By Tom Holmes
Editors note: In a series of blog posts, OakPark.com spirituality, ethics and religion blogger Tom Holmes recounts his experiences while travelling alone in Thailand towards the end of 2010. For links to all of the blog posts in this series, visit OakPark.com/ThailandTravels
I got off the overnight train from Bangkok in Chiang Mai feeling confident. I set down my bags at the nearest bench, took out my mobile phone and punched in the number of one of the budget guest houses which my Lonely Planet guidebook had recommended.
“Hello. Is this Lamchang House? Do you have any rooms available? No? Um. . .OK. Thank you.” Strange. I’d done this before in other towns with no problem. Always had vacancies. Shouldn’t make any difference that this is the Christmas holiday season. Buddhists wouldn’t be getting time off from their jobs to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
“Hello. Malak Guest House? Do you have any rooms available. No? OK. Thank you.”
My self-assured, independent world traveler confidence began to wane as I heard the same response from the Jonadda Guest House, the Siri Guesthouse, the Thapae Gate Lodge and the Rendezvous Guest House.
I prayed, feeling a little silly to be thinking about talking to God only after I had started to feel desperate. “OK,” I thought. “One more try.”
Same answer from the Safe House Court. What do I do now? I knew the answer to that question, but my deflated ego urged me to keep trying to figure out some way to continue confirming that I could pull this thing off on my own.
Finally, I had to let go and admit that I needed help. I punched in the phone number of Phawinee Srilorm or Nicky as everyone called her. Thais seem to love western sounding nicknames.
“This is Tom, Nicky. I’m at the train station here in Chiang Mai, and I need your help.” I had known Nicky for ten years. Nicky had been my intern in Forest Park for three months in 2004, and she was a member of the Nong Bua Sam Church which over the years had become more or less my home congregation in Chiang Mai.
After apologizing for bothering her on a Saturday, I explained the situation. She replied, “M (her fiancée) and I will be there in half an hour. We don’t have anything we have to do today except take care of you.”
I knew she would say that. After working with the Thai congregation back home for eighteen years and visiting Thailand seven times, I had grown accustomed to the welcome and generous hospitality I almost always received.
Nicky and M were right on time and greeted with big smiles. I felt safe again and very much humbled.
“Have you eaten breakfast?”
“Not yet,” I admitted.
“Good, we’re hungry,” Nicky said, “and we just found a good noodle place that’s cheap.”
Still wanting to prove that I was on top of my game, I said, “I’d like to pay.”
“Oh, no, Pastor Holmes,” M replied. “You are our guest. When we come to Chicago, you can pay.”
I knew the chances of that ever happening were as great as the Cubs winning the world series, but it would be very un-Thai to start an argument, so I just said, “Thank you.”
We had a delicious meal of noodles after which Nicky and M informed me that I would be sleeping at the home of M and his mother, Kampan, until lodging could be found. After making a few phone calls, they informed me that Fon, another member of Nong Bua Sam, was working on finding a guest house for me.
Grace can be hard to accept. Sometimes gifts can be hard to receive. Thankfully, I received this gift without protest, but not without some significant internal struggle.