Monthly Archives: February 2008

Used and Abused


Ever get the feeling you are being taken advantage of? I do, and I hate it. I really don’t mind being generous. If I think the waitress did a good job, I’ll leave her a 30% tip. If I appreciate how quickly the cab driver got me to the airport, I might give him an extra $20. If I just feel like being a nice guy, I’ll shovel the snow for three or four of my neighbors. But I hate being taken advantage of.

I’ve been finding myself in a lot of situations lately where I felt like someone was taking advantage of me.

  • The maebaan (Thai for “maid”) who charges us for a day what others charge for a week.
  • The car salesman who sells us a car with engine problems and an undisclosed wreck.
  • The realtor who paints my entire house whether it needs it or not, because I’m not there to remind her that I told her it was painted less than a year ago.
  • The men who come to my garage sale as a group and distract me while they steal hundreds of dollars worth of tools.
  • The street vendor who charges me double what a local would pay.
  • The eight-year-old who pretends to be sick so that he can stay home from school and (try to) play Nintendo.

I don’t think all these events are coincidental. When you start to notice a pattern of trials in your life, there’s a good chance God is trying to teach you something. So, I’ve started to wonder why being taken advantage of bugs me so much. The short and ugly answer…pride. I don’t want to be the fool. I don’t want people talking about how they got one over on me.

Fun’s all over.  Now that I know where the anger comes from, I’ve got to do something about it.  Ugh!

That means I must… “love (my) enemies, do good to those who hate (me), bless those who curse (me), pray for those who mistreat (me). If someone strikes (me) on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes (my) jacket, (I should not) stop him from taking my shirt, too…” (Luke 6:27-29)

It seems like an impossible standard, but here’s what I’ve realized.  While it’s about me, it’s not really about me.  Yes, God wants to change my heart and help me practice humility.  But that’s just the means to an end.  God’s target is the heart of the person who witnesses the humility.

If I put away my selfishness…if I let that person take advantage of me and do nothing to assert my “rights,” God gets the glory and someone’s heart might be changed.  I will probably look pretty foolish.  I may never have the satisfaction of having someone know about the ego sacrifice that I made.  There won’t be a final set of stanzas where Kenny Rogers sings about how I got my revenge on all those Gatlin Boys.

But the Christian’s life doesn’t end like “Coward of the County.”  We aren’t guaranteed “success” here on earth.  Our lives might look like complete and total failure from a worldly perspective, but God uses a different yardstick.

Contrary to public opinion, meek’s not weak.  It’s restrained power.  Think omnipotent God submitting to an unjust persecution from His own creation.  Angels with drawn swords – rescue but a breath away – but choosing to endure because His eyes were on the eternal goal.     That’s meekness, and it’s the currency of heaven.

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It’s easier to loosen up…


A participant in one of my workshops once contributed, “It’s easier to loosen up than it is to tighten up.”  He was talking about leadership and how it’s easier to relax your strict style of management than it is to get more strict after you’ve already been relaxed, but that bit of wisdom has been useful to me in many other circumstances, as well.

For example, I’m in the doghouse right now because of my youngest son’s prayer at dinner last night.  (I promise, I’ll make the connection – keep reading.)  We sat down to eat, and I asked him to say grace.  He prayed the typical, memorized prayer of, “God, thank you for this food, and thank you for today.  Please bless Agit (our sponsored child) and help Mr. E_____’s dad to learn how to play slapsticks (family joke from a kid’s sleepy prayer one night)…”  Then, he began to ad-lib. 

“It’s gonna happen to you! And you! And YOU! Fear this warning!  Twisted tail!  A thousand eyes!  Trapped for-EVER!  EPA!  EEEEEEPPPPPAAAAAA!   AHBUDIBUDIBUDO!  Thanks for listening.  Lord, thank you this bastardly penis.*  Amen.” 

My wife was a little shocked at first, not knowing (as I did) exactly where this monologue had originated.  But a few direct questions and her famous piercing stare did the trick.

“It was Dad’s fault!  It was his fault!  He let us watch the movie!”

What movie?”

The Simpsons.”

“You let them watch The Simpsons!?!  That’s not appropriate!  I wouldn’t have let them watch The Simpsons!”

