The white handbook says to "never leave the boundaries of your mission unless your mission president authorizes you to travel outside the boundaries for a specific assignment." I never thought I would leave the Cambodia Phnom Penh Mission either with or without authorization before concluding my mission, but I haven't really had a normal missionary day since before Christmas, so being sent to Thailand wasn't too shocking. Of course, I was still rather surprised on Tuesday after district meeting when I was cutting cucumbers in the Westovers' kitchen with the APs and Sis. Westover came up to me and said, "You know you're going to Bangkok tomorrow morning, right?" My response was something along the lines of "...what?"
The best part was telling Anh ca Hoa Minh. He has a tendency to be very dramatic, so Chi Dao and I knew we had to tell him very carefully. He knew that something was up. After lunch and ice cream with our district on our last p-day together, we sat our district leader down and said something pretty close to the following: ''Anh ca Hoa Minh, you know that President called me two hours before the transfer call, right? And then he talked to Chi Dao this morning, which is why we were late. And you know that the Vietnamese branches here in Phnom Penh are struggling and Chu Tich Trieu has mentioned the possibility of integrating with the Khmer branches. You noticed they're sending a lot of people to Vietnam this transfer, right? There will be twenty-two Vietnamese-speaking missionaries in the mission, but seven of us can't go to Vietnam, so basically, they are sending everyone they possibly can to Vietnam, and they're trying to figure out what to do with the rest of us. I'm not really sure what's going on with the elders, but it's sounds like maybe Anh ca Tu will have a chance to use the Khmer he's been learning. They're trying to send Chi Hien somewhere she may be able to speak Hmong, and Chi Dao and I are going to Thailand."
He was really sad - really, really sad. We planned to meet up in Utah after our missions (he'll go to BYU; Chi Dao will go home and get married; Anh ca Minh will go for vacation; and I'll go to be with Jordy), and he wondered out loud if we could email each other since we were no longer in the same mission. That was when I realized he didn't know we were joking. The Viet branches are still here. They sent more elders to Vietnam this transfer because the mission is short on sisters. Anh ca Tu, Anh ca Canh, Anh ca Sang, and Anh ca Duy don't have to learn Khmer. We just pulled some disconnected facts together and embellished to make up a story for Anh ca Hoa Minh. He's the only one who fell for it.
Chi Dao and I really did go to Thailand though. Why? Well, the reason President, Sister Moon, and the area doctor in Hong Kong sent us to Thailand was to get an MRI of Chi Dao's brain because she's had a headache for five weeks. However, that is not why Heavenly Father sent us to Thailand because he already knew what the MRI told us: Chi Dao has a beautiful brain and there is nothing structurally wrong with it. When I had pneumonia and was forbidden to leave the house all weekend long, Chi Dao's head wanted to kill her, so we companion-sat each other for the weekend while our companions went out to do missionary work. Apparently we didn't learn what we were supposed to learn that weekend because he gave us another chance to companion-sit each other the following weekend. That was when I told her Monica and NaDene's story about being sick as missionaries in the Oklahoma Tulsa Mission. One day Monica got tired of it and exclaimed in exasperation, "We have been lying here for THREE DAYS!" Chi Dao and I could at that point claim, "We have been lying here for THREE DAYS...TWO WEEKENDS IN A ROW!" Despite that, we still hadn't learned what we were supposed to, so Heavenly Father sent us to Thailand where not even our companions, district leader, zone leader, or mission president's wife would interrupt because our phone from Cambodia doesn't work in Thailand (although Anh ca Tien, our zone leader, told us that he did try to call while we were gone, and we were grateful because we really missed talking to him and Anh ca Hoa Minh at the end of the day). Then Heavenly Father extended our trip in Thailand (our overnight trip became a ~3 day trip...THREE DAYS!), and we think we have finally have an idea of what to do this transfer now that we are companions for keeps and not just a weekend.
