A Travellerspoint blog

Aug 10th-27th: Udon_Job_Family_Songsak's_Future plans ++

sunny

THIS POSTING BRINGS MY BLOG COMPLETELY UP-TO-DATE. I HOPE YOU ENJOY IT.

Tuesday 10th August

This morning I felt happy that my left heel had healed up completely and was back to normal. If you remember, I had gouged a chunk out of my heel about ten days ago and it went septic and was very painful.

But my happiness was short-lived. As I stepped off the terrace where I had breakfast my left heel caught a small projection and I gouged out another piece of flesh just where the previous injury was. It was incredibly painful and it started bleeding immediately. Once the pain had diminished I hobbled off to the pharmacy where I bought some Optiskin plasters (transparent and waterproof) and some antiseptic cream in an effort to keep the flies of all sizes off my wound and to keep it dry and clean. The last two difficult to do in the rainy season wearing only flip-flops!

But I didn’t have too much time to waste as my flight back to Chiang Mai departed at 1310. Phone took me to the airport on his bike which was kind of him. I got there very early and read my book somehow resisting the temptation to doze off.

Once again, I was unlucky about getting a window seat so I didn’t get another view of the valley of stepped rice fields I saw on my incoming flight but I did get some great views of the heavily forested mountains and very long meandering rivers.

I checked into the Anoma, the same hotel as before, and had a rest and connected up my laptop. I was looking forward to Friday’s interview and wondered if I would have to give an impromptu lesson or not. I thought I had better prepare something just in case though I still felt sure that the job was mine for the taking as they want a native English speaker so badly.

Wednesday 11th August

I was worried about the wound on my heel and the open sore on my right big toe. I went to the pharmacy and got some advice from the pharmacist – here in Thailand pharmacists are able to give advice on simple health matters, for anything complex they will refer you to a hospital, or you could go to a clinic. I bought some cleansing alcohol and some of that yellow stuff that doctors use to disinfect something. I was also given some antibiotic tablets for the septic wound on my big toe.

Thursday 12th August

I got going early this morning because my flight to Udon Thani was at 0955. Unfortunately, Nok Air Mini – branch airline of Nok Air which uses small planes to fly some of Thailand’s domestic routes – has suspended the direct Chiang Mai to Udon Thani flights due to low passenger numbers so the only flight available now is via Bangkok which means flying all the way south only to fly north again.

Both flights only took one hour and I had a two and a half hour layover at Bangkok airport which seemed to pass very quickly browsing the shops and reading my book. Both flights also had a snack which was like parts one and two of my lunch.

I arrived in Udon Thani and I got a cab to my hotel in the centre of town. I got the driver to wait for me while I checked in at the Silver Reef hotel and changed and then he drove me to the No.2 bus station a few kilometres away on the other side of the city. I went to the departure point for buses to Nongbua Lamphu and bought the 80 baht (about £1.60) ticket. I phoned Ajarn John to tell him I was about to depart on the bus and he asked to speak to the conductor who was standing near me. This was fortunate because I was about to catch the wrong bus!

It turned out that the school was not in Nongbua Lamphu city, as I had thought, but in Si Bun Ruang, a very small town some 30km away and I needed to catch a bus going to Chumpae. Luckily, the right bus was just pulling out and I hurried over and got on it. I phoned Ajarn John and asked him to speak to the conductor so he would know when to tell me to get off. They spoke for quite a long time and the conductor said he understood where I should get off. But that wasn’t true.

The conductor told me to get off the bus in Nongbua Lamphu, not that I knew that fact at that moment. The conductor pointed behind me told me the school was there. I walked through the gates while phoning Ajarn John to say I had arrived and then realised it wasn’t a school after all but a provincial police station. I told Ajarn John I was outside the police station and he told me to walk down the road to the corner and I would see the school. I did this and, sure enough, there was a school. I called Ajarn John again to find out where I should meet him. It took a while for the penny to drop, or should that be a baht ? I was not only at the wrong school but I should not be in Nongbua Lamphu at all! The conductor had put me off the bus at the wrong place.

Ajarn John said I would have to get another bus to Champae at which point, hot and bothered, I could have told him where to go, but I didn’t and thought about how to get to the bus station. A tuk tuk came by and I flagged it down and the driver spoke with Ajarn John. I thought he would take me to the bus station but, instead, he took me to another boarding point by a junction where the Chumpae bus was pulling out. The bus stopped for me to get on and off it went. Once again, I got Ajarn John to speak with the lady conductor and this time she really did understand and duly put me off in Si Bun Ruang. I walked up the road to the corner at there was the school and Ajarn John was waiting there for me.

The school has 2,300 students and about 120 teachers and it is the school that Fern, my host family’s 15 y.o. daughter, attends. Classrooms are split between three large buildings whereas my school at Muang Baeng has 750 students and the same three buildings. So I thought that class sizes are probably very big and the noise levels high making it harder to teach.

I expected Ajarn John to ‘sell’ me the school by telling me how wonderful it is, what great equipment it has, how good the students are etc etc. But he didn’t. The only fact he told me was that the school had won a provincial first class prize for its gardens which didn’t impress me at all.

He took me to the English Department office which was in a half-basement with low concrete beams which meant that I had to duck every few steps. There was little natural light and it looked very cramped. He told me he wanted me to teach Mattayoms 1, 3 and 5 and that I would only teach three days a week and only be paid for those days. During October, when schools are closed for holidays, I would get half-pay.

The upshot was that I wasn’t very impressed. I didn’t get the good feeling I had when I first visited Muang Baeng school or Wat Kheelek and so I decided not to take the job. While it was great to get a job offer I did not want to accept one at any price even though I would really like to stay longer in Thailand. I will now have to put my thinking cap on again to consider my future options.

It was while talking to Ajarn John that he asked me where I was staying. When I told him I had to get back to Udon Thani he said we must hurry because the last bus goes at 7.30pm and it was almost that time already. We got into his car and he drove me to the bus station where I had a short wait for the bus to arrive.

I arrived back in Udon about 9pm and immediately went in search of some dinner. I ought to mention that Udon has quite a sizeable farang population and many of them have set up bars or restaurants right in the centre of the city. However, after 9pm, one’s eating options begin to diminish rapidly but I did find a small place that was still open and had something to eat and a Leo beer too.

Friday 13th August

I have visited Udon Thani a few times before but have never had the chance to properly explore the centre on foot. As with so many places, big and small, in Thailand (and Laos) appearances can be deceptive. What appears to be a dull, and dusty shop can turn out to be really interesting inside full of hi-tech gadgetry.

Saturday 14th August

I had a very nice breakfast this morning at Coffee Corner, close to my hotel, and after phoning Rhe to make sure everything was ok for me to visit my host family I collected by bag at the hotel and got a motorcycle taxi to take me to the No.2 Bus Station where I got a bus departing at 10am for Wang Saphung. The journey took two and a half hours but was pretty painless. I called my host family about ten minutes before arriving so I had a short wait at the bus station for them to arrive. It was very nice to see them again and the boys gave me a big and enthusiastic welcome back.

We went for lunch in Wang Saphung. As I got out of the car the thong on one of my flip-flops snapped which was annoying. Still, I suppose after four overseas trips in three years I had my money’s worth out of them. For lunch I had rice with crispy pork and greens followed by a coffee ice cream which was very nice. Afterwards, we drove down the road to a shop where I got a new pair of flip-flops. The shop assistant had to dig deep into her stock to find a pair that would fit me.

On the way back to Muang Baeng we stopped off at Saf’s school which has some nice grounds and I think the idea was to spend some time there and then go to the market. But after only a short stay it was decided to go home anyway. I spent a relaxing time at the new house with the family. The boys played games on my laptop while we adults sat back in wooden reclining chairs and watched tv, or in my case, read my book.

Later, Saf persuaded me to play ‘football’ in the tiled open space on the ground floor of the new house. We had played like this before and it was fun. He represented Spain – which he followed during the World Cup – and I was saddled with representing England. We played with a light plastic ball and the four rectangular pillars in the playing area provided an interesting hazard and were like static players making it harder to score.

After the game, and by now it was early evening, Rhe invited me to join him in a glass of beer which was welcome after my exertions and, later, I had dinner with the family. They had bought some of the dishes I liked from the market in Wang Saphung which was very kind of them.

I joined the family in front of the tv but there is nothing more soporific than watching tv in a foreign language and very soon I was nodding off. My bed was still in my old room so not much had changed in the last two weeks.

Sunday 15th August

I came downstairs this morning to find that my laptop wasn’t where I had left it but I wasn’t worried it had been stolen as I felt sure that one of the family had put it somewhere thought to be safer. Sure enough, I found it in one of the bedrooms upstairs and I set it up on the dining table intending to update this blog. When the boys brought breakfast over from the old house and saw my laptop they soon wanted to play games so I didn’t get much updating done.

Ajarn Joy and Malaitong came to the house and took me off to lunch at the garage restaurant in the village. Ajarns Surawit and Orapin and her son, Dream, were waiting there for me. It was nice to see everyone again. Luckily, my visit coincided with a meeting of the English Department at MBV school which was why everyone had lunch together. There is a photo in my gallery.

After saying goodbye to all my fellow teachers I went back to the house where Saf wanted me to play football again. It is fun kicking the ball around with him but I didn’t want to get all hot and sweaty just before getting my bus back to Udon Thani. So I only played with him a very short time.

Rhe drove me and the whole family into Wang Saphung where, once again, we bought some squares of that sticky cake/biscuit in the market before catching the 4pm bus to Udon Thani. It was another emotional moment as the family waved me off. I will miss them, especially the two boys, very much.

Three hours later I was back in Udon Thani and I showered and changed and had dinner.

Monday 16th August

I spent a good chunk of today catching up on my blog and my photographs. Later in the morning I set off to look at a bookshop and restaurant I had glimpsed previously. It was a nice looking restaurant with a menu of mostly English cuisine but with a Thai section too. Despite being tempted I have, so far, avoided Western food other than at breakfast. There were also many shelves of secondhand paperback books which I browsed before having lunch.

Tuesday 17th August

I did some more exploring but found that parts of the map were out of date thanks to newer building developments and clearances.

Wednesday 18th August

I got a m/c taxi to the No.2 bus station and took caught the 11.45 bus to Na Wang to see a friend of mine and arrived there two hours later. The fare was only 60 baht (about £1.20) I had a very pleasant relaxing time in Na Wang but I only stayed one night.

Thursday 19th August

I got the bus back to Udon Thani at 12.45 and arrived in Udon two hours later. I took the same m/c taxi driver to my hotel where I dumped my bags in my room and then had a late lunch at Coffee Corner, a smart but inexpensive cafe/restaurant, just around the corner from my hotel. I was quite tired and after doing some shopping I returned to my room and rested. In the evening I went to Mojo’s restaurant for a very pleasant dinner and beer. The food portion was so large I only just finished it.

Friday 20th August

Caught the 7.45 bus to Muang Phon and arrived there three hours later. Mr Songsak arrived to collect me after a ten minute wait and took me to Ban Chad school where preparations were underway for a community sports day tomorrow.

It was good to see Mr Songsak again and to see all the teachers at the school. The school now has one additional assistant teacher and one new intern. Mouk, the school secretary, retired last week and her place has been taken by a young man, Thun. New equipment includes one overhead projector and screen and one laptop.

I had lunch at the school and everyone was very interested in my travels since I left and my future itinerary.

Mr Songsak and I left the school about 4.15 and he drove into Muang Phon to his wife’s flower shop though she wasn’t there when we arrived. Mr Songsak bought a couple of bottles of Leo beer which we shared and, when his wife returned with food for dinner, he drove us back to the house where I presented him with the bottle of genuine Scottish duty free Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky which he is so fond of.

I took my things up to my old room and it was almost as though I had never been away. Everything was just the same, except the garden wall which, I am sure you recall, was being built when I left to go to Lampnhun on March 5th. The wall is now finished apart from the decorative railings between the pillars. Another change was that the small rabbit they had was given away a few months ago when Mr Songsak and his wife had to go to Bangkok for a week and there was nobody to take care of it. Instead, they now have a small dog, a very friendly dog called Dai which looks like a Spaniel.

A further change was that their daughter, Fern, is now studying at a very good school in Khon Kaen and lives there too.

After dinner we drove to Khunkeaw, the bar/restaurant where there is an excellent band and the place is one of the secondary reasons why I want to return to Ban Chad because the band is really excellent.

When we arrived we called in to see Nee’s brother who lives next door to Khunkeaw. I thought, as we entered the house, that he would bring out a bottle of whisky and that the drinking would start for himself and Mr Songsak. But no alcohol appeared. Instead, it started pouring with rain. At 9pm, when the band normally starts, we walked over to the restaurant and tried to dodge the rain.
Khungeaw is like a hollow square with tables and chairs on three covered sides and the stage with the band on the fourth side. The area in the middle is open to the skies and is for dancing. As I probably mentioned before, waiting staff attend to every table whether it is refilling your glass from the dinky little drinks trolley that stands by each table or whether it is getting food that you order.

Tonight, with rain pelting down, there was no dancing. The poor waiters, who have to cross and recross the central area got rained on but instead of moaning and avoiding taking orders they went about the work cheerfully and seemed not to notice the rain. Some people even danced in the rain though I don’t think they had heard about or seen that famous Gene Kelly movie!! It was a good evening and I enjoyed it enormously.

Saturday 21st August

Believe it or not, the community sports day started at 8am. Feeling a bit under the weather after last night I didn’t feel like going quite so early, but I regretted not doing so later as I missed seeing some potentially interesting things.

But, first, I need to explain what ‘the community’ means. Thailand is divided into 76 provinces and each province is divided further. The lowest level division is the Tambon each of which comprises a number of villages. Ban Chad is one of fourteen villages in the Tambon so ‘the community’ does not mean the Ban Chad community, it means the community of all fourteen villages and all these took part in the community sports festival which my old school at Ban Chad hosted.

I missed some of the early events including a marching band which I would have liked to see and hear. By the time I got there at 9.30am a team of women from a community exercise group were being put through their paces. The football competition started after that as did the volleyball contest and the takraw event. There was also a very popular Pétanque (Boules) competition. Many supporters from each village formed the noisy and enthusiastic crowd at each of the sports.

Even though it rained for most of the day, sometimes heavily, nothing was cancelled and everything carried on as if the sun was shining. I met all the teachers again and some of my ex-students which was nice and they all remembered my name. As the day progressed I was followed around by a group of girls, all Ban Chad students, aged about 10. Amongst other things they were fascinated by my hirsute arms and seemed totally in awe of me. Now and again it was amusing but most of the time it was a bit annoying. I took some photos of them so you can see for yourself.

About 5pm I had a phone call from Mr Songsak to say he is going urgently to Udon Thani because one of his brothers (he is the youngest of 11 children) who lives there has had a heart attack. He said he would still be able to take me to Khon Kaen airport tomorrow for my flight to Bangkok but, later, I got a message from Jarunee saying she and Mr Tanyut would be coming to collect me at 8.15 tomorrow to take me to Khon Kaen.

Sunday 22nd August

One of the slightly disappointing things about this visit is that Mr Songsak didn’t mobilise the people I met when I was here before. People such as Mr Thun, his cousin, the Director of Hun Yai secondary school where I taught, and Mr Tanyut, the head of the English programme at Area Education Office District 3 in Muang Phon.

I got up a bit early because I thought it would be interesting to take some photos of the fields around Mr Songsak’s house to compare them with the photos in the dry season that I took back in March.

Annoyingly, the dog wanted to come too as I walked down the lane. I knew nothing about the dog and was scared that if it followed me it would disappear somewhere and I would get the blame. I tried to deter it from following me, but it took no notice. At one point down the lane the dog disappeared and I thought it was chasing chickens. Luckily, the dog came back into view and I managed to get it to come to me and it followed me home to my relief.

I too some photos of the lush green rice fields and they make an interesting comparison with my earlier photos. I have posted both in my gallery.

Mr Songsak and his wife did not return from Udon Thani so I did not have the chance to say thank you and goodbye. Jarunee and Mr Tanyut arrived at 7.45 and we loaded my case and bags into his car and set off for Muang Phon where we had breakfast accompanied by a glass of Leo, the first time, I hasten to add, that I have ever had beer at breakfast!

We drove into Khon Kaen and went to the Bussamayrat Hotel where two education seminars were taking place. A fellow teacher from Ban Chad was attending one of them, and some members of Jarunee’s English team were attending the other one. I was introduced to everyone and a photo was taken as well. The English team have all been studying academic English and are very good at it.

After the coffee break we left the hotel and drove to Khon Kaen airport where I said my thank yous and goodbyes. The airport is only a small one with few flights a day. It was very quiet when I arrived but the shops were open and at one of them I saw a selection of Chateau de Loei wines. I was tempted to buy a bottle but was not sure about how to get the bottle back to the UK.

The airport also had free wi-fi but for some reason I was unable to get connected to any of the three networks available though the internet was working ok at the information desk. I think there may be a problem with my laptop.

My Thai Airways flight was at 2.40 and it took off on time. To my surprise the plane was a Jumbo 747, a much larger aircraft than I expected, and to my further surprise it was almost full. Forty minutes later and after a very welcome snack we landed at Souvanabhumi airport where I got a cab to take me to Pattaya.

THE FINAL CHAPTER

After a few days in Pattaya for some rest and relexation I will return to Bangkok and then, on September 15th, I will be leaving the Land of Smiles and return to London.

By the time I leave Thailand I will have been here three weeks short of a full year. I have met and made friends with many interesting and wonderful people in and out of the schools where I have worked and I shall never forget all the good times we have had.

I have been asked what I liked the most during the past year and I have been unable to give a single answer. As with any long trip there have been ups and downs.

My many ‘ups’ include:

Christmas 2009 at the Scout Camp with Ban Chad and four other schools
The Phi Tha Khon Festival, Dan Sai, Loei
My two weeks teaching at Wat Kheelek Secondary school, Lamphun
My eight weeks at Muang Baeng Wittayakom secondary school, Muang Baeng, Loei
The school trip to Sisaket province last June
All the wonderful happy smiles of my students
Khunkeaw nights out
Songkhran in Chiang Mai last April
The wonderful Thai food at the Hot Chilli restaurant, Chiang Mai
The Sunday Walking Street, Chiang Mai
Arsahara Bucha Festival, Muang Baeng and twice being accosted by Channel 7 TV
My wonderful host family and their two boys at Muang Baeng
My visit to the Buffalo and Cattle Market, Ban Chad

My few ‘downs’ include:

Eating difficult food such as grasshoppers, beetles and weird composite dishes
Having obvious words modelled for me, such as ‘banana’ as if I had never seen or eaten one before
Being repeatedly asked about one’s age, family status (married/single/other)
Being repeatedly told I am tall and that Thais are short
Being repeatedly asked if I want a Thai Lay-dee
Tripping on uneven or non-existent pavements

To sum up:

It has been a wonderful experience and one which I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone of whatever age. Yes, you CAN do it too. Experiences like this do not have to be in Thailand because virtually every country welcomes volunteers in many different fields with the exception, perhaps, of North Korea! If you like the idea of volunteering in Thailand and doing the sort of things I did then contact Dan Lockwood of Thai-Dragonfly (www.thai-dragonfly.com) at eyewalk@gmail.com and, remember, the Foundation offers other opportunities apart from teaching English.

So what’s next for me ?

Well, I am definitely coming back to my old life in London on September 15th and I will see how I feel after a few weeks there. I have a sneaky feeling that I will wish I was back in Thailand once the cold wet weather sets in and that I will miss the ups and downs of life here.

One option is to take another year out and offer myself direct to schools in areas of Thailand that I have yet to explore, but I will see.

That’s it. Finito. This is where my blog ends. I have enjoyed writing it and if you have been thank you so very much for reading it.

See you next time.

Alistair

Posted by talismanic 27.08.2010 04:32 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Aug 3-9th, 2010: Wat Kheelek visit_Job offer_Luang Prabang

rain

Tuesday 3rd August

The bus arrived in Chiang Mai about 11.45am and it was raining. As usual there was a ‘toggle’ of tuk tuk drivers (is that a good collective noun for them ?) crowding round the bus door and, not wanting to get soaked, I picked the nearest one and haggled his price down to something realistic and we set off for the city and the Anoma hotel where I have been staying before. This time they had a 3 nights for two promotion which was good.

I had lunch in the hotel as I was tired from the over-long bus journey. I then rested a while then tried to catch up on my emails. I also needed to withdraw some cash as I had almost nothing in my pocket. My Natwest bank card had ceased to work before I left Wang Saphung with a message appearing on the ATM screen saying ‘the data on your card is incomplete’ whatever that meant so I need to get it sorted out asap.

I called my bank in London. As usual, the misnamed ‘help desk’ was unable to help without asking someone else and I had two interminable waits and then I was told that my card had been cancelled even though the expiry date was not till January 2012. Then I was told in a cheery voice that all Natwest customers have had their cards cancelled because everyone has been issued with a new Visa Card. That, I said, is of absolutely no help to me because, I repeat, ‘I am in Thailand and a glance at my file on your computer would have told you that I am here until September.’ ‘Oh’ she said, ‘can you get someone to forward the letter with the new card to you ?’ ‘Yes, I could,’ I said, ‘but the letter will take one to two weeks to reach me and, meanwhile, I have nearly run out of cash.’ ‘Oh’ she said again, ‘I don’t think I can help you any more.’

