A Travellerspoint blog

Nov 28th-Dec 12th: STUDENT DAY & KING'S B'DAY CEREMONIES +++

sunny 15 °C

MONDAY 28th NOVEMBER

The Director gave me the ok to leave school for Christmas on December 22nd so I got busy booking flights etc.

TUESDAY 29th NOVEMBER

If you remember, earlier this year I posted some photo of students filling in two of the pits which had been used to raise catfish. One pit was left and it was this pit that was also ‘opened’ when we had the rubber plantation ceremony last week. Mr Noi had bought some ‘padook’ (catfish) of varying ages to stock the pit which was still lined with the black plastic sheeting from last time and some aquatic plants were added for the fish.

The snag was that when ceremony was about to start it was discovered that the water had seeped away and there were a couple of small puddles at the bottom where the fish were struggling to survive. Despite many people peering into the rectangular pit, which is only about 4 feet deep, nothing was done for the next 24hrs. I thought the obvious thing to do would have been to save the fish and laid down a new plastic sheet, refilled it with water and plants and replaced the fish. But, this is Thailand, and even though the fish were small they were removed and taken home by the students and eaten since when the pit has remained untouched.

WEDNESDAY 30th NOVEMBER

The late morning classes were disturbed by moving desks in readiness for Father’s Day and in the afternoon there were rehearsals so no classes.

THURSDAY 1st DECEMBER

All the teachers had to wear their pink jackets today because students from different local schools came to Sai Moon for what to me seemed rather a mixed day of events. Everyone gathered in the ‘sala’ where plastic blue chairs had been laid out, the stage decorated and an appropriate banner hung (see photo) as a backdrop. There was the usual opening ceremony with the Director lighting the candles on the ‘altar’ and praying followed by a welcome speech.

Next came the first dancing set by Sai Moon students which I have placed on youtube if you’d like to see the performance. Just enter alistairinthailand into the search window and all my videos will appear. Just look for the video titled ‘M3 students dancing’.

After the presentation of certificates to some students and teachers

Next came an anti drugs talk from a senior policeman from Huai Mek during which he asked one of the two female Kalasin dancers to join him on stage and she told the audience about how she was once caught by the police for carrying ten yabaa pills. The effectiveness of her example was deflated when she said that nothing happened to her, she was just given a warning. Surely, the police could have brought a real drug taker along who had served time in prison to warn the students off drugs ?

Lunch followed upstairs with the Director and other teachers in M1’s classroom which had been converted into a dining room.

After lunch various students attached wishes for tomorrow to a golden leafed wishing tree which had been set up by the sala. Then there was the final dancing set this time by some students of traditional dance at Kalasin university. This video is also on youtube. Afterwards they gave a dance workshop to all the female students while the boys got an impromptu Ankalung lesson from Mr Yor.

It was all over by 1pm and the students cleared up and went home.

FRIDAY 2nd DECEMBER

Most of the teachers wore their civil service uniforms today and the senior ones wore their white ceremonial jackets. As I have neither of these outfits I wore a shirt and tie for today’s ceremony to mark the King’s Birthday aka Father’s Day.

The ceremony opened like yesterday which was followed by singing the national anthem and the national song for the King. Both of these I video’d and are now on youtube.

The music for the national anthem played on the sound system was not the version that the students rehearsed on Wednesday. It was a jauntier version which took most by surprise so the singing wasn’t as lusty as expected.

Some Sai Moon M3 students the performed a different dance routine from yesterday and this was followed by the presentation by the Director of certificates to a number of nominated fathers who were joined in front of the stage by their sons. Group photos were taken after this and I have posted some of these for you to see.

The Director made a speech which was followed by him and all the teachers and students signing books in support of Sai Moon School’s official birthday wishes for the King.

More tags were attached to the wishing tree which had been moved to the front of the stage; teachers and students wrote best wishes on golden tags which were attached to the tree. See photo.

The man whose second motorbike I am using surprised me when the stage was being re-set for today’s ceremony when he told me he did not like the King. He told me in a semi-whisper because saying something like this is akin to treason here and a criminal offence. In fact an American, who by coincidence has the surname Gordon, but is definitely not a relation, was jailed the other day for two and a half years for saying something quite tame against the monarchy. Mr – told me that, amongst other things, he blames H.M. for the deaths of all the red shirt protesters last year in Bangkok.

The whole ceremony was over by midday. A short time before this, the Director told me he was going to Wang Saphung and asked me if I would like to go with him to visit my host family at Muang Bang. I thought it was a good idea but had to rush back to the teacher’s house to pack some things right away as the Director wanted to leave asap.

We stopped off twice on the way. The first stop was near Kham Yai (about 7km from Sai Moon) at a ‘resort’ (basically, a collection of small chalet huts which operates like a hotel but with the facilities a hotel would have) where we met up with Dr Moncur (PhD) who is the director of Nong Saeng school near Sai Moon.

We then went in convoy to Dancoon Golf Course just outside Khon Kaen where they each played a full round of golf with their ‘favourite’ female caddies. I opted to walk round the first nine holes with the Director taking short videos of each shot to help him analyse where he is going wrong. It seemed to take ages to walk round and it was a hot afternoon too. I was glad to retire to the golf clubhouse at the halfway point.

Back on the road, we had dinner at a village not far from Muang Bang where the Director met a teacher friend he knew who then paid for the food. We arrived at Meuang Bang about 8pm and got a nice welcome from everyone. We chatted for while and then I had a (cold) shower and then went to bed.

SATURDAY 3rd DECEMBER

I spent this morning messing around with the two boys, playing football, watching the shop and reading my book. Lunch was ordered and delivered from a local restaurant and a bit later we drove to the bus stop on the main road to collect Fern off her bus from Nongbua Lamphu where she goes to school and stays with her grandparents.

Later on we went to the local market where I took some photos of some of the delicacies on offer. In the evening we went to a variety show in Wang Saphung
which featured a mix of acts, some very good, but the show lacked razz-a-matazz and the stage lighting pointed directly at the audience.

Seating was on plastic chairs in a field and, oddly, the audience didn’t really respond to any act and if there was applause at the end of one it was only muted. When all the acts came on stage to wai goodbye the audience left while they were coming on and their was no applause. Even while the last acts were performing workers were dismantling the fence behind the stage and within a few minutes of leaving all the chairs had been stacked and everything was being packed up.

SUNDAY 4th DECEMBER

Played football again this morning with the boys and then had breakfast with the family which consisted of a stew of mushrooms, flower stalks and chicken. Not bad, but the flower stalks made it a bit sour. I also tried to play takraw with Safe but the impact of the hollow plastic ‘ball’ was harder than I thought on the feet. I spent most of the afternoon reading my book while the boys’ parents went to Tesco Lotus about 3pm and left Safe and Best in charge of the shop.

MONDAY 5th DECEMBER

There was a national holiday today for the King’s birthday and the Director came to pick me up about 11am for the journey back to Sai Moon. In every village and town we passed through people were out and about and in most large markets had been set up selling everything you can think of.

We drove back a slightly different way via the Ubonrat dam the waters of which were far higher than normal. The nice thing about this route is that the road runs beside some rocky hills and then winds upwards and then turns into a cutting through the rocks. Descending the other side gives you a nice view over the almost flat tree-dotted countryside.

We arrived back at Sai Moon about 4.30 and I set about unpacking and getting things sorted out for the week ahead. This evening I went into Kranuan with a student for dinner at a buffet barbecue restaurant which was nice. The official ceremony in the King’s presence to mark his birthday, which took place in the gilded throne room of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, was being rebroadcast and shown on a giant screen. There were many uniformed dignitaries (almost every walk of life in Thailand has an official uniform for special occasions) in the seats and in front of them, in the middle of the hall, was a large golden royal monument of some kind.

But this broadcast was quite unlike any equivalent in the UK firstly because the cameras were positioned behind the dignitaries so the viewer only saw their backs. Secondly, because all the action of the ceremony took place on the other side of the monument so neither those attending nor the camera could see what was happening. The result was a static view of the hall with nothing of any real interest to see for the duration of the whole ceremony.

Once the rebroadcast was over there were live relays from different cities around Thailand but in each case the ceremony was much the same. Vast flag-waving crowds gathered in each location to show their respect and love for the King in front of an enormous framed photograph of him resplendent in his golden robes which had been set up above a stage on which there was an array of regalia. The dignitaries came forward one by one to place an icon on a table. In Kranuan a smaller but similar ceremony took place with a firework display at the end.

On a different topic, I went to Tesco Lotus the other day and when I found my favourite Jazz apples from New Zealand were out of stock I looked at the others on offer and decided to try the nice looking Ariane apples, a variety I had never heard of before. I have to say they are very nice indeed and can recommend them to you 100%. The French seem to have cornered about 50% of the market for apples in Thailand (China seems to have the other half) and their apples even have stickers proclaiming Le Crunch. The Ariane apples must be French too, who else would give apples such a name ?

