Let Us Take You There - Thailand

Pre-covid, tens-of-millions of tourists made their way to Thailand each year to explore stunning white-sand beaches, dine on delicious food, and experience the famously welcoming Thai culture.

Since we can't get on a plane ... yet ... let us take you on a virtual trip. Join *Todd, a fellow Canadian and Pioneers global worker, as he tours us through this beautiful country he and his family call home.

Let's go!

Thailand is home to almost 70 million, with an overwhelming majority of the population identifying as Buddhist (88%). Temples play an important role in everyday life for Thai people as a place to pray to Buddha, seek advice from monks, and merit making.

What is merit making you ask?  Great question!  We asked Todd to help us understand ...

Todd: Describing merit making of Thai Buddhists is kind of like describing prayer of Canadian Christians - a brief answer may be unsatisfactory, incomplete or create false impressions. Both of these topics can fill volumes. 

But, in my basic understanding of the karmic system in Buddhism, I'll do my best to explain.

In Buddhist belief, everyone experiences a cycle of rebirth. The nature of ones next life is determined by karma.

Merit is the effect of good deeds done through physical action, words, or thoughts, and is related to karma. Karma is the deed or action, and merit is the effect of that action - good karma results in merit. 

It's not a direct parallel, but there is a measure of truth in describing this belief system as ‘works based’. 

It’s also important to mention that good karma/good merit is believed to not only affect your next life, but also your current life. As I see it, the average Thai is not thinking about their next life when making merit, but rather trying to improve or maintain their current life. Exams? Relationship struggles? New house? The reasons for making merit are myriad.

A simple example of making merit can be seen in the giving of alms - gifts and offerings are given to monks or at the temple. Common gifts include food, robes, flowers, incense, medicine, candles and more. 

Another example of making merit is setting animals free. In many local markets you can purchase small birds in tiny thatched cages to set free. One of my neighbours catches birds in nets for the very purpose of selling them so others can make merit.

Can you describe another cultural difference between Thailand and Canada, and share how it impacts how you relate to your Thai friends and neighbours?

Todd: Sure. Complex social and religious mechanisms generally find most Thai people choosing to resolve conflicts without confrontation – particularly one on one. 

I'll tell you a story ...

Unknown to me, I had been parking my truck on the street in a way that made it difficult for one of my neighbours to back out of her driveway. This occurred quite frequently and for some time. As confronting me directly would cause me to ‘lose face’ she instead asked another neighbour to mediate. He approached me on her behalf and the conflict was resolved.

Where a Christian in Canada may site Matthew 18:15-17 as a basis for personal confrontation, I found this model of a mediator to have significant merit. Is not Christ Jesus our mediator with our Heavenly Father? It’s been very helpful to have this example from their own culture when engaging Thai people with the Good News of God’s Kingdom.

What a fantastic example of how having a posture of learning has opened doors for you to share the Gospel!  

What other Thai cultural normalities might Canadians be surprised by?

Todd: Ducking and vertical hierarchies.

Let me explain ...

When passing others Thais will often duck down slightly as they walk. This postural gesture excuses any interruption and in cases of seniority acknowledges respect. In the tight quarters of a market or grocery store, it’s a remarkable cultural trait to see unfold!

Many years ago when we first invited our neighbours over for dinner I sat on the floor as we had limited seating. They indicated that this made them very uncomfortable, particularly the wife as I was both older and male. The ladies ended up sitting on the floor and the men took the seats.

Sharing a meal together - what a great way to connect with your neighbours no matter what side of the big pond you live on! Do you have a favourite Thai food?

Todd: Thai food is amazing, but of all the options, one dish stands apart for me – Khao Soi Gai. (Cow Soy Guy).

At its core Khao Soi is a coconut curry noodle soup. It’s a dish with similar counterparts in other parts of Southeast Asia.

Although the literal translation of Khao Soi means ‘cut rice’, the Thai name may be an adaptation of the Burmese word for noodles – ‘Khao Swè’ 

Regardless of how the name came to be, authentic variations may make you cry the first few times as your body adapts to spicy cuisine. Hahaha! Bring on the curry paste!  Dried chili, turmeric, cumin, coriander root, ginger, shallot, turmeric and cardamom are mixed together in a mortar and pestle and fried. Coconut milk is then added to create a thick and creamy soup. This base is treated for sweetness with fish sauce and palm sugar and soy sauce for saltiness.

Egg noodles serve as the primary delivery device for all of this deliciousness and are accompanied by a chicken leg. Topping the creation is a garnish of crispy fried noodles for crunch. 

On the side you’ll often find a small quantity of roughly chopped onions and pickled cabbage along with a lime wedge for added tang. Add to taste.

Though generally delicious regardless of where you get it, the locals know best. Finding the best Khao Soi is relatively easy. In pre-covid days I’d look for a shop that was ridiculously busy around noon and sold out completely on most days before 2 PM. During the pandemic a crowd of food delivery motorbikes is an excellent indication of tasty food.

Great tip! We'll be on the lookout for long lines of food-delivery motorbikes on our next visit.

We can tell you love Thai food! What is one other thing you love about living in Thailand?

Only one!?!? Wow, I don’t think I can list only one. I love the freedom from many rules and regulations in different parts of life here. Do you want to bring six bags of groceries, 2 chickens and 3 people home on your motorbike? Go for it! Do you want to start a food shop on the side of the road? Get cooking! Do you want to build a carport over your driveway? Permit? What’s a permit?  

I LOVE that when I stop at a traffic light, Thai people do not blast their radio with thumping base. I LOVE that I can eat fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables every single day – all year long. I LOVE that nearly every neighbourhood has ‘mom and pop’ shops for all your basic needs. You don’t NEED to leave your community for the essentials. I LOVE the polite, friendly, somewhat guarded, playful, relational nature of Thai people among whom we have made our home.

Thanks for "taking" us to Thailand.  Before we go, how can we pray for you and your ministry?

Todd: Pray that God is glorified in our work and play, actions and words, and that the living God is made known to those bow down to idols that cannot hear and cannot speak.

Please pray we have great wisdom as we navigate the future with three third-culture kids and abide in Him who knows both the beginning and the end.

How is God Calling YOU to share the hope of Jesus with the Thai people? 

Watch this incredible video about Bangkok and ask yourself, "How will I get involved?" 

"The Bangkok Metro Region is home to nearly 15 million people. Less than 1% of them follow Jesus. That means millions, MILLIONS, may not even know a single believer. Not one. It’s our prayer to see that change. It’s going to take a ridiculous amount of work in a place that’s hotter, harder and more resistant to the Gospel than you can imagine. It’s not going to be easy."


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