Luckily, I also have a credit card which I use for paying for things but I have never used it for withdrawing cash. I went to an ATM only to discover I had forgotten my PIN. I tried the number I thought it was a few times not realising that by doing so the system automatically blocked my card.

My bank has a helpful website where you can get your PIN online IF you can jump through numerous security hoops. The website also has a facility that allows you to have a live chat with someone at the bank. I did this and after answering even more security questions I got my PIN and I duly managed to withdraw some cash much to my relief.

I called Ajarn Napapan at Wat Kheelek school and she was delighted that I can return to the school tomorrow and she said that Mr Narong would collect me in the morning from my hotel.

I had a phone call from someone I didn’t know, on a line that wasn’t very clear, who was talking about wanting me to give some English lessons and wanting to meet me on Saturday. I assumed it was someone in Lamphun and I told him I was now in Chiang Mai and would be going to Luang Prabang on Friday so Saturday was out of the question for me and he rang off. Little did I realise what was in store for me.

Later, I took a call from Mr Rhe who told me that Fern’s school in Nongbua Lamphu would like me to come and teach English there and that Mr John, the Head of the English Department, wanted to meet me on Saturday. I suddenly realised who the earlier call was from and hoped I hadn’t put my foot in it.

Wednesday 4th August

Mr Narong collected me about 8.30 an drove me to the school in Lamphun. During the journey I spoke with Ajarn Joy about the job and she had more details from Ajarn Ben who sits near her in the office at MBV school. She explained that the salary would be 30,000 baht a month (about £500) and that the school has 2,300 students and that I would be teaching Mattayom 1, 3 and 5.

Everyone was very pleased to see me again and the students called out my name when they saw me walking past their classrooms.

I was snared by Ajarn Unchalee who wanted me to show her how to resize a photo for posting on the net. It took a while to show her all the steps and by the time I finished it was lunchtime. I had lunch with Ajarn Napapan and Mr Narong and we had a good chat. After lunch I was driven to Mungwa school (where I ran the English Camp) which was fine but I regretted not being able to see more of my former students at Wat Kheelek.

The teachers and students gave me a very nice welcome and it was good to see everyone again. Some of the students at the English camp came from the school but others came from nearby villages as well as from the Children’s Home where I lived. This means that I only recognised some of the students on my return visit. I was sad to miss Mr Anan who was on a course in Chiang Mai.

Before leaving I took the opportunity to visit the adjacent temple to take a photo of the mysterious tree from India, which I mentioned in my blog during the English Camp, which has inedible fruit. I took a photo which is in my gallery. Does anyone know the name of this tree ?

I was then taken to dinner near Chiang Mai where there is an enormous Big C in which there was a Sushi and Shubu restaurant where customers are given an eating time slot of an hour and there is a conveyor belt with differently coloured platefuls of ingredients and others of sushi depending on which eating style you like. The non-Sushi plates on the belt contained things like slices of meat, a few florets of cauliflower, some lettuce, a sliver or two of fish etc etc. You take as many as you like and place the contents into the electric broiler on the table which has been filled with a stock in which to cook the ingredients. As always at these sort of places the steam came my way which is so annoying. It is not my favourite way of eating, that's for sure, but Thais seem to love it.

By this time I was keen to get back to my hotel in Chiang Mai because I needed to sort out the problem with my credit card so that I could withdraw some urgently needed cash. My heart sank when the female Ajarns said they wanted to look at the House Depot store next to Big C. They spent ages looking at hi-tech TVs and floor tiles and other items. Eventually, I decided I had to say something and told Ajarn Napapan my problem. She was happy to help and we went through the checkout to the car park and I was driven to my hotel.

As always it was sad to say a final goodbye to my fellow Ajarns. They have always been exceptionally nice to me and I will not forget them.

As for my credit card, the good news was that my PIN had been re-instated and I would be able to make a withdrawal, so, hopefully, all was well again.

Thursday 5th August

With the large carrier bag of farewell presents in front of me I decided there was no alternative but
obtain another box from the post office and send all the gifts back to London. It was very hot as I
walked slowly to the post office and back to the hotel with the empty box. The first box I selected
was far too small so I had to go back and get a bigger one. Back at the hotel once more I
packed all the presents and some books into the new box and returned to the post office where I
was charged 1640 baht for the slower service.

I also exchanged my book, The Great Game, by Peter Hopkins (well recommended!!) for another
book by the same author at Gecko Books which I am looking forward to reading.

I also visited the bank and I was happy to find my card worked ok though using a credit card to
withdraw cash isn’t the cheapest option by far.

Friday 6th August

I spent most of the morning packing, or rather redistributing the contents of my bags, for my trip to Luang Prabang. I checked out of my room at noon leaving my bags in the care of the reception desk while I went off to have lunch at the eccentrically named Elliebum’s guest house and restaurant. I can quite see why the lady owner might have such a nickname but the food is really good and inexpensive. I had the Panang Curry which is always nice.

I walked back to my hotel, gathered my four pieces of luggage and got a tuk tuk to the airport. I checked in an, to my surprise, I wasn’t charged any extra for being so wildly overweight – my suitcase alone was 37kg though that was the only stowed item, the other bags I took into the cabin with me.

I had hoped to get a window seat but I wasn’t so lucky but, even so, I got some splendid views of the heavily forested mountainous regions of Laos, some isolated villages, fertile valleys and long meandering rivers. I also got wonderful views of some terraced rice fields and wished I was in a position to take some photos.

There are only a few flights a day at Luang Prabang airport and as soon as the plane lands it zips along to the terminal building with none of those tiresome delays and hold-ups you experience elsewhere. As before on my two previous visits I queued for a visa on arrival but this time I was charged US$1 because I did not have a passport photo to hand. The fee is imposed for the scanning of the photo inside your passport but this was the first time I have ever been charged a fee for this service.

The taxi service is a bit of a swindle. You have to get a slip from the taxi desk in order to get a cab which is usually a minibus rather than a saloon car. Only one stop per cab is permitted unless you pay extra. I got chatting to a Portuguese couple on their first visit to LPB in the immigration queue. I gave them the lowdown on what to do during their two days here; joining the conversation was a guy from Israel. After Immigration we found ourselves together again at the taxi desk and I suggested we share a cab. Even though we were actually going to different hotels we said we were all going to the same hotel thinking that as most hotels are close to the centre of town it would only be a short walk to get to where we really wanted to go.

The girl at the desk told the driver to go to the Bel Air Hotel, the actual destination of the Portuguese couple. As it is a new hotel I was not sure where it was and it turned out to be some distance from the town centre overlooking the Nam Khan river. This left me and the Israeli guy to find a tuk tuk to take us into town which we did fairly quickly.

I was still sure that my hotel was in the centre of town so that is where we got dropped off. I set off to find my hotel and I asked local shopkeepers for directions but, as usual, no one ever knows anything so I resorted to finding an internet cafe and looking at the hotel’s website which had a map. My hotel was a good ten minute walk away along the road that runs next to the Nam Khan (river).

My guesthouse, the Villa Somphong, is a newly converted townhouse and, unlike many other properties in LPB, the conversion was done by the original owner who was also born in the house. It has only been open four months and is squeaky clean. My room was a bit on the small side and storage was limited to a few hangers on a rail below a high shelf as well as a couple of other shelves. Had I been staying longer than four nights it might have been a real annoyance but I was happy to make-do for four nights. The bathroom was nice, though, and very new and clean and everything worked properly.

I spent what was left of the day looking around the town and spotting the various changes since my last visit in 2009. In the evening I had an early dinner at a restaurant on Sisavanvong Street – the main shopping street – which was nice. Sometimes around the centre of LPB you get accosted by young children selling homemade souvenirs from baskets and they can be very persistent indeed. I had three approach me during dinner and I took photos of them to deter them.

Saturday 7th August

A very lazy day. I explored more of LPB and continued to wonder at the amount of construction going on. Tourism numbers are down in Laos like everywhere else and, being a landlocked country with no beaches, it attracts a different type of tourist from, say, Thailand. You still get lots of backpackers travelling around S.E. Asia or the world but you also get people interested in eco tourism which includes things like hiking, rivers, mountains, flora and fauna. The third group of tourists attracted to Laos are the retired or nearly retired who are interested in culture and temples etc.

So I was wondering if all the new hotels and guesthouses, and there are more on the way, can ever be filled ? Surely there is a saturation point. If tourist numbers recover then I suppose all will be well, but if not, then some people will get their fingers burnt.

Sunday 8th August

I hired a bicycle in the town this morning and went in search of the tiered rice fields I saw from the plane. I had enquired about them at my guesthouse and was given rough directions. Following the directions was no problem until I reached the area where the rice fields were supposed to be located. I found myself at the top of an incline. The rice fields were supposed to be nearby but I couldn’t see them. If I cycled on I would go down a very long hill and would, eventually, have to climb back up the hill again which was something I didn’t relish.

Fortunately, an alternative idea was at hand. The entrance to a driveway up to the large Wat overlooking LPB was just by where I had stopped on my bicycle so I decided to take a look. Walking around the outside of the building I noticed an upper balcony which I thought would give me a better view over LPB. I entered the Wat and went upstairs and found the balcony. Unfortunately the view was spoiled a bit by an ugly electricity pylon. Even so, I took some photos which are in my gallery.

Looking around, I noticed some stairs up to the next level and I thought there might be an even better view. So I climbed up. Nobody was around. There was no view to be had on the next floor but there were some narrow steps leading to an even higher floor. My curiosity aroused I climbed up. It was getting progressively hotter as I went higher, as humid as a sauna. Coming down the stairs were two boys who looked very sweaty. I wondered what they had been doing at the top and went to look. Once again, there were no windows offering a view, just a shrine. The boys had obviously been exploring just like me.

I met the boys again when I returned to the first floor balcony. One of them asked if I spoke English and we got chatting. One, Ying, was sixteen and the other boy was eighteen. Both were keen students of English though only Ying could converse. You can meet them too in my gallery.

After that encounter I cycled back into the town and spotted a curious sign for Beer Lao with the added slogan Make Blood. Very odd.

Monday 9th August

I discovered that my guesthouse had a bicycle of its own to hire and I used that to further explore LPB. With the waters of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers so high – but not at their highest by any means – some things were not the same as my last visit in the dry season in February 2009. For instance, the bamboo bridge across the Nam Khan, not far from my guesthouse, had disappeared being replaced by a temporary boat. Another bamboo bridge where I photographed adventurous boys leaping off it last year has also gone.

I was told that by next month the water level will rise much further. Last year, the Nam Khan was so high that it overflowed the banks reaching halfway up the walls of my guesthouse.

In the afternoon my Lao friend, Phone (pronounced Pon), took me to see some tiered rice fields on the other side of the Mekong. The rice fields are invisible from LPB and we took a boat across the fast flowing swollen river and walked through a village the other side where my friend has a sister and uncles and aunts. On the other side of the village there is a huge area given over to rice growing with some very photogenic tiered paddies. It was difficult to get a perfect viewpoint but I took a number of photos some of which are in my gallery.

My friend and I walked along the narrow footways at the edge of each small water-filled field and he took me to his old school. I peered into the classrooms and they were dusty and very rundown. At first I thought the school was abandoned, but Phone told me that as it was two months into the three-month holidays the school was empty. It looked desolate and depressing and the school is obviously very poor and has no budget for anything much.

The single storey school buildings formed three sides of a square with a large grassy area in the middle where three boys were kicking a football around. I took a photo for you to see. Phone also took me to the dormitories to one side and behind one of the buildings. The ‘dorms’ comprised small thatched huts where many of the boys live during term time. Phone showed me the hut where he stayed. All the huts were the same size. Inside they were dirty and squalid and in urgent need of repair. Phone told me that they would be cleaned up by the time term restarts next month but, even so, the huts are very basic indeed. Once again, I took some photos for you to see for yourself.

We walked back to the village via a different route avoiding the rice fields. Just as we reached the small ferry boat I heard the chanting of a boat crew. It was a long racing boat putting in some practice for the annual boat races on the Nam Khan next month and October. I have never seen any of these boat races live, only on film, but they look really exciting and I would love to photograph them.

Posted by talismanic 19.08.2010 04:22 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

July 27-Aug 2nd: Farewell dinner-Goodbye MBV-Bus hold-up++

rain

***SORRY ABOUT THE LONG DELAY IN POSTING THIS NEW ENTRY!!

Tuesday 27th July

I slept ok last night despite sleeping during the day yesterday and my leg is much better too. Another day and it will be nearly back to normal I think.

I did some washing this morning and, as usual, this was the signal for the heavens to open and I had to hurriedly bring my washing in again.

I took the last of the three English classes this morning. The first thing I did was to revise what we covered yesterday morning. This included questions about capital cities. They had difficulty remembering that Paris, Tokyo, Seoul and Brasilia are capitals of their respective countries and, yesterday, I had to tell them the name of the highest mountain in Thailand which I would have thought would be part of basic knowledge especially as it is not that far away from Loei.

Fern and Noon left this afternoon to go back to Nongbua Lamphu and we said our goodbyes. I haven’t got t know Fern as well as I have the two boys as she only visits here occasionally but I wished her and her cousin good luck in the futures.

I eventually had some time to myself on my laptop this afternoon when I prepared something to do in class for the rest of this week. I also composed an address to the school which I am expecting to have to give on Friday, my last day as a teacher.

Wednesday 28th July

Back to school after the long 4-day Lent holiday. I had a lot of things to do on my laptop, such as updating my blog and photo gallery but although I had the first period free it was difficult to have time to myself to do these things because other teachers want to see your photos, or students want copies of this and that and my own time vanishes without trace.

During a lesson this afternoon one of the students sitting by the windows pointed outside. When I looked I saw two men, though it was impossible to tell what sort of age they were, being chased away by some other students. It seems the two men were intent on stealing whatever they could lay their hands on though they had picked the wrong time of day when there were a lot of students around. Moreover, they were wearing casual clothes and could never have passed themselves off as students!

Thursday 29th July

After assembly this morning I noticed many of the boys going into one of the vocational teaching buildings nearby instead of going towards the classroom buildings as normal. My curiosity aroused, I went to take a look. The boys were sitting cross-legged in rows on the floor as if attending a class. But this was no class. All the boys were here because they had lost their scout berets (Made in England) and, by the time I took a look punishment was well under way. Each boy came forward in turn, Wai’d the Scout Leader and prostrated himself on the ground and he was then given one stroke of the cane, a few received two strokes. Punishment given, each boy got to his feet and Wai’d again in almost one swift movement and dashed off rubbing his bottom and, this being Thailand, smiling. The boys awaiting their turn also smiled as they watched their friends being beaten. There was no effort to hide what was happening, and no embarrassment either and I took a photo which is in my gallery.

It is interesting how different classes react to me. Every class has been nice and polite and their individual characters have emerged more and more as the weeks went by. But when it comes to leaving, some classes don’t react at all whereas other classes have given me little presents and wanted me to autograph their exercise books and so on.

At the end of all my classes yesterday, today and, hopefully, tomorrow I will try and take a class photo as a lasting reminder of my time with them. I will post some of these in my gallery. Why only some, I hear you ask ? Well, I doubt you will have the interest or time to look at twenty-one similar class photos – if you recall, I have had that number of different classes each week.

I stayed late at school this afternoon and didn’t leave till 6pm. This was because I had to finalise the address I will have to give to the school in the morning and, because I can never be sure of having a wireless connection at home, I tried to get as much done in the school office as possible.

At home, Rhe had got a couple of bottles of beer and we enjoyed drinking them. Ajarn Ben was there too and they presented me with a pair of black trousers and a blue check shirt which was very nice

Friday 30th July

This morning I decided to wear a proper shirt and tie for maximum impact because I had to address the school during assembly. Once again, Ajarn Joy translated for me and we each had radio mikes. Because several people had already asked me, I told the students about my travel plans after I leave the school and about what I do in London. I also had a lot of people to thank and then, to finish, I had a message for all the students. I told them that the song “Whatever Will Be Will Be”, which every Thai student in the country knows well, is wrong and that, in reality, it is Whatever You Make It Will Be Will Be!!

The last time I wore a shirt and tie with my best near-white (that’s the actual colour!!) trousers all the female ajarns kept saying Handsome Man to me every time they saw me. It was the same today. If only I could believe them!!

I had one period free this morning and two this afternoon but with so many people wanting a slice of my time to chat or DVDs made of my photos or videos the backlog of things I need to do online is growing.

The English Department, which consists of Ajarns Orapin, Mayuree, Malaitong, Joy and Mr Surawit,
took me out to dinner this evening which was very nice of them. Ajarn Joy drove me and Mr Surawit to Loei and at one point she said I was being very quiet. So I asked them if they had heard the news this morning about a bomb going off in Bangkok. Ajarn Joy surprised me by asking how I knew and if someone had phoned the news to me. She seemed surprised when I said it was one of the headlines on the BBC News website. But getting any comments on the topic out of Ajarn Joy or Mr Srawit was impossible.

Conversation then shifted to Mr Thaksin. Ajarn Joy asked me what foreigners think of him. I said it was hard because I have stayed in villages where the people love him for providing roads and water and electricity and all sorts of other things. Whether this amounts to bribing the electorate is a different question. Other people, I said, hate him for his corruption and dubious methods of wealth accumulation. But, I ended up saying, until the Thaksin question is resolved somehow there will not be permanent stability in Thailand. Both Ajarn Joy and Mr Surawit professed to hate Thaksin, but squeezing any opinion out of them was impossible which was odd as we were in a car and there was no one else to hear anything said. So I concluded they must only be work colleagues, not friends, despite the smiles and banter and didn’t want to reveal their true thoughts to each other. Peace and harmony, it’s called here. It is certainly a conversation killer though. No wonder most conversations seem to revolve around the peaceful and harmonious topic of food.

We went to a restaurant in Loei which was like a huge high ceilinged barn with tables at different levels and a stage on which a band played Thai folk/pop music and large plants were all over the place. Though the evening was nice, it was no more than that partly because I was the only person drinking any alcohol (only one bottle of beer all evening) and I don’t think my fellow ajarns socialise much, or even at all, outside school-related activities.

One of the dishes we had was made up of chunks of various fruits, covered with a light mayonnaise, sprinkled with cashew nuts and garnished with battered prawns and lettuce leaves. It was so delicious a second serving was ordered and there is a photo of it in my gallery which also shows another dish we had which was chicken with cashew nuts which came in an edible basket. Both ‘sep’ in Thai or ‘delicious’ in English.

Saturday 31st July

It was a nice sunny day today for a change and I did some washing. I took my laptop downstairs where I could sit at the dining table as it really is uncomfortable sitting on the floor with my laptop on a coffee table in my room.

About 10am we went to Loei. On the way we collected Saf from his school where he had been preparing some plants to give to the teachers. Then we went into Wang Saphung to a secluded temple in an area I had not been taken to before. It was near the river Loei, which flows through the town, which is a tributary of the Mekong.

My heart sank as I thought the family were going to do some worshipping. Rhe had already tried to explain something about what was going to happen but I didn’t understand. All I grasped was that it involved me somehow. When we got there Saf jumped out of the car and, fending off the dogs, went round the side of the building to see if the monk was at home. He came back and said no one was there, so we left, and drove to Loei.

A couple of days ago I said to Ajarn Ben that I would very much like to give the family something for the new house as my way of saying thank you to them for everything they have done for me. I had thought about a washing machine since Ajarn Ben does all the washing by hand even though there is a modern-looking washing machine in the old house which I assume was broken because it was not used. But turns out that the reason for this is that there is a water shortage in Muang Baeng and everyone is affected. The water company has promised to increase supplies in six months so the washing machine will be used after that.

The other item I thought of was a refrigerator since the one in the old house looks very old and one of the glass shelves broke the other day. It’s also not really big enough for all the family’s food storage needs. So we settled on that idea and this is what we went to Loei today to buy. We found a really nice Samsung fridge which Ajarn Ben and the family liked. It has a large freezer section on top of a normal size fridge and, after a 2000 baht discount, it was only 7190 baht plus a 200 baht delivery charge. So that was my thank you gift for the family.

Whilst in Loei we also visited a small department store. It was a curious place with men’s and women’s clothes on the ground floor, a supermarket on the first floor, and more clothes and things like camping gear and video games for kids to play on the two floors above that. It was from this store that Ajarn Ben bought the trousers to give to me. As they were unsure of my waist size they took from my room a pair of trousers that I use for teaching. This particular pair was a mistaken London purchase of mine with a 36” waist but it served its purpose, however, Ajarn Ben thought that this confirmed my actual waist size and so the trousers she bought had a 36” waist as well. But 34” is more accurate. At the store I was able to change the trousers and have the leg length adjusted to fit with no problem at all.

On our way back we had lunch and then continued on our way back to Wang Saphung where we revisited the temple. This time, the monk was in residence. We entered the modern viharn carrying a plastic bag of orange drinks and soya milk cartons as well as two saplings which, I was told, were of a tree from India. Kneeling in front of the elderly monk my birth details were worked out. The idea is that the saplings, a symbol of new life, will be planted in the temple grounds with details of my birthday. The monk had a lot to say and seemed very interested in me. He said I was not strong enough and gave Ajarn Ben a small bottle containing dried berries, about the size and hue of blueberries, which, the monk said, I should take every day to make me strong.

