08.08.2011 - 20.08.2011
MONDAY 8TH AUGUST
Assembly was in the ‘sala’ this morning because of the wet weather and after the national anthem and prayer the students who missed the roll call on Saturday were called forward for a ticking off from Mr Noi. There was no punishment as such, though a 30 minute ramble from Mr Noi could be construed as such!
This is the crunch week as far as my ‘salary’ is concerned. It has not arrived so far and I had a word with both Mr Weang and Ajan Took this morning to find out what the situation is. The cheque has been produced, I was told, but it not only needs the signature of three teachers but also Mr Panakhun’s signature too. With people away so much it has been hard to get the signatures apparently but I have been promised the money this week so I will see what happens.
This afternoon the Head of Education came to Sai Moon along with some Directors of other Kalasin schools to carry out their environmental inspection. I took a group photo of everybody before the inspection got underway. They took just over an hour inspecting things but only the displays and documentation etc inside. I didn’t see them wandering round looking at the landscaping, or the newly cleaned toilets or canteen, or the compost area, or anywhere else where so much effort has been exerted. So I was left wondering what exactly was the point of the whole exercise ?
I happened to see some students bending down to get a closer look at something on the ground and I strolled over to see what they had found. It turned out to be a darker lizard than I have seen before but the interesting thing was that it was by its nest which was full of small white eggs of about half an inch in diameter. Luckily, I had my camera and took a photo for you.
TUESDAY 9th AUGUST
Back to normal at school today as far as the timetable goes. I had a scare with my laptop because I had set it up in one of the offices in the only building that can receive the school’s wi-fi signal. While I was upstairs teaching M5 and M6 some student/s came into the room, which has two pcs set up and working, and fiddled with my laptop. I had been using it before the first class and put it into sleep mode before my class started. This meant no one could use it without knowing the password.
After my two classes I returned to my laptop and tried to get it working but I could get nothing up on screen though the task light was blinking showing that the system was working at something. I tried switching it off and I tried rebooting it, but neither worked. Even when I switched off, the task light continued to blink. I assumed a student had repeatedly pressed the ‘on’ button in the hope of getting my laptop to work and had confused the system. I waited a long time for something to happen but nothing did and I began to think my laptop would never work again.
I eventually managed to get it to boot up successfully by holding down the ‘on’ button for more than 10 seconds. This had the effect of totally switching everything off. I waited a few minutes and then switched it on as normal and luckily it powered up and came back to life and I heaved a big sigh of relief!!
WEDNESDAY 10th AUGUST
The problem about my ‘salary’ is getting more complicated. The school has no money in the budget and for some reason the share of my salary has stopped coming from the administrative office in Kalasin city. The Director’s new plan is to shave some money off the budget for a forthcoming trip by M6 to a science exhibition next week, and to shave some money from the budget from the forthcoming 3-day inter-school sports festival in Kalasin where Sai Moon teams will be competing. All of this means I will have to wait till almost the end of this month for July’s salary and what will happen about this month’s salary who knows ??
Preparations continued today for Mother’s Day tomorrow. I find it very odd that so much is left to the last minute at every school I have been to. At the back of the stage large sign stating the name of the school, the event and the date was being painted onto large polystyrene boards. The words were the decoratively cut out with a blade and it took Mr Weang until 1am doing all of this.
THURSDAY 11th AUGUST
Yet another day of no classes this time because it is Mother’s Day when the students pay special respect to their mothers. By 8.45 all the students were in place sitting in the ‘sala’ and most of the mothers had arrived as well.
The students were all in place by about 8.45 and most of the mothers had arrived too. The Director, the Deputy and three other teachers were dressed in their sparkling white No.1 uniforms.
With Mr Noi acting as MC, the Director opened the ceremony with the usual dressing of the altar, lighting of the candles and prayers and then the M1 Ankalung players, who were formed up in a semi circle near the front of the stage, nervously played the National Anthem. They were fine in practice, but this morning the music faded once or twice. Then four girl students in their fine costumes performed a traditional dance
Then twelve mothers were called forward to receive a special certificate of their motherliness from the school Director. The twelve, two mothers representing each of the six classes, were chosen and voted for by each class.
The assembled students then went individually or in groups to their mothers. Not everyone’s mother was there so class groups squatted in from of the mothers representing each class to pay them their respects.
The students with mothers present had a mini bouquet to pin onto her chest and I saw one or two give their mother a hug which is something you never normally see in public.
