01.08.2011 - 07.08.2011
MONDAY 1st AUGUST
Just as I was leaving the teacher’s house this morning I spotted a very large stick insect perched on one of the stools by the outdoor table where we have meals. Its long thin body was about six inches long and laying its fore and hind legs flat would add another 6” which gives you an idea of its size. I hastily took a photo for you!!
I learned this morning from the internet that the non-stop rain we have been having is due to Storm Nok-Ten which has already devastated parts of Luzon in the Philippines and has swept across parts of southern China on its way here and a number of people have died from mudslides and the like. In Thailand in the north and north east it has mainly caused flooding in some areas and one person has died so far. Around Sai Moon, the rice paddies are full and elsewhere the rainwater just drains away. I don’t know how deep the water table is but the ground seems to have an inexhaustible capacity to absorb the rains.
I am not sure what is happening about Kut Don. I wasn’t collected this morning so I remained at Sai Moon. Mr Not, who arranged for me to teach at Kut Don, has some kind of unfriendliness with my school Director though I have no idea what that is all about. The upshot is that Mr Not believes that Mr Panakhum doesn’t want me to teach at Kut Don. I see no reason why not as I have no classes at Sai Moon on Mondays and I usually fill my time on my laptop. I will speak with Mr P. at the next opportunity.
For only the second time since I have been here morning assembly had to be indoors in the ‘sala’ and I was told that in deference to the death last week of Princess Bejaratana all government employees in Thailand (teachers, police, civil servants etc) have to wear black or white or a combination tomorrow. Non-government employees can do so too and no doubt most will given the God-like status of the royal family here.
The students continued decorating their classrooms today in readiness for the inspection this week. New posters have been fixed to the walls, the glass covering the portraits of the King and Queen and the Buddhist flag which hang over the whiteboards have been cleaned and look shiny and new. What the classrooms really need is for all the old bits of sticky tape dotting the walls to be scraped off and the walls given a lick of paint before putting up all the new posters and paper flower decorations. See the photo in the gallery to see what I mean!
I only hope all this effort, and the effort to finish planting the shrubs and flowers, and the effort to create a new herb garden etc etc, will not be wasted. If, when it is all finished and the inspection is history, the decorations and planting are left to deteriorate (as I suspect they will) then it will be a great shame but typical. For all their piousness about the environment I don’t think ordinary Thai people care very much given that domestic rubbish is thrown everywhere, given that non-degradable plastic bags are strewn all over the place, given that you rarely find a bin (even in Bangkok) to put your rubbish into, plus so many other similar givens. Or it may be that people have become so used to the state of things that they are indifferent. I am not sure which it is.
Mr Hot and some students have spent a lot of time and effort creating a compost making enclosure. They used some large concrete rings which had been removed from elsewhere, stacked one on top of another and thus formed six barrel-sized containers in which they put leaf and other material which will eventually turn into a form of compost. They have fenced the area, created a gateway and have even built a bench by the entrance for visitors to rest. See the photos in the gallery.
TUESDAY 2nd AUGUST
I omitted to mention that a week ago some of the senior students have been taking it in turns to read out the proverb of the day to the assembled students. The proverbs, if that is what they are, have been painted on to rectangular pieces of wood in English with the Thai translation underneath. Ajaan Took told me that the students themselves have chosen the proverbs from a book but they seem to have chosen some rather obscure ones such as ‘Every coin has two sides’ and ‘Four eyes are better than one’. I have been trying to see the proverb book but I have not managed to do so as yet.
One student had a lucky escape from embarrassment because I happened to catch sight of a proverb board stored under the teacher’s desk when I took her M6 class. While the students were occupied with a task I took out the board to see which proverb it had on it. It said: ‘Time and tide wait for on man’. Yes, that’s right, ‘on’. I told her about the mistake and she was very thankful.
And what will happen to these proverb boards you might ask ? Well, they will be nailed to the trees at school for students to gaze at or gaze past every day. The depressing thing is that this is exactly what every other school in Thailand does and when you go to any school you are guaranteed to see these neglected and fading boards hanging everywhere at crazy angles abandoned and long forgotten.
This morning, at a teacher’s meeting after assembly, we were informed that the inspection tomorrow has been postponed until next week because some of the inspecting directors have to go to Laos. I can’t think of any reason why school directors go to Laos apart from the underlying reason why my Director and the others went to Laos back in February which was to see their ‘gigs’ (girlfriends on the side).
The Director’s away inspecting other schools so the Deputy is in charge and at the meeting she reminded the teachers of their duties regarding the clean-up. My duty, she said, is to go round taking photos which suits me just fine!
The Deputy also announced that there is going to be an anti-drugs, and alcohol and smoking awareness talk for the students next Friday.
The postponement means that there’s more time to clean up and prepare for the inspection so students set-to cleaning windows, brushing cobwebs off ceilings, putting up more signs and cleaning out long disused ablution areas and toilets. I don’t imagine for a second that the cleanliness will be maintained and that the whole exercise will have to be repeated next year.
