09.05.2011 - 27.05.2011
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==Monday 9th May==
We had to get up at 5am this morning in order to have breakfast and get to school on time.
School started properly today though much of the morning was taken up with bringing the desks etc back into some classrooms which had been cleared for other use last Friday. The Director told me that he wants me to take one class, at each of the six levels, each week and to concentrate on conversation, reading and listening. The remaining English periods will be taken by the Thai English teacher. It's only a trial for this week to see how it works out but I am not really happy since I will only have six classes out of a possible 17 each week and nothing at all on Mondays. I don't want to die of boredom!! In the evening I played snooker again with Mr Noi, the Director and a couple of other teachers.
You may recall that last term Mr Noi gave me a Buddhist amulet on a chain to wear around my neck. It wasn’t something I wanted but I felt I could not refuse him but he inwardly irritated me by feeling my chest to check if I was wearing it at every opportunity. It was Mr P. who came to my rescue because he asked to have it. I hesitated because I thought that this was happening behind Mr Noi’s back and he would, rightly, be angry if I gave his gift away to someone else without his knowledge. But the Director assured me Mr Noi knew and that everything would be ok. They realised, he told me, that I am not a Buddhist and that the amulet would not have the same meaning for me as it did for them. I felt only too happy to pass the amulet over if the truth be known!
==Tuesday 10th May==
I have decided to buy a car. A friend of mine in Chiang Mai has one for sale - the one we drove to Phayao in to go to Phu Langka - and it will suit my purpose for the next six months. The head of English here has a car parts business in Nong Khai and she has checked all the details for me. It is a dual fuel Honda Civic LX which has petrol and LPG....this is good because LPG is only about 12 baht a litre (about 25p) making it far cheaper than petrol which is about 63p a litre here. The price is 70,000 baht (about £1400) and he has no agreed to buy it back from me for 50,000 baht when I leave Sai Moon. This arrangement will save me the hassle of having to transfer ownership and the cost of doing so, and will also relieve me of the problem of selling it in six months when I leave here which will be far more difficult in the countryside than in Chiang Mai. I played snooker again this evening.
Wednesday 11th May
I had the new M1 class this morning. Their attentive young faces were a joy to behold. They are still finding their feet in their new school and are not boisterous, cheeky or lazy yet, but I feel sure they will be soon enough. I deliberately ignored them when saw them around school last week and never smiled or indicated I had noticed them. I feel I was too friendly to everyone last year (ie last term) and students will take liberties, even Thai students do!
Mr Noi asked me to play snooker again tonight (with two other teachers) but I feel reluctant because I don’t want to become bored with it through playing it too often. On the other hand, there is precious little else to do around here other than eating, sleeping, or being at school.
I have been hearing a lot about Lady O and couldn’t work out who or what anyone was talking about. I thought, perhaps, that there had been some scandal back home of such magnitude that it was a news item here. I also thought that Lady Gaga might have a Thai competitor. But not. I eventually got to the bottom of it when I realised that people were really trying to say the word ‘radio’. It just goes to show how easily misunderstandings can occur!!
As someone with long legs, and not being an athlete, I have often thought them more of a hindrance than a benefit. But there is a distinct benefit to having long legs in Thailand and that is I always get the front seat which is far more comfortable than being squashed in the back!
==Thursday 12th May==
After school at 3.30 Mr Panakhun drove me to Namphong on his way home (in Wang Saphung) where I caught a bus to Udon Thani city. Two hours later I was checking in to the Silver Reef hotel again and meeting up with a friend of mine. His family live in Nong Bua Lamphu and he invited me to his sister’s wedding which will take place at the family home on Sunday.
==Friday 13th May==
A day spent shopping and relaxing in Udon. I didn’t buy anything exciting but it was nice to have a look around.
==Saturday 14th May==
My friend and I took a bus to Nong Bua Lamphu where we caught another smaller bus to the nearest main road junction to his village. At the junction we were met by two of his family on motorbikes who took us to the family home.
