color by numbers

mindless musings of a semi-creative guy

This Is It.

It is infinitely impossible to describe what ran through me this Sunday morning when I discovered I was singing along during worship in our small church of Thai believers. Churchgoers, you know the drill – the music starts, you look at the screen, you read it and sing along. For the past 4 months, I have longed to do this. For the past 4 months I have studied in order to do this. For the past 4 months, I have sat in church utterly disconnected, confused, and lucky if I can recognize whatever tune is being played and scrounge up the English words in my mind, only to sing them quietly to myself so as to not draw any attention and allow worship in the Thai language to flow continuously around me. For 4 months, I haven’t really worshiped, in one voice with the believers around me, the One who created it all…

Until today.

It took everything within me to keep the tears from streaming down my face, though a few managed to escape my grip, as we began with Amazing Grace. Through the first 2 verses, I was filled with excitement, knowing I could use my new skills in reading Thai script to sing along with everyone else. It wasn’t until we began the 3rd, that I heard my husband’s voice beside me, singing in the language of those whom we’ve come to serve, that I became overwhelmed with such an intense mix of emotions, that my voice left me. If one more note were to come out of my mouth, I feared losing control of my eyes and what would come out of them… and in a face-saving culture, I needed to keep them at bay. As I listened through the next verse, I tried to sort out the combination of joy, sorrow, confusion, victory, and a sense of being reunited with my God and myself.

Joy for joining my own voice with those of the believers in Thailand in their songs of praise, in their mother tongue, in their house this morning. Sorrow for those who are yet to experience this sort of peace and joy which only comes from knowing their Creator. Confusion as I attempted to sort out these feelings and not become overwhelmed by the thought of how long it has been since I’ve been able to do such a thing. Victory for having learned how to read well enough that I could follow along at the same speed as the melodies with which we were singing. And a sense of being reunited with both God and my own self, in that today I was able to lift my praise to Him in one voice with Thai believers, in a way that I hold very dear – music.

As a few tears managed to make their way down my cheeks, I was reminded again that this is why we are here. This is why God brought us to Thailand. This is why we are studying the Thai language for an entire year before going out into full-time ministry among the Thai people. We are being trained. We are being molded. We are being prepared so we can not only communicate as best we can with the people of Thailand in their own heart language, but be able to share the peace, joy, and grace that come with knowing God. The time we have right now to learn, to observe, to do all we can to truly understand the nation in which we live is a gift…

a gift that we will be able to use to bring hope and forgiveness to the Thai people from a position of one who cares enough to learn about who they are first.

Today was incredible…


November 29, 2009 Posted by | Personal, Thailand | , , , , , | 8 Comments



I had this idea for a detailed post telling you just what it was like to see part of my family for the first time in 4 months, via Skype, from the opposite side of the world… but, in all honestly, words cannot truly describe.  It was wonderful.

Hard to imagine what it was like for my parents when they were missionaries in a very remote fishing community in Alaska in the 1970’s-80’s before e-mail, Facebook, Skype, blogging, and more affordable/reliable phone service…

November 27, 2009 Posted by | Personal, Thailand | , , | 1 Comment

Thanksgiving Hello!

Thanksgiving Message from Michael Brook Sarver on Vimeo.

Happy Thanksgiving!

We are waiting until we can get together with some fellow Americans here in Thailand to have our Thanksgiving meal. When we do, I’ll fill you in on just how we made that happen here in Thailand.

Until then, I want to hear from you!  How did you celebrate this year?

November 26, 2009 Posted by | Just for Fun, Thailand | 2 Comments

Tasty Tuesdays – tham eng

Tham eng – to do something your self. That’s exactly what I learned to do on Monday night this week – something myself. Do what yourself, you ask?

Most of you know already how much I enjoy cooking and baking, pretty much anything having to do with the kitchen and sharing what comes out of it. About a month ago, one of my teachers, Awd asked if she could have the recipe for a soft cookie I’d made and shared at school before – Snickerdoodles.  She then passed the recipe along to a friend of hers, Puk, who was the one that wanted it in the first place.  After her first couple of tries not turning out the way she wanted, as well as not knowing what these particular cookies were supposed to turn out like anyhow, she requested that Awd bring me to help her.  You see, cookie-making is not something every housewife knows how to do, like most in America or other Western cultures.  If you are a baker by trade, you know how to bake; however, cookies and pastries are not an inherent part of Thai food culture, so she needed my help to get started.

In exchange for my help in making the cookies, Awd offered to then teach me how to make whatever Thai dish I would like.  After having been my first teacher upon arrival in Lopburi, and hearing what my favorite foods were, she already knew that I would ask for Phat Priaw Waan – the item I wrote about  in last week’s edition of Tasty Tuesday – and then she added in some Krathiam Prik Thay for Brook.  You can only imagine what fun I had with these ladies, swapping recipes and cooking techniques across languages and cultures!  Granted, after almost 4 hours of communication in nothing but Thai, lots of repetition and explaining of words I didnt understand (of course using other Thai words I already knew!), I was exhausted.  But it was totally worth it.

