The highlight of orientation for our volunteers is a three-day homestay in Fang in the far north of Thailand. This comes after two weeks of orientation to Thailand, Thai food, Thai customs and culture, and at least 20 hours of basic Thai language. The Fang homestay experience always begins with worship on Sunday morning. Our CVT volunteers join the congregation (see thumbnail below) in a traditional Christian worship service during which they are introduced to the congregation. This congregation has offered this homestay experience to our volunteers on four different occasions. The church sees it as a ministry to new missionaries and our volunteers see it as a valuable learning experience of Thai family life and culture.
After worship and a wonderful noon meal with the congregation, our volunteers met their homestay families (see thumbnail below) and were taken to their homes. The afternoon was spent getting to know the families. Then, we gathered in the evening for a great feast of smoked and roasted meats, fish, mixed vegetables and rice. All of it was cooked (see thumbnails below) as we sat on the family porch overlooking the fish pond, talking about life in Thailand and its unique quirks. Ben, one of our volunteers, found a guitar to play and a ready audience in the three little dogs that were running around looking for those who would stop to pet them. When the food was ready, we dug in and ate. The young people of the church ate and then went inside to sing songs, talk about life in Christ and play games together.
The next day was a holiday for most Thai people. Ed and Ben spent the day with their host families: Ben helping to paint the remodeled home of the teachers he was living with and Ed working in the nursery and flower shop of his host family. Acharn Chonchineepan and I had a rare day off, so we went to the beauty salon of one of the church members. There we indulged in a manicure, pedicure and facial massage. Acharn Chonchineepan also had her hair done while I spent time reading a new book on the Kindle Fire that my son gave me for Christmas. That evening after dinner, Ed and Ben joined members of the church at a Bible study in the home of one of the members.
The next day was packed with interesting stuff! We began by going to the Fang Petroleum Museum. I did not even know that Thailand had petroleum, but the very first oil field was discovered in Fang back in the 1950’s. At this time, there are 59 productive wells in the Northern (Fang) District and there is a little museum that tells the story of how it was discovered and how petroleum is refined and used in Thailand. There are, of course, many more oil fields in Thailand and the most productive fields are in the center of the country.
From the petroleum museum, we went to the Hinoka House, a grand home built by the owner of Thailand’s most successful cedar oil business. We learned that cedar oil is extracted from cedar imported from Laos. It sells for 80,000 THB per liter (about $2,500 a quart) and is used in the production of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. The entire Hinoka House is built of cedar and teak and is fit for royalty. I counted three bedrooms and three bathrooms, a living room, dining room (with cedar bar), and other multipurpose rooms. While Laos has halted the export of cedar, the owner of the Hinoka House has been given an exemption and he continues to import cedar and extract the oil. In addition, the House itself has spawned a new business. People want to purchase furniture made of cedar and mattresses and pillows with cedar shavings inside. I bought the smallest pillow I could find and the smell of the cedar shavings is still so strong that I doubt I could sleep on it all night.
After a wonderful lunch at a restaurant on the main street in Fang, we drove out of town and into the rural areas. We entered a National Park where there are hot springs that bubble up through the rocks. Some of the pools of water are too hot to touch, but we went to a place where we could boil eggs in the water. Once we put our eggs in the water, we sat down nearby to watch a geyser. Every 25 minutes, this geyser makes an appearance and sends a stream of boiling water straight up into the air. It was a spectacular show. After about 20 minutes, we rescued our eggs from the nearby hot spring and had a great snack of hard boiled eggs and soy sauce.
We returned to Fang and were hosted for dinner at another member’s house. It was, again, a fabulous spread with chicken curry, fried vegetables, and local favorites with rice. When we crawled into bed that night, we were exhausted. But the next morning, we were up with the sun and met together at the church at 9 AM to say farewell to our host families and travel back to Chiang Mai. On the trip home, we discussed the experience and how it might be improved. Once again, despite their initial reservations, our CVT volunteers agreed that it was a great experience and that they would recommend it for future CVTs.
More photos (double-click to enlarge):