Several of you have asked me if Mr Noi paid me back the 5,500 baht he owed me and I can happily report that he did. I know all about the danger of lending money to friends but he is one person I had no doubt about his promise to repay me.

TUESDAY 6th DECEMBER

It was quite hard to get back into teaching mode this morning and to cap it all M1’s (12/13 y.o.) behaviour in class is worse than ever and it is getting harder to control them. The textbook doesn’t help at all and I am considering ditching it, or at least ditching the very westernised themes and replacing them with topics closer to their lives.

WEDNESDAY 7th DECEMBER

Nothing of note took place during this routine day....sorry about that!

THURSDAY 8th DECEMBER

My weekday motorcycle ride into school was very wobbly this morning and then I discovered I had a flat front tyre. It cost 120 baht (about £2.50) for a new inner tube and fitting which was very cheap and quick.

I went into Kranuan to a barbecue restaurant with the Director, Deputy Director, Mr Weang, Mr Kay, Mr Yor and Mr Jasper this evening which was nice.

FRIDAY 9th DECEMBER

The Director was away today and by this afternoon the Deputy and some other teachers had already disappeared for the long weekend.

You will recall that I have been given responsibility for training a couple of students to take part in a public speaking competition, part of a day of other competitive events. The snag is that the days are passing and I don’t know what the first, mandatory, speaking topic is. If my students get through round one, then they will have to speak on one of four other topics which will be drawn out of a hat. This means they will have a lot of memorising to do!

SATURDAY 10th DECEMBER

I did my weekly laundry in the morning and the settled down to some internet research. I motorbiked into Kranuan to shop a Tesco Lotus this afternoon which was a nice break. You might be surprised to know that there were some Christmas decorations for sale as well as some nicely package items such as Chinese Plums. Most of these are New Year gifts because there are three NY's here: Western, Thai and Chinese!!

The weather is getting colder and as darkness fell today it was distinctly chilly. There was a total lunar eclipse this evening which I watched and took some photos for you in the unlikely event that you missed it. Such photos are not easy to take without a tripod!!

SUNDAY 11th DECEMBER

Late this afternoon I went into Nong Kung Sri market to get something for dinner today and tomorrow. It was cold on the back of a motorbike going there. I have never been in Thailand before at this time of year and didn’t realise just how cold it can be at night. I had to borrow a jacket to keep warm this evening and I went to bed in a t-shirt and wore some ad hoc bed socks which worked a treat.

MONDAY 12th DECEMBER

Another public holiday today, this one to commemorate the inauguration of the Constitution in 1932. I spent much of the day eagerly searching the newly inaugurated online British Newspaper Archive where I discovered more interesting nuggets of family history.

Posted by talismanic 00:28 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Nov 16-27th: SCHOOL PROJECTS..RICE FARM..LONDON..COBRA?

sunny

WEDNESDAY 16th NOVEMBER

One of the things I have learnt whilst being in Thailand is that, like other people I guess, Thais are prone to make promises, or have grand ideas or plans but they remain ideas and never come to fruition no matter how convinced the speaker is of their imminence. They are also apt to make a plan involving you without first asking i you would be interested.

Mr Kay did this last time I went to Roi Et, if you remember, when he took me to see the primary school in his village because he thought I should teach English there. He was at it again last night when, after a few beers, he said he had a plan to open an English school in Roi Et and wanted me and Mr Jesper (yes, that’s how he spells his name!) to teach there. Mr Kay is convinced this is going to happen even though he knows little about my teaching methods or ability and he knows even less about Mr Jesper’s skills.

Mr Kay’s plan is a rip-off of something I told him on the way back to Sai Moon last time I stayed at his house. It has crossed my mind that if I stayed in Thailand for the long term I would need an income. My idea is for a kind of crammer school specialising in helping students pass certain important exams. It would focus on exam passing and nothing else. The school would need to be in or very close to a large town or city because that’s where there are parents with enough money to pay the fees and the desire to push their student offspring into bettering him or herself. My idea is only that at present but everyone I have spoken to about it thinks it is a good one.

As for the annual Scout Camp it turns out that the reason it is not being held in Khon Kaen is because of the expense. It is far cheaper to stage it at school and have activities around the local area. I spoke with Mr Kay about the planning of it and told him about the various fun yet skilful activities at the Ban Chad scout camp two years ago but I don’t suppose he will act upon any of my suggestions because I am a farang and Thais know better.

THURSDAY 17th NOVEMBER

I have been keeping an interested eye on the large field by the school’s back gate. The lane to the teacher’s house snakes by the field and it has been interesting to see the crops grown there being sown and, later, being harvested and new crops sown again.

The farmer’s crop of Man Sapalang (Cassava) was harvested just before I returned to school at the end of October. He ploughed the field and a few days ago I happened to pass by just as sugar cane was being planted. Never having seen how it is done, I stopped to look and take some photos. The tractor had a platform at the rear. Two men stood by each side of the platform alongside tall bundles of sugar cane stems. Between the men was a chute. At first I thought the men feeding the stems down the chute were doing so to chop them up to feed the soil but in fact though the stems were indeed cut into short lengths the machine actually planted the short stems into the ridges created by the ploughing. Up and down the tractor went covering the field in no time at all and in a few months a dense forest of sugar cane (Oi, in Thai) will be ready to harvest.

Something else that came up at the meeting, for which I have just got the translation, was that classes M1-M3 have been assigned to raise cabbages this term and M4-M6 have been assigned to raise fish. A local bank has given the school 10,000 baht (about £200) for this project and someone is coming next week to inspect progress so it seems students will be working hard over the weekend.

Although this sounds a good idea I am disappointed with it because the two projects are exactly the same ones the students had last academic year so they are not going to learn anything new or be challenged in any way at all by either of these assignments. Why-oh-why can’t the Director think of something different for the students to do ? For example, the student diet is pretty awful and consists of large quantities of ‘khanum’ (packaged snack items similar to crisps) and sugary soft drinks. At the canteen they can buy one of two dishes for 20 baht (about 40p) which always consists of a plate of rice with a scattering of a topping (such as miniscule bits of meat, shreds of bamboo shoots, tiny shreds of other vegetables and other unknown ‘bits’). Every day there are two dishes on offer but they are different each day. So on Mondays it is dish A and B, Tuesdays dish C and D etc.

There is never any fruit and the only vegetables are the tiny shreds in each dish. I think the school should teach students about healthy eating and grow fruit and vegetables to supplement their diet. But I don’t suppose for a moment that this concerns any Thai teacher.

FRIDAY 18th NOVEMBER

Mr Noi borrowed some more money from me this morning to try and win the ‘underground’ lottery later today taking his debt up to 5,500 baht (about £110).

There was a lot of student activity around lunchtime and just after school as the different classes prepared vegetable plots, or they dug out the old pool and lined it with plastic sheeting to create a fish pond.

Some of the vegetable plots are near my teacher’s house and I went to have a look. Considering the large amount of unused space the actual plots are small, about 6 x 4 feet and the students began planting seedlings in two of the plots and they planted a young banana tree in another. They watered the seedlings in but the soil is very sandy and in the hot afternoon sun it soon dried out.

SATURDAY 19th NOVEMBER

I started the morning doing my laundry by hand as there is no washing machine here. The weather is good for washing now as it is more settled and it hasn’t rained this month at all.

I went to have a look at the vegetable plots near my house because, unusually, no students had been around to take care of the seedlings this morning. As I expected, the seedlings were all limp and in need of some water which I gave them.

Later in the morning I rode the motorcycle into Kranuan to shop at Tesco Lotus. Some items are still in short supply because the on-going floods impede deliveries but everything I wanted was in stock.

It was very strange riding through the village because at any other time of year there are people out and about everywhere but November is rice cutting time so whole families are out in the rice fields and the village was like a ghost town.

By coincidence, this afternoon, Cola, one of the M6 students, came to the house and asked if I’d like to see the rice cutting on his family’s farm on the outskirts of the village. We went there on his motorbike and, sure enough, the whole family were there. The oldest generation were sitting on mats in the shade on the floor of a barn overseeing what was going on. The younger generation had been in the fields cutting the rice-bearing stems with scythes and gathering them in stacks where a mechanised tractor griddle detached the rice husks from the stems.

By the time I arrived there was a heap of unhusked rice and a heap of empty sacks waiting for the former to be placed into the latter. An old plastic plate served as an effective scoop though stray stems had to be removed before filling the sacks. The filled sacks were loaded onto a trailer and taken to the family home where the rice will be husked by a small machine and repacked and eventually eaten or sold.

Back in the rice fields, the stems will be gathered into haystacks though I am not sure what it will be used for yet. But it was interesting to see the process by which rice goes from the plant towards the supermarket shelf.

SUNDAY 20th NOVEMBER

I did some more washing this morning and spent a good chunk of the day on the internet and generally relaxing and doing very little.

