01.03.2011 - 13.03.2011
Tuesday 1st March
In one of the Director’s irregular chats with teachers after the morning assembly today he said he was impressed that all the teachers turned out again last night and that though we have only two potential recruits they are better than none at all.
One of the school’s mature trees near the assembly area fell down during the night and this morning Ajaan Took used the incident to remind students that life is full of the unexpected and that we do not know when we are going to die.
There is a new atmosphere in school with the beginning of March today and the end of term drawing nearer. Also coming soon are the Finals Tests which will determine which students move up a class because all of the M6 class, the most senior, will be leaving at the end of term and all other classes move up one step and a new intake of students forms the new (youngest) M1 class.
It is not only M6 students who can leave, M3 students can also. Some might go to other schools because they want to try something new or be closer to school. Some might go straight into work in order to earn money to help their families. The paradox here is that if they tried harder at school and made the effort to go on to university – assuming they could find the funds to let them do this – and get a better paid job they would then be able to give even more financial help to their families. But Thais generally don’t look ahead in this way!
Today, the students in the two classes below M3 and M6 (ie M2 and M5) began to source the items they will need to create a large ‘Pan’ – the quintessentially Thai decorative arrangement of flowers and leaves – which they will present to the M3 and M6 classes they will replace at a special farewell ceremony soon.
After lunch today, over a coffee in the admin office, Mr P. showed me the official booklet containing the breakdown of the O-Net results from last year. The test was taken by secondary schools in fifteen of Thailand’s 76 provinces. Kalasin was 10th and 11th in the league table for M3 and M6 respectively. By comparison, Loei province was 2nd and 1st. It will be a Herculean task to raise Kalasin’s educational level not only because it will collectively require all secondary schools in the province to raise their game but also because the O-Net is a multiple choice exam and is very elementary.
This afternoon I had a bad class with M4. To give them speaking practice I told them they were chatting on msn with a friend in New York, and to make sure they understood I told them they were in an internet cafe and had laptop in front of them and I illustrated the scenario. Before starting the chat I asked them where New York is. Silence. I asked again. Silence. I asked a third time and someone said France. In the end I had to tell them it is in the USA. I’d picked NY because I thought the city was so famous and well known that they would know it, but I was wrong.
I played the friend and opened the chat with Hello. I then asked what they wanted to say. Silence. After a while of trying I wrote Hi on the whiteboard. When I asked what they wanted to say next, pointing to the next line of the board, I got another silence. This was obviously going to be a hard lesson I thought.
Just then, Mr Narongsak, the young maths teacher, passed by who has quite good English and I explained the problem to him and he helped by explaining the scenario in Thai to the students. The first thing he said was that the students wanted a choice of possible answers, like a multiple choice question. I said that’s not how real people chat with each other and that they have to think of their own responses. When explaining the scenario Mr Narongsak also asked the students what the ‘A’ of USA stands for and said the first two words were United States. Silence. Incredibly, the students had to be told that the ‘A’ stands for America. Very sad indeed.
We went to another village this evening to promote the school and we had a very long wait until things got going about 8.15pm. Mr P. feels that if the villagers see the school is prepared to come to their village they will know the school is interested in them even if no potential M1 or M3 students attended.
Dinner was back at the school – sticky rice with chicken laarb (a herby chicken mince) and a spicy soup. To be honest, I’m tiring of having rice with every meal three times a day and long for something different.
Talking of which, I broached the idea of taking my colleagues out for lunch or dinner as a way of saying thank you to them for all their help since I have been at Sai Moon. I talked it over with three of the female teachers not realising what difficulties I would face. First, they said, the married female teachers, of which there are about four, would want to bring their husbands and children and one of the teachers would want to bring her mother.
When I said that my only stipulation was that we did something different from normal that raised more difficulties. How about bowling, I suggested. That would mean going to Maha Sarakham. How about going to a different kind of restaurant, such as Vietnamese, or Japanese ? There aren’t any anywhere nearby. I’m not sure if my idea is actually going to happen now but it would be really nice to eat and do something different from normal.
