A Travellerspoint blog

1st-13th March: Final Tests; M3/M6 Day; Have a giggle!!

sunny

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.

Posted by talismanic 00:29 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

17-28th Feb; Vang Vieng, Laos; Rats; Visiting villages +

sunny -28 °C

Thursday 17th February

The morning started normally but then I was summoned out of class about ten minutes before the end of a class, and just before I’d finished a comprehension test, to join Mr P. for the trip to Vientiane, main purpose of which was to donate some equipment to Nonesaath Secondary school there.

It took about three hours to drive to Nong Khai where you can cross the first Friendship Bridge into Laos. We parked the car in a secure area next to some shops and waited for the others to arrive, the others being four other school directors (mostly also golf pals) from nearby schools and one retired director Bua Khao school.

Before passing through departures we hired one of the several waiting minibuses with drivers and loaded the equipment we had brought with us. While the minibus went ahead we passed through departures and boarded the minibus the other side and were driven to the Lao side of the bridge where we had to pass through arrivals and immigration. For me, though not the others, this meant getting a visa on arrival and paying the 1500 baht fee. Everything was straightforward and soon we were all on board the minibus driving into central Vientiane.

It is not a long journey and when drove along the street bordering the Mekong river I noticed major changes had taken place since I was here for a visa run a year ago. It was about 6pm when we arrived at the hotel suggested by the minibus driver. Unfortunately it didn’t have enough vacant rooms for our party so we drove a short distance to where there were two hotels opposite each other and someone went to check each one. We ended up staying at one of these, the Hotel Phouxay, and I shared a room with Mr P.

There was one double and one single bed in the room and an ensuite wet room/loo. It was clean and tidy but lacked anywhere to put things except a narrow cupboard. We were only going to be there one night so it was ok and the room was only 900 baht (nearly £20) for the night including breakfast.

After settling in Mr P. and I went for a walk down the street to the new promenade along the Mekong river. The pavements were lined with sellers offering all sorts of non-food items for sale and it was interesting looking to see what was on offer.

Returning on the other side of the street we stopped at a pavement cafe for dinner. We looked at the fresh food items displayed including a bucket of frogs, another of fish, various meats on skewers and some unidentifiable items. Mr P. made the choices and we sat down at a table and then I noticed a woman at the next table eating black Mekong Seaweed which I’d had last time I was in Luang Prabang. As the Thais are so fond of eating and talking about food I thought the very tasty dried seaweed covered with sesame seeds might be a good present to take back for Mr Yor and Mr Hot. Unfortunately, the woman said, a friend had brought her the seaweed from LPB and it was not available in Vientiane.

After dinner we joined the rest of our group who were having their dinner at another street cafe round the corner. It was here that Mr P. was tricked into eating an innocent looking boiled egg but this egg had the chicken foetus in place of the yolk! Rather him than me!! (see photo)
It was so nice to have a hot shower and soft bed again!!

Friday 18th February

After breakfast and checking out everyone set off in the minibus to go to a computer store, the largest in Laos apparently, which seemed well stocked. The objective was to buy a laptop and printer to donate to the school. I was urged to act as adviser as to which laptop to buy which wasn’t too difficult as it was destined for use in the school office by staff only and we soon settled on an Acer with a good specification. We also bought a Xerox laser printer. We then went to a sports shop to buy badminton racquets.

Finally, we drove to Nonesaath Secondary School which is on the outskirts of Vientiane. It has 1500 students and in some of the classes there are more than 50 students sitting close together. The deputy director, also one of the English teachers, took me around and urged me to go into the classrooms not only to take photos but to speak to the students too – see the photos in the gallery.

I found the students to be very interested and not afraid to stand up and ask a question and their standard of English was better than at Sai Moon school. The tour was followed by the presentation of the equipment in the meeting room where everyone else had already gathered and the equipment had been unpacked and laid out nicely. Short speeches were given by Mr P. and another from our party and an acceptance speech was given by the Lao school director and photos were taken and an official inventory document was signed by one and all including me.

We were then invited to join the Lao teaching staff for lunch at a restaurant near the school which was very nice of them. We said our goodbyes after lunch and then drove back towards the city and the main bus station where two of the directors caught a bus back to Nong Khai. The rest of us were then driven to Vang Vieng which is about 150km north of Vientiane. The road passes through varying landscapes and many villages in some of which you can see the hardships people face living there let alone the dusty conditions in which they live being so close to the road.

It took longer to reach Vang Vieng than anticipated by the driver and we got there shortly before sunset. The first hotel we stopped at was full with a group of some 100 other Thai people. Our driver phoned a friend who suggested an alternative which was how we ended up staying at the Dork Phut hotel which, although located down an unpromising-looking unpaved lane, turned out to be new-ish, very comfortable and squeaky clean and costing about £10 per night though they did not do any food.

The other directors and their Lao girlfriends all took rooms on the top floor, I chose a room on the first floor which even had a partial view of the limestone kaarst cliffs though on the downside it had a leaky pipe making the wetroom floor always wet.

We dumped our things and then went for a walk around and it was like being out with a school group looking at everything. They were surprised to see restaurants so clearly aimed at tourists with western menus posted outside and so many internet cafes etc etc.
Later on we happened upon a couple of directors that Mr P. knows from golf who were in a different group visiting Vang Vieng so it seemed that many others had the same idea for the holiday weekend.

The main point of walking around was to find a Thai/Lao restaurant because apart from me no one in our group would eat western food. It took a while to find somewhere but the sad thing is they ended up ordering the same sort of dishes they have every day. By the time we left the restaurant the nightlife of Vang Vieng, such as it is, was in full swing. Some in our group wanted to go dancing so we ended up in a disco/karaoke place that was slightly off the beaten track and thus not full of farangs. In fact, there was only one other table occupied so it was not full of anybody much. We stayed a couple of hours then made our way back to the hotel and bed.

Saturday 19th February

I got up early to be able to take photos of the kaarsts at sunrise. They are very spectacular and it was well worth the effort. Whilst out and about alone I could not resist the chance to have a nice western breakfast. Apart from shopkeepers preparing their offerings there was hardly anyone around and those that were about were locals. I managed to find a place that was open and I had a good coffee and something to eat that didn’t involve rice!

Surprisingly, as I walked round the near deserted streets I bumped into the sales assistant who I’d chatted with in Vientiane at the computer store. Small world, even in Laos!

After breakfasts were over we drove north into the countryside where I took some interesting scenic shots. We stopped off at a street stall selling locally grown papaya and oranges which were very nice and refreshing. At this point we turned back and then took a side road leading to the Loub (Shell) Cave where there are sitting and reclining Buddha images inside the mouth of a large cave. To get there involved crossing a narrow wooden bridge across the Nam Song nearby which there was a group of boys diving for shellfish amongst the rocks.

We then drove further along the Nam Song to where there is a narrow suspension bridge across the river (which you can cross for a small fee) which is also the starting point for anyone wanting to go tubing down the river. Tubing refers to the inner tubes of large tyres in which customers can sit sipping a beer Lao, or whatever, and gently float downstream. It’s a fun activity and many people of all ages do it.

There are many water level bamboo huts along this part of the river where you can sit and have lunch and a drink and watch whatever is happening. We had lunch in one such hut and had a very pleasant afternoon.

After lunch we drove back through Vang Vieng and at one point we had to stop because someone spotted the forked trunk of a tree and had to take a photo of it for good luck! We then visited the Elephant Cave, somewhere I had been to a couple of years ago. You have to pay a fee to climb up the many steps to the cave entrance and there are many caverns inside carved out of the limestone by ancient torrents.

It was just before climbing up the entrance that I became ensnared in Mr P’s love triangle. This was because Mr P. had dropped his phone into some water whilst in the toilet in Nong Khai with the result it didn’t work for the entire trip so he and Ajarn Joy, his bit on the side and my English teacher friend who helped me so much at Muang Baeng school in Loei, began to use my phone number to speak with Mr P. That was fine. But on this occasion Mr P. shook his head at me to say he didn’t want to take the call. I then had to lie about his whereabouts to Joy saying he was already at the top of the steps in the cave when he was actually a few feet away from me. It made me feel very uncomfortable. On the other hand, Joy is playing the same game and has a steady boyfriend who she intends to marry at some point.

