A Travellerspoint blog

May 28-June 10: *Rockets*Procession*Elections*Wai Kru*Gekkos

semi-overcast

Saturday 28th May

Mr Yor prepared a late breakfast this morning. Today was the first day of the Sai Moon village festival which started with a procession from the temple and then wound slowly around the village and back. One of the highlights of the festival was the launching of Ban Fai rockets and the biggest one, which was also well decorated, was mounted on a trailer and was the centrepiece of the procession second only to another trailer carrying an enormously endowed horse. The whole idea is to bring power and strength to the Ban Fai in their rain bringing task when fired. At various points along the procession there were large trucks carrying huge speakers playing Thai music and each had an entourage of dancing villagers enjoying themselves in a very Isaan way. At the end of the procession came the traditional dancers dressed, er, traditionally. There were thirty women, all villagers, with two students from my school, Cola and Too-ay, in the lead and the dancers followed a truck playing the music. Everyone came out onto the street to watch the procession pass their houses and it was a thoroughly fun occasion.

==Sunday 29th May==

A late breakfast again...Mr Yor asked me to accompany him on a trip to Kranuan on his motorbike. I agreed even though it meant I might miss the launch of some of the Ban Fai and some of the Mor Lam dancing.

In Kranuan we went to a warehouse-style building, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, which turned out to be an educational supplies shop with everything a school might need from crochet sets to qualification ribbons (not unlike our striped military ribbons worn on the chest) and every conceivable thing in between that a student or teacher might need at school. While Mr Yor searched for what he wanted I had a good browse and it was fascinating to see so many different things under one roof.

Although I missed the launch of the rocket that was paraded through the village I did see another large one launched and there is a video of this on www.youtube.com at http://youtu.be/ZNeYVpSpnr8

There were two launch frames, one for larger rockets and one for smaller ones and both were set-up near a large lake. The Mor Lam dancing took place on one side of the lake and the rocket launching on the other.

A large crowd had gathered to watch the rockets being lunched and to bet on the height each rocket reached. The tradition is all about invoking rainfall: the very make horse brings strength and power to the largest of the rockets which was the one on the procession which in turn will bring rain after it is fired, or that is the hope at least. I can only suppose that the weather used to be drier at this time of year in the past because, apart from the last four days, there have been torrential downpours every day and many of the paddy fields around and about are full of water even though it is not the rice growing season.

==Monday 30th May==

I have been thinking of ways to occupy myself on Mondays when I have no classes. One thought was to try and learn Thai and the most sensible Thai to learn is Isaan-Thai. After a bit of googling I found a small publisher who has produced a two-book and two-cd set which looked very suitable. I tried to find the books when I was in Udon Thani city but did not succeed so I will have to order them online once I have confirmed the full postal address of my school.

There is a general election in Thailand on July 3rd and the various parties have planted 6ftx2ft plastic banners along the roads everywhere. The current Prime Minister, Mr Abhisit, is from the Democratic (?) Party and his posters have all been defaced around Isaan. One of his posters shows his smiling face along with a couple of slogans in Thai but in each case his face has been cut out leaving an oval hole on top of his shoulders.

The main opposition party, the Pheu Thai party, are, in effect, the red shirts led by Thaksin Shinawatra who is extremely popular in Isaan though he is currently in exile in Dubai. There are many other parties though it is hard to see the election as anything but a fight between the two main parties. If the Peu Thai party win who knows what will happen next as many predict unrest and bloodshed.

Late this afternoon two of the three students who live in the teacher’s house caught sight of a snake near the house and chased after it yelling to each other with every sighting and trying to kill it. I have no idea if it was poisonous or not (my guess is not) but they did eventually kill the thing and I took a photo for you. It was by far the biggest snake I have seen so far, about 6ft long, and it was taken away but much later it reappeared having been chopped up and cooked. As I had been talking about survival to the three students earlier, and as each of them intends to enter the Thai army, I felt obliged to join them even though we’d had dinner already. I had always believed that snake tastes just like chicken and this is how it turned out. It is surprising bony but actually quite tasty to eat.

During dinner this evening – which is always eaten outdoors on the verandah – a scorpion got to within a foot of my foot before I spotted it and it was removed pronto. I didn’t have my camera to hand, so no photo. Sorry!

Wednesday 1st June

I’ve started having breakfast at the school canteen. There are usually two dishes on offer along with steamed rice and the option of an omelette on top. There is also a selection of ‘khanum’ (snacks similar to crisps, small biscuits etc), a chill box with a selection of drinks, and prices couldn’t be cheaper.

