Tag Archives: Bangkok

advent: waiting


waiting                                                                                   © erin dunigan 2009


“Perfect fullness is always to come, and we do not need to demand it now. This keeps the field of life wide open and especially open to grace and to a future created by God rather than ourselves. This is exactly what it means to be ‘awake’ as the Gospel urges us.”

-Richard Rohr, Preparing for Christmas, Day 1


arugula blossoms in sunset's shadow

I don’t actually remember where the idea came from. But, a while back, as I was pondering life, most likely while working in the garden, it came to me, what I would ‘give up’ for Lent.

Now, I’m not a big ‘give up something for Lent’ kind of person normally. But as I was pondering I realized that I could not remember the last time that I was in one place for any length of time. I do know that I happened to be in Mexico once for three weeks straight. That was back in November of 2008. Over two years ago. I remember it because it stood out as a record.

So I began to consider that for Lent I would ‘give up’ traveling. I realize, this might sound crazy to most normal people. “Poor you, you are giving up traveling for Lent.” But in my current fairly unpredictable and nomadic life, it actually seems like quite a challenge, staying in one place for 40 days (plus Sundays, which really makes it more like 45, but minus one mandatory presbytery meeting for which I will have to ‘travel’ to Southern California). Two years ago I traveled (literally) around the world during Lent, so I figured, this year, why not stay in one place?

(Ironically, as I am typing this, a road runner just flew onto the patio, directly outside the window. A quick search on roadrunners, or a bit of Saturday morning cartoon time will tell you that the roadrunner is symbolic of speed and movement…)


Last year during Lent I was in Thailand. One day, as I was doing some sightseeing, I happened into a Wat (Buddhist temple) that I had read taught free meditation classes. I walked in and was greeted by a monk, and saw a roomful of people wearing what looked like white scrubs, walking back and forth, very slowly, silently, in a very small space. My “what have I gotten myself into” radar went off immediately, but it was too late, I had already been spotted by the ‘greeter monk’ who was welcoming me to the temple.

“I want to learn meditation” I said. Duh. The very nice monk proceeded to teach me both walking and sitting meditation and then invited me to come back for the evening session. As it happened, all of the people in white were actually part of a multi-day retreat in meditation, so I was the only person there for the evening session.

This time the man who seemed like the senior monk lead me to a fluorescent-lit, downstairs basement with narrow windows along the edge of the ceiling and metal fans blowing at intervals to move around the hot air. He showed me again how to do the walking meditation, slowly, very slowly, putting one foot slightly in front of the other for about four feet, then methodically turning around, walking the same four feet, turn around, repeat. It was all very intentional, very slow. Did I mention that it was slow?

He looked up at the clock. It was around 6:15. “Don’t stay past 8pm–you should get back to your hotel before it’s too late,” he said, and left.

An hour and a half? I thought to myself. Really? You think I can just walk back and forth, painfully slowly, for that long and not run screaming for some pad thai? They don’t eat after the noon meal, and since I had been at the monastery since the afternoon, I too had not eaten since the noon meal, though I had every intention of doing so.

But I started walking. Back and forth. Slowly. Methodically. Intentionally.

Here’s the crazy thing–when I finally looked up at the clock it was 7:30. I’ve gotta leave in 15 minutes, I thought to myself. But I really want to keep walking. So I did. Until 7:44. Just one more, I said to myself, like a kid who doesn’t want to get out of the pool when it’s time to leave. I finally dragged myself out of there by 8pm.

It was amazing. There was something about the slowness and the repetition and the ‘not getting anywhere’ that was deeply centering. Once I had overcome the ‘are you kidding me’ stage, I really didn’t want to stop. What an incredible experience, I thought to myself on the cab ride back to the hotel.

But the other crazy thing? I haven’t done it again since.




what is ‘manuscript study’ (and why in the world would I care?)

Page 1 of Mark manuscript

I first came upon the concept of ‘manuscript study’ in Bangkok, Thailand. I realize, a form of studying the Bible is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Bangkok. Nor the second. Nor the third. And yes I did partake of much that Bangkok has to offer–amazing Thai massage, beautiful Buddha statues in temples, and of course green curry, tom yum, and pad Thai with incredible flavor and dirt cheap. No, I did not partake in the ‘other’ side of Bangkok, but I did go on a tour of the red light district with an organization called Night Light that seeks to rescue women from sexual slavery and exploitation. But more on that later.

Back to manuscript study. I was blown away by it from my first encounter. Why? I’m not entirely sure, but each of the three times I’ve participated in this week-long event, it has been incredibly rich. I’ve tried to describe it a few times, including an article I wrote for Princeton Seminary called ‘Wonder Bread.‘ I wrote about it again after my experience with it four years later.

