It was a long two weeks for sure. I wish that I could detail everything I did, all the sights, the smells (oh, the smells), the sounds and the emotions. But, I fear that's quite impossible, even for my long-winded tendencies. But, I'll try to sum up my excursions as best as I can.
On Wednesday, Decemeber 26th, we took a cab to the bus station at 3:45 am. After a bus ride, two flights and a van ride, we arrived at our destination in Malaysia. The whole purpose behind these travels was the ASCI boarding conference at Dalat International School in Penang. I grew up hearing about this MK school and actually seeing it, right on the beach in a beautiful city was simply amazing. Sometimes I catch myself in awe of where the Lord has taking me. I'm actually doing something that I love, something that I've wanted to do and something that allows me to see the world. But, I digress...
The conference was 3 days long and I got to help lead worship, which was great. Our hotel was right on the beach with a view of mountains in the distance. Malaysia food consists of a mixture of Indian, Chinese and Thai. Therefore, I was in heaven for a week. There was a giant mall (the first one I've seen in 5 months) and amazing night markets with all the knock-off purses and perfumes that you can handle. But aside from the conference, the food, the beauty of the country, the biggest aspect of Malaysia that hit me was the religion...Islam. It's illegal for a Malay to be anything but Muslim but immigrants and foreigners can be anything. There has to be a mosque within walking distance from everywhere. You could hear the call to prayer throughout the streets...an eerie sound. My heart broke for the Malaysian people and it gave me a renewed passion for seeing the world come to know the Living God.
After Malaysia, 6 of us headed to Vietnam for leg two of the vacation. We flew into Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) and my first reaction was...wow. I was completely overwhelmed by the roads. There aren't very many cars but tons and tons and tons and...well, a lot of motor bikes. There aren't really lanes, you just fit as many as possible across. When turning, you just kinda edge yourself out there, slowly and let everyone else go around you. Pedal-driven bikes are also on the roads, right in the midst of all the motor bikes. The streets are dirty and the faces are sad. But, despite religious persecution, the Church is alive. There are high fences around every church and the government has the right to come in and take over the building at any time. We stayed right in the city, went to markets and got to truly see the city. This is when the culture shock set in. The smell of filth and the sight of destitution broke my heart but made it almost shut down at the same time. I wanted to leave after just one day. I didn't want to see the prostitutes on the street anymore. I didn't want to see 4 year olds, shoe-less and alone crossing the busy downtown streets. I was grossly reminded of how wealthy America really is compared to the rest of the world. I wish I hadn't rejected the city so much- I'm sure I emotionally missed out on a lot.
We headed to the Cu Chi tunnels north of the city on the second day. These were built by the Viet Cong during the war. It was strange to go on a tour in a place where just a few decades ago, Americans were given their lives. We lost that war and for those giving the tour, they won. They celebrated VC soldiers who killed many Americans, they showed traps set for our soldiers and a big American tank that was overtaken is on display. It's no surprise that pro-American sentiment is absent, but it was strange to actually experience it and feel it. I shot an M16 at a shooting range near the tunnels, the kind of gun used in the war and I couldn't help but think that these guns were used to kill so many people...
The following day, we headed down to the MeKong Delta River, which is the major waterway for Indochina. We went on a boat ride to a nearby island, I drank juice out of a coconut, had a python snake around my neck, stuck my finger in a bee hive to get honey, went on a horse-drawn cart ride through a small village, went on a row boat through a small jungle-looking tributary back to the river, saw a coconut candy factory and ate a fish...while it was staring at me (yeah, I've seen that on TV, but actually eating it off the bone was, well different).
After a couple days in the city, we headed to an amazing beach resort in Phan Thiet. Beautiful bamboo rooms, a pool next to the beach and an Indian restaurant across the street. What more could a girl want. It was the perfect place to process my time in the city and finally get some relaxation before heading back for another semester.
We traveled over 27 hours to get back to Korea and I'm still processing the break. But I do know one thing...I'm grateful that I finally experienced culture shock and know that I'm not immune it's effects. I feel blessed to have a job that lets me do this and friends who will go with me. After seeing all the Islam in Malaysia and the various religions in Vietnam (we went to a Hindu temple, a Chinese temple and a couple others), I feel a deeper burden for the world to know the One True God. I know it's not my burden alone but I will do whatever I can for the Kingdom.
All in all, spending Christmas break '07-'08 on the beaches and cities of SE Asia wasn't too shabby.