==Thursday 2nd June==

After assembly this morning the Director gathered the teachers together and said that they must do better particularly during periods 6 (13.50-14.40) and 7 (14.40-15.30) when the students are supposed to involve themselves in an activity but some just skulk around or hide themselves somewhere. During this time many students play petanque, table tennis, football (with a hollow wicker takraw ball), badminton or music. Mr P. urged the teachers to get involved as each one has responsibility for one activity. Afterwards, I was asked what activity I could do and I suggested photography and a project such as students making their own video about the school or village or their own topic but this would require some money to initiate.

Sure enough, this afternoon, some of the teachers were out and about with classes doing sport. I wonder how long it will last ?

Around 4pm the Director came to the teacher’s house to deliver my salary -oops, I mean living expenses – into my hand. It’s a relief to know that it is actually going to happen every month. Not that it is a fortune by any measure, only 10,000 baht. I’ll leave you to do the conversion! As a comparison, you might like to know that Mr Weang, one of the other teachers and also responsible for the school buildings, only gets 8,000 a month!

This evening everyone gathered at Mr Weang’s room, in reality a separate outbuilding in which we teachers often have lunch on mats on the floor. Tonight we had a few beers and had something to eat. Here, it is customary to have any drinks before a meal rather than after it which is the opposite of what is dinned into one back home which is that you should never drink on an empty stomach.

During the evening Mr Kay gave me a dilemma by inviting me to stay another weekend at his house in Roi Et. The problem for me is that I now know that there is nothing whatsoever for me to do there unless I take things like my laptop and a book with me. I can’t say I enjoy being plonked in front of the TV and being left to my own devices. My Kay even said that we’ll have spaghetti again, and cakes etc etc just like last time. I managed to defer a decision by saying that I am expecting delivery of my car any day now and wanted to stay at Sai Moon for this reason. But I know he will not forget his invitation but I can’t think of a decent way out of the dilemma....can you ????

Back at the teacher’s house two large angry looking scorpions were lurking around. One was in the washroom floor by a scrubbing brush and the other by the kitchen door. I took photos of both for your delectation.

==Friday 3rd June==

I was the only one at assembly this morning wearing the new pink jacket uniform because Mr Panakhun, the Director, is away for three days, and nobody really wants to wear it. As soon as I had the chance I returned to my room and changed into a normal short-sleeved shirt which is much cooler to wear.

Two students, Cola and Too-ay, were assigned to look after me over the weekend because Mr Weang and Mr Kay will both be away at Maha Sarakham doing their Masters course, Mr Yor has gone home to Ayuthaya as has Mr Narongsak, and Mr Hot will be on his farm.

Before dusk I went on a motorbike with Cola and Too-ay to Kranuan, the nearest town, and did some shopping at the night market and at Tesco Lotus. On the way back to Sai Moon we rode into some torrential rain complete with vivid bursts of lightning and explosions of thunder. We got soaked but I was given a towel and a change of shirt at Cola’s house where we also had dinner after which I was taken home by which time it had stopped raining.

==Saturday 4th June==

Mr Narongsak left this morning to go to his parent’s home at Bua Khao in eastern Kalasin the other teachers having left last night I was now home alone. Mr Hot and three students came to take care of the chickens and the newly hatched ducklings which are housed in a newly constructed shelter complete with special electric light to provide warmth if it gets cold at night. They were actually hatched in the village and brought here as tiny ducklings. There is a photo in my gallery. Mr Hot also got breakfast for me having bought a ready prepared dish from the market and cooked some rice.

I spent the morning doing some washing and tidying up and catching up on emails etc. Three M1 students came to take care of the chickens and I took a photo and one of the ducklings.

Cola and Too-ay were supposed to prepare lunch for me today but they didn’t show up so it was a good thing that some breakfast was left over which I heated up along with the leftover rice.

Mr Hot came over about 7.30pm and Peng arrived a few moments after him and as Mr Hot had already eaten and was going out of his way for me I went with Peng to Kham Yai to have something to eat at one of the street kiosks there. Oddly, of the three stalls there all had run out of rice so I had to have Kway Teow, noodles with fish balls, kale stalks, slivers of pork (it could have been beef or chicken if I’d asked for it) and beansprouts in a brown soup. This soup is universal and it always seems to taste the same no matter where you have the dish but I am not sure how it is made. I don’t really like Kway Teow because it means eating it with your face almost in the noodle dish and there’s a real danger of splashes on your shirt.

Back at the house an insect seemed to crash-land on my right cheekbone and instantly I felt a stab of real pain and my cheek swelled up. I had obviously been bitten by something and I wish I knew what it was so I can take avoiding action next time I see such an insect.

During the evening a couple of the large gekkos came out of their home in a gap between the wall and woodwork to pounce on passing insects. Like the ones at Muang Baeng last year, these ones also have striking colours and they often hang out of the gap where they live upsidedown, or so it seems. There are photos in my gallery.

