02.11.2011 - 15.11.2011
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.