When we got there we were immediately offered food, as is the custom, and offered a glass of Leo beer. I sat and drank some beer with others and watched the preparations being made for the wedding party tomorrow. Nothing fancy, just plastic chairs and tables set up under shade giving awnings.
In the afternoon I went to see the first day of the nearby village festival where the main Ban Fai, from other nearby villages, are on show and groups of traditional Isaan dancers from the villages where the Ban Fai came from compete for honours. Several enormous and heavily decorated floats were lined up each bearing a large rocket which will be launched tomorrow from a different site. Despite the rain, the dancers all danced and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves hugely. There are some photos of the scene in my gallery.
Living in a village and having an extended family means that there are legions of helpers. The next door neighbour’s son, who is at university in Bangkok studying Maths, came to visit along with five other fellow Maths students. Later in the evening my friend and I went to the neighbour’s house to join the students who wanted to watch Man City play Stoke on TV and to drink beer or whisky.
Suddenly, before the end of the game everyone got up and I was told we were moving back to my friend’s home though I wasn’t sure why. It turned out that the students were assisting in an important part of the pre-wedding ritual and, along with others, would be working through the night helped by the whisky. If you dislike blood and gore then disregard the relevant photos in my gallery and move on now to the next paragraph. The ritual involves dismembering a cow’s carcass. About a dozen people, sitting cross-legged on the concrete floor in a circle, cut the meat from every bone on the carcass and then minced it by repeatedly chopping it with a cleaver on a cutting board. Being Thailand, there was a good deal of joshing and laughing in the process but it was a bloody business and even the intestines were chopped and saved. The whole thing would be a health and safety officer’s worst nightmare I think!
Some other people, not involved in the ritual, played Hi-Lo in a corner of the room. This is an illegal gambling game where people bet on whether the numbers on two dice are higher or lower than the previous throw. They can also bet on the actual numbers on the dice. One person acts as bank, and before each throw the dice are lined up in the middle of a small plate. A woven cap is placed on top and the plate is lifted up and shaken slightly – just enough to turn the dice - and then put down again. The game takes place on a 3x2ft plastic sheet on which is printed all combinations of the dice. Players place their bets – at this game the bets were 100 baht (about £2) or less, though the sums can multiply. The cap is then lifted and the winners and losers sorted out quickly. I was unable to fathom exactly how the winners and winnings were calculated as there seemed to be no logic in the process. But, as with any game, or in real life, the bank always wins in the end. Who gets to be banker and what happens to his ‘winnings’ I can’t say as I never discovered. There is a photo of the game in my gallery.
==Sunday 15th May==
Things start early in Thai villages and by about 9am most of the guests had gathered at the house. A coach had also arrived with guests of the groom from Si Bun Ruang which is not far from Nong Bua Lamphu city.
I was invited upstairs to see the bride in her finery and I took a photo. She looked very beautiful sitting on the bed in the small room. The only other room upstairs was where the ceremony took place and about thirty people crammed in and sat on the floor. As I had arrived early I sat with my back to the wall and could see what was happening.
Before the ceremony began, a large wad of 1000 baht banknotes, which had been donated by the families and relatives, was laid out in a fan in the centre of a small group of close relatives of the couple who acted as witnesses I suppose. The money was gathered up and put away safely. I estimate it amounted to about £1000 or a bit more.
The bride and groom, dressed in cream coloured finery, sat on cushions facing a large ‘pan-na’ (a large decorative creation made from palm and other leaves – see the photo) and a holy man (though not a monk) from the village sat on the other side of the ‘pan-na’ and performed the ceremony and said the prayers etc.
At a certain stage a cord was unravelled and passed around the two bridesmaids, the two male pages (?) and wrapped around the bride and groom’s heads to symbolise union. This was followed by a blessing with the equivalent of holy water and some leaves. At the end, the short white cotton strings which until then had been attached to the ‘pan-na’ were handed out to everyone present and they came forward, in turn, to tie a string around both wrists of the happy couple while wishing them happiness and good luck. Additional money was also given at this point which was deposited in a large urn. There are photos in my gallery to set the scene and illustrate what happened.