Surfing the net I spotted a story which you may have read about which concerned a father in Manchester riding his off-road motorbike with his three year old son perched on the petrol tank. The article states that he went past CCTV cameras at 40mph and was not wearing any protective clothing. The police even scrambled a helicopter to follow the bike from above and the father faces a jail term of about five years though I should mention there were other offences involved although it was the motorbike ride which the police focused on.

The reason this story caught my eye is that here in Thailand it is a common sight to see 3, 4 and sometimes 5 people, children or adults, astride a bike and going about their business. It is also common to see youngsters, mostly boys, riding a motorbike around the villages (by which I mean everywhere I have been so far in Thailand) on errands as young as 8 or 9.

As I have mentioned before, it is also common to see students of all ages riding on the roof of the school bus on their way to school or back home afterwards and I have posted two photos to illustrate this.

MONDAY 21th NOVEMBER

I spoke with the Director this morning and he told me that the Education Dept in Kalasin city had agreed to pay my ‘salary’ for next year so it is now secured. I reminded the Director about his promise to increase my salary if I stay at Sai Moon next year but I am not sure of he grasped what I said because he just replied ‘yes.....yes’ and smiled.

Something has changed at school because up to this week I have never seen any student being beaten but it happened on Friday and again this morning to some students from M1. I can understand why because many of them are constantly misbehaving in class and skive off duties outside class and the culprits got 4 strokes of a cane on their hands and the same on their backside from Ajaan Cat.

It was a hot afternoon and just as the students were going home at 3.30 Mr Kay proposed having a drink of Leo beer. Well, one led to another and about 6pm when it was getting too dark to continue golf practice the Director joined us and more bottles of beer appeared.

After a couple of beers I took the opportunity to quiz the Director about next year and he repeated that the entire salary for next year is secure and will be paid from the Education Department’s budget and not the school’s budget. I pressed him about a salary increase and he agreed to raise it by....wait for it...5000 baht a month (about £100) and do the same for the other lower paid teachers and more beer was drunk to celebrate!! The only area of doubt which remains is when the new salary will start but I suspect it will be from the start of the new academic year on May 1st, 2012.

During the evening the Director’s rummaged in the glove compartment of his pick-up and produced his handgun to show everyone. It was much admired; a Smith and Wesson. I asked him why he felt the need to have a gun and he, and many Thais it seems, want to be prepared in case they are attacked. When I asked what sort of person would attack him or anyone else I didn’t get a proper answer so I am none the wiser. The gun is not just for show either; he had some ammunition too.

The Director also revealed another side of his life which I didn’t know anything about before. He told me that he fought against the communists in Laos back in the 1970s but he didn’t go into any great detail so I will have to ask him again next time we have some beers together.

TUESDAY 22th NOVEMBER

I didn’t sleep too well last night not least because I got up a few times to have a ching-chong (as the students say here) so I felt tired this morning and a bit hungover. Luckily, I had lessons prepared for my two classes today so there was no problem with them.

Immediately after assembly some M1 students, boys and girls, were beaten again, the same as before. They line up to take their turn and ‘wai, before being punished; they laugh and joke; those not being beaten watch and laugh and joke. Whilst being beaten the boys grimace; the girls are impassive; after being beaten, the students ‘wai’ again, and laugh and joke some more.

Late this afternoon the armchairs and sofa were brought from the Director’s office to a position in the school roadway in front of the small rubber tree plantation. Decorations were put up, including balloons and paper chains and the ‘altar’ was placed alongside in readiness for the ceremonial cutting of the rubber trees tomorrow morning. It takes seven years from planting before a rubber tree can be cut to produce latex.

The good news is that I will be flying back to London on January 4th and I will be there two weeks during which time I need to get a new one-year visa and do some shopping. After doing some research to find the best deal for an air ticket from London to Bangkok return for which I can alter the return date and is valid for a year I settled upon Qantas and I duly bought the ticket this evening for £756.00.

WEDNESDAY 23th NOVEMBER

After assembly this morning there was a special ceremony before cutting the first rubber tree in the school’s small plantation - it takes seven years for a rubber tree to mature sufficiently for latex extraction to start. Various dignitaries arrived, including the head of the Tambon and the local Headman plus others and coffees and cold drinks were brought to everyone by students. The rest of the students were assembled each side of the VIP seating area facing the rubber trees. The Director read a prepared speech and then the Tambon head said a prayer before taking hold of a special ‘hammer’ to beat a large low-sounding gong three times. Then the first of the rubber trees was cut and the small metal channel put in place to drain the oozing latex into the plastic cups below it.

The VIPs took it in turn to cut different trees and two selected students did the same. I took a number of photos of the ceremony and the tree cutting which are in my gallery.

After the ceremony classes resumed as normal but I had a problem with M2 which has been simmering for a few classes now. Some of the boys don’t bother to turn up and even if they do they don’t bother to pay attention preferring to chat or draw biro tattoos on each other’s arms. The girls chat at every opportunity and the class is becoming a nightmare. Other teachers have complaints about M2 too. In a no fail system there’s no real incentive to chastise miscreants like this or to worry too much whether they are in class or not. The system seems to rely more on Buddhist teaching which is deeply rooted in the psyche of everyone here which teaches that you must be obedient and learn. The system works on the whole but when students decide to buck the trend it is difficult to know what to do in a Thai context.

When I arrived at the teacher’s house to have lunch there was a bunch of excited M4 students around the empty house next door. It turned out that someone had found a snake in the empty and disused water tank next to the squat loo. I was told it was a cobra and I dashed to my room to get my camera. I poked my head into the cubicle to see what kind of snake it was as a cobra would make a really good photo I thought. The students were scared and one held my belt to prevent me going in too far. But the snake’s head was hidden unless you looked down vertically into the water tank and to do this meant getting closer still.

I stretched out my arms and took a photo pointing the camera into the tank. When I looked at the result I could see immediately that it was not a cobra and that it was not as big as the last snake that was found. It also had the same markings as all the other snakes I’ve seen so far and as far as I knew it was not poisonous.

Thai students being what they are couldn’t leave the snake alone. They wanted to capture it, bag it, and take it home to eat. To this end they bashed it and injured it about halfway along its length. They got a branch and lifted the reptile out and laid it on the ground outside and stood in a circle watching it try and slide away. But it couldn’t. Blood was oozing from the wound and it did not seem to have control over the bottom half of its body. I felt sorry for it to be honest and I knew that it was probably much more terrified of us humans than the students were of the snake. Anyway, the students eventually bagged it and took it away to make a curry or something.

In the afternoon I went to Kranuan with Mr Noi to play snooker and we had dinner at a barbecue restaurant before returning to Sai Moon.

THURSDAY 24th NOVEMBER

A lot of boys were absent from school again today as they were helping their families cut rice on the farm or at least that’s what their excuse is and as no one ever checks I suspect it is used a convenient seasonal excuse.

I have been given the task of selecting a couple of students to take part in a speech making competition next month. The Director was unable to give me all the information I wanted – such as the topic and the date – but I hope to know more tomorrow.

FRIDAY 25th NOVEMBER

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1925 of King Rama VI also known as The Father of Thai Scouting and scouts throughout Thailand show their respect and remember their promise. In passing, you might be interested to read the Thai scout law because it is somewhat different to other versions:

A Scout’s honour is to be trusted.
A Scout is loyal to his Nation, his Religion, and his King and is faithful to his benefactors.
A Scout’s duty is to be useful and to help others.
A Scout is a friend to all, and a brother to every other Scout in the world.
A Scout is courteous.
A Scout is kind to animals.
A Scout respectfully obeys the orders of his parents and his superiors.
A Scout is very cheerful and is not afraid of troubles.
A Scout is thrifty.
A Scout is clean in thought, word and deed.

Scout Motto: It is better to die than to lie.

Back to this morning, after assembly the students were rehearsed three times in readiness for the ceremony which took place after the first period this afternoon at 1.30pm by which time the scene at the base of the flagpole had been set (see photos).

The students formed up in front of the Thai flag and three selected students placed pale wreathes onto bamboo tripods alongside the ‘altar’ and Mr Noi, deputising for the Director and in his scout uniform for a change, took his place below the flag and four of the male teachers lined up in front of the students. They all saluted at the national anthem was sung followed by the scout song. The whole ceremony was quite short and I took a number of photos for you.

Each class then came forward for a group photo, with teachers to the rear, in front of the flagpole. By this time it was about 2.30 and the students were free to go home.

SATURDAY 26th NOVEMBER

I did the usual laundry this morning and then did some googling on my laptop. It is curious how google sometimes produces different results for the same search word/s on different days. This was how I stumbled across an article reproduced in a Hobart newspaper of 1864 about a court case where a Gordon ancestor had become engaged to a girl but then changed his mind. What made this item especially interesting was that love letters were quoted verbatim and a lot of background information unobtainable anywhere else was given. A good chunk of the rest of the day was spent transcribing the article.

