Chiang Rai Province (MM 8-12)

March 3 – Mae Lao Health Ministry Clinic
March 4 & 5 – Thailand Mennonite Brethren Foundation Clinic
March 6 – T-AMF Tour
March 7 – Chiang Rai Tour Day: Baan Si Dum and Khun Korn Waterfall
March 8 – AYDC Clinic

Back in our hometown, our time in Chiang Rai was simple and somewhat underwhelming. After coming off a high in Myanmar, the team was ready to work and to work as hard as they did in Myanmar, but the people came trickling in. The clinics were not barren by any means, but the pace was just more slow and relaxed than we wanted it to be. Maybe it was God giving us a break, but we really wanted God to give us more work.

Our major workdays were at the Mae Lao Health Ministry Clinic and the Thailand Mennonite Brethren Foundation, about 2 hours east of Chiang Rai, near the Laos border. The team anticipated and prepared for a large crowd at the Mennonite Brethren Foundation since in 2012, it was so busy that they unhappily had to turn people away. The days were still pretty productive in the optometry and medical departments and the dental team was able to get a few extra hours of R&R during the day.

Our T-AMF tour day on Thursday was intended as a workday at the Chiang Rai Prison on Thursday, but the prison was having a 2-day sports day (I’m not quite sure what these sports day entail, but I’ve learned that many Thai schools have these multi-day “sports days” at the end of the school year). Our T-AMF tour included a walk on campus, meeting the staff and worshipping together in the new Learning Center. Each of the staff was able to voice their jobs and prayer requests for the organization, especially for the Akha-Youth Development Center (AYDC) students that they care for. Allison and I talked about what we have been doing over the last couple of months, shared a little bit of our experience working with T-AMF and what we had learned about their organization.

On Friday, we spent the morning at the Baan Si Dum/Black House and Khun Korn Waterfall. The Black House was pretty cool; it is basically an art installation of black houses, animal horns, snake skins, large shells and furs. It was a curious place because there doesn’t seem to be a reason for the complexity of the little village the artist created and the artist actually lives on the premise in the houses he has built (the house he lives in is determined by the security guards standing outside the home). It was definitely cool, but definitely peculiar. Later that morning, we hiked about 1 mile to the Khun Korn Waterfall. It was a fun and short hike where we kind of felt like we were going uphill all the way. The prize at the end was worth it and to see the waterfall in its glory. I had read some pretty angry reviews on Trip Advisor about the waterfall and yes, while it’s not one of Yosemite’s great natural cascades, the Khun Korn trail is a beautiful tropical walk and the waterfall is still enjoyable to see.

The team’s last day and workday was at the Learning Center at T-AMF for the AYDC students and for those few special people in the villages. Luka did not want to advertise to neighboring villages or churches so the last day wouldn’t be so chaotic, but it was a pretty steady and busy day for everyone. Dad was busy doing small surgeries and even helped repair a poor ER stitching job from a car accident that happened earlier that week (the man was sitting in the front passenger seat, not wearing his seatbelt…in Thailand, seatbelts are only required for the driver (if they even do that) and suggested for passengers (Allison and I, sometimes, wear our seatbelts…:/).

We said our bittersweet goodbyes at the Chiang Rai airport, which was harder than Allison and I expected. We held our aunts and uncles and squeezed our parents goodbye. We worked together as a church and as a family believing in the power of God’s healing and the love for His world. The 2014 FCBC Medical Mission team opened new doors in Myanmar, watch miracles happen in Myitwa and continued to serve and care for our Thai brothers and sisters. These trips remind us that our love should not be contained of the comforts of our church or community, but to share our God-given gifts and talents to those that need it at the corners of the earth.

Black House entrance

Black House entrance

In front of the small house

In front of the small house

Inside then main Black House

Inside then main Black House

Somewhere in the village with Auntie Vicky and Uncle Lester

Somewhere in the village with Auntie Vicky and Uncle Lester

Auntie Gail in one of the yurt sitting houses

Auntie Gail in one of the yurt sitting houses

Googai, Allison, Lin and me at the beginning of the hike

Googai, Allison, Lin and me at the beginning of the hike

Falling bamboo on the trail

Falling bamboo on the trail

My great elephant leaf!!

My great elephant leaf!!

Mom and Dad on the other side of the waterfall

Mom and Dad on the other side of the waterfall

Allison, Mom and me at the waterfall!

Allison, Mom and me at the waterfall (sorry for the grainy copy)!


