Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Dregs of My Thoughts

A couple things I forgot to write about yesterday: ever since I got hit by that truck (well, technically, I hit the truck ... but you know what I mean) I've been jumping at loud sounds and getting surprised easily. I hope my heart can take it. I missed that audition with the Thai TV show, "Dan Daaraa." I called back today and she said the queue is pretty full so I have to call back again at the end of the month. It's a real bummer cause if I'd made it on Monday I could have auditioned and even already recorded for the show. If they can get me in by the end of the month, though, that should be enough time. Even if they record the show and it airs after I'm back in America, that'll get me the exposure I'm hoping for and people will starting getting in touch with me which will give me the needed incentive to return back to Thailand soon. Otherwise, it might be a while.

I was thinking about the purpose of life the other day. That sounds really lame, but I honestly had some really good thoughts. I think two very understated principles related to the purpose of this life is the correct use of God-given agency (a powerful force) and the constant development of self-mastery (obedience to the truth within oneself). The beginnings of my understanding regarding these two principles began on my mission, as far back as the MTC. I was at a point where I found it hard to follow some of the seemingly insignificant rules in place at the MTC. I thought about it long and hard and realized that the reason there were so many rules was because in not too long we would be at a point where we'd be mostly on our own and we'd have to have already developed a testimony of the principle of obedience.

The MTC is the time for missionaries to take the rules and make them their own. There is always someone watching at the MTC. If you disobey a rule, you're probably going to have to answer to it, but in the mission field that may not be the case. Maybe a missionary companionship decides to break certain rules and keep it between them. Who would ever know? So in order to live up to the responsibility that the Lord and mission president gives a missionary by putting them hundreds of miles away from the mission home and leaving them to do the work basically on their own (obviously with the Spirit as a third companion) they have to prove themselves worthy in the MTC by developing a sense of strict obedience.

It's more than just a desire to be obedient. It has to be ingrained within the missionary's personality. And the way for a missionary to do that (as I learned for myself) is to take the rules that they are "forced," per se, to follow and make them their own rules ... internal rules. To the point where it doesn't matter if they have to answer to anyone else for keeping or breaking those rules ... they have developed the attitude that, above all, they have to answer to themselves. The prerequisite to this is obviously a testimony of true principles acquired through humbly petitioning God. Once the rules have become your own, you are ready to basically be "released into the wild."

Taking it backwards a step, this same idea applies to the years growing up as children under the stewardship and governing of parents. Righteous parents teach their children correct principles (normally in the form of rules and a system of reward-punishment), but in order for those children to be successful adults once they fly the nest, they have to have developed the attitude of being able to answer to themselves (to their conscience ... to the Spirit). Basically, parents teach children rules that they must make their own in order to be successful adults; the MTC teaches missionaries rules (based on true principles) that they must make their own in order to be successful missionaries in the mission field ... and now to the purpose of life:

God gives His children rules (commandments ... with associated blessings and punishment) that they must internalize and develop as their own personal belief system in order to one day not only return to Him, but also escape damnation by having proved themselves worthy of continuing to develop and progress eternally without needing His constant supervision. Those of His children who "pass the test" by making the rules their own (holding themselves personally and solely accountable for living up to the true principles of which they have a divinely-given testimony) are worthy of a continued pursuit of eternal progression and success.

And the turning point to making this possible in each circumstance (children-adults, MTC missionaries-field missionaries, "as man is God once was"-"as God is many may become") is the use of the powerful and highly-misunderstood truth of one's personal agency. I'll save that one for later cause that opens up a whole nother can of worms and I'm not even sure any of what I just wrote makes all that much sense. My thoughts are kind of jumbled.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Anger Management Issues

I keep getting shocked lately. I went up to Kalasin this weekend and stayed with my buddy, Suwit, who is the branch president up there. There are no light switches so when you wanna turn the lights on you gotta plug in a switch. And I swear, every time I would plug in the bathroom light I'd get the crap shocked out of me. And then again at the English camp ... the power to the laptop we were using must not have been grounded cause anything metal on or plugged into the computer zapped me. Even the escalators exiting the subway ... shocks me every time.