==Sunday 5th June==

Mr Hot came over to tend the ducks and chickens and to give me breakfast about 7.30am. The rest of the day I spent doing some online research and answering emails. I don’t mind being alone, in fact, it is quite nice to have the place to myself. Well, almost to myself because Nong and Tik, the M6 and M5 students respectively, came and went a few times during the day. Nong likes to play the drums and has moved the school set from the music room to one of the spare rooms in the other house. Tik is learning the Soar, a traditional Thai instrument that sounds like a learner violin player even when played by an expert!

A misunderstanding about lunch with Tik meant that I didn’t eat when he ate which was only a couple of hours after I had breakfast so I told him I was ok. About 1.30 I heated up the dish I had for breakfast which was still delicious. I spent some of the afternoon doing ironing and generally getting ready for the week ahead.

Tik did prepare supper for me though and we ate it together. We didn’t speak much because he is shy of using the English he has, just as I am with Isaan Thai.

==Monday 6th June==

Once again I was asked by the Director to join him for lunch at Ajaan Phiman’s restaurant/shop in the village. Although this place only has a few things on a menu board the main advantage is, according to the other teachers, that it is not owned by the parents of one of the Sai Moon students which might cause some resentment accusations of favouritism or whatever the equivalents are in Thailand given that emotions, such as anger or annoyance are never displayed openly.

Ajaan Phiman is the deputy director of Ban Hat Sai Moon Primary School and is a skilful musician and seems to know everything and is always very welcoming whenever I’m taken to his restaurant and he frequently brings me edible things to sample which is very kind. His wife does the cooking, such as it is, as everything is cooked on the spot and the Papaya Salad (Som Tam) made to order. There was a suggestion last term that I would be teaching P6 at his school once a week but that hasn’t happened as yet.

I was asked later this afternoon if I would take photo of all the Sai Moon buildings and facilities. Even though I had taken them for my gallery soon after I arrived at Sai Moon I agreed to take some more and Ajaans Pong and Narongsak walked round with me.

There are a lot of small flowering trees in front of the main admin building which butterflies seem to love and when I had finished the other photos I tried to catch one of the yellow and black butterflies pausing for a moment but it was hopeless as they are constantly on the move and hover whilst gathering pollen. I did manage to get two ok-ish sort of photos and one is in my gallery for you.

==Tuesday 7th June==

There was another rainstorm last night and Sai Moon seemed to be at the eye of it with a lot of very loud thunder and almost instant bolts of lightning. The storm kept waking me up and I felt as if I’d had no sleep by the time my phone alarm rang this morning at 6.40am.

The floors of the five classrooms used by M4, M5 and M6 are being tiled this week so their classes take place in one of the old labs which is not ideal. The tiling will be a big improvement on the bare concrete floors.

This afternoon there was one a monthly staff meeting when it was announced that all teachers in Thailand will be getting an 8% pay rise which sounds a lot but when worked out equates to about £20 a year extra for a middle income teacher so I don’t think there will be much rejoicing in the sois!!

Much of the meeting was taken up with arrangements for Wai Kru Day on Thursday (it is always the 2nd Thursday in June in every school in Thailand) when students all over the country pay respect to their teachers. There will be no classes tomorrow afternoon when students make the ‘pan’ which will be presented to the teachers. Parents will also be coming to school s well. Those of you who read my blog when I was at Muang Baeng, Loei, will recall the same event happening this time last year.

It was also announced at the meeting that Sai Moon has been given scholarships for two students to go to university. This is of interest only to M6 as they will leave Sai Moon at the end of the academic year in mid-May 2012. The scholarships will be given to the two students with the best grades and from the poorest families. The thinking is that students with high grades from better off families will go to university anyway if they decide to do so. The scholarships have been given by the Kalasin Provincial Administration and every secondary school has been given them too with the number determined by the number of M6 students each school has. Sai Moon’s M6 class only has 12 students which is why we only got the two scholarships.

One of the very popular universities in Isaan specialises in the study of traditional Thai dancing and everything that goes with it including choreography, costumes and history etc.

==Wednesday 8th June==

A very hot sultry day. Classes took place as normal this morning but after lunch the six class groups, M1-M6, began designing their ‘pan’, collecting the materials for it and making it. Being Thailand, students do this with a lot of joshing and fun and constant laughter. I have yet to witness a Thai student anywhere moaning and groaning in the way that students (and others) do nearer home.

I went round taking photographs. Some students shy away when they see me pointing a camera in their direction but they are beginning to twig that they may escape the first time but I’ll be back and catch them on camera eventually whether they see me or not.

