16.11.2011 - 27.11.2011
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.