17.01.2011 - 23.01.2011
To every new visitor to my blog: welcome to my Journal. To all of you who persevered and read last year’s Journal: welcome back! I hope everyone enjoys following the trials and tribulations of my school life in Thailand.
After teaching English for most of last year and enjoying it so much I decided, after only three months in England, including all the snow and ice, to return to the Land of Smiles for a further year. When the time came to pack I excluded items I could easily obtain in Thailand thinking I would save weight but when I checked in at Heathrow I still found my suitcase was 15kg over the 20kg limit. The check-in person said she would give me a complimentary 5kg which was nice but scarcely enough for me to escape a surcharge. I told her I will be a volunteer teacher and she rang her boss and was told to upgrade me to Elite class which was not only much more comfortable and came with a very nice dinner, but, more importantly, it had a higher weight allowance which meant I escaped the airline’s extortionate overweight fee.
That turned out to be the first of three upgrades I received out of the blue. The next came when I checked into the Bangkok Heritage hotel in Silom. The receptionist recognised me from my last visit and recalled conversations we’d had last year about historic places I had visited in Bangkok that she didn’t know about and gave me an instant upgrade to a better room which was very nice of her.
I had a few days of rest and recuperation in Bangkok and Pattaya and it was there that I heard that I would have to delay my flight to Khon Kaen by twenty-four hours because the person meeting me had to attend a sports festival on Sunday 16th January and would not be available which caused a number of problems. Booking an extra night at my hotel meant I had to move rooms which was irritating but manageable. Changing my Thai Airways flight meant paying a 500 baht (£11) fee but in the process I was given my third upgrade to a business class seat. The downside was that the only available seat was on a flight leaving at 6.05am which in turn meant I had to leave Pattaya at 3.30am to be on the safe side for the 90 minute taxi ride to the airport.
Monday, January 17th, 2011
I flew from Bangkok to Khon Kaen, the so-called gateway to Esarn, where I was met by the Director.
On the way to my new school we stopped off at Khon Kaen University, the Director’s alma mater, where we had breakfast, and it took another hour to reach the school. The Director used to be the deputy director of my last school in Loei though before my time there. He’s 47 years old, speaks quite a lot of English, and seems a modern and thoughtful person.
The Director explained that I had a choice about where to stay. I could either stay with him at his small bungalow-style bachelor’s house about 7km from the school or I could stay at one of the two ‘dormitory’ houses in the school grounds. The Director drove me to see his house which is situated at the end of a short narrow lane which is entered through an archway in one of the buildings on the main street. Inside, it was a normal looking Thai house with no furniture to speak of, some mats on the floor, some cabinets and a couple of doors leading off the main room, one of which was his bedroom.
The Director then drove me to school where there are two Thai-style wooden houses with a toilet/washroom and a separate kitchen on the ground floor and a central stairway up to the first floor where there are four separate rooms. The other house, less than 100 yards away, is identical and both are surrounded by a variety of semi-mature and mature trees. Two sandy lanes lead away from the houses, one goes to the school, the other leads to the small road which also passes the front gate of the school.
Four Thai bachelor teachers, all non-smokers and all under about thirty-something, live in the two houses so I decided it would be the least boring option to stay here since I envisaged long periods either trapped in the Director’s house while he is away at meetings or waiting at school to be driven there.
My room is square in shape, about 11x11 feet, with three bare walls and the fourth containing five shuttered windows. The room has a once-polished wooden floor, one neon strip light on the ceiling, one double mattress on the floor with a small pillow and two padded covers, like thin eiderdowns. It’s definitely not the Hilton!
The toilet/washroom downstairs consists of two squat toilets, a shower room although that’s a bit of a misnomer because there’s no ‘shower’ as such, only a plastic bowl and a tiled tank of cold water. In the communal area there‘s a hand basin though the taps don’t work. The tiled tanks in each of the cubicles are fed by a tap and there’s another tap with a short hose for the hand basin and for washing clothes in one of the large oversize plastic bowls. There’s no hot water.
