Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Oh, Jonah!

I’ve learned to re-prioritize my life over these past few months, making it much more simple, and taking time to appreciate people more than things. I’ve also had much more time to do things like read books that encourage and uplift me when I need it most. It’s been great to hear God speak through other followers of Him. Most recently I read, a book by Priscilla Shirer called, Life Interrupted: Navigating the Unexpected.

It’s too good for me not to share some thoughts about it with you.

The book starts off saying “I wish I’d known then what I know now.” My goodness, don’t we all? Can’t we all look at moments in our life when we wish we’d had more answers or been able to glimpse a little of what the future held? And yet we absolutely can’t. But we can however, learn, after experiencing time after time of God’s grace and mercy and unfailing love and wisdom, that He knows best, and that His way is infinitely better. Jonah’s story was a great one to teach us just that. I’m so glad I read this book. And glad I read it precisely when I did.

Without spoiling the book, since I highly recommend you read it, I will just say that Priscilla looks at all these interruptions first as our Ninevah, but then as something much more. Ninevah, in short, is something God is calling you to that is not in YOUR plan, and could be positive or negative. It could be a health problem (or healing from one), or a job that you’ve been granted (or laid off from), or a new baby that you are excited about (or not excited about at all), a new marriage (or separation), or any number of “surprise” moments that you weren’t expecting. The good news is God isn’t surprised at all and He was expecting them all along. That’s why the author chooses to, instead of calling them interruptions, call them divine interventions. They lead us to a better place and time than we could have ever been in on our own.

I couldn’t have read this at a better time. My heart needed a divine interruption because my head had it all figured out. What about you? What divine interruption is happening in your life that you might view as inconvenient and instead should be considering with pure joy?

James 1:2-4 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

How much easier would life be if we felt joy in our “interruptions” instead of fear or anxiety or sadness?

I don’t know but I hope I have the courage to find out without having to get swallowed by a whale first.

Go read the book and let me know what YOU think!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ride with Me!

Take a ride with me on a tuk tuk. I wanted to try something new so I made a video as we drove down the street the other day. Watch the bumpy film and feel what it’s like to stop and go and swerve as we meander through traffic of Phnom Penh. Experience the good and bad as we get cut off and honked at and curiously smiled at for a couple minutes. If only we could capture the smells...

Now, take the quiz to see how many of the following sights you caught on our journey:

Level 1: the normal stuff
Tuk tuks
Honking horns
Motos driving on the wrong side of the road
Cars and motos pulling out in front of us
Cyclo (a bike with a chair type seat up front for a passenger)

Level 2: Motos carrying things (which is also normal!)
Sugar cane
Passengers riding side saddle
Passengers not holding on (and not holding on riding side saddle)

Level 3: the extras
Truck filled with grass
Bike with kid on back doing a dance or something with her hands
4 people on a moto (did anyone see a moto with 5 people?)
Motos driving on the sidewalk
Shoe stores
Car dealership
Goodyear tire store
Bridgestone tire van
Mobile phone store (recognizable with “hello” signs with phone pictures)

And for bonus anyone want to count how many people were wearing helmets vs how many were not? The law here officially says drivers must wear helmets. As you can see, some oblige while many still do not. Have I ever mentioned that my first job in scientific research was in a head injury research lab? Oh, how I wish I could educate them on helmet safety.

Anyone else want to count up how many cars were on the road versus how many motos? I would love to know that statistic! There is no way I’m going to do that counting. Homeschool lesson maybe?

Well, I just thought you might like to experience some sights and sounds from the city with me. Was there anything that interested you that I missed? It’s all so “normal” to me now that I wish I could see your face as you watch it all with fresh new eyes. I still remember how tightly I used to hold on to the sides of the tuk tuk in traffic. I remember how I stared with wide eyes at all the sights and took in all the sounds... and jumped every time a horn honked! Now when I think of riding in a car where people stop at lights and don’t drive straight toward me on my side of the road and honk at me all the time, I wonder if I’ll be bored? I mean, I’m living on the adrenaline rush! Yes, I would love to see your reaction to our little road trip here. But since I can’t, I’ll just have to imagine it.