This last week I went back up to Kalasin (my greenie area) for a few days. It was great to see all the members there and see so many people that I taught that are still strong in the Church and even contributing to the continued growth of that small branch through their callings and personal missionary efforts. There are a couple guys (Bank and Bon) that should be putting their mission papers in sometime soon. It was great to hang out with Suwit and catch up with him. We were pretty tight there back in my greenie days and he even moved down to the Pakkret branch for a while for work while I was serving there.

To tell the truth, though, besides seeing all the members up there, I couldn't stand being in Kalasin. I forgot how completely boring it is. There is literally nothing going on. I think that's why President sends a lot of greenies there. They don't know any better yet so everything is interesting up there ... but it's not exactly a place where you'd wanna take an extended vacation. I was glad to be up there that week though because I got to celebrate Loy Krathong with the members. If I'd been down in Bangkok I might not have been able too because this year it coincided with the King's older sister's funeral so they didn't really have any big Loy Krathong celebrations.

The same day I got back from Kalasin I had to go up to an English camp in Chainat. I took a bus to meet up with the staff that were gonna be driving up. The money collector lady on the bus would not speak Thai to me. I'd ask her a question and she'd just make a face or something like that was the only way she would answer me. Like she would just point with her eyes. And for some reason that ticked me off ... something so little and stupid like that. I eventually got off the bus farther away from where I needed to be because she wouldn't tell me what stop I needed to get off on so that just put me in an even worse mood. I refused to pay more money for a taxi or motorcycle to take me there so I started walking.

There was this drugged out kid on the sidewalk so I walked into the park and must have walked half a mile in the direction I needed to be going only to find out that the only exit out of the park was the one I'd walked through in the first place. Of course I got even more ticked off. And the whole time in my mind I'm telling myself, "I have no reason to make such a big deal out of this. I'm here walking through this beautiful park and life is pretty great. Just try to enjoy the now." So I guess it's good that at least I can recognize when I'm being irrational and I'm trying to deal with it. Eventually I hopped the fence (pain in the butt) because I refused to walk all the way back to the entrance and I was carrying a couple heavy bags.

The English camp was fun. There were about 100 high school kids that we spent 2 days with doing activities and assignments and helping them apply their English language skills. I decided not to let the kids know I spoke Thai until the end of the camp, but that was a lot harder than I thought because when I hear Thai now or when someone speaks to me in Thai I don't translate it to English first or think of a response in English and translate it to Thai. For the most part I do my day-to-day thinking in English, but when it comes to speaking Thai my brain just switches to Thai mode.

Getting back from the English camp was a hassle. I rode with the staff from Chainat to Suphanburi. Then took a bus from there to Mochit in Bangkok. Then hopped on another bus to go pick up my motorcycle at Big C near Central World. Then I got some gas and started driving home. After hours of traveling I was almost home ... when I got hit by a truck. I've never been in an accident before so this was my first.

I was just driving along and at a safe speed too cause it had been raining and the roads were kind of slick. There was a truck parked (not moving) on the left side of the road (we drive on the left here) with its blinker on. Of course I saw him, but I had the right of way so I kept driving straight ahead in my lane (the farthest left of the two left lanes). And just as I was about to pass him he started to turn into the road. I turned/braked as much as I could on a slick road to avoid him and honked my horn and if he had stopped right then I probably could've have avoided him, but he just kept on turning and I slammed into the front right side of the truck.

Me and the motorcycle went down hard, fortunately not into oncoming traffic. With broken plastic and glass shattering around me. And it was right at that point that I lost control of my emotions and rage took over. As I write about it I feel shame for my inability to keep myself in check. Adrenaline was pumping through my veins and I got up out of the road and walked over to the truck and slammed both hands on the hood as hard as I could while yelling and swearing at the passengers through the windshield. Could I have hurt someone in the vehicle if they had stepped out of the cab right then? I don't know, but that uncontrollable rage only lasted for about 10 seconds before it dissipated.

I realized cars in the other lanes were honking at me to get my motorcycle out of the road so they could continue on their way home. They see accidents all the time. And I was obviously not badly injured as I was up on two feet. So I pulled my motorcycle out of the road into a side street and the truck drove over too. He called his insurance and we waited. The passengers were a couple guys and a couple girls in their late-20's. They checked to see if I was okay and honestly I did feel okay, but that was just the adrenaline. Eventually my hip started killing like it'd been overextended or something. It's still pretty sore today and so are the muscles in my left leg, left arm, and neck. Otherwise, no major injuries.