I am fairly certain that the tree from India today is the same species as the first ‘tree from India’ that I saw at the local temple next to the school at Mungwa which held the English Summer Camp and which had tempting but inedible fruit dangling from its branches.

About half an hour after we got back home the fridge was delivered to the new house which, I thought, was pretty good service.

It had been very hot all day so when we got home the two boys immediately went to the pond (in reality, a small water reservoir for the house) for a swim. I declined because I really needed to do things on my laptop and make some more bookings etc for my coming trip on the internet. To do this I planned to take my laptop to the school where I can get a good wi-fi signal. But I found myself left in charge of the boys. The pond is really an excavated hole and the water is invisible from the house so I felt obliged to stay there just in case something dreadful happened to either of them.

A little later Rhe appeared and said it was time to drink the two bottles of beer we had bought earlier and we had a good chat. And so my time vanishes once again.

Sunday 1st August

Wow!! August already. I miss all the usual trappings of summer in London and now August has arrived and it rains almost every evening/night here.

This morning we went off to Wang Saphung to buy some baby fish with which to stock the pond. Rhe bought 100 of three different types of fish from the fishery. They were supplied swimming around in large plastic bags which were inflated with oxygen from a gas bottle and then tied securely.

Monday 2nd August

Rain thundered down as I woke up. After I had showered and shaved Saf and Rhe came to give me their leaving presents. The idea was for Saf to present them to me before the bus came to take him to school. But I was only dressed in some boxer shorts with a towel draped around my neck. They gave me three presents: a diary with all their personal details in it as well as photos and messages from everyone. It was a super idea and deeply touched me. Fern gave me a picture she had made and framed of a horse in gold which was beautifully done and the boys gave me soft and warm scarves.

I spent most of the day sorting things out and packing. I decided to send some 6.2kg of stuff back to London in a box. Rhe went to Muang Baeng to get me the postal box and I filled it with my teaching papers, the pieces of material I’ve been given, my plastic waterproof jacket which I have never used so far and my blue bath towel.

The rain had stopped by the time we set off for Wang Saphung. I took a video from the car which includes scenes of flooded fields and roads. Quite a few people along the road were fishing in the paddies and catching very small fish.

The post office was very busy so we went for lunch and had rice with crispy pork and greens which was very nice and finished it with a chocolate chip ice cream.

At 3.45 Rhe drove me into school because it had started to rain heavily again. I sat in the office chatting to Ajarns Joy and Ben and others who popped in. About an hour later I was ushered into the Hall of Fame, the first time I had been in there, and here were 19 other Ajarns there and then the Director joined us who led me to the centre of the u-shaped table while the other teachers gathered round the arms as it were. About sixteen of them presented me with farewell gifts beginning with the Director. Soon I had a large pile of presents on the table in front of me and it dawned on me that I was back to square one as far as luggage space was concerned!

After the present giving I said my thank you’s to the Director and to all the Ajarns and then the Director said how impressed he was with me and thanked me for all the work I had done and how sorry he was to see me go and wished me the best of luck in the future.

Ajarn Joy drove me and my large bag of gifts back to the house where I enjoyed a final couple of Leo beers with Rhe. Later, I had dinner with all the family at the garage restaurant we had been to before but this time I took a photo. At about 8.30pm Rhe drove me and the family into Wang Saphung where our first stop was the ‘Safe Food Street Market’, as the sign proclaims, where
Saf, Bet and I went to a particular stall which sold a variety of homemade Thai desserts. This was because a couple of weeks ago I had commented how much I liked the crunchy sweet nutty dessert we had after dinner one evening. It turned out that this dessert is only available at one stall in Wang Saphung where the vendor makes it and the other desserts on sale at her home. Saf bought four different squares of desserts for me to enjoy on my bus journey.

Then we went to the bus station to await the arrival of the bus coming from Udon Thani and going to Chiang Mai. Soon, some of my fellow Ajarns arrived to see me off including Ajarns Joy, Somphong, and her student son, Champ, and Ajarn Orapin and her son, Dream. Various people pressed packets of mint drops or chewing gum into my hands as well as those nasal inhalers which Thais never seem to be without. We had to wait more than twenty minutes for the bus to arrive and when it did Rhe hefted my case into the storage compartment for me while I stood in the doorway of the bus to wave goodbye to all my well-wishers. It was an emotional moment as the door closed and the bus began to move away.

The bus journey should have taken nine hours but ended up taking nearly fourteen hours. I slept fitfully and woke up numerous times. I woke at 7.30am when we stopped unexpectedly and noticed that we were in a line of vehicles with another line alongside. I recognised where we were because my bus from Chiang Mai to Wang Saphung two months ago stopped on the same stretch of road.

So there we were. Time passed and nothing moved. I tried hard to figure out the cause of the delay and thought of various scenarios the likeliest being an accident, though I was wrong about that as I was to discover later.

I noticed that we were on a paved section of road and that on the opposite side the road was unpaved and very muddy from all the rain. Various small vehicles drove by on the unpaved road and soon a queue built up which soon became stationary and I began to think nobody was directing traffic because groups of four or five heavy vehicles at a time began to drive slowly past on the only remaining section of unpaved road heading in the opposite direction to my bus.

After two hours we began to inch forward. Eventually we reached the actual hold-up which was not an accident, as I had thought, but a part-built bridge. An excavator was busy working on the exposed concrete sections of the bridge which we had to cross. For some reason, all the heavy traffic, such as my bus, was being directed over the single lane bridge thus forcing two lanes of traffic in both directions into one lane. All the light vehicles were being directed onto the old, lower road, A lot of people were standing round watching the traffic crawl slowly over the bridge presumably waiting for one or other vehicle to plunge down into the heavily swollen river below. I took a photo as we crossed the bridge which is in my gallery.

The remaining journey passed off uneventfully passing through Uttaradit which is a bigger city than I had imagined and one which looked quite attractive with lots of trees and gardens. Chiang Mai beckons again.....

Posted by talismanic 15.08.2010 19:59 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

July 15-26th: Website--Arsaraha Bucha--Amazing decorations++

rain

APOLOGY: SORRY ABOUT THE LONG DELAY IN POSTING AN UP-TO-DATE ENTRY BUT TIME HAS FLOWN BY AND I HAVE BEEN SO BUSY OR THE INTERNET HAS BEEN DOWN.

Thursday 15th July

At lunchtime I had the chance I have been waiting for to speak to the Director about creating an English language section of the www.mbvschool.com website. At the moment, the address is in English but the entire website is in Thai. Other similar schools in Thailand have English sections which encourage the use and learning of the language as well as imparting all the news and information about the school itself.

The Director thought it was a good idea, and so does Mr I.T., the teacher here who looks after the website and whose name I can never remember. Whether anything will come of my idea is another matter. I told the Director I would happily help check the English for any mistakes before anything is uploaded since nothing is worse than trying to read strangled English online. I also told him that I can still do this via email after I leave the school.

A good example of how not to compose an English section on a school website can be found at www.loeipit.ac.th which is the school where Ajarn Joy attended a seminar earlier this week. Just click on the flag at the top for the English version. I thought it was hilarious when I first read it but then....well, what do you think ?

After dinner with my host family they often watch a tv soap opera which, though I can’t understand what the characters are saying in Thai, seems to revolve around tempestuous love affairs and bumping one another off. While this is going on I sometimes watch the gekkos on the wall. They hide out behind the calendar or poster and appear now and again. This evening I saw a small one catch a large moth that had fluttered by. Just then, two other gekkos appeared and seemed intent on grabbing the moth for themselves. A chase ensued and the first gecko disappeared with its prey. The other two confronted each other. I could see their tongues lashing and they wagged their tails aggressively before heading in different directions. Anyway, it passes the time till the next advertising break when I can leave and go back to ‘my’ house.

Friday 16th July

This evening we were supposed to meet Ajarn Ben’s sister, who I have not met before, but she was unable to come for some reason. We were going to have a family dinner at a restaurant but even though she could not come we went out to dinner anyway. We went to a different barbecue restaurant in Wang Saphun which had individual thatched huts for customers.

I didn’t know about the dinner until I got home from school. I stayed late because of the internet access and I updated this blog and the photo gallery and Rhe announced, as I got home about 6pm, that we were going out now. I had a hasty shower and changed out of my teaching outfit but in my rush I forgot to put some anti-mozzie cream on my shins, an area which the mozzies seem to love. Although the restaurant provided an anti-mozzie coil to burn they still came to feed on my shins and I got a few bites otherwise it was a very nice evening.

Saturday 17th July

I was happy when the noise from the wake across the road from where I live ended but, today, a new celebration began in the house next door and it involved loud music once again. This time it was because a 25 year old at the house is to become a monk and having his head shaved. The music started about 5am so I was still a bit sleepy when Ajarn Joy came to collect me at 7.30 to take me to her house about 30 minutes’ drive away.

Her mother is a teacher at an Informal School and the idea was for me to take a class of English language beginners. There were about twenty students aged from about 13 to 40 something and some had a few words more English than others. I have posted a group photo in my gallery for you. I did basic introductions and greetings which went ok but I could do no more than scratch the surface.

Three of my fellow teachers at school joined us for lunch and afterwards we drove to Phu Luang, a nearby mountainous park. There were a number of youths near where we parked and I thought they were just hanging around but two of them detached themselves from the group and became our unofficial guides. It transpired that they were going to do the climb anyway – they had been up many times before - and they were happy to help us.

Our aim was to see a series of nice waterfalls. It was a strenuous scramble over large rocks and small waterfalls through stands of bamboo and various trees. I didn’t see any wildlife or any flowers which was a disappointment. A couple of times I slipped and nearly fell twenty or more feet down a small cliff but I managed to get footholds at the last second and all was well but they were scary moments.

We didn’t actually go to the top of the mountain only to the topmost waterfall the source for which emerges from a cave. We tried asking our guide but he said that no one had ventured deep into the cave to see how far it extends. I have since done an internet search but there does not seem to be any information about it or about the source of the water. Not in English anyway. But I presume the rain falling higher up the mountain gathers in a channel which, over many years, has eroded the limestone to create a tunnel.

We came down by a different route. The path was well worn and passed through more bamboo and mixed trees. I heard a bird which had a wonderfully tuneful song but I didn’t see it and I don’t know what it was.

Sunday 18th July

A rest day, nothing planned. Did some washing first thing this morning and although the washing was kept indoors by the rain Ajarn Ben ironed the shirts for me in the late afternoon which was nice of her. The boys played on my laptop most of the afternoon.

Monday 19th July

Today saw the first set of last classes today and it was quite hard to say at the end of each class that I would not be seeing them again next week as usual.

Later, in the office, Ajarn Ben admitted to me that she had lost her self-control and slapped Saf on the forearm after he was very slow getting up and getting dressed and so missed the bus to school. His father took him and me to MBV and after dropping me off took Saf to his own school. After school, I went for a haircut in the village which wasn’t as bad as I feared. The two barbers, one male, one female, are more used to scalping students. I had the male barber and he did a pretty good job on my hair.

Tuesday 20th July

Today was the second day of last classes. During the morning all the students from M3/1 came into the office and presented me with an enormous basket of fruit as a parting gift which was very nice of them. A photo was taken which I will put up into the gallery as soon as I have got hold of it from the teacher who took it.

After classes finished I watched dancing rehearsals for Friday’s procession in the large meeting hall led by one of the boys. Even though they were wearing school uniform, and not costumes, the traditional Isaan dancing looked very good to my inexpert eye.

I also watched some takraw and volleyball practice that was taking place on the tarmac’d area where morning assembly is held.

I was just falling asleep tonight when I saw a small flashing light. At first, I thought I was beginning to dream, but then it was moving around my room just below the ceiling. It was the first firefly I have seen in Thailand, in fact I never realised they existed here.

Wednesday 21st July

A sunny day for a change. The teacher mother of one of my students organised a photo session of her son’s class with me after assembly. More than a dozen photos were taken and a couple of them are in my gallery.

Thursday 22nd July

There were classes as normal this morning for most students and then this afternoon everything was given over to preparing for tomorrow’s Arsahara festival in the village. In one part of the school the giant candle was being decorated. The core of the candle was metal with a three inch covering of orange-coloured wax around the shaft. Then, elaborate decorative wax shapes were placed around the wax working from the bottom upwards. Each shape was warmed with a hair dryer and then placed into position and then fixed in place with pins.

I also watched the float – a pick-up car - being prepared for the procession. By the time I got there the framework was already in place and so were some of the decorations. But there groups of (mainly) girls sitting amidst heaps of banana leaves which were being intricately folded into Naga head and other shapes. All of these attached to the frame in the correct position thanks to a staple gun.

If you wondered, like me, how the folded leaves retained their double bend in the decorative photos I uploaded about three weeks ago, the answer is two wires. First, a section of banana tree stem is cut into the shape of an extra long thick ruler and then two metal wires are then threaded through the stem. The banana leaves are then folded around this stem and stapled into place. Then the finishing touches, like the ‘tongue’ were added.

Other girls were working on the flower arrangements which will surround the base carryingthe huge candle. I took a series of photos to illustrate the creative work which I hope you enjoy.

I also saw the other school dancing group – eight girls - who will perform a special dance on stage tomorrow. They were rehearsing in a part of a long shed-like building that I had not been inside before. To my surprise the room looked like a real dance studio with a mirrored end wall and a tiled floor. The group performed well and, with costumes and the full music, will look really good.

Friday 23rd July

I got up early this morning because the Arsaraha Bucha (Lent) festival was due to open at 7.30am, or so Ajarn Joy told me. I walked to school and when I got there the office was full of girls in their traditional Isaan dress being
made-up before being taken to the assembly point at the village market.

I was concerned about the time because I had promised the band, Butterfly, that I would make another video of them and I did not want to miss their performance immediately after the openingceremony. I had a quick breakfast which Ajarn Joy made for me and then we set off in her car. Some cars and many motorcycles were converging on Muang Baeng school and we got stuck in a jam or a short time. The procession, meanwhile, had already started along the same road but in the opposite direction.

I began making the first of a series of videos which I knew could be stitched together to make a single movie later. Six other schools in the area were taking part but our school contingent was the largest. Each school had a float with a huge candle mounted on top and sitting in front was each school’s entrant in the costume/beauty competition. Each contestant was dressed in traditional costume and it seems some sort of agreement had taken place beforehand since each costume was a different colour so there were no clashes.

Each float was followed by each school’s contingent of dancers who were also dressed traditionally. To begin with, our dancers, rather incongruously, wore their normal fluffy sandals of various kinds but they had taken them off by the time they entered the village proper and danced barefoot.

I was walking ahead and stopping taking photos when I was approached by a strange woman. I have been approached by drunks and other strange people at various times during my time in Thailand and I just though this person was another village crank. This person had wild grey hair and had blood oozing from the corner of her mouth.

She asked me where I was from. I said London, and was just turning to make a getaway when Ajarn Joy came over to tell me that she was the famous presenter of a Channel 7 television show and she and the director wanted to interview me. So I went over to the others and was interviewed briefly. Then, I had the worst kind of embarrassment for me. The ‘crazy lady’ presenter pulled me over to dance with her, Isaan style of course.

Astute readers will recall that I’ve been dragged off to dance before so I was not unduly fazed except that, this time, my effort was televised and the presenter was deliberately acting crazy for laughs....at my expense!!

In the showground, in reality the grassy sports area in from of the local school, all the floats were lined up and there was a large crowd in front of the stage. Around the edge of the area food stalls had been set up as well as awnings to create shade.

Talking of the weather, it rained the day before and this morning the sky looked very threatening. It didn’t rain all day though it looked as if it really might at any moment.

During the morning, all the various school directors and members of the Provincial Education Authority gathered in a semi-circle to pose for a photo. A group of various young performers sat in front of them. I was busy taking a photo when I was hauled to the front by the ‘crazy lady’ and asked to sit in front at the centre. This time the director asked the questions and the ‘crazy lady’ just clowned and laughed alongside while another crew member held a microphone to my lips. As well as the usual questions I had to shout ‘Yes...yes...yes’ on cue which wasn’t too taxing or embarrassing. There is a photo of the occasion in my gallery.

My school was the last of the seven sets of dancers to perform on the grass in front of the stage and they did really well. The other dancing group, who I watched rehearsing a couple of days ago, were dressed in gold coloured costumes and they performed faultlessly.

Each of the activities – the candle making, the decorated float the dancing, and the costumes of the girls who sat in front of the candles on the floats, were competitive and during the procession the candles were measured for height. My school won the overall first prize of 2,000 baht (about 40 pounds).

After every contingent had danced my school’s float and many students went to the local temple where the candle was presented to the two monks there and put in place by the ‘altar’. Some prayers were said and a collection was made and about 2,800 baht (about 56 pounds) was presented to the monks.

At the temple, the Director had a few words with Ajarn Joy. It transpired that he has to go to Bangkok at the end of next week which conflicts with plans by my fellow Ajarns to have a farewell party for me as the Director would like to be present too and I am due to leave for Chiang Mai on Saturday 31st July.

So Ajarn Joy asked me if I could stay on for a couple of days so that the party could be held on Monday evening. Luckily, I have not yet booked my hotel in Chiang Mai so I could cut short my time there. If I do so, then I will miss revisiting the Sunday ‘Walking Street’ Market (where I took all those food and other photos) and it will little time other than make some visits to friends. I had, for example, planned to visit Doi Internon, the highest mountain in Thailand which is a day trip away from Chiang Mai. I think I will have to agree to the request though I have mixed feelings about it.

Ajarn Joy drove me back to the showground where the band were about to start playing. They had hooked themselves up to the large loudspeakers which were part of the stage set-up but the result was that their sound was awful despite there being a mixing desk some distance away from the front of the stage. The band seemed to know the sound wasn’t good and, besides which, by the time they started playing the only people that remained to listen to them were some inebriated villagers, teenagers, children and a few workers who were beginning to dismantle the stage and the sound rig.

I videoed a couple of songs and then Ajarn Joy and I left to have lunch in the village. We placed out order and sat down to enjoy our sugar cane drinks when she received a call to say the band were having a problem with the drunken villagers so we paused our food order and left our drinks and headed back to the showground. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

It turned out that the problem with the drunken villagers was not with the band as a whole, but with the lead guitarist and band leader who comes from a village which has some kind of ongoing dispute with the different village where the other villagers come from. Several other teachers responded to the phone call for help which was made by the office manageress.

We arrived about five minutes after receiving the phone call and the other villagers had disappeared and the band were packing their kit away. It was thought that the lead guitarist might face danger if he went home on his motorbike as he has to pass through the other village to get there so he was driven home instead. Ajarn Joy and I returned to the cafe and resumed our drinks and had lunch and that was the end of the excitement for the day.

Saturday 24th July

Quiet morning....after getting the boys to go home I had my laptop and my room to myself and it was nice to listen to some music via the internet and update this blog.

I have been thinking of giving my host family a leaving present and I thought about taking a family portrait and having it printed properly and framed. The problem was that Fern wasn’t home and any portrait needed to include her. So I was relieved mid-morning when she arrived from Nong Bua Lamphu and I duly took some family photos which look really nice and I can get them enlarged etc next week in Wang Saphung.

After lunch I went with Ajarn Ben and her husband to the local town market where she bought food for dinner this evening. I was also pressed to try some donut-like sweet things. There were three different kinds and Rhe urged me to have one of each which I did and they were nice.

On the way back we called in at his mother’s house to see her and to buy some rice. She seems fascinated – as most people are - with the details of my itinerary after I leave the school despite talking about the same subject on my first visit a couple of weeks ago. It’s slightly annoying being talked about as a farang as if I wasn’t there. Also rather annoying is the way that farangs are always expected to drink water and a glass will always appear though no one else drinks any. Wouldn’t it be nicer, and it would certainly save some effort and washing up, if I was asked if I wanted some water first ?

I have mentioned before about the obsession with food in Isaan and today saw a god illustration of it. We got back from the market after about an hour and the noodles and sauce that were bought were shared out as if lunch hadn’t taken place a little over an hour beforehand. I was urged to have some even though I had had three of the deep fried thingys at the market. Shortly after the noodles were eaten and dishes cleared away bags of popcorn were brought round and then some rice cake/biscuits. The flow of food is never ending.

About 5.30 Saf said that the family were going jogging around the school and he wanted me to come too. I opted to take photos while they jogged. Saf and his father did most of the jogging. In fact, Saf is a very determined boy and managed ten laps around the road circuit. His father completed almost as many too.

After dinner Rhe said he would like me to give Saf, Fern (who is at home for the 4-day holiday from Nongbua Lamphu) and their cousin, Noon, an English lesson tomorrow morning and Monday and Tuesday mornings too, all at 9.30. As nothing else seems to be on offer for the long break I agreed.

Sunday 25th July

A later than normal start this morning. Breakfast was brought over from the other house for me and Saf and we ate it downstairs at the dining table. My English class started on time and luckily, but unknown to me, they each had a Green Light English Textbook with them so I was able to use that as the basis for the lesson rather than the ideas I had thought of. It is a little difficult because Fern and Noon are 15 years old while Saf is 14. The two girls go to school in Nongbua Lamphu, while Saf goes to school a short bus ride from home and they are at different levels of English learning, the girls being more advanced than Saf.