Hope you enjoyed the ride!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Traffick Jam

I have to tell you about some incredible people. I wish I could devote more to them. More of everything. More money, more time, more things, more love.


But first let me tell you why.

Because they are so incredibly beautiful. I’m talking about little boys who Jesus gave his life for. Little boys who might not have known what love was for so long and now have a place to go day after day and get loads of love. And I’m also talking about the staff who pours that love on them.

Gosh, I wish I could give them more.

If you missed my first post about these children, and the conversation I had with God about it, you can check it out. Or, see this one I wrote a few months into volunteering there weekly. I love these little boys.

But I far from alone in this. It seems everyone who meets them is changed and touched and moved to action. If you are tired of my words, check out blog posts from two ladies and their families who gave up Christmas vacation to visit these boys. Here’s what Keri in Singapore and Marla in the USA have to say.

We all want to do more.

So how can we?

By spreading the word. To you. Right here. Right now.

Here’s a video on how you can help. It’s just a few minutes of your life. Please watch it.

How can you help?
More at their website

Traffick Jam is a 10 mile walk that the Hard Places community uses to raise support for their organization.  They'd like to be represented in the whole USA this year.  All 50 states and beyond if possible.

Walking 10 miles seems like a small thing to do for these little boys doesn’t it?

Signing up to coordinate a walk in your area if it isn’t listed is a little more of a committment but come on, isn’t it worth it?

I wish I could show you their faces. I can’t. Marla’s blog explains why. But if you want to see the face of a child you could be walking/running for, email me. I’ll show you.

I “talk” all the time on this blog. I hardly ever ask you to talk back. This time I want to hear from you. Comment. Commit.  Pray, walk, give, love, pray some more.  Tell me what you committed to.
I just might send a prize to someone randomly for giving MORE to the kids than I can give.

And thank you.  Thank you so much.  Thank you so so so so much.

Friday, February 10, 2012

That’s Different

I so badly have been wanting to highlight some of the crazy, funny, strange, (and sometimes annoying) cultural and just everyday life differences that we’ve come across during our time in Cambodia, but I’ve never known where to begin. Since I’m tired of using that as an excuse, I’ll just list them here in no particular order, and probably with nothing connecting them, either.  Here we go.

1.  Car seats. Ok, not funny really, but strangely humorous in its own way. See, they don’t use them. It’s not a law, so why do it? I mean, safety and research studies and things like that haven’t really come up in their readings. Anyway, we have car seats. We don’t have a car, but we brought our car seats. When we go on long trips, we use them. We can hire a taxi and a driver to take us anywhere in Cambodia. I think our longest trip was 6 hours so far. Well, when we pull out our car seats as we bring our luggage downstairs, I watch as every single time, without fail, the driver tries to load the seats in the trunk with the suitcases. It makes me laugh because I’m wondering what in the world he thinks those things are? We then grab the seats, buckle them in, and watch as they stare at us in amazement. Then they ask where I’m going to sit and laugh as I squeeze in the back of a 90s Toyota Camry between 2 car seats. That part is not funny. So don’t laugh!

2.  Hotel keys work differently. Usually you just get one per room because it’s your power source. You plug it into a contraption that looks like this:

This is a nice one with English directions because I photographed it in Bangkok. Usually it doesn’t have any words on it at all. As it shows, when you insert the key the lights, air conditioner, fans, or anything that uses electricity comes on. When you take it out, the power goes out. It’s Southeast Asia’s way of conserving power. My smart husband (who might or might not care as much about reducing his carbon footprint) has found a way to rig the system so that it’s still cool when we come back to our room after a hot day out in the Cambodia sun.