Yangon > Chiang Rai (MM 5-7)

Some kind of plague struck the team and started picking off team members one by one. Many believed it was something from dinner the night we returned from Myitwa in Zalun. It was rough seeing so much tummy pain and nausea, especially on the jarring ride back to Yangon.

We arrived to Yangon in the afternoon on Friday, February 28 and the rest of the day was a free day. Those that were sick retreated and rested and those that were up for it went to Scott’s Market and the Shwedagon Pagoda. I was one of the fortunate and had suffered only minor stomach pains and didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see more of Yangon.

Scott’s Market was the greatest tourist trap and I loved it. It’s a huge clean building well stocked with goods that Myanmar is known for: jade, rubies, Buddhas, woven baskets, pearls, abalone shell, hand-painted-this, handcrafted-thats and inexpensive t-shirts. We had one hour and the women (and Pastor Jack) scoured the vendors while the men went looking for food (obvious gender priorities). Everything was pretty cheap, but we were still encouraged to bargain if we could. Some vendors wouldn’t budge, knowing we were tourists, while others tried to be hard-nosed, but when we got a break, we claimed victory over saving $2. I’m a horrible bargainer, mostly because I don’t like it (out of guilt), but I definitely raise my hat for those on the team (who will want to remain anonymous) that were able to get good bargains.

Scott’s Market also had people walking around pushing you to buy their magnets or hand-painted cards for a “special deal, only for you.” I’m not a fan of those types of vendors and tried to stay away from them because they never leave you, even after you buy from them. They come back with new goods and try at you again. Auntie Vicky became a victim at least once and was approached at least three other times. We tried to stay in a group and when Auntie Vicky went missing, I knew who’d she be with and had to grab her hand and say, we gotta go!

After our quick hour of shopping, we gathered back at the bus and made our way to the Shwedagon Pagoda. The Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the largest Buddhist temples in Myanmar and many flock to worship there. It was a beautiful gold pagoda and we toured the circled path around it.

That evening we kept dinner simple to our stomachs and ate Chinese food at a clean touristy restaurant.

The following day, March 1, we set up clinics at the Immanuel Baptist Church (IBC), our last clinic in Myanmar. Trevour grew up at IBC and I think he really enjoyed giving back to his church as well as bringing another Baptist church to help the people of his home country. It was a really warm day at the church and many people were still not feeling well or just starting to feel the nausea and belly gurgles, but luckily, we weren’t as overwhelmed with patients and could do with team members on the sidelines. My mom was one of those that got it bad and I took over her job of taking patient history and preliminary eye exams in optometry (She said that her nausea reminded her of first trimester of being pregnant! I hope I didn’t get those genetic marks). It wasn’t my first time in optometry (I was an eyeglass grinder in 2010) and it was fun to get some time with patients and hear some of their stories.

On Sunday, March 2, Ming, Luka and I had a separate flight to Chiang Rai (via Bangkok) and left an hour earlier than the team to the airport, but our flight was delayed and we soon saw the team again. Once we arrived in Bangkok, we had 45 minutes to make our connecting flight and had to get our checked-bags, go through customs, get our tickets and recheck our bags and then get to our gate. Ming and Luka were not happy and I was convinced we weren’t going to make it. We didn’t get our bags, but got our tickets and told the ticket people to check our bags through to Chiang Rai and we RAN to our gate. We sprinted through the terminal and our running was necessary because as our names were being called for final boarding!! And sweaty and relieved, we made on the plane and safely to Chiang Rai!

Reunited with the Chermue family and with Allison, we made our way back to the house and rested until the team arrived. They had a long layover in Bangkok and didn’t arrive until late afternoon. After we settled at the Golden Triangle Inn and set out to an easy evening at Central Plaza (local mall) and the Night Bazaar.

Inside Scott's Market

Inside Scott’s Market

A landscape of the inside of Shewagon Pagoda

A landscape of the inside of Shewagon Pagoda

A big gold close up of the Shewagon Pagoda

A big gold close up of the Shewagon Pagoda

Myitwa Village (MM 2-4)

Disclaimer: this blog post is 4-pages single spaced with no pictures. I understand if you don’t want to read that much (maybe save it for some bedtime reading), but know that Myanmar was great and God is great. The team worked really hard and the rough travel and the sickness were worth helping the thousands of patients that received care.

For the day-by-day replay of the entire medical trip, check out my dad’s blog at

Myitwa Village (MM 2-5)

From February 25-28, the FCBC medical team served at the Myitwa village in the Zalun Township area. Our target zone consisted of 10 villages with a population of about 2,500 – 3,000.