I caught some boys smoking this afternoon. You may remember I mentioned last term that I did the same thing. Two of the same boys as last time were involved this time plus some others. But they are daft, because they walk behind one of the outside toilet blocks in full view of other students and any teacher that may be looking their way. Beyond the block is a small lane and a very large open field, in other words there is no reason whatsoever to go behind the toilet block and it is not a short cut to anywhere either.

I took the photo and the same instant the students saw me and tried to hide their faces or run away, but it was too late. Some of them laughed about it and some want me to delete the photo thinking, I suppose, that I might inform the Director or someone. But I had a different idea. I told them that if they pay attention in my English class and make an effort then I will delete the photo but not before. I don’t have high hopes of my idea working but it is worth a try.

About 4.15 the heavens opened again with another tropical downpour accompanies by loud thunder and bolts of lightning.

==Thursday 9th June==

Across Thailand, in every school, it was Wai Kru Day today when students pay respect to the teachers in the afternoon and when parents are invited to the school in the morning to hear about what’s happening at the school and to meet and chat with the class teachers. Each class, M1, M2, M3 up to M6, has one or two teachers assigned to attend to the welfare of the students of their class and Wai Kru Day is one of the occasions when parents can meet the teacher looking after the welfare of their son or daughter and talk about any problems.

One of the high points of the afternoon is when every student gets the chance to come up on stage to present an offering to the teachers who are already sitting there.

==Friday 10th June==

At assembly this morning two classes were not wearing the right uniform tops, most wore an orange coloured top and not a white one. As a punishment they were made to run around the rectangular school road twice but, I noticed, a number started but soon slipped behind a building and only reappeared as if they’d just finished the run. I seem to remember similar things going on when I was at school!!

I had to cover for Ajaan Tuk (the Thai English teacher) today as she couldn’t make it in to school for some reason so I had her classes as well as mine. It was almost like old times again!!

This afternoon saw the election of the new head boy, or leader as they call him, though it could be a female too as it was last term. Everyone was assembled in the sala and the procedure explained to them and then real voting, with a register, voting slips and private booths, took place. Every student had a vote and once all the votes had been cast absentees were checked and then the votes counted one by one with each slip held up so the whole school could see it. There were six candidates, two girls and four boys, and they were numbered 1-6 so voters had both names and numbers on the voting slip. One of the boys won with a very clear lead from the start.

This seems to be firefly season, not that there are swarms of them or anything but there are usually three or four visible during the evening.

I mentioned previously the voiced gekkos, called ‘tukay’ which is the word it sounds as if they are saying. But some gekkos, and I am not sure if it is just some or all gekkos here, also have a chirruping sound. I have only witnessed juvenile gekkos doing this so far because almost every night before I switch the light out to go to sleep there might be 2 or 3 young gekkos patrolling the walls of my room. Sometimes they come quite close to each other and I have seen one snatch a tasty-looking insect from in front of another gekko which promptly emitted a series of 5 or 6 short chirrups. I suppose it is done as a rebuke but, equally, it could well be a friendly ‘bon appetite!’

I wonder what the weekend will bring ???

Posted by talismanic 02:04 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

9-27th May: Buying car - Lady O - Bloody Wedding - Laos + +

rain

THANKS FOR THE COMMENTS. I LOVE READING THEM SO PLEASE KEEP ON MAKING THEM!!

==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.

==Tuesday17th May==

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.

Posted by talismanic 06:28 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

May 1-8th 2011: Back to school; Taking Care Day; CARPETS????

rain

Sunday 1st May

First of all, welcome back to my blog which now resumes normal service after the summer break.

This morning I flew from Bangkok to Khon Kaen where Mr Panakhun, the school director, and Mr Noi met me after some confusion. When I reached arrivals after baggage reclaim there were lots of people there but nobody I knew. After a while everyone was met and the crowd disappeared and I was left standing on my own wondering what Plan B might be. To my annoyance my phone lost the network and nothing I did retrieved it so I was unable to make a call myself.

I looked around to see who I might persuade to let me make a call on their phone and a waiting cab driver came to the rescue. It turned out that Mr P was at the airport though not at arrivals but we met up some minutes later and all was well and we drove back to school. On the way we encountered a nasty thunderstorm and Mr Noi insisted on everyone switching off their mobile phones because of the lightning though I have never heard of any problems on that score, have you ?

One of the first things Mr Noi did when we met again was to feel my chest to see if I was wearing the amulet he gave me. I wasn’t because I hadn’t expected him to come to the airport to meet me with Mr P. I told him it was safe in my camera bag, which was true.