Okay, so are you ready to learn some Thai cooking?  Let’s go!

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1. To make Phat Priaw Waan (Sweet & Sour Thai-style), you must first prepare your fruits & veggies – essentials are tomato, cucumber, onion, green onion, and pineapple.  We added mushrooms to ours, and carrot can be added as well.

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2.  Chop up some fresh garlic, and fry it with a bit of oil in a wok or pan until tender.

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3.  Add your choice of meat, cut into thin strips or pieces – we used chicken this time.

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4.  After meat is thoroughly cooked, add the tougher veggies – onion, cucumber, mushroom – and cook til tender, adding a few more drops of oil if needed.

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5.  Add ingredients for the sauce – fish sauce, ketchup, palm sugar, a splish of vinegar (white or rice are fine), a splash of soy sauce, and a dash of a Thai spice blend I don’t know how to write the name of (similar to poultry spice mixes we have back home, where we know what to use them for, but not exactly sure what all is in it!).  Before stirring sauce into the pan, add remaining veggies and fruit – the juice from the pineapple helps round out the sauce.  Taste and adjust flavor of sauce however you like.  Cook until warmed through and tender.

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6.  Serve it up with rice and whatever other dishes you like!

Now you know how to make Phat Priaw Waan – Sweet & Sour Thai-style.  I didn’t take pictures of the other dish, Krathiam Prik Thay, because there weren’t really any steps to take shots of!  All you do is choose your meat (chicken, pork, or beef), chop it into thin bite-sized pieces and place it in a bowl.  Crush and chop a handful (yes, I said a handful) of fresh garlic cloves and mix in with raw meat.  Add a few drops of oil and a generous amount of ground black pepper, then allow the bowl to sit for a while as you prepare everything else for your meal – it’s really not an exact science, as you can see.  Once you think the flavors have melded enough to suit your taste, toss the entire mixture into a hot wok or frying pan with a little bit of fish sauce and oil, then cook through.  Serve over rice with fresh cucumbers, and you’ve got a quick and delicious meal!

November 24, 2009 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Tasty Tuesdays in Sra Keaw

After several evenings eating in for supper, we decided to venture back out to our favorite night market in the part of town known as Sra Kaew.  This is the same place each of the other Tasty Tuesdays in the market took place as well!  There are 2 parts to the Sra Kaew market – one is open from early morning until about 5 or 6 pm, selling fresh fruits, veggies, meats, some household goods, and a small selection of already prepared Thai meals you can take back home to eat.  The other part (where we like to eat supper), if you remember from last time, sets up along both sides of one long street in the late afternoon for the purpose of serving the evening meal.  Cart after cart, make-shift kitchens and tables with plastic stools are everywhere, and it’s all outdoors.

We have one place that we’ve chosen as our favorite, and up until now we only knew 2 things that they made – Fried garlic pork with an egg on top, and any kind of fried rice you could think of.  All that changed tonight, as we walked up and I began to READ the entire menu out loud.  Here’s what the booth looks like.  (The menu is written on the white signs hanging at either end of the cart)

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I’ve gotten so used to trying to read everything I see now, that I really didn’t think anything of it when I began to understand the signs.  It wasn’t until I turned to Brook and said “Hmmm, they have phat priaw waan,” that I realized I had just read that, understood it, and now knew I could order that!  I just went from being able to order only 2 things to 21 in a matter of seconds.  Unbelievable!

So, this is what I ordered.  The 3rd sign from the top, on the left side says
phat priaw waan.”  Here’s a closer look.

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Literally translated, phat priaw waan means “stir-fry sour sweet” – which we would understand as sweet and sour.  I ordered mine with chicken, and boy was it good.  Now, I know the first thing that probably comes to your mind is the sweet & sour chicken you get at your local Chinese take-out or buffet.  Nope.  No battered meat chunks here.  No bell peppers in sight.  No thick, reddish, syrupy (although quite good, too!) sauce drenching your meal.  Sweet & sour Thai-style is light, fresh, and anything but unhealthy.  Check it out.

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Thin slices of meat (in this case, white meat chicken) are pan fried until cooked through, then set aside while the sauce and veggies are cooked up.  This dish is chock full of fresh pineapple chunks, tomatoes, green onion, rings of tender white onion, shaved carrots, and big hunks of peeled cucumber.  I have yet to figure out what all goes into the sauce (next time I order it, I will ask if I can watch how it is made, up-close), but it has a flavor so delicate that it doesn’t overpower the individual tastes of all the other ingredients, yet distinctive enough that it doesn’t get lost in the dish.  Does that make sense?  All I know is that it’s good.  Real good.  Oh, and did I happen to mention it only took about 5 minutes to make and including a bottle of water, my whole meal was about $1.00 US?