The school band then took to the stage in a brave attempt to amuse or perhaps impress the audience. It was a good try especially as they had only been rehearsing for a few days but, in reality, it was pretty dire partly due to the lack of rehearsal and partly because of the inadequate amplifiers and dire sound system. The singers couldn’t remember their words and so had the lyrics on pieces of paper on the floor in front of them so they sang with their heads face down which is never a good omen.
It was all over by about 10.45 and I spent the rest of the morning taking photos and packing my things for the weekend. Mr Weang gave me a lift into Kranuan to the bus station and I got a bus to Nam Phong, which is on the main highway between Bangkok and Nong Khai. I only had to wait a few minutes and then I saw two buses approaching. One was a regular single deck coach, the other was a fast double decker, the kind used for long distance journeys. I hesitated because I could see both were pretty full but a nearby stallholder encouraged me to go to the larger bus so I walked over with my luggage. The driver’s assistant opened the door at the front for me and waved me in. Normally, there are steps up to the level of the lower passenger deck but this time there were none and I thought I’d made a mistake by going in by the wrong door. But no mistake, I was being offered a front seat next to the driver who sits at a lower level than the passengers behind him. So I had a front row seat all the way to Udon and I was able to see the control panel from where all the facilities can be switched on or off.
In case you might be interested, keys are required to access five different controls one of which, and something I had not realised before, turned on a wi-fi system throughout the bus. I have never used my laptop in a bus mainly because there is limited space and it would be an upheaval unpacking and repacking it. On the bus coming back I saw one person using an iPad and another a small laptop.
I went to Udon mainly so I could do some shopping there and I spent the night at the Silver Reef hotel where I have stayed before. It was so nice to sleep in a nice soft bed with clean white sheets and to have a proper hot or cold shower and to go out for something good to eat.
FRIDAY 12th AUGUST
Mother’s Day. If I am able to I sometimes get the Bangkok Post on a Friday because it comes with a nice magazine called Guru which is always fun to read. In today’s paper there were many large spaces taken up by companies offering loyal good wishes to the Queen alongside a photograph of her.
Around town (and there is one in front of Sai Moon school as well) large portraits of Her Majesty have been erected often with a small Buddhist style altar for flowers and candles etc.
This morning before breakfast I switched on the tv in my hotel room and every Thai channel was showing devotions to the Queen and all of them seemed to have the same rather stilted format.
Later in the morning I called my friendly tuk tuk driver and he came to my hotel to take me to the immigration office by the Friendship Bridge. He refused payment and said he would wait for me and take me back to my hotel on my re-entry into Thailand.
I passed through immigration, caught the shuttle bus into Laos where I completed the two entry forms, paid 1500 baht (about £30) and then turned round to exit Laos, catch the shuttle bus to re-enter Thailand at immigration where I got a new three-month stamp on my visa. As promised, my tuk tuk was waiting for me. It took just 50 minutes from when I left my tuk tuk to when I returned to the tuk tuk visa mission completed.
It was a nice afternoon so I walked downstream along the road at the side of the Mekong river. It was hot and sticky, but the views were nice and after about a mile I came to the Tree House, a modern glass structure that looked very new, with a subtitle which offered ‘coffee and bread’. It seemed an odd combination so I went inside. It could have been a smart cafe in London or Sydney or some other city with a board above the counter offering all styles of coffee, smoothies and cold teas. There was a chiller display cabinet by the counter which had a range of cakes/desserts in small rectangular aluminium containers such as banoffee pie, cherry cheesecake and about half a dozen others. I had the banoffee pie and an iced coffee and they were both delicious. The coffee was served in what could well have been a vase or the kind of glass container used as a wine carafe.
SATURDAY 13th AUGUST
I had a browse around the Indo-China Market this morning which is full of stuff that most people seem not to want but it is interesting to look at it all the same.
In the afternoon I went to the large Tesco Lotus in Nong Khai where I bought some vintage Cheddar cheese and some Philly which will keep me going for lunch at Sai Moon for the next week. I wanted to get some carrots too, but, strangely, they had none. Also, Tesco Lotus still has the old system for fruit and veg whereby you choose what you want and an assistant will weigh and price it for you. The girls at the checkout will refuse fruit and veg if it is not priced up already. I forgot about this and had to leave some apples behind!
On my way back to the hotel in the late afternoon I spotted a shop which had a dozens of large brightly coloured reels of cotton on the pavement outside. I assume they were being dried in the sun and I took an interesting photo which is in my gallery.