Once we had all descended from the cave we began the long drive back to Vientiane and we arrived there after dark. The hotel the driver took us to, chosen because it was cheaper than the other one we stayed in, only had three double rooms so I ended up staying at a different nearby hotel on my own which was an unexpected blessing. It was £11 for the night excluding breakfast which was another £1.50.

After a shower and change of clothes I set off to get dinner. The receptionist had given me directions to the nearest restaurant in this rather quiet area but when I got there a party was in full swing so I decided to get a tuk tuk into the city centre. No tuk tuks came by so I walked back to my hotel. The receptionist said tuk tuk were rare but without any embarrassment suggested I wait for one. I told him I was very hungry and wanted to have dinner this evening and not some time in the distant future. He then ventured that there were always tuk tuks around the other hotel, and there were. Luckily, the receptionist had also mentioned the normal fare to go to the city centre (30,000 kip in local currency or about £2.30) so I was able to haggle the quoted high price of 50,000 kip down to the normal level.

It was nice being able to read a menu and eat something of my own choosing for a change. I also savoured the soft bed and hot shower for my final night away from Isaan.

Sunday 20th February

We had arranged to meet at the main hotel at 10 am and by the time I got there the three women on the side of the three remaining directors had left for home. We drove back to the Friendship Bridge and left Laos and wandered around the Tax Free area but neither of us bought anything because we had both run out of Thai and Lao cash and none of the three currency exchange kiosks would touch British pounds or most other currencies. Mr P. and I scraped only just together the 40 baht needed for the bus to the Thai side of the bridge and very soon we were back in Nong Khai, Thailand.

As luck would have it, the ATM near to where the car was parked was out of order so we walked to another 7/11 a short distance away and got some cash and had some lunch.

It took nearly three hours to reach Wang Saphung, Loei where Mr P. has the family home where I met his wife and 15 year old son who looks far older than he is.

The house is similar in size to Mr Songsak’s house in Ban Chad where I lived last year. Mr P’s house had a hot shower room downstairs and a cold dip-and-pour shower upstairs. We had dinner sitting on mats on the floor of the traditional large open room that comprises most Thai houses.

Mr P. is pretty fixated with golf and before and after dinner the TV was glued to the Golf Channel and I struggled to stay awake and feign interest.

Monday 21st February

We had to get up at 3.30 this morning for a 4am departure for the drive back to Sai Moon. I struggled to stay awake on the drive back as well, but failed! Luckily, it was a routine day at school and the only notable daytime event was that my M2 class didn’t turn up and although I looked around for them they obviously have a good hiding place.

At 6pm The Director, Deputy, Mr Noi and I set off for the nearby village of Phi Moon where the other teachers had already arrived. It was the start of a week of promoting Sai Moon school and attracting new students for the start of the school year next term. I have never been to a parents and teachers meeting in a UK school so I have no idea what such meetings are like there. But here, the meeting was held in an open-sided building, the equivalent of a village hall. About 30 plastic chairs had been set out, banners hung and display banners erected. A LED projector was set up on a table and two laptops connected up to show a film and for a slide show about the school accompanied by music.
After a while everything was ready and in place and the head man of the village made an announcement over the village PA system encouraging parents with 12-14 y.o. children to attend and we waited hopefully. I did wonder what would happen if no one showed up, but that didn’t happen this time since about 25 parents and offspring attended.

When the first people arrived the film was started. It was not about the school but about how bad things in life can be turned around for the benefit of everyone. So, an opium grower turned himself into a strawberry farmer; a boy at a school who wasn’t up to fending off a ball thrown at a girl he was talking to gained the confidence to do so after working on a farm and milking the cows and delivering a calf....you probably get the gist of the film by now.

The film over, a long slide show ensued consisting of photographs taken at the school or at events students have attended over the last year or so. I watched closely trying to equate the well posed slides with the school I knew and felt the parents were being given a sanitised and glossy view.

After the slideshow the Director took the mike and spoke to the gathering. He told me later that he’d told them about the new things happening next term such as the arrival of the internet (more about that later) and having me as a native English speaker as a teacher.
A bit later, all the teachers, including me, stood in a line in front of the parents and were introduced one by one. Needless to say, my height caused great amusement.

The talking to the parents by different teachers dragged on for what seemed ages and then, finally, the Director took the mike once more and, for the first time, asked if anyone had any questions. A man at the back stood up and asked about discipline at the school because some students seem to do what they like and some students did minor bad things. The Director later told me that he replied saying that things would be different next year.

Prior to this meeting, and while still at school, I had tried hard to think of what could be said to promote the school to any parents and I tried to think what might make a parent decide to send his son/daughter to Sai Moon and discussed all this with Ajaan Took, my English teacher colleague. We agreed that the advent of the internet would be a good selling point as would having me at the school. I thought some tangible illustration of academic success would be a good idea and suggested displaying the large poster in our office which has photos of the seven students from last year who went on to university and the subjects they are studying. But my suggestion wasn’t acted upon.

As for the internet, TOT, the phone company, came to do a survey and have decided the school’s best option is to have long distance wi-fi which is now going to come from Non Kung Sri rather than Kam Yai. It will still cost the same and will be password protected so anyone living close to the signal will be unable to use it, assuming they had a computer of course, something very few people around here have.

Tuesday 22nd February

This evening there was a mix up over the transport to tonight’s presentation. I was told to be ready to go at 5pm but ended up waiting 90 minutes. Eventually the director turned up and we went to the village together.

Some of the M5 students cooked dinner for us at nearby house (see photos) and at the presentation itself I began to feel like a prize exhibit because my name was mentioned so many times as one of the two main new attractions at Sai Moon school.

Wednesday 23rd February

The third presentation of the week at yet another village went well and like the previous two events.

Thursday 24th February

Tonight’s presentation was at Sai Moon village hall and several students were there to help set things up and to see what was happening. If the interest shown by parents is turned into reality then Sai Moon should gain quite a number of new M1 and M3 students next academic year.
Friday 25th February

This morning the Deputy Director, Ajaan Took and I went to Ban Hat Sai Moon primary school to do a presentation of a different kind. The idea was to introduce me and for me and Ajaan Took to do a 30 minute class for Prathum 6 students, ie those 12 y.o. who will be moving up to secondary school next term.

We decided beforehand to focus on introductions and vocabulary and we had prepared a handout for the former and we had individual and group practice. For the vocab we had A4 sheets printed with the English and Thai for each word as well as separate A4 picture sheets with an illustration of each word. The words included Frog, Golden Apple Snail, Fish, Ant and Hymenoptera...it was a good job there was an illustration for me to look at as well as I’d never heard of it before!! Have you ?

After we got back to Sai Moon Ajaan Took was called to see the Director and afterwards she came into the office to speak with me. She told me the Director had asked her to tell me that I will get 10,000 baht per month expenses which is rather less than we agreed when we went to Kalasin. I thought it was rather odd that Mr P. didn’t speak to me himself about this but suspect he was too embarrassed.

In the evening Mr Yor and I followed Mr Hot on his motorcycle visiting the family of various students as part of the taking care system where each teacher is assigned one or two classes to make pastoral visits to every so often. As before, it was interesting to see where which students lived and to be invited into their homes and meet their parent – singular because, often, financial hardship follows when one or other parent dies, or when parents split up, or where one works far away.

Saturday 26th February

Most of today was spent in Khon Kaen. Mr Noi wanted to get a set of loudspeakers for his laptop and get the software loaded onto it for karaoke. It took about 90 minutes to get there, a rather boring journey with little of interest to keep one awake!

We went to the large IT centre in Khon Kaen called Kosa which consists of lots of concessions and stalls selling every conceivable item and gadget for computers. After much walking around Mr Noi found what he wanted and someone loaded the software for him.