In the afternoon I went to see the Ban Fai at a site next to a reservoir. Launch frames had been set up, one for larger rockets and another which could launch 3-4 smaller rockets simultaneously. Food and other stalls lined the track leading to the site including a few that sold rockets that could be launched by hand or by plunging the supporting stick into the ground and lighting the fuse. Needless to say, ‘elf and safety didn’t get a look in!
==Monday 16th May==
About 10am this morning I caught a bus to Nong Khai, about one hour away, and then got a tuk tuk to take me to the immigration check point on the Thai side of the Friendship Bridge leading into Laos. Having done the same thing the last time I needed another visa stamp on my passport it was all straightforward.
During my daytrip to Vientiane (literally, the City of Sandalwood) I visited three main sights and there are photos of all of them in my gallery.
Patuxai is a huge memorial archway, not unlike the Arc de Triomphe, which is surrounded by well manicured gardens, some fountains and one or two very strange warning signs. Construction began in 1957 and was completed in 1968 and it is the most prominent landmark in the city. While the arc de Triomphe in Paris inspired the architecture, the design incorporates typical Lao motifs including a ‘Kinnari’, a mythical bird woman. Energetic visitors can climb to the top of the monument from where there is a panoramic view of the city.
The Buddha Park, built in 1958 and some 28km from the centre of the city, contains a lot of weird and fantastical Buddhist and Hindu sculpture including a huge sleeping Buddha image.
The Pha That Luang is the most holy site in Laos with its enormous golden stupa. The original was built in 1566 by King Setthathirath, and was restored in 1953. The stupa is 45 meters tall and is believed to contain a relic of Buddha himself.
I also visited a temple where some storks live but omitted to note the temple’s name.
Mr P. had been to Vientiane over the weekend and had taken Ajaan Joy with him. On his way back to Sai Moon he stopped off at my hotel to collect me which was nice of him. First, we drove to Na Klang, which is along the road going west towards Nong Bua Lamphu, where Joy had parked her car at the local hospital. Having dropped Joy off we did a u-turn and headed west and back to Sai Moon.
In the evening I was invited by a couple of students to go to a small buffet/barbecue restaurant in Kham Yai which was nice.
Every time I go away from Sai Moon my rooms seems to fill with insects of every kind. When I got back today and entered my room there were insects all over the place and I spent a while sweeping them away.
One of the striking differences between schools in Thailand and in the UK is that students will often come into school in their own time to do things. No, not to study, but to do things like clear the scrub between rubber trees – as some students did during this holiday – or to sow seeds, or to help with the landscaping work that continues. I can’t imagine any UK student wanting to spend any of their own precious time at school, can you ?
==Wednesday 18th May ==
As soon as morning assembly was over it started to pour with rain and it continued all day without the whisper of a breeze to blow the black clouds away.
The rain always brings out the insects. The trees surrounding the teacher’s house may seem nice but they harbour a multitude of different insects the most irritating of which are the termites (malaang) which, after hatching, turn into flying beetles and then they shed their wings and crawl away to the nearest place of interest to them.
Nature seems to have provided the termites with a clock which is activated by the rain and at this time of year, in their flying state, they congregate by the thousand around any light source. They buzz around at random and often get into one’s hair or fall down one’s shirt collar. For the tukay lizards, or gekkos, it is a time of plenty. They lie in wait for an unfortunate malaaang to settle on their section of wall and then they dart out and snatch them and then race back to the safety of their gap in the wall. During the night the malaang shed their wings and in the morning there are vast piles of fluttering wings and insect bodies littering the floor.
Talking of insects, there are scorpions here too. I never knew this until I saw a live scorpion the other day. And there are giant millipedes too. One kind is the shape and colour of a cigar and moves slowly but surely along the ground. Another kind is dark orange, has snail-like horns, and has a vicious bite which may need hospital treatment. I saw one of the latter the other day as well but the teachers with me pounced on it and killed it before I could take a photo for you.
In certain trees there are huge gathering of cicadas which make a loud racket which rises and falls in unison as if they were under the baton of a conductor.
