Except for two years ago when I spent the holidays with my daughter and granddaughter in Asheville – my in-between time before moving to Thailand – Christmas has not been that much of a ‘thing’ for me personally since I left the States in 2010.
Sure, there was lots of Christmas stuff going on at Smiling Hill in Indonesia while I was there. The annual Santa gift giveaway for the local kids was awesome. But back in my apartment, there wasn’t much Christmas.
This year, for some unexplained reason, I am doing it different. I bought a small tree and garland, but I’ve done similar before. But this year, I bought gifts for children whose names I don’t even know – not to mention today’s donations for and trip to a local orphanage. The former is for another story. Here, let me show and tell you the latter, a Christmas story from Thailand.
Jim is a Native American-Thai resident of Hua Hin who owns the Gulf of Thailand bar on Soi 80. He’s a cat guy, so automatically cool with me, and has a pony tail. I’m sure he’s a story unto himself.
Jim’s passion seems to be helping a semi-local orphanage. The proceeds of his Christmas dinner last year, for example, were earmarked for this orphanage. He has donation boxes in the bar and at least monthly brings food or other supplies to the orphanage, which sits very near the Myanmar border. There are other expats also involved in this ongoing charity.
I met a few today.
Earlier this week, I learned that Jim was gathering bulk foods and other products, plus money, for the annual trip to the Padeng Children’s Shelter in Petchaburi, the province immediately north of Hua Hin. The “group” was meeting up Saturday at 8am, I was told. Count me in, I said.
I didn’t get a count, but there were at least 18 people in our contingent as we headed out Saturday morning in a pickup, an SUV, a car and multiple motorcycles. A motley crew, to be sure – monthly visitors and long-timers, molecular scientists and tax accountants. There were several Thai women with us and one lady from Canada who saved the day making sandwiches at lunchtime at the orphanage.
In deference to those riding bikes who were not used to longish rides, we made three stops on the way to “stretch our legs.” I was lucky to secure a seat in the back of the SUV. Our ride took us through huge fields of pineapple and sugar cane, which prompted my question to those in the SUV, “How do you propagate a pineapple?”
I have that answer if you’re interested.
Our nearly two-hour ride ended at a winding dirt road leading to a creek and the orphanage beyond. It is way out in the middle of nowhere (it seems) and not far from the Myanmar border. The main guy, Samson, is from Myanmar, as is his wife. She teaches at the local school but can’t officially get paid, and he apparently plows whatever he makes back into the orphanage. They just had their own baby, to add to all the children they already look after. There’s a story there.
The kids knew several of our party but still seemed somewhat reserved at first. So did the expats, with the two groups hanging by themselves, looking at each other. Once everyone began working together, the mood lightened.
Then someone suggested getting lunch ready.
Part of the supplies we brought (and we didn’t bring toys, only stuff they could eat or use) included sliced ham, lettuce, tomatoes and sliced bread, as well as butter, mayonaise and mustard. An assembly line was created, thanks to the aforementioned Canadian lady, and sandwiches were made for a very orderly group of hungry kids.
Many of the two dozen orphans came back for seconds. Their meals were augmented with potato chips and sticky rice with black beans wrapped in palm leaves. And grape and orange soda.
Among the stash we brought were bags of rice and dried fish, tea, canned and boxed goods, a computer flat-screen, and an 8-foot Christmas tree, complete with garland and lights. A printer was supposed to be donated but the donor never showed, so I donated mine (However, I forgot, and cannot find, the CD disc that enables the printer to work.).
There are several governments and many foreign nationals like the group here who are helping this orphanage. While the orphanage doesn’t have internet or wifi, they do now have well water. They have just built a new main office and have a library under construction. They have a nice herd of milking cows. And chickens. And lots of cats and dogs.
My main regret is that I totally messed up with the videos. The kids sang several Christmas carols, and I thought I recorded them. Nope.
On the way:
Incidentally, the shirts you see on the kids were made by the kids. Several of our group, including me, asked for shirts to be made for us. I ordered one for me and one as a gift.
Finally, I have to mention that somewhere during all the mayhem I began recalling my own experience in an orphanage, where my brothers and I were stashed while our parents fought in court. In a small way, I can relate to these Thai and Burmese kids, one who was found in the jungle at 5 years old, with severe burns to his face and head. Another who was missing both hands. Most will live their young lives in this orphanage; there’s not much hope for adoption.
But you could not tell from their behavior or appearance that they were anything but well-taken care of. And they certainly have many friends trying to help.
Merry Christmas to the children and staff at Padeng Children’s Shelter and to all who read this!