Mr Hot wanted to find the Sony service centre to fix his camera which isn’t working properly. It was interesting to witness Thais being given duff directions from locals as I thought it might be just a farang experience. The downside was that we drove and walked around a lot before finding the centre. The upside for Mr Hot is that the repair will take less than a week and cost £18 though that was more than he had anticipated.

We drove back to Sai Moon calling in at the market at Kham Yai on the way. Once again I was denied the chance to walk around it which was rather annoying.

Mr Noi bought food for dinner which we all had at his house and the moment I have been dreading arrived. Mr Noi is what I would call an ardent Buddhist. One of his obsessions, along with that of many other people, is the quality of his string of amulets each containing miniature Buddha images that he wears around his neck. He stops by any stall selling them and he pulls out his amulet string and holds long conversations about them and often examines them with a magnifying glass.

Many people just wear a single amulet around their necks – mostly men it seems to me – but some seem to delight in wearing many in the same way that certain western men might wear lots of gold chains. When I first saw such people I wondered if more amulets makes you more pious ?

The dreaded moment was when Mr Noi presented me with a very special amulet to bring me good heath and good luck. Special because it has not an image of Buddha but the image of the most revered and saintly monk in all Thailand which by association bestows many gifts upon the wearer. In addition, said Mr Noi, the amulet was worth 100,000 baht, but I’m sure he really meant 10,000 baht or perhaps 1000 baht as he often gets his 000s mixed up as his English is about as good as my Thai.

I am not a religious person by any stretch of the imagination even thought I was brought up as Catholic and went to Catholic schools, one of them run by Benedictine monks. So the thought of having to wear this necklace is annoying. Mr Noi is the type of person who will look or feel for it every morning when we meet at assembly. I am thinking about developing an allergy to the cord that around my neck in a few days as an excuse not to have to wear it all the time. What do you think I should do ?

Sunday 27th February

Much of the day was spent ironing everything that needed it for the whole of next week. At lunchtime, Mr Yor took me to Mr Hot’s farm where I met his parents and where we all had lunch. One of the dishes was Papaya Salad but this time with the addition of very young, almost transparent, live shrimps. They seemed to have no taste whatsoever so why they are regarded by some as a delicacy is beyond me.
In the early evening Mr Yor took me to Kham Yai where I had a long awaited haircut for the princely sum of £1.20.

Monday 28th February

The start of another week. The day went smoothly and as usual I had free time after 2pm so I caught up with emails and wrote this blog.
This evening all the teachers went out to another village and prepared the ‘sala’ for the presentation about Sai Moon school. Despite the usual announcement over the village tannoy system by the headman not many people turned up and only two students came of the right age. I was urged to chat to them and promise them a good welcome if they come to our school.

Although this village is some distance away from Sai moon my school is able to transport students to and from school for free.

Posted by talismanic 20:48 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

8-16th Feb, 2011+Job offer+class no shows+funeral

sunny

Tuesday 8th February

To Kalasin Administrative Office Organisation where I met the lady – she said her name is Sam - who looks after Sai Moon’s affairs and I met her 72 year old mother who is Kalasin’s Minister. Mr P. proposed that I stay at Sai Moon until the end of the year and in return suggested the province should pay me living expenses. It can’t be called a salary because my visa does not allow me to work. Everyone agreed that this would be a good idea and after asking me a number of questions they seemed to like me very much. At first Sam was doubtful because farang never want to stay because, she said, Isaan is ‘uncivilised’ but I think she meant unwesternised.

I also attended an education meeting in the main debating chamber which had tiered seating with microphones with ‘on’ lights for each delegate. There were 30 comfortable upholstered seats in the centre section for the lead delegates and a similar number split between the two side section for assistants though without the comfortable seats and only one shared mike per desk.

Mr P. wanted to sit on the highest tier because it was on the same level as an exit door but the other advantage was that both of us could see everything in front of us. The meeting was video’d and the cameraman took several shots of me reading a document. As it happened, as soon as Sam came into the chamber she gave me a ten-page document saying that it was a university research paper of hers and would I correct her English ? I agreed but wished I hadn’t because much of it was in pseudo academic language that needed lots of work to turn it into sensible English. A lot of conjunctions and prepositions were missing too which didn’t make it any easier.

All the wai-ing didn’t make it easier either. Many other school directors, all in their civil service uniforms like Mr P. donned for the occasion, had to be wai’d which kept interrupting my train of thought trying to untangle the English in the document. Sitting next to me was the director of Bua Khao school, which has 5000 students and about 200 teaching staff, and after Mr P. introduced me he grabbed my arm in a friendly fashion and said I must come to work at his school.

Life at a larger school is certainly busier not only with more classes to teach but with much more going on too. But I think this school would be just too big and it would be well nigh impossible to recognise AND remember the names of the staff let alone any of the students!
Afterwards, I told Mr P. the only disappointing thing about Sai Moon, for me as much as the teachers and students, was the lack of the internet. This comment was to have the desired effect tomorrow.

Wednesday 9th February

Mr P. had told me to be ready at 7.30 to go with him to Kum Krom school which is on the way to Maha Sarakham city. I wasn’t sure what was happening as no one had told me and I certainly didn’t know the reason for the early start.

Once at school I was told we would not be departing until 8am. Thai time again I suppose. The school bus was pressed into service as well as a couple of songteaws and a couple of pick-ups (see photos) to take all our students to the other school which was celebrating Vegetable Day with displays and dance performances. There were stalls too, and locals brought along their cocks for some good old cock-fighting.

A lot of effort had been put in by the staff and students to welcome everyone and put on a good show, and it was good. Two lines of students greeted every arrival at the entrance and once inside all teachers had a freshly picked orchid and decorative leaf pinned to their buttonhole.
The music and dance performances on the large stage were excellent. Some Sai Moon girl students contributed a traditional dance for which the participants received a certificate and every student signed for and received a 50baht note for their lunch expenses.

After lunch I left with Mr P. and we drove into Kalasin city to visit the TOT (Telephones of Thailand) offices to follow up on my observation and the school is only 1km from the nearest phonebox and that laying a landline to the school would give it the much desired internet access. We were told that a landline would have to come from Kham Yai, about 6 km away where there is, presumably, a phone exchange and we left the TOT office with the promise that an engineer will work out how to get us a line and at what cost.

Thursday 10th February

For the third week running I have been told by Ajaan Took, the 32 year old Head of English, that the students of M1 want to have their class with me rather than Ajaan Cat who would normally have the class. They are the youngest of the students at the school and are a fun-loving bunch so in a way I don’t mind but I seriously doubt that they were given the choice. I suspect that Ajaan Cat just wants an easy time. Today, for example, she and two other female teachers sat at the back of the office, where the M1 class took place, eating and chatting.

I had the chance before lunch of having a private chat with Ajaan Took and I told her about my interview and that I will most likely be staying at Sai Moon until the end of the year. She seemed pleased with the news and we decided between us how we would work together in class during next term.

My students of first class in the afternoon, M3/2, didn’t show up because they were frying banana slices with Ajaan Hot so I was asked to give another teacher an instant conversation practice lesson which I did though I was privately annoyed that banana frying was deemed more important than English but then this is a Thai school and one has to expect the unexpected.

Very early this evening all the teachers went to the Buddhist Patta Jamlong festival at Huai Mek (pronounced Hoy Mek) though the male teachers travelled separately from the females. I don’t know what the females did, but we first went to the table where they had platefuls of old Thai coins and we each took one after putting a present-day financial offering in the collection box. There was a long line of large cups (see photo) above each of which was a Buddha image with a label attached which indicated the amount to be placed in that particular cup. Mr Yor showed me what to do: you simply placed the appropriate coins into each cup as you walk along the line.

After that we went to collect the package of material to place on a table at the foot of the statue of Buddha where we also planted incense sticks, lit candles and prayed. We then walked around the base of the statue ringing the gongs and bells placed at each corner and then it was a short walk to the prayer hall where there was another giant Buddha statue. Again we lit incense sticks and planted them and I took a photo.