When we reached Kham Yai, about 7km from my school, we stopped so I could get my phone fixed at a phone shop. The man there wanted 100 baht to fix it but when I realised he proposed pressing ‘reset’ I told him he was too expensive and he then lowered his price to 50 baht which was still extortionate but if I had known what to do I would have done it myself for nothing!

Since the end of last term Mr P has become an amulet enthusiast thanks to the influence of Mr Noi and when we got back to my teacher’s house they both spent a lot of time discussing and comparing amulets with their lenses. I suppose it is the equivalent of people collecting stamps though I have yet to witness people comparing stamps and discussing them in public.

This evening and all night frogs were spawning in the square concrete water tank in front of the house. It is about 5x4ft and has a few inches of rainwater in it and a single drain hole about 2” in diameter. All evening and night I could hear their deep-throated ong....ong....ong.


Monday 2nd 2011

I took some photos this morning of all the frog’s spawn in the water tank. It will be about nice weeks before baby frogs are leaping all over the place but already there are many dozens of tiny tadpoles swimming around in the water.

Today was the first day back at school but not for 'normal' school because on Friday the school will be the venue for a special annual day of 'taking care' of the village when about 1000-1500 people are expected to pass through if they want a free health check or free veterinary or farming advice.

Today and for the next three days a huge cleaning up operation began to beautify the school in readiness for the big day. This meant completing the new entrance which was begun last term, painting it and planting lots of shrubs etc around it; draping decorative cloth around the outer wall near the entrance gate; renewing the poster boards inside and outside the classrooms; sweeping up leaves and other fallen tree debris; cleaning the toilets and classrooms, making repairs etc etc. Many hands (students) make light work they say....but only some of the students were involved in this work.

Some other students busied themselves rehearsing a traditional dance routine which they will perform at the opening on Friday morning.

Mr Kay asked me if I wanted to go to Kranuan with him in his new Malaysian-produced Proton car and, with Mr Weang and Mr Noi, I went to play snooker for a couple of hours. I won two games and won 300 baht. Later, we joined all the other teachers at a karaoke restaurant for dinner which was nice.

Tuesday 3rd May

It was very humid this morning. I was supposed to go to Kalasin city with Mr Noi at 7am but he woke too late so the measurement for the new school shirt will be this afternoon.

Most of the school present for the flag raising ceremony including the new M1, the twelve year olds, one of which, Ajaan Tuk (the English teacher) enthusiastically pointed out to me was a ‘Katoey’ (ladyboy) which made me realise that, here, students are encouraged to be themselves and no one is going to tease you or make nasty innuendoes about you as they most probably would in a western school.

Cleaning tasks were assigned to different classes in preparation for Friday and, later, I took photos of the students cleaning classrooms and decorating the walls and teachers painting the signs.

Mr Noi took me into Kalasin city, after lunch at Kham Yai, where I was measured up for the new uniform shirt which all the teachers will have to wear on Fridays. It’s a fetching pink colour and a cross between a shirt and a jacket. There will be a photo of me wearing it in my gallery shortly.

This means that the other teachers will wear their standard issue government uniform on Monday, as usual, and on Wednesdays they will wear their scout uniform, neither of which I have. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I think it will be left up to us to decide what shirts to wear.

Wednesday 4th May

Another day of cleaning and preparing and beautifying the grounds. A big stage was built to one side of the school assembly area and tented awnings erected on either side for VIPs. An overhead wire rig was also erected to hold some green plastic material to provide shade for the stage area and the performance area in front of the stage.

This evening I played snooker again in Kranuan with Mr Noi , the Director and a couple of other teachers which was good fun but they would like to play every evening which is over-cooking it a bit I think. All this came about because I mentioned that I liked playing snooker when I first arrived at Sai Moon

Thursday 5th May

The last day of cleaning saw most of the remaining jobs done though some obvious small jobs were overlooked and will probably not be done until the next big clean-up, if ever.

One of the last jobs was completing the large signboard at the school entrance. The metal letters to affix to the concrete upright haven’t arrived so a plastic banner was commissioned to do the same job and there are photos of it in my gallery. A variety of shrubs were purchased to plant in front of the signboard and someone from Non Kung Si designed the planting arrangement which took some time to figure out and execute but the result was ok in the end.

Friday 6th May

I had an early start as teachers had to be ‘on parade’ by 6.30am to organise the student work parties in preparation for the big day today. All the teachers had to wear the new pink shirt/jackets and we were nothing if not clearly visible to everyone, and hot!

People started streaming in to the school from early morning onwards. Some of these were the workers who will be manning the stalls or the advice clinics, the majority were villagers.

