(Tuesday, June 11)
I woke up at 3:00 am to do last minute packing and gather the rest of my belongings. We left the house in two vehicles and continued on to meet the rest of our group from another church about ninety minutes away. All thirteen of us piled into a van and pulled out before 5:30. For roughly the next seven hours we drove to Chicago. Our flight from the O'Hare airport to Tokyo departed at 1:45 pm that afternoon. Getting through the airport went smoothly and without any setbacks, to my relief. The last time I was on a plane was eleven years ago and I was only six, so I remembered little about the security processes and the general experience of flight. Thus, my level of nervousness only increased as time went on.
The very fact that I was in an airport was a thrill in of itself, but it was just the beginning...and, by the end of the trip, airports would bore me.
I did not feel truly frightened until I sat down in my seat on the plane and buckled up. It was then that my emotions started to hit me, and I realized what was happening. My mind began to question the logic of it all. I felt nauseous and light-headed during the takeoff, but a short nap relieved most of my anxiety. Our flight took us up through Canada, above Alaska and Mt. McKinley, and down to Japan in the span of twelve hours.
We got off our flight at 4:00 pm Tokyo time. The realization that for the first time in my entire life I was a foreigner took away a lot of my appetite, both out of the excitement and the shock. We had enough time in the airport to walk around, stretch our legs, and grab a coffee or water before we boarded our six-hour flight to Bangkok. We were some of the only Americans on the plane, it soon occurred to me. Food served on the plane was all Japanese, unlike the previous flight where we were served pizza and ham sandwiches. I was not gull enough to try everything. I watched “Oz: The Great and Powerful”, which I really enjoyed. When we finally landed in Bangkok at around 10:30 PM, I traded in $150 of my $350 for baht, the Thai currency (30 baht is the rough equivalent of 1 US dollar).
Only in the shuttle, watching the Bangkok metropolis go by did it really start to sink in for me. Here I was, literally on the other side of the world (the time difference between Thailand and US Central Time is exactly twelve hours!), and it doesn't look that much different from Chicago or Minneapolis or Duluth at all...I mean, other than the fact that everything was in Thai. Every now and then I caught a small glimpse of western culture, mostly a 7-Eleven or McDonalds, but they were grossly overshadowed by Thai signs, logos, and buildings. I finally saw it with my own eyes but I was only filled with more questions and few answers to my earlier questions.
By the time we checked in at our hotel it was well past midnight. It was a small cheap place in the less expensive but better part of town. The wallpaper in our hotel room was chipped noticeably, the carpet old and hardened, stains and cracks riddled the bathroom mirror and walls, and there was not even an alarm clock. Just a small television and a refrigerator I took a cold shower, unpacked, and went to bed immediately. Technically speaking I was only awake for a full day minus small naps on the flights. But it felt more like I had been awake for a whole week. We would fly to Chiang Mai in the morning and continue on to Khunyuam. I very much looked forward to it all.