==Thursday 19th May==
Another rainy windless day. This evening I was taken to the village sala where about 30 women were rehearsing their traditional Mor Lam dance routines. About 20-odd different dances were rehearsed and, to me, they all seemed to be perfect. The rehearsal took place outside the sala on the concrete forecourt and most of the women chose to dance in their bare feet. Music was recorded and played through a PA system. Once piece of music followed another and apart from a couple of water breaks they rehearsed from about 8-9.30pm.
I am not sure when the actual performance will be as I have been given conflicting dates and locations but it may be next weekend in which case I hope to take some photos.
==Friday 20th May==
A dry sunny day for a change though there was a short torrential downpour after lunch. I think something has changed this year because Mr Yor and Mr Hot no longer take care of my breakfasts. Nothing has been said directly or indirectly but I guess it may either have something to do with money or with the possibility that they are fed up of the doing the chore. On the other hand, everyone keeps asking me if I have had breakfast and sometimes Ajaan Tuk, the English teacher, asks me to join her and some of the other female teachers in having some food in the office before assembly which is what happened this morning.
I was invited to stay the weekend with Mr Kay and his wife at their new house in Roi Et province and we drove there in Mr Weang’s pick-up (he lives in neighbouring Yasothon province) because Mr Kay’s wife is using their new Proton car.
==Saturday 21st May==
I was left on my own most of the morning which was something I anticipated from my previous visit and had packed my laptop and a book to while away the time.
Around midday we went to visit a relative of My Kay’s wife who has a small orchid nursery. She grows a small selection of Thai orchids for sale at a night market in Phanom Phria, a sizeable town a few miles away. I took some photos of the colourful plants which are in my gallery.
Afterwards we drove into Phanom Phria and I was asked if I liked spaghetti, and I said yes though I wondered why I was being asked the question. We stopped outside a cafe/bakery and went inside. It turned out their menu didn’t include spaghetti so we didn’t eat there. We drove to another restaurant a few blocks away – a large, clean, colourful place with photos of the dishes on the menu on a giant board. Having said yes to the spaghetti question I felt obliged to have it. The waiter said the normal sauce was finished, would I like seafood ? The dish turned out to be really nice. It was more like noodles with seafood in a tasty sauce. The menu contained some healthy options and Mr Kay’s wife ordered some finely chopped vegetables wrapped in rice paper which came with a chilli dipping sauce and a peanut sauce. The presentation of the dishes was good so I took photos to show you.
In the evening we went to the bustling night market in Phanom Phria. I took a photo of the entrance to give you an idea. Everything you can think of was for sale at the market stalls from coat hangers to fairy cakes. Mr Kay forgot to pack some black shoes to wear with his suit tomorrow when he goes to Maha Sarakam University to continue his Master’s Degree course so he bought some at a stall. All the shoes on offer were 100 baht (about £2) and had been made in China – what isn’t these days ? I bought another pair of good flip-flops but they were made in Thailand and cost just 49 baht!
At the orchid stall I bought three flowering plants, complete with wire hangers, which I thought would brighten up the teacher’s house where I live. The three orchids were 150 baht, just £3.
==Sunday 22nd May==
Mr Kay went off this morning to Maha Sarakham for another day at the university there as part of his Master’s Degree. There was nothing else for me to do except write my blog, catch up on emails and watch TV which altogether was not very exciting and it was hot and sticky as well.
==Monday 23rd May==
I had to get up at 5am again this morning for the drive back to Sai Moon with Mr Kay and to be there by 8am. Driving through the countryside and villages and small towns in the early morning is always interesting. Farmers are already out and about in their fields; monks can be seen walking along the road singly or in small groups of three or four in single file going about their daily business of collecting alms, sometimes one can see alms givers kneeling in readiness with food to offer.
Later, it rained heavily and thousands of insects emerged after the rain stopped. Quite where they hide when it is dry is unknown. A wooden frame with mosquito netting has been attached to the windows in my room. What I didn’t realise until this evening was that there is a very narrow gap at the bottom. I was sitting at a table using my laptop and I heard a ticking sound. I looked around and saw hundreds of small black insects, about the size of a small ladybird, squeezing through this gap and dropping to the floor and making the ticking noise as they landed.