Wednesday 2nd March
My M3/2 class made me angry again this morning. I waited for them at their classroom and they strolled in at 0905 instead of 0840 when the class is supposed to start. And even after they settled down they still chatted and paid no attention. It is really exasperating when this happens.
When Ajaan Took come to the class after she’d finished typing a document she told me that Mr Noi had been speaking to them which was why they were late. That made me even more annoyed because there is a lot of spare time to talk to students without encroaching on the time of another teacher’s class.
I felt really despondent and considered dropping everything at Sai Moon at the end of term and moving on to the secondary school at Na Wang which I still have an option to do. Mr Panakhun is very nice and has some good plans but does not seem interested in imposing any discipline on either students or teachers although he has said that things will be different next term. We’ll see!
Another thing that made me annoyed was that Mr P. told me after dinner last night that Mr Noi wants me to move into his house for next term so that I can also give his two young daughters English practice. I can’t think of a less desirable idea. Mr Noi is very nice, but overly so and he’s always pawing me. His wife cannot stop talking and everything she says is hilarious apparently. I’d have even less freedom at his house than I do where I am. So this morning I consulted Ajaan Took to get her take on the situation and then spoke with Mr P. and I think I have knocked the idea for six.
Thursday 3rd March
No classes today as the whole day was given over to Pha Chim Ni Tet when the students of M6 are given a ‘blessing’ and given the school’s best wishes for their lives after the leave Sai Moon. The day is also about M5 taking care of M6 who they will be replacing as M6 next term.
The day is also about M3 who will reach their halfway point in the time at Sai Moon and who could, if they wished to do so, leave the school with a certificate of education to date. I understand one or two are planning to leave but I’m not sure as yet.
The morning was spent making the final preparations. Flowers were purchased to decorate the ‘M3, M6 background’ which had been craftily built from old cardboard boxes and the like (you’ll understand more when you see the photos in the gallery!) The six dancers had to change into their traditional costumes and have elaborate make-up and hair-do’s applied – and, being Thailand, it was the gay boys who did all of this!
The giant ‘pan’ (the decorative leaf structure that will hold the white cotton strings to be tied around each student’s wrist) had to be constructed as had the carrying tray. The six boys who will carry the ‘pan’ into the hall also had to have their torso’s ‘tattooed’ (in reality, marker pens) front and back, and the stage had to be prepared and decorated and the PA system set up.
The actual event began after lunch with all the students gathered, sitting cross-legged, in the open-sided hall when the Director lit the candles and incense sticks on the ‘altar’ that has been set up on the stage. All the teachers were sitting on chairs along one side of the hall while I roamed around taking photos.
The six carriers then brought the ‘pan’ into the hall and placed it on a table centre stage and knelt beside the table. Then the six female dancers performed in front of the stage – all of them students who look so different made-up and in traditional dress.
When the dance was over the ‘pan’ was taken off the stage and in place was made for it in the centre of the mass of students who turned inwards to face it. The innermost rank of students comprised those from M6 and M3.
A novice monk took his place next to the ‘pan’ and at the same time a tray of eggs, some flowers, a container of water, a Phit Khao (a traditional sticky rice basket), and a tray of food bowls, including a bowl of fresh chillies, were brought in and placed next to him. He took up the microphone and began reciting prayers which culminated with him holding a candle while reciting another prayer. He then used the small bunch of flowers and leaves to dip into the water to sprinkle it over the students as he walked around the ‘pan’.
If you look closely at the picture of the ‘pan’ you will see the white cotton threads dangling from the branches of the ‘pan’. The monk then tied one cotton thread to each M6 student’s wrist while wishing each one good luck and good health in the future.
After the monk had finished, the M3 and M6 students queued up to have other threads tied to their wrist by each of the teachers each of whom wished their students the best of luck etc.
The M3 and M6 students then had yet more threads tied by the two classes below them who, in turn, wished their elders the best of luck. And then began a kind of free-for-all thread tying. Several students asked me to tie threads for them while some wanted to tie them to my own wrist. Many of the younger girls had prepared very crafty good luck/love/kisses ‘amulets’ to give out to those they favoured – I got several love tokens and one of kisses which was nice.