SUNDAY 14th AUGUST
As usual, I had a late breakfast at the hotel and then I spent some time on the internet before packing my things and then checking out. I had lunch at a Belgian/German restaurant, where I have eaten dinner on previous visits to Nong Khai, and it was very nice and filling.
I rang my friendly tuk tuk driver and he came to take me to the bus station where I had to wait about 80 minutes for the next bus to Khon Kaen. The bus left at 2.20 with every seat occupied and an fifteen people or so sitting on small stools placed for them in the aisle. Very soon the bus was like a sauna, hot and sticky and I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if there was an accident. The other problem was that I had picked a seat six rows back from the front and I would somehow have to clamber over the person sitting next to me and them force my way along the aisle with my three bags to get to the exit at the front.
The conductor called me for Namphong rather early and as anticipated I had a real struggle to get my bags together and squeeze by all the other passengers in the aisle. I then had to stand and wait at the front of the bus until we reached Nam Phong where I planned to get the bus to Kranuan.
I was very glad to see some other people at the bus stop because I knew the last bus was in the late afternoon and it was already 5.30pm. After waiting a while I was very glad to see Cola (an M6 Sai Moon student) appear round the corner coming to catch the same bus on his return from Khon Kaen. Only then was I certain that a bus was coming and I would be ok. At Kranuan bus station I was given a lift by Cola’s family back to Sai Moon.
MONDAY 15th AUGUST
No classes today as usual. I think the teaching at Kut Don School has withered. I have heard no more about it and I do not expect to be going there again. It’s not that they do not like me, it’s just that there seems to be a perceived problem between Kut Don and my school Director.
TUESDAY 16th AUGUST
No classes again today! Why ? Because this morning there was to be a presentation by ICT Computer Co. Ltd Bangkok.
The school was ready at 9am but the company phone ahead and said they would be arriving at 9.30 so a movie was shown called Guardians of the Legend of the Guardians featuring animated owls.
It was a very poor presentation. It was confusing and mixed up with the first half hour devoted to logging in which apparently has to be done two or three times before actually accessing anything useful. A lot of the presentation should have been reserved for teachers and it bored the pants off the students.
The software the company provides contains a huge number of different resources and programs most of which are in Thai. But the quality of some of them is poor. In one, the teacher has a whiteboard marker in his hand and proceeded to draw a box on the whiteboard only it would not work and he had to find another pen. But the ink from this pen was so faint it was hard to know what he was drawing. In my opinion, this sort of thing should have been noticed and rerecorded before showing it to clients. In another demo, the teacher’s voice came to a stop mid-sentence and he just stood there looking helpless.
In a snippet from an English lesson, the teacher was singing a song about how certain words are modifiers. The teacher sang and the lyrics on-screen said ‘Every word is modifier, modifier, modifier’. At no point in the lyric was the article used before modifier. In my opinion, this shows the lack of professionalism by the company making this software. Things like this need proofing and checking and checking again and again for errors. After all, schools pay a lot for the software and they get rubbish like this.
Yet another demo, was about Pastillage. Yes, really, I’m not making this up!! A chef made neat coloured balls as part of a lecture about Cake Decorating. Ok, cake decorating has its place. To me, it suggests that someone thought the subject was a good idea to include amongst the plethora of other topics contained in the software without taking into consideration that Thais do not use ovens and you do not find them in the average Thai household! No oven = no cake. No cake = nothing to decorate! I felt like putting my hand up to make this point but decided to keep my trap shut. Oh, in case you thought the demo team would ask the assembled students/teachers for any questions, forget it. I have never ever witnessed anyone asking any audience for questions. When I ask my classes for questions I always get a blank stare as if I am crazy! Am I ? Sane answers only please!!!!
The presentation continued without a break until 11.30 when the other Ajaan Took spoke to the students and had the cheek to upbraid them for not paying attention and talking during the presentation which is exactly what she and the other teachers do when, say, the Director addresses the school or on other occasions when the school are assembled and guests or VIPs address the students. The teachers even chat amongst themselves when the prayers are recited by the students every morning. If the teachers don’t behave as they say the students should behave then why are the teachers here so surprised that the students do not pay attention ?
This sort of thing makes me feel like cracking the whip myself when something is so blatantly obvious, but then I do not have a whip to crack so must attempt to keep my mouth shut though I may well mention it to the Director next time we are driving somewhere.