The secondary school itself – which is a provincial school like my last school in Loei - has 159 students at the moment with 12 teaching staff and classes from Mattayom (or M for short) 1 to 6, in other words, for students from 12 to 18. It is located in Ban Hat Sai Moon and seems to be a bit remote though it is only about 8 minutes’ drive from a main road where there is an ATM and a 7/11 and some other shops. The school has three buildings around a central concrete square which doubles as the location for morning assembly and is marked up for a volleyball and takraw court. Two of the buildings contain classrooms and, between them, the third single storey building contains the school office, meeting rooms, and Director’s office.
A large number of trees surround the school and there are flowering shrubs in beds fronting the buildings. Kerbstones have evidently been recently created on either side of the road around the school because the soil has been piled up and work is ongoing to spread it out as it must have been before. There are two gardeners at the school one of whom is nicknamed Mr Happy because he looks quite the opposite.
At first glance the school looks a bit uncared for and tired partly because of the untidy appearance of the dry grey soil in the flower beds. Inside the classrooms and other rooms everything is clean and tidy though the school is obviously less well equipped that my last school in Loei. Kalasin is one of the poorer provinces in Thailand but by no means the poorest.
The school used to be connected to the internet but dispensed with it as the connection was very intermittent and slow. The school is now waiting for a better and faster connection though nobody seems to know when that will be. This means I will have to get an Air Card, a USB device through which I can dial-up to the internet using the phone system.
To find the location of my school go to googlemaps.com and type in Ban Hat Sai Mun School Phi Mun Huai Mek Kalasin Thailand and it will find me.
As for the weather, in the morning it gets light soon after 6am and it is dark about twelve hours later. At this time of year, where I am located, it is cool, even chilly, in the mornings and evenings and hot for a couple of hours or so around midday.
After being introduced to some of the other teachers, and still wearing the casual clothes I flew to Khon Kaen in, I was asked to teach two classes that morning. Luckily, I had lessons I could easily recall from Loei but it did feel a bit like being thrown into the deep end all the same. Ajarn Took, the female head of English, was my assistant during these classes not only so that she could translate things for the students but also so she could see if I was up to the task of teaching.
The school day is made up of four periods in the morning between 8.40 and midday, an hour for lunch, and two periods between 1pm and 2.40 in the afternoon. For the remaining time until 4pm students are given a free choice of three activities: sport, music or agriculture, all of which are popular.
I was invited by three of the female teachers to have lunch outside the school which was nice though we had not driven very far when the inevitable questions arose about whether I am married or single and how old I am. I could sense their interest rising when told them I am single. When I asked them to guess my age their estimates ranged from 20-something to 50-something but I left them guessing as to my exact age.
There was one further class in the afternoon and then the Director told me that he and I and all the teachers were going to Yang Talat, a village about 40 minutes’ drive away, to pay our respects because the school deputy director’s mother had died aged 64. The first thing we had to do when we arrived was to enter the room containing the coffin, having first taken off our shoes, and plant a lighted incense stick in front of the coffin which was adorned with flashing lights.
At 6pm, after about an hour, while everyone else arrived, the traditional number of 4 monks arrived to lead the prayers which went on for some time and during which various people darted around taking photos. I felt rather incongruous, not because I was a farang, but because I was still dressed in my casual travelling clothes.
After the prayers, the plastic seats were moved to make space for round tables to be set up and then placed around the tables. Many different dishes of food were brought to each table which were all very tasty. After about an hour, when everyone had finished, we left.
In Esarn everyone goes to bed early at around 9.30pm and this is what we did too.
Three of the female teachers and I went out to lunch again and had some delicious food. The food in Esarn is not the kind of Thai food you get in your average Thai restaurant in western countries. In the coming days I will endeavour to take some photos to illustrate this point for you.
I have been bombarded with questions about what I like and do not like the purpose of which is so that the school can provide things I like to eat, drink, see, or do. I happened to mention that I much prefer Leo beer, a Thai beer brewed and owned by Singha, but not available in the UK and, in the way things work here, some Leo was purchased and I had a few drinks with some of my fellow teachers in the early evening.