In the afternoon I motorbiked into Kranuan to visit Tesco Lotus where I found the shelves full again following the disruption in the supply chain due to the floods.

Incidentally, the floods are on-going in parts of the central region and the northern and western areas of Bangkok. Some districts have suffered waist high water for more than a month and now the water is stinking and a breeding ground for insects and the surface glistens with petrol.

SUNDAY 27th NOVEMBER

Most of the day was spent transcribing the newspaper article and doing further research. In the morning I was having a look at the early sunlight streaming through the trees when I walked into a long supporting strand of a spider’s web. It caught the side of my face and when I pulled it away I was surprised now thick it was and how strong it felt. I looked up to see a very large web with supporting strands stretched several feet between trees and at its centre was a large spider. I ran upstairs to get a camera because with the low angle of sunlight it was possible to see the whole web and I took some photos for you as well.

Posted by talismanic 04:09 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Nov 2nd-15th: FACEBOOK PROBLEM..SHORTAGES..INTERNET..VISA??

sunny

WEDNESDAY 2nd NOVEMBER

I forgot mention that there was a teacher’s meeting yesterday afternoon where the Director spent more than an hour explaining what looked like a straightforward form devised by the Education Authority in Kalasin city. The meeting was all in Thai of course so I didn’t discover until afterwards that teachers will be expected to enter student grades on the form.

All this makes me wonder if things might be changing. After all, with a no fail policy in education here there seems little point in having an elaborate grading system other than to make students feel good. Could this new grading form herald a change whereby students might actually fail at something ?

Last night we had an unusual visitor at the teacher’s house. A 17/18 y.o. boy came by in his car to revisit the house where he grew up about fourteen years ago. He told me that the house, which only has four upstairs rooms, used to accommodate his entire family but many things about the house looked exactly the same as they did back then. Sadly, he said that no photo exists of the house in those days which would have been interesting to see and compare with how things are today.

Mr Noi was unhappy this morning because he bought almost 7,000 baht of lottery tickets (about £140) and none of his number combinations came up and he won nothing. It’s a lot of money to lose on the lottery and, you may ask, why does he keep risking a significant slice of his meagre salary on the lottery. The answer is that there are two lotteries here. One is the official government lottery, the other is the so-called ‘under the table’ or semi secret local lottery which is very popular and the chances of winning so much higher. In the unofficial lottery you don’t get a ticket as such, you get a signed receipt for the money staked. I have yet to discover the mechanics of the draw or to find out who actually runs it but I hope to see what happens next time round.

This morning I had just arrived at M4’s classroom to find no students there when Mr Yor came rushing up to tell me about a change to the timetable and that I must teach M2 instead. I’ll have to wait till tomorrow to see Ajaan Wilaida to confirm this change and to discover if there are any more.

THURSDAY 3rd NOVEMBER

I managed to see Ajaan Wilaida as planned this morning and it was just as well that I did because there are five class changes to my timetable. I now have nine classes to teach, one less than the original timetable but still three more classes than last term.

One of the teachers sent two M1 boys (12/13 y.o.) to my office where there is a metal cupboard containing some stationery items including whiteboard marker pen refill ink. As soon as I saw what the boys were doing I knew there would be more ink on them and the floor than in the pens. You should have seen the mess!!

The weather is quite cool in the mornings and evenings now but pleasantly so I think. Some students come to assembly wearing jackets against the cold which is a bit odd really since they move into shaded areas once assembly is over suggesting that they find it too hot in the sun.

Another change this term is that the lunch hour now starts at 11.30 rather than 12.00. Noon was bad enough but 11.30???? It makes for a very long afternoon.

A miracle happened a couple of days ago which I forgot to mention: you will recall that I have been unable so far to get internet access in the office and that my Air Card doesn’t work there either for some reason. In an idle moment I decided to check for a network and to my amazement discovered a signal and that I was able to connect successfully. Several people came by to ask if I could get the internet which makes me think the long-awaited server fix has been made.

One of the downsides of having a computer room at school with internet access is that it feeds the student’s craze for facebook. It seems that every students has facebook and they spend hours chatting with friends. On several occasions last term when students or whole classes were absent I found them in the computer room and often they were most reluctant to come to class as they were in mid-chat on facebook. The sad thing is that Ajarn Cat is almost always at the desk in the computer room and you’d think she would make sure that students who were supposed to be in class were there. But she doesn’t appear to care one way or another. The problem hasn’t occurred this term yet, as far as I can judge, so I will wait to see what happens.

FRIDAY 4th NOVEMBER

Only one class today now which leaves aeons of free time but I try to keep busy.

At lunchtime today Mr Noi took me, Mr Kay and Mr Jasper into Kham Yai to make an appearance at a ceremony taking place in celebration of two young men becoming monks. Tented awnings had been erected under which tables had been laid out which, when we arrived, were covered with dishes of food and most seats were taken. We had seats waiting for us and we duly tucked in enjoyed the food and left after half an hour or so having deposited an envelope containing our baht contributions with the host.

Today’s highlight was riding the motorbike into Nong Kung Sri to visit Tesco Lotus where the tentacles of the flood have already reached by way of empty shelves. No noodles or products made from them, little rice, almost no fresh meat, fruit, veg or dairy products and few drinks. Eggs have shot up to between 8-10 baht each (16-20p) and so on. Not that I intended to buy any of those items though some more of the delicious and crisp Jazz apples from New Zealand would have been nice. It’s all to do with supply lines though I am not sure where Tesco Lotus’ supply depot is located but wherever it is it has to be supplied too and the floods are hampering delivery of those supplies. It’s the same with the other supermarkets and 7/11 stores and Family Marts. But the real calamity concerns those people who have been evacuated from their homes (or who have lost them) or are having to live on the upper floors because of putrid waist deep water below; their local shops are flooded out too. The army are distributing food parcels and so are volunteer organisations but there are many hundreds (even thousands) of migrant workers who do not speak Thai and are thus unable to ask for help and are being ignored.

Many of these migrant workers are from Burma and with the loss of their jobs they have no money to buy anything and no money to try and return to Burma to their families.

MPs of various parties are also in the forefront of distributing food parcels but, and this is the unacceptable side of politics, mostly, or only, to their party supporters.

Meanwhile, the floodwater continues to seep towards central Bangkok despite efforts to prevent this...

SATURDAY 5th NOVEMBER

The happy days of October when I just had to take my clothes to the laundry for them to be washed and ironed and returned neatly folded are fading in my memory. If I had access, I would be using the amazing Internet Laundry that I found in Chiang Mai, but I don’t have access here in Kalasin....ha ha!!

So it was back to hand washing in cold water this morning. Despite there being little pollution here things do get dusty and my room needed a good clean out when I got back last week. Clothes that I left hanging had dusty shoulders and my bedding was a bit musty. So there was tons of washing to do this morning. Luckily, the weather is good now and the sun soon did it job and my clothes were dry in no time at all.

This afternoon I went into Kranuan on my motorbike and it took about 30 minutes to get there. Inside it was the same as T.L. in Nong Kung Sri: empty shelves everywhere including, I noticed, the normally full shelves of bottled beer. I suppose people are stocking up just in case, or they are drinking their sorrows away.

On the way back I had a nasty incident. I was being overtaken by a truck just as I was reaching a very bumpy section of road. Had the truck not been there I would have swung out to avoid the bumps. But I hit the bumps going about 40kph or so and my shopping, in a carrier bag tied at the top, bounced right out of the basket in front of the headlight and was heading for a crash landing when I quickly reached out with my left hand and caught the bag in mid-air while trying desperately to control the bumping bike with my right hand. Luckily, all was well. I managed not to crash into the truck alongside me, or dive into the ditch by the roadside. I also managed to return the heavy shopping bag to the basket and continue ahead as if nothing had happened, but it was a close run thing!!

SUNDAY 6th NOVEMBER

I had a fright this morning on my laptop. I switched on as normal and noticed I had a signal from the school’s internet so I decided to use it to connect to the internet. As soon as I was connected a page in Thai came up with sign-in boxes for a username and password which I had never seen before. I immediately thought I had some kind of virus. No matter which browser or which site I tried the same Thai page appeared so I began a fullscale scan which showed no infections.

Then I had a brainwave and it occurred to me that the problem might have to do with the network connection itself. So I disconnected from the school network and open a new connection via my Air Card and everything turned out to be ok after all. Phew!!

I discovered I have been caught out by the end of Summer Time in the UK so the scheduled times set to record a couple of BBC radio programmes on dar.fm are now an hour out of sync and will have to be re-done.

MONDAY 7th NOVEMBER

I have picked up another gum infection so this afternoon I went into Nong Kung Sri with Mr Kay, who wanted to go to the bank, to visit the pharmacy. Here, pharmacists are trained to give advice and prescribe and I was duly given some antibiotics and some ibuprofen to counter my aching mouth all for the princely sum of 280 baht (about £5.80).