With the religious side of things over we walked along the main avenue on each side of which were various stalls. Not a lot of imagination goes into the planning it seems because there was stall after stall with the same burst-a-balloon attraction with the same giant cuddly toys as prizes. The same can be said of the other stalls including the food stalls though they, of course, didn’t have the cuddly only the same choice of food.

We walked to the end of the avenue where we had one beer each and then walked back. We said hello to the female teachers as we passed a restaurant but we walked on to where we had parked the car. After a while, during which time I was wondering what was happening, we climbed into two cars and drove a short distance to a different restaurant where we spent the rest of the evening eating and having a few drinks. Although it was an enjoyable evening I had understood we were going to watch the Mor Lam dancing and other events during the evening, but we didn’t see any of them.

Friday 11th February

Most of my M6 class didn’t show up for this morning’s second period and I asked Ajaan Took, the head of English, what happens in situations like this and she said the academic department – a department I’ve yet to discover –could decide to withhold the certificate that M6 students receive when they graduate and which employers often ask to see. However, life is so easy going here that I think this action would only be taken in an extreme case.

Saturday 12th February

Up at 5.15am this morning and Mr Noi came to the house, with his wiofe and two daughters, to collect me and Mr Yor to go to Wat Phra That Na Dun some distance on the other side of Maha Sarakham and about 90 minutes’ drive away.

On the way we passed the trailer of a sugar cane lorry which had overturned and shed its load. I’ve mentioned before about how the roads are full of lorries large and small carrying loaded with sugar cane. The system here is that the cane is cut and loaded either onto small trailers directly from the field and then reloaded onto a larger truck, or, sometimes, if a larger truck can get access it will be loaded at the field. All these trucks then go to a weighing and loading station where the sugar cane is weighed then loaded onto even larger lorries the maximum permitted weight of which is 21 tons. Sometimes this load is on one truck, often the lorry is smaller and has a trailer. In both cases the trucks have wooden poles placed on both sides of the back to act as extensions to allow the cane to be piled much higher. Sometimes, you see really unsteady trucks and, with the camber of the road, it is not surprising that some tip over.

The Wat we went to is considered the most important of all in the whole area because the chief monk was the most revered for many miles around for his great wisdom, for his deeds and for his age. I say ‘was’ because today was his funeral as well as being Arsahara Bucha Day.
We stopped on the way at Mr Noi’s mother’s house in Maha Sarakham city where I helped open all the envelopes containing the donations from the Sai Moon villagers which ranged from 25 baht in coins to 500 baht in notes. All the notes were counted and bundled up and here I discovered that the right way to bundle notes is so that the King’s head on the notes faces outwards.

Each note was then threaded through a slit in a thin bamboo stick which was then stuck into the body of a large bamboo shoot. Once all the sticks had been planted they formed the money tree (see photo). All this took quite a long time and then we had breakfast and then set off for the rest of the journey. Various other people had joined us and the pick-up was full. In the back, there were giant size metal cooking pots in which food had been prepared to feed us and many others at the ceremony.

When we got to the temple area it was buzzing with people and seemed chaotic. There was an air of expectancy as people stocked stands, contributed food while others were already eating.

Having unloaded our pick-up we set off to light more incense sticks and press a postage stamp-sized gold leaf onto a statue of Buddha’s head and shoulders. When my turn came the gold leaf fluttered off the holding paper before I could press it on anything. We then went to pray in the Buddha hall and light yet more incense sticks.

On the way, we passed an ingenious device consisting of five monks seated on a circular platform, each with an alms bowl in from of them. A curtain was arranged so that only one monk at a time was visible. As each monk appeared through the curtain the lid of its alms bowl lifted to collect any contributions (see photo).

We also had to join many other people at prayers in a temporary covered area at the end of which twenty monks sat serenely on a long platform (see photo). The chanting of the traditional prayers went on for quite a while and then groups came forward to present each monk with packages of new robes and associated items.

While waiting for our group to gather after prayers I had a look at a stall selling Buddha amulets and couldn’t help noticing four very large erotic wooden items that were for sale and I took a photo. One of the monks behind the stall saw me, took out one of the items and thrust it into my hand and I gestured with it which caused lots of laughter...just see the photo and you’ll understand!

After this we left the area and return to the car and drove to a house in the village where Mr Noi and Mr Yor and others built two more money trees. Inevitably someone brought out a bottle and brandy and sodas were passed around to fortify everyone. Then it was a short walk back to the temple area where we had lunch. It was interesting that traffic direction and other tasks were undertaken by some local community policemen. Also in uniform were about thirty teachers though not in their normal sandy coloured uniforms but in white No.1 dress as it were, and both groups lined up at the temple gate to welcome the car carrying the person who was carrying the water sent by the King for the funeral (see photo). The white uniforms are only worn on occasions connected with the King. Another link with the King is that one of his daughters has a link with this particular temple.

I waited for the car’s arrival next to a lot of local people. Immediately next to me were two boys of about 10 who said hello to me and asked me where I was from and I took a photo of them because they had such lovely Thai smiles (see photo).

Later on, after the water-carrying VIP, followed by all the most senior monks, had separately climbed up the steps towards the coffin and had paid their last respects to the monk who’d died, everyone else gathered to do the same. During this time special fireworks were let off to make bangs as well as two that contained mini parachutes which symbolised the passage of the dead monk to Nirvana. The smiling boy and his friend also brought round soft drinks and I took another photo and then everyone was given a stiff paper ‘stick' to which various symbolic paper items had been attached. At the top of the steps we had to add our ‘sticks’ to the pile already accumulated and then descend via different steps at the side.

It was an interesting if rather confusing day as I wasn’t sure what was going on or why. For once the sun didn’t fully shine, which was probably just as well given the circumstances.

We left about 3.30 though I would have liked to see the elaborate funeral building set ablaze about 7pm. As we left a stage had almost been set up for some music and other performances which we also missed.

We arrived back at Sai Moon about 6pm and, after shopping at the local market, we had dinner at Mr Noi’s house. Then it was back to the teacher’s houses and bed.

Sunday 13th February

Started to rain at 6am and it continued until about 11am. I don’t suppose it was enough to please the farmers but it had the effect of clearing the air and freshening everything.

It also caused the sandy coloured cloak that covers the outside of many trees to slide off and drop to the ground. It is put there by termites but I am not sure what its purpose is yet.

Monday 14th February

A rather overcast day which turned sunny in the afternoon. I had a repeat of the problem with my 3/2 class this morning but when I reminded them firmly that if they want to chat they can leave the class they soon shut up. It’s not surprising that the worst at English are those who chat all the time and pay no attention.

About 9pm this evening all of us at the teacher’s houses piled into Mr Kay’s pick-up to go to Huai Mek for the last day of the Patta Jamlong festival. Everything was still in full swing as it was last Thursday evening when we made our first visit. As it was also Valentine’s Day it was thronged with people. No alcohol is available during fairs/festivals like this and it was nice to see so many young people, boys and girls, enjoying themselves with none of the yobbish behaviour so common at home. Many of my students were there as well and looking very different out of school uniform and, as is normal, they wai’d me and the other teachers and came over to say hello. At home I suspect we might have got a two-finger sign at best!

Tuesday 15th February

Another day of on and off sunshine. Could the rainy season be starting early ?

At lunchtime the Director told me of his some of his plans for the school which include making the entrance to the school and the driveway more attractive and tidying the flower beds and planting more flowers, trees and shrubs. He believes that a nicer environment with affect the students positively. He also has plans to paint the classrooms. He told me that his budget for all of this is about £20,000 part of which comes from government funds and part from Kalasin funds. If he can achieve these changes before he leaves the school they will make a big difference I think.

He also told me of the problems the school had last year which included bad teachers and some who were always drinking or drunk. By extension it sounds like the previous director was useless given the way the infrastructure, classrooms and equipment have been left to rot. The teaching can’t have been up to much even when all the previous teachers were sober. I can only speak for English but it is telling that the best students are the three younger classes: M1 to M3.