Chi Dao and I survived the MTC together, celebrated my birthday by eating raw salmon on a plane on the way to Hong Kong, and both had the privilege of serving with Chi Ly. We have been particularly good friends since sports day when we kicked around a soccer ball with one another. We were totally excited to go to Thailand together and joked that we were on a mission to retrieve her central nervous system (we had a joke about Sister Moon stealing it and sending it to Thailand without the rest of her when she sent the CT results a couple weeks earlier). Then we started talking on Wednesday morning in the Phnom Penh airport while waiting for our flight, and that conversation lasted until we landed in Phnom Penh again on Friday. We talked about callings, assignments, and what the Lord expects of us. Vietnamese-speaking missionaries in this mission don't quite do missionary work "normally" - either you're in Vietnam where you can't where tags or proselyte or you're in Cambodia where you look for lost people using only their name, birthday, and confirmation date. Now that Chi Dao has a chronic headache, we have to adapt even more, and we're hoping there's still a lot more Heavenly Father is going to reveal along the way, but at least now we have a much clearer idea of what our starting point is and what we have to work with. We have a lot of unanswered questions, but we are very excited and have high hopes for this transfer. When we were in Branch 3 yesterday, Anh ca Tu commented that we reminded him of Sister Sparks and Sister Bayles. "The personalities are different, but you're a couple of white girls out to save the world and have an adventure."
The Thailand Bangkok Mission took very good care of us. We had some interesting culture shock when we were expected to eat with Western utensils in stead of chopsticks. The subway, freeways, and numerous buildings over five stories tall were kind of appalling. They sent us to zone training (Bangkok West Zone) where we were astounded by...a lot of things. For example:
Me: "Who is your zone leader?"
Thai elder: "We have two."
Me: "You have two zone leaders?"
Thai elder: "Yes, they're companions."
Me: "Our zone leader's companion is his trainee."
Thai elder: "Zone Leaders can train?"
Me: "Well, he's been training for the past two transfers and he's about to train again for the next two. Both our district leaders are trainers too."
Thai elder: "Really?"
President and Sister Senior were extremely kind. They each spent some time chatting with us the first afternoon we were there. She gave us some money and told us to go buy chocolate and ice cream because we were going to need it. We stayed the night in the apartment of a sister missionary we met in the MTC and were further flabbergasted by the fact we were living on the 33rd floor of a huge apartment building, sleeping on mattresses, and showering with a shower curtain and warm water with effective water pressure.
The next day we were very grateful for the Oreos we bought out of obedience to Sister Senior. It was supposed to be a simple trip: show up at 7:45 am for the appointment, get and MRI, have a neurology consult, go see something cool in Bangkok, fly back to Phnom Penh in the afternoon. It didn't work like that. There was no appointment. They registered her as a walk-in, we waited for two hours, the first neurologist told Chi Dao she had a headache from taking ibuprofen (she had had the headache for two weeks before taking ibuprofen), they told us the first opening for an MRI was at 9 PM. Chi Dao was mad, so I had to handle communications. I told Chi Dao how to write out and HPI (history of the present illness) and had her do that while I talked to Sister Moon, talked to a translator, talked to the charge nurse, talked to the cashier, talked to the office couple in the Thailand Mission office, and of course talked a lot with Chi Dao. In one conversation with Sister Moon, she apologized profusely following the realization that she had sent us to Thailand without any money. We told her not to worry about it. Then we found out that Heavenly Father had extended our trip another day (our flight filled up and we were bumped to another flight the following day). In the end, Chi Dao finally got an MRI at 6 PM and a second neurologist said it looked fine and she just had a normal headache that could just as easily last five years as it had for the past five weeks. To top it all off, when we went back to the cashier, the receipt printer didn't work and we had to get creative with payment methods. Then the Seniors took us out for Indian food and had us tell them about the Cambodia Phnom Penh Mission. We stayed the night at their house so they could take us to the airport in the morning. Throughout the day, I had been giving Chi Dao motivational thoughts in the form of buttons (the kind with words or pictures on the front and a pin on the back) - and a lollipop I randomly found in my backpack just after she commented that she had been so good at teh MRI she deserved one. They had been in the two-birthdays-and-one-Christmas package Jordy sent me in the MTC and said things like "BE MIGHTY" and "HOPE" but at the end of the day, I still one left. I sat on the bed next to Chi Dao and told her it wasn't exactly applicable, but maybe it would help with perspective. Then I gave her Jordy's favorite button: "CANCER SUCKS."