It was lucky that My Kay took me into NKS because he has been going on and on at me about a party he is giving at his house in Roi Et and had persuaded me to agree to go. But I am going to use the antibiotics as my excuse not to go since, I will say, I cannot drink alcohol.

It’s not that I don’t like parties, it is just that this party will be a carbon copy of the birthday party I went to a couple of months ago only with more adults and there is absolutely nothing to do in the house other than watch tv, read my book or do something on my laptop.

TUESDAY 8th NOVEMBER

Last night the very nice and friendly dog that lives at the teacher’s house barked for a long time about 1.30am. I got up to go to the loo and to see what was wrong. It turned out that a large scorpion had trundled onto the concrete ‘verandah’ and this is what the dog was barking at. The scorpion had flattened itself and was motionless presumably waiting for the dog to tire and disappear but I swept it away into some low bushes beside the house in the hope that the dog would lose interest and let me sleep. But not! The dog fretted and barked at the undergrowth where I had swept the scorpion and woke me up again about an hour later. So I went downstairs again and scolded the dog which got the message and stopped barking.

The dog is very nice and friendly. It just turned up at the house one day about six months ago and has adopted the teacher’s house as its home. At first it seemed his right foot was in pain as he had a limp and his leg had a twitch. Although the leg still has a twitch, which twitches even when it is asleep, there is no longer any pain and the dog bounds around like any other. He will follow me everywhere including when I am on the motorbike.

This afternoon there was another teacher’s meeting about the new grading system. I am still none the wiser about it even after the first meeting last week. At the start of today’s meeting the Director began in English saying he was going to talk about things like Competencies and Teaching Outcomes and I thought I was at last going to discover how to do the grading and how to complete the forms. But he soon switched back to Thai and I am still none the wiser though the system does seem very complex. I’ll reserve judgement until I know more.

This evening I went into Kranuan with some students to a new barbecue restaurant that opened last Friday near the centre of town. It looks nice and clean with attractive wooden tables and bench seats with backs. There is good lighting and two TV screens placed high up on walls where customers can see and there is nice music too. The raw food (which you cook/barbecue yourself at your table) is in a separate very clean air conditioned room and it is all neatly laid out.

During the evening the owner came to sit by me and began a conversation. I didn’t know he was the owner at first and is conversation started with ‘where are you from’ and then he said ‘Thailand has so many nice foods’ to which I replied that England has so many nice foods too’. He then revealed who he was and he told me that the restaurant cost 3m baht to construct (about £60,000), not including the land. It was a nice evening and I will certainly tell the other teachers at school about it. We were given two complimentary t-shirts with the name of the restaurant on the back as we left which I gave to two of the students to wear. A couple of Sai Moon M4 students were working there as waiters which was interesting to see.

WEDNESDAY 9th NOVEMBER

The school internet has been down for the last couple of days so it is fortunate that I still have credit on my Air Card though I can only use it in my room in the Teacher’s House as it still won’t work in my office.

This afternoon the Director was away in Kalasin city so, with an afternoon of free time each, Mr No and I went into Kranuan where we played snooker for a couple of hours and visited Tesco Lotus which still has plenty of empty shelves. I understand from the internet that their main supply depot is in Bangkok so it is no wonder they are struggling to keep their stores supplied.

I have made a mistake over my visa because I thought it expired on 18th November but it actually expires today. So I am now planning to go to Nong Khai and then Vientiane on Friday rather than next weekend as planned. My mistake is also the perfect excuse for not going to Mr Kay’s house party!!

The downside is that there is a 500 baht fine for each day of an overstay though they do give a period of grace for the first day. So I will probably face a fine of 1000 baht.

THURSDAY 10th NOVEMBER

It rained overnight which is not a problem here in Kalasin but I hope it didn’t rain in Bangkok where the floods are still very serious.

FRIDAY 11th NOVEMBER

Yesterday was the first day of Loy Krathong which originally was a festival to pay respect to the water spirits, now it is just a time of having fun but people all over Thailand still float their krathongs out onto water. Loy means to float; krathong refers to the receptacle that floats on the water.

The base of the krathong is generally made of a slice from the stem of a banana tree and then it is decorated with banana leaves, flowers and additions like candles, betel buts, joss sticks, food and even small coins. In some places, lit paper lanterns are floated airborne towards the evening sky. I did not got to the local Loy Krathong festival mainly because I had been told it was to be tomorrow and I was unaware it was on tonight as well. I have placed some photos from a Loy Krathong festival I did attend in Pattaya two years ago which will give you an idea.

This afternoon the Director, Deputy Director and Mr Noi inspected presentations by Mr Weang and Mr Yor. Each of the newer teachers has had to do this and today it was their turn. For each of them it involved gathering up material to show off what they have done so far at Sai Moon. copious files are produced and displayed alongside photographs of activities they have been responsible for or taken part in. These presentations, and the files themselves, are considered an important step towards a career upgrade though, to be honest, I would have thought a practical teaching assessment or a series of them, would be more beneficial than a bunch of paperwork which could as easily be covered by a c.v. As it stands, a teacher's ability to teach isn't questioned so long as the paperwork looks good and the photos are beautifully displayed. As usual, presentation trumps substance!

After my M4 class this afternoon Mr Noi took me to Namphong where I caught a bus to Udon Thani from where I will go to Nong Khai and cross into Laos to get a new visa stamp.

SATURDAY 12th NOVEMBER

This morning, in Udon, I got a bus to Nong Khai and from the bus station took a tuk tuk to the Friendship Bridge immigration point. On the way to Nong Khai the bus was stopped by the police for an id card check. I have heard stories about the dire consequences of overstaying a visa especially if picked up by the police so I tried to keep calm and to look unconcerned though I felt the opposite.

While the policeman was checking every Thai id card I remembered another occasion when my bus was stopped for an id card check and the police then didn’t both the farangs on board so I hoped it would be the same this time.

Fortunately it was and I breathed a long sigh of relief as the bus continued north to Nong Khai. At the immigration checkpoint I was asked to step into the office where I was fined 500 baht per day of my overstay (1500 baht, about £30) and sent on my way. I crossed the bridge on the official shuttle bus, paid another 1500 baht for a Lao visa, collected my passport and did a u-turn to catch the return shuttle bus back towards Thailand.

Crossing the bridge again I saw for the first a two carriage train on the rail line that is set into the middle of the road. There were trees obscuring the view so it was impossible for me to see if there were any/many passengers but it was good to see a train on the line.

Re-entering Thailand was also no problem and I was given another 90 days in the country although my one-year visa expires on November 30th. My visa stamp will take me up to February 9th though I am considering returning to London on the return portion of my air ticket and getting a new full one-year visa for next year.

SUNDAY 13th NOVEMBER

This morning I got the bus back to Namphong. As ever, the driver stopped to pick up as many passengers as possible so that by the time we really got going the aisle was crammed full. I’d forgotten about this hazard when I boarded and took a seat halfway along the bus. The result was that I had to push and shove quite hard to get passed the people in the aisle with my bag. As I stepped off the bus my right foot got caught in the strap of someone else’s luggage and I nearly went head over heels.

At Namphong I had to wait about 40 minutes for the bus for Kranuan and after another 45 minutes I arrived at Kranuan bus station. One of the M6bstudents, Cola, said he would collect me from the bus station to take me back to Sai Moon. Despite checking with him three times that everything was ok when it came to collection time he told me he couldn’t make it which left me high and dry in Kranuan with no taxis or other means to get back to school.

Mr Noi I knew was away in Kalasin at his nephew’s wedding so that left Mr Yor. Fortunately he had some free time and came to pick me up on his motorcycle so I was very lucky. It was about 5.30 by the time I got back to Sai Moon.

MONDAY 14th NOVEMBER

This morning it was announced that the annual Scout Camp would be on December 10/11th - the 10th being Constitution Day but as it falls on a weekend the public holiday is on Monday 12th – and will be held in Khon Kaen.

I told the director the good news about my visa because it means I can now plan with certainty for next year. He said he is going to discuss it and let me know. What I am aiming for is a salary increase but I suspect he has next to nothing in his budget and the new one won’t begin until March. This is despite his promises earlier this year that he would definitely increase my salary to 15,000 this month and then to 20,000 in January as an incentive to stay on at Sai Moon.

Mr Noi’s latest idea is to buy a handgun. He came into school this morning with a brochure with photographs of guns from the US and Europe made by the likes of Glock, Kimber, Smith and Wesson etc. Quite why he feels the need to get a gun is a mystery but it could be because there is a shooting range at Yang Talat, about 20 miles away. He told me that the Director has a handgun which I didn’t know before.

TUESDAY 15th NOVEMBER

There was another teacher’s meeting this afternoon at the end of school (3.30pm). The Education Department in Kalasin city seem to be having a spasm because they haven’t imposed anything much on the school since I came here, most of the interaction between us and them has been purely routine. But now, they seem to be flexing their muscles. For example, all the Thai teachers are going to have to take the Teacher’s Licence exam which might be a problem for some of them.