The basic gist is to take a book of the Bible (the gospel according to Mark is what is often used), take out the chapters, the verse numbers, the paragraphs and print it out, as in from the computer. Mark is about 42 pages. Well, the shorter ending of Mark. But that’s another story too. Each page has a page number (in case you drop the pile, it makes for much easier ordering than playing “I wonder what comes next” with the text) and each page is also given line numbers, every 5 lines, so that you can refer to a particular location such as “On page 1, line 10, what does it mean that they were confessing their sins?”

The format is part of it–take the study away from those paper thin pages in that leather-bound book and it can help to make it more accessible, or at least easier to write all over it without feeling guilty for ‘messing it up.’ With no chapters and verses there are no arbitrary stopping or starting points, and the story itself is allowed to dictate where one section ends and another begins.

But more than the format is the style in which the manuscript is studied. I’ve grown up in the church, so I’ve been a part of many Bible Studies, some better than others. What often seems to happen is that the text can be used as a springboard for something else. So, instead of studying Mark, we actually bring in Ephesians or Acts or Revelation, none of which are bad, necessarily, but they are not Mark. In the method of manuscript study (mss) one is forced to stay with the text at hand.

The two main questions, in this format, are ‘What do you see?’ and ‘Where do you see it?’ This, again, helps the study to stay focused within the text in question, and to try to curb the tendency amongst some to leave the text behind and pontificate on a topic of choice.

It can feel limiting at first. It can be frustrating. It can feel slow.

In our Mark 1 group (the first half of Mark–it is a two part series, with each half taking up one week)  we spent the entire first day on page 1. An entire day, 9AM to 5PM, on roughly 300 words. Among the other westerners in the group (people come from around the world) you could see the obvious body language of “Okay, I’m done with page 1, can we move on now?!” as they shuffled their papers and fidgeted in their chairs, questioning the decision to devote a week to this madness. But by the end of day 2? They didn’t want to leave at the end of the day. Seriously. It’s that engaging, that engrossing. I know, it sounds a bit crazy. But I’ve flown half way around the world three times to be a part of this process.  (well, the food and the Thai massage are enticing as well…)

So, since I can’t make it to Thailand this year I’ve decided that I’m going to attempt a blog version of a Mark study. Will it work? Don’t know, I’ve never tried it before. Seems like it’s worth a shot.

oh africa (via bangkok…)

This spring when I was in Thailand I saw this ad on the Bangkok Skytrain and loved it. Though I’m no fan of Pepsi (Diet Coke is my bad for your body chemical of choice) it is a cute ad, especially in light of the World Cup.

Day 12: tourists in Bangkok


We took this picture and then realized that it costs 40 Bat to 'use' the cut outs. The woman waits for you to either delete the picture, or pay.

We took this picture and then realized that it costs 40 Bat to 'use' the cut outs. The woman waits for you to either delete the picture, or pay.

The conference ended officially last night, but I had a few meetings with people before I could head out to Chiang Mai on Sunday. So, in between, I decided to do a bit of the tourist thing before leaving.


With friends from Australia, the Philippines and the Middle East, we headed on the sky train (metro/subway) to the river to get a ‘water taxi’ that would take us up river. Initially, we were headed for the Grand Palace, but we actually never ended up making it there. More on that.

The river is full of boats, from tourists, to people simply getting from one place to another, and little tugboats pulling HUGE loads of cargo on barges. It’s also not the cleanest water you’ve seen, so best to keep your mouth shut if you are near the edge of the boat.

As we were headed to the Grand Palace, Wat Arun caught our attention, so we decided to stop there along the way. The amount of work and detail in just this one Wat (Temple) is incredible—then you multiply that by the hundreds (maybe thousands) that are in Bangkok…it’s pretty amazing.

We stopped for some coconut water before heading back across the river toward the Grand Palace.

As we were walking toward the Palace, I stopped and asked a policeman how to get to the entrance. He looked at us—some in tank tops, some in capris—and said, “no Grand Palace,” pointing to the lack of appropriate clothing, as well as his watch, which told us we had less than an hour before it closed. “350 Bat, you need all day,” he continued. That’s about $10, which is about 3x what the average dinner costs in Thailand…

He proceeded to take my map and draw on it, telling us to go to the Giant Swing—it’s free!—and then on to a temple with a large Buddha. We figured, why not, so we let him arrange a ride in two tuk tuks, negotiate the price of 60Bat (less than $2) for them to take us to the Giant Swing, wait for us, and then take us to the Buddha temple.

Let’s just say, when we got to the Giant Swing we found out why it was free. But, when we got to the temple, which turned out to be a royal temple, for King Rama IV, and only open on Saturdays, and a knowledgeable guide who took us around and gave us a free tour—that was definitely worth the detoured plan. The guide asked us how we came to find the temple and we explained that it was the policeman who had told us. “You are very lucky, not many people get to see this temple,” he explained.

