Thursday, November 10, 2016

Around the World in 80 Hours, Or Something Like That

It is the standard question you get when traveling overseas:

"How long did it take for you to get here?"

I tightened my grasp on Robert's supporting elbow as I squinted my eyes to better facilitate the heavy duty mathematics that answering such a complex question would require.

"Um, three days, I think.  More or less.  Give or take twelve hours.  Well, it depends on when you start counting . . .   How long did the trip take you?"

The couple ahead of us in the immigration line shared quizzical glances before responding,

"Oh, twenty four hours, counting our layover of course.  Wow!  What took you so long?"

Indeed, what did take us so long?   I can tell you, getting to Thailand in the first place was no easy feat.  I consider it a miracle that I even got to make the trip.  Every step of the way was attended by tremendous blessings from God.  This whole thing came about because He made it happen.

 The first blessing is that we know Brother Paul Brown and his lovely wife, Sister Susan.  Bro. Paul was my family's pastor.  He baptized my mother when she was a teenager.  He married my mom and dad.  He baptized me as a young adult and married me and Robert.  To say I've known him my entire life is an understatement.  He was well acquainted with my grandparents and even my great grandparents!  After forty years of shepherding the same church that he himself grew up in, he gave up everything to come to Thailand and join in an already established ministry to the hill tribes of the Golden Triangle.  Little did he and Miss Susan know of the dramatic turn that things were going to take upon their arrival.  But that's getting ahead of myself.  Suffice it to say that I have had Thailand, the hill tribes and the Brown's on my heart from the very beginning of their ministry.  When they invited Robert and I to come visit, I was ecstatic!

The second huge blessing is that my husband works for a major airline.  We can fly standby for a very reasonable rate.  In fact, it's about the only rate we could afford.  What we gain in affordability we have to trade in for convenience.  Flying standby is hazardous, without a doubt.  Our unsold seats could melt away at a moments notice, leaving us stranded.  But, that just adds to the high drama of traveling halfway around the world.  Why not go for adventure?

The biggest obstacle to our leaving was what to do with our poor orphaned children for three weeks.  This caused me massive anxiety for months.  I wasn't sure if I could leave them for that long.  And with whom?  Five children is no small undertaking.  Add in special diets because of food allergies, allergy shot appointments, music lessons, karate tests, cooking lessons and the massive amounts of laundry generated daily . . . it would require a truly brave soul.  Or a number of truly brave souls who organized into a Hudson clan care-taking village of awesomeness.   Yes, I have amazing family and friends!  My sister, mom, in-laws, church friends and homeschooling friends all banded together to make sure everyone was well cared for.  Thank you so much, Joanna, Anita, Ron, Joyce, Royce, Deanna and Sherry!  This trip could not have happened without you.

Our amazing church has been such a blessing and support to us as well.  With a generous love gift, they helped us get from Incheon, South Korea (which is as far as our airline could take us) to Chiang Mai, Thailand as well as helping out with other ministry related expenses.  Of course, most important is the prayer that surrounded and supported us from beginning to end.  I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God!

The logistics of packing for Robert and I, packing for the kid's various activities, preparing food and other supplies for those that were staying at our house, practicing for mine and Cy's karate tests and the 1001 other tasks that go along with an overseas trip kept me in a fair state of panic for the last week leading up to our departure.  I couldn't sleep.  I couldn't sit still.  I couldn't keep focus on a task.  I could, however, eat.  And I did.

A lot.

I also spent a lot of time with the punching bag.  I knew if I could get past my test on Monday I would be able to simmer down a bit and focus on packing Tuesday and Wednesday.  If all went as planned, we would go to music lessons as usual on Thursday, leaving for OKC on Thursday evening and flying out from Will Rogers International Friday morning.

Things did not go as planned.
They never do.

I broke every board in my test, Monday evening, but one.  It. Would. Not. Break.
I tried.  Repeatedly.  Here's the proof.

Both of my hands and down my wrists looked like that.  Finally, my instructor told me that I could wait to finish the test when I returned and he would get me a different board.  I finished my fights and self defense demos, but the green belt would have to wait another three weeks.  I went to bed exhausted, counting on a good night's sleep so as to be ready to conquer the next set of obstacles.

That restful sleep never happened.  I was still too keyed up.  I went to bed Tuesday night hoping for the same thing.  Negatory.  Sleep was just not going to happen that week.  I opened my eyes Wednesday morning with a running list of all that I was going to do that day, thankful that I still had one more full day to prepare. That's when Robert emerged from his closet office with an itinerary in hand.

"To make all the open flights, we are going to have to fly out of Oklahoma City at 5 a.m. Thursday morning."

5 a.m. tomorrow!  That means we need to be at the airport by 3!  That means we have to be in OKC tonight!  There goes all my carefully laid plans.  Time to utilize the Full Bore Panic!!!