The Department is also insisting on the new grading system which is ok on the face of it until you look at the details at which point it becomes over complicated to say the least.

At the meeting, the Director set out the standards he wanted the students to achieve. They are good in principle but unlikely to ever be achieved here.

For some reason the Scout Camp is not now going to be in Khon Kaen. It is going to be at Sai Moon instead and the Director said we must start planning for it. I feel sad for the students because instead of a weekend away somewhere different they will remain at school. The teachers are going to have to come up with some really good activities and things to do to keep them interested.

The Director has also set out the expected outcomes from English classes. These include, understanding the differences between Thai and English; understanding the different concepts of Thai and foreign culture; using activities in English to develop themselves, their families and their community; using English to ‘follow the situation’ in school and in the community.

Posted by talismanic 00:09 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Oct 4th-Nov 1st: CHIANG MAI..BANGKOK..PATTAYA..FLOODS +++

sunny

TUESDAY 4TH OCTOBER: CHIANG MAI

On this visit I hired a bicycle to further explore the little sois that criss-cross the old city within the moat as well as some beyond the moat as well. Unexpectedly, the small business that are dotted along many of these sois actually do quite well even though they are away from the main roads. This is because they pass through largely residential areas and in some areas guesthouses and hotels are also located along these sois. Tuk tuks and some motorcyclists also use the sois as short cuts but they are still very quiet and peaceful pathways to stroll along and explore though it does help to have a sense of direction!

Another reason I hired the bike was to look for a bookshop I visited a couple of years ago and although I could remember what it looked like and the immediate surroundings I could not remember how to get there. Despite cycling around the sois in a fairly systematic way I could not find the shop and I came to the conclusion that it’s gone out of business. It is weird how places I like one visit close down by the time of my next visit. Am I cursed or something ?

I also revisited the many secondhand bookshops to browse and buy a couple more books to keep in reserve. Rather than visit all the bookshops in one day I spread my visits out to intensify the pleasure.

Another highlight was to revisit the Thais That Bind restaurant which I have often visited before where the Thai owner always recognises me and we always have a good chat.

One evening, in my hotel room, I watched a DVD movie called Inside Job which though it sounds like a thriller is actually a very intelligent documentary about how the western world is in such an economic mess; how it got there; who is culpable and so on. It pulls no punches when all the key players are interviewed and is recommended viewing.

Another highlight was to go with two young Thai people to the Zoo. I have never been a great fan of zoos but this one was very good and specialising in species from across SE Asia. The zoo itself was better than expected as I'm not a great fan of them. It's fairly new and some parts are still being built or finished off. But it is in a lush jungle setting and very well landscaped and the animals we saw had lots and lots of space. We also saw Lingping. Lingping who, I hear you ask?? She's a panda and was a gift from China and to pay for her upkeep visitors have to pay to see her. But she was asleep so not much to see. We saw a vivid green snake, not in a glass box, but sliding along the jungly undergrowth. One of the Thais spotted it and I managed to get a quick shot of it as it slithered rapidly up a tree which is in my gallery.

I never thought I would ever throw a snowball in Chiang Mai but there is a snow dome at the zoo and we went there as well though the architect must have forgotten to add the dome as there wasn't one! We had to put carried things into a locker before putting on a thick padded jackets and dinky cut-down wellingtons but even so it was f-f-f-freezing inside. Inside there was snow, ice, cherry trees in blossom (fake of course) an igloo without a roof and various other features including an ice slide, like a cut-down luge. We were each given what looked like a plastic toddler’s paddling pool to haul to the top of the slide and then sit in them to slide down. It wasn't a boring straight slide but a twister which all but overturned on the sharp corners. It was good fun, but v-v-very cold. The two Thais were frozen!!

After the zoo we went further uphill in a tuk tuk to Doi Suthep, or more properly Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which is said to have been founded in 1383 though the full legend can be found on Wikipedia etc. To reach the top you have to climb up 309 steps set between two mythical Naga serpents. The temples at the top look extravagant with abundant gold coverings and decorations and some are considered very sacred. There are good views overlooking Chiang Mai and I tool a set of photos to make a panoramic view for you which is in my gallery.

THURSDAY 30th OCTOBER: BANGKOK

Flying to Bangkok from Chiang Mai on October 13th I managed to get a window seat and when we flew over the central region of Thailand all I could see was a vast sea with the odd tree poking up out of the water and also the odd house. It was an amazing sight from the air but on the ground it must have been a terrifying ordeal.

Everything seemed normal from above as we approached the outskirts of Bangkok and came in to land. By now you will have read about or seen tv images of the floods and it is every bit as bad as you can imagine. There have been regular floods in parts of Thailand, including Bangkok, for centuries but what has made a difference this time is the convergence of several unfortunate events.

Firstly, it rained more heavily and for longer than ever before in Thailand causing floods in Chiang Mai and Udon Thani amongst other places. Secondly, bad decisions were taken early on by the authorities such as shutting off the outflow from a number of dams thus allowing them to be filled by the inflow from the heavy rains. Eventually the dams had to release water which duly flooded areas near to them.

Thirdly, a decision was taken to ‘save’ Bangkok which meant that the huge volume of water travelling southwards (Thailand’s rivers run north to south and most pass through the capital) was prevented from flowing into the city by not opening sluice gates or by building defensive walls etc.

This water has nowhere to go and pressure has built up and up and various breaches of the sandbagged walls has caused many areas to become flooded. Five large industrial estates were inundated causing a lot of damage and stopping production. It is not generally realised that Thailand has a large manufacturing base producing, for example, around 40% of the world’s hard disk drives for companies like Seagate and Western Digital. The production of Apple computers has been badly affected as many components are made here. Sony had to cancel the planned launch of their new Nex camera as it too is produced here and the factory is flooded. All five of Japan’s car manufacturers have been affected too with the loss of their supply lines and car production in the US has almost ground to a halt because certain critical electrical components are made in the flooded areas.

Luckily, the seasonal high tides which came on Saturday 29th October were not as high as feared but with the Chao Phraya river (that bisects Bangkok) at record high levels some overflow occurred nevertheless.

Added to this mix of events has been the lack of solid reliable news. There is news, but different agencies involved make conflicting announcements leading to uncertainty and people not knowing who to believe. There have also been accusations of politicking which doesn’t help either.

On top of all that is the reluctance of the government to declare the floods a State of Emergency because this would give the army greater powers and there is a fear that they would seize the moment to make a coup.

The government has also refused outside offers of help because of the loss of face that would result. The US offered the assistance of their ships and marines which were steaming off the coast of Thailand in case they were needed, but their help was refused.

More than 400 people have died as a result of the floods, millions have been displaced, many thousands have lost everything, many small businesses have gone for good and many thousands of people are unable to work and thus unable to support their families many of whom live in the provinces. Little is said about those who have perished and whenever I have mentioned to a Thai person, during a conversation about the floods, that I feel very sad for those who have lost family members there is never any reciprocal word of sorrow or sadness.

Every evening on Thai TV there is a programme devoted to the daily doings of the royal family. I have watched this several times during the last week or two expecting to see pictures of this or that royal donning gumboots and wading into communities to help and offer condolences or give moral support. What a silly idea that was! The programmes continue as they always do every day showing loyal subjects paying respect and making offerings; the Queen or the Crown Prince or the Princess visiting exhibitions or such like or attending ceremonies at temples and making elaborate offerings to a Buddha image.

The King, in a selfless gesture, announced last week that he did not want any special measures to be taken to prevent water entering the Grand Palace compound but the army, as self-declared protectors of the monarchy, set about making water defences anyway.

When I was in Bangkok it rained every day though not all the time and there were sandbag defences outside shops everywhere. There are a couple of photos in my gallery showing this. As well as an aerial photo showing the near-to-overflowing Chao Phraya river which cuts through the centre of Bangkok.

There is now a growing anger amongst flood victims on the outskirts of Bangkok in particular who resent having to remain flooded in order to protect the inner city. Some people have even taken to destroying dykes to let water out of their flooded area into dry areas on the other side in the belief that everyone should share their misery. This anger could lead to further unrest once the water begins to recede and may, eventually, come to such a boiling point that the government is forced to resign.

MONDAY 17th OCTOBER: PATTAYA

Pattaya had already experienced flooding by the time I got there on October 17th but sandbags were still everywhere. It also rained almost every day here too. I didn’t do very much other than some shopping, eating, going to the beach and searching for a suitable learning Thai book which I bought on my last full day which will give me something extra to do during my free time at school.

I usually stay at a guesthouse when in Pattaya but this time it was fully booked but the owner very kindly offered me the use of a 9th floor fully furnished and serviced condo that he manages at the same rate I would have paid at the guesthouse. It consisted of a very large room with a sitting area, a large king size bed, a small kitchenette and a bathroom. There was a large TV and DVD player as well and there was also a balcony with a table and chairs and views over Pattaya. The furniture wasn’t really to my taste but after a few days it began to grow on me and I realised it could have been so much worse. On the plus side, there was lots of cupboard and storage space which I really liked.