3.  Hygiene.  It’s ok to pick your nose but not your teeth. Really, it is completely 100% acceptable to pick your nose. Like, you catch someone’s eye when they are doing it and they do not stop. They just keep digging. (This has not been good for my 3 year old!) But not the teeth. While using a toothpick, you must use the other hand to cover your mouth. Strange. I’d totally prefer it if people would cover their nose while picking it!

Oh, and peeing on the sidewalk is ok, too. I’m not just talking about kids. Grown men do this, too. But that’s just the ones who are poor and don't have a home. Where else are they going to go? They do turn and face a fence or gate or something. Well, usually.

And while we are on the subject of peeing, how about this sign in the ladies’ restroom?

I think I can definitively say I had no problem following the rules. Would you?

4.  Restaurants.  I want to tell you about all the quirky things about eating out, but there are too many. That deserves its own posting.

5.  Recycling.  It does happen. Like crazy. But it actually is crazy. They do lots of upcycling and reusing. It’s pretty amazing the things you can buy here made of old mosquito nets, plastic bags, newspaper, magazines, metal pieces, coconut shells, washers, buttons, thread, and pretty much anything you can think of. But there’s no place to recycle. There are people who walk through the city with “squeaky carts” that just make a distinct squeak noise out of some reused plastic bottle and you are supposed to run outside and give them your recyclables. Or, there are others who dig through trash looking for these things to sell for money. The sad thing is many of the Cambodians – and as many rich expats - just acknowledge that people will go through the trash so they don’t bother to recycle. I find it so incredibly sad to think about. Our apartment has a trash chute and we are too high up to hear the squeaky carts so we leave our recyclables by the trash chute and some cleaning lady in the apartment complex comes by to collect the recyclables and likely gets paid for dropping them off. It’s our small part to help.

6.  Construction.  Speaking of our apartment, I have to tell you there’s been a new apartment complex next door under construction since we moved in. I don’t have photos of it but have to show you a picture of what construction in Cambodia looks like.

They use bamboo for support. Strong, lightweight, and easy to find, but quite a sight to see. The guys standing on the scaffolding outside our window – on the 10th floor – with no braces or support of any kind are quite a sight to see, too. A terrifying sight!
On another note about construction, I find it strangely interesting that people live at construction sites. Yes, live there. I discovered this when I was walking through our parking garage one night, which has window openings into the garage of the construction next door and heard a baby crying. I looked in to see whole families sleeping there. They just move in and stay there, I guess until the job is done.

7.  Family photos often involve my kids here. What? Yes, my kids in their photos. Here’s an example.

And another.

And another.

People often ask us if they can pose with our kids in their photos. I bet I would think someone was creepy if they asked me that in the US. I wonder? Here I think it’s sweet, but it one time at the beach (when I didn’t have my camera), it got a little annoying when people lined up to take turns getting photos with the kids. Especially when one girl really wanted to get her picture made with my husband and linked her arm in his and didn’t seem to want to let go. I wasn’t sure what to think of that. I bet that one’s out there on the internet somewhere.

8.  Bugs.  Yes, let’s talk about bugs. I found bugs in my brown rice the other day. I mentioned it to a Cambodian friend and told her how I had to throw out the whole bag of rice and she was appalled. “Why didn’t you just cook it?” she said, inferring that the tiny roaches would die in the water. Um, no thank you. I can buy a new bag of rice. But I haven’t had the desire to yet, for obvious reasons.

More bugs. Have you ever heard someone call someone a nitpicker? I have, but I of course had no idea what that meant. I’m laughing because, being from Texas, I seem to know a lot of sayings that not many others know, so maybe you don’t. Well, if you’re like me and you’ve heard it, or even used it, but don’t know what it means, let me educate you. It’s a professional bug detector. Nits are the egg sacs from head lice. We have nit pickers here who kindly remove them from people’s hair so that the infestation stops! Just like any other pest, they grow immune to those pesticides you can buy as shampoos and things at the store, so eventually you need a nitpicker to help you out. Any local hair salon has one. And now you know. That’s probably a bit different than your fancy hair salon, huh?