One of the items in the textbook lesson talked about a collection, as in collecting things. Despite having an English-Thai dictionary to hand I found it impossible to get the collecting idea across to the girls. Worse still, was the idea that they could say they collected any item as an answer simply for the purposes of the exercise. Thai students, in general, do seem to lack any imagination at all even when they have the chance to say anything they like.

For example, I played a game of Consequences at the start of a class with M3/1 (the highest level stream of 14/15 year olds). In this game, I begin a story on the whiteboard and the students have to continue the story no matter how fantastical it becomes. I started the story with: ‘I came to school and then...’ There was no problem about the students taking part. The problem was that they simply recounted factually what they did during the day even when I added a line here and there saying things like: ‘...and I saw Ajarn Joy dancing on a desk and then...’ Thai students are full of fun, that’s true, but the many students I have met seem to lack much imagination at all. Sad really.

Before lunch Saf persuaded me to have a football kick around in the large tiled empty ground floor room of the new house. It was fun, though exhausting. He represented Spain (who he supported from the start of the World Cup) and I represented England. The pillars in the room provided interesting hurdles. My lunch was brought over from the old house while the family had theirs there which was a bit odd but then it is not the first time this has happened and I don’t really mind.

After lunch I settled down to prepare an address I will have to make to the school at assembly before I leave. I want to say more than just goodbye and thank you so I need some peace and quiet to think of something and type it but such time to myself is a rare commodity. I had written about two paragraphs when Rhe came in and said we are going to the farm and we duly set off with Saf and Bet as well.

Although I didn’t really want to go it was actually quite fun. Rhe took a different route which was full of twists and turns whereas the route previously taken was a rather boring straight road. We seemed to drive deeper and deeper into the countryside which is covered with acre after acre of rubber trees, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, maize (sweet corn), banana groves and papaya trees. The flat valleys of Loei with their reddish sandy soil are very fertile it seems.

Along the way we stopped at different places where Rhe showed me things to photograph such as the inedible fruit f the rubber tree, nice red flowers growing under the canopy of rubber tree leaves, sweet potato plants and a dried fertiliser making enterprise. Photos of all these, apart from the latter, are in my gallery.

On the way back I sat on the tailgate of the pick-up with the two boys and we called in to see Rhe’s oldest brother (photo in gallery) and later visited his uncle in the village. It was an interesting round trip.

Back home, the boys wanted to go jogging but I declined and they then suggested basketball and we duly had a basket contest which involved little running around for me. Our game soon turned from getting baskets to getting goals, England versus Thailand, and it was during this kickabout that I fell and pulled a muscle in my right knee. At first it didn’t hurt so when Saf’s his father, sister, younger brother and cousin appeared our game turned into a football game which was fun, tiring and a very sweaty affair.

I had to stop playing after a while because my leg was hurting and it transpired that I had pulled the muscle at the back of my knee but I had also bruised the front of the knee as it took the brunt of my fall. Luckily, Rhe had some boxing liniment which was applied to my knee.

For the rest of the evening I hobbled about. I was unable to completely straighten my leg or bend it very much, but I managed. The worst was having to get down to sit on the mat on the floor for dinner and getting up again was hard too.

Monday 26th July

I didn’t sleep much last night because I was unable to find a comfortable position without my leg hurting so I tossed and turned all the time.

I had breakfast downstairs with Saf and, later, I began the second of the English classes which went off ok. I felt really tired and rested upstairs in my room while the two boys played games on my laptop.

Later on, I was called downstairs where, to my surprise, I was asked to plant three different fruit trees. This was a follow-up from a question I was asked last night by Ajarn Ben and Rhe about which were my favourite fruits. I chose Mango, Papaya and Longan and it was these three young trees I was asked to plant in prepared holes in the ground around the new house. It was a thank you to me from the family. The mango tree, I was told, is of a type that has especially large fruits weighing a kilo or more.

Apart from that highlight, I dozed on my bed for a lot of the day or read my book. About 5.30 we set off for Loei where the family gave me a farewell dinner at their favourite barbecue restaurant which was nice of them if a little unimaginative. For some reason, the sale of alcohol was banned today but it was probably something to do with Buddhist holiday though, oddly, alcohol sales are back to normal tomorrow which is the last day of the holiday.

A curiosity I have not mentioned before is that Thais don’t feel the same way about sweet and savoury foods as we do. We usually follow savoury food with a dessert while a Thai will happily mix the two together and dipping into a dessert (ice cream or mini profiteroles, for example) while also eating a spicy salad, as happened last night. I noticed this in Ban Chad as well but thought it might be a one-off, but not so.

Posted by talismanic 28.07.2010 08:27 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

8-14th July: White faces+Rubber taps+Cow pat+KFC's chicken++

sunny

Thursday 8th July

The morning assembly had a different finish today. All the boys went off but most of the girls remained. A selection process followed to choose the prettiest girls to dance at a big festival taking place in the village in a couple of weeks. Most of the teachers took an interest in the proceedings which, this being Thailand, were guided by three boys who remained behind who al happen to be gay.

I am sure almost any of the girls in the school would be perfect for the festival because one of the female students, who was made up and sang in costume a couple of weeks ago on Sunthon Phu Day, was unrecognisable as being her in my class next day.

As usual it was Scout Day today with students and teachers all dressed in their scout uniforms. Up till now, apparently, the school has been training the students to a point where they can perform a parade which they are required to do under the curriculum. Today was the first parade day and it was held on the grass football pitch and I have some photos in my gallery. It was a really hot afternoon without a breath of wind.

There were a few rehearsals and then the students ‘marched’ around an imaginary square. Then the bust of King Chulalongkorn (every school has the same one!!) was brought out and reverently placed on a stand and it was saluted and the parade was addressed by the senior scout/teacher.

The school has the instruments for a brass band but the school does not have a qualified music teacher and in this rural location such people must be as rare as hen’s teeth which is a shame. The consequence was that during the parade the beat was kept by a boy on a bass drum and one of the teachers on a snare drum. Considering no orders such as ‘left, right...left, right’ were given, the boys kept almost in step.

Another disappointing aspect of scouting Thai style is that no skills are taught, at least, I have not seen any taught at the schools I have been at. The scout uniform is something you put on every Thursday as a matter of routine, students and teachers alike and I don’t think anyone thinks very much about scouting beyond the weekly routine. I tried talking to one of the teachers about what scouting is really about but he showed no interest at all and asked no questions.

In passing, it was interesting to discover today that all the berets worn by the scouts here, and possibly throughout Thailand, are made in England out of 100% pure wool.

Debate about which team will win the World Cup continues. Thai tv has a live octopus in a tank which has the answer. Since the knockout stage the octopus has settled on one of two boxes each emblazoned with a team flag and each time that team has won. The octopus settled on Spain the other evening so it will be interesting to see if is right this time or not.

There is some kind of lottery going on here connected to the World Cup. One of the teachers has a brother working at the post office in Bangkok who sent her bundles of pre-printed postcards on which you have to select the team you think will win the Cup – Spain or Holland. You buy the cards for 2 baht each so the more you buy the better your chances of your card being picked out of the box. Apparently, the winner will go to South Africa to watch the Final on Sunday. The Director has bought 500 baht’s (about £10) worth of cards!

Friday 9th July

The wake continued over the road from where I live! For some arcane reason there are two wakes of three days each. It seems that each wake is for different people to come and pay their respects. The body of the man who died of AIDS has already been cremated I was told.

The sound system got going at 5am this morning which is ok if you are going to keep the sound within your own home but to have it so loud that it broadcasts not only the music but also the prayers of the monks is, I think, inconsiderate. On the other hand, it may be deliberate for the benefit of other locals. I don’t think that is the case though because there are few other houses nearby and the actual village is about half a mile away or more.

Another curiosity is that Thais go to some length to keep their skin as white as possible. Here at school some boys and girls, as well as teachers, shade their faces when outside in the sun. Others rub Johnson’s Baby Powder onto the faces before venturing outside after class. Whether the baby powder is effective is an unsolved mystery. I have mentioned in class the fact that westerners pay good money to come to hot sunny countries, such as Thailand, to enjoy the beaches and get a tan whereas Thais do the exact opposite.

This afternoon, as always, students gathered in the open space under one of the three main buildings for a Buddhist cultural lesson, the last of the week. It is difficult to know what they think of this but even if I could ask them in Thai I feel certain they would never comment negatively about it.

I was supposed to join Ajarn Surawit and Ruung to go to a wedding party near Loei city this evening but I changed my mind. This is because I realised that once there I would be trapped. They are both singing in a certain traditional style at the party and will most probably have to stay till the very end which may be quite late. I have an early start in the morning to go to the Tha Li border crossing to renew my visa stamp and I would rather be awake during the journey than half asleep with tiredness. Another reason is that I feel sure I will be the only Farang at the party and by the time all the whisky and beer have been consumed some drunken Thai will want to dance with me or pester me which is something I can do without.

About 9.30pm, after dinner this evening, Rhe asked me if I would like to go to the farm with him, Fern and Saf. Fern sat in the passenger seat while Rhe drove there. Saf and I were in the back of the pick-up. As usual, mats had been spread out on the floor of the pick-up and two cushions provided as pillows. Saf and I lay here while we motored slowly through Muang Baeng village and along the road to Rhe’s rubber plantation. It was a cloudless night and it was nice to look up at the stars, so bright and clear. The pick-up stopped in the depths of the plantation and Rhe, Fern and Saf took a tapping tool each and went off to start work. I followed Saf. Like the others, he had a light attached to a headband and we went from tree to tree cutting a sliver of new bark to stimulate the emission of the valuable sap which flows surprising quickly into a small cup. Each sliver is cut at an angle so the sap flows down the slope and is caught by a small ‘gutter’ (I don’t know the actual

I forgot to mention that last Sunday, after visiting the temple and having lunch at a roadside food stall, we stopped at a few shops in Wang Saphung. At one point, Saf got out of the car to get an ice cream and got me one as well. It was the strangest ice cream I have ever had. It consisted of four small scoops placed in a line on a soft bread roll. It was nicer than it sounds, but an odd idea don’t you think ?

Saturday 10th July

I went to Thai Li today to renew my visa. Ajarn Ben brought breakfast over to the house for me and Saf at 7.15 which was nice of her and at 8am Ajarn Mayuree came in the school car to collect me. The driver, one of the former teachers at the school who now does part-time work there and is also a rubber farmer, took us to Ajarn Orapin’s house where we collected her and her son Dream. We then set off for Tha Li which is north of Loei on the Thai side of one of the Friendship Bridges leading to Lao.

We stopped off at a shop near Loei where the two other Ajarns bought a quantity of snack food for the journey which was otherwise very pleasant but uneventful. We took a wrong turning once but the mistake was soon corrected.

The border crossing is a little way beyond Tha Li where a sprawling market has developed. A smart looking building housed the office where the others, being Thai, had to buy, for 40 baht, a one-day Pass to leave the country. Armed with the paperwork we walked over to a small building where there was a single office for departures. On the way we p[assed a sign which said that Luang Prabang is 363 km distant. I presented my passport and waited. He asked if I spoke Thai and I said I only spoke ‘nit noy’ (a little bit). He then asked if I had a Thai visa and I said I did but as he flicked over the pages of my passport he failed to see it. He handed me the passport and I found the visa and showed him. A biro line had been drawn diagonally across the visa by mistake when I did the visa run at Mae Sai thus, at first glance, invalidating it.

When I pointed out to the officer that my visa is valid till September 29th, 2010 and that it is an M-type visa for multiple entry he relented but said I should point this out to the officer when I come back into Thailand though he might only give me a 15 day visa. This was very worrying as the last thing I want to do is to have to do another visa run in a couple of weeks.

We got a tuk tuk to take the five of us to the other side of the bridge and there was a brief passport check halfway across by Lao officers. It seems that few farang have come this way into Lao before

The Entry office on the other side was housed in a large new-looking building (see photo) but it appeared deserted. Someone came across the road and knocked up the person on duty to attend to me and 1400 baht (nearly £30) later I had a new Lao visa. The Lao officers were all very chatty and helpful and I was told afterwards that the reason was because they, like Ajarns Orapin and Mayuree, speak Loei, the local language here which is more sing-song than Thai and words flow into one another more, or so it seems to me.

We climbed back aboard the tuk tuk to travel the 200m or so to the market. It was baking hot and we all had umbrellas – I never thought I would ever use one but the ever-resourceful Ajarn Orapin had brought one especially for me – and it was nice to have the shade provided.

The market was very dull. A large number of stalls sold copy designer handbags for around £10 each. Many others sold a variable combination of playing cards, cigarettes, beer and whisky. A few sold CDs and a few others sold dried food of different kinds. We spent about an hour there which seems a long time but the two other ajarns wanted to browse handbags, what else ???

We got another tuk tuk for the 200-odd meters back to the immigration building and left Lao with no fuss. There was a small duty free shop which appeared closed but when I looked inside I could see the shopkeeper lying on the floor on a blanket and she hastily got up and unlocked the door. The shop only stocked spirits and clearly had very few customers so I can well understand why the shopkeeper was sleeping! Unlike the duty free shops at Nong Khai, where I did my first visa run in January, the shopkeeper would not discount the price. A 75cl bottle of genuine Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky was 800 baht (about £18), take it or leave it. So I took it as a present for Mr Songsak at Ban Chad.

On the way back we stopped off at a nearby Phra That, which is some sort of sacred shrine/temple, and we climbed to the top from where there were some nice views. I had to kneel clutching the three incense sticks, two candles and small flower garland and pray, as the others did. I have had to do this before so knew the drill. Ajarn Mayuree said to me, before we knelt, that ‘some Muslims don’t like to pray like us.’ I felt like saying that many others might not like it either. I went through the motions just to keep the peace. There are some photos in the gallery.

Back in the car heading towards Loei, Ajarns Orapin and Mayuree discussed where to have lunch. I had said that I would like to pay for lunch as a way of saying thank you to everyone for coming to Tha Li with me. It was eventually decided to have lunch in Loei but this didn’t stop the flow of snacks which had been eaten all the way out from Loei too.

Lunch was at the same restaurant that Ajarn Joy took me to about three weeks ago and it was very nice. We had about six different dishes – see photo – one of which was Som Tam, the green papaya salad I have mentioned before. Normally it is very ‘phet’ (pronounced ‘pet’) or spicy-hot but the chillies can be left out as it is always freshly made and then I think it is really delicious.

Talking of food, I have been asked a few times if I would like to have Cow Pat, yes, true!! When I first heard the name of the dish I did a double-take and thought though Thais eat everything, surely, they would not go that far. It turns out to be rice with vegetables...Khao (cow), is rice....Phad (pat), is vegetables.

On the way back from Loei after lunch we stopped off at a nursery where one of the ajarns wanted to buy a plant. I got out of the card to take a look round expecting to see some nice tropical flowering plants but it was the dullest nursery I have ever seen. There was nothing there that did not grow locally. The only mild excitement was when, unknown to me, a giant grasshopper landed on my trouser leg. I only knew it was there when Dream took a photo of it before picking it off my leg to throw it elsewhere.

I got back home about 4.30 and found I had about thirty minutes before my host family left for Fern’s birthday dinner in Loei. We set off in the car, Ajarn Ben, her husband Rhe, Fern and the two boys, and we went to the farm where we collected Rhe’s younger sister (the one with the chicken farm) and her young son, Tun, who is about seven or eight. We changed vehicles too. We left the car at the farm and continued on to Loei in a pick-up with the three boys and Rhe’s sister in the pick-up section at the back.

We had dinner at the same barbecue restaurant where Bet had his dinner about three weeks ago. It was very nice. Fern has an amazing appetite and ate a huge amount including three large desserts!
As before, the bought cake was produced at home. Sixteen candles placed on it and Fern blew them out (see pic) and we all ate a sticky sweet slice.

Tun and Bet get along well together and they bounced around the big open tiled ground floor hallway of the house I live in chasing each other around the pillars and having lots of fun. The trouble was, for their respective mothers, to get them to leave to go home and go to bed. Eventually they succeeded and everyone left and I could go to bed too.

One of the really nice things I discovered when I got back home from Tha Li was that Ajarn Ben had done all my washing for me. There is no washing machine so it all has to be done by hand. So it was very nice of her as I was aiming to get it done tomorrow morning.

Sunday 11th July

A lazy day. Saf played games on my laptop while I read my book we also played some games of Pelmanism, the memory game, which he enjoys. Bet bounced around as usual and the boys often commandeered my laptop to play games during the day. It wasn’t until 9.30pm that I finally had some peace and could do some work on my computer.

Monday 12th July

Ajarn Joy was not at school today. I heard she went to Loei but I am not sure why. In fact, three of the Thai teachers I normally work with on Mondays all had other work to do and did not attend class. If I was not working at the school, and the Thai teacher didn’t have me as back-up, the various classes would have been given some work to do by themselves. To my way of thinking, the kind of administrative problems that the missing teachers sort out should be done either before school starts in the morning, during the lunch break or after classes finish at 3.40. But then, that’s not the Thai way it seems.

It is an annoying coincidence that nearly every time I have a free period the internet network is ‘down’ and I have to postpone doing things such as making my flight/hotel bookings in August.

Tuesday 13th July

The school day is becoming routine now and nothing unusual happened to report here. After school I walked home and stopped off at my host family’s house as Ajarn Ben was by the entrance. I showed her my itinerary for the period after I leave MBV school and she and Rhe were very interested in my future movements.

Later, we drove to the market but called in at Rhe’s mother’s house first. After the introductions, when she wanted to know the answers to all the usual questions, we walked round the side of the house where a machine was milling rice from last year’s harvest. I also visited her vegetable garden where she grows chillies, pumpkins and a green vegetable you see halved in Thai curries. There was also a banana tree in flower within which I could see baby bananas forming and I took a photo for my gallery.

Afterwards we went to the market where Ajarn Ben bought food for dinner and I spotted some delicious peanut crispy things. They were made from small whole peanuts embedded in a hard thin sweet caramel-coloured sheet the size of a banknote. I imagine the peanuts were immersed when the sugar mixture was molten and then left to cool and harden. I have seen similar things in the UK but don’t know what they are called.

I also saw a stall I missed on my last visit to this market which was run by an old lady selling bamboo shoots. I’ve often bought sliced bamboo in tins but have never seen whole shoots for sale before. Ajarn Ben bought some and we had them for dinner. The outer layers were peeled off and they were ready to eat but, sadly, they taste ok but have very little flavour.

Wednesday 14th July

I had a free period this morning and I thought I would, at last, be able to make some flight/hotel bookings inline. I had barely got started when there was a power cut. Power was restored about five minutes before my next class which left insufficient time to do anything useful.

I had another less than happy class with M6/1. This is supposedly the senior stream, and therefore the best, class in the school with students likely to go to university. What annoyed me wasn’t their miserable English, though after nearly ten years of English classes I would have thought they would be a lot better than they are. No, what annoyed me was the persistent chattering amongst some of the students. I told them that they would not chatter like this if Ajarn Joy was present so why do so when it is my class ? Whether they understood this is doubtful since the chattering continued. I then repeated what I’d said more forcefully and they seemed to get the message. But, blow me down, one girl in particular still chatted to her neighbour after that which made me angry so I said as strongly as I could that when they become teachers, as some of them want to do, then they can enjoy classes that chatter when they do the teaching. But, until then, I am the teacher and they are the students and they must pay attention and keep their mouths shut until asked a question. That finally grabbed their attention and they listened to me for the rest of the class. Am I a grump or
what ?

Just as I got home Rhe asked me if I would like to go to his younger sister’s farm to see the chickens being sold. When we got there the unfortunate chicks were being loaded into airy plastic boxes, 20 to a box, and then finely sprayed with water to keep them cool. There is a photo in my gallery of the interior of the chicken shed. I didn’t stay long enough to see this but once all 2,000 chickens were in the boxes they were loaded onto pick-up trucks and driven to Udon Thani for slaughtering and processing to go on the menu at Finger-Lickin’ KFC.

I asked about prices and was told that each chick was sold for between 40-50 baht (between 88p and £1.10). I am not sure what KFC Thailand’s prices are like but they are probably a bit less than those in the UK.

As I was going to bed, and just after I switched off the light, I noticed the shadow of a lizard on the tiled floor. One side of my room consists of large glass doors and the lizard was on the outside of the glass and I immediately thought the lizard’s underside, including its ‘hands’, would make an interesting photo. The result is now in my gallery though I wish I had been able to avoid the reflection of the flash on the glass door.

Thursday 14th July

At lunchtime I had the chance I have been waiting for to speak to the Director about creating an English language section of the www.mbvschool.com website. At the moment, the address is in English but the entire website is in Thai. Other similar schools in Thailand have English sections which encourage the use and learning of the language as well as imparting all the news and information about the school itself.

The Director thought it was a good idea, and so does Mr I.T., the teacher here who looks after the website and whose name I can never remember. Whether anything will come of my idea is another matter. I told the Director I would happily help check the English for any mistakes before anything is uploaded since nothing is worse than trying to read strangled English online. I also told him that I can still do this via email after I leave the school.

A good example of how not to compose an English section on a school website can be found at www.loeipit.ac.th which is the school where Ajarn Joy attended a seminar earlier this week. Just click on the flag at the top for the English version. I thought it was hilarious when I first read it but then....well, what do you think ?