I got out some wide sticky tape and tried to block the gap and it took several layers of tape to prevent the insects from pushing their way underneath it. I then got the brush to clear away the hundreds of insects that were gathered on the floor. There were also many smaller flying insects buzzing around the neon light which had somehow invaded my room despite care opening and closing the door. I tried spraying them with an insect killer but they didn’t seem to notice. Then Mr Weang told me the best way was to switch off the light for about an hour and they will all disappear. This remedy works a treat, the only drawback being where and how to spend the hour!!
==Tuesday 24th May==
Mr Yor came back from a study trip to Bangkok where he has been for a week along with other new teachers from schools around Thailand. He has been much missed, not only for his sense of humour but for the way he takes care of everything around the teacher’s house.
Early this evening I heard a strange sound that seemed to come from the trees surrounding the teacher’s house. It was a single high-pitched note that sounded like a chainsaw cutting wood and I asked what it was. There seems to be some doubt as to the type of animal/bird that produces this sound and its name but I hope I can find out soon as it is a weird and abnormal sound that comes and goes and I have only heard it after dark.
One of the senior female teachers, who has an important admin role as well and thus has her own office held a small party in her office this evening. Mats had been placed on the floor and by the time Mr Yor, Mr Pong and I got there a large pile of ‘goong’ (prawns) had been already been shelled and eaten. There was debris everywhere. There were other dishes too but as I had already eaten I didn’t have anything more I just enjoyed a few glasses of Leo beer. I am still not quite sure what this little get together was in aid of but it was quite pleasant. Just as I was leaving with Mr Yor to return to the teacher’s house a downpour started. Luckily, it took a few minutes for the rains to gain strength so we got home fairly dry.
==Wednesday 25th May==
Fresher air this morning, not so hot and sticky. The school internet system, which was installed during the holidays and which consists of a long rang wi-fi signal from about 7km away which is picked up by a rod-like aerial that was placed atop an existing pylon at the school, still does not work. It worked for a while, apparently, before the school opened but something has gone wrong with the server, which was also installed at school, and it is now being repaired so I am dependent on my AIS 12call air card which works quite well in my room in the teacher’s house but only works sometimes, and then usually very slowly, in the office.
I tried an alternative, DTAC, air card this morning but I couldn’t access the internet with it but it was worth a try.
==Thursday 26th May==
The wet weather has caused a pile-up of washing. There are two students living at the teacher’s house at the moment, both local born, and one of them did his washing and put it on the line to dry this morning although the sky looked very grey and outlook uncertain to me. But he evidently knew better because it brightened up and there were long sunny intervals and no rain.
I am really looking forward to the arrival of the car I am buying because I had to get a lift into Non Kung Si today to go to the bank.
One of the other new things in school is the banner on the wall in the verandah which illustrates the school staff structure. There is a photo in my gallery and you will see that all the Thai teachers are wearing white uniforms. Teachers have to buy the uniforms and they wear these on certain formal occasions including Mother’s Day and Father’s Day....no, no, no not those days!! In Thailand Father’s Day marks the King’s Birthday and Mother’s Day the Queen’s birthday and it is common for teachers to have to wear them for staff structure banners like this one though they must never smile openly (as I am doing) as it is disrespectful so they stay stony-faced.
==Friday 27th May==
Mr Panakun has taken to checking the school register at Friday morning assembly and it has had a remarkable effect so far. Last term even I noticed that certain students either turned up late or didn’t come to school at all. This term, students who are late are questioned and the parents of those who are absent will have to come to school to see what the problem is. Students do, sometimes, write letters of absence which are lodged in the register on the relevant day.
In case you are wondering, the registers are completed at assembly by the teachers and at every class during the day the teacher has to mark those present again and there is a box where the teacher signs and prints his/her name and states what the learning topic of that class has been.
The Sai Moon village festival is tomorrow when there will be Ban Fai and much more.