9.  Massage. The salons here are so much better. Everything comes with a massage. Pedicures are $3 and you get a 30 minute massage. Not a cheap quick rub like you get back home, a real massage. Sometimes they even climb on the chair and put their whole 80lbs of body weight into it! Haircuts come with a neck and shoulder massage. For just a few dollars you can just show up to get your hair washed for 30 minutes while they massage your head. I want to try that but haven’t yet. Eyebrow waxes come with a face massage. That means my eyebrows look better than they’ve ever looked, by the way.

10. I’ll show you my favorite now. It’s like 20 seconds. Just watch the movie, making sure you pay close attention to the little running man as the time runs out.

I love to watch those running men and think how we would advise caution in the last 5 seconds before a light changed but they just tell you to run faster.

I love how different things are every single day.

I love that God gives us a sense of humor for living in a new culture.
And I often wonder what they think of us.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tearfully Thankful

I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Psalm 130:5-6

Our family is in a season of waiting right now. Waiting on the Lord to show us His plans for us, as our commitment to IJM Cambodia’s office is more than halfway over. We are waiting. That waiting is hard, but I’m finding it a wonderful time to reflect. A time to look back at all He has done for me, for us, in this year. Goodness, just a little more than a year ago I was in the USA taking care of the day to day business of caring for 2 kids as a “single” mom while my husband was serving in Afghanistan. Since then we traveled around the US visiting friends and dear churches we had once been a part of, met new people who have proved to be gifts from God, and of course, moved to Cambodia. So much has happened.

I’m feeling very thankful for all of it. I’m thankful for the past year and for my whole life that led up to it.

I’m thankful for the life I was born into. I’m thankful for the family God gave me and that I was born in a free country where my parents were able to teach me about Jesus before I could even say His name. And I’m thankful that they did.

I’m thankful for that freedom and those who fought for it. I’m thankful I didn’t spend my childhood running from war like many of my Cambodian friends did. Of those who are just a little older than me, most have no fathers, many have no mothers or siblings, and all have witnessed tragedy that no human should ever see. One friend told me the story of her father being killed and her mother running from soldiers for nearly a year, toddler in tow, to escape death themselves. That’s a story nearly everyone in Cambodia has and I’m just beginning to get close enough to people for them to share their own stories with me. I’m thankful for freedom. Something I took for granted for much too long.

I’m thankful for the education I have. I’m thankful that even though organic chemistry was hard – really hard – college life was a breeze for me compared to what it’s like for others. Like my friend Sophea here in Cambodia. She has 8 brothers and sisters but her family could only afford to send one child to college. When she was just 8 years old, of all her siblings, they chose her. The other children had to stop school around that age and help with the farming and housework but she was the one they chose to keep going. She finished grade school and is now in college studying business to make a better life for her family and her siblings. When she didn’t have enough money for just one more year, they sold one of the 3 cows they owned – their only source of milk – to provide for her. I think she might feel a lot of pressure. I’m thankful for a shift in my perspective.

I'm thankful for God bringing my husband to me and moving our family from Texas to New Jersey, then Virginia, then North Carolina, where relationships were born that are still growing across miles and continents. Every person we've ever met has played a role in God's plan for our future. For that I am always thankful.

I’m thankful for the mistakes I made that taught me more about life. And myself. And others. And always more about God’s grace.

I’m thankful for God’s word and for His Spirit that transforms black words on a white page into living words. Have you ever picked up the Bible at a moment when you had no idea what you needed to read and God just spoke to you through His words? I’m thankful for those moments, which seem to happen more and more lately for me.

I’m thankful for my children. For their health and their safety and their loving little hearts that are adaptable to new cultures and new people. I’m thankful God has always provided for them. I can’t imagine what it would be like to not have “enough.” Enough food or medicine or water. There are people in the world that only have enough for one child and have to make a choice each day of which child to feed or medicate. I can’t even begin to imagine that and I am oh, so thankful God has never left me to make that choice.