Our plan had been to go back to the hotel from there, but, as it happened, the ‘jewelry street’ was on the way. “You must just stop there,” said the guide. “It’s on your way. Why not stop there?”

So, we got back in one tuk tuk this time (a bit crowded, for the four of us) and headed to the jewelry street. I was with Stephanie and her daughter Mona.

I had met Stephanie and her husband Greg the last time I was in Thailand, and really enjoyed hanging out with them.  Greg passed away last June, from cancer. They had a tradition of buying each of their children a nice piece of jewelry from Bangkok, for their high school graduation. Mona is graduating this year, so it seemed fitting that we go.  They also had a tradition that Greg would buy a piece of jewelry for Stephanie each year in Bangkok—an investment, of course—and so it was a poignant time, to be continuing those traditions, and missing the husband/father that had been a part of them. Not wanting them to be lonely, I decided to buy a ring for myself as well. 😉

It’s kind of amazing how you can connect with people in such a short amount of time, but so significantly. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to attend this conference again, and to reconnect with old and new friends. 

Day 11: manuscript study?


what a manuscript can end up looking like

what a manuscript can end up looking like

Today was the final day of our conference. There are many elements to it, but the central one is surround manuscript study.


Basically, manuscript study takes a book of the Bible, printing it out with no chapters, verses, or paragraphs, adding line numbers and page numbers. I was in a group studying the second half of the book of Mark.

Each day we would meet together, about five smaller groups of 4-5 people each, around tables. The day would begin with individual study of a particular section (page 15, line 5 to page 16, line 24, for instance) asking two questions: what do you see and where do you see it. We used colored pencils to circle, underline, scribble, write or draw whatever seemed significant. Then, after a time, we would discuss in the smaller groups, again asking, what did you see and where did you see it. Finally, the larger group as a whole then discusses, what did you see, where did you see it.

The attempt, in limiting discussion to those two questions, is to keep it from turning into either sweeping generalizations (God says we must say the sinner’s prayer to go to heaven when we die—where do you find that, actually?) as well as preventing us from saying, ‘Well, the book of John says…’ We are in Mark. What does Mark say? How do we understand that, taken for what it is, not what we have turned it into?

When I came to the conference four years ago one of the highlights, other than meeting people from all over the world, was this method of study. I had never before so loved studying the Bible as I did for that week. All day, everyday, for five days straight, and it never got old. I wrote an article about it, Wonder Bread, if you are interested.

Part of what was so interesting about it in this context is that we had people from very different backgrounds—culturally, religiously, nationally—all reflecting together. The diversity of the group made it much, much richer than it would have been otherwise. Part of it was that we were all involved, looking at the text and contemplating it, rather than having it ‘told to us.’ 

I’m not sure how to replicate this kind of study in a regular, ongoing basis, but I’d love to try and figure it out.

Day 9: paragon mall and patpong night market

night marketThis afternoon we had a break in our manuscript study conference for ‘free time.’ 

I made plans to spend time with friends from the Philippines (from Ohio, actually, but living in the Philippines the past 20 years) who I met four years ago at this conference, as well as some from Australia and working in various parts of Central Asia.

Our meeting place was the Paragon mall, and I got there early, so did a bit of looking around. I very quickly realized, this is not your ‘Chatuchak weekend market’ when I saw some cute board shorts and read the price tag—3,500 Bat, or, roughly, $100.

We ate at the food court (though there was a McDonald’s and a Burger King, I had Korean food, most had pad thai, and some Indian curry as well) and then took the sky train to the Patpong Road night market.

Patpong, as an area, is known to be one of the tourist centers for prostitution in Bangkok. When we met with the folks from Night Light, they mentioned that though some 80-90% of Thai men visit prostitutes (it seemed an incredibly high number to me, but it is apparently verified) they would never go to the Patpong area. Why not? we asked. “Because it’s touristy—too expensive.”

We, a group consisting of me, two moms, and their three teen-aged daughters, were there to visit the Night Market (an outdoor flea market basically). However, along both sides of the night market were establishments catering to a different sort of clientele. What was crazy was that the solicitors were often shoving in front of us their ‘menus’ listing available services—which are not repeatable in polite company. I could see this if it were a group of guys, but women and daughters?

The other thing we learned very quickly as we shopped for souvenirs and gifts, is that even to ask a price of something is to begin entering in to the negotiation, bartering, for purchase. 

Because language can be a barrier, one piece of the bartering process that I found fascinating was the use of a calculator—not to calculate anything, but to type in a number that you would offer to pay. So, for instance, if something started out at 850 Bat and it was my turn to offer a price, I could then type in 100 and let the bargaining begin.