I had been laughing up to this point, but I sobered up pretty quickly.

“Uh, well, uh, it was late, and, uh, the kids wanted to watch a movie, and, well, there weren’t any good kid movies, and…”

The Simpsons is not a “kid” movie.  You are SO out of the running for “Father of the Year!”

So, here’s where I tie this all together.  The reason my youngest two had watched The Simpsons was because their brother had been allowed to watch it.  He’s thirteen, and we allow him to watch movies that the other kids can’t.  The Simpsons originally started as one of those.  A privilege of being 13.  An opportunity for us to talk about other  peoples’ (to be read, “non-conservative–non-Christian”) points of view.  (While I don’t share political or spiritual views with Mr. Groening (creater of Homer, Bart and the rest), I do think he’s funny, and I think it’s a good exercise to laugh at your own worldview sometimes.)

Anyway, as I was saying, The Simpsons started as a privilege-of-being-older movie, but I get weak after 9:00 p.m., and the kids know it.  They wore me down quoting scenes they had heard of from their older brother.  Before long, they had me laughing, and that’s when they set the hook.  In minutes, I was saying, “Aw, it wasn’t that bad for kids, was it?  I don’t remember any questionable parts.  Okay, I’ll watch it with you!”  Looking back, that was the exact moment I rented space in the doghouse.  Moving day was a few days away yet, but I was already a tennant.

In my own defence, once you loosen up the rules for the older kid in the family, it’s much harder to keep them tightened up for the others.  Parenting gets easier if you just treat all the kids the same – one set of rules to govern them all.  But if you have the loose rules for the teenager and the tight rules for the younger kids and even tighter rules for the youngest kids, parenting is a nightmare.  The younger kids lobby incessantly.  “That’s not fair!  How come I don’t get to…?  Why do I have to wait?”  Before long, you start questioning your own decisions.  Kids are great lawyers for their own causes.

And now, my wife wants me to tighten up the rules for the younger kids.  How am I supposed to do that?   Pandora’s box has been opened.  The milk is spilt.  The water has passed under the bridge.  The toothpaste is out of the tube.  It….means….that….I’m….going to have to be…….the bad guy!  It’s almost more than I can bear.

The moral of the story is that you are much better off keeping your rules tight until it’s appropriate to loosen them up.  Or, that you should keep them tight for everyone and just tell your teenagers “tough noogies,” as my sister used to say.  Or, that you shouldn’t have kids.  Oh, just write your own moral.  This parenting thing is tough.  I might be more like Homer Simpson than I thought.  Doh!

* Incidentally, the “bastardly penis” line was my son’s malapropism for “bountiful penis,” a line from a later part of the movie.  If he had just stuck with “bountiful penis,” I doubt this incident would have even registered on my wife’s bad parenting radar.

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Movie Night


I had an opportunity to take my oldest son out to see a movie in Thailand yesterday.  This was our second attempt.  The first left us confused and frustrated.  Even movie-going can take a cultural adjustment.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with the process; I just didn’t understand it.  As a result, we were late for a movie that wasn’t actually showing last time.  We couldn’t figure out the showtimes or the ticket purchasing requirements, and though our preferred movie was advertised at different places in the mall, it didn’t turn out to be one of the five they were showing that particular day.

Though that experienced chaffed in our memories, the draw of a potentially good guy-movie kept singing its Siren song, and we couldn’t resist trying again.  This time, I found a website that helpfully showed the showtimes in English, so I felt confident of success.  We arrived in plenty of time to make sense of the ticketing process, and having secured our seats, we went to have some pizza and talk about movie trailers and video games.

The movie was advertised at 9:30p (21:30), so we greeted the ticket taker at about 9:10p in order to get the best seats.  Surprisingly, that’s not how this system works. 

“Come back later.”

“I’m sorry.  You want us to come back at a later time?”

“Yes.  Movie starts at 9:30.”

“Right.  That’s why we came now.  Can we get to our seats?”

“Come back later.”

“Uh…okay.  When should we come back?”

“Movie starts at 9:30.”

“So we should come back at 9:20 or 9:25?”

