Malaysia, Motor Bikes, and Music Camps

April was a busy month, to say the least. As a result, I’m warning you now that this is going to be a long blog post. So read at your own risk.

Being that most schools are on summer break, that means we’ve had an increase in students coming to PMA. I guess the parents are all trying to find things for their kids to do now that there’s no school to occupy their time. However, Khon Kaen International School is still in session (they use the American school system for holiday breaks) so they offer summer classes, which is something many parents take advantage of. That means that instead of teaching only five unruly kindergarteners and six rambunctious preschoolers for an hour each day, I get to teach about fifteen to twenty kids in each class – something I’m definitely not prepared to do. It’s been fun though. Lots of stories and games. And, you know, trying to get them to listen takes about half the period anyway, so there’s that. Fortunately for my sanity, KKIS took a week off of school for the national holiday, Songkran (which is an absolute blast, by the way). That, plus a requested holiday of three more days of break, meant that my room mates and I had enough time to go to Malaysia as an early birthday present for Deedee. The fun part is, Deedee didn’t know we were going.

We told Deedee that we were going to Bangkok for the weekend since we had a few days of vacation (PMA took a break for Songkran as well, and I asked our secretary to reschedule our classes so we could take an extra two days off and make up the lessons later), but what we didn’t tell her was that once we got to Bangkok, we’d be boarding a plane to Kuala Lumpur to spend a week in a country she’d been begging to go to for months. She was so confused when we arrived at the airport, but once we handed her her ticket, her eyes lit up as the reality sunk in. Seeing the surprise and gratitude on her face was so worth the effort put in to keep the trip a secret during the weeks of planning. Once in Malaysia we had lots of fun eating wonderful food, shopping in really nice malls, relaxing by pools and at beaches, playing lots of card games, and focusing on recharging our energy so we could be ready for the upcoming music camp that would be held at our school April 24-26.
Side note: the music camp was supposed to be planned and led out by the senior class of Fountainview Academy, an Adventist high school from BC, Canada, but due to circumstances out of our control, they ended up not being able to come until the evening of April 25. So now the seven of us PMA staff members were in charge of planning and leading the music camp, which would actually be two different camps – one for kids who already had a good understanding of music, and another for kids who were less musically advanced. Tone (the director of PMA), Deedee, and I were in charge of planning the more basic music camp. Sounds easy, right? Well, take into account that the kids we were preparing for would have little to no knowledge of music, and we had to teach them how to perform at least two songs in three days. Also, the ages of the kids attending would be from about 6 to 12 years old. It was going to be fun.

So here we were in Malaysia, desperately trying not to freak out about how little we actually had planned for the camp (or maybe it was just me freaking out), soaking up our last few precious moments of vacation before the crazy kicked in. We also got to briefly catch up with some fellow missionary friends from Cambodia who were also vacationing in Malaysia, so that was nice. All too soon the trip came to a close and we found ourselves boarding our flight back to Bangkok. During the three hour flight I had the chance to meet a very sweet Thai lady who tried to convert me to Buddhism but ended up agreeing with me by the end of the plane ride that Buddhists and Christians have a lot in common, and that we can both respect each other’s religions and be friends regardless of our differences. Very interesting conversations were had, though it was mostly compiled of, “Sorry, I don’t understand,” or, “You mean this? No? Oh… OH! You mean THIS!” Her English was only slightly better than my Thai, so communication was fun. The next leg of our journey home was an overnight bus trip that allowed for very little sleep and a very early morning, but the exhaustion of traveling wouldn’t hold a candle to the exhaustion I would feel in the days to come.

The weekend wasn’t very restful either, as we spent Friday and Sabbath preparing for the Easter concert/party we had planned for Saturday night at the church. Chris asked me to arrange “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” for the PMA staff to perform on our recently purchased set of hand chimes, so I spent most of Friday arranging that song and teaching it to our staff, most of whom had either never played chimes or hadn’t played in a very long time. It would have been amusing if we weren’t trying to pull a song together in time for a performance the next day. Either way, the concert on Saturday night went very well and we had a lot of fun socializing and playing games with PMA students and church members alike.

Sunday was filled with classes, as usual, so there was little time to plan for the following day’s activities. Ready or not, though, the music camp would come. By the time Monday morning rolled around, I realized that we didn’t actually have a very good idea of what we were doing. We had ideas of what we COULD do, but no real solid battle plan for how we were going to occupy a dozen kids for three days, seven hours each day. We decided to take it day by day, hour by hour, making split second decisions on what activities to do as the day went on. Being a person who likes to plan out every minute of my day, this was very stressful for me, but somehow we made it through the first day with no major breakdowns (by the teachers or the children). We taught basic note reading, played rhythm games, started teaching the kids how to use the hand chimes, and filled up the rest of the time with other games that Deedee came up with to keep them occupied. By the end of the day I was more than ready to go home. And even though it had been pouring rain all afternoon, still drizzling at 4:30 when we were packing up to go, I turned down Kyle’s offer to put my motorbike in the back of his truck and ride with him. Selfishly I knew that if I rode in his truck, it would mean going to the school and unloading everything else he was transporting. I could chance getting wet if it meant I wouldn’t have to spend more hours working at the school. Horrible, I know. Apparently my remorse wasn’t enough to change my mind though. Also, I failed to mention that earlier that day, and by earlier I mean around 5am, I had picked up my friend Alexi from the bus station after she traveled over 24 hours to come visit me from France (their school was on spring break), and I was anxious to get home and see how she was recovering from her jet lag. Not to mention, I hadn’t seen her in almost a year so I was very excited to do some much needed catching up. 