We left Yangon at 4:30 am on February 25 and drove on a half-paved road for 3.5 hours in a charter bus, where we were greeted by the town of Zalun and the camera crew of a local television station. It wasn’t a quick interview with a presidential departure; the camera crew accompanied us to the village and tracked our every move (one of our American-Burmese team members, Trevour, is trying to acquire the taping). Zalun was a transfer point and we caught our half-hour boat ride to pick up our ox cart rides! The boat approach was something from other time and we could see the line of rustling oxen and their drivers waiting on the cliff above the shore. Sure, it is just an ox cart, but in its primitive nature, it is also the main, traditional and modern way that certain Burmese travel and transport. Each cart held about 3-4 people and took us along a bumpy, dusty, crazy and incredible ride. It took us about forty-five minutes to travel 1.7 miles. The ox carts were just another leg until we arrived at another transport spot and crossed a small lake about a half-mile to the entrance of the Myitwa village.

After we landed ashore, we walked along for another half-mile of the main road, which was dirt road and a 3-foot cement-raised path (useful during flooding season), to a middle school, where we would be holding our medical clinics for three days. Compared to some areas in Yangon, it wouldn’t be so bad to live in the Myitwa village. The multi-family teak houses looked firmly built and well kept, unlike some of the decaying squatter buildings and scrap-made shack-homes in Myanmar or Thailand. — The long day of travel was hard for everyone, but we couldn’t let our guards down just yet. Upon our arrival, there were at least 500 patients waiting for us under the bamboo canopy.

The next three days was unexpected and unbelievable.

The Burmese people of Myitwa had never seen a foreigner, let alone medical services or a doctor of any kind, but they knew what hurt and what wasn’t supposed to be in their body. A person should be able to see from their eyes, pain shouldn’t be in the mouth where one eats or a lumpy bump shouldn’t be protruding from the head, shoulder, breast or leg.

The four dental, optical, medical and pharmacy clinics set up shop in their respective spaces and the Burmese nurses helped triage the patients. In theory, this would have been really helpful, which it did with, but with minimal results. While it eliminated additional time translating, it was less useful because of various situations: some patients wanted to be seen at multiple clinics, more people wanted to see a medical doctor, leaders wanted and needed to limit the registration, while some wanted to register them all. It was somewhat stressful and caused a little bit of chaos, but in the end, it didn’t matter very much because at least everyone saw at least one doctor and we saw everyone that wanted to be seen.

The first day of clinics was a day of getting our bearings with the translators, for new members to see how the clinic works, learning to work with new members and to understand the flow of doctors and patients. It was a busy afternoon trying to get acclimated to the heat and to the needs of the patients, but there were some really great elements that made our afternoon and the next two days successful:

–        We had good leadership.
–        There were more optical team members, which decreased the wait time and increased the number of patients.
–        We had 5 American doctors and 3 Burmese doctors helping the hundreds of medical patients.
–        We had really great and patient translators! They were so fun and helpful.
–        (We lost the use of the dental compressor, which limited dental cleanings and restorations to a lot of teeth pulling!)

At the end of every day, we were sticky and tired and happy. We were graciously fed dinner by a local cook and served by the teachers of the middle school and no one spoke English. They did their ultimate best to keep us full and comfortable and their generosity wasn’t limited to just making us meals. They offered to carry our bags, shined a light above our food when the generators when out, brought us extra waters, rubbed our backs when we were nauseated, offered massages and cleaned up after us. They were thankful that we were in their village helping their people, but we were so thankful to them for letting us come and keeping us faithful.

Our sleeping accommodations were the best as they could be in a village and we went camping in our bungalows (I, at least had a great time, minus the snoring…)! The men and women were housed separately, the men at the middle school and women at a guest house at the entrance of the village. We slept on mats and on our cool Klymit sleeping pads (Klymit heard about the purpose of trip and sold their pads to us at the wholesale rate! Thank you, Auntie Gail.), in a mosquito net tent, and in our homemade sleep sacks (thank you, Auntie Gail). For the women, we were packed wall-to-wall, but it was definitely doable since we were somewhat confined to out net tents. The big men had it good; they could roll in their sleep about four times before hitting anyone. What surprised me, and what we found to be a general pattern in the men and women camps, is that we have very happy snorers. I swear, more than half the team snores and even after a tiring day, the hymns of snoring men and women made it hard for a good night’s rest. Luckily, and despite the complaints and laughter, the days were perfectly well and good.