The Director also said that he’s heard from the phone company in Kalasin city that to lay the landline from Kham Yai (about 5 km away) to the school, install the internet facilities and install one server will cost about £2,000 every year. I am not sure of this is the actual amount or an estimate but it does sound rather a lot to me and if accepted I think the school may end of paying several times over for the line laying work. In passing, almost all lines (electric or phone) in Thailand are overhead lines, nothing is buried unless it is near a palace or something.

There was a monthly staff meeting this afternoon to plan for the rest of term which ends in mid-May, and to set some goals for the future. The meeting was all in Thai and chaired by the Director but he very kindly gave me a quick resume of the agenda items in English after the meeting finished.

He also told me that he wants me to go with him and a couple of directors from other nearby schools to Vientiane, Laos, on Thursday where they will visit a secondary school and donate a computer, some books and some sports equipment. We’ll stay the night there and return to Thailand the next day.

It was Mr Weang’s 35th birthday today and this evening Mr Hot and Mr Yor when off to Kranuan by motorbike to buy a birthday cake. The rest of us gathered in one of the rooms at the school but kept shtum about his birthday. When Mr Hot and Mr Yor arrived back the lights were turned off and the surprise cake was brought in, candles blazing, and we sang happy birthday in English. We had a few beers there and then set off for Kranuan where eight of us had dinner at the barbecue buffet restaurant opposite Tesco Lotus where lots of food was consumed as well as more Leo beer.

Wednesday 16th February

I wore my pink teacher’s shirt for the first time at Sai Moon this morning and it was much admired. While the students do have uniforms of a sort to wear they seem allowed to wear what tops they like and it is the same for teachers. One of the announcements at yesterday’s meeting was that there will soon be proper school jackets and more Sai Moon school exercise books both of which other schools have.
The end of this term is the end of the Thai school year which also means the school will receive the budget for the next year and it seems that a whole variety of changes and improvements are in the pipeline.

Early this evening the Director and all the teachers set off for Bui’s house, she’s the school secretary. It took us more than 90 minutes to get there partly because the Director lost his way a few times. He asked various people for directions and they talked a lot but did seem to know the way either. My own experience of asking the way or asking where a certain shop is is that it’s nearly always a waste of time. Local people never seem to know the way to anything more than a few paces from where they are standing.

The reason for going to Bui’s home was to take part in a Baci Ceremony. She has recently graduated and had also recently recovered from an accident and this ceremony, where white cotton threads were tied around both Bui’s wrists, symbolises a new beginning and the giving of hope and strength. Many people were there when we arrived, mostly Bui’s extended family and there was plenty of food and drink on offer. A small stage had been set up as well as a sound system. There was even a singer and Mr P. gave a speech. It was a nice evening though Mr P. didn’t want to stay too late so we said our goodbyes and left. The drive back was much faster and more direct and I got home about 9.30pm.

Posted by talismanic 00:26 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Feb 1st-7th, 2011 Karaoke; Late nights; Bad 3/2 and Golf++

sunny

Tuesday 1st February

One of the disadvantages of being at a rural school is that banking facilities are far and few between. It is not too hard to find an ATM but any other service requires a bank and until today I had no idea where the nearest bank is. It turns out to be at Ban Nong Kung Sri and that’s where I had a lift to this morning with Mr Yor who needed a bank too.

On the way back we stopped at a roadside stall to buy lunch for all the teachers. We got some spatchcocked barbecued chicken and both kinds (one sweet and only slightly spicy, the other more sour and spicy) of what locals call Papaya Pock Pock because of the sound the pestle makes in the mortar when pounding the ingredients. For the first time, I paid for the food.

This afternoon I faced my first difficult class at Sai Moon. It was M4 (16 years olds, pooying and poochai) and the half dozen best students were ready and seated on time when I arrived in the classroom. The remaining 15 or so students drifted in in ones and twos right up to about 5 minutes before the end of class. That was annoying because the late students had to be told what we were doing otherwise they wouldn’t have a clue and this was very unfair for the six that were on time. Another annoyance was the constant chattering and getting up to do things like plug in mobile phones for charging. I had to tell them forcefully that in my class they had to remain quiet and not to chat and not to homework from another lesson etc etc. I think they got the message that I mean business but I will have to wait until Friday to find out as I only take M4 twice a week. I later discovered that every other teacher complains about this class.

Four of my fellow teachers were in a very happy mood this evening because they had won money on the Thai lottery, one of them had won 56,000 baht (about £1200) and the two male teachers wanted to go out and celebrate so five of us went into Non Kung Sri at about 7.30pm being driven there by one the teetotal Mr Hot.

It was a boys night out and we went to an off the beaten track karaoke bar. I say off the beaten track because it literally was off the paved road and down a couple of sandy lanes and although it was dark it appeared to be surrounded by fields. That was probably a good thing because the karaoke singing left a lot to be desired. There were only two other groups of people in the large darkened indoor space which was lit by a changing lighting display beamed onto the walls. Hostesses, who were mostly Lao girls (Lao people, like Thais, are unable to work unless they have an id card but many don’t have a card and therefore do casual work of various kinds) who poured drinks and would be yours for the night if so desired.

Early on, a piece of paper was passed round on which everyone added to a lost of song requests for the karaoke. I had to think hard to recall a song that might be on the karaoke machine’s song list that I might passably sing. My first choice, the (for me) old standby of Country Roads wasn’t available but Elvis’ comfortably slow and undemanding Wooden Heart was available but when my turn came, the screen, with the lyrics displayed on it, was so far away and the lighting so dim I couldn’t read the words!!

It was a late night out and one I would have preferred to have with a weekend in prospect rather than a working day next morning because we got back to the house at 1am.

Wednesday 2nd February

I forgot to set my alarm last night and woke at 7am instead of the usual 6.30 but it didn’t matter very much because I stall had plenty of time to get washed and dressed and walk to assembly an hour later.

I didn’t realise until this morning that this morning’s M3/1 and M3/2 classes were cancelled because the students were taking their O-Net, or Ordinary National Education Test. As is normal in Thai schools, teachers from other schools come to invigilate and oversee the exam to ensure everything is just-so.

I wish I had known on Monday, when I last had the M3 students, that they would be taking the exam today because I would have run through some key points to remember such as reading the question carefully and making sure they understand what is being asked because they do have a tendency to give the answer they first think of rather than the answer demanded. On the plus side, I heard that last time Sai Moon obtained the highest O-Net scores of all the schools in the area though I do not know what the highest score actually was.
There are some very bright students in the two M3 classes and I feel sure they will do well. There is a large poster in the school with the photos of the seven students who went on to university last year to study law, physics, chemistry and other subjects which is designed, I suppose, to inspire other students, but it does mean that even students from the mostly very low income rural families around here can go on to higher education and have a rewarding career.

The spur for many of them is their desire, and cultural obligation, to help their families and this usually means that when they leave school and start work they remit all the money they can to help their families. How different it is in Western countries.

There was a party this evening to celebrate Mr Hot’s graduation from Maha Sarakham University. It was held at the teacher’s houses where I live. Almost all the teachers were there as well as the Director and three other school directors as well as the school’s two non-teaching staff. A computer and loud speakers were set up for the karaoke and almost everyone sang. The trunk of a banana tree had been cut into four to form a square container for the charcoal fire for the barbecue. This was the first time I’ve been at what we would consider a proper barbecue. Pork was the main barbecue item and it was really delicious though other Thai dishes were on offer as well as Khao Nieow (Sticky Rice). Later on, rice cakes were formed from the sticky rice mixed with an egg and placed on the barbecue grill and the result tasted surprisingly good. The only negative of the evening was that there was no beer, only whiskey was on offer so I had some too though drowned with soda.

One of the other directors was from the other school that was at the scout camp and, after a couple of whiskies, he asked me if I would give him 1-to-1 English classes at his home at weekends. Although I didn’t say so, I wasn’t thrilled by the suggestion nor was I keen on tying up my weekends. The proposition was entirely impractical because this director lives in Kalasin city and unless he wanted to come and fetch me and take me back I have no means of transport. The bike I had was returned to Mr Noi for the duration of scout camp and he hasn’t suggested I use it again so far. As for weekends, I only have five more at this school and various people have already promised to take me to various places. Assuming all these promises are kept, I only have 2 or 3 completely free weekends left.