Then one of the girls, accompanied by Mr Hot on guitar, sang to the students. I suppose it must have been a case of nerves because she sounded much better in practice. After she finished four teachers also sang a song but had to do so from the back of the stage because they relied on seeing the karaoke words on a laptop which had a short lead.
The day ended with an official photo session in front of the background I mentioned at the beginning and I was lead photographer for this because of my large Nikon camera. All the teachers sat on a line of chairs and the students formed up behind them framed by the giant M3 and M6 symbols. Thais have a tendency to be boringly serious in photos so after taking two like that I got them to say ‘Pepsi’ (the equivalent of ‘cheese’ for a western photographer) and raise their arms in a celebration which had the desired effect of making everyone appear happy.
And then, suddenly, it was all over and time to go home. This evening we, all the teachers that is, drove out to another village to make another presentation. A curious thing about this village was that there was a model of a giraffe at the gateway to the ‘sala’ and inside a large model of a horse. I suppose there may have been giraffes in some prehistoric age but there are none in Thailand nowadays other than in a zoo. As for horses, Mr P. assured me the other day that Thais travelled around on horseback in the era before motorcars arrived and on elephant even before that. But I have never seen a horse in Thailand and the only elephants you see are either in working conservation camps or occasionally on the street being ridden by a mahout.
After setting everything up in the ‘sala’ we had to wait around for what seemed like forever for any villagers to show up. A few arrived at 8.15pm and others drifted in a bit later. I wonder whether this really is the best way to attract students for next year ?
It was about 9.45pm when we arrived back at Sai Moon and we had dinner outside, sitting on mats on the ‘doc nam’ (a wooden platform), but it was the same as always – sticky rice and larb and cabbage. To be honest, I long for something, anything, different.
Friday 4th March
Today was Final Test Day for the students. Each subject teacher has prepared a test the combined result which will determine their end of year result. There are eight exam grades in Thailand: 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4 and 4.5. and a student who gets less than 50% will be given a ‘0’ though that is not equivalent to a ‘fail’.
It wasn’t until after assembly that I discovered that I had nothing to do all day, not exactly good news since doing nothing is far more tiring than working hard. This is because the lead teacher for each class will invigilate the tests and I am not required.
I also discovered that I might have even less to do next term after talking with my colleague Ajaan Took. Basically, there are two choices: either we each take three classes (I would have the three older classes M3, M4 and M6 while she would like the three younger classes M1, M2 and M3) or we could work together in each class. The first option would mean that my teaching hours would be half what they are now (ie 8 instead of 16 classes a week) which would mean much more unwanted weekday free time. The second option is better for me but is probably not what Ajaan Took wants. This is the disadvantage of being in a smaller school with fewer students!
I also heard today that my name has been put forward to join a committee on Monday to decide/advise about an English drama for a school near Kalasin. I’m not sure of all the details as yet but as it is to do with something English I was the obvious candidate. Apparently, there will be two other farang there as well. I will have to do some research on the subject because the last time I had any involvement with drama was at school an aeon ago!
There was another village presentation tonight, the last of the series apparently. While it is interesting visiting villages my interest wanes when only a very small handful of people turn up and it is very tiring when there are no spare seats to sit on. Tonight’s ‘sala’ was right in the heart of the village on one corner of a crossroads so the curious gathered as soon as we arrived to set up. This village also seemed to have a large than average population of young people because while we got organised dozens of very young children ran around and had fun seeing their shadows projected on our screen. As before, parents and older children strolled in after eating about 8.15 but this time there was a group of young teens sitting on their motorcycles on the road, as there was no seats left in the sala, listening to what was going on inside and I took a photo for you.
After packing up we all had something to eat at a roadside stall at Kham Yai paid for by Mr P. and he bought some beers as well which was nice of him.
On the way to Kham Yai I took the opportunity to talk to Mr P. about the two teaching options for next year, mentioned above. He came down firmly in favour of Ajaan Took and I working together for all classes, so it sounds as if all will be well after all.