The guy (driver) admitted he was wrong, but then started arguing with me about how I had no place to slam his hood like that ... it had left handprints in his hood that he'd have to get pounded out. At first, I got defensive. How could anyone be expected to be accountable for their actions after getting into a car accident? Eventually, though, I realized that even if I felt like the person who had slammed his hood was not me (because I wasn't in control), I still had to take responsibility for it. It reminds me of the guy in Colorado who pulled over cause he'd had too much to drink. Then another drunk driver slammed into the back of his car and it killed the first driver's two kids. So he got out and walked over to the driver of the other car and beat him to death. Now he's in jail. And even though it feels like I can sympathize with him, I don't wanna be resigned to the thought that under circumstances I can't be in control of my own emotions. I know I can be. And especially when it comes to anger ... I have to keep it in check.

So eventually the insurance guy came and after an initial misunderstanding where it looked like the truck driver was trying to claim he wasn't at fault for the accident, the insurance rep agreed that his customer was at fault ... but that there was also the issue of the hood. That would have to be a completely separate case holding me responsible for the damage. In the end, the cost of repairs to the motorcycle would be a bit less than repairing the hood of his truck so they offered to let me just fix the motorcycle myself. The driver did, however, offer to take me around to get the parts for a cheaper price if I got quoted too high. He also told me that if I ended up going to get checked out by a doctor I could call him and he'd pay for the cost of the visit. I haven't gone to a doctor though. I'm just taking some Ibuprofen and trying to rest.

Honestly, the best way to describe how I feel is that "I got hit by a truck," but I'll be fine. And the motorycle didn't have any major damage so that's a good thing. The thing that has affected me more than the accident itself, though, was the realization that I have a long way to go in developing self-control over my emotions and appetites. If I hadn't slammed his hood, the insurance guy would've come and opened a case and would've paid for the repairs to my motorcycle and any hospital visits and that would be the end of it. But actions, no matter how little we may feel we are in control when making the choices that lead to those actions, have their consequences. And my consequences were that I had got hit by a truck and then still have to fork out the money to pay for the repairs myself.

I was supposed to have an audition for this Thai TV show called "Dan Daaraa" the next day, but I wasn't really feeling up to it so I called and moved it to the end of the week. I went down to the Immigration Office because my visa expired on that day and if I didn't renew it I'd get fined 500 baht/day. Fortunately, my friend's (Naam) little sister's (Tan) boyfriend's (Bio) father is like the head guy of Immigration in Thailand. I talked to Bio and he got me hooked up. They took good care of me and got me all the paperwork without having to wait in the obscenely long lines.

After signing everything, though, the lady helping me told me I just needed to pay the 2,000 baht visa renewal fee. I excused myself and got on the phone with Bio quick. I was under the impression that the "help" his dad could get me was that I could renew my visa for free. If it was just a matter of going down there and renewing it like everyone else I could've done that on my own. Eventually, he talked to his dad again and they got it renewed for me for free which was a major blessing for me. Money is tight, if you know what I mean ... like real tight. So this helped a ton. Now I can stay in Thailand for 30 more days and, lucky for me, my plane back to America leaves on the same day my visa expires.

I bought the first 4 seasons of The Office (TV series) for a good deal and I've been watching those a lot. I love that show. I'm getting real excited for Christmas. I'll be here for the stake Christmas activity and I'll get to perform a few numbers with another RM here named Devin Castleton. I'm gonna get together with him this week to practice and eat dinner with him and his wife. I'll get home just in time to celebrate a week of the Christmas season (better than Christmas Day itself) and spend time with my family. Hopefully there's snow. It's so hot here. I'm always sweating. Gotta shower twice a day.

I'm loving it here ... mostly. I honestly do get lonely sometimes, even with as many friends as I have here. The fact of the matter is, I can only handle seeing most of my friends (members, former investigators, etc.) occassionally, and there are only a select few that I would really like to spend most of my time with. But I don't think those select few believe me when I say that because they see that there are so many other people here that want a piece of my time. In the end though, I'm the one who gets to decide how I divide my time and who I spend it with.

