Ben the Blunt returns!

After an extended 4 year leave of absence, I will return to writing blogs.  This time around, I will also include sports and history to travel.  As football season is starting, I have included Ben’s burning questions for each of the 32 NFL teams.  Without further ado, I start with the Arizona Cardinals: How will Murray and Kingsbury do in their first big season?  Atlanta Falcons: Is Ryan well protected? Baltimore Ravens: How good of a passer is Lamar Jackson? Buffalo Bills: How will Josh Allen progress? Carolina Panthers: Can Cam stay healthy? Chicago Bears: Who is their kicker? Will Trubisky reach the next level? Cincinnati Bengals: How will Coach Taylor change the culture there? Cleveland Browns: Can we buy the hype? Dallas Cowboys: Will Zeke, Dak and Amari get paid, and when? Denver Broncos: Will the real Joe Flacco stand up? Detroit Lions: Is Matt Patricia the right coach? Green Bay Packers: Is Aaron Rodgers in decline? Houston Texans: Can they protect Watson? Indianapolis Colts: Is Luck healthy? (Question already answered!) Jacksonville Jaguars: Who are you? Kansas City Chiefs: What is Mahomes’ encore? Los Angeles Chargers: How much does Rivers have left in his tank? When will Gordon get paid? Los Angeles Rams: How healthy is Todd Gurley? Miami Dolphins: How low can they go? Minnesota Vikings: Is Cousins worth the investment? New Orleans Saints: NFC championship hangover? New York Giants: Is this the end of the road for Manning? New York Jets: Will Darnold improve?  Oakland Raiders: What now after Brown? Philadelphia Eagles: Can Wentz stay healthy? Pittsburgh Steelers: How hot is Tomlin’s seat?  San Francisco 49ers: Will they improve? Seattle Seahawks: The Legion of Whom? Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Is Winston the future? Tennessee Titans: Can Mariota stay healthy? Washington: How long until Haskins?

Next time, I’ll discuss my time in China and the Philippines, plus the origin of some phrases.

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All good things

First things first, I want to send a belated season’s greetings to my readers.  I am currently in my final full week of teaching in Thailand.  As of January 20th, my work visa will expire.  During my time in southeast Asia, I have visited the following countries: Thailand (first and foremost), Singapore (1 day), Laos ( 3 times in 3 or 4 weeks, visa related), Cambodia ( 6 days).  Shouldn’t Johnny Cash be singing “I’ve been everywhere” at this point?  There is 1 more place I will stop at on the way home: the Philippines!  Also, I would like to see the Malaysia/Brunei/Indonesia area someday.  When I return to the US, a new chapter in my life will be unfolding.  I have formed a three step plan during this time.  First, I plan on finishing my ordination papers and take the final steps to being an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC).  This has been 10 years coming.  My second plan is to find a college or community college I can teach religion classes at.  I want to teach and preach!  The third part of my plan is this: I want to help refugees adapt to living in America.  I can use my experience as an English teacher to help them learn phrases like “How much is this coat?”  There may be many refugees who haven’t seen snow before.  Since last October, I’ve been feeling mixed emotions.  I’m excited to see family and friends and for what lies ahead.  At the same time, I know that I will miss my friends in Bangkok and Udon Thani that I have come to know.  When I led worship this morning, I said that I would like to return to Thailand, but I don’t know when.  I also said that maybe I can see my Thai friends in America.  Final words of wisdom: 1. Don’t let an elephant take your umbrella.  That almost happened to me the other day!  2. Don’t wai a Malayan sun bear unless it wais you first.  3. If attacked by a clown, always go for the juggler.

A farang goes to church

Last week I flew to Phnom Penh, Cambodia on vacation. I didn’t get to go church yesterday. I looked for a church and asked around, but I couldn’t find one that was near me. This shouldn’t be surprising. Cambodia is mainly a Buddhist country and Christianity has just been beginning to make inroads there. By some, Christianity and the English language by extenstion may be viewed as a language and religion of the “white man.” How often do we as westerners actively think about going to church? For many, it may seem like a routine. Traveling to Asia has helped broaden my perspective in this area. In America, people take for granted that they will hear worship in their own language. I go to the church that is on the campus of my school. It’s the closest place for me. A major thing for me in worship is that I need a translator to help me understand what is being said. There have been times I have left early due to my not being able to hear the translator or if the headphones aren’t working. Sometimes, church or sabbath for me may consist of going on a walk or talking with a close friend or with my circle of friends. I may not have gone to church yesterday, but I will meet with some of my close friends in Bangkok later this week. During our time together, I will be able to pray and worship God with my friends. We can also catch up on what has been happening at our different schools and communities. In our community, east and west come together. America and Europe meet with India, Thailand and Australia. We are truly a melting pot of volunteer teachers. We have different stories, but we gel and come together just the same. I look forward to this blessed time of renewal and coming together.