Joanna showed up at 6 p.m. to take the kids to church.  I hugged them all and told them that we would drop by on our way out of town so we could give our official goodbyes.  Robert arrived home from work at 6:30.  I figured we would be ready to leave within the hour.  Robert started drafting his will, just in case we went down over the Pacific.  Then I have to copy it myself by hand.  Then he purchases travelers insurance.  Then he packs all the books he wants to study.  I slowly start to go insane.

Joanna was back and the kids safely tucked in bed long before we were ready to leave.  It's 11 p.m.  I haven't had supper yet.  I'm grouchy when I haven't eaten.  Full Bore Panics require a lot of fuel to sustain.  By the time we reach Robert's parent's house, we have about 45 minutes left for a power nap before leaving for the airport.  This is what I look like at 3 a.m. on 45 minutes of sleep and nearly 24 hours of Full Bore Panicking.

With this wild eyed look, I think I'm ready to run for President!

So, when did this odyssey officially begin?  Was it when I opened my eyes at 5:45 Wednesday morning?  How about when we pulled out of our Coweta driveway at 11 that night?  When we left for the airport at 0'darkthirty?  Impossible for me to say.  I just know I was giddy with excitement!  

 There was a last minute panic at Dallas when the gate attendants would not let us on their flight to Shanghai.  Evidently the Chinese government requires visas or proof of a connecting flight.  We had not yet purchased tickets for the final leg of our trip, because we couldn't be sure of when we were going to arrive.  There was another flight leaving for South Korea at exactly the same time that we could transfer to - if they had available seats.  But first we had to make sure that our luggage didn't go to China without us!  The Korean gate attendants were dubious that we could make their weight limit.  I was regretting all those panic driven snacks.  Some last minute calculations were crunched and they let us on board at last.

This is where things start getting fuzzy.  We flew west, chasing the sun over the Rockies, across Canada and down through Russia.  There was 15 hours of sunshine, which was totally discombobulating!  It made me smile though, to think of God's eternal day.

We landed in South Korea with a 24 hour layover ahead of us.  We decided to leave the airport and get a hotel room nearby.  Best decision ever!   It was so exciting to get my first glimpse of Asia!

Our hotel had a delightful little mudroom for us to leave our shoes in with complimentary house and shower shoes.  It had the hardest bed I had ever slept on, which includes church camp!  (I discovered that is very typical for this part of the world.  I had to adjust to our overly cushy beds upon my return)  I can't say I got much sleep, but after resting in a real bed I was ready for the final leg of the journey.  Before we were due at the airport we had the opportunity to explore the little neighborhood that the hotel was located in.  Then we had a good 8 hour stretch to explore "The World's Best Airport".  And you know, I do believe it is!   It's more like an enormous mall with spa's and napping nooks and cultural centers.  And the cutest little baggage cart toting machines that played "There's No Place Like Home".  We met a man with a bright red cross that read "Believe in Jesus" in three different languages.  When we smiled and waved, he came over and asked to take a picture with us.

"When you see me, pray for me!"  I believe said his name was Pastor Sam.  I may not have remembered that accurately, but to me he will forever be Pastor Sam.   

Now you can pray for him too!

At last it was time to board our final flight for the five hour trip.  Before, I would have thought that quite a long flight.  But now?  Pshaw, what's a little five hour puddle jumper?  We touched down in Chiang Mai around 9 p.m. , anxious to see our hosts and get some real sleep.  But first we had to go through customs.  Which brings us back to the conversation with the seasoned travelers ahead of us in line.

I started trying to explain our circuitous route, to their increasing bewilderment.  They got their chance to escape when the customs officer called them up to present their papers.  When our turn arrived, the officer pointed to the blank space on our arrival slip, "Address During This Visit".  We didn't have the Brown's address.  We searched high and low, in my purse and Robert's money belt.  Nope, no address.  The officer waved us out of line until we could come up with something.  I turned my phone on, hoping to access the free airport wifi to get out a Facebook message.  But no, that would require entering my passport number.  What sort of identity theft fiend would require that?!  But alas, there was no other way  Finally, Robert bit the bullet, entered his passport number and connected to the elusive wifi.  Miss Susan answered our desperate S.O.S.  Just then a customs official approached us.  She took the paper and the address on our phone and wrote it down for us, an act which seemed overwhelmingly gracious and hospitable to these two exhausted and loopy farang.  This was our first taste of Thai hospitality.  Every one we met was very gracious.  It made me feel at home instantly.

 And just like that, we were through customs.  Hospitable politeness aside, I'm sure they were ecstatic to see us go.  Everyone else had been processed some time before.  It was just us two silly farang (foreigners) left.

 Our travel was over, but the journey was just beginning!