You should all come visit us and eat here.  🙂

November 17, 2009 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Books to Read

I was recently reading back through a book called Thai Ways, which I found here in the library at our language center.  My first encounter with the book was when the head cook at Baan Thai, a restaurant near Glenbrook mall in Ft. Wayne, IN, offered to lend his copy to Brook and I.  We frequented this restaurant when preparing for our first stint in Thailand about 6 years ago.  After a few visits, we spoke with the Hostess of Baan Thai about our plans to live in Thailand for 6 months as part of our studies in school.  We did this so we could perhaps build a relationship in which we could gain valuable insight into the culture before even arriving in the country.  We also hoped to have someone to come back to share with when our term in Thailand was finished.  She was so excited about our plans, that she went and got the cook (as she and him were the only Thais, all servers were either Burmese or Cambodian) so he could speak with us.  He gave us a few connections for language study, as well as this book, to help prepare us for what lay ahead for us.  Nice, huh?

Anyways, a client of my mother’s has been to Thailand, and offered a couple of books to her for more insight into the culture in which my husband and I now live.  To my delight and surprise, one of the books was Thai Ways, by Denis Segaller.  Upon hearing that my mother was now reading through this book, I decided it was time for me to pick it back up as well.  Denis Segaller is an Englishman, born in 1915, who travelled all throughout Europe as a child with his parents, and attended school in Switzerland.  Having grown up to be a documentary film maker, he continued his travels throughout the world doing his work.  In 1965, he visited Asia for the first time, and it just so happened to be in Thailand.  He loved the country, married a Thai woman, became a news writer, and remained in Thailand.  As a news writer, he developed his own weekly column “Thai Ways” in the Bangkok World (no longer in print) newspaper from 1975-1985.  When the column reached its end, each of his articles on the Thai culture and Thai form of Buddhism were complied into this book, forming a unique commentary on why things are they way they are in this foreign culture – all through the eyes of a foreigner who had to dig deep to figure out the why’s and what’s for himself.

Another good book, if you are one who likes pictures to go along with what you are learning, is called Very Thai.  While Segaller’s book, Thai Ways, conveys more of the meanings and nuances that go along with Thai traditional culture, this book captures Thai pop culture and modern phenomena.  Only published in December of 2004, Very Thai is a more modern take on the Thai culture, written by an Englishman who came to the city of Bangkok as an editor.  Little did he know, he would remain in Bangkok for more than a decade, organizing the Bangkok Metro magazine, film festivals, and publishing several other books on Thai and Southeast Asian culture.  In the book Very Thai, he focuses on the little things you see everyday, those things that foreigners will notice right away as being either very strange or very different from their own culture.  Why are all table napkins pink?  What’s with all the flowers hanging from the taxi’s rear-view mirror?  Is that person really drinking a soda from a small plastic grocery bag with a straw?  Very Thai is a fun read, has TONS of pictures (which is something I always look for in a book!), and will fill you in on a lot of interesting differences between the Thai culture and your own, things that you would see everyday if you were to visit or live in this country.

You can click on the underlined words within this post to follow links to the books and Baan Thai restaurant, as well as Brook’s website.  If you want to know more about where it is that we are living, check them out.  Enjoy!

November 15, 2009 Posted by | Just for Fun, Thailand | , , , , | 1 Comment

Tasty Tuesday – baking traditions

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Yep, I’ve been working in the kitchen again, and this time it was something really special.  Last week, we received a box in the mail with all kinds of birthday goodies for Brook.  But… there were also a couple of things for me that I had prepared before we left for Thailand – a cookbook my mom made for me when we got engaged, with a whole bunch of recipes handed down from family (mostly Swedish traditional baked goods!), as well as a set of basic spices I already had back in the States and knew I wouldn’t be able to find here.  Among those spices were my bottle of Cardamom, and a small box of Swedish Parlsocker (pearl sugar).  As soon as I opened the bag and caught a whiff of those spices, I knew I needed to bake!

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The item you are reading about today is a Swedish Cardamom Coffee Cake.  My mom has made this every year at Christmas, as long as I can remember, and it always makes the house smell wonderful.  Now, the thing is, this bread is supposed to be eaten only during the holidays… but, I don’t care.  I needed to make it!

My first round (as those of you who follow me on Facebook already know) didn’t turn out so well.  Baking with yeast gets a little tricky here in a tropical climate.  It spoils much quicker, is much more temperamental, and needs to be handled very gently.  After having my first 2 beautifully braided round loaves turn into doughy, yet flavorful bricks, I did a bit of observation and asking around (yes, my mother) about what could have possibly gone wrong.  After all, I’ve made this so many times before – with mom every year growing up, on my own after getting married and living far from my family – and it’s always, always, always turned out.  So, after getting mom’s input and speaking to a seasoned missionary (an American who’s been here for 30 years), it was decided that the yeast was the culprit.

