids want to swim. We want to sleep. Score one for the Butz kids. As we walk out to the pool on the 11th floor, I say to Erik, "Is that air con I feel?" No, that's the actual air temperature. It must be 65 degrees out here. Our kids want to go in anyway. We shiver on pool chairs. A whole family from Denmark comes in and jumps straight in. Crazy Scandinavians.

In the afternoon, we go back to the airport to catch our shuttle to the conference. The irony of our trip is that it took two hours to fly here. It will take 3 hours to drive to our conference, and we're back tracking. Our bus leaves an hour and a half late, but we're on our way.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

New Year's Resolution

I'm not one for New Year's Resolutions, but I was challenged the other day by a friend to more fully embrace life here - to focus on gains, not losses. I thought I had been doing pretty well with that, but after talking with him, I realized that there is still a little piece of my heart that is reluctant to settle in here, and I think it's probably because of something called pride, but don't quote me on that. In other words, I want to avoid hearing the "I told you you'd love Singapore"s from others, but I'm afraid it will be unavoidable from this point on because my resolution is:
Love Singapore.

I don't know how long we'll be here - originally we thought 2-3 years, now who knows? Jim Elliot (missonary) said, "Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God." In light of that, here's my "gains" list to help me ponder the finer points of life here on this beautiful tropical island:
The weather - I'll always love snow (from inside, where it's warm) but I love that everyday has its share of enjoyable times. I love that it rains so much. I love that the evenings are cool and comfortable. I love that i rarely have to wonder if my kids can go out to play due to bad weather. I love that I never have to check the forecast.
Our complex - I love our pool. We have a pool! My kids can swim every day for free! I love that there's a playground right downstairs. I love that everyday someone comes and cleans our hallway and leaves that great smell in my elevator that I can't quite place. I love that I can get mail here and I can read all of it. (as opposed to trying to read Chinese). I love that there are families of people who love us and our kids living right here. I love that the guards at the gate know us and wave us in.
Our neighborhood - we have a hawker center right across the street! And you can walk right out to a taxi in front of our complex. There are three playgrounds within easy walking distance, and the most immaculate children's library I've ever seen right around the corner. I love that I can walk to four different grocery stores and three malls that have almost everything I need. I love that i can walk to two lines of the subway, and there are bus stops all around us. The streets are clean and safe, even at 6 in the morning.
The environment - Singapore is the cleanest, greenest, most beautiful place I have ever lived by far. The first drive we took, from the airport, was awe-inspiring. Tropical trees, which I wish I knew the name of (but they're not palm trees cause I'm not that stupid) hang over the street like a canopy in more places than one. The beach and the ocean are an easy drive in several directions. Sometimes it hits me, "I live on a tropical island." People dream of vacationing on tropical islands, and I live on one.
The shopping - I'll admit it, I really like to shop. I get overwhelmed sometimes and have to fight the temptation to be materialistic, but I love that I can think of something that I need, and I can go buy it. Today I went to two different Christian bookstores - two of many. Not only can I buy things I need, I can find things I haven't had for the past five years because I didn't even know they exist and now they're really fun to have. It's like Christmas everyday (except for the drain on our bank account - but this is a gains list!).

Ok, I have much more to say, but my clock is winding down for the night. Consider this Why Singapore is Great Vol. 1.