Saturday 5th March
Mr Noi did not go to school yesterday or to the village presentation last night because he had a headache. This morning’s trip with Mr Noi, to the Kalasin Kaset (agricultural) Fair, was also cancelled for the same reason. This meant I had a totally free day for once with no engagements at all and could do what I wanted which was very little.
Sunday 6th March
I was looking forward to a second relaxing day and to doing some washing but then Mr Yor received a call from Mr Noi inviting us to his house for breakfast at 10am and going to the temple. There was nothing I could do but to go along with it.
As soon as we got there we had some extra wide noodles in a sort of gravy with some green leaves which I’ve had before and is quite nice. We (Mr Yor and I) were then left to our own devices for the next three hours which was a bit odd. There was an air of expectation in the house but it wasn’t till we were driving to the local temple at 2pm that I discovered why. Mr Noi’s family and in-laws had dressed up and had made a money tree with about 10,000 baht (about £200) on it. The point of the short ceremony in the afternoon was to donate this money to the temple to help with the new structure the monks are having built.
Back at the house there was more food and drinks and a long time with very little happening. Some in the family slept, but I tried to stay awake because I knew I’d fee rotten afterwards if I did.
About 5.30 it was decided that Mr Yor and I should go back to our house for a shower and then come back to Mr Noi’s for dinner. We did this and had dinner and then left to go back home again. I know it sounds bad, but I was secretly a bit annoyed that the whole of my day had been monopolised by Mr Noi again.
Monday 7th March
Up at 5.45am this morning in order to be at Mr Noi’s house at 7am for breakfast and then driven in his car to Kumin Secondary School (which has about 550 students) along with Mr Yor and Mr Narongsak; Mr Kae and Mr Weang travelled separately. Delegates from schools across Kalasin gathered at Kumin in order to prepare for a competitive festival next week. Competitions include a spelling bee, crosswords, sudoku, science, drama, dance, singing and so on.
Mr Panakhun had thoughtfully nominated me for the drama group not only without asking me first but also without knowing if I had any useful knowledge on the subject. About four hundred teachers were there and the gathering opened in a large hall with a welcome from three female students in English, Chinese and Thai. We were then addressed by the deputy of Kalasin’s administrative office who I met when I went there with Mr P a few weeks ago and also by the Director of the school who I had met earlier and who told me I must come to teach at his school.
A Chinese lady then spoke to us in Chinese with a Thai lady translating what she said into Thai but the gist was how important it is to learn a foreign language. Someone else spoke after her. By this time an hour and a half had passed and during most of this time the audience was in full chat mode just like my students which I thought was rather disrespectful.
After this, the audience split up into groups and I joined the English group because the drama, spelling bee, crosswords etc will all be in English. We were led away to classroom converted into a breakout room where one of the directors I went to Lao with two weeks ago welcomed us. We then split up into the different competitive groups and I thought this is where we actually start doing some work. But not. We chatted a bit and then polystyrene boxes of lunch came round and then everyone left and went home. So quite what was gained by this morning is anyone’s guess. The event itself takes place on Thursday.
Another member of the 5-member drama group is a teacher who is half Turkish and half Greek. He told me he wants to go up Mount Inthanon, near Chiang Mai, and had visions to going there by train from Khon Kaen until I told him that was impossible as there is no direct rail line across country.
On the way back we stopped off at the E-Sarn Juraissic Park and Museum in Somdet. It was very interesting as Esarn is rich in dinosaur remains and other fossils and everything was well displayed and presented. We were back at Sai Moon by 2.30 and the rest of the day was free.
Tuesday 8th March
The day started normally with assembly though I could sense a certain end of term feel in the air. Ajaans Took and Cat and I spent the morning visiting two schools in order to get students to apply to join Sai Moon next term. First, we returned to Had Sai Moon Primary School and, after speaking with the deputy director, Mr Phi Moon, we went to Prathum 6’s classroom where Ajaan Took gave her ‘sales’ pitch and I did an impromptu lesson in greetings to follow on from our last visit. Everything went well and all but three girls are likely to join Sai Moon next term.