The Governor (or whatever his actual job title is) of Kalasin arrived at the head of a convoy of cars. He had just opened a brand new Tesco Lotus superstore in Kalasin city and was running a bit late. Two lines of local worthies and community police were organised to welcome the Governor and I was one of a small posse of photographers trying to get a decent shot. Two TV cameramen were also vying for position.
Once everyone was assembled and seated the Governor climbed onto the stage and formally opened the event with prayers, a Buddhist ritual and a lengthy speech. Around the side of the assembly square the villagers were busy at the various free advice centres.
Another element to the morning was the giving of bicycles to some students from the poorest families, giving medical/first aid bags to other families, and giving padded bedsheets to yet other families.

Later on, the Governor and his retinue toured round the site shaking hands and being thoroughly nice to everyone. A first floor school room, used often as a dance training room, had been set up for the VIP lunch while the food was prepared in some of the nearby classrooms and along the balcony. I was invited to join them but declined partly because I didn’t want to become stuck in one place unable to roam around taking photos, and partly because I had taken the opportunity to have some lunch at the health centre when it was offered to me thinking it would be the only chance I got. However, I was the only photographer allowed into the room to take photos of the diners.

After nearly a week of effort the special day was all done and dusted soon after lunch. I went with some other teachers to Non Kung Si to go to the bank and to have lunch. When we returned to Sai Moon nearly two hours later all of the stage scaffolding had already been removed as had the stalls and awnings.

Talking of banks, what would you think of a western bank if it adopted the mnemonic CARPETS and had large notices in each branch talking about

CARPETS ? I guess you would think it very odd, but it isn’t odd here because this is exactly what the KTB (Krung Thai Bank, the self-named Convenience Bank) have done and, on the wall behind the cashiers and facing the customers, a board proudly and prominently extols the virtues of the mnemonic – Creation of long term value, Accountability, Responsibility, Promotion of best practices, Equitable treatment, Transparency and Social and environmental awareness. So there you have it: CARPETS!! I just thought you’d like to know.

Later in the afternoon Mr Kaye very kindly drove me to Somdet, Kalasin, a couple of hours to the east of Sai Moon where I was to meet a friend who I knew from Chiang Mai. He lives in Ban Chot village, about an hour from Somdet and I stayed there for two nights. Little happened other than talking, eating, drinking beer and sleeping.

Sunday 8th May

I got a lift into Kalasin city where Mr Kaye met me and drove me to his new house in a village in Roi Et province which is about two hours from Sai Moon by car and where he has just built a large and very nice house for a snip over £20,000 including the land. His village is near the provincial border with Yasothon and in the evening I went with Mr Kaye and his wife for dinner in Yasothon city.

Sai Moon school opens properly tomorrow.

Posted by talismanic 03:30 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Touring: Nong Khai...Udon Thani...Chiang Mai

sunny

As I mentioned yesterday, my school at Sai Moon is closed for the summer holiday which includes Songkhran, the Thai new year. I am not going to bore you with an account of my daily doings but instead tell you something about the places I have visited which may entice you to visit them one day very soon. I started off in Nong Khai....

NONG KHAI is in the far northeast of Thailand and it sits of the south bank of the mighty Mae Nam Khong river, or Mekong, as we call it. It is also one of the main gateways into Laos on the north bank of the Mekong thanks to the opening of the first Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge in 2009 funded mainly by a gift from the Australian government. The Lao capital, Vientiane, is 25km from the Lao end of the bridge.

Nong Khai is a busy small city which most people pass straight through on their way to Laos or if they do stop it is only for a short visit. There is a growing ex-pat community there and a number of businesses run by or catering for them such as a Danish bakery/cafe/bar/restaurant and a German bakery. There is also a very nice Dutch restaurant serving Dutch/German and Thai food.

Among the few tourist destinations in Nong Khai is the vast mostly indoors Indochina Market which is located alongside the Mekong and sells everything from thimbles to binoculars as well as some very strange things.

Another attraction is the strange sculpture park, Sala Keoku, which embraces Hindhu and Buddhist theories in the form of Buddhas, many-armed goddesses, a seven-headed Naga snake and all sorts of human-animal hybrids.

If you ever go to Nong Khai I can recommend the Pantawee Hotel where I stayed. It is in the centre of town and close to all the facilities and has many different types of room to suit everyone. It is also unusual in that every room is equipped with a computer with unlimited internet access.

UDON THANI is one hour by bus south of Nong Khai and is the capital of Udon Thani province. Today, it is a large bustling city and the commercial capital of north east Thailand. The city airport was also home to the joint USA-Thai air force base during the Vietnam War. It was also home to Air America, the covert cargo airline owned and operated by the CIA which supported operations in south east Asia during the Vietnam War.

There is a large and growing expat community in Udon because of its location near to Laos and as a result there are numerous bars and cafes etc catering for them with many owned and operated by expats in retirement.