The weekend after next, which is a three-day break, I am going to Udon Thani for one night and then Nong Khai for two nights and I will cross the Friendship Bridge into Laos in order to get another stamp on my passport to give me another 90 days in Thailand.
The rain stopped this morning though it looked very threatening. There have been reports of floods in Nong Khai and Udon Thani and other eastern and northern provinces.
WEDNESDAY 3rd AUGUST
It rained overnight and into this morning so we had assembly in the ‘sala’ again. Most of the cleaning up has been done now though some classroom decorations haven’t been completed yet so more work was done on them this morning but otherwise the school teaching schedule was back to normal.
THURSDAY 4th AUGUST
This morning I went into Khon Kaen partly because after the first period with M4 I had a free day and nothing else to do and partly because it was an opportunity to see at first-hand how the Thai system works when applying for a passport.
One of the M6 students applied for the passport and it was interesting to see the difference with the UK system. First of all, the nearest place to make an application is a government office in Khon Kaen which, in this case, was 50 miles away from my school. There is only one office in Khon Kaen where applications can be made and I anticipated a long queue, but there wasn’t one.
The office was a long not very wide rectangular one with a lady at a desk by the door handing out application forms and a call number, answering questions and measuring people’s height if they do not already know it.
The questions on the application form consist of eight lines only: name, address, id card number, phone number, the id card numbers of both parents and their names and phone numbers and that is about it.
The form is then taken next door when your number is called by the automatic queuing system. Someone at another desk checks the application and the back-up documents including the relevant id cards and the Home Book.
Every Thai family has a ‘Ta Bien Bahn’ or House Registration Book which gives an official proof of residency and is used when applying for a job or anything official or transferring anything.
Once the paperwork has been checked a passport will be issued which has to be collected from the office in due course though I am not sure how long it will take as yet because the student did not have his parent’s id cards to hand so will have to apply again another day.
The cost of a passport is considerably less than in the UK at only 1200 baht (about £24). Filling out the application form and checking the documents took about 30 minutes in all, so very quick really.
FRIDAY 5th AUGUST
While I was away from school yesterday chairs were arranged in rows in the ‘sala’, the stage front was dressed with colourful cloth, and the loudspeaker stacks were put in place. All of this was for a presentation this morning by Huai Mek’s finest policemen about drug, alcohol and smoking abuse. All the students had been issued with bright pink t-shirts linked to the presentation. The teachers were each given a fetching pink polo shirt. Both had the anti drugs message on the back.
After assembly students registered for the presentation and then took their seats. As always with these kind of events there was a jester to warm up the audience with jokes, a song or two and some clapping routines. In this case it was a policeman and he kept going for about thirty minutes and laughed at his own jokes far more than the students did who had probably heard them all before. Everyone was present from the school and there were about twenty worthies from Huai Mek and the village who sat in VIP seats at the side.
About 9.15am the chief of police arrived and, as always, there was the lighting of the candles on the altar then someone recited a script from the lectern whilst everyone stood and then handed the mike over to the uniformed police presenter who made a lengthy speech.
About ten thirty the event actually started with the uniformed policeman talking about facebook and the evils of the internet. There were no visuals during the morning at all and if I had been a student and able to understand what was being said I feel sure I would have fallen asleep very quickly.
One of the things that is rather good at the sort of events is that they bring refreshments with them to dispense to the VIPs staff and teachers. First off was a nice cup of coffee with a packaged slice of cake with the end of the plastic packet already cut off for easy access. Later, there was a cold fruit drink. Water was on hand too and fans were placed around the ‘sala’ to keep everyone cool.
On this occasion, lunch was provided for all the students and staff as well though by the time I got there supplies were running very low and some students had yet to be fed so I had my lunch upstairs with the Director and the worthies from Huai Mek and some of the police.
As usual, I got asked the same questions that everyone asks and several people pointed out the Som Tam, or Papaya Pok Pok as it is known locally, and pointed to a plate of chicken wings saying ‘chicken’ as if I was from outer space and had never seen or heard of the food before.
After lunch one of the policemen warmed up the students again with some jokes and played a game with them in order to select at random three girls and three boys to come to the front.
For the game, at a command the students had to clap a short sequence and, depending what it was, they had to end either with their hands together as if in prayer or across their chest. Most got it right each time, but a few unlucky pooying and poochai ended up with their hands in the wrong position and had to go to the front and stand facing the audience where they had to repeat a Thai tongue twister to escape and sit down or keep doing it till he/she got it right. Of course, all this was done with endless laughter and good spirits. I was convulsed myself as it was all very visual and I took a few photos for you as well.
Then two monks arrived one of whom talked for most of the second session about the dangers of drugs such as Amphetamines and Yabaa, a Thai drug which is smoked rather like cannabis. A screen had been set up by this time and he showed some short films and a series of clips and stopping them and starting them with narrations in between. Perhaps the thinking is that as monks are held in such high respect by everyone the students would take more heed of the message than if it was given by a policeman given that the police do not generally have anything like the same respect as the holy men.