The second school we visited was a primary and secondary school and some distance away from Sai Moon. This time we went to M3’s classroom and I did a slightly more advanced lesson in greetings for them. They did well but we soon found out that most of the class had already applied to go to the Nong Kung Si College next term so our visit was probably wasted.
On the way back we bought some lunch which we ate in the office. The rest of the afternoon was free for me and I watched Ajaan Took rehearse the six girls who will be in the dancing competition at Kumin School on Thursday.
In the evening Ajaans Hot, Yor, Pong and I joined almost the entire M3 class for dinner at a Thai barbecue restaurant in Kranuan. There were about 30 of us and the restaurant had to cobble together a number of tables to accommodate everyone but eventually everyone got a seat and everyone seemed to enjoy the evening. I also took some photos which are in the gallery. We had travelled there in three pick-ups which can carry 5 passengers inside and up to ten more in the back section.
Wednesday 9th March
An easy-going day at school today. Some students, mostly M3, did come into school by about 9am and they were the ones involved in the various competitive events at Kumin and they polished up their performances or devices for the big day tomorrow.
As for me, my day was free. Good news about the coming of the internet. Two people from MK Technical college came to test the signal this afternoon in all areas of the school and I got the impression everything is ok. The phone company, TOT, have promised a connection speed of 6Mb so it will be interesting to see what it is like when it is switched on which is likely to be any day now.
Last minute preparations this evening at my teacher’s house with Mr Hot typing the A4 pages of project which will be placed on special display boards and decorated. One of the M2 students, Pas, was assisting him. His project has been making Okra wine which I tasted and was very nice
Thursday 10th March
Up at 5am this morning for what I understood to be an early start for Kumin but turned out to be in order to have breakfast with Mr Noi at his house. He gets more and more repetitive and tells me much the same things almost every time I see him which is very tedious and is hard to appear interested.
An uneventful journey to Kumin. It was bustling with activity when we got there and students in their army cadet uniforms and snazzy red cravats saluted and directed us as we entered the gates and at a number of points on the way to the car park. Stalls had either been set up or were in the process of doing so and early arrivals were walking around expectantly.
We registered and got our badges and programme, which was all in Thai of course, and we prepared to go to our respective performance areas/rooms. I was directed to the wrong room at first with only a few minutes spare before the official start time. Luckily, I spotted Ajaan Took amongst the throng of people and she checked the programme for me which had the right room information on it and I went there and finally discovered what my role was to be. I was one of three judges for the acting competition and there were only three Kalasin schools in the event and they each had 15-20 minutes in which to do their performance. I took a photo of the marking sheet so you can see what the criteria were.
The three entries were Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Beauty and the Beast and Hans, a Swedish Story. I won’t bore you with a blow by blow account but suffice to say that the students did their best with what they had and in the limited classroom space. One of the things that made the first performance unintentionally hilarious was that the original script must have been in Thai and typed into a computer program which translated it into some very mangled, but very funny, English. There is a photo of a typical page from the script for you to have a giggle over in the gallery.
Sai Moon did not enter the drama competition so there was no conflict of interest but it brought into focus the difficulty of a relatively small school like Sai Moon, with about 150 students, competing with the likes of Bua Khao school with 2500 students to choose from.
With only three drama performances to judge my duty was all over by 11am and I was free to roam around taking photos of anything interesting. I watched Sai Moon’s dance team perform their two routines and took a video of them. They were the third of four schools to perform and were very good but the other entrants had more polish and more inventive costumes I thought. We eventually came 4th which was disappointing.
One of the biggest draws of the day was the free style and B-boy dancing which I stumbled across as I was unable to read the programme of events. This being Thailand the freestyle event was dominated by cute provocative girls. The B-boy event, in which two teams had entered, was good and very energetic though they students have some way to go before matching what you can see on the South Bank in London on almost any given weekend.
On our way back to Sai Moon we stopped off at the Lam Pao Dam where nipa huts have been built along the banks of one of the sluice gates similar to those along the Nam Song in Vang Vieng. We had some food and Leo beer and watched Thai day trippers further along the bank enjoy splashing about or tubing in the water. I clambered down the steps to the water’s edge and walked along to where the water thundered out from the sluice gate, the mist creating a nice rainbow.