I am so, so thankful at this moment.

I am thankful that He chose me. As His child, as His friend, as His witness to the world.

The Bible, in Ephesians 1, says He adopted me as His child, giving me all the same, exactly equal rights as his own son, Jesus. And in Luke 3 it says God could raise stones up into children of Abraham.
But He didn’t. He chose me.

He chose me to tell a story. To serve a purpose. To do something incredible.

Just like He chose you.

He doesn’t need us at all.

But He desires us. The God of the universe desires us.

The Lord who created me wants to accomplish great things with me. How many billions of people have there been throughout eternity and He wants me?

For that I am thankful. I am tearfully thankful.

And waiting? Well, He’s waited an eternity for me. I will patiently wait for Him.

I’d love to have a glimpse of things others are thankful for at this season in life.
Do share so I can rejoice with you!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Eating Adventures in Thailand

Thai food was great. We hadn't seen so much of it in over 6 months.

That's right. McDonald's, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, Subway, Krispy Kreme, Burger King, Starbucks, and even places like Outback, au bon pain, Cinnabon, and Haagen Dazs!  

"Thai" food was great.

Oh, but you didn't want to hear about that did you? Even though I was probably more excited about it than the "real" Thai food. Seriously, I don't even like McDonald's but I was so excited to have those french fries and that cheeseburger. Even that coke tasted good. Oh, I'm sad just thinking about how I won't get to eat that again for a while.  

We found a mall in Bangkok that was incredible. Siam Paragon was huge. Several stories of shopping, and each story the same size as any large mall in America, but the entire first floor was food. All mouth watering goodness that I couldn't resist. There was a grocery store in there that I almost had an anxiety attack in because it had so much selection. I haven't had that many choices in months and I couldn't even stand being in there. I wonder what my first trip back to the grocery store will be like when I get back to the US? I was totally overwhelmed. 

So we ate. And ate. And ate some more.

The next day when we walked through a Thai market after visiting the Grand Palace of the King of Thailand, one whiff of the food  had us hungry again. Oh, it smelled so good. 

You might think giant woks and bowls of mystery dishes don't look appetizing, but if I could capture a smell you would surely change your mind. Every dish was different and all the aromas mixed together and yet it still had our interests peaked and our mouths watering. We didn't know where to begin.  Until we saw something red.

Now if you've been following me for a bit, you've likely heard me complain that we don't have strawberries.  Why I would complain when we have pretty much every other fruit in the world, I don't know. I just miss them so much. They do exist here at the supermarket in a package of 4-5 tiny, unappetizing looking berries for $4 or so, but I've never bought them. In Thailand we found them all over the market. And they were good. So good we ate them every day by the bag full.  Just writing about them makes me contemplate another visit to Thailand. It's not fair that it's right "next door" and yet we don't have them here in Cambodia. 

The market was filled with all sorts of exciting treats, and we tried many of them. 

Meat balls. Let's have a closer look at them being made.

Many kinds of meat balls. Stephen kept pointing and asking what kind of meat they were and for many of them they just said "Chicken." I'm quite sure most were not chicken. The do cook with pork a lot so most were probably pork or yes, chicken. The kids were big fans of those hot dogs on a stick. Anything on a stick is fun!

Spring rolls on a stick. They had potato and carrot inside. The balls were corn fritters and we were calling them corn puppies. You know, like hush puppies. It made them much more fun to eat that way.

And of course, Pad Thai, the famous Thai dish. This one has prawns in it. Prawns are like super big shrimp, so I'm not sure where they are in this photo. It goes in the market pics because I got this at the market! There was a little spot with tables and chairs and they served it to me on a pretty plate with silverware. See, you don't have to eat everything on a stick! I think I ate Pad Thai 4 times on the trip. It was excellent every time, and slightly different each time, too. This one at the market was just as good as at the fancy restaurant at the hotel.

Um, those would be chicken heads. Look closely to see the beak and eye. I didn't try them, but based on everything else I had, I bet they'd be good.

