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By Tom Holmes
Editor's 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
The train pulled into the Hualamphong Station in Bangkok at 6:30 am. A porter waiting outside my car let me hop on his four wheeled cart along with my bags and chauffeured me out to the curb where I hailed a taxi which dropped me off at the Luther School of Theology (LST) at 8:00 am.
The fourteen students at the small seminary were just finishing up breakfast, so I was able to pull a chair up to one of the tables in the open air refectory and enjoy a big bowl of fish and rice soup. The president of the seminary, Dr. Banjob Kusawadee, showed me to my room on the second floor complete with a bed, bathroom, desk, air conditioning and a refrigerator—all for 500 baht ($17) a night.
It was good to see a familiar face after navigating the train and taxi rides on my own. Banjob and I have known each other for at least ten years through my visits to Thailand and his trips to Chicago. Having earned his Th.D. in Australia, his English is very good.
I had emailed him that I wanted to do research in the Lutheran Mission to Thailand Archives housed at LST, so he led me to the second floor office of the archives and introduced me to the young woman, nicknamed Sherrie, who was in charge. He apologized for having to leave me so quickly, and hurried down the stairs to yet another meeting. Talk about multitasking, Banjob is the seminary’s president, teaches theology, is the pastor of three churches and soon after I returned home, he was elected Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Thailand.
The research I wanted to do was for a book I’m writing on the life of Pongsak Limthonviratn, my pastor back home at St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church. Pongsak had taught at and been the academic dean of the seminary before coming to the U.S. in 1989.
Sherrie found me a chair at a table and hurried out to bring me a glass of water and a cup of coffee. She then pulled out four huge binders from one of the bookcases, set them down on the table and asked if there was anything more she could do for me. And, yes, she was cute as a bug’s ear.
I was a little afraid of opening the first binder. Everything had gone so well so far that day. What if the minutes were in Thai which I cannot read? The only reason I hoped that I could read the documents was because I had met some of the Norwegian and Finnish missionaries who still worked there on past visits and noticed that they all spoke impeccable English as well as fluent Thai as well as who knows how many other languages. Sure enough, the missionaries had decided to use today’s lingua franca, English, for the minutes of their executive committee meetings.
I couldn’t help thinking that Buddha would call my good fortune a result of my karma while Jesus would tell me it was another gift from a loving God. Before diving into the tedious work of examining hundreds and hundreds of pages of boring documents for entries having to do with Pongsak, I wondered if somehow the good I was experiencing could somehow be explained by both concepts simultaneously.
Around 2:00 I asked Sherrie if someone at LST could drive me over to the nearby Tesco Lotus big box store, so I could stock up my refrigerator to sustain me during the four days I’d be staying at the school. “No problem,” she said as she picked up the phone. Within an hour and a half I had picked up fruit, soy milk and cookies and had them stored in my room.
I decided to eat dinner with the students in the refectory right down the stairs from my room. I enjoyed watching their horseplay and teasing. During dinner we played kind of a game in which they used as many English words as they could and I tried to speak Thai, resulting in a lot of laughing. It was definitely sanuk.
After dinner I tried to stay up until 8:00. I had slept some on the train but not enough to carry me till 10:00. As I sat in air conditioned comfort on my bed, I marveled at how smoothly the day had gone for me, how all my prayers had been answered, so to speak. In fact, most of my forty day sojourn in Thailand, which was now winding down, had been filled with one good experience after another.
Many of my plans had not worked out the way I wanted, but like Mark said as we had reflected about travelling at the Riverside Bar in Lampang, often the times he had gotten lost had led to the best experiences.
Because I would be alone for much of the time, I had anticipated hours, even days of loneliness. Instead, the solitude had quieted my soul and allowed me to get more in touch with my self. I had imagined my vulnerability as a handicapped guy in a foreign country to create scary situations in which I would be taken advantage of. Instead, my limitations had most often become openings for people to care for me and create small, short term, intimate connections.
And here I was, sitting in a room in a Christian seminary right in the middle of six million Buddhists, trying figure out what it all meant. “Nothing happens by accident,” I heard the Buddha insisting in my right ear. “Do good, receive good.” And in my left ear I heard Jesus whispering, “The best things in life are free. Consider the lilies.”