28.05.2011 - 10.06.2011
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 ???