SUNDAY 20th OCTOBER

A cab arrived at my condo at 8.30am and I was whisked off to Suvarnabhumi airport which is the new one. The old airport, Don Meuang, which is still used for domestic flights, is flooded with water up to plane cabin windows.

I saw no signs of flooding driving to the airport though I did see long lines of cars parked at the side the elevated sections of highways to protect them from any floodwater.

My flight to Khon Kaen was uneventful. Though I was unable to get a window seat I was able to see below by craning my neck a bit but our flightpath didn’t appear to take us over any flooded areas unlike my southbound flight from Chiang Mai.

The school Director very kindly offered to collect me at the airport on his way back to Sai Moon from Wang Saphung, Loei. He took me to a market area where there was a separate amulet market taking place with dozens of different stalls selling them and some shops specialising in related items. We had lunch there before walking around the stalls and it was quite interesting to see everything in display.

On the way he told me that he had not been successful in his application for the directorship of Kumin school which means he will now remain at Sai Moon thus removing the dilemma I had about whether to move with him or stay.

Then we went to Fairey Plaza, a large shopping mall in Khon Kaen, where the Director wanted to buy some shoes which meant a long of hanging around for me while he made up his mind.

Then we set off for Sai Moon where he dropped in on Mr Noi at his house and we ended up having dinner there and I was able to meet the replacement English teacher for Ajarn Tippakhorn who is currently in China for one year. The new teacher is Mr Jasper who is from Manila and married to a Thai wife with baby on the way. It turns out that he lives in the village and previously taught at the best school in Kranuan town. His English is good and he speaks Thai fluently which will make life much easier for him. He seems a nice person and I think we will get along very well.

Then Mr Noi drove me to school and I was able to unload my bags, unpack, dust off my room including all the gekko droppings, and get myself settled in again.

MONDAY 31st OCTOBER

Mr Jasper was given a new class timetable for the whole school and we had to work out which classes each of us would prefer teach. I got my bid in early by saying I wanted to teach at least one class of the six grades. It was difficult for us to share out the classes properly but one of the Thai teachers stepped in and did it in a jiff. I now have ten classes a week which is four more than previously. I no longer have every Monday free but I still only have one class that day and I have four afternoons free every week as well.

The lesson times have been changed as well. The first class is now just 40 minutes but all the other classes every day are of one hour instead of 50 minutes. M4, M5 and M6 have two English lessons a week whereas the three younger classes, M1, M2 and M3 each have three English classes per week.

Mr Noi has given me his spare motorbike again which is kind of him. He took me into Kranuan late this afternoon to get a new drive chain and sprocket which were very worn and we had an early dinner there too.

TUESDAY 1st NOVEMBER

My visa situation is becoming clearer. I will have to go to Vientiane again over the weekend of November 19/20th to get another stamp in my passport. This will give me another 90 days in Thailand taking me up to mid-February. I could then go to the Thai Embassy in Vientiane and obtain a 90-day visa to replace the one-year visa I obtained in London before coming to Thailand and I could continue getting 90-day visas back to back.

If I did this I would relinquish the return portion of my air ticket back to London. On the other hand, I am not sure I want to stay in Sai Moon for another year or even stay in Thailand for another 12 months. I will have to make up my mind if I successfully get the 90-day stamp in my passport later this month.

Posted by talismanic 02:48 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

21st Sept-3rd Oct: PIT YOUR WITS TEST--FOOD--KUMIN OR NOT ?

semi-overcast

WEDNESDAY 21st SEPTEMBER

For some reason the date of Ajarn Took’s departure for China has been brought forward to next week so I will probably have to cover some of her classes this week. She told me today that she is going to an island in the south of China where there is a large university. Meanwhile, I encouraged her to start a blog with parts of it in English because it would be a very useful teaching tool as the students know her and would be keen to follow what she is doing.

Of course, if the school’s website would be the ideal place for Ajarn Took’s blog and photos but nothing has changed on the site since I mentioned that although it is accessible it doesn’t contain anything.

From time to time at school there will be howls of laughter about something strange and that something is often an odd insect that someone has found. Boys will scare girls with it and some of the most macho boys will run away from the insect too. You will have seen (I hope) some of the insect photos I have posted in my gallery.

Today, a strange insect was found just as class was supposed to start. It was a very large stick insect. Not the skinny thing I photographed for you before, this one had a double-pencil-thick squishy stick-coloured body, with an ugly face, feelers, long legs and ‘feet’ that cling to things. I know it was squishy because I picked it up to bring to the office for a photo, the boys didn’t dare to do so. There’s a nice photo in my gallery for you ha ha ha!!

THURSDAY 22nd SPETEMBER

I had to cover for Ajarn Took’s three classes today and for M3’s class this morning she had arranged for some of the students to visit Tesco Lotus to buy ingredients to make various styles of food and cook them. The class was split into four groups, one made a salad, another made kebabs, the third made ‘hamburgers’ ( at least that is what they told me they were, but they were really chickenburgers) and the fourth made toasted sandwiches.

It was funny watching make food they are unfamiliar with. Give them a live chicken and they would make boiled chicken with herbs in a flash but they were not so assured with western food. For the chickenburgers they had purchased some very limp sliced brown bread, a packet of diced chicken and some lettuce, onion and salad dressing. After dipping the chicken pieces into batter they put two on a slice of bread, added onion rings, tomatoes and a lot of lettuce and then had a problem trying to slice the burger into quarters. Then someone hit on the brilliant idea of starting out with bread cut into quarters and then adding the ingredients on top, but the idea wasn’t a success!!

The kebabs were cooked over a small charcoal-fired cauldron with a wire grill on top. Small pieces of meat had been threaded onto a very long wooden skewer along with pieces of green chill, tomatoes and pineapple. The snag here was that not did the meat shrink it was also difficult to ensure it was cooked on all sides and inside too. I tried one and it was ok but the chilli was a bit hot.

The salad looked really good with long grated carrot, red and white cabbage, tomatoes, diced apple and piece of onion all laced with bottle mayonnaise. The boys turned up their noses at the salad but the girls seemed to relish it.

Each group made a presentation plate of their work which I tasted and marked. It was an interesting and fun class, though quite why it was done instead of English class I don’t know. Ajarn Took said this type of class only happens with M3 and I must think of another cuisine for the students to try another time. But I don’t think so. M3 only have two periods of English a week and to sacrifice one period for the dubious benefits of having fun cooking something is odd when the students have their Final English Test next week.

After the cooking class I went into the admin office which has a partially glass wall through which one can see into the Director’s office. It was good to see him slumped in his chair fast asleep as I have done the same thing in ‘my’ office two doors down from his.

This afternoon all the students and teachers assembled in the ‘sala’ to say goodbye to Ajarn Took. Two splendid flower arrangements were brought in and deep red rose stems were distributed to as many students as possible. The Deputy Director spoke first followed by some kind words from the Director. Then the flower arrangements were presented to Ajarn Took and I took a photo of her with the flowers and all the teachers which is in my gallery. Then the students came up to the front to say their goodbyes to her and to present their roses to her. Then, finally, she got the mike to say her goodbyes to everyone. I listened carefully to what she said but I didn’t hear the Thai word for English once which seemed a bit odd to me because if I were in her shoes and about to go away for a year I would be urging the students to give her replacement the utmost support in class and to work hard at their English etc etc.

FRIDAY 23rd SEPTEMBER

For my last teaching period this afternoon I had M3 again and we did an exercise from the textbook about putting verbs in sentences into either the Past Simple or Past Continuous tense. Up till now I have left Ajarn Took to tackle the parts of the textbook modules which require detailed explanations because she can do so in Thai and English whereas I cannot. I thought I was not making much headway when there was a sudden tipping point and the students clicked and got the idea about the two tenses and changing the verb to suit.

SATURDAY 24th SEPTEMBER

I spent all day at the teacher’s house working on my laptop and researching on the internet.

SUNDAY 25th SEPTEMBER

Over the last week I have used Mr Noi’s motorbike like the other teachers use theirs to ride from the teacher’s house to school and back at the end of the afternoon. Today, I decided to go into Nong Kung Si to go to Tesco Lotus and visit the ATM. It took 25 minutes to get there at a modest speed which was fine. The small town is usually bustling gently but today it was very quiet even though many businesses were open as usual. Perhaps everybody was at the weekly market which I have only visited once before and didn’t go to today.

MONDAY 26th SEPTEMBER

I had M1 (12/13 y.o.) for the first period this morning but this class and M2 were kept behind after assembly by Ajarn Cat because one or other of the students has deleted something on one of the computers in the computer room. But she talked and talked for ages and ate into my class time cutting my lesson down to about 35 minutes which was annoying as I wanted to give them some revision before the 3 days of Final Tests start on Wednesday.