“Please come in.”  (At this point, the two of us had exhausted our Thai-English vocabulary, and she had given up trying to make me understand.)

“No, that’s okay.  I’m just having trouble understanding.  We should come back when the movies starts?”

“Yes, come back later.”

A little confused, we stepped aside to wait until the prescribed time.  As we did, I noticed that there were dozens of people sitting around waiting for the correct time to approach the ticket taker.  I’m sure our conversation was amusing for those who knew how the system really worked, so I stood hoping someone else would come and make the same mistake so that I could look on and share the joke.  No one did.

At 9:30p, everyone milled toward the ticket taker, but the process was slowed by the need to search everyone’s bags, purses and murses (that’s “man-purse” in case you’re not up with the fashion trends, and they are very manly and not the least bit effeminate looking – when I carry one, anyway).  The searches, it turns out, were for video camera’s and other recording equipment.  Thailand must be the world’s capital for pirated movies, music and software, and the theatre didn’t want to be responsible for allowing this type of entrepreneur through on their watch – at least not for free.

Murse examined and approved, we headed for our screen, but we didn’t get far.  Someone stopped us and told us that we would need to check our bag – we had some leftover pizza.  We surrendered our snack in exchange for a claim ticket and then continued on to screen seven, where we passed through a metal detector (yes, a metal detector) just in case we were terrorists looking to hijack the theatre.  But past the metal detector, everyone milled around again, waiting to be allowed into the movie.  We could hear movie-type noises coming through the door, but no one other than me seemed to pay it much attention.  Most sat around having conversations or reading the paper while they waited.

Five minutes later, we were allowed access.  Previews were well underway, which always disappoints me, because that’s my favorite part.  But it turns out, we didn’t miss much.  Most of the previews are really just commercials for banks, stores and things we just couldn’t make out with the language difference.  The commercial for the 7-11 convient store chain stood out.  Not because it was an exceptional commercial but because they were interviewing people and for some reason had chosen to interview one who wore a shirt that said (in English), “I like girls who like girls.” 

When you see something like that, it makes you really curious what the rest of the commercial could have been about.  It’s not like he was showing his support for the gay and lesbian community; he was doing his own bit of personal advertising – just in case any “girls who like girls” might see the clip and want to look him up.   My son probably summarized it best when he leaned to me and said, “That was random.”  (Teenager speak for “Where did that come from?”)

Also included in the movie warm-up time was a preview for a Thai horror movie.  The trailer was pretty gruesome, but it was a strange, horror-slapstick genre of movie that had the audience laughing regularly throughout.  In the middle of the trailer, the main character (a male) did a strip-tease (without the tease part) until he was completely nude.  This, too, generated a good deal of laughter from the crowd.  I leaned over to my son and said, “That was characteristic of a process of selection in which each item of a set has an equal probability of being chosen.”  At which point, he said, “Huh?

Forty-minutes later…the movie was about to start, and I was beginning to wonder if I could stay awake through the whole thing.  But before any movies play in Thailand, there is a brief video about the king’s life.  It’s very well done and gives you an idea how much the Thai’s love their king.  Everyone stands to their feet during the video.  I took off my hat.  I’m not sure if I was supposed to or not, because I couldn’t see anyone else, and better safe than sorry.  If you read last week’s blog about “Walking Street,” you know I need to earn points where I can.

Other than the Thai subtitles and occasional dubbing, the movie was just like one you would see in The United States.  It was good to see Anakin Skywalker didn’t really lose his legs in that other movie a few years back, and both of us really enjoyed the show.  We were so busy planning the sequal on the way out that we forgot to claim our pizza and had to turn around at the parking garage to go back for it.  (Our “No Pizza Left Behind” program.)

One thing I forgot to share…In Thailand, you get assigned seats at the movie theater.  When you buy your ticket, they show you a schematic of the theater, and you tell them where you want to sit.  Seats are priced according to how close you are to the screen (we sat in the middle and paid about $4 per ticket), and the seats in the back of the theater are premium.  When we left, I noticed that the back row is made up entirely of Lazy-Boy recliners!  No kidding!  They are huge and comfy-looking with room to kick back and places to keep your refreshments.  Even if I have to watch the horror-slapstick movie with the naked man, I’m going back.