I went to use an internet cafe the other day and I saw this sign "Thai Only." I asked the people working the food stand out in front if that actually meant they refused to let foreigners use the internet there and they said that it was really only meant for the black people in the neighborhood (there are a lot of different nationalities in this area where I live). I couldn't believe it. I've only experienced minimal racism in America against black people and I never thought I would see it anywhere else, especially somewhere like Thailand where there's not exactly anyone with the Aryan mentality going on. And here I thought all Thai people were equally as kind and ใจดี. P.S. I love Ernie Halter's music. Check him out.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

As Far Away As I Can Get

Here's a picture of me and Kami on Halloween. I already wrote about it, but I'm putting a picture up here cause she asked me not to put the pictures up on Facebook. Even the pictures we took at Pattaya with her and her friends have the rumor mill within the Church here in Thailand working at full capacity. Creepy picture though, huh? I don't know how Kami can manage to look scary and beautiful at the same time, but she pulls it off.

I moved from Don Muang down to Srinakharin. Today I started riding my motorcycle back up to Don Muang and got pulled over by the police. I'm settled to my lot in life as a cop-magnet. I wasn't wearing a helmet and apparently I was driving in the wrong lane and apparently I need a motorcycle license in addition to my driver's license. So basically I should've been screwed.

Of course I tried to talk only in English with the cops at first. They kept pointing to their heads and telling me in Thai that I needed a helmet, but then I'd just take off my hat and wave it in their face and tell them I already had a hat. Eventually, I realized they weren't just gonna let me go so I figured I could do better at saving myself in Thai. After initially being offended that I refused speak Thai to him when I could speak it just fine, he became a lot more easygoing and I talked him down from 1,000 baht fine to 500 to 300 and in the end only ended paying 200 baht. Then I bought a helmet.

By that time I was already late for my lunch meeting in Don Muang and then to top it off a huge storm hit right where I was at. Not only was it raining cats and dogs, but I swear there were hurricane-strength winds blowing around. I ended up soaked before deciding to park the bike and take a taxi. I met with Kung and she introduced me to one of her mentors, Suwit, who is a rich businessman in Thailand that has set up concerts for big name singers for a number of years. He's gonna help introduce to a lot of other producers and singers and take me to their concerts and stuff.

He also told me that as opposed to a demo CD or just singing acapella when I go to various music labels, I need to have a backing track that I can pop into the CD player and sing along with to give them a better idea. So I bought some cheap music programs (i.e. Cakewalk, Finale) to get working on that. I also made some business cards (just my name and contact info) at his recommendation.

I'm so glad I'm not back in America for all the election drama that's going on right now. I'm settled to the fact that it looks like Obama is gonna win the election, but when that happens I am predicting with a 95% certainty that there will shortly be an increase in terrorist attacks (on a large-scale) on American soil. I'm talking about the next few months after the New Year.

Terrorists are smart ... and they're patient. They've been waiting silently over the last few years (since the campaigning has started) for America to feel falsely safe and elect a president with weak international policies. Then when they hit America (which they will), we will be exposed as a weak superpower with neither bark nor bite. This is my prediction.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Vintage Wine of the Lord's Thai Vineyard

I got plenty of sleep on Saturday night, but for some reason I kept dozing off in church on Sunday. I'm usually drowsy in church and/or the temple, but this time I was like sleep-deprived. So when I got home at about 5 PM I took a nap ... and woke up at like 12:30 AM haha. So I've been here in this internet cafe all night and the sun just barely came up.

On Halloween I had a date with Kami. I rode my motorcycle all the way from Don Muang down to Srinakharin. I realized as I was driving 100/kmh on the main road that it probably would've been smart to get a helmet as I was the only one without one.

I stopped by Tesco-Lotus and bought some small watermelons to take to her place. Thai pumpkins suck for carving. They're too short and too hard. Watermelons worked great though. First of all they're easier to carve cause the shell or whatever it's called is pretty thin and plus you can eat the guts!

Then I wanted to make-up our faces Halloween-style. Kami didn't really want to, but eventually I won out. We went with the dark eyes and some dripping blood down the face. It was pretty simple, but freaky-looking. It scared all the neighborhood kids. I think the reason Kami didn't wanna make up her face was cause she knew everyone would stare. The thing is, I'm already used to everyone staring at me cause I'm a farang!

We went to Seacon Square and ate pizza and then went to see a scary Thai movie called Coming Soon (โปรแกรมหน้า). We found out when they got there that the theater was having a promotion that everyone who went to see that movie all dressed up on Halloween night got to see it for free! That was an unexpected surprise. They said we were the first two people to take advantage of the promotion and we were there for the last showing.