I discovered by asking today that the English tests for each of the six classes will be on Wednesday afternoon which is perfect for me because, as the only English teacher here now, I will have to mark all the papers and I was concerned that my planned getaway on Friday might be jeopardised.

The weather appears to be a-changing moving from the rainy season to the cool season though cool just means a little less hot, not cool as you in the UK might think of it. On the other hand, the Thai Met Office is saying that the Northeast will be affected by storm Haitang

TUESDAY 27th SEPTEMBER

I am not sure what I will be doing tomorrow or Thursday as the Director previously said I would not be needed for any invigilating. If I find that I really am not needed for anything then I may request that I depart early for the holidays. I see no point hanging around with nothing to do though I want to make sure they pay me before I leave.

I also need to talk to the Director about pay for October. The Thai teachers will be paid as normal even though, apart from two or three days at the start, they will have the whole of the month off. Foreign teachers are often not paid during holidays so it would not be a surprise if the Director says no, but then he wants to keep my interest in Sai Moon and he wants me to follow him to Kumin if he gets the job there so I think the odds are in my favour he’ll pay my salary.

I must also find out exactly which day the school re-opens as November 1st falls on a Tuesday and it may be that the return date will be Monday October 30th which is probably the more logical start date.

Ajarn Kay invited me to come to his home in Roi Et for his nine year old daughter’s birthday party. I couldn’t think quickly enough of a way to say no, so I reluctantly agreed. We left about 2.45pm and about twenty minutes later, after ascertaining I could drive, swapped seats with me and I drove for the next hour and a half. He has a Proton saloon car made in Malaysia which is very comfortable. It is an automatic and has some oomph in the engine.

On the way, I saw many areas where rivers had overflowed into the surrounding fields with large areas under water and the rice crops ruined.

There were lots of children there when we arrived and some adults and people were sitting on mats on the floor eating crabsticks with wasabi sauce or crisps and drinking beer, at least the men were. Thai food was brought in later but the odd thing about get togethers like this is that no rice is provided. One or two people brought their own ‘phitkhao’, a special woven basket containing sticky rice, but that was it. I was starving and really could have done with some rice to fill me up. Although the youngsters left early Mr Kay and his wife’s sisters kept me up till almost midnight. I took some photos and made a video of the party which is on youtube.com

WEDNESDAY 28th SEPTEMBER

On the way to Roi Et yesterday Mr Kay decided for himself that I would want to teach at a school in his village and stay at his house and use a motorbike to get from there to the school and back every day. This is the second or third time that someone has presumed me into a job without asking, first, if I might be interested or what my future plans are etc etc.

I decided to let things ride until this morning when he took me to see the school in question. He used to teach at this school himself and knows all the staff. He told me to walk around and take a look which I did and I saw nothing to tempt me there. Besides, I have no desire to return to teaching in a primary school!

On the way back to Sai Moon I used my trump card to put the whole idea into touch. I am not in a position to make definite plans beyond November because I won’t know my visa situation until then.

It wasn’t till this morning that Mr Kay remembered that he was needed as an invigilator for the first test period in school this morning. He had to ring Mr Yor to get him to cover things until he arrived so we had to race back as fast as possible to Sai Moon.

Although I got changed into my teaching clothes I thought it very unlikely that I would be needed as an invigilator today or at any time during the three days of the Tests. It’s idiotic really!!

With the Director away in Kalasin attending a workshop I asked the Deputy when the school re-opens after the holiday. She said October 25th and then I told her that the Director had previously told me it was Nov 1st or 2nd and it is on the basis of his answer that I have planned my holiday itinerary. In any case, I have a booked flight back from Bangkok to Khon Kaen on October 31st!!

She also said I ought to come back to school on October 6th because it is Ajarn Walida’s birthday and there will be a party. I suppose that’s ok for Thai teachers here because they all live nearby but I pointed out that on October 6th I will be in Chiang Mai and therefore very costly to return to Sai Moon for the party and then go back to Chiang Mai again.

I really do feel that the Thai Education Ministry should step in to prescribe when State schools open and close. As it stands some students will be lucky to get a few days off during October. This is because those students who won at their sports during the three days of competitive sports in Kalasin city last month have to go to Ubon Ratchathani in mid-October to take part in the regional sports competition and if they win again they will go to Surin to take part in the national finals.

Teachers also need a break. At the moment the Thai teachers at Sai Moon go off on their holiday on October 7th, a week after the students, during which time they will do paperwork – little is computerised! They will return to Sai Moon, as I mentioned, on Oct 25th so they will get eighteen days off at most. There is a teacher’s union in Thailand but it doesn’t appear to do very much.

THURSDAY 29th SEPTEMBER

I spent most of the day marking test papers. So far there’s no Great Leap Forward in terms of the results but I did find evidence of copying. One of the curious things about exams in the schools I have been at is that the teacher/invigilator sits at a desk OUTSIDE the classroom and only very occasionally, if ever, ventures inside the classroom to do any actual invigilating. The result is that students sitting near their friends copy from each other although I have repeatedly told them that if they do so they risk copying the wrong answer as much as copying the right one.

Anyway, I have photographed the M1/M2/M3 test paper and the paper for M4/M5/M6 just so that you can have some fun pitting your wits against the Sai Moon students. ENJOY!!!!

FRIDAY 30th SEPTEMBER

The last Final Tests were held this morning and then the students went home. I finished off marking the test papers and made a chart of all the results which I can use next time round as a comparison as the actual answer papers have to be returned to the ‘academic department’.

I spent the rest of the morning ironing some shirts and packing my bag and having some lunch. Mr Noi has offered to drive me to Namphong this afternoon which is very kind of him but then I did help him out of a hotspot last week when he ran out of money by lending him 1500 baht (about £30). A chunk of his salary comes from the Education Office in Kalasin city and it seems they have a computer glitch so nothing has been paid into Mr Noi’s bank account.

After lunch I had to wait an hour or so for Ajarn Wilaida to return from Nong Kung Si where she withdrew money from the school’s bank account to give to the Director who then gave me September’s salary. He also told me that I wouldn’t get any money for October....boo hoo!!

He also said he feels 80% certain of getting the directorship of the larger school in Kumin and that he should know the result in about a week. He made it clear that he would like me to follow him to Kumin and teach English there. If he gets the job presumably he will start before the new term opens. If so, and assuming the new director at Sai Moon starts promptly, I will have about three weeks to see what he (or just remotely possibly she) is like before having to take the final decision about staying at Sai Moon or going to Kumin.

At Namphong, I caught a bus to Udon Thani where I will stay for 3 nights and then fly to Chiang Mai where I will stay for ten nights before flying south to Bangkok for four nights and will end the holiday by the sea in Pattaya where I will be for my final ten nights. I will be meeting up with friends in each of these places and I expect there will be surprises and new experiences along the way which I will tell you about in my blog. But don’t expect too much because my plan is to eat, and eat some more, rest, enjoy a comfortable bed with proper sheets, luxuriate in a hot shower and generally enjoy civilisation again.

SEPTEMBER 30-OCTOBER 3RD IN UDON THANI

I stayed at the Silver Reef hotel, where I have stayed before, which is located right in the centre of town close to the bus station. I was last here in April and the new extension to the Central Plaza shopping centre has mushroomed upwards and it looks set to be completed late this year or early next year. All the shops on the side of the existing mall which will connect to the new building have closed.

In another part of town, known as UD Town, a vast new IT Centre is being built to complement the hip and futuristic shops and boutiques that are already in business. There’s a large food court there too where I had dinner on two evenings which were very tasty indeed.

On my last full day in Udon torrential rain poured down from about 4pm onwards. I had been in UD Town when the first raindrops fell and I hastened under cover and walked as fast as I could to the covered market which was the nearest point to my hotel that I could reach without getting a soaking. I sat down at an empty table to wait t out but after about an hour it became obvious that no end was in sight so I decided to buy (another!!) umbrella in the market to get me home dry. By the time I stepped out of the covered area to go back to my hotel the rainwater was about 4” deep on the road and there was no alternative but to wade through it in my flip-flops!

By the morning all the rainwater had disappeared and everything was as dry as a bone again. I had a very pleasant lunch at the Bookshop cafe which recently moved to its present site with views of a park with a nice lake. The menu was mostly British/European and ranged from traditional breakfasts to pizza and pasta. I had a jacket potato covered with tuna mayonnaise and sweetcorn and an iced coffee. It was very nice but I think there could have been more mayonnaise as it was a bit on the dry side.

About 5.30pm I got a tuk tuk to take me and my bags to the airport where my flight was at 7.25pm for the one hour trip to Chiang Mai. Everything went very smoothly and I arrived in my Chiang Mai hotel, the one I have stayed in for the last few visits to the city, safe and sound about 9pm.

Posted by talismanic 03:29 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

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