There were a lot of accommodations that the Myitwa village provided for us to make us feel at home. Prior to our arrival, they did not have the raised pathway, showers or western bathrooms or condiments like A1 sauce and ketchup. All the food was brought in from Yangon (since the Myitwa village is very poor [average living cost is $2] and they wanted us to eat well, although, I was ready to eat Burmese food) and all the western amenities were built for us. It was a lot of money and effort to bring and build for a team that would be in the village for only three days! While many things were new, it was still different, but it was better than squatty-potties and the baby wipes we prepared to clean ourselves with.

On the second day, we anticipated that there would be a lot of people, but we couldn’t have ever anticipated how many. The word had easily spread what was happening in Myitwa and people came. There were stories that people stayed overnight in the fields because they hadn’t been seen the first day or people had walked three hours to get to the clinics. There were over 1,500 people that came day and they layered themselves among the mats in the small waiting area. We could feel the heat of the hundreds of bodies and the aching need for healing and answers.

The optical and dental team did an outstanding job in Myitwa, working fast and attending to each patient’s concerns about their eyes and teeth. The dental team was in their groove and worked efficiently to attend to each patient. In the evening, Auntie Vicky (retired dentist) and Auntie Lynelle (hygienist) held an info meeting to teach basic teeth hygiene and care. Over 200 people attended. The optical team worked very hard throughout the two weeks, always the last team to finish, squeezing in as many patients as possible. The optical and medical groups had it the hardest because they often had to tell patients that they couldn’t do anything about their cataracts or that they couldn’t operate on the double cleft palette or help a girl that couldn’t walk. You don’t travel a great distance to say no to people, but you try your hardest.

The medical team was in its prime and was remarkable. The group consulted and diagnosed ailing patients and helped them understand their pain and provided physical or medical treatment. They’re a steady group, but often have the most down time, leaving the competition to the dental and optical groups. This year, they could barely get a break and they worked so hard until every patient was seen.

I was really proud of my dad and it was really neat to see him so passionate about his work. It has been a while since I have seen him in surgery and I had forgotten how dedicated he is. He’s performed surgeries on these trips before, but when I saw him remove an infected growth on a patient’s butt, cut out a golf ball-sized cyst from a 24-year olds head and give life to a boy’s webbed hands so he could work and get married, it was something to admire and respect.

With the surgeries, there were issues quantifying quality care. With the 1,000+ waiting patients, dad and another doctor’s time were being monopolized and they couldn’t see as many patients. So do you try to see as many patients as you can and give them at least some type of treatment or do you sacrifice time to those few patients that need a surgery or the extra care? — By late afternoon, the Sawyadaw (title for the monks) asked the medical team to stay and see the last couple of hundred patients registered for the day, which would take them later into the evening. The American doctors were hesitant, but some knew they couldn’t let the Burmese doctors work into the night by themselves and were reminded of their purpose in coming to Myitwa.

My mom and I stuck around that evening to watch and observe. Towards the end of the night, around 10 pm, I was taking pictures and printing them on my dad’s mobile printer for about 30+ people. I started out with the kids, who were so curious and patient. Then I started taking pictures of new mothers, because who wouldn’t want a picture with their baby? Then everyone that was left in the waiting area wanted their picture taken and printed, and I kept going. It got kind of crazy, but luckily, it was getting late and I told everyone I had to get to bed. It was a lot of fun to hang out and use photos to connect with people.

That leads to my job on the team — I was the designated pinch-hitter, helping out where ever there was a need and to also be the amateur-Steven-Chin and document our work in Burma (it is true that a photographer/videographer can only take so many pictures or can film so many minutes, but don’t be asking for my pictures later if you’re going to criticize). One of the best parts of taking pictures was showing people their photograph. I love taking candid pictures, but it’s always awkward, somewhat disrespectful and obvious when you’re shooting a fat lens into someone’s face and in some part, they have no idea what you’re doing to them. When I wanted to capture a shot, I showed the person their picture I took of them, and after, I tried to capture the moment of giggles that they looked at themselves, and maybe for the first time.

The team kept plowing through on day three. We were scheduled to leave Myitwa at 12 pm, but there was no way that was going to happen. When I saw how many people we had seen over the last two days, there was no way we were going to be able to cut it half a day and quickly dash away. We rescheduled to leave at 4 pm, but more like 5 pm because Dad was finishing another set of webbed fingers. Geeze louise, Daaaad (but seriously, my Dad is so cool). Most everything and everyone were packed by 3 pm and we had a parting ceremony with the Sawyadaw and said our goodbyes. It was a bittersweet goodbye because we became attached to the town and their generosity and everyone’s hard work was put to a great cause and outcome. These trips are really not about the numbers by any means, but seeing about 3,000 patients in three days is pretty incredible.