Thursday 3rd February

I had to put my foot down with M3/2 today. Two were carving bits of wood from their previous class, a couple were drawing or doing homework, others were chatting. The whole class was very disruptive so I told them as simply as I could that if they chat any more I will send them out of the classroom, and that if the two carvers continue I would chuck their bits of wood out of the window. They got the message and were as good as gold, or as near to it as is possible in Thailand, for the rest of the class.

One of the topics I have used this week for a number of classes is to think of things to pack for a trip to London. The two youngest classes, M1 and M2 soon came up with a list of things to pack. The older classes, M5 and M6, who have had two hours of English a week at primary school and 3 hours every week at Sai Moon, in other words about 5 or 6 years of English classes, struggled not only with the concept but also making a packing list. Amusingly, one boy suggested packing a puppy and a girl suggested taking a tiger. Quite where she thought she could get one I have no idea!

Friday 4th February

The head of English and another teacher went off to Khorat yesterday to take part in a volleyball competition and won’t be back till the 8th and the Director is away playing golf today. Life in a Thai school can be very easy going.

Saturday 5th February

Mr Panakhun, the school Director, had asked me if I would like to go with him to visit the Ubolrattana Dam, part of the north east region hydro-electric power supply, to the south of Khon Kaen and I’d accepted the idea thinking it could be interesting and there may be some photo opportunities. But the day wasn’t quite what I expected.

He’d said be ready to go at 6.30 and I was, but he didn’t show up for another forty minutes. It took nearly two hours to get there and on the way the landscape changed from the sugar cane fields of Kalasin to mainly rice paddies near Khon Kaen. Near the river above the dam the fields were bright green young rice shoots and then, suddenly, the irrigated fields stopped and brown arid fields returned. The agriculture in this area seems to be more varied with many smallholdings and tiny fields of vegetables or flowers. I even saw some Frisian cows with their distinctive black and white colouring.

I never did see the dam and it was never the real destination which turned out to be an 18-hole golf course nearby. Mr Panakhun and his many school director friends were having a gold competition between them and had formed teams of four. The reason for the early start was that Mr P. was manning the table where the players registered and paid their fees and where the scores would later be recorded.

I have seen many golf courses from a distance in the UK and in Thailand and last year I visited a couple of them with my then school director but none of them were as stunningly landscaped or as beautiful as this course. I took some general views of the course and I hope you agree.
The clubhouse had all the facilities one would expect. While Mr P. was setting up his table I had some breakfast from a choice of four already prepared Thai dishes on offer. I had wondered what to do while Mr P. played golf and had brought a book just in case though I didn’t need it till later. I realised that if I didn’t walk the course with him I would be left to my own devices in the clubhouse which I thought would become boring very quickly so when the question arose I agreed to follow him round and take some photographs along the way.

I should mention the caddies. A gaggle of them – almost all women - were waiting by the car park in a kind of taxi rank queue. Mr P. simply raised his arm after we parked and the next one came to us and from that moment on she looked after the golf bag and was on hand to give advice before every shot. She also acted as ball spotter and had a very keen eye.

Eighteen holes doesn’t sound very many but the holes gradually got further and further apart and the distances ever longer. Mr P’s team didn’t set off till 11.15 and the first five holes seemed to fly by and we soon arrived at a refreshment pit-stop, one of four the length of the course, and Mr P. and I had a refreshing cold drink and a couple of the team has beers.

I won’t bore you with a hole by hole account of the game but I ended up having to carry the umbrella and I took photographs of Mr P. and the others from time to time. It’s not easy getting an action shot as the club strikes the ball, or just afterwards, while keeping the ball in view and in focus.

It took about three and a half hours to go round the course which coincided with the hottest part of the day. By the fourteenth hole I was beginning to flag but with other people coming up the course behind you, you can’t rest for very long.

When we reached the clubhouse Mr P’s friend, a non-player, was waiting with packets of chilled cologne infused refresher towels which were very welcome. While I went off to a shady seating area Mr P. had three free holes due to some quirk of the scoring system. I waited and waited and waited and dozed off sometimes too. When Mr P. reappeared he had changed and freshened up and he said he’d forgotten about me....thanks!!

It took another age for all the scorecards to be dropped at the table and for the scores to be recorded on large scoresheets. I took a photo of them because they were a good illustration of how English is everywhere in Thailand.

Of all the teams we were the last to leave the golf club about 5pm and about half way back we rejoined all the other players at a restaurant where there was food and drink and the presentation of the trophies.

Rather rashly, during the evening, I’d said that I enjoyed played snooker little realising that the idea would be followed up as soon as we left the restaurant. A snooker room attached to a karaoke bar was but a short drive away where four, and later a fifth, guest from the restaurant and I spent the next four hours playing snooker. For most of the games the Director and I played as a team but, like alcohol and driving, Leo beer and snooker don’t really work together and as the evening wore on my game got progressively worse. The only consolation was that my opponent’s games got equally worse from their whisky and sodas.

The fifth person to join the game was the local police chief who appeared to have had a few to drink before he arrived. In between shots he tried constantly to pair me with one of the two Lao hostesses who were there to replace the balls after each game, take drink orders and serve them. The Lao girl had some English, unlike the policeman, and she kept apologising to me but felt she had to play along as he was a regular customer. She understood clearly that I was not interested in her but the policeman failed to notice. Anyway, it was all good for many laughs mostly at my expense. After finishing the snooker we met up with the players again at a roadside restaurant for some noodles and I finally got home at 2am.

Sunday 6th February

Another early start this morning with Mr Panakhun, the Director, picking me up at my house at 7.30 for a day trip to Loei. He was going to see is wife and 15 year old son while I was going to visit my host family at Muang Baeng. It took the best part of three hours to get there.
First, we drove into Khon Kaen where Mr P. wanted to get an electronic tuning device for his son’s guitar. I had never seen one before and not being a guitar player didn’t know that such tricksy things existed. There were three devices to choose from. All were about the size of a matchbox which clipped to the end of the guitar neck. As you pluck a single string you turn the knob on the device which controls an oscillating needle and when the needle is at 12 o’clock the string is in tune and the device allows you to tune each string to the key you require. The only sad thing about each of the devices was that they were all made in China, but then what isn’t these days ?

Mr P. bought one and we walked back to his car which was in the nearby post office car park. As he drove out of the car park he turned right and continued the 50m to the traffic lights where he was pulled over by a policeman. He had to show his id card and driving licence and he had a chat with the policeman. As we set off again he told me that he should have turned left out of the car park and this is what he’d been pulled over for but he was confident that everything would be ok because a former Sai Moon student worked at the same police station. I’ll see what happens and let you know. But it did strike me that the policeman must be trying to fulfil some sort of stop-quota because Thais on motorbikes drive wherever they want including the wrong way along streets and along pavements and, for them, one-way streets seem to have no meaning yet I have never seen anyone pulled over for these infringements.

After Khon Kaen the road to Loei province passed through some lovely forests and part of a national park. We also passed the huge rocky cliff that I had tried unsuccessfully to photograph from the coach which took me and the students to Sisaket last year. This time, however, Mr P. stopped for me to get a good picture which is in my gallery.

Our journey took longer than usual because we were continually being slowed down behind a sugar cane truck and it was difficult to overtake on the narrow road but it was good to see the hills of Loei again after the flat countryside of Kalasin.

When we arrived at Muang Baeng my host family were out so I phoned them and they said they would be back in an hour. Mr P. drove me down to the school itself and it turned out that today was the second day of a course for teachers and several MBV teachers were there and it was nice to see them again.

One of them was the former Ajaan Orapin who you may remember from last year. I say former because she had become convinced that her name was unlucky and had consulted a monk who told her that she would be happier with a new name and had chosen one for her.
I also met the two Italian volunteers, two friends, one male one female, who are now teaching English at MBV. They normally live in London and seem very nice and cheerful though I wondered what the students make of their Italian accents.