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Inflation


And you thought gas was expensive where you’re from…

And you thought gas was expensive where you’re from…. 

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Same Same…but Different


A English phrase you often hear in Thailand to describe two things that are similar is “same-same.”  The two items don’t have to be identical; they just have to share a common trait.  For example, an shirt sized XXL and a shirt sized XL can be “same-same,” because they are both shirts.  A biscuit and a bagel can be “same-same,” because they are both breads.  How loose the connection is usually depends on how much a vendor wants to sell something to you. 

“Same-same” is my problem in learning the Thai language.  The vowels are often “same-same” compared to English vowels, but they make different sounds.  “E” sounds like “a;” “i” sounds like “e;” “u” sounds like “oo.”  And entire words are like that, too.  “Song” means “two;” “ha” means “five;” “sip” means “ten.” I’ve found that this is one of the biggest challenges to learning a new language, because our brains are familiar with the old meaning of the symbols we know and are reluctant to accept that those symbols could have more than one meaning.   

It gets even more difficult when two people think they are talking about the same thing, because they are using familiar words, when in reality, they are talking about very different things.  When we hear words we are familiar with, we tend to let down our guard.  We assume that the word has the same meaning we are used to, and we don’t clarify. 

This happens all the time in communication. 

  • Your boss says she wants something ASAP (As Soon As Possible), and you assume that means when it’s possible for you to get to it.  However, what she really meant was that she wanted you to make it your top priority. 
  • Someone gives you directions that include “turn at the Jet gas station,” and you go to the one that you know rather than the one further down the road that he had been refering to. 
  • You tell someone that you are angry about a situation at work.  To you that means “mildly irritated,” but her understanding of the word is much stronger, so she worries that your about to quit. 
  • A co-worker says that he will put together a project plan for something you are working on, but it turns out he was only thinking of a bulleted task list.  Same-same…but different.

We get in trouble when we start assuming that we know what the other person is talking about, when we don’t ask questions to clarify, when we take short-cuts.  I was talking with a man who works with New Tribes Mission the other day.  He related a tragic example of a time when a missionary from another ministry went into a tribe and encouraged them for weeks to worship the “Son of God.”  Unfortunately, what the missionary didn’t realize is that “son of God” meant the devil in these peoples’ language.

I once had a waittress in Nigeria engage in a conversation with me about Jesus.  Afterward, I was so impressed with her Bible knowledge.  She had been able to move quickly and accurately from one memorized scripture to the next and offered to bring me some books to help with my studies. 

But when I met her the next day to collect the books, I realized that we weren’t talking about the same “Jesus.”  Hers was the “Jesus” of the Jehovah’s Witness faith – not God, but just God’s first creation.  I was surprised and disappointed, and it made me wonder how many other “Christians” I’ve met who talk about “Jesus” but believe Him to be someone other than who He really is. 

Sometimes “same-same” is very different.  Keep asking questions. 

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It’s Called “Walking” Street!


So many different people have recommended that we go see “Walking Street” in Chiang Mai that we just had to go this weekend.  It’s a place where local vendors hawk their wares.  We thought we would take a few hours, see what it was all about and then head to church.  We were wrong.

 We found what we thought must be it and parked just out of range of the several booths that had been set up alongside the road.  At the time, there were several cars parked in the same place, so we had to parallel park to squeeze into a small place (“parallel wedge” might be a better description – inching forward sixteen times and back seventeen).

That accomplished, we unloaded the herd and headed to a street-side restaurant, had lunch and then began our walking tour.  About two and a half hours passed, and we were running late for church, so we started back toward the car.

But as we got closer to where we remembered parking, my anxiety began to grow.  There were a lot more booths than I remembered from a few hours ago.  In fact, there weren’t just booths on each side of the street; now they filled the middle of the road, too.  Hundreds and hundreds of vendors had brought their goods to sell, and there was maybe enough room for a motorbike to pass between some of them.