It may have been just another rural village in the middle of some country, but the medical care at the Myitwa village was honestly, historical. Large groups wanting to provide medical care don’t come into Myanmar, but we did.

So, was it worth it?
Was it worth the thousands of dollars?
Was it worth the thousands of miles?
Was it worth it to the thousands of people?
*[insert profanity here]* Yes.

Chiang Rai > Bangkok > Yangon (MM 1)

In 2012, Myanmar (pronounced Mee-anmar) opened its doors to foreign trade and tourism.
Luka and I arrived in Bangkok from Chiang Rai around 9:00 pm on February 23. We were lucky we made the plane, arriving just 30 minutes before our departure. It was a close call, but since I’ve been in Thailand, I’ve been adjusting to Thai-time and by the motto, “if Luka’s not worried about it, I’m not worried about it.” It’s been working out so far.

I had never been to Bangkok and I still won’t really claim that I have, but the only thing I’ll remember is its humidity. Chiang Rai has not been humid and I wasn’t prepared of the hot and sticky. I’ll actually remember two things, because Ming fed us homemade dumplings and it reminded me how much I love Chinese food and how much it makes me feel at home. Dumplings remind me of dinner with my grandparents and dinners with Josh’s family.

It was a rough night for me in the humidity and it just happened to be my night to get bit. I don’t think it was mosquitos bites, but I had at least ten new bites when I woke up, which is probably more than I have gotten in Thailand (unfortunately, Allison has suffered and has been bit at least 50+ times). The worst part was getting bit on the eyelid. When I saw myself, it looked like I got slugged in the face and it felt awful, but thankfully, the bite decreased throughout the day.

Our flight was to Myanmar was fine and Ming, Luka and I met the First Chinese Baptist Church Medical Team mid-morning at the Yangon International Airport on Monday, February 24.

Everyone seemed in decent spirits, although I was told, the combination of flights and long layovers was harder to endure than most years. It was a morning of the unknown as the 24 bins of medical supplies and 8 medical boxes were stalled at customs. The documents didn’t quite match the boxes and the customs police wanted to hold them for three weeks, but if the boxes couldn’t get through customs, there would be no medical clinics in Myanmar. Team leader, Dr. Bill Ho (Uncle Bill) spent all day with two other members, Dr. Chu and Trevour, both Burmese natives and US residents trying to get the bins through customs. Whatever magic or miracle and really hard work, we got the bins and prepared ourselves for a great work week.

While our fate was being determined by customs, we had lunch at the Green Elephant, a really cute restaurant that made you feel like you were vacationing in the jungle. After lunch, the team got settled at the 7 Mile Hotel (I haven’t seen 7 Mile, the movie with rapper Eminem, but its nothing as rappy and dark), which was actually pretty modern and clean. After being in Thailand for a little over a month, I enjoyed the hot water, air conditioning and plush pillows. In the afternoon, some rested after the long travel, while others took a quick trip to a small over-priced tourist shop.

After window shopping, we headed to Myanmar’s Chinatown before dinner, which actually didn’t look like a Chinatown, but it was an amazing busy area bustling with vendors and people. The food vendors overflowed from the sidewalk and into the streets, almost competing with traffic, but beyond the streets, the neighborhood was decrepit and essentially a slum.

We ate dinner at a Thai restaurant and went back to the hotel for a team meeting and to prepare for the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University at the Myitwa village at 5:30 am. The university is also a monastery and is located about 5 hours away from the city of Yangon. We would arrive to the village by bus, ox cart and boat. Yes, an ox cart.

But first, we’re going to be interviewed for a television program. Yes, that’s true too.

We’ve hit some ups and downs this first day and we thank Uncle Bill for his dedication and hard work for our team!

FCBC Medical Mission 2014

Tonight, I’m leaving for Myanmar/Burma to meet up with my parents and First Chinese Baptist Church of Fresno.

Every other year since 2004, my home church has been providing two week medical clinics to southeast Asian villages.

They started these trips with T-AMF.

We’ll be in Yangoon, Burma from February 24 – March 2 and back in Chiang Rai, Thailand working until March 9.

