A lot of people recently have asked me, “How was Thailand?”
Here’s my standard answer: “Thailand is a really cool place, and I would love to go there again!”
The astute among you may notice that although I did technically answer the question, I didn’t really answer the heart of the question. Some people notice that in real time and inquire further, but most don’t and just move on. It’s an easy way to decipher who’s asking a quick, polite question, and who actually has time and emotional bandwidth to know more.
But since not all of you know me personally and can ask, I shall give you the long answer. If you didn’t want the long answer, then you already have the short one and you can go on your merry way! Blessings and health upon you, my friend.
So here’s the big picture. Five of us went to Thailand to lead worship for about 500 missionaries. That part of being in Thailand was fantastic: being with these super cool, dedicated, interesting people during their week of processing and chill time. But the actual trip (both there and back and some of being there) was ROUGH.
Our luggage didn’t leave the US when we did, so our 16-hour layover in China was just with carry-on luggage, which is not a huge deal (as anyone who’s done much traveling knows, this is a fairly common occurrence) but the language barrier meant that we spent at least 2 of those 16 hours in discussion with various airport personnel about our lost bags. And you haven’t really felt alone in the universe until you’ve tried to find transportation in a non-english speaking country at night, with nothing but your passport, laptop, and a clean pair of underwear.
We found our hotel, and due to a series of odd and sleep-deprived decisions, I ended up sharing a room with a total stranger that we met at the airport. So I can also tell you that you haven’t come to terms with your mortality until you’ve laid in bed thinking, “Wow, I hope my roommate isn’t a serial killer. I guess we’ll find out in the morning.”
Good news: she was not a serial killer.
We trekked onward to Thailand, settled into our hotel, and played for two days on rented instruments, waiting for our luggage to arrive. Day three, most of it arrived, and my acoustic guitar was among the happily accounted-for.
But when I took it out to play it the next morning, I discovered an 18 inch crack along the bottom of my guitar. I own an SKB flight case, which basically means in theory you could drop my guitar out of the plane at 30,000 feet and it would be fine. And since there was no damage to the case, clearly someone had removed the guitar from the case, somehow managed to crack it, then put it back and sent it along to Thailand. (I strongly suspect that they removed it to inspect it, stopped to take a smoke break, sat on the guitar, and then just put it back when their break was over. Either that or some sort of guitar-throwing competition went down.)
So that wasn’t great.
One of my teammates accompanied me back to the airport to report my luggage as “damaged,” which was another exercise in universal sign language. There was a point, actually, when a very polite but harried Thai gentleman told us we needed to speak to a Mr. Ping. My teammate leaned over to me and whispered, “Is he being serious or is he making a racist joke about the Chinese?”
“I have no idea. Just smile and nod,” I said, following my own advice.
We never found Mr. Ping, so maybe it was joke? Very difficult to say.
After we returned from the airport, I was getting ready to play for the evening session when I suddenly realized a terrible thing: I’d left my iPhone in the cab.
My roommate, who had lived in Asia for several years, was kind but straightforward: “I’m very sorry that happened. You’ll never see it again. Accept that and move on.”
Well, at this point you need to know that midway through the week I had learned that my grandmother passed away back in the states. Between that, the energy needed to lead the team, and my broken guitar, I was already emotionally on edge, and losing my phone, my tether to the familiar, put me over that edge.
I don’t cry often, but when I do, I tend to be in danger of popping out my eyeballs from sheer force. This was one of those times.
Thankfully, a coworker refused to accept this ending. He used Find My iPhone to see that my phone was still in the cab (back at the airport) and he put a message on the lock screen. Less than an hour later, we got a text in very broken English. Paraphrased, it said, “We found your phone. We are heading to such and such resort. We will leave your phone at the front desk.”
And there was much rejoicing!
My roommate’s immediate response was, “Wow. God must really love you!”
Theologically accurate? Not so much. Figuratively true? Yes.
You’ll be glad to know that the trip to the resort to retrieve my phone was an adventure in itself. We took a tuk-tuk, which is basically a giant tricycle with an engine, and when we showed the driver the spot on the map where we needed to go, he pulled out a one-inch thick monocle in order to see the map. And he still put his nose on the phone screen to use it! If I’d had a phone at the time, I would have taken a photo, and you could all share in the disbelief. Our driver was essentially blind.
But apparently his distance vision was somewhat better, because he successfully got us to the resort and back, cheered with us about my phone (“You accomplish you mission!”) and even took our photo and consented to take a selfie with us afterwards.
The end of this story is as follows: I bought a pair of Thai pants with elephants on them and wore them on the plane home and they ripped right down the crotch halfway through the 14.5-hour plane ride. Which just confirms the fact that nothing is fair in this world. And that international travel is an adventure from start to finish.
There. Now you know how Thailand was. Want to go with me next time?