Determined, as usual, not to be beat by an item of food or a kitchen appliance, I tried again this evening.  I tested my yeast before doing anything else, made sure it proofed properly, then got crackin’ on the dough.  Oh, how wonderful the house smelled!  I didn’t even care that the oven being on made me sweat like I was in a sauna with double pane, weather-proof, silicone sealed windows!  (And, no, I am not exaggerating.)  No, it didn’t matter, because my bread rose, braided beautifully, baked perfectly, and can now be shared tomorrow with my fellow language learners and teachers at school.  Totally worth it.

Oh yeah, and I win.  🙂

November 10, 2009 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | , , , , | 4 Comments

My absolute favorite…

… bathroom signs. In the whole world. Literally. These are found in the Siam Discovery mall in downtown Bangkok, Thailand. Every time I see them, I can’t help but chuckle. We’ll see if you do, too!

Here’s the men’s sign.

mens bathroom

And, here’s the women’s.

ladies bathroom

November 4, 2009 Posted by | Just for Fun, Thailand | , , , , | 1 Comment

Tasty Tuesdays – Som Tam

I have a few favorites when it comes to food here in Thailand, and today I’m sharing one of my top 2.  This dish is called Som Tam.  (Say ‘som’ with a long O sound; the T in ‘tam’ is more like a soft D, and the ‘a’ sounds like “ahh”… got it?)

som tam

Som Tam is a sweet-spicy light salad, and is considered a typical Thai picnic food.  It is often eaten alongside some form of barbecued or grilled chicken, and blocks of sticky rice are used to soak up the extra juices in the salad.  There are usually also plates of raw sliced cabbage, raw long beans (similar to green beans, but can be up to 2 feet in length and crisper), banana flowers, and any type of green sprouts.

The main ingredient in Som Tam is shredded green papaya.  Although it is called a papaya, it is quite different from that which you are probably used to buying in the States.  The green papaya is much larger, firmer, and is of course green.  It has a texture similar to a firm potato, in that it is firm enough to shred, not easily bruised, yet has a crisp and slightly watery bite to it.  (In the States, when I could not find green papaya, long shreds of carrot made a comparable substitute.)  Depending on who is making the salad, there may also be a small amount of shredded carrot.  Also included, are raw longbeans – cut into bite-sized pieces – small halved tomatoes, and roasted peanuts.  Usually, there are tiny dried shrimp about the size of my thumbnail, but I prefer to order my Som Tam without them (they seem to always get stuck in my teeth).  Again, depending on what region of Thailand you are in, there may also be whole crab or giant shrimp tossed in as well.

Sound pretty fresh, light, and rather tasty, right?  The dressing is what gives this fresh concoction it’s punch, though.  It’s simply a combination of your basic flavors, whose amounts can be adjusted to suit your personal taste.

  • Salty – fish sauce – similar to soy sauce, but transparent and with a much lighter flavor
  • Sweet – sugar – usually palm or brown
  • Sour – lime juice – fresh squeezed, with rinds thrown in
  • Spice – fresh garlic – whole cloves, peeled
  • Heat – Thai chilies – remember, the smaller they are, the hotter they will be!

These ingredients are tossed and mashed together with mortar & pestle, followed by the salad ingredients themselves.  The entire mixture is then pounded for about a minute to soften it up and blend the flavors.  When you’re finished pounding it together, simply dump it out on a plate, grab a block of rice and some raw veggies, and you’re set.  Buy a little bit of barbecued chicken or some grilled meat on a stick, and you’ve got the makings for the perfect picnic.


November 3, 2009 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Singing in Thai!

This past weekend was the festival of Loy Krathong here in Thailand.  As a part of learning about the country in which we live, our language center hosted a special session devoted to this particular holiday, featuring traditional songs, talks from our native Thai teachers, and presentations by a few of us students.  My husband, Brook, and I were asked to sing a special song for the event.  The teacher who asked us, requested that it be a Christian worship song that had to do with water and life.  She requested this, as the festival of Loy Krathong is centered on water.  Looking through the language resources available, we settled on a familiar song that you probably know as well – I Could Sing of Your Love Forever.

But… there’s a catch – since we’re in language school learning how to speak, read, and write Thai, of course we had to sing the song in Thai as well!  We’ve provided subtitles both in Thai script and English phonetics, as well as singing the song in both languages.  Enjoy!

Brook and Sara sing Thai from Michael Brook Sarver on Vimeo.

November 1, 2009 Posted by | Just for Fun, Thailand | , | Leave a comment