It was good to see my host family again. As soon as their car stopped Saf and Bet rushed out to give me a hug which was nice. Their parents and their sister, Fern, were equally welcoming and we caught up on the news. One of the three fruit trees I planted before I left last July has perished though the other two are flourishing as are the fish.

We all went to lunch at the petrol station in Muang Baeng and for a while it seemed like time had stood still. Then we drove into Wang Saphung where we dropped Fern off at the bus station so she could return to Nongbua Lamphu and then we drove on to the street market. Saf, Bet and I walked to the stall specialising in Thai desserts including the delicious nutty one which is found at this one stall and nowhere else.

Back at Muang Baeng I had the chance to look more closely at the hut Mr Rhe had built at the front of the house where I used to sleep. It’s a typical roadside stall selling ‘kanum’, packeted snacks costing from a few baht to slightly more expensive items. Inside the hut he also had two ex-oil drums fitted with handpumps and hoses for selling gas/petrol or diesel to customers. Mr Rhe told me he usually keeps the shop open as long as he can and often till midnight every day. It’s a source of extra income for the family.

Mr Rhe and I sat at the front of the house sharing a bottle of Leo beer and one of the boys produced a bag of fresh chestnuts which was the first time I had eaten them in Thailand but I was unable to discover where the chestnut trees were located.

About 6pm Mr P. reappeared and joined us for a drink and then all too soon it was time to return to Sai Moon and it took about three hours to get back.

Monday 7th February

An unexceptional day and I had the afternoon free.

Posted by talismanic 03:04 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Week Two: Jan 24-31st, 2011

3-day scout camp at Roi Et + photos you might not want to see

sunny

Monday 24th January

I had more free time than expected today because one of my classes, along with others, were taking a mock National Test this morning.

Tuesday 25th January

School finished at midday today to allow students time to pack for the 3-day scout camp and the very early start in the morning.
I spent most of the afternoon on the internet in the school office where I have a desk but for some reason it is very slow whereas from my room it is much faster and the connection is less likely to hang.

It was difficult to decide what to pack for the camp. I didn’t know whether the teachers participated in activities or not or whether I would get wet or caked in mud. I have clothes for teaching and clothes for relaxing but little else. I asked my fellow teachers and was told it was up to me what I wore which wasn’t very helpful really.

Some of the M3 students came round on their motorbikes in the evening and brought their bags. Thai students, in fact Thais in general, are always joshing each other and making jokes and laughing and the M3 students were no exception and their exuberance was infectious as they sorted things out and messed around and helped with other tasks. Some of them spent the night sleeping on mats laid out on the bare concrete floor at the front of my teacher’s house. It can be quite cold at night so I didn’t envy them.

Wednesday 26th January

The M3 students were up bright and extra early and were getting dressed in their scout uniform by the time I went downstairs to shave and take a shower.

Before departure all the students gathered in an open-sided building near to where the two buses were parked to get a final briefing from their teachers and the school director and an inspection to make sure they had their complete uniform.

The buses set off just after 6am for the two hour journey to Roi Et province which is to the south of Kalasin province. Some of the teachers drove their own pick-ups and I travelled with the school director in his pick-up.

Two hours later, as the director turned off the main road, we passed through an impressive entrance to the army camp complete with sentries manning the sliding gate. A kilometre or more along the wide dead-straight driveway a very tall flagpole came into view flying a huge Thai flag behind which was an imposing white building. All around, to my left and right, were well manicured lawns, ornamental bushes, flower beds, varied trees and two lakes. This was nothing like any army camp I have ever been in and I wondered if we were making a detour visit to some other place.

But no, it really was an army camp and real soldiers were stationed there and there were army vehicles parked here and there. There was also a golf course and the imposing white building I mentioned is actually the clubhouse.

The buses had arrived shortly before us and the students were already being briefed by the resident serving army staff of the scout camp who are all members of the Thai special forces, the Long Rang Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) company, some of whom had more than 24 years service behind them. They looked after the students for the duration of the camp and organised and supervised all the activities etc.

Soon afterwards the students were taken off to the scout camp itself which comprises series of corrugated iron huts surrounding a sandy open space. On the other side of the huts are trees and bushes all of which you can see in the photos in the gallery.

Another school from another Kalasin village not far away joined us at the camp and they arrived a couple of hours after us. For the students, most of the first day was taken up with briefings, settling into their huts and watching a couple of films about the Thai army. One of the briefings was about the whistle commands that would be used during their stay. Another was about the ‘sit up’ command whereby the students sit up or stand up straight on a given whistle. The students were also taught how to clap their hands once, slap their right knee, and then, while holding out their open flat left hand bring their right hand down onto it with a cutting motion. There were also some simple drill movements for the students to absorb such as turning left and right and about and, lastly, how they should do the ‘dismiss’ which happens when standing and they bring their clenched fists together in front of them at elbow height and shout a single Thai word that sounded like ‘Ho’ but probably wasn’t.

I took a short video of the assembled students and one of the official opening of the camp which can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snjmGeoB5Ys

After all that, you might (or might not) be wondering where I slept. One of the corrugated iron huts located two huts behind the ‘stage’ was where most of the teachers, male and female, slept. The interior was no different from the huts the students occupied: a central aisle with a single long wooden platform stretching from one end of the hut to the other with about eight mattresses spread along each platform.
Although I said most of the teachers, in fact, all the teachers from the other school and three of the female teachers plus myself from Sai Moon. The other half dozen male teachers, the Director and Deputy and the two army students all brought their own small tents and mattresses etc and pitched camp further back still from the ‘stage’ you can see in the photos amongst some trees. This is also where the Sai Moon teachers gathered to eat, drink, play cards and sing around our own campfire.

What about ablutions you ask ? Well, they were pretty basic and they are better seen than described. In my gallery you can see the inside of one of the three teacher’s ‘bathrooms’ and you can see inside the student’s bathroom. Needless to say, there was only cold water but there is only cold water back at Sai Moon too.

Just before dusk I walked up to the camp memorial and flagpole with Ajaans Hot and Yor. The gate guard detail was marching back after being relieved accompanied by a single bass drummer. The memorial is to the first King of Thailand and to get closer we removed our shoes to climb up the last few oversize marble steps where the other two knelt and bowed to the King’s bethroned statute in front of which is an urn filled with sand in which to plant incense sticks.

At this camp the students did not do any of their own cooking unlike the camp I was at on December 24/25th 2009 with my Ban Chad school. Here, at the Roi Et camp, breakfast, lunch and dinner were provided for the students and there is a photo showing lunch being served.
Some local villagers had stalls within the camp selling soft drinks and ‘kanum’ which are packeted snacks. One stall even sold a version of pot noodles for any starving students.

My fellow Sai Moon teachers and I ate mostly by the tents. Food was purchased from a nearby village shop while beer was bought from one of the stalls in the camp only a short walk away.

In the evening, a fire was built and we teachers gathered round with food and some cans of Leo beer. A remarkable thing about Thailand is that most Thais can sing, most Thais know all the words to a variety of folk and other songs, and many Thais, including most teachers, can play the guitar and/or other instruments either Thai or western.

So you can imagine how the evening went: Thai songs aplenty, lots of laughter, lots of joshing, clapping, eating, moderate drinking and me being continually asked to sing a song or play the guitar. I know the words of a very few songs and I knew that neither of these songs nor the music would be familiar to any of the Thais so I said I didn’t know any. I can’t play the guitar either!

In the evening the students formed up in their groups: poochai (boys) and pooying (girls), the two schools separate, sitting cross-legged on the sandy space in front of the stage, they had several sessions where one or other of the army staff told stories and jokes, at least, that is what I assumed they were because the students laughed so much. Their session ended about 9.30pm.

Thursday 27th January[b]

The army staff roused the students at 5am and out of a keen desire to inform you, dear reader, I got up as well (none of the other teachers did so) though while I went to wash etc the students formed up in the sandy space in front of the ‘stage’ as you can see in the dawn photos. A raised metal platform had been placed in front of the stage with a short access ladder and when I got there one of the staff was on the platform speaking to the students and putting them through some stretching exercise drills.