After dinner with my host family they often watch a tv soap opera which, though I can’t understand what the characters are saying in Thai, seems to revolve around tempestuous love affairs and bumping one another off. While this is going on I sometimes watch the gekkos on the wall. They hide out behind the calendar or poster and appear now and again. This evening I saw a small one catch a large moth that had fluttered by. Just then, two other gekkos appeared and seemed intent on grabbing the moth for themselves. A chase ensued and the first gekko disappeared with its prey. The other two confronted each other. Their tongues lashed and their tails wagged aggressively before they headed in different directions. Anyway, it passes the time till the next advertising break when I can leave and go back to ‘my’ house.

Posted by talismanic 16.07.2010 03:08 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

June 29 - July 7th: Parties-Storms-Wai'ing-A wake + + +

sunny

Tuesday 29th June

Another close and humid morning though it turned cooler after it poured with rain. I sought approval from the Director at lunch for an idea I have which could help the school band, Butterfly. When I was in Ban Chad Mr Songsak organised a couple of competitive events at the golf club after which there was a lot of food and drinking while a band played on stage. I thought I might be able to persuade Mr Songsak to book Butterfly for the next golf event thus giving them their first taste of playing in public. The Director gave my idea the thumbs up providing there was no expense for the school which was good of him. I now just have to get Mr Songsak on side and to get him to agree to pay travelling costs.

My private English student, Kom, could not make it this evening because his mother had become ill and he was visiting her. I didn’t feel 100% this evening either when I went over to the old house to have dinner and sitting ‘sidesadlle’ on the floor didn’t help either. I just felt very tired and lethargic. I left dinner as soon as I decently could and went to bed about 9.30.

Wednesday 30th June

This morning one of my fellow teachers, who is the mother of Champ, the spelling bee entrant, brought into school some Vietnamese food for my lunch and Ajarn Orapin brought in some Thai cherries and bananas for me. Quite how I am supposed to eat all this food as well as that which is normally provided for lunch is a mystery.

In passing, the Thai cherries, although the same size as western cherries, have 3 indentations on the outside top to bottom and they are very bitter to taste and are normally eaten dipped in sugar, salt and, yes, chilli flakes.

My first period was free this morning which was just as well because I only felt a bit better than last night. I had an email from Mr Songsak saying he would be interested in booking the band but there are no events coming up very soon because it is the rainy season and an outdoor event could easily be wiped out.

I witnessed something very unusual this morning, in fact, something I have never seen before in Thailand. I was about fifteen minutes into a lesson with M5/3, and the students were busy copying a story from the board into their exercise book, when one of them suddenly got up, tipped over his chair, flung his books to the floor and stormed out of the classroom. This is definitely not the Thai way to behave. It transpired later that he was upset about something the student sitting next to him had said.

There was a party this evening for two teachers who are leaving the school in the main meeting room just along from the general office. Forty six people attended so, for once, all the teaching staff and the Director were on one place. One of the two teachers has been at the school for seven years, the other for just one and there was a large number of wrapped presents on a table. It was an informal affair and the u-shaped meeting table had been laid up with plates, bowls, chopsticks, spoons and some Thai nibbles such as cured black eggs (which tasted very nice) slices of raw fish and cashew nuts (I can’t get enough!!) though it seemed strange picking them up individually with said chopsticks and eating them. Much more food soon followed such as whole fish topped with a spicy vegetable mix, fried rice and other things.

The evening revolved around karaoke singing with the words projected onto a large screen at the back of the stage and there were two microphones for the singers. Many of my fellow ajarns have good voices and there are a large number of Thai songs, as there are English songs, which everyone likes to join in and sing. The difference is that the Thai songs actually tell a story and are often about poor people or about a journey or dream etc.

The present giving got going about 7.30 and all their friends lined up with their gift/s and then they each said their piece and so did the Director. More karaoke followed and I was once again persuaded, rather against my will, to sing a song.

At the end of the evening, when most people had gone home, though the karaoke was still in full swing, one of the older ajarns, the one who I made a bet with that England would beat Germany in the World Cup, had too much whisky and wouldn’t leave me alone. At first it was ok, but then he became more unsteady and wanted me to dance, and clung onto me like a limpet. Eventually Ajarn Joy came to try and prise him away from me but that didn’t work. The Director then came over and the drunk ajarn went away meekly. Incredibly, he drove some 15km home.

During the evening a severe thunderstorm broke out and it was still tipping down when I left. Luckily Ajarn Joy gave me a lift back home so I didn’t get very wet.

Thursday 1st July

Today is the first day of my last month teaching in Thailand and time seems to be going very fast for me.

Two things happened today which raise questions in my mind about school policy.

First, I went to school a little later than usual – about 8.15 - and I happened to see a group of five students walking through the back gate (opposite the house where I live) and cutting down towards the school through the trees. They were obviously avoiding the assembly and had timed their arrival so they could quickly mingle with other students unseen by staff.

Second, at one of the afternoon classes today only seven students were present out of a possible 24. The class was 3/4 which means they are aged about fifteen and are in the lowest academic stream.

When I asked the Thai teacher who normally takes this class for this period and who was also present, she said this has happened a number of times before for this English class as well as for other classes. She went on to say that there was nothing the teachers could do.

This seems to me to be an oddly defeatist attitude since the missing students are known because a register is called for each class. If the missing students, for this or any class, were given a strong talking to then I am pretty sure the problem would be resolved as Thai students are generally very compliant and never complain. Perhaps the fact that these students are in the lowest academic stream has something to do with it.

As for first episode, I am not sure yet if this is a prevalent offence or not but as the students line up at assembly in class groups, and as many of the teachers stand with their classes at assembly I would have thought a quick headcount, or a quick glance at the register at this point, would soon detect any missing students who could then be disciplined if they did not have a valid excuse.

Some students, or their parents, do send in written letters apologising for their absence in a class and I have seen a small number of these in my own classes. So there are valid reasons why students might be late or absent and these students could then be accounted for.

Friday 2nd July

There was another terrific storm last night with lots of “donner and blitzen” too. It was the kind of long continuous downpour of epic proportions that would bring floods and or paralyse parts of the rail or road network in the UK but, here in Loei, the rainwater just drains away or runs off into gullies. It had stopped raining by the morning but the sky still looked very threatening.

There was no internet all day today which was annoying; I guess there was a problem with the server. There was also a partial power cut. For reasons unknown the room lights were unaffected but nowhere else had any power.

After school I walked back home and I had some time to myself which was nice. After dinner with my host family I went back to the new house with the two boys. They were more than happy playing games on my laptop while I watched some of the football downstairs. By half-time, 9.45pm, I was really tired and went back upstairs to my room. Soon after that the boys and I went to bed and the heavens opened once more and rain thundered down.

Saturday 3rd July

More effective than any alarm clock is when, Bet (long ‘e’ please) wakes up. He’s is instantly alive and wants to play a computer game. When he isn’t beguiling you with his big eyes and cheeky grin he is either nagging you for a game or bouncing around the room. I’ve been using the laptop as leverage to get him to do his homework but this weekend he only had some Thai language homework and it was done very quickly.

The plan this afternoon was to visit Rhe’s farm. On the way we stopped at a fan belt repair shop because the proprietor is also a Phin instructor who taught Saf to pay the instrument. Saf is a very promising player. The Phin teacher got out his amplifier and tannoy-style loudspeaker but when he plugged them in there was a very loud hum which the Phin had no chance of overwhelming. There is a photo in my gallery.

Afterwards we drove to the local market where some food for dinner was bought and I took some more photos. I haven’t mentioned before that teachers, including me, get wai’d in public if a student passes you. Several students passed me in the bustling market and wai’d me politely and respectfully while lots of other people looked on and realised I am an Ajarn.

Then we visited Rhe’s younger sister who has a chicken farm. All the 2,000 chicks are kept in a very large shed with feed and water and some space to walk around. I tried hard to recall Jamie Oliver’s TV programme about the horrors of some chicken farms but couldn’t at that moment.

As we finished the heavens opened once again. Rhe had used his pick-up vehicle to drive us – me, Ajarn Ben and the two boys – there. They boys and I were in the back. Luckily some umbrellas had been brought along just in case and these were now opened. We paid another visit to the market

We got back home to find there was another power cut and Rhe and I got out his generator. Just as he plugged it in the lights came back on again.

Sunday 4th July

By far the worst thing to happen on Sundays is the early morning wake-up at 5am. The time is not of my choosing or my host family but it is when the music starts on the village tannoy system. When the song stops the announcements start and they seem to go on forever. When, I ask myself, will text messaging catch on here. After all, everyone has a phone and if a text message was sent to all those who need the information peace would be restored for those who want to sleep or don’t care.

I went with the family this morning to a temple about 20 minutes’ drive away in the hills. On the way we passed numerous rubber plantations, sugar cane field, pineapple fields and rice paddies. Rhe told me that a rubber tree is first tapped when it is seven years old and that a kilo of resin is sold for 107 baht (about £2.35). The rice fields are being planted now and those that have been plated are bright green with the young shoots. Everywhere you look there are sections of land under water in preparation for planting.

The shrine we visited was much the same as any other except that there were two enormous five-headed Nagas guarding the entrance to the grounds. By the shrine there was a large gong with a large padded drumstick to beat it with. The deep sound reverberated for a long time afterwards. But, interestingly, it was also possible, by brushing your hands against a domed section in the centre of the gong, to build up an insistent resonating sound in the same fashion which can be achieved on the rim of a wine glass.

There were some large statues of elephants around the main building which created a good backdrop for some photos. We then drove on to another shrine where some peacocks were on display and there was a crumbling walkway up to a grotto perched on the side of a high limestone hill. There were some good views between the trees looking towards more distant hills and a nice valley. The photo is in my gallery.

I wanted to stay longer because I had spotted a large black butterfly with vivid blue markings on its wings which I had not seen before. But it would have meant keeping the family waiting indefinitely given the fluttering behaviour of butterflies.

We had lunch at a roadside grill shop. Eating grilled chicken and rice and Som Tam (Green Papaya salad) with my fingers has never really appealed to me but when in Rome...

After lunch we went back home and I had some free time to double check I had uploaded to my laptop every photo in my camera’s memory before I re formatted the memory card.

Monday 5th July

There was a funeral party across the road from where I live last night. When I went to bed there were many very loud voices and some music. During the night eh volume was turned up which drowned the chattering. The music was still playing loudly when I got up at 6.45am after having a very disturbed sleep.

I discovered later that the person who died was male and he died of AIDS. Apparently, there is a high rate of infection in and around Loei though I do not know the figures.

This morning at assembly the students had their hair checked by their class teachers and the boys who had it too long had some cut off at the back. Those at fault lined up and bent over while their teacher wielded his scissors to the back of their head.

I am still trying to finalise my itinerary for the 2-3 weeks after I leave MBV. The problem is that the circular trip I planned seems to be impossible without taking very long bus journeys which I am reluctant to do again more than once. Two of the flights I had planned to book have been suspended presumably because of the lack of tourist passengers in the low season. I am not sure what I will do as yet but I need to decide soon.

I also have to do my last visa run of this trip on or before July 12th. The nearest border crossing point to me is at Tha Li across the most recently built Friendship Bridge to Lao. It can easily be done in a day and I think I will do it this weekend.

Tuesday 6th July

The funeral wake continued last night but Rhe had been to speak to the people at the house to keep the noise down and, to their credit, the party did so.

A perfect blue sky morning without a cloud in sight. I had a busy morning with three classes right up to lunchtime by which time I felt really hungry.

At lunch I heard that the Director had agreed the use of the school car for my visa run this weekend which is very kind of him. He is going to be away in Bangkok for a few days and it is beginning to look as if his promised trip to Phu Kradeung is not going to happen before I leave. He asked me if I can come back to MBV to do the trip but I think the problem would be guaranteeing good weather which is necessary to make the visit worthwhile.

I think I have found a solution to my post-MBV itinerary: I can take a bus from Wang Saphung to Chiang Mai and, after a few days there, fly to Luang Prabang, in Lao, and stay there for a few days. I would then return to CM and then fly to Udon Thani via Bangkok (yes, I know that sounds crazy but it is the only option going at the moment). After visiting Ban Chad again I can then fly from Udon to Bangkok. It’s not the perfect route, but it gets me to where I want to go. I now have to decide where to stay!

Before going to bed I noticed a large black spider on the ceiling of my room. This spider was different to the one in the shower room because it was larger and had a curious near-white pad on the underside of its body. I had no idea whether it was friendly or unfriendly and decided to leave it alone other than take a photograph which is in my gallery.

I thought about watching the first of the World Cup semi-finals and got a couple of bottles of Leo beer to drink with the game but then I discovered that it started at 1.30am and decided to give it a miss in favour of sleep.

Wednesday 7th July

Holland won last night so it depends on tonight’s game between Germany and Spain who the other finalist is. I won’t be watching the game at it kicks-off at 1.30am on Thai tv.

The last night of the wake went quietly and I had an undisturbed sleep which was nice. The cremation at the temple is later today.

The scissors were out again this morning at assembly for those that had not heeded the warning on Monday. The School Director is away for a few days attending a seminar in Bangkok so it will be interesting to see if anything different happens.

One of the curious things about school life is that every teacher knows exactly what everyone else is earning. This partly because a certain salary goes with a certain grade or particular qualification, but, mainly, because payslips are given out at morning assembly when all the Ajarns are present and, Thai Ajarns, being notoriously inquisitive, take a look to see all the payslips. In the UK, and probably elsewhere, this would be resented, but not here. Thais are always ready to tell you how little they earn.

The music was still being played at the wake across the road from where I live as I came home from school. I understand that the body will now be taken to be cremated tomorrow morning about noon.

Do feel free to post comments about my blog. I am always interested to read what you have to say!!

Posted by talismanic 08.07.2010 00:57 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

19-28th June: Rambutans, Guava, Gooseberries, Ginger ++

sunny 32 °C

Saturday 19th June

The boys came round this morning to play games on my laptop. They told me that we would be going swimming at 10am but in the event we departed at 11am. We, all my host family and I, had lunch at a noodle restaurant in Wang Saphung before going to two temples. The first also had a sort of museum cum shrine dedicated to a venerated monk who died not long ago. The shrine was in the centre of the room and around the sides were ghoulish glass cases containing all the monk’s possessions such as a portable radio, specs, back scratchers, books etc etc.

There was a pond surrounding the building which contained numerous catfish which jostled furiously for the food pellets which the boys and I threw into the water for them. The second shrine was in a sort of meeting hall though I am not sure what the hall was used for. There were only a few objects on display but one of them was a foetus in a glass bottle which I thought a bit odd.

On the way there I spotted a couple of spots from where I could take a nice unobstructed photograph of the countryside and we stopped on the way back for this. The three photos are now in my gallery.

We then headed to the Wang Resort in Wang Saphung where we spent the rest of the afternoon. I had fun in their shaded swimming pool playing tag with the boys. We were joined later by Ajarn Orapin and her son, Dream.

We left the pool about 5.30 to visit a rambutan farm. I had never knowingly seen rambutans growing before so I was keen to see the trees and take some photos for the gallery. The trees grow to around 16 feet and produce large quantities of the fruit. The picking season is over now but there were still some harder to reach fruit which Mr Rhe and the boys cut down with secateurs fixed to long bamboo poles.

On the way back home we stopped at Ban Pattana market which is the nearest market to MBV school and bought some food. I had a brief walk through part of the market and took some photos of a Longon fruit stall and a butcher’s stall. Both photos are in my gallery.

At home I played pétanque with Saf until dinner and then he and I went back to my house. He loves playing games on my laptop while I read my book.

Sunday 20th June

I had a free morning for a change. The boys played games on my laptop while I did some washing and tidying up. Ajarn Orapin came round to collect me to take me to lunch at her house where I met some of her sisters as well as Dream, her 11 year old son. There was a Thai gooseberry tree and a guava tree in the garden photos of which are now in my gallery.

During the afternoon Mr Kom called at the house and I was persuaded to give him some English lessons. He is studying the use of herbs and we had a chat about that. I don’t mind some extra English classes but I shall be careful not to give up all my limited free time by which I mean time I actually have to myself. On the way back we called in at her 80 year old mother’s house where I took a photo of her ginger plants.

I got back home about 4.45 where I was able to upload all my recent photos to my laptop and bring my blog up to date.

Monday 21st June

I felt tired this morning. My classes went ok this morning apart from 6/2-3 who had problems answering simple questions from a given short story. As I was about to leave for home I was ambushed by the office manageress who gave me a bottle of Thai fruit wine. I thought she was giving it to me but then she said follow me, so I did. She took me to the school shop which is partly hidden away almost under some stairs. I hadn’t been in there before. It soon became clear that this was part of a conspiracy because other teachers arrived as well as some beer and some food.

The fruit wine was quite nice, and potent too. The object of the exercise was to quiz me about my marital status and to discover what kind of Thai woman I would like. Needless to say, one or two of those present felt they should be in the running for my attentions. They don’t know it yet, but they are all going to be disappointed.

Tuesday 22nd June

The Doc Marten’s shoes I ordered last week for the Principal arrived this morning and at the suggestion of my fellow Ajarns they will be given to him on his birthday on June 26th.

One of my classes began to fail this morning. The students just sat there like voiceless dummies and did not respond to the easy game I was starting the lesson with. Luckily, they perked up later and the class ended cheerfully enough though it was hard work getting there.

I had my first lesson with Kom this evening. Before he arrived Saf came to my house seeking help with his English homework which I gave him. Luckily Kom arrived late so the homework filled a gap.

When Kom arrived he gave me about six plastic bags of food as a gift as I am not charging him for the lessons. I haven’t mentioned before that in markets and along shopping streets in any town you will find food stalls selling home-cooked dishes. When you buy a portion it is given to you in a plastic bag. Almost anything in the way of food and drink comes to you in this way, from drinks to green curry so you often see people carrying small plastic bags or see the bags dangling from a hook that is provided for the purpose on motorbikes here.

I thanked Kom for the gift but knew that I couldn’t eat everything he had bought not least because I was due to go to my host family’s house after the class to have dinner so I took the bags with me when I went to dinner and gave them to the family.

After dinner I had to help Saf finish his homework and help Bet with his. By the time I got to bed it was about 10pm and I felt very tired.

Wednesday 23rd June

As England are playing their last Round One game this evening in the World Cup I thought I would wear the shirt that I was given by one of the older children at the Home near Lamphun. I had already told the Principal of my plan and he didn’t seem to mind. In any case, he’s is a keen follower of the World Cup results and I am only planning to wear it on the days when England plays.

When I walked onto the square where the assembly takes place very many faces turned as a whispered word went round that the falang is wearing his England shirt. As a bit of fun I have been encouraging my students to support England as Thailand is not in the World Cup. I just hope the team get through the first round.

All the teachers had a meeting this afternoon to finalise plans for Friday’s special events. As I’m not directly involved I went home early and did some laundry and updated this blog. It was nice to have some time to myself for a change. In any case, I felt really tired but resisted the temptation to have a snooze.

The boys came round to play a game on my laptop about 6pm so I read my book until it was time for the three of us to go to the old house for dinner. After dinner I had to help Saf with his homework. He gets quite a lot. Tonight he had four pages of questions from an A4 size textbook which included two sets of questions on using the present continuous tense which surprised me as he barely seems to know what a tense is!

I could have watched the football match at the nearby house of one of my fellow teachers but decided I’d rather go to bed on this occasion as I felt so tired.

Thursday 24th June

I wore my new orange Phi ta khon shirt this morning, the one that the Principal gave me and it drew many admiring glances.

The daily teacher’s meeting after assembly each morning was all about the final preparations for tomorrow’s special event. I am not sure what it is all in aid of as yet but will doubtless know more tomorrow.

Luckily, England won their first round game last night and everyone was talking about it this morning. At lunch today the Director said he wants me to have a TV at home so I can watch the World Cup matches in comfort.

Ajarn Joy told me today that the school was planning to ask me to move to Ajarn Orapin’s house. This was because there was a misunderstanding before I arrived about how long I would be at MBV school. At first, they thought I would only be here one month and two teachers came forward offering to act as host family for me: Ajarn Benjamat and Ajarn Orapin. It was then thought that it might be seen to be improper for me to stay with Ajarn Orapin because she is twice divorced and has an 11 year old son.

This is how I came to stay with Ajarn Benjamat and her husband, Rhe, and their two boys. Now that I am coming to the end of my first month the school thinks it would be fair if I go to stay with Ajarn Orapin. But, talking to Ajarn Joy this morning, I tried my hardest to squash this idea using the excuse that it would be a great upheaval for me and less convenient. I now live next to the school and can easily walk home whereas Ajarn Orapin lives about 10 minutes away by car. Ajarn Orapin is very nice and friendly but she hardly ever stops talking and her friendliness is OTT as far as I’m concerned.

Friday 25th June

There were no classes today though all the students were in school for the Sunthon Phu festival which commemorates the celebrated Thai poet of that name who lived from 1789-1856. The events, which were all being judged by a panel of teachers, were well underway by 8.30 am and started with a series of dance performances by groups of students in various costumes. The next part consisted of three poetry recitations. Next came the singing competition in which even the Principal took part. I was asked if I would like to sing a song to the assembled students but I strongly advised against the idea.

After lunch there was a costume competition, a comedy section, the announcement of the judges verdicts and the prize giving, and, finally, the school band, Butterfly, performed to loud applause and, towards the end, wild dancing. I took a number of photos which are all in my gallery and the videos of the band are on youtube. It was a really fun day and the students evidently enjoyed watching it and taking part even though it was very hot today.