Located 47 km east of Udon Thani is Thailand's premier Bronze Age excavation at Ban Chiang, the world-renowned archaeological site.

I stayed at the Silver Reef hotel which is right in the centre of Udon and could not be more convenient or modestly priced. It is squeaky clean and comfortable though it does not do any food however there is a very nice small restaurant just around the corner which was just perfect.

The next stop on my itinerary was Chiang Mai and I flew there in an hour on a small 30-seat Nokair plane from Udon.

CHIANG MAI is the largest and most culturally important city in Thailand. It is located 700km north of Bangkok on the river Ping which is a tributary of the mighty Chao Phraya river which flows through the centre of the capital.

The city was founded in 1296 when it succeeded Chiang Rai as the capital of the Lanna kingdom, and was surrounded by a defensive moat, which still exists around the old capital though the modern city has expanded considerably beyond the moat.

With the decline of the Lanna kingdom, the city lost importance and was often occupied either by the Burmese or Thais from Ayutthaya and, because of the Burmese wars that culminated in the fall of Ayutthaya in April 1767, Chiang Mai was abandoned between 1776 and 1791. The smaller city of Lampang then served as the capital of what remained of Lannathai.

Chiang Mai formally became part of Siam in 1774 following an agreement with Chao Kavila, after the King Taksin of Thailand helped drive out the Burmese. Chiang Mai then slowly grew in cultural, trading and economic importance to its current status.

I have mentioned before what an interesting city Chiang Mai is with its moat and fountains, long avenues of protected teak trees and quaint sois which not act as shortcuts but also contain surprising shops, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses.

Many expats have settled in Chiang Mai for all those reasons and with its international airport you are never far away from anywhere else. As for living in Chiang Mai, part of me would like to, but another part of me would want to escape from the many farang that live there and all the western focused businesses that cater to them.

Whilst in Chiang Mai I visited Phu Langka in Phayao province, a five hour drive away. Last year while surfing the web in London I came across an amazing photograph taken in Thailand showing a view looking down into a valley shrouded in mist with limestone 'teeth' jutting out from it. I decided there and then to try and go there myself and in Chiang Mai I managed to persuade a friend to drive me there. There is a small resort where visitors can stay in thatched huts and as it was out of season we were the only guests and we could choose the hut with the best view. There is nothing else to do here except admire the amazing view which is spectacular.

We arrived just before dusk so I didn't see the full view right away. I decided to get up at 5.45 to see the sun rise over the valley and I tool numerous photos the best of which you can see in my gallery. It was well worth the long drive there and back!!

My next stop was Muang Baeng, near Wang Saphung. I got the bus at 12.20pm from the Arcade bus station in Chiang Mai ex pecting to arrive about 9.30pm but because many people were going home for Songkhran (the Thai new year) more and more people were stuffed in making it an uncomfortable experience for the last half of the long journey. The extra passengers made the bus go even slower over the mountains with the river taking even more care than usual on the downhill stretches. The result was that it was nearly midnight when we neared Wang Saphung.

A further problem was that my phone decided there was no network and no matter what I did to it I could not get it to work so I was unable to let my host family know what was happening. The person sitting next to me was asleep for most of the time and I was reluctant to wake her to ask to use her phone.

I managed to do just that when she did eventually wake up only to discover that the family had mixed up am and pm and had gone to the bus station in the morning to meet me. They called me many times but, with no network, I never got their calls.

But all was well because the family came to meet me despite the late hour and we had something to eat in Wang Saphung before heading home to Muang Baeng.

MUANG BAENG. For those new to my blog, this is the village where I taught English at a 750-student school last year. I stayed with a host family who have one daughter of 16 and two sons aged 15 and 9.

Having been in Chiang Mai for Songkhran last year, which goes crazy for 3-4 days, I thought it would be good fun, and different, to stay with a family to experience Songkhran from a different perspective. If anything, it was much more fun than in Chiang Mai.

Songkhran brings every young person, and many others, onto the street to splash water onto passersby whether they be on foot, on a motorcycle or in a vehicle. The idea is to cool down at the hottest time of the year and to wish people good luck, good health etc.

The house where I stayed is on a long gentle incline. To the right you can see uphill to the crest of the hill about half a kilometre away. To the left, you can see downhill for more than a kilometre. This is important because you can see bikes and cars coming from a distance which gives you time to get ready and in position for an effective splash.