This movie was seriously intense. It wasn't like all the American horror movies that crank up the gore factor and just leave you feeling disturbed. Coming Soon was just more jumpy and intense than anything. I thought Kami was gonna break my arm she was clutching so tight. There's a Thai movie coming out in early December called On-Bak 2 that I seriously cannot wait to see. It looks even better than the first one. When we left the theater it was raining like crazy and all the streets were flooded. Driving home was like motorcycle surfing.

On Saturday I drove downtown with Naam to meet her friend Lerm. So it was me and two beautiful Thai girls. Lerm took us to dinner at a restaurant right on the Chao Phraya River across from The Golden Palace. And then we drove to the other side of the river and went up to a bar that had an incredible view of Wat Arun.

This week I'm moving down near Srinakharin. It'll be nice to have a change of pace and get to experience another part of Thailand. Most elders get to serve in like 5 or 6 areas. I only had 3 so I need to get around a little more. Plus, living down there will be closer to downtown Bangkok. Another thing is that it'll be nice to be close to Kami.

My friend Keng has been letting me borrow her laptop which has been a huge help. I just go over to the Amari Airport Hotel here in Don Muang and chill in their nice lobby and use their free wi-fi. I wanna try to get all my Thai music off CDs and loaded onto my iPod too. Speaking of my iPod, the screen broke. So Mom and Dad, if you wanna get me something for Christmas you can buy me a new iPod screen for a 5.5-generation 80-GB iPod Video for about 30 bucks on

As for the whole rockstar dream, I've been kind of a lazy bum about really moving forward with it. As of right now, the only thing that would bring me back to Thailand right after Christmas would be a record contract with a major recording label. And as that's looking like it might not happen this time around, I'll more than likely be back in school at BYU this winter. Maybe I'll head back to Thailand again in the spring or summer.

And to save money for a plane ticket, the plan is to live in my van during winter semester. Shower at the gym. Do my laundry at friend's places. Haha I know that sounds like a terrible idea, but if that's what I end up doing it'll be an adventure. And I love adventures.

On Sunday the Don Muang branch president called me into his office because he wanted to get to know me better. We ended up talking for a while and I got to know him pretty well too. He's only been a member for a little over a year. Don Muang's former branch president (President Prasong) who served while I was a missionary there recently moved to Chiang Mai. If not for this new branch president (President Phitsanu) it would probably have to be an elder serving as the branch president in Don Muang.

The interesting thing about his conversion story is that his first introduction to the missionaries and to the Church was the SYS music group from 30 years ago. He only knew them for their music, but when he'd play guitar with his buddies he'd call himself a "Latter-day Saint." Years later, the missionaries that he miraculously became acquainted with and who saw him baptized into the Church were, lo and behold, SYS missionaries from this generation.

On a side note, the SYS group has since been dissolved and I believe this has to do with, in part, the narrow-minded attitudes of missionaries within the mission that SYS couldn't fulfill the calling of missionaries to "invite others to come unto Christ." I experienced the same kind of negative attitude from missionaries within and without the music group while I was serving and it was a real drain on the potential of its success.

What if President Phitsanu had no knowledge of "Latter-day Saints" and therefore no reason to strike up a conversation with the missionaries who saw him baptized when they ran into each other by chance in a stairwell. He may have yet to be a member of the Lord's true church and Don Muang would necessarily have a missionary serving as the leading priesthood holder of the branch. If anything is gonna take away from an elder's potential to invite others to come unto Christ (excluding those who are already members) it is having to take on the time-consuming responsibilities of a branch president.

President Phitsanu's conversion story was just another confirmation to me that SYS was an inspired program and I was called by God to serve there for the majority of my mission for good reason. I saw a lot of success through the combined efforts of the elders and sisters in that group and I know that is much success yet to come, both in terms of proselyting and baptizing as well as public affairs for the Church in Thailand, that I may never become aware of.

The thing that comforts me most is my personal knowledge that the Lord is pleased with my efforts as a full-time missionary. I am confident that having done all I could do, the rest is left in His hands and He will use future generations of hard-working missionaries to continue to work in His vineyard here in Thailand and see that work bear fruits.