Banana dessert. There were 3 types and we kept asking the lady what the difference was and she said sweet as she pointed to each one. Guess she didn't know what difference meant. So, of course we tried all three, with a little coconut milk added in. All of them were excellent. And yes, all were sweet, just in different ways.

One night we ate at a Thai restaurant on the 31st floor of our hotel. The food there was also very tasty.

Spicy fish cakes in the middle:  fried fish with green onion and spicy seasonings.  The kids ate them up, after picking out the green things, which they were convinced is what made them spicy.  Top: Spring rolls

Tom Yam soup, Thai hot and sour soup

Want fried fish? This is what you get.
This one had ginger and lemon seasonings and was delicious.

Chicken soup with coconut milk and chili powder

Ordered noodles with vegetables
Got this. It was great, though.

And here are some more foods from some of our other eating adventures throughout the region.  Honestly, all of it was good.  I'm not usually a very adventurous eater, and I loved it all.  It's not all that different from the food in Cambodia, but does have its own flair. We had a great time trying it all.

Green curry of some kind

Pork and ginger

Omelet with breading around it, then fried - fave of the kids

Pad Thai with thicker noodles

Beef dish with oyster sauce

Stuffed waffles - we opted for plain waffle with chocolate and banana inside. SO GOOD.

And speaking of dessert, I have to tell you about our most interesting dessert experience ever. While waiting on the parade at the umbrella festival, we saw a picture of ice cream on a sign and asked the waitress to bring us some. She replied that she didn't have ice cream but had something that was just like ice cream. Hmmm... ok, sure.  This is what we got:

It was the strangest - and sweetest - thing I've ever eaten.  

It tasted like melted cotton candy. Pure sugar. The texture was more like crushed ice with straight syrup on it.  Then it's like they emptied the pantry with everything they could find and dumped it into the bowl. It had chunks of bread, oreo, coco puffs, kiwi, corn flakes, orange candy, sprinkles, and quite a few unknowns.  So strange. The kids loved it but I was not that into it. It did a nice job of rounding out our food experience, though.

All in all, we were quite pleased with Thai food of all types.  

Hot dogs on a stick, Starbucks, Cinnabon, and McDonalds made the favorites list, but there are so many others we'll be talking about for years to come.  


Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Creatures of Chiang Mai

If you missed part 1 of our adventures in Chiang Mai, be sure to go back and check it out. And Bangkok, too. We had a great time in Thailand, though we are happy to be "home" in Cambodia, where God has clearly called us for this season of our lives. 

There was so much we wanted to do in Chiang Mai. We literally had an excel spreadsheet with every hour mapped out.  We wanted to go to the totally awesome zoo they had there, but we had also heard about a cool Night Safari, and we knew we couldn't do both. On the day of arrival as we had maps spread out before us and our spreadsheet open and a couple "natives" there to give us advice, we quickly decided that we had more time at night than in the day and in combination with locations of each, we opted for the night safari instead of the zoo. We were glad we did. They have the same animals and it's even cooler because you get to see them at night! Cue the scary (but fun) music.

And you get to walk through this:

And the whole place is beautiful like this:

We arrived before dark, when the place was pretty much empty.  It was great because the kids don't stay up too late so we were able to see lots of animals before dark, like any other zoo.  We walked around and were able to get up close and personal with lots of animals.  

He's standing like a flamingo in case you didn't notice his cute little self.

Pretty bird picture at twilight

That door is not locked.  The only thing holding that juvenile tiger in is that little bamboo stick.  Which Stephen was baffled by. But I can't imagine why that scares anyone?  It's just a cute little kitty cat, right? And we're in a perfectly safe place with rules and regulations for sure, right?  

No one was watching the kitty because they were watching the parade that had just begun as it was twilight.