The Three Circles, part 2

This is a followup to my last blog entry.  In August, I went on a retreat with my fellow English teachers to Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Thailand.  It is a beach in southern Thailand.  In my opinion, Thailand has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  A week later, I went to a Rosetta Stone seminar at my school.  The short story is that I will be co-teaching the Rosetta Stone software with my roommate to the Thai teachers.  I went to a few Thai cooking classes recently.  I was more of a taste tester than cook.  I would probably need a slower paced cooking class.  “Add water, Ben.  Did you add the water?  Good, now don’t burn it.”  This past week, I also got to use my ministerial training.  My friend Mars and I visited my caretaker when she was sick last Monday.  The next day, I went with one of my kindergarten teacher friends to visit with a mutual friend whose son was actively dying.  The son passed away on Thursday, and I went to the wake that night, as well as the funeral on Saturday.  I couldn’t understand what was said during the services, but I noticed that casket was closed and people were taking pictures.  I’m not used to a closed casket wake.  I don’t understand why it’s called a wake in the first place.  I don’t have any pictures to share because I didn’t bring my camera with me.  I’m confused because I thought that it was considered rude to take pictures during a funeral.  I also noticed people handing out water bottles and various snacks as well.  This was the first funeral I’ve observed in Thailand. This was a Christian service at a Christian cemetery.  When I first came to Thailand, I got a black Thai style shirt to wear for such an occasion.  This week is the last full week of the semester before exams.  Later in October, I will give a report on what I did during this mini vacation.

The 3 circles

If you’ve ever played the video game Frogger when you were younger, you might better understand this post.  First, a brief refresher.  Frogger was the game where a frog made its way across the screen through traffic.  Now what does Frogger have to do with Thai culture, you may ask?  Thai culture has 3 circles of relationships.  The outermost circle is the one where people could walk into you or cut you off in traffic without a second thought.  The middle circle is for friends or work acquaintances.  The innermost circle is usually reserved for one’s family.  As a foreigner, it is important to move out from the outermost circle into the middle circle.  How does one do that?  Be a presence!  If someone invites you to dinner, that’s an opportunity.  Other opportunities may include visiting someone in the hospital or being invited to a wedding or funeral.  It could also include playing with the kids during break or after school.  In my case, I have played soccer, basketball, and takraw sometimes.  Takraw is a sport like volleyball, but it’s used with a wicker ball and it uses the feet.  It is a popular sport in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.  Another sign that I was included was when I was invited to a Thai Buddhist wedding.  As an aspiring world religions teacher, I got the chance to observe another faith tradition’s wedding service.  Basically, the point of this blog is to encourage people to go make a transition and to step out of your comfort zone.

Wai Kru Day

Today was Wai Kru Day at Udon Suksa today. What is Wai Kru Day? It is a day where students show appreciation to teachers. Two students from each grade, a boy and a girl, approach the center stage where the teachers are assembled and seated. Then both students crawl on their knees and bow before the head teachers and present them flowers. It is a beautiful ceremony with singing and some Thai dancing as well. Now contrast Wai Kru Day to what happens in America. Often, teachers in America may be disrespected, overworked, and underpaid. It’s amazing how a thank you can go a long way. Now some of you may be aware of the military coup that happened in Thailand last month. Other than asking for prayers from family and friends, I chose not to talk about in a blog post. One reason is that I feel safe and haven’t felt threatened. The coup’s epicenter is naturally in Bangkok and I’m in the northeastern province of Udon Thani. A second and larger reason is that there are things I currently shouldn’t talk about while online. I have learned to be very reluctant and careful when it comes to talking about politics. I plan on being more open about what’s happening in Thailand and why things are the way they are when I return home. Back to the prayers, please keep sending them and keep them coming.

What I’ve done over Summer Vacation,

Do you remember writing a brief essay on what you did over summer vacation?  The irony is when a teacher writes about that.  In March, I helped Udon Christian Suksa school with their recruiting drive.  Though I speak little Thai and Isan (the regional dialect), I helped hand out papers, wai, and smile.  In meetings, I learned that I will be teaching the 3rd grade next semester at Udon Wittaya on Mondays and Fridays.  I will be teaching at Udon Suksa the rest of the week.  I also took a road trip to Phu Phi Lom, which is near mountains and a waterfall, and I went on a church retreat to Salaburi, which is in central Thailand.  On the way, we stopped at Farm Chokchai, which is the largest dairy farm in the country.  It was started by a Thai man who wanted to be a cowboy.  While I was there, I fed some deer and sheep.  Last week, I went to Bangkok to visit and catch up with my friends from Sajja.  I enjoyed catching up with them and hearing what was going on in their lives.  The past 2 days, I took part in Songkran festival or the Thai new year.  It was wet and wild.  I had not experienced anything like it.  It’s like going to the pool or a water park multiple days!  People splashed water on me and rubbed me with baby powder.  This happened on city blocks throughout Udon!  I want to incorporate Songkran when I return to the states.  April may not be a good a month, but maybe July or August, I can splash people or use a Super Soaker.  This Sunday, I will get the chance to observe a Thai Buddhist wedding.  This is the first non-Christian wedding that I’ve been to.  This Sunday is also my 1 year anniversary of living and working in Thailand.  I look forward to my second year and what it has in store for me.  Stay tuned next month, as I go to Chiang Mai.