In 2010, we were in Burma and we were kicked out after our second day. We’ve heard that Burma has changed over the last two years, opening their doors to foreigners. Please pray for safety and peace this next week.

Allison will be holding down the fort until we come back to Thailand.

Below is a video of FCBC’s 2012 Medical Mission Trip produced produced and edited by brother Steven.

Our Everyday

Below are some pictures from February, some of the everyday things of our daily life here in Chiang Rai:

1. Every Monday we have staff meetings.

Staff meeting and devotion

Staff meeting and devotion.

2. Tuesdays, we have Staff English lessons.

Our three students: Pa Tim (teem), Ashang and Amidoo.

Our three students: Pa Tim (teem), Ashang and Amidoo.

3. We tutor Monday-Thursday, although in the last week, I think we helped one student. I think we’ll get less students over the next few weeks because Thai school ends mid-March and I think kids are tired of trying with us (since it takes the whole hour to get through one homework assignment), versus getting their answers from friends.

Allison tutoring some of our favorite kids

Allison tutoring some of our favorite kids.

4. We made papaya salad!

Allison getting the green papya from the backyard.

Allison getting the green papaya from the backyard.

Cutting the papaya for the salad

Cutting the papaya for the salad.

Finished papaya salad with Ghan (and I promised I helped)!

Finished papaya salad with Ghan (and I promised I helped)!

5. We go to CRICS (Chiang Rai International Christian School) events. One week, Luka and Ghan spoke at the Valentine’s Day chapel about how they met and how they’ve learned to love each other. This past weekend, we also went to CRICS’ school dance of maybe 50 kids of which we played football/soccer before the dance started. 

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Luka and Ghan speaking at Valentine’s Day chapel. We prepped them the day before.

My awesome kick against Luka (although, it wasn't a goal...this time)

My awesome kick against Luka (although, it wasn’t a goal…this time).

Beautiful sunset of the rice paddies from CRICS.

Beautiful sunset of the rice paddies from CRICS.

6. Luka, Lin, Allison and I spent an afternoon at a Thai military museum, which used to be the home of Thailand’s third prime minister. 

Playing with guns

Luka playing with guns.

One of the military rooms

One of the military museum rooms.

These swords were just there and sharp...seems a  little bit dangerous.

These swords were just there and sharp…seemed a little bit dangerous…so we played with them.

Enjoying ourselves in a very romantic spot at the military museum

Enjoying ourselves in a very romantic spot at the military museum.

8. We love eating at Grandma’s House. It’s interesting how the family still eats very traditionally, considering there is a table in the house. It’s pretty awesome to see old  Akha traditions in the modern world.

Akha lunch at Grandma's house.

Akha lunch at Grandma’s house.

9. This is our friend Pete. We celebrated his 61st Birthday, another great birthday that he didn’t think he would see. Pete is in remission (cannot remember what kind of cancer) and he and his wife, Mary have lived in southeast Asia for about twenty years, starting in Nepal and now in Chiang Rai. They moved to Chiang Rai because of warmer climates because the cold weather was affecting Pete’s recovery. Pete is a veterinarian and has written a book for agricultural animal care, which has been translated into about four languages. He’s a real friendly person and we like him and Mary a lot.

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Happy Birthday, Pete!

10. Remember that engagement party we went to last month? This weekend we attended the couple’s wedding. There were almost 1,000 guests from over 14 Akha villages! It was so crazy and so cool. I cannot get over how many people were at this wedding, and everyone was fed and seemed to have enjoyed themselves. Guests from China, Laos and Myanmar attended and it was great to see the generations of Akha celebrate. The ceremony was about two hours (which included guest speakers and musical performances) with a lunch right after.

Ghan and Luka with the couple

Ghan and Luka with the couple.

All the people!!

Look at all the people!!

The view from the back. There were still four rows behind us.

The view from the back. There were still four rows behind us.

Traditional Akha wear.

Great to see traditional Akha clothing. It’s so intricate and beautiful.

New T-AMF Office

It has been very routine here at T-AMF, but it’s also gotten a little hotter and a little more busy.

Over the last week, Allison and I cleaned up Luka’s office. It wasn’t in super bad shape, kind of cluttered and dusty, but Allison and I both enjoy cleaning and thought we’d merely suggest cleaning up some stacks. Instead, to our enjoyment, were able to clean out and reorganize everything! It took a couple of tries to get it the way Luka wanted, but better that he changed his mind now while he had willing workers. We learned that it had been about 10 years since Luka had cleaned his office…Ghan was definitely more happy than anyone. She cleaned and scrubbed every cobweb and gecko poop that had been there over the last several years.