I have no idea what the story was here but it was fascinating.  That queen lady came in on an elephant and they all sang and danced and then a parade of people dressed like that came in carrying animals or walking them on leashes.  I saw a lemur, monkey, python, tiger, parrot, and more that I don't remember. They let the people come right up and touch them. Then they danced some more. One of the elephants was dancing and swinging his trunk. I tried to get a video but he was camera shy. (In other words I was too slow but am blaming it on the 2 ton giant).

After dinner at the zoo - food post coming next blog post! - we climbed on a tram and went on a night safari. I was on the end and the animals were coming right up to me and nibbling on things - like my camera strap - so I didn't get too many photos.  Here are a few.  They were feeding them as we went by, hence the hippo's big mouth.

Since we have seen monkeys pretty much everywhere we've been in Cambodia, we had to venture out to find some in Thailand too.  And like everything else that was much more advanced in Thailand, so were the monkeys!  We went to a show and were really impressed.  Those little guys are pretty smart!

Baby monkey

The introductions:  Hugs and kisses

The show started by demonstrating how they teach the monkeys to pick coconuts from trees, first at a low level, then higher, then from a real tree. They twist them around and around until they fall. Here in Cambodia I've seen kids at the park up in the trees doing that before, while the older men use knives and cut them down. 

Part 2 of the show they were just showing off.  They did some really incredible stuff!  They could choose numbers when we called them out, even when they were in random order, and they were constantly folding their little hands, which is the Asian equivalent of a bow.  They were super cute.  Here were some of our favorite tricks:

But everyone knows monkeys are smart, right? And cute. And fun. Or, I've always thought so. Elephants, though.  Elephants are giant wonderful magnificent creatures. We went to the Mae Sa Elephant Camp, which has been praised by pretty much everyone we've ever met who has ever been to Chiang Mai.  

Did it hold up to its reputation?  

Definitely. Oh, yeah! What a great place! What a great day! 

So it started with a show. We saw there were 2 shows - one at 8am and another at 940. Which would we choose? Well, since our kids are usually wide awake, dressed, and fed by 7am, we figured we'd go for the 8:00 show. We were the first ones to arrive and took the VIP seating. By the time they started the show, we were still the only ones in the audience and it stayed that way the whole show, but they did the whole show anyway.  They climbed on and the show began!

They played soccer! Here's a video (below) if you want to see it. The commentary is pretty funny too. We felt like we had to cheer a lot since we were the only people in the audience.

They painted pictures. And not just ugly, blobs of paint on paper. No... really nice, beautiful, better-than-I-could-ever-dream-of-painting-and-I'm-a-homo-sapien paintings!

And I got to be in the show!

At the end of the show they all came over and put hats on us and took them off, wrapped slimy trunks around us, made noises and wiggled those funny looking noses all sorts of ways. It was so fun! They also gladly took money from us for tips and gave it to their trainers.  

Anyone notice that guy is wearing a Louisiana letter jacket? Wonder what the story behind that is?  

Then it was our turn to ride the elephants. 

We didn't just hop on and ride around in a circle, either. We got a whole hour of riding up a real mountain through a jungle on the back of an elephant. This was a little village we passed as we we walked, and a small elephant was tied up down the trail.  

See? Totally awesome experience. Just as I was thinking it wasn't fair that all the pictures would be of Stephen because I had the camera and couldn't photograph myself, I realized that my elephant trainer guy - called a mahout - had telepathy because he turned around and said "photo?" I said sure and handed him the camera but he shocked me by what he did next!

He climbed off the elephant and we just kept walking! He took a bunch of photos and my elephant just left him there! Good thing they don't move too fast though. He was able to catch us after not too long. 

See how the mahouts ride? They just sit on the head. I wanted to try it so badly. Maybe somewhere in Cambodia a mahout would let me do that.  

We ended the journey by letting our precious beasts cool off in the water and have a drink. They stood there a long time before the mahouts could get them to leave. Then we headed back where we gladly bought them a snack before we said goodbye. It was such a wonderful day that none of us will ever forget.  

I'll let the elephants close for me.