Leaving my family behind, I picked up my pace.  By the time I reached the car, I was at a nervous trot.  Then I saw it…a boat of a car in a sea of angry street-side vendors. 

walking-street-1-our-car.jpgwalking-street-2-our-car.jpg

Instinctively, I put my keys back into my pocket so that no one would notice that I was the owner.  Casually, with a bit of a smirk on my face to indicate how amused I was that someone would be so stupid as to park their car in the middle of this particular road, I passed by my car to survey the prospects of extricating it from the mess it was in.

It was hopeless.  I walked 50 yards up the street and only saw a congested series of expensive roadblocks just waiting to be knocked over or crushed under my tires.  I tried back the other way – no use.  Side streets – no point.  Everything was blocked. 

So, my wife and I huddled together to work out a plan.  Walk the streets for eight hours with three grumpy kids?  Nope.  Abandon the car to more responsible future owners?  Nope.  Hide out at the Wawee Coffee Shop until the whole thing blew over?  Bingo! 

Only one problem…our laptops were in the trunk.  You can’t go to Wawee without your laptops.  It would have been a definite giveaway, and by now, everyone within twenty blocks knew about the car.  Loudspeakers up and down the street repeatedly called for the owners to make themselves known for a public shaming.

There was no helping it.  The laptops had to be recovered.  Who was to do it?  For a moment, I entertained the fantasy that my wife would volunteer, but that was less likely than us navigating the clogged streets.  So, after kicking the dirt a few times, I coolly walked up to the trunk, inserted the key…and received a verbal tongue-lashing from the vendor, whose space I was blocking. 

Her English was pretty good, actually.  I’ll save you the adult-rated details, but her main point was that this was “WALKING Street!”  You don’t park your car on “WALKING Street!”  As politely as I could, I asked her if she could help me find a way out, but at this point, she said, “I’m not talking to you!” and turned away…for a moment.  Then, she started yelling at me again.

With tail between my legs, I returned to my wife, who was busy pretending not to notice me and trying to forget that we’ve been married for fifteen years and had three children together.  I gave her the laptop and told her to give the kids a good home and a good life; I was going back to the car to endure my fate.  No tears or long embraces marked our parting, just a hasty retreat, laptop bag in tow.

Returning to the car, I noticed quite a crowd had assembled.  There weren’t exactly an angry mob, but it was still too light out for the torches to be fired up.  They stood around the car discussing ways to get their lost earnings out of it.  Melt it down and recycle it?  Paint indigenous art on it and charge admission?  Convert it into the first four-wheeled tuk-tuk and transport tourists around the city?  It was either going to be one of these, or they were going to tie me to the hood as a warning to other irritating interlopers. 

Keeping my head low, I put the keys in the lock, avoiding any eye contact that might trigger the mob mentality.  I had no idea what I was going to do once I got into the car – maybe just gun it and hope for the best.  But to my suprise, as soon as I slid into the driver’s seat, a policeman emerged from nowhere.  I honestly believe he was an angel sent from God…with a bit of a twisted sense of humor. 

He led my parade the full hundred yards or so, making vendors pick up their wares and give way to the funny farang (local word for clueless foreigners).  He directed foot traffic and helped roll carts out of the way – even picked up and moved a motorcycle for me, but the entire time, he insisted on pointing me out to the people lining the parade route.  “There he is!  There’s the one you’ve been hearing about on the loudspeakers!  I’ve captured the monster!”  Then, he got out his cell phone to call his law-enforcement friends and share the story.

With my window down to hear his directions, I was treated to one-hundred yards of slow-moving humble pie.  Locals and foreigners alike laughed at me.

But to their credit, no one threw produce at me.  No one tried to pull me bodily from the car to subject me to a public beating.  No one shot out my tires.  Most got a good laugh as I confirmed all their assumptions about farangs living in Chiang Mai, but it wasn’t a mean-spirited laugh.  The only one who spit fire was the woman whose parcel of street I blocked.  I made it to the end of Walking Street with all my apendages, and the officer was too amused to even give me a ticket.

True to their reputation as people of the “Land of Smiles,” almost all the Thais grinned at me (about me) as I passed.  I lost a little face, but I had some extra to give.  And I learned a good lesson:  it’s called “Walking” Street for a reason. 

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Filed under Challenges, overcoming obstacles, self-image