Luka's office BEFORE (sorry, we forgot to take a panoramic)

Luka’s office BEFORE (sorry, we forgot to take a panoramic or at least better connected photos).

Allison and Lin moving furniture around

Allison and Lin moving furniture around during the first attempt.

Painting one wall green, the others are white

Then we thought it could use a little painting, so we painted one wall green and the others white.

The first finished set up

The first finished set up. 

The AFTER office! So fresh and so clean. We love it.

The AFTER office! So fresh and so clean. We love it.


Singha Sunday

Allison and I were not expecting much from this past weekend considering we holed ourselves up on Friday and Saturday reading and catching up on a television shows and figured Sunday would be the same.

Luka suggested that we go on a bike ride at the Singha (beer) Park in Chiang Rai. It sounded great and it sounded flat.

It was not flat.
It was hilly.
It was hard.
It was long.
It was more than 12 miles.
We ended up on the super highway (faster country road).

We saw zebras and giraffes.
We got much needed exercise.
The scenery was so beautiful.
It pushed us.
It was fun.
It was awesome.
And I’d do it again.
I wish you could have been there.

12-mile ride amongst the tea.

12-mile ride amongst the tea.

Saddle up! Lin, Luka, Allison, Whan and Wee.

Lin, Luka, Allison, Whan and Wee.

A Singha worker said we should go see the zebras and giraffes and we thought they were joking.

A Singha worker said we should go see the zebras and giraffes and we thought they were joking.

Enjoying the animals

Enjoying the animals

Those hills were hard and hot.

Those hills were hard and hot.

The flat fun parts

The flat fun parts

This was the point where I thought, we are definitely off course...

This was the point where I thought, we are definitely off course…

Finding homes and villages in the trees

But finding homes and villages in the trees were cool. We also saw really pretty ponds and denser jungle areas that were really beautiful.

Me and Whan waiting for everyone else.

Whan and I waiting for everyone else.

Forget peddling!

Here comes Allison!

Whoops, super highway!

Whoops, super highway!

Lin and Allison post-ride.

Lin and Allison post-ride.

Post-ride Singha beer. Now I know what people mean when they say they need a beer.

Post-ride Singha beer. Now I know what people mean when they say they need a beer.


The Chermue Family

Introducing our host family, the Chermue’s (pronouced cher-muh)!
Many people from my hometown of Fresno know the family, but other friends and family are not familiar.

Luka and Ghan are the parents to four girls: Lin (17), Da (14), Wee (12) and Whan (10).
We see everyone almost everyday and eat many of our meals with them.
They all understand English, but a couple of the girls are more quiet and speak only in Thai.

Below are some fun facts about the family that we’ve learned since living with them —

  • Luka really likes the following American things: blue jeans, Starbucks’ instant coffee packets and old Christian country songs (like Randy Travis back-in-the-day-old).
  • Our favorite Ghan-saying: take your time, but hurry.
  • Lin loves a set of the same.American.songs and plays them on repeat. I’m comfortable with her now to tell her to skip a song I don’t like, like Jar of Hearts by Christina Perry. Everyday.
    (I spent some time with Lin in 2010 and it took her about a week to warm up to me again, but we’re chill now).
  • Da is super popular on Facebook. On average, she gets about 150+ likes per post.
  • Wee is good at singing and playing the piano and guitar.
  • Whan says if she excels in her ESL classes, her reward to herself is to learn science… (her English is very good and she talks to us the most).
  • The family has three dogs: Pepsi, Asu and Kin (pronounced keen) and they are very friendly gentle dogs. Kin will have puppies early this summer!
  • Luka and Ghan really know everyone in town.
Wee, Ghan, Lin, Whan, Luka and Da

Wee, Ghan, Lin, Whan, Luka and Da (late 2012)

1 Day in Myanmar

My apologies for delinquent updates. I’ll try to be better.

Our weeks are becoming more consistent with our set work schedule with a surprise event somewhere in the week to change the pace. This past Monday, we went to Myanmar/Burma for the day (more below) and celebrated Luka’s 50th birthday.

We are in the throws of tutoring, which has its good challenges as well as its frustrating ones (where kids don’t want to try at all and attempt to budge us for their homework answers). We have also started English classes, which has been a bit of a learning curve on both ends.

The updated T-AMF website is almost done and should be up later this week, and we are starting to update the AYDC sponsorship list.