Dawn came at 6.15am and I have a nice shot of pink-tinted clouds above the assembled students in my gallery.

Lunch today was at a restaurant a couple of kilometres away on the main road. There were eight of us and the food was good especially the sweet Som Tam, or Papaya Salad, which was one of the best I’ve had. We had ice cream desserts ordered from an illustrated card menu. While we were waiting for them I was asked to ascribe an ice cream to each of the teachers according to their character. This evoked howls of laughter from everyone.

We got back to camp just as the briefing for the students was coming to an end at the 5-storey high parachute training jumping platform. I had previously been told about this and asked if I would jump and I’d said yes, it was now up to me to do it.

About a dozen of the older students between the two schools said they would jump – many of the students were either too young or too scared or too shy to try.

My turn came. I had to write my name on a list and I did so in capitals to make it easy, but it didn’t make it easy for the Thai army staff who questioned me about the spelling of my name and tried to rewrite it. The thing is they write letters in a different way, a G, for example, is written elaborately, and my simple capital G didn’t correspond with theirs and they couldn’t read it. It took about five minutes of careful repetition and their rewriting to be satisfied. I thought this was just in case I jumped to my death and they would know who I was. But it was actually for something quite different.

I donned the helmet, and I was strapped up. I climbed the metal staircase up to the topmost platform. The students had gone before me and I was the only farang around and certainly the oldest. The special forces army staff looked on in amazement.

I took my small pocket camera with me thinking I would video my descent as I could hold and operate the camera single-handed. But I didn’t get the chance. When I jumped I had a long fall before the rope leading to the pulley tightened. When it did, the straps around my groin area tightened so painfully that any thought about filming vanished from my mind in a flash.

Luckily, I had asked Ajarn Yor to take photos with my bigger Nikon camera and it is one of these you can see in the gallery. It was great fun descending so far and so rapidly. Before I jumped I was asked if I wanted to adopt the star-shape sky dive position. I’ve never done it before, but have seen others doing it and in retrospect I might have avoided the pain if I had. My groin clutching as I landed on the platform to be unhooked and as I walked back caused great peals of laughter for some reason!!

Later in the afternoon the students tacked the assault course which was quite a gentle one really. Even so, the army staff turned a blind eye to the skivers who ran around the obstacles and only a dozen or so actually did the full course but those that did provoked lots of laughter and amusement from those that didn’t and some action photos for me.

In the evening I went with four fellow teachers into Maha Sarakham a town about 25 minutes’ drive away, and the main city of the adjacent province of the same name, where we had dinner at a local restaurant.

Later in the evening the students were gathered around the sandy space in a big circle in the centre of which the makings of a large bonfire had been built. The PA system was playing music traditional to Thai scouting and, soon, everyone was in their place. The bonfire was lit. A great cheer went up. Army staff dressed as Zulu dancers came out and danced around the fire wearing grass shirts and ‘war paint’. After they had gone, a group of pooying (girl) students came out and danced more traditionally around the blaze. Later, portraits of the King were slow-marched in flanked by Thai flag carriers. There is a short video of this on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMIZJAe1ilw
A ceremony followed in front of the stage and when it was over the fun really began.

Each school had a couple of teams who had been rehearsing sketches which they now performed to hoots of laughter from the students though I have no idea what they were really about.

Meanwhile, I roamed around taking photos as I pleased though the results in the poor light leave something to be desired.

At a certain point, the sketches paused and the PA controller put on some music. Not just any music. It was something well known to the students, something very Thai. In an instant most were on their feet dancing crazily amongst themselves. I took a short video of this and it can be found on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfFNOVjWu8c

All too soon the bonfire was dying and the whole evening was drawing to a close. Tomorrow everyone would be going home again.

[b]Friday 28th January

The students were roused at 5.30am this morning and went through the exercise routine again. After breakfast they were set to work clearing any litter and disposing of the ashes from the camp fire.

My own night wasn’t good because of the noise from a card school in the hut and the odd lack of any consideration for those who wanted to sleep.

The reason for making sure of the spelling of my name yesterday became clear this morning. The students were formed up in front of the stage. The students who had jumped were called forward and they were formed up in three ranks to the front of the main group. All the army staff, including the camp commandant, the school Director and all the teachers from both schools – all in their scout or army uniforms - were in their seats as special forces jumping badges were pinned to the chests of the jumpers. Then, each jumper was presented with a very nice certificate. When this was over, the commandant turned to me and beckoned me across and then presented me with a jumping certificate too. This was totally unexpected and a very nice gesture. Photos of the presentation and the certificate itself are in my gallery.

Prayers followed. The army staff addressed the students and said their goodbyes. Soon, everything was cleared. The huts were empty and the students were boarding their buses to take them back to the two schools.

As the Director drove out a series of ten buses, containing about 500 students, were entering the camp to begin their own three-day camp. For the permanent army staff at the camp it must be a little bit like a scout camp factory: groups in, groups out. One reason why this camp is so popular is partly because of the permanent staff there but also because of the golf course, a sport very popular with school directors. My school Director, for example, only appeared in the morning getting up from his tent, at supper in the evening, or at any official ceremony such as opening/closing the camp, presentations etc. The rest of the time he played golf!

Saturday 29th January

I was left to my own devices for most for the day and I spent a lot of time on the internet catching up with things and listening to BBC radio programmes I have missed.

In the evening, I went with Ajaans Yor, Hot and Pong to Kranuan where we had dinner at a popular barbecue restaurant. We drove there in Ajaan Pong’s pick-up not by the main road but taking the back road hurtling at break-neck speed along red sandy lanes between the sugar cane fields and on the occasional stretch of bumpy concrete road. It was a fun evening and, remarkably, I got back home in one piece!

Sunday 30th January

I stayed at the house most of the day. Over a late breakfast I watched the English Breakfast Club on Thai TV, a show where they play a current pop hit and then analyse the English lyrics including any slang expressions. It’s a buzzy interesting show which would grab the attention of anyone learning the language.

I also uploaded the videos I’ve mentioned before to youtube. The process took nearly all day with my slow connection speed and expensive too as each top-up I make to my Air Card gives me a number of hours usage. I spent the equivalent of about £8 uploading the three videos so enjoy them while you can because I won’t be uploading any more while I am Sai Moon because of the expense.

Monday 31st January

A slight change of teaching direction today because the head of English asked me to concentrate on conversation and pronunciation rather than teaching from the text book. This is a good idea because more than anything else the students need a lot of practice and speaking time with a native English speaker.

I also suspect that another reason for the change is that the textbook being used contains exercises which require listening to a CD and this school (and my last school in Loei) does not have the facilities to play CDs so half the textbook exercises have to be skipped as they make no sense.

It seems to me that the Thai Ministry of Education no longer has the resources to maintain rural schools properly. I have never taught in an urban area, but each of the six rural schools I have worked in all need a lot of maintenance work on them such as repainting, refurbishing, equipping properly for their teaching requirements and making the inside and outside environments more pleasant.

My present school, Sai Moon, and my previous school in Loei are both Provincial schools which come under their respective provincial education authority which probably has budgetary constraints like to MoE in Bangkok.

This evening seven other teachers, plus the mother of one of them, and I went out for dinner to a restaurant about 10 minutes’ drive away. It was typical of many restaurants in Thailand where there is a lake or artificial ponds and open-sided wooden and thatched huts on stilts have been constructed over the water. This restaurant was a bit different because the huts were widely spaced because each doubled as a karaoke room. As our group was larger than most we occupied a large table in the main barn-size room and were the only diners in there. We had a nice dinner of seafood, noodles, rice and a kind of soup. The singing began even before we had finished eating and continued until about 10pm with my colleagues taking turn or even duetting on the two mikes. Inevitably I was asked to sing and I chose Elvis’ Love Me Tender from the limited English language karaoke machine songbook. My rendition of the Elvis classic will certainly never make any top ten!

Posted by talismanic 04:29 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

(Entries 21 - 25 of 26) « Page 1 2 3 4 [5] 6 »