SATURDAY 6th AUGUST
All the students came back into school this morning for part two of the anti drugs/drink and smoking talk. The head of the Tambon (district) spoke for the first hour or so and then someone from Huai Mek police station and someone from Huai Mek hospital took over. There were no visual images today, no gruesome photos of someone dying from an overdose, or lurid photos of the effect of smoking on your lungs, or of some drunk lying senseless in the gutter as there would surely be for such a talk in the UK or any western country.
At first glance there seemed to be a full student attendance but looking around more carefully even I could see there were certain people missing so there were probably more absent than that.
I didn’t spend all morning at the talk mainly because I had no idea it was being stretched into a two-day affair. I did wonder why so many students were coming into school and assumed there must be some work project and wandered down to take some photos. I wasn’t dressed appropriately (t-shirt and shorts in case you are wondering!!) so I didn’t stay very long. I did some clothes washing and other domestic chores and got changed into trousers and the pink anti-drugs polo shirt I was given yesterday but didn’t wear and went back about 11.30 to be in time for lunch.
Two six foot tables had been laid for the staff lunch while the students had to queue up for their lunch and eat where they could. It must have been a quiet policing day in the area because about a dozen casually dressed (plainclothes ??) of Huai Mek’s finest police all in their pink polo shirts also ate at the table. So obviously there were no drug dealers or other criminals to catch today.
In between visits to the talk I went to the purified water outlet, to refill a couple of plastic bottles that I keep in my room, when I spotted a giant butterfly or more likely a moth. It had mottled brown colouring but what caught my eye were the large wings which, when fully opened, must be about 8-9” from tip to tip. It manoeuvred itself into the gap under the water machine and up into a dark space inside the metal cabinet. I had my camera both times I went to the talk but not when I went to get the water. Grrrrrrhhh!!
The day ended for the students about 4pm – compared to a 3.30 end to a normal weekday - by which time they must have been in a daze after being talked at for so long. There was a bit of audience participation but not a lot.
The Director and four teachers left Sai Moon by car late this afternoon for Bangkok where they will attend an exhibition of displays by all 77 provinces in Thailand of their educational achievements, their crafts and culture though I am not sure what this self-promotion is expected to achieve. They will come back tomorrow tired and dishevelled I expect because they will not be staying overnight in an hotel but in the car to save expense. Good luck to them I say!
From about 5pm I was alone at the house because Mr Yor was at the book fair in Bangkok, Mr Kay was at home in Roi Et and Mr Narongsak went to spend a night in Khon Kaen. I cooked up a fried supper using some leftover mushrooms, onion, carrot and rice which was very nice.
SUNDAY 7th AUGUST
One of the M1 students knocked on my door at 7am this morning hoping to be able to play a game on my laptop. Yes, 7am and I was still in bed hoping to sleep a bit more. Anyway, I told him to come in and he played some internet games while I snoozed on. I figured it would be less hassle to let him in than saying no and having him pester me.
I didn’t do very much today other than relax and do some chores. An M6 students came round in the afternoon and asked if I would like to go with him on his motorbike to Non Kung Si market. As I had never been to this market before I jumped at the chance.
It is a larger market than the Saturday evening one at Kham Yai but is similarly split 50/50 between food and non-food stalls. I bought some sliced spring rolls with a dipping sauce and some vegetables for dinner.
We also went to Tesco Lotus in the town itself where I got some more food and a carton of fresh orange juice. This is the third such carton I have bought recently and I have offered glasses of juice to Mr Yor and other teachers and a couple of students but they all refuse to drink it. Likewise the two bags of apples I’ve bought. They say yes when I ask if they would like one but they never eat it.
It was the same last week when I went with M6 student, Cola, to Tesco Lotus in Kranuan to buy food for dinner. I insisted on having some vegetables to accompany the squid and pork. Nothing strange, just some baby pak choi, some carrots and some mushrooms. Six Thai people and I ate the meal but I noticed the Thais carefully avoided the carrot chunks in the otherwise very tasty dish.
Talking of squid, whenever I have had squid in the UK, usually at a Thai restaurant, it is always tough and chewy and not so nice and in supermarkets I have only seen the tubular pieces of squid which I assume to be from tentacles.
At any Tesco Lotus here you will see a mountain of squid on offer. One pile will be small whole squid, another pile will be thick white strips of squid flesh which cooks very quickly and are delicious to eat and not tough or chewy in any way. The dish we had had pork and squid mixed together and it was lovely.
In passing, Tesco here will even cook your fish for you if you want and for free too!! Tomorrow sees the much-anticipated environmental inspection. I wonder what will happen ?
PS:== Thank you for all your comments so far. I read them all and they were very welcome so keep ‘em coming!!==