On Monday, February 3, we attended Ghan’s cousin’s engagement party in Myanmar and had quite the adventures on the way!

We packed all 8 of us in the car (6 Chermue’s + 2 Chin’s), dropped off 3 Chermue’s to school and headed to the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. Myanmar is only a quick hour away from Chiang Rai, but Allison and I first had to go to the immigration post close to the border to fix our single-entry visas.

A single-entry non-immigrant visa is long-term visa, where one cannot work and are mainly in Thailand to travel and play. One can only leave Thailand once, presumably back to the states. In trying to avoid additional paperwork and potential rejection from the US Thai embassy, Allison and I had to get single-entry visas. Now that we were going to Myanmar for the day, we needed multiple-entry visas or we would not be allowed back into Thailand.

Everything went fine at immigration, other than the chunk of change we had to pay for the visas (which was the same cost if applying in the states) and the additional paperwork that would need to be completed before the end of our first three months in Thailand (I think we’re technically working as volunteers, however you want to interpret that). I’m not quite sure with some of the details, but I think in applying for our visas, we had to do it the way that we did it in order to have gotten our feet into Thailand. I was in Washington, DC a few days before Thanksgiving and tried to apply for a multiple-entry visa for myself at the Thai Embassy and they told me I just needed a single-entry visa according to the paper work Allison and I had. Oh well and no worries because we are here now! All in all, we got what we needed and now Allison and I are more determined to visit another country with our multiple-entry visas before we return!

After our hour at immigration, around noon, we crossed the border by foot and quickly tried to find a bite to eat since no one had really eaten since we left the house, but it was actually a lot harder to find food than we thought. Chiang Rai has street food vendors everywhere and there always seems to be a decent little food shop on every corner.

We finally found a place and were entertained by the whole meal:

  • Lin and Luka got their rice dishes first, but the food place didn’t bother cleaning the plates. You could see the grease and old foot bits on the plate. Lin was complaining and we thought, if Lin is complaining and she’s Thai, this has to be bad!
  • Allison and I get our noodle bowls and Allison finds a bee roasted amongst the garnishes. We sent it back.
  • Lin wanted an egg with her rice and the one person that spoke Thai could not be found. We had to play charades with a couple of servers to finally get the egg. She finally gets the egg…with egg shell.
  • Apparently, it’s ok to snap at servers at restaurants, but I think it’s rude and now I snap at Lin when I want something. She thinks it’s funny and hates it at the same time.

We finished our meal and got lost with the taxi driver trying to find the engagement party. No one was worried and seemed to know the whereabouts, but it was no surprise considering we were on an unpaved road with little signage. We finally made it and were able to attend the Akha engagement ceremony (where someone swiped Allison’s shoes — it was fun trying to figure out how she would get back home if she had no shoes) and had a great lunch. The bride and groom also surprised Luka with birthday cake!

Everyone has been celebrating Luka’s 50th Birthday all week! More on his birthday soon!

Multiple-visas DONE! Allison is happy because she didn't get in trouble (she's not a fan of immigration anything). I'm sad because it was so expensive.

Multiple-visas DONE! Allison is happy because she didn’t get in trouble (she’s not a fan of immigration anything). I’m sad because it was so expensive.

We made it to Myanmar!

We made it to Myanmar, in our traditional Akha clothing, of course.

Lin's dirty plate and egg shell. Yum.

Lin’s dirty plate and egg shell. Yum. (Not sure why this photo is small)


Allison’s bee! Luka encouraged her to just eat it.

Roads of Myanmar.

Roads of Myanmar and on our way to the engagement party.

Taxi ride with Lin

Taxi ride with Lin.

More taxi

More taxi, Allison and Lin.

Taxi with Luka (no seatbelts Dad)

Taxi with Luka (no seatbelts, Dad)

Thai whisky? The men at the other table all stared at me while I tried it. I think they thought I was going to wince. Psh, I took it like a man.

Thai whisky? The men at another table all stared at me while I tried it. I think they thought I was going to wince. Psh, I took it like a man. 

Akha engagement ceremony. William (I think) is Singaporean and Jen is Akha. Their common language is English and they live in Bangkok.

Akha engagement ceremony of William and Jen. William is Singaporean and Jen is Akha-Thai. They are 20 years a part, their common language is English and they live in Bangkok. 

The couple with Ghan and Luka and Luka's surprise birthday cake! Happy 50th Birthday Luka!

William, Jen, Ghan and Luka with Luka’s surprise birthday cake! Happy 50th Birthday Luka!