Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Phi Mai

Taken 12 Oct 2004 (L): Prayer walking around the town at dusk, (R): A main street in Phi Mai just across the road from our guesthouse

Phi Mai is a small town about an hour's drive northeast of Korat. It has some ancient ruins from the old Angkor Wat days, nowhere near as magnificent but still just as important as part of the country's history. As small towns go, it isn't the poorest, as there is electricity and lots of little shops. It's not exactly a touristy spot and the normal kinds of visitors this town gets are backpackers travelling the country and people en route to further north Thailand.

I liked Phi Mai. I liked it for its small charm (the entire town is 2 sq km), untouched by commercialism, its charming little shops of sundries, tailors, motorcycle repair work, the easy langour of the people as they sat tending their shops from early in the morning at 7am to closing at 6pm.

There is only one church in Phi Mai and it is called the Phi Mai Christian Centre (or PCC for short). It was started by this energetic and tireless lady whom we called Arjan Ju, who took us everywhere and introduced us to some of her little flock. There's Gan who is a kindergarten teacher, an entire family who has converted to Christianity, 10 year old Thom, whose mother does not allow him to go to church - all of whom have amazing stories of their faith and trust in God.

A night market set up beside the town square

We stayed one night in Phi Mai and spent the first day prayer-walking around the town with some of the church members, handing out tracts and inviting people to visit a park where we would be having a mini public performance. After the performance, we walked around the poorer area of the town. Arjan Ju introduced us to one woman who has HIV and lives by herself in a small one-room house. Her children had abandoned her and gone to Bangkok to live. She was small and looked rather frail. We prayed for her, but beyond that, I felt so helpless. How would she survive? That was my first time in contact with someone with HIV.

The next day, we visited the little kindergarten where Gan teaches. Her school had about 26 kids. I learnt it cost about 5 baht a day (S$1=25 baht) for these kids to come to school, and there were still some parents who could not afford that amount. The kids were adorable, and we sang songs to them, played games, made balloon sculptures and acted out a mime for them. I really wish I could speak more Thai to them, beyond telling them they were very "na rak" (cute).

When we were in Phi Mai, we had lunch at a small stall across the street from the PCC. Noodles were served from a makeshirt cart by a woman, while we sat and waited behind her in a shady alcove with tables and stools, while her kids played behind us. Lunch was a choice of a bowl of pho or kway teow, dry or with soup with shredded pork and pork fat and some spring onion sprinkled on top. It was really delicious but such a tiny serving, in two mouthfuls, all the noodles were gone. So all the Singaporeans had a second helping. We must have seemed like a really greedy bunch of people to the Thais, so piggy! All having second helpings, shocking! To make matters worse, one of the church members from PCC insisted on paying for the entire lunch, for a team of about 12 people. She was a smiley lady who had worked in Hong Kong before, and could speak flawless Cantonese. She said it was an honour to pay for us and she wouldn't take no for an answer. My second bowl of noodles sat guiltily in my stomach. By the next day, everyone was familiar with the Singaporeans' large appetites, as when the noodles were finished, Arjan Ju called out, "Who wants second bowl?" and proceeded to order more for us.

I am so amazed at Arjan Ju's love for God and the people around her, her tireless enthusiasm at everything she does and her unquenchable spirit. Nothing daunts or discourages her. When she sings, she closes her eyes and claps her hands, swaying to her own beat, and sings with such vigour and spirit, drowning out even the guitar, completely giving her heart to the music. She exists in that moment, singing of her love to God.

Arjan Ju, pra chao wai pon. God bless you.


Woof! said...

I don't believe in god, but nevertheless that was a very heart-warming post!

JellyGirl said...

Thanks Woof! :)

Cowboy Caleb said...

10 years old already and rebeling?


More pics would be nice.

JellyGirl said...

As you wish, Cowboy.