With much on my mind and rain on my face I began my journey home. Now, some of you may remember me talking about the route to KKIS from a previous blog; it’s not a terribly long drive, but I did try to take a shortcut once and ended up getting terribly lost, so I vowed never to stray from the path I knew ever again. Well, sometimes vows get broken and, more often than not, trouble arises when they do.
I didn’t plan on changing my route, but Tone was driving his motorbike alongside mine and when we got to the shortcut road, he gestured for us to turn. I thought, “If Tone can show me how this short-cut actually works, maybe it will cut off drive time for me in the future.” Confident in his abilities to lead us home safely, I fell in line behind him and got ready to turn. Except, Tone didn’t turn when I thought he would turn. I knew the road he was going to take, so I was curious when he didn’t turn right away as we approached it. He had seemed to miss the turn, but he braked very suddenly and made a wide turn onto the road. Trying to imitate him, I pulled hard on the brakes and tried to turn left. Unfortunately, I used the wrong brake for that situation, the front-wheel brake, and as it had been raining the roads were terribly slippery so… I wiped out. The bike went down, I went down, my head (fortunately protected by a helmet) seemed to bounce as it hit the ground… it wasn’t pretty. I felt little to no pain though, so I was able to get up quickly and assess the damage to my still-running motorbike: just scratches, nothing too damaged. The same seemed to be true for myself, as I checked for injuries and found only scraped knees and wounded pride. I gingerly got back on my bike, a little more respectful of the slippery roads, and we carefully drove down the hateful shortcut road. “I knew nothing good could come from this route,” I thought, as I examined my now bloody knees and torn skirt. I should have stuck to the path I knew. 

As we rounded corner after corner, bend after bend, I marveled at how inconvenient this shortcut really was and quickly realized why I got the impression that I shouldn’t ever take it; if I hadn’t wiped out trying to turn onto that road, I certainly would have had an accident at some point later on. The roads were too slippery for the crazy driving we had to do to maneuver through the twists and turns. The whole ride home I was thinking to myself of how God is always right and how we should learn to trust the intuition He gives us, vowing yet again never to stray from the path He’s prepared. Eventually the twists and turns ended and we were back in familiar territory, but before we got to my village Tone slowed down and asked, “Do you want to go to the school or go home?” Voice cracking through hidden tears, I replied, “Home.” Without another word he led the way into my village, though I wasn’t sure why he was driving there as I was perfectly capable of navigating myself home. Once we arrived at my house, he wouldn’t leave until I assured him there was someone (Alexi) to help me clean up. Again, I didn’t really want any help, I just wanted to pretend that it hadn’t happened, and maybe eat some chocolate to help me forget about all the stresses of the day. 

After washing my wounds (pretty scary looking but nothing fatal) and telling my story to Alexi, I realized we didn’t actually have any bandages in the house. Fortunately, we do have a nurse. And nurses always know what to do. Melissa got home soon after I did and, after assessing the situation, told me she would be back in five minutes. She drove off, and in what felt like much longer than five minutes (though it probably wasn’t that long) came back with gauze and chocolate (I love you so much, Melissa! You’re my favorite nurse!). She patched me up good as new (almost) and then I was able to enjoy catching up with my friend, trying to forget all the stress and traumatizing events of the day. 

The next day was much less eventful, not quite as stressful, and probably more meaningful for the kids. I think we had a better grip on what we were doing, so our lessons went a lot smoother. However, my injuries proved to be quite distracting as kids enjoyed poking my swollen knees and asking, “Teacher, what happened?” I think I repeated the story at least 37 times before people stopped asking, and the more I told it, the funnier it became. Everyone needs a good wipeout story before they can call themselves an experienced driver, right? (Actually, this is my third wipeout, but by far the worst, and hopefully my last.) Anyway, the day passed quickly, and much more productively. By 3pm when the parents started picking up their kids I felt like we had actually done some good in the lives of these young musicians. 

Wednesday rolled around, and with it the Fountainview kids rolled in. I had my hands full trying to find jobs for the dozen or so high schoolers who were ready and willing to be used. Most of them ended up hanging out with the KKIS kids while only a handful got to do anything with our twelve music camp students. We had fun though, and by the end of the day our students were somewhat prepared to perform two songs at the concert which would happen the next evening. The advanced music camp was still going on Thursday, but we teachers from the basic music camp enjoyed a day off while we awaited the concert that evening. The advance music camp performed really well at the concert (which was held outdoors at KKIS with less than satisfactory lighting and sound, but we won’t go into that), and our group of distracted youngsters performed… well… they performed. And the parents didn’t complain, so they must have done ok. I was honestly so caught up in trying to point out the notes for the hand chime ringers that I didn’t pay much attention to how it sounded. Either way, I know the kids had fun, and stressful as it was, I think the camp could have gone a lot worse. I praise God for getting us through it, and I pray we don’t have any more big events like that for a very long time.

I’ve had a week to recover now, and as I look back on all that’s happened in the last few weeks I can only be grateful for how God brought me through it. He gave me strength when I needed it, courage to face difficult tasks head-on, protection from injuries that could have been much worse, and probably countless other mercies. While I don’t wish for a month as hectic as this one any time soon, there were many blessings amidst the stresses, lessons resulting from the trials, and memories made in spite of, but sometimes as a result of, the chaos. 

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