The two 12/13 y.o. students who were with us, and I, climbed further up to the small road that runs along the water’s edge or it would do if the water level was high enough. From here I took a panoramic view which is in my gallery and then we clambered down to ground level again and everyone got back into the car to return to Sai Moon and, later, we had dinner at the roadside stall at Kham Yai.
Friday 11th March
The last day of term and today students sat the remaining subjects of their Final Test. This meant that I had nothing to do other than upload all the photos from yesterday at Kumin and at the Dam.
Mr Yor and I had breakfast at Mr Noi’s house. As usual there was a spread of different dishes on offer but Mr Noi has a perception of what he thinks I like to eat and buys the ready prepared dishes from a local shop. This is ok up to a point but I would much rather be asked what I would like to have, but that isn’t the Thai way.
I was busy working on my laptop when I was called to lunch at 11.30. I felt as if I’d only just had breakfast and was a bit annoyed that I now had to have lunch and wondered why it was so early. The reason was that a few of the teachers had to invigilate the students taking the Test in the various classrooms so we all had to eat earlier than usual.
It was an odd day because many students came into the office to return their English textbooks – they will get a different edition for their new class next term at the next level up and M3 students were busy completing their application forms to study at Sai Moon for the next year. This is because once a student has completed M3 they can leave the school if they want to and will get a certificate of completion.
Most of the M6 students, this is the class leaving Sai Moon for good today, were outside the office completing a different form which provides updated information for their final M6 completion certificates to which a photo is also attached. M6 is an all-pooying class with just one poochai and they have always been very friendly to me and usually a good bunch to teach. They told me they were going to have a party tonight. Before this, I had felt it odd that while M3 had a party on Tuesday, nothing had been organised for M6. So when they asked me if I would like to come, and knowing that the M6 students had almost no money between them, I felt duty bound to offer them 1000 baht to pay for the meal they proposed to have at the barbecue restaurant in Kranuan.
Mr Panakhun asked me if I would like to join him for a beer and we agreed to meet by his office at 3.30. Mr Yor and Mr Kay joined us and we went to the golf range in Huai Mek, not far from Mr P’s house where we had some Leo beer and watched him practice his strokes and chatted. Amongst other things he told us that things will be different next term because he’s well aware that some teachers are not pulling their weight and doing hardly any teaching at all.
Before we left the golf range I said I thought it would be a nice idea to join M6 at their party and, surprisingly, everyone agreed, so that’s where we went next. It was a nice evening and I think the six M6 students who were there really appreciated us attending. Mr P. got me to give a short farewell speech to the students, which he translated into Thai, which I hope was appropriate for the occasion.
Once all the food was finished the party broke up and I paid the balance of the bill and everyone went home.
Saturday 12th March
For Mr Yor, Mr Kay and Mr Narongsak the tables were turned today as they all took promotion exams today at Sai Moon which meant that, for only the second time, I had the day entirely to myself and I was alone at the house. I did my washing and I spent most of the day marking the M4, M5 and M6 English Final Test answer sheets.
This English Test was mostly a copy of the progress test I wrote for M4, M5 and M6 almost three weeks ago or a copy of dialogues and questions I had used in class and students had copied into their exercise books very recently. Many of the questions were identical. The only changes were that one or two names were altered in the situation dialogues, otherwise everything was the same and after the progress test I reviewed all the answers. The depressing thing about marking the answer sheets today was how many questions the students got wrong. It seems their memory span is very short!
Mr Yor, Mr Kay and I went to the Talat (market) in Kham Yai this evening just before sunset to buy food for dinner and we ate it when we got back to the house.
Sunday 13th March
I was alone in the house again today because the other teachers had a second day of promotion studies and exams all day.
I spent the day doing some more washing, ironing and generally preparing for my departure on holiday in a couple of days. This evening we - Mr Yor, Mr Kay, Mr Hot and I, had dinner at a barbecue restaurant in Nong Kung Sri which was nice enough but all these places have virtually the same choice of food to cook at the table which takes away much of the pleasure of going somewhere different.