***Update: I have now uploaded three short video clips of Butterfly's performance to youtube.com if you would like to check them out. The links are:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7X3x0FaYqVU
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QS7HU8HoRI
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T43VbXkeT5s

After school I went with Ajarn Ben and her husband to a nearby market where she bought food for dinner. I took a number of food photos which are also in my gallery.

On our way back we spotted some Ban Fai, bamboo rockets, being fired skywards and I succeeded in catching two rockets rising upwards with their attendant vapour trails. Up and up they went and on reaching the top of their trajectory turned earthwards again. They are amazing to watch even from a distance but I did wonder where they come down.

This evening Fern, the family’s 16 year old daughter arrived from Nongbua Lamphu, where she goes to school and lives with her grandparents, for the weekend, It was good to meet her after hearing so much about her.

In the house the TV was fully installed and ready to watch and Rhe connected the supplied cable to an aerial on the roof which produced a really good picture.

The family ate dinner at the table in the new house which made a nice change for me by not having to sit on the floor and eat one-handed. Fern has a bit more English than her mother but her parents want me to give her some lessons/practice on Saturday and Sunday morning which, despite not being asked first, I am happy to do.

Saturday 26th June

Fern brought breakfast over to the new house for me this morning which I had while the boys played games on my laptop in my room upstairs. I gave her the first lesson this morning. Luckily she had a textbook from her school which I could as the basis for a lesson. Unfortunately, it was published in America which means Americanisms such as sidewalk, trash can, mail carrier and more but I will just have to endure it. I won’t have enough time with her to begin to point out the correct English words.

After her lesson finished Saf came to me with his illustrated reading book about a family of squirrels who live in a forest. He asked me to help him with his reading which I did. He’s a very bright boy but, as one of my own school reports probably said, he needs application.

Ajarn Orapin came round to collect me for the trip to Chiang Khan about 11am. She had her 11 year old son, Dream, with her and she drives a large pick-up truck which is one of the most uncomfortable vehicles I have ever been in with little leg room. We then collected her friend Ruung who had her six year old niece with her. Ruung is an English teacher at another school.

It took about 90 minutes to reach Chiang Khan and I was unable to stay awake for the whole journey. Chiang Khan is at the northern extremity of Loei province on the southern side of the Mekong River. The centre of the town is charming and bordering on pretty – two words I have never previously used to describe any village, town or city in Thailand – with houses in a mixture of Thai, Leo and modern styles. Those with a view of the river command the highest prices apparently. The fact that there is a border crossing nearby has helped to make it the busy town it is.

We had lunch at a restaurant on the river bank. The water is very low at this time of year but there are some very nice views as the photos in my gallery show.

The menu, which was in Thai but with English translations, must rank as an all-time classis in its class because the English version of the various dishes makes the mind boggle. Do look at the two photos and zoom in to read the print, you will have a laugh for sure!!

Ajarn Orapin and Ruung ordered far too much food (see the photo) but then most Thais I have ever been with do the same thing. All the dishes were really nice but there always comes a point when one cannot possibly eat any more. Soon after we arrived at the restaurant about twenty bikers descended on the place. They were all Harley Davidson bike owners as was obvious from their t-shirts and they looked like they had just come off a movie set which is, in fact, what they really had just done. They were dressed like gang members for some kind of action movie. They left about ten minutes after us and overtook us on the road complete with a police escort.

On the way back I wanted to buy some wrapping paper for the box containing the pair of Doc Marten’s shoes I bought for the Director’s birthday tomorrow. It was very difficult to find paper that was not Valentine’s Day related, not covered with red hearts or children’s cartoon characters. I failed to find anything suitable in Loei and finally found something in Wang Saphung which had images of roses on it.

Ajarn Orapin is very nice but she seems determined to ingratiate herself with me by buying me things. After lunch, for example, at the nearby tourist stalls, she kept asking me what I wanted her to buy for me. I told her I didn’t need anything and maybe she could buy her son Dream something instead. But, not a bit of it, she insisted on buying me yet another shirt. She also bought me, unasked, three bags of dried fruits and some bottles of green tea. I wish she wouldn’t spend her money on me like this. I really do!!

Sunday 27th June

I gave another English lesson to Fern this morning and towards the end Saf joined in and we continued with a joint reading lesson.

Rhe took us all to lunch at the local garage which doubles as a restaurant. Three tables were already occupied, one of them with students from school one of whom was wearing a shirt embroidered with a large Union Jack. After lunch Rhe dropped me and the two boys off at the village internet cafe while the rest of the family went home so Fern could pack and get ready to go to Wang Saphung

Our hour at the internet cafe whizzed by and we were soon turfed outside. We waited outside a short time as Rhe was coming to collect us but then decided to start walking back home. We got about half a mile when Rhe appeared in the car and the whole family and I went into Wang Saphung. We dropped Fern off at the bus stop where the family said their goodbyes and Saf stayed there with her to keep her company while waiting for the bus to Nongbua Lamphu.

We then drove to a local supermarket for some groceries and afterwards returned to the bus station to collect Saf. Back home, I did some ironing and then about 6.20 Ajarn Joy came to collect me in her car to take me to the Director’s party. Her brother was with her too. He is a lawyer in Bangkok.

It took about 30 minutes to drive to the Director’s house. There were about thirty people, mostly teachers from the school, at the party and there was lots of food and some drinks too though not on the scale I have seen at parties elsewhere. Various people brought presents for the Director and they were all placed on a table near the house. Everyone was seated at tables in the garden. Loudspeakers and a screen had been set up as well as a sound mixing desk from where songs could be chosen for the inevitable karaoke. I was persuaded to sing two songs - Country Roads and Lonesome Tonight - and others sang very well during the evening. Various people said nice things about the Director and he replied in kind. Both the Director and his wife came to talk to me which was nice as did many other people. There are a couple of photos of the evening in my gallery.

During the party England played their crucial second round match against Germany and I accepted a 200 baht bet on the match from another teacher. We left the party before the match was over and though I knew England were down 1- 0, I had hopes of a typical England recovery. I watched the last ten minutes of the match on the TV that the Director arranged to be installed at home and was disappointed like millions of others at their 4 – 1 defeat. I also lost my bet!

I had hoped that an England win, and with England cruising through to the Final, that I might use their success as a boost for English teaching, and knowledge about England, at my school here.

Monday 28th June

As usual I had five classes today with the last period free and by that time I felt that I really needed a rest. All my classes went well but it is quite tiring especially in the heat.

Posted by talismanic 29.06.2010 02:45 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

June 7-18th: Sisaket; Phi ta khon; swimming ++

sunny

***I try and update my blog every week but I have had little time this week and the internet isn’t always available, so sorry about that.

Monday 7th June

After the morning assembly when the flag is raised and the school sing the national anthem as well as the school song the teachers gather round the Principal and he talks about the week ahead. Each teacher gets the opportunity to speak and I did too though I didn’t say anything because of all the teachers present I only teach with four of them and I didn’t want to waste everyone else’s time.

Ajarn Joy wasn’t in today so another teacher prepared my breakfast and she did it nicely too. I also had Ajarn Joy’s class all to myself which was fun. All the classes went well and the students and I had a lot of laughter in the process. Earn, the Sufficiency Economy speech-giver and Champ, the prematurely named spelling bee entrant, came to me after classes to rehearse. Earn did a talk-through of her speech and about fifty percent will have to be cut to shorten it and keep it within the five minutes allowed.

I can sometimes get a good wi-fi connection from my room in the new house and when I do it is nice to listen to some music thanks to the BBC website.

Tuesday 8th June

Ajarn Joy reappeared this morning and all’s well. She took me to Loei for lunch which was very nice of her. It was my first daytime visit to the city and though it is not very big there are some places of interest there and some reasonable shops too.

After we got back to the school there was consternation in the little kitchen annexe to the teacher’s office when a snake was found there and some of the females were in a tizz about it and wanted me to get it out of there. Nobody could tell me if the snake was poisonous or not but it was very frisky and did not like being approached or touched. Before I did anything, though, I took some photos. It was about two feet long and hissed and leapt at me as I tried to encourage it to move towards the door and freedom. It escaped into the loo but didn’t go down the hatch and I managed to get it back into the kitchen area. It tried to wriggle into a floor-level cupboard below the work surface but I swiftly discouraged it as it would have been impossible to find again if it succeeded. Eventually I got it out of the door and it slithered away in the grass.

It rained heavily once again and Ajarn Joy kindly gave me a lift back home. There was another power cut as well just as dinner was being brought out in the old house. Power came on again before too many candles were lit and all was well.

Wednesday 9th June
Immediately after the morning assembly, when the teachers gather round for a meeting, the Principal invited me to go with him and his English speaking wife to Chiang Khan at the northernmost edge of Loei province where it borders the Mekong River on the other side of which is Laos. It is said to be a very beautiful area so I am hoping for some fine, or at least dry, weather for some good photographs.

My first period was free and, luckily, this coincided with a good internet connection so I was able to do some catching up with emails.

Earn, the 15 year old girl giving the speech on the King’s Sufficiency Economy did another read through this morning and she is getting better every time and I am beginning to think she may be a real contender for the gold medal. The other girl did not revise at all during the weekend and has been sick since then so I think she is probably a non-runner now.

One of the other teachers, Ajarn Orapin, who has taken to bringing in food for me, brought me some Thai gooseberries to try. They are the colour and size of European gooseberries but have bulbous ridges and they are very bitter indeed. Even Thais, who seem to love sour things and happily suck lime halves, find gooseberries sour and first dip them in a mixture of sugar, salt and chillies before eating them.

It is going to be a pretty busy weekend what with my trip to Sisaket, which is well east of Bangkok near the border with Cambodia, as well. I leave with the students and Ajarn Joy on Friday morning and return late Saturday evening.

For the first time in several days it did not rain during the day which was nice. It was still a bit overcast and very muggy though. After school the weather looked good so I did some washing and put it out confident it would be dry by the morning. How wrong I was!! Soon after 10pm the heavens opened and soon my house was in the eye of a storm. Lightning cracked and thunder roared and the sound of the rain on the metal roof was the most intense yet. In fact, it was quite scary as there was a high wind as well and I had visions of one of the trees that surround the house on three sides blowing down onto my room. At least I had my mobile phone to hand!

After about an hour, while I wondered how the hell I was going to get any sleep with the noise of the rain on the roof, the storm passed and the rain continued at a more normal rate.

Thursday 10th June

It was still raining this morning and my washing was still wet so I hope it will dry during the day.

The school was closed today because so many teachers are away at the Education Fair in Sisaket that not enough remain to take classes and oversee the students. The speech-making contest and spelling bee are just two of the many competitions taking place there. There are many other competitive subjects such as science and mathematics. About 100 students will be going to Sisaket today and tomorrow to take part in the event.

Ajarn Joy made breakfast for me at the school at 8.30 and she also gave me a copy of a 20-question tenses quiz that her cousin was given as part of her English Masters Degree course which Ajarn Joy wanted me to check in case of errors. Her cousin had all but one of the gap-fill questions right. The questions had 4 possible answers and each of them was close to being correct so from that point of view it was quite a tricky set of questions, but was still surprised that such questions reached standard of Masters course

Earn and the second spelling bee entrant, Sai, came to the school office for some more spelling coaching and I spent most of the day with one or other of them. With a good internet connection today I listened to some BBC radio music programmes in between the coaching and I caught up with emails.

Luckily my washing had dried by the time I got home about 5.45pm and I set about getting my things ready for the early departure in the morning.

Friday 11th June

I got up at 5.50am and showered etc and was at school by 6.30. Ajarn Joy very kindly made breakfast for me and we set off in the bus at 7.30am. Another bus left yesterday. The route took our bus through Khon Kaen and Roi-Et where the driver got lost but I got an unexpected tour of the city which looked really nice with a lake and canals and some nice buildings. We arrived in Sisaket about 5.30 at a sports hall which was part of Sisaket Sports College where everyone was to stay. The male teachers and students had a series of three rooms with two sets of very clean showers, washbasins and toilets. Our beds were green plastic covered mattresses and pillows which had been placed neatly around the rooms. The female teachers and students had a similar arrangement on the other side of the sports hall. After sorting out who slept where everyone boarded the bus again and we went to a nearby Tesco Lotus for dinner.

After dinner we returned to the sports hall in the bus where many people had tasks to do. For our part we had to rehearse our speech-maker and the spelling bee contestant but you can only keep doing it for so long before tiredness creeps in and there’s no point in continuing.

Some of the male teachers sent out somewhere for a drink. I discovered from Ajarn Joy next morning that the reason I was not asked was that they didn’t know how to ask me. I told her all they had to do was say Leo or Singha or Chang and go through the motions of drinking and I would have understood their intentions immediately.

Saturday 12th June

I slept reasonably well last night though there was some noise early on but that was only to be expected in the circumstances. Before everyone boarded the bus to Rajabhat University, were the event was to take place, I suggested a group photo so everyone was gathered together and a photo taken complete with the banner of the school’s name.

We took a wrong turning on the way to the university and ended up having to reverse out of a narrow lane but we got there in the end. It appeared to be a large recently built campus with more faculties being constructed.

All the events taking place were part of the annual Education Fair and they ranged from B-boy dancing to scientific experiments. Well, this is Thailand after all!! After registering Ajarn Joy and I took our speech-maker and spelling bee entrant for breakfast at a well appointed food court which was part of the university. Both of our events took place at the same time in the afternoon. The three students were happy to be left in the auditorium where solo singing was taking place while we, Ajarn Joy and I, went back to where the B-boy dancing was taking place in the same building.

The B-boy dance groups were colourful inventive and full of energy and they were good to watch to pass the time. There was a large crowd of other people watching too.

Eventually the time came for our competitors to do their thing. I accompanied Earn and we entered the room where it took place and registered and looked around at the other entrants trying to assess how they might perform. Another Brit, also a teacher, introduced himself to me. He was from ‘uddersfield and I wondered how his students got on with his strong accent. He also insisted on saying Loi rather than Ler-i which is how it should be pronounced!

Earn was drawn the 4th to perform. All the speeches were on the topic of the King’s Sufficiency Economy .The first speech was given by a very confident and appealing boy and I thought that it everyone was like him or better then Earn would not have a chance. The 2nd and 3rd to compete were distinctly average. Earn was nervous and she had to refer to her speech on a card as she could not remember it all whereas all the other competitors did so.

Every speech-maker was asked one question to check on their understanding of their topic and this is where many had difficulty. Some could answer quite well, some had an answer but not to the actual question and some had no answer at all. A couple of contestants started their speech but forgot it after a sentence or two and left without finishing.

As for Earn, she didn’t win. And neither did our spelling bee student, Champ. Earn was the only contestant to look at her notes. In the Spelling Bee, Champ reached the second round and then everyone got knocked out apart from three students. The word announcer was from Cambodia which must have added another hurdle for all the contestants.

As for the school’s other teams, they won about 9 gold medals in various fields which was not too bad. At least MBV didn’t come away empty handed.

Our bus happened to have students competing in late finishing events and we didn’t leave the campus until 6.45pm. We went back to the sports hall to collect our luggage and departed for Loei at 7.30. We had pit-stops at various places and were at Khon Kaen about midnight arriving back at the school gates at 3am.

Sunday 13th June

At 10.30 I met the Principal and his wife, Noy, at school for our planned trip. I thought we were going to Chiang Khan which is in the north of the province on the Mekong river but, instead, we went to Dan Sai for the annual Phi Ta Khon festival. On the way we drove through some very beautiful countryside and I tried not always successfully to snatch some photos from the car. We stopped off for lunch close to the entrance to Phu Rua National Park at a restaurant where a large group of bikers were parked up and eating inside.

We had a nice lunch and we had a good chat. Noy speaks quite good English though our conversations frequently ended rather abruptly when her English limit was reached. The Principal also speaks some English though not as much. It turns out that she has an oven and would like to bake cakes which she and her husband like. We talked about ingredients and she asked me for recipes which I said I would gladly find for her and gave her my email address but I have yet to hear from her.

The road passing by Phu Rua and onwards to Dan Sai was very good and it is not surprising that this highway attracts many bikers as it is part of a loop going though some amazing scenery. We also passed some giant agave plants with flower stems reaching as high as nearby telegraph poles.

Dan Sai was very busy and traffic slowed to a halt for a while but the stoppage didn’t last very long and then we were through it and heading to the temple. This temple happens to be a very sacred one where it is forbidden for anyone to wear red. The weather was baking hot and after taking off our shoes we had to walk up about 40 steps to the shrine. This sounds simple, but the steps and even the matting on the steps were so scorching hot on the soles of our feet that everyone, including me, was hopping up as fast as possible. At the shrine the Principal and I made an offering of jasmine flowers and lit incense sticks and candles. As you’ll see on the photo in my gallery, No Lady allowed.

After we left the temple we headed for the festival itself and managed to park near the main arena where many masked and costumed dancers were already performing. It was fun watching the energetic and colourful performers dancing. Pictures of Phi ta khon dancers have for a long time been the symbol of Loei provinvce and the Principal and his wife very kindly gave me a traditional style shirt with a Phi ta khon mask on it.

We only stayed at the festival about an hour and then we drove back. I would not have minded staying for longer but I suspect it was going to get really crowded from dusk onwards as there were fireworks and other events programmed.

On the way back we stopped at a coffee from which there was also a good view down a valley and I took some photos of the Principal and his wife. While having coffee Noy showed me a photo on her digital camera which was of a cacti which had grown, when looked at in profile, into the shape of an erect penis. She told me the plant was in her house. We all had a laugh about it but it did strike me as an odd photo to select to show me. On the other hand, the teachers here are joshing each other about who is handsome and who is not as soon as they arrive at school, which is between 7.30 and 8am.

I arrived back home about 5pm and the family joined me and Saf playing Pelmanism on the dining table in the new house. Saf later me to do some gentle jogging and exercising with him which I didn’t find a s hard as I thought it might me. We had dinner at the old house and then I returned home to bed.

Monday 14th June

I was asked to address the school one morning soon and I am trying to work out what to say that will keep them from falling asleep, but more importantly will be of interest to the students who range from 13 to 18 years old.

I mentioned before about the malaang, the flying insects that gather at this time, often when it is raining, and then shed their wings while writhing around on the floor. It’s interesting to see their fate because gekkos love them and gobble them up if they come within tongue distance.

Tuesday 15th June

Today was Bet’s 9th birthday and I bought him a baseball cap or, rather, Ajarn Joy did on my behalf when she went into Wang Saphung. In the evening I went with the family to Loei where we had a Thai-style barbecue which was fun. We ate so much food. When we got back to the house Bet’s mother, Ajarn Ben, brought out the cake and we all had some and I gave him his present.
There are photos in the gallery.

Wednesday 16th June

I went into Wang Saphung with Mr Rhe in order to go to the bank but what I didn’t realise was that he had made an appointment with a garage to replace his air-conditioning system in his car. The work took about three hours which meant a lot of waiting around. Luckily there was some shade and a shop where we could buy orange juice etc. But it killed all my free time in the afternoon.

Afterwards we went to Wang Saphung open air market to buy some food. It was interesting looking around and I hope I can return with my camera soon. One of the items that Mr Rhe bought was deep fried whole prawns which turned out to be very tasty and crispy.

There were two spiders in the wet room when I cleaned my teeth before bed. One was the size of a small hand and there is a picture of it in my gallery.

Thursday 17th June

There were no classes today because this was the day that the money awarded to all parents by the government for help towards school uniforms etc is given to them by the school. I hadn’t noticed before, but there is a large open-sided meeting room adjacent to the large area where morning assembly takes place. All the parents gathered there this morning after registering and receiving their grant of about 700 baht (about 15 pounds) and head of the Provincial Education Office addressed the gathering as did the Principal. I should mention that my school, MBV for short, comes under the Provincial Education Office as it is a Provincial School rather than a ‘normal’ school which come under the regular district education office. There is only one Provincial School per province.

I was also required to address the parents. I was introduced to them by Ajarn Surawit and then walked up on stage where I sat next to the Principal. I had Ajarn Joy next to me who kindly translated for me. I was applauded on stage which was polite and received more applause when I said Sawasdee kub to them. I told them that MBV is the 5th school I have taught in and that it is by far the happiest and best organised of them all. This went down well with the audience as well as the Principal, but it happens to be true as well. I also told them I am sorry I do not speak Thai. Though I know lots of words I do not know how to make them into a sentence which is exactly the same dilemma the students have with their English. More applause...and so it went on.

Friday 18th June

Assembly took a different form this morning. It has been decided to try a new more participatory format which teachers decided is worth trying. It took the form of chanting. The students gathered in class lines as before but now an ‘altar’ had been placed near the flagpole and each student had been given a word sheet. All the students had removed their shoes as if they had entered a temple.

Five girls led the chanting each holding a microphone. All the teachers were seated to one side. Assembly started earlier than usual though nobody had told me about this or the changes. I went down at the normal time only to find it in full swing. I could not see a spare seat so thought that I had been forgotten and I looked on a short distance away. When another teacher came by she asked me to follow her and found a seat for me. Whether this new format will be permanent remains to be seen. If it is, then my famous address to the school will never see the light of day.