Splashing with me were the three children of my host family plus Bon, a 14 year old boy from next door but one and, from time to time, Mr Rhe. Some people do not get splashed, including people on motorcycles with very small children/babies, old people and motorcycle food traders. The real targets are girls on motorbikes who slow down to get their splash and a smear of talcum powder on their cheeks and the pick-up cars with groups of splashers with a barrel of water in the back. You splash them, and they splash you and it is a lot of fun and, of course, you get soaked again and again during the day. If you can, you splash with iced water which is not only nicely cooling but gives recipients a shock as well.

On the second day of Songkhran, April 14th, Bon’s parents took the boys and me to Chiang Khan. It was great fun driving through Muang Baeng because many students recognised me from last year and shouted ‘Hello Al’ and then tried to splash me. And then, along the road from Wang Saphung to Chiang Khan – about 20 miles away – every house and village had numerous splash stations on the roadside to douse everything that passed by.

We had one oil drum full of water which we emptied quite quickly but, being Thailand, free resupply was readily available from hoses at the roadside with water pumped from ponds or streams or even hydrants.

The closer we got to Chiang Khan, which is located in the north of Loei province, on the banks of the Mekong where you look across the river to Laos, the road became busier and the splashing more frequent. Chiang Khan itself was like a battleground with me being the only farang in sight and a sea of Thais enjoying themselves as only Thais know how.

Even though we were so far from Muang Baeng there were as many shouts of ‘Hello Al’ from students as there were of ‘farang, farang!’ It was great fun and if you get the chance, experience Songkhran the Thai way yourself.

The last day of Songkhran was spent on the roadside outside the house in Muang Baeng and it was another day of great fun. I took some photos which you can see in my gallery.

The final stop on my holiday tour will be Pattaya where I will spend some time on the beach before heading back to Kalasin.

Posted by talismanic 20:14 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

14-16th Mar; end of term wrap-up

sunny

First of all, I apologise for the delay in this update but, as you will see in the next blog entry, I have been travelling around during the school holidays. To wrap up the end of last term....

Monday 14th March

A casual start this morning. The Director was still away playing golf near Udon Thani and some of the teachers were also away at Maha Sarakham University applying to do their Masters degree starting next month.

I phone the Directcor to get his permission to leave tomorrow and he said that it would be ok as I have nothing further to do at school.

The rest of the day was a bit frustrating because I didn’t really know what was going on. I wanted to hand back the Final Test papers which I marked at the weekend but there was no one appropriate to hand them back to. I ended up doing very little all day except working on my blog and finalising the details of my holiday travels which begin tomorrow.

This evening Mr Weang drove me, Mr Hot and Mr Pong to Kranuan to play snooker and have something to eat and drink. Mr Weang is very good and hard to beat, but then my snooker playing is very rusty.

Tuesday 15th March

I finally handed back the marked Final Test papers to Ajaan Took. I also saw the Director who said that he wants me to stay tonight because he is organising a little party for me. It is very nice of him but I wish he had mentioned it yesterday as I booked a hotel room in Nong Khai for tonight and I’m now going to have to cancel it.

There was little for me to do other than upload my blog and photos and make copies of some of my photo albums for other teachers. I joined Ajaans Took, Cat and Bui for lunch at Nong Kung Sri which was very nice and we conceived a plan to try and ensure that they, the female teachers, could come to the party for me this evening. All I had to do was to text Ajaan Took with the name of the restaurant in Kranuan that I am being taken to. They would then happen to choose the same restaurant and join the ‘boy’s gang’ as they call us.

I duly send the details as soon as I knew them. When we got there, for some reason, we waited on the roadside by the entrance while Mr Noi went inside. He came out after a few minutes and we were told to get back into the car and Mr Noi drove us to a different barbecue restaurant where we had drinks and dinner and were later joined by Mr Panakhun.

I suspect that Mr Noi caught sight of the female teachers in the first restaurant and decided to change the venue. As it was Mr Panakhun’s evening he was very angry at the change of venue not least because he went there and, seeing the female teachers, joined them but, after a while, he left to come and join us at the other venue. Exactly what is behind all this I am not sure but will try to find out.

When I got back to the house I packed my things ready for an early departure in the morning for the start of my holiday.

For the next six weeks I will be uploading a skeleton blog because it actually takes quite a long time to write and upload and text and any photos. So I apologise in advance and my full blog will resume as normal when I get back to school on May 1st unless, of course, I do something amazing or see something wonderful which I would like to share with you.

Wednesday 16th March

Mr Noi came as planned at 8am and took me to Namphong which is on the main highway to my first destination. I won’t bore you with a blow by blow account of every minute of my holiday but instead I will give you some facts about each of the places I have visited which may come in handy should you ever decide to visit them in the future. My itinerary will be Nong Khai, Udon Thani, Chiang Mai, Muang Baeng (Loei), Pattaya and I will be back to school at Sai Moon on May 1st.

Posted by talismanic 22:07 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

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