The afternoon was going to be devoted to sport as most afternoons are right now since there is a big inter-school sports event coming up and the teams need training. However, plans change. This afternoon a 4-person team of nurses came to the school arranged by the Huai Mek administration office to give the students a health check.
The session opened with some sex education for the boys about how to put on a condom. The nurse showed some boxes of condoms, and some tubes of lubricating cream and then proceeded to place a condom over one of the boxes containing one of the tubes. Needless to say, there were lots of giggles but there was also a long queue later for the free condoms. Only the youngest M1 (12/13 y.o.) students didn’t line up to get a free box though some of them got them by other means.
Class by class the students were weighed and had their height measured with the results written in pen on each student’s forearm. They then went over to one of two other nurses who asked each student various questions from a checklist and wrote the answers in the appropriate box. She got each student to raise his head so she could check for any swelling of the neck glands and she looked into each student’s eyes. Some students received cream to rub on swollen glands, others received packets of vitamins. There are some photos of the whole session in my gallery.
WEDNESDAY 17th AUGUST
It was back to a normal routine today except that during assembly it was reiterated how this week and next the school must emphasise sport in the afternoons. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when students were tasked to weed the newly planted grass areas after lunch for about an hour.
This afternoon, on my way back to school from the teacher’s house with my cameras, I spotted a lone black butterfly with bright blue markings which I had never seen before. It darted from flower to flower settling only momentarily to collect the pollen but I managed to get some ok-ish photos a couple of which are in my gallery for you.
At 4pm I went off with Mr Kay and the Sai Moon Futsall team to play a friendly match against Non Kung Saeng school about 20 minutes’ drive away. Most of our players are from M4 (14/15 y.o.) whereas the other team were mostly from M6 (17/18 y.o.) and this was given by Mr Kay as the reason why we got beaten. I didn’t not think that was so much of a problem rather it was the first time we had played against another team and we have yet to really gel as a team and play like one. I am thinking of offering our team, say, 250 or 500 baht per goal scored as an incentive when it comes to the competition itself.
THURSDAY 18th AUGUST
Shortly before I left Sai Moon with Mr Kay yesterday a drilling rig arrived at school a smaller version of the kind they use on building sites to drill the holes for foundation piles. A team of six, operators and labourers, accompanied the rig and some of them cooked food and slept in tents on the site so I can only suppose the rig has come from some distance away.
When I had a look at the rig this morning the drill had quickly struck water suggesting that the water table is not very deep in this area which is good since the purpose of the rig is to find a new water supply for the school.
FRIDAY 19th AUGUST
The rig finished its work today. As the drill bit went down into the ground blue plastic tubing was inserted, section by section, until a secure water supply was reached. The tube now protrudes from the ground and a stopcock has been attached.
The sports team continued their training this afternoon in preparation for the 3-day sports tournament featuring schools from around Kalasin. As we, and I suppose other schools as well, have only been training the teams seriously for a week or so it is difficult to guess how well we will do. The students are certainly keen enough so I hope we do well at one sport at least or more if possible.
I realised today that there is just under six weeks to go before the school closes for the October holidays and I started to think about what I will do and where I will go. I am looking forward to it very much.
SATURDAY 20th AUGUST
Teams playing the five sports for which the school has entries in the inter-school competition in Kalasin next week are ramping up their training. This afternoon there was a friendly beach volleyball match against Kut Don school. Part of the open grass area where the football pitch is has been ploughed up and the reddish sandy soil ideal for the sport. The Sai Moon players did well this afternoon but competition next week will be a lot tougher I think.
None of the sports teams have team shirts to play in as yet. The school has no money and no one has taken up my suggestions about sponsorship. Thais really do have some sort of complex about advice or help from foreigners. They’ll nod their head and say what a great idea and then do absolutely nothing about it. At school they think because I have an ATM card and a nice camera and nice laptop that I must be rich. Well, I suppose in comparison to many of the students and a few of the teachers I am, or in Thai terms I am but in UK terms I am most definitely not rich. I am occasionally asked how much things cost in the UK and I always use Tesco as a comparison because Tesco Lotus operates here which I think might help them relate to the information more easily but in the reverse of what I expect it just reinforces their thinking that I am very rich to be able to afford such high UK prices.
The result is that the five team managers, other teachers in fact, and the teacher in overall charge of sport at Sai Moon are looking to me to wave a magic wand and provide the money to get the team shirts. We are not talking about a huge amount of money here, about £200 in all.