I was asked out by Ajarn Joy to a barbecue in Loei this evening. I thought it was just going to be me and four or five others but when we arrived I found the Principal was already there as well as the Finance Director and another Director from another school. In all, more than twenty teachers were there and it turned out that the dinner was a thank you from the school to all the teachers who had worked all hours, some through the night, to rectify some mistakes in the paperwork dealing with the school’s equipment, everything from chairs to computers. I was seated next to the Principal and we had a chat and drank some beer. It was a fun evening.

Posted by talismanic 19.06.2010 19:53 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

May 30-Jun 6th: Hello Wang Sapung, Loei, and MBV School

sunny

APOLOGY: I am sorry that the last update of photos to my gallery was out of sequence. The next upload will also be out of sequence as it will contain some nice floral pictures from the Lamphun Kaset Fair which I overlooked. Sorry about that but I hope this does not stop you enjoying them and commenting on them!!

Sunday 30th May

We had some mysterious stoppages during the night which woke me up. I peered out of my window but could not see any reason for them. Much later, I happened to be awake when we passed a very large sign saying Welcome to Loei about 4.30am. I was convinced we had made better time than expected and that we were in Loei city. I rang Ajarn Joy to let her know as she requested as she lives about 30 minutes away from Wang Saphung and needed the time to get there to meet me.

About 10 minutes later I realised I had boobed and that the sign welcomed people to the province, not the city of the same name. I rang Ajarn Joy to apologise and she went back to sleep. The bus arrived at Wang Saphung at 6am and I was dropped off by the junction of the 201 and 210 highways. I rang Ajarn Joy again and waited by the side of the road for her. After a while she appeared and we went to have some breakfast and a chat in her new car. She revealed she had only been driving for one month but I felt safe enough. She is just 30 years old and very nice and has worked with English speakers before becoming a teacher so speaks the language very well.

After breakfast Ajarn Joy took me to the school. It took quite a while to get there and we seemed to be driving further and further into the bondooks and away from civilisation. Eventually we arrived and she parked outside the house where she said I would be sleeping. We went inside and it was bare and clearly being redecorated and refurbished. Red, the owner, who was inside, told us that he had been expecting me to arrive next week and apologised for the unreadiness of the house. The house is very nice and is designed Thai style with a large open space at the front. My room is on the first floor and it is large and nice but has no furniture so far. Red took my heavy case upstairs and I took the rest of my bags and we left them in my room.

Ajarn Joy then drove me across the road to a row of houses where some of the teachers live at the edge of the school grounds. She introduced me to Red’s wife and to their two sons, Saf and Ben, 13 and about 10 respectively. The boys are the kind that anyone would love to have and are very nice company.

Ajarn Joy then took me down to the school office where I met some of the other teachers and was able to have a rest and a nap as I was very tired after a largely sleepless night on the bus. At 1pm Ajarn Joy reappeared and took me to meet the Principal, nicknamed Tun, and we had some lunch and a chat. My first impression of the Principal was that he looked rather fearsome and stern and I thought he might be a hard taskmaster and difficult to get to know. But he was very cheerful and friendly at lunch and has kindly offered to show me some sights of interest in Loei province which I would appreciate very much. He too wants to improve his English so I have offered my time to help him as much as I can. For some reason the school, and the Principal, thought I was only staying one month so when I told him that I would be here till the end of July they were pleasantly surprised and very happy.

There are a number of computers in the staff room and I used one of them to access the internet and catch up with emails etc. In most of the central areas of the school there is wi-fi as well so I plan to bring my laptop into school in future to use during my spare time.

Around 5.30 I walked back to the old house where Rhe and his wife, Ajarn Ben, are living and Saf and Ben invited me to play boules (pétanque) with them. Saf in particular is good and obviously has practised his technique whereas I haven’t played for aeons. However, I was able to level my score with his which seemed to impress him.

About 6.45pm, after dusk, I had a shower at Rhe’s house with Sep showing me where to go and what to do. Not the showering itself you understand, but in a small room about the size of two old phone boxes with no space or hooks to lay or hang any clothes or towels you need some assistance.

Dinner followed my shower with the whole family and me sitting in a circle around the dishes of food – just see the photo – on a mat. The food was nice and Rhe and his wife had obviously thought about what I might like. There were also fresh rambutans and mangosteens to round off the meal.

After dinner I walked with Saf and Ben to the new house where the boys played the one and only video game I have on my laptop which I had, perhaps rashly, told them about. But I figured that the game could be useful occupying the boys until bedtime while I might read my book. Bedtime, by the way, comes very early in Isaan, as I probably mentioned when I was in Ban Chad and by 9.30pm or 10pm at the latest most people are metaphorically tucked up in bed.

Monday 31st May

My first day at Muangbaengwittayakom school, Wang Sapung. Yes, quite a mouthful but for short it is called MBV.

One of the first sounds I heard this morning was the chimes of the school bell. Think of the chime sound a doorbell makes and then superimpose on it the chimes of Big Ben striking the hour. The first sounding is at 5.30am! This is what the school ‘bell’ does every half hour and forty minutes past the hour this is because classes end at 30 minutes past the hour in the mornings and 40 minutes past in the afternoon.

Saf and Ben get up very early and get dressed in the right uniform for the day of the week. He’s in Mattayom 3 but goes to a different school to mine and a small bus comes by in the morning to pick him up at 7.15 and the driver honks the horn when he arrives. This morning Saf played a game on my laptop until the bus came. I suspect that this might be the pattern over the coming weeks not that I mind in the slightest.

Although the new house is as yet unfurnished Red has thoughtfully provided a Thai style water heater and some all-in-one coffee for me and I had a cup for breakfast along with a few biscuits he also left for me. Before Red took me to school on the back of his motorbike he gave me a set of keys for the house front door and to my room and he instructed me on which other doors to bolt.
The whole school assembles in neat class lines in a large open space near the main entrance and, like the other schools have taught at, the national anthem is sung while the Thai flag is raised and then a prayer is said and then the duty teacher addresses the school and makes announcements etc. Today, I had to follow this with my own address. Luckily, I had been forewarned and had something prepared in my mind. I also had Mr Sirawit, one of the English teachers, on hand to translate my words of wisdom into Thai so they would not be lost on the students.

After the assembly the students filed off to their classrooms while the teachers gather for a talk by the Principal. I also had to address the teachers so knowing that most of them and to learn more or improve their English I tried to encourage them to practice with me and to seek my help if they need it.

Ajarn Joy has created a schedule for me in which I teach most of the different English classes that there are at the school. I have twenty hour-long classes a week. I will be giving one lesson a week to each class. As at Wat Kheelek, for some age groups which have a large number of students there are two or three different classes, for example, Mattayom 1/1, M 1/2, M1/3 etc, but they will be taught the same things in turn by the same teacher.

The snag with this is that although I get to meet all the different English classes I may not be able to teach them from their curriculum. Of the three English lessons each class gets each week, one will be mine and I get the feeling that it will be up to me what I do during the hour. That sounds fine except that thinking of endless new things that they haven’t done before, and of course not knowing what they have done previously, the freedom I have could turn into a problem.

Today, all but two of the various English teachers wanted me to do a lesson on Greeting People which was fine. Of the other two lessons, one I was left on my own to do something so I focused on the importance of learning English to motivate them to do so, and for the second lesson the teacher wanted me to read to them from a text on the screen but first we had to find a suitable text that wasn’t too difficult on the internet. I did some googling and found something which was then projected onto the screen. After reading it aloud to them and then explaining any difficult words or phrases and then reading it together there were some questions about the story which they had to answer without the original text on the screen. Surprisingly, they got all but one of the multiple choice questions correct which was very pleasing.

I had lunch with the Principal again and this is going to become the pattern for my stay at the school. There is a room adjacent to the staff room which is used for dining and water or coffees etc where the Principal and his deputy have lunch every day. Food seems to be brought in from outside as no cooking is done in there and Ajarn Joy is the person who, so far anyway, sets everything up and puts the food onto dishes and lays it out on the table. There is a kind of housekeeper lady who does some sweeping in the morning and also prepares food and often brings water to me when I’m in the staff room.

I have been given the challenge of training a boy, Champ, for a National Spelling Bee which takes places in Sisaket in about 10 days’ time. I also have to train two girls, Earn and Mot, to give two separate speeches in a public speaking competition. The topics are Global Warming and The Sufficiency Economy. For three afternoons a week I have one free period and for the other two I have two but these will now be taken up with researching the topics and trying to condense the big subjects into five minute speeches.

Tuesday 1st June

My teaching shirts had become a little creased in my suitcase so I had to give one of them a quick iron this morning to be presentable in school.

I had breakfast with the Principal though he was a bit late this morning. Ajarn Joy has worked with farang before and has ideas about what foreigners like for breakfast. This morning it was two frankfurter style sausages, a fried egg, some slices of ham, some bread and marmalade and she also brought me a coffee all of which were very nice. Even though I expressed concern at the extra work I seem to be imposing on her she would not hear of it and she said she was very happy to do it for me.

Wednesday 2nd June

I only had three lessons today but spent most of my free time trying to connect to the internet so I could research the two speeches. There is wi-fi here, as well as three other internet networks but for some reason although my laptop says I am connected to the internet I cannot access every site. For example, hotmail is often inaccessible while yahoo is ok which is very annoying. I have found that the school’s computers have internet access all the time and I have tried plugging their ADSL cable into my laptop but that doesn’t work either. It’s very strange.

I have found that the King of Thailand’s Sufficiency Economy theory is very long-winded and encompasses so much that it is going to be a tough one to condense into a five minute speech. Just try googling the subject and you will see for yourself.

Dinner this evening was at the new house where I am sleeping. The new wooden table and chairs had their christening and dinner was very nice too ending with another selection of fresh fruit including Longon which are not to be confused with Longan (aka Lamyai). Longon are shaped like small eggs and are a light browny-yellow in colour and are slightly tart but very nice to eat.

Thursday 3rd June

Like other schools, Thursday is Scout Day and the students wear their Scouting uniforms though, unlike other schools I have been at, there are other uniforms for different sections such as agriculture for which students wear a dark blue uniform. I took a photo from a vantage point of the morning assembly in which you can see the variety of uniforms as well as the traditional scout uniform.

The Principal was away today so I had lunch with Ajarn Joy and a couple of others and as before it was very nice. It started pelting down with rain in the afternoon and didn’t stop until the early evening. Ajarn Joy and I were the last to leave and we raced to her car to avoid getting soaked and she dropped me off at home which is only about 200m from her own house.

Later in the evening the rain started again. There were jagged streaks of lightning followed almost immediately by sharp racks of thunder and torrential rain and the rain continued all night long.

The family brought dinner over to the new house and we sat down to enjoy it. I took a photo just so you could see the setting. There was fresh fruit afterwards including Durian this time. It is true that it stinks, but the edible pods inside, which don’t smell, were delicious.

For some reason there were lots of Malang (I don’t know what the English word is) flies coming indoors during the evening. They have long wings and a short body and they writhed around as though they were in agony and they may well have been for all I know. BY the morning I knew what they had been up to: were trying to shed their wings to become insects and the floors inside and on the balconies were littered with useless wings.

With the rain beating down all night it was like sleeping inside a drum since my bedroom ceiling is simply metal sheeting with angular corrugations. I thought there might have been a problem sleeping but I was very tired and slept like a log.

Friday 4th June

Ever since hearing the first Tookay lizard calling out at night when I was in Nongbua Lamphu I have been on the lookout for one to photograph. During last night I heard one calling out too-kay, too-kay, too-kay but the sound had an echo which suggested it was indoors in the large empty front open room rather than outdoors. I had a look round but I could not see anything. Then, by chance, I was going upstairs again when a slight movement caught my eye and sure enough there it was. It had found a secure home between the ends of two parallel wooden beams which don’t quite reach the wall. The ends of the beams are supported by a square pillar thus given the Tookay a cool dark home with only one entrance from where it can see everything around. On this occasion I didn’t have my camera but I thought with patience I would get the shot I want.

At school, as at Wat Kheelek School, today was traditional dress day but only a few teachers wore their Patou’s. I had breakfast at school as usual and Ajarn Joy is doing all she can to make me feel at home and happy which is very kind of her.

All this week I have been doing the same lesson for all the classes I have taken apart from two about eh make up of the UK And about the currency of which I have examples of most notes and coins to show the students. Next week some teachers are expecting me to do my own thing again but I’d much rather link in to what they are teaching their classes. We’ll see what happens.

I had the final two periods free but about 2.30 the spelling bee student and one of the speechmakers came to me for coaching and rehearsing. The spelling bee student is a bit autistic I think and carries a Rubik’s cube around with him but he can certainly devour the words and spell them once ingested. The snag is that he tends to start spelling the words before he has fully determined which word it is which might cost him some points on the day.

Earn, one of the two speech making girls, is giving it her best shot. Her problem is that she tends to speak through her teeth which does nothing to assist her pronunciation but we are making progress, slowly.

Ajarn Joy and I were the last to leave again at about 6.15. She invited me to a Thai style barbecue for two fellow teachers who are moving to other schools. We had about 15 minutes to shower and change before she drove off to Wang Sapung where the barbecue restaurant was located. She went the back way, as it were, through a number of villages which were interesting to see and compare with Ban Chad and elsewhere. It is certainly very rural around here and it took almost 30 minutes to reach the restaurant.

There about thirty people saying goodbye to the two teachers, mostly fellow teachers from MBV but some others too. For the first time in my experience of Thailand no one drank any alcohol which made me wonder if I had joined a teetotal school by accident. I asked Ajarn Joy and she reassured me that she and the others sometimes drink alcohol but that as this was a family restaurant with a few children dining too everyone restrained themselves.

Saturday 5th June

Rhe had to go to Bangkok for some reason today which has meant the proposed trip to his farm had to be put off to another day. The two boys came over to me at the new house quite early and commandeered my laptop for most of the day to play a game they had acquired from their classmates at school.

The only time they stopped playing was when Earn came over with a girlfriend to rehearse her speech about the Sufficiency Economy which has now been completed though I think it will have to be cut a bit so as not to exceed the five minutes allotted.

It rained on and off all day and it was something of a relief not to have much to do other than read my book (The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk) and relax.

At lunchtime Saf went over to the old house and he brought back lunch for him, his brother and me. During the course of the late afternoon I happened to be on the front first floor balcony when I spotted unmistakable vapour trails from a rocket in the far distance. I hurriedly got my camera thinking that where there was one there was likely to be another and sure enough there was. I took a photo but because of the distance all you can see is the trail not the rocket. I asked Ajarn Ben when she came over and she told me they were fired from a village on the far side of Wang Sapung.

In passing, one of my few regrets this year is that I completely forgot about the amazing rocket festival that takes place each year in Kalasin province in the east of Isaan. This festival is the largest of its kind in Thailand and the homemade bamboo and metal rockets are a sight to see. It takes place over a weekend in early May and while it would have been a problem for me to get there it would have been thrilling to watch and try and take some good photos.

I went over to the old house for dinner with Ajarn Ben and the boys and she showed me her family photos which were very interesting to see. Before dinner a friend of Ajarn Ben’s asked me to help with her graduate Engish work which I was happy to do. Afterwards, Saf insisted on coming back to the new house with me and he ended up sleeping on his own mattress next to mine.

Sunday 6th June

Ajarn Joy assured me on Friday that this would be the only quiet weekend for me and it has been very quiet and peaceful. Saf was summoned to return to the old house about 7.30 and he returned with breakfast for me which I ate downstairs at the dining table while he returned home.

I enjoyed some time on my laptop and discovered that I could access the internet from my bedroom though my connection must have been on the periphery of the wi-fi as it came and went which was annoying.

My laptop time didn’t last long because I got a call from Earn who wanted to rehearse her speech. I thought she said she was at Ajarn Ben’s old house so I walked over there only to discover she meant the new house. She stayed till nearly lunchtime and her friend had some English homework she wanted help with.

Going upstairs during the morning I noticed the Tookay was visible to quietly fetched my camera and managed to snatch a couple of shots of it before it retreated into its hideaway. It is blue with brown circular spots as you can see in my gallery photo.

Soon after the girls left Saf brought lunch over which he, Ban and I ate though the boys were keen to play games on my laptop. Part of the way through the afternoon the boys went home which gave me a break. The boys are very nice indeed but Ben talks incessantly and asks innumerable questions all in Thai which I have no hope of understanding and when I am trying to concentrate on doing things on my laptop his chatter and arm pulling can be distracting.

I went over to the old house for dinner. Mr Rhe was in Wang Saphun on his way back from Bangkok. As always it was very nice. Afterwards, Saf and Ben came back to ‘my’ house with me and they played a game on my laptop while I read my book and got ready for the morning.

I am not sure what next week will be like at school but I am hoping I can get down to some real teaching again.

Posted by talismanic 06.06.2010 23:46 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Goodbye to Wat Kheelek School and the Children's Home

sunny

Sunday 23rd May

I still have no confirmation about my move to Loei next week. The bus takes about 10 hours or so and the ticket will need to be booked in advance if I am to get a VIP bus which offers more legroom and air con. I am supposed to start at my new school on June 1st so ideally I would like to arrive a couple of days earlier to give me time to settle in with my Thai host family about whom I know nothing so far.

I returned to the nice restaurant I found a couple of weeks ago for lunch and it was very nice along with an iced coffee. The owner told me she had just seen the Thai news on tv and that the curfew has been extended in Chiang Mai for at least two more days. This might suit the authorities but it certainly doesn’t suit the many small businesses here that open late and are feeling the pinch.

I had a nice quiet restful day. Because of the curfew the Sunday Walking Street market was severely curtailed but there were still many stalls opening during the afternoon.

I got a songteaw back to a point on the old Chiang Mai to Lamphun road where Guide can pick me up. Unfortunately the side panels of this particular songteaw were so low I had to bend double to see out and work out where to get off. I became convinced I had passed the pick-up point and got off at the next collection of houses and shops and phoned Guide to tell him what had happened. I got someone in one of the shops to speak with him to tell him how to find me. By chance I had got out of the songteaw less than one kilometre from the actual pick up point – if I had stayed on it I would have seen the right place and got out. Grrrh!!

By the way, the deep-fried banana slices dusted with pimento I mentioned in my last posting are called fucktong in Thai. I just thought you might like to know that!

When I got back to the Home Rose told me joyfully that she was now single again. I asked her what had happened and she told me that Glenn had loaded the Home’s car with his stuff and had gone off to stay in Chiang Mai where he had been spotted by one of the older boys who was also in the city. Apparently, he has done this a few times before for up to a week and then returned to his house near the Home. Whether he will come back this time remains to be seen.

Soon after I went to bed there was a power cut which meant no water, no air con, nothing. The result was a rather hot and sticky night and I kept waking up.

Monday 24th May

Around 8am the electricity came back on again just in time for me to have a shower and shave etc.
I was caught by surprise an hour later when Mr Khiew arrived unexpectedly. He was supposed to collect me at 10am so I had to hurriedly dress and pack my things and get in the van to go to school.

My classes went well until I took Prathum 5, a primary school class. The regular teacher was away because her father-in-law died last Friday. The problem was that the topic she wanted me to cover was linked to a CD which the students had not heard so the questions in the book were meaningless. I tried to improvise but it was too difficult for the students so I decided to switch the topic to introducing someone to someone else which could easily involve the students in role play which they like.

I had an hour to spare after class so I checked my emails but there were no further details from Dragonfly about my next placement.

After school Mr Narong took me and Mrs Napapan and another teacher to our fellow teacher’s house about 30 minutes’ drive away for the first part of the funeral of her father-in-law. He was 83 and a noticeboard with dozens of family photos had been set up near the entrance. The coffin was mounted on a lofty base surrounded by a highly decorative shrine-like structure. I took a photo which is in my gallery.

About a dozen teachers along with the Principal sat down to eat after saying a prayer and lighting and planting an incense stick in a bowl of sand. Various bowls of food appeared as well as some beer and soft drinks. It was all very informal and chatty. I was introduced to the host’s son who is a pharmacist on the island of Koh Samui and we had an interesting chat.

Tuesday 25th May

My day at Wat Kheelek went very fast and no sooner than I had been collected from the Home and taken to school it was time to go back to the Home again.

In the evening MrAnan, the Principal of the Summer Camp school, came to pick me up and we drove to Classic Ice, a restaurant and karaoke bar, where we met with Mr Wattana, the leader of the 4,500-strong teachers in the Lamphun area, as well as another school Principal from a different school. We sang dreadfully, had some drinks and some food and altogether it was ok though I hope this is the last karaoke session I am taken to!

One of the standing Thai jokes is that every married man has one or more girlfriends. These friends are usually the hostesses in a restaurant or karaoke suite who take your food and drink orders, constantly refill your glasses and sometimes sit with you or even sing for you. Thais are always joshing each other about their favourite girls.

After we left Classic Ice, without the other school Principal, we went to another bar/restaurant in Lamphun which, thankfully, did not have any karaoke but, instead, had a four piece band playing Thai folk/pop and a young crowd were enjoying themselves there. I reluctantly had some more beer while the other two had whisky but I was dying to get back to the Home to go to bed because I was teaching the first class tomorrow morning. I eventually got back the Home about 1.15am and fell into bed though I didn’t sleep very well.

Wednesday 26th May

I didn’t feel too bad this morning considering my lack of sleep. My morning classes went well and after each of them Ajarn Napapan took group photos with all the students which will shortly appear in my gallery.