Later on I went with some of the bachelor teachers for supper at the intersection with the main road where there is a 7/11 and an ATM machine. One of the teachers said we would play snooker afterwards but it didn’t happen for some reason, I guess because the place was closed.
This evening some of the M4 students came to the two dormitory houses and I heard some really loud bangs and wondered what they were. It turned out that they were shooting rats with two very long-barrelled guns, not very different from an old flintlock.
Luckily, I didn’t have to savour the rat curry that was prepared from five unfortunate rats which the three students made because it was served after a different supper and I claimed I was already full. It didn’t smell very nice whilst cooking and I can’t imagine it tasting any better but the three students and two of the teachers said it was delicious.
School finished about 3.30 today. Went with three other teachers into Hun Yai by the 7/11 and ATM to have supper. The stall only does two dishes: noodles in a broth with vegetables, fish balls and slices of jellied buffalo blood; and strips of chicken with slices of cucumber served on top of rice with a spicy sauce. I had the latter.
Ajarn Yor, the very skilful young music teacher, came with us and after supper caught the 8pm bus to Khon Kaen about one hour away where he will change and get a bus to Bangkok and then change for a bus home to Ayyuthya, a journey time of 19 hours. I’m not sure why he needs to go home on this occasion but Thais do have to travel back to their home towns for all sorts of reasons from signing a document to paying money for something or renewing an id card. I am not sure why these sorts of things can’t be done by post or using the banking system or at a local office and will endeavour to find out.
In theory, I could get the same bus to Khon Kaen, take the 40 mins flight to Bangkok then get a plane for the 12 hour flight to London and get a cab for the one hour ride into centre of town where I live and do the same coming back and still have more than 7 hours more time at home than he will! He will be back at school on Monday morning.
Friday 21st January
Washed some shirts this morning...I only have one class in the morning and one in the afternoon. A teacher has promised to take me into Kranuan, the nearest town of any size, where I can get an Air Card and top-up my phone.
It was fractionally warmer this morning and several teachers said the weather is changing and getting warmer. They are obviously oblivious of the vicissitudes of weather that most westerners experience in their own countries.
One of the students in my M4 class this afternoon was more interested in watching porn movie clips on his mobile phone than learning English!
Saturday 22nd January
The deputy director drove me into Kranuan, the nearest town, where I purchased an Air Card for about £35 and some other items. The rest of the morning was spent visiting the homes of some of the students at each of which I got a very nice welcome. At the first house, the home of one of my M4 students, we were given lunch too which was so nice.
At the next house we visited there was a boy of about 14 and his sister whose parents lived and worked in Khon Kaen so they had to look after themselves. At another house, I met a student whose parents had died in an accident and he was left at home having to look after his aged grandfather and attend school. They have hardly any money and are finding it a struggle to keep going. It must be a real burden on the boy. Ajarn Hot, my fellow teacher, took photos with my camera at most of the houses we visited so there is a photo of the boy and his grandfather in my gallery.
I had dinner at the deputy director's house with his wife and the two fellow teachers who had accompanied us this morning. During dinner, Noi, the deputy director offered me the use of a spare motorbike he has. It will certainly be very useful and will give me some independence providing I can remember the local road system which is devoid of signs and everything looks so much the same with few obvious landmarks. He told me to ride it back to school to where I am living. Although I have ridden bikes in Thailand and England before the last time was a year ago and I felt nervous not wanting to prang the bike in the driveway!! But I made it back and all was well.
Sunday 23rd January
The deputy director, Ajans Yor and Hot and I visited the homes of more students today and it was interesting to see some of my students in their home environment and out of school uniform.
We had lunch deep into the countryside amongst the cane fields and rubber plantations. Two other groups of farmers were there too but amongst our group was a well respected community leader who offered to give me his full support if I ever had a problem with my visa or any police or other problem while I am in Thailand. I took some photos of our group and some of the cane and rubber fields. In passing, a sugar cane cutter gets just 2500 baht (about £60) per month for his back-breaking labours.
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