In the evening I was invited to dinner with Mr Narong, Ajarn Natalie and Ajarn Napapan and one of the teachers from the Summer Camp school. The restaurant was in a nice setting next to a lake and it was a night before the full moon so it was very bright.

Thursday 27th May

My last day at Wat Kheelek. At the morning assembly in front of the school before classes I had to address the school and Ajarn Napapan translated my little speech into Thai for me as we both had microphones.

I was given the task of leading the school at the temple (Wat Kheelek) ceremony across the road in place of the school Principal though he attended too. I was given a thick set of stems with about ten large lotus buds on them. Everyone had to walk around the viharn three times hands held together in prayer before them each holding special flowers in a conical paper holder. A boy of about 10 attached himself to me by the name of Key Cut (whatever was his mother thinking when she gave him his nickname??) and he guided me around the viharn.

Inside the viharn Key Cut detached himself to sit with the students and I sat/knelt at the front of the assembled students. I had to split the stems between the vases on the ‘altar’, light the incense sticks and candles. I also followed the rest of the ‘service’ which lasted about one hour after which Key Cut reattached himself to me and we walked across the busy road together and the short distance back to the school where he gave me the ring he had been wearing. I am not sure what he was thinking but he was very sweet.

As usual there was a nice lunch with fresh mangoes, rambutan and lychees all of which were delicious.

After all my classes today, and some that I didn’t have, I was showered with gifts from the students and I received many garlands of jasmine buds, khanom (the Thai word for snacks), mini golden roses, and cartons of school milk. The elected President of the students gave me a large neatly wrapped box which he wanted me to open later rather than in front of the class. When I eventually opened it it contained square transparent paperweight with a winter scene inside and snow fell when it was shaken. It was a very nice thought and so kind.

After school the Principal and most of the teachers gave me a farewell party with lots of Leo beer and food which was also great fun and very nice of them. I took some photos too. Afterwards, one of the teachers wanted to take me to another party at his home for his wife’s birthday. There was more food, sukiyaki style this time, and more beer and we were joined by John, the boring American I had met before at Big C.

Mr Khiew took me back to the Home but not before a tour of Lamphun by night. It was a nice thought but I couldn’t see very much in the dark.

Saturday 29th May

At breakfast I had a call from Mr Anan who wanted me to join him, his wife and son for lunch at Thapu, or at least that’s what I thought he said. He repeated the name a couple of times and I guessed it must be some well known monument or building though I had never heard of it. I asked the waitress, expecting a simple answer, but she had no idea though her English is fairly good. Someone at the next table overheard my question and said she had heard of the place about could not remember where it was. I then asked the hotel owner who speaks very good English and she didn’t know the place either so I asked her to speak to Mr Anan on my phone and it turned out he meant Carrefour!!

I just had to get a haircut this morning so I would look ok when I arrive in Wang Sapung. I didn’t know where to go and asked someone who directed me to a barber shop which turned out to be really good.

I met Mr Anan at midday at the Black Canyon cafe in Carrefour, a twenty minute tuk tuk ride from my hotel. The ride itself was scary with the driver zig-zagging between the traffic and squeezing through the narrowest of gaps. We had a very nice lunch and it was nice to meet Nit, his son, who is a computer engineer in Bangkok though his father wants him to go to England to work and improve his English.

During lunch Ajarn Wilaywon from Wat Kheelek school called me. She mentioned yesterday that she would like to meet me again this afternoon and, with Mr Anan’s help, she was given directions to meet us at Carrefour.

The Anan’s are first time grandparents, their daughter had a baby girl only a week or so ago and they wanted me to join them in a visit to the private Lanna hospital. I went in their car and Ajarn Wilaywon followed in hers. She is very nice but totally scatty and very funny when she is in full flow in the classroom. She is the one I mentioned before with the tortured English accent. Needless to say she didn’t arrive at the hospital but, heck, that’s what mobile phone are for, so no problem.

Mr Anan’s daughter was in bed and the baby in a small cot alongside. The baby looked like every other baby I’ve seen so that just about says it all. I did take a photo, so you can see for yourself!!

When Ajarn Wilaywon arrived at the hospital we went down to meet her and, after saying my goodbye, I left with her. She has clearly fallen for my charm and good looks...**smile**...and she asked me where I would like to go. I suggested going to eat somewhere, but we had both had lunch. We finally settled on my hotel where I bought her a nice cold smoothie while I had iced coffee. She stayed for about one hour and then drove back home. It was nice to see her, but in no way am I interested in her beyond a simple friendship.

I was supposed to meet Glenn from the Home in the early evening but when he discovered that the chosen bar was not serving alcohol he called me to tell me and the meeting was called off which took the pressure off my time schedule a bit.

Although no alcohol was supposed to be on sale I was easily able to persuade the owner of the restaurant where I have been eating lately to let me have a large bottle of Leo which was very nice. She told me, again, how very worried she was by the lack of customers.

I had also agreed to meet another friend later who would also take me to the bus station but he rang to call it off too for the same reason as Glenn. When the time came I got a tuk tuk to take me to the bus station and I took a short video of part of the journey which I will place on youtube soon for you to see.

I went to the right bus stop but was told my ticket was for the next door bus and, luckily, an American-Japanese man helped me lift my case into the storage locker on the side of the bus. Inside the bus I couldn’t work out how to find my booked numbered seat as they didn’t have any numbers on them. When I booked the ticket I had to write my name in a square on a diagram of the bus seating and I sat where I thought I should be. When the hostess came round she told me I was in the wrong seat and had to move pointing out the right seat for me. I settled in and waited for the bus to depart. Five minutes later the hostess reappeared saying once more that I was in the wrong seat and I had to move. This time the “correct” was at the back under the air conditioning outlets. The American-Japanese man had to move as well which made me suspect that the hostesses motives. None of the other Thai passengers had to move so I wondered how they had found their correct seat.

The bus departed at 8.30pm, 30 minutes later than scheduled. It took an hour to travel to Lamphun and collect a couple of passengers there and I began to wonder if the journey would take longer than expected. I had hoped to read my book butt the overhead lights only worked when the interior night lights were on. I managed a few pages before they were switched off for good.

Posted by talismanic 02.06.2010 04:20 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

14-22nd May: 1st wk at new school; I blew my top; CM curfew

sunny

Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th May

At the risk of being repetitive, Chiang Mai is a very nice place to live. If I was able to stay in Thailand for the long term then I would certainly choose to stay here though I would also have to think hard about how to keep myself occupied.

My weekends in Chiang Mai always flash by. It seems that no sooner have I arrived than it is time to pack my bag and depart again. I didn’t do very much apart from seeing the latest film of Nightmare on Elm Street on Saturday afternoon. It was very enjoyable and scary in many places and on that basis I would recommend it.

I spent a while on my laptop researching ideas for teaching conversational English for my stint at Keelek School which starts on Monday.

I also heard from Ao, of Thai Dragonfly, that the school she has found for me is in Wang Sapung district which, I discovered from the net, is south east of Loei but I am not sure how far as yet. I hope I am not too far from civilisation!

Monday 17th May

I was picked up at the Home at 10am by Napapan one of the teachers at Wat Kheelek school who I had lunch and went to the Doi Siket park with last Wednesday. The school is about 10-15 minutes’ drive away and it is situated on the main road which I have been down many times. There are about 150 students split almost evenly between primary and secondary. The school only goes up to Mattayom 5 where the students are 16-17 years old.

There are always so many things to remember when starting at a new school and teacher’s names are the hardest to remember I find. As far as the students go, at the start of my first lesson with a new class I give them an A4 sheet, they fold it in half, and they write their nicknames on one half which I can see when the sheet is folded over the edge of their desk. I can then remember their names gradually and they appreciate me using their names right away. Some of the nicknames that parents have bestowed on their children are quite amusing, such as Film, Topfee, Flame and so on. What were they thinking of ?

As usual, I had lunch at the school with my fellow teachers and it was very nice indeed. Today, it was noodles in a kind of soup but they were the most delicious noodles I have tasted in Thailand so far. How often can you say that about a school lunch ? I had some fresh Lychees afterwards and they were exceptionally tasty too. Napapan bought me an ice cream cone after lunch which was unexpected and very tasty.

After school I was driven to my previous school where I met up with Mr Anan who invited me to dinner after going to Makro cash and carry to get food for his dogs. At the restaurant we met two other school principals. Some other principals joined us later as did their big boss, the head of Education District One in Lamphun. There w3asn’t so much drinking now that term has restarted but there was a lot of food and it was an enjoyable evening. We left about 9pm and I was back at the Home about 9.30.

Tuesday 18th May

Now that school has restarted I am being woken up at 6am when the children at the Home get up even though I don’t have to get up until later.

Mr Kieuw, the school Janitor, came to collect me this morning at 8.15 because I said yesterday that I would like to see the equivalent of the morning assembly when the Thai flag is raised, the national anthem sung, prayers said and a pep talk given by a teacher.

I took the first lesson of the morning for which Napapan had prepared some worksheets. It is always difficult using someone else’s material and doing things their way. But it seemed to work out and the students told her in Thai that they enjoyed having me as their teacher which was nice.

Lunch was delicious once again and today I met the cook. A cheery lady who obviously knows her onions, or should that be clillies ?

The lesson yesterday for one class was about ordering food in an American restaurant. Today I revised yesterday’s lesson and when I asked what the person who approaches your table is called (a waitperson according to the text book) one boy got mixed up and said ‘Vegetable’ which caused an eruption of laughter.

I began using one of the computers today but found the internet connection to be very iffy with it going on and off almost all the time. There seems to be some problem with the server in Lamphun.

After classes finished I was driven home by the Janitor. In the evening I went with M on his bike to the local shop and discovered Rose was there with the lady shop owner and a Mr Tu, accompany manager and they were eating and having a drink. I joined then for a Can of Leo beer and one thing lead to another and I stayed there till about 10pm. It was quite an enjoyable evening.

Wednesday 19th May

I was collected again by Mr Khiew, the Janitor, a little earlier than usual because I wanted to see the Thai equivalent of the morning assembly. It followed the same general pattern as my school at Ban Chad but the senior boy, who is in one of my classes, leads the assembly. One of the girls sings the national anthem solo as one boy and one girl jointly raise the Thai flag. The senior boy also leads the prayers as the assembled school turn to face the little building containing an image of Buddha. The national anthem is sung a second time after the duty teacher has given his/her talk to the school.

Classes start promptly at 9am and continue until 12 noon when there is an hour for lunch. Lessons continue in the afternoon until 4pm.

Wednesday is Scout Day when every student wears their Scout uniform and very smart they look in it too. The boys have a fetching pink neckerchief, a sandy coloured shirt and shorts, light green socks and brown gym shoes. The girls wear dark green blouses and skirts, white socks and black shoes a bit like sandals. They too have a nice pink neckerchief and fastener. Some of the male teachers wore their uniform all day too

In addition to their uniforms each student held a wooden staff which was forked at the top. As the students were waiting to be called onto the parade ground a few of the boys did what boys around the world would do: fight mock battles with the staffs or whatever Scouts call the thing.

A parade was held on the open space in front of the school and the national anthem sung while the Thai flag was raised. A salute was taken and prayers said. The parade was taken by one of the teachers, probably the one with the loudest voice and an address was given by the Principal, who also wore his uniform all day.

As this was the first Tuesday of the new term the Scouts were not divided up into small activity groups. Instead, they split up into large groups for some refresher training and some admin. I took a number of photos which are in my gallery.

I had four classes today and everything went well except for the first class of the morning when I taught Phratum 4. The lady who takes this class arrived late and her place was taken by a male teacher. When I arrived in the classroom he told me the teaching topic was parts of the body and a song to go with it. I went through the song line by line with the class and got them to sing it. Then the lady teacher arrived – she’s a bubbly person but has an atrocious accent with her English which I could barely understand. How the students manage I’ll never know! – and her version of the song was entirely different to mine which confused me and the students. But it was fun anyway.

During lunch my fellow teachers expressed their disquiet over what s happening in Bangkok. Some of the teachers support the anti-government red shirts, some the pro-government yellow shirts but they were both adamant that what is happening is wrong and that the two sides should talk. The teachers even went so far as to say that the King could – and should – stop the violence by appealing for calm. We debated whether the King knows what is actually happening – he is, after all, aged 82 and in hospital with a lung problem. The opinion was that he does know what is happening because he has given money to the families of each person who has die in the violence so far for their funerals.

I was driven back to the Home and arrived about the same time as the children. I took a few photos of them playing around in front of the boys’ house and these photos are also in my gallery.

A little later I went into the boys’ house, where I also live, and found Wanchai cleaning the freezer cabinet in the shower room. He had put the contents of the freezer on the floor and there were hundreds of flies buzzing round the exposed raw meat. I took a photo of the pile of food, which included unwrapped fish sausages, which is also in my gallery.

I was very angry about this. In the absence of Rose I told the senior boys that the food on the floor should be thrown away and not be put back into the freezer. But, guess what ? It was put back and some raw bits and pieces were left in heap on the floor. I fumed and told Wanchai to get somebody to clean up the mess immediately. To his credit he did, but it was obvious he thought I was bonkers.
The open area, the hallway if you like, outside my bedroom stank of rotting food. I checked the large green fridge that is also in this area and it too was disgusting and filthy. Again, I took a photo as evidence which you can see in my gallery if you have the stomach for it. I warn you, it is not a pretty sight!!

I determined to do something about the stink and the mess. I could not find the one mop the Home used to possess so I commandeered M to take me to Big C supermarket on his motorbike where I bought two, one for the boys’ house and one for the girls’ house. Soon after I got back, Rose made an appearance in the boy’s house and I told her about the freezer and the food on the floor. She didn’t bat an eyelid of course since she knows very well that the freezer and fridge are in a disgusting state because she uses both every day.

I set about mopping the floor and I kicked the dogs out of the building. There are three, a little terrier and two Labrador puppies who slobber all over the floor of the boys’ house – and have pee’d and poo’d there too - and one of them likes to sleep in my bathroom. I’m fed up with this situation. In my opinion, if Rose or Glenn want dogs she can have them living where they live.

I have now told Rose and Guide, who often cooks my dinner for me, that I never want to have any food from either the freezer or the fridge again. If the older and younger children want to eat food from the fridge or freezer, and some of the younger children had the task of putting the pile of food that was on the floor back into the freezer, and other children saw me taking photos of the inside of the green fridge, then that is up to them.

I am thankful that I may only have about eight days left here if you deduct the weekends when I will be in Chiang Mai. I say ‘may’ because I am still \waiting full confirmation of my move and details of my new school and host family.

Thursday 20th May

With no classes till 11am this morning I was collected from the Home at 10am and driven to Wat Kheelek School as usual. All my lessons went well which I was pleased about. I am taking some classes for the second time now and am getting to know them better and they are getting used to me as well.

As I have mentioned, the lunches at school are very good. One reason is definitely because the cook is a good one. I have met her and she is a very nice lady and definitely knows what she is doing and knows that the word variety means! In passing, teachers pay 300 baht (about six pounds) per month for their food while the budget for students is 8 baht (about 16 pence) per head for lunch.

One of the consequences of saying you like anything is that one’s colleagues cotton on to this fact and assume you want the item often. I happened to mention I like fruit so yesterday I was given a bag full of Rambutans, which are very nice by the way, and today I was given a bag of freshly picked bananas grown in the garden of Mr Narong’s garden. Ajarn Napapan always offers me an ice cream after lunch or during any break in the afternoon. She refuses to let me pay saying that when/if she comes to London then it will be my turn.

An hour every Thursday afternoon between 2 and 3pm is designated Club Time when students enjoy doing a number of activities in the chosen clubs such as table tennis, reading in the library, practicing with the brass band or the drum section, or playing football or sepak takraw.

When I arrived back at the Home I checked the green fridge only to find that nothing had changed but then the children were only just begging to come back from school. About an hour or so later Guide cleaned the fridge up and set about putting all the various items into separate plastic bags putting them back into the fridge tidily. I was sad that Guide took on this task because I thought it might have been a reasonable ‘punishment’ for Glenn or Rose to have to do to remind them of their responsibilities. In my opinion, if Rose wants to be the manager of and controller of the Home and the children – as opposed to the admin and money-raising side of things – as she has stated often, then she must lead by example. At present, the only example the children have is of living in dirty, unhealthy and untidy conditions.

On the face of it they, the children, have no say and no choice. But I have tried to explain to two of the three older children that, in fact, they have the power between them to change things for the better. How ? Because without their willingness and their labour the Home would not be able to function. These three ride the motorbikes, run the errands to buy things, they chase the other children and make things happen when they should and they are particularly important during term time, as you can imagine. If they demanded better conditions – such as cleanliness, tidiness and better and healthier cooking and eating facilities etc – then these conditions would be granted for sure. The snag is that it is not the Thai way to make a fuss about anything. Rose is regarded as a sort of Mother God. She says jump and they run off and jump no questions asked. And that is another thing, the children (and Thais in general) are so accepting of everything so I don’t suppose much will change.

Friday 21st May

The last day of the week or Sabaiday as some of the teachers call it. Sabai means happy in Thai. Every Friday students dress in traditional clothes. The girls wear a beautiful piece of patterned woven wrap-around cloth from their waist called at patu in Thai. Traditionally this would be silk and some of the teachers do wear silk versions but these are more expensive than the nice but synthetic material the students wear. The boys wear baggy green trousers. I was unable to get any photos of the uniform today but will try and do so next Friday for you to see.

Today I had my first class with Mattayom 1 consisting of 12-13 year olds. My task was to go through a picture story with them and then get them to do five gap-fill questions choosing their answers from a list of 5 words, each word being one of the answers. The first part of the lesson, the story part, went well but I came up against a sack of rice with the gap-fill. I could not get them to speak. They sat there dumbly not saying a word. I tried and tried and then sought help from Ajarn Napapan who was on a break not far away. She came in and explained what the class had to do in Thai and generally encouraged them to do the gap-fills and get them to write the words and their meanings into their exercise books.

The class ended well with the students coming up front for me to sign off their written work. Their handwriting is all very neat and tidy. I only wish they could speak too.

At 3pm I was driven back to the Home by the Janitor to relax and take a shower before Mr Narong (the computer teacher) and Mrs Napapan arrived to collect me to take me to Big C. One of the other teachers had won some money on the lottery and had invited people to join him in a drink and something to eat. This teacher’s younger sister is married to an American, John, and he had been invited too.

I was introduced to John when he arrived at Big C. He is, I guess, about 70, quite tall, a little stopped and something of a paunch. I asked him how he was, and he said he survived if he had access to American style food and my heart sank. He told me he had met his wife when she had given him a massage and that he used to teach English at Wat Khleelek School a few years ago. He said he also worked on the space shuttle programme at one time. He had a problem understanding what the Thais present were saying so I found myself explaining what they had said.

About 7.45 Mr Narong drove me to Chiang Mai via his house where he introduced me to his wife and son and his girlfriend. He lives in a big house just within Chiang Mai’s city boundary surrounded by his banana and Lamyai (Longan) trees.

Mr Narong’s son and his girlfriend are at Chiang Mai University studying fruit growing but they have a thriving small business making crisp banana chips every evening in the covered backyard of the house. It was fascinating watching as the bananas were sliced using a mandolin and then fried in boiling oil, dusted with (I think) pimento, weighed and bagged ready to take to their market stall where they sell for about 10 baht (about 20 pence) per bag. I was given tastings and a large bag of chips to take home.

Mr Narong then drove me to my hotel in Chiang Mai’s old city. The curfew comes into force at 9pm but there was little evidence of people packing up and going home. The markets we passed were still doing a roaring trade and there were people on the street though traffic was noticeably quieter.

I checked into the Anoma hotel once again and was told that the curfew is expected to be lifted tomorrow.

There has been some violence in Chiang Mai as well as in cities such as Khon Kaen and Udon Thani. In Chiang Mai, a few vehicles were set on fire and there was some protesting and videos of this can be seen on youtube.

As for me, I just had an early night.

Saturday 22nd May

The highlight of today was meeting Jodie and her husband and three sons and we had lunch together. Jodie was one of my fellow students on the TEFL course I attended in Phuket Town which ended shortly before last Christmas. She has been teaching in Phuket but got fed up with the life there which is somewhat more expensive than elsewhere. The family decided to move to Chiang Mai which they did about a month ago. Now, though, they are enjoying their final few weeks in Thailand since their eldest son has important exams coming up and they are returning to Victoria, Canada because of them. Anyway, we had a nice lunch and caught up on the scant news of our fellow TEFLers.

In the evening I went out earlier than usual to have a drink at my favourite bar mindful of the need to leave about 8.30pm to give me plenty of time to walk back to my hotel. As I was about to leave an army person came into the bar and after speaking with the owner announced that if everyone wanted to stay till later they could do so. I stayed about an hour longer and then got a tuk tuk back. Although it was after curfew time I was not surprised to see that many places were still open and there were plenty of people out and about on the street. The official word is that the Chiang Mai curfew will be lift tomorrow anyway. I think everyone will be glad to get back to normal as the curfew hit many small businesses very hard.

Posted by talismanic 22.05.2010 18:56 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

5th to 14th May, 2553 - new placement news!! Bkk violence

sunny 37 °C

Wednesday 5th May

There were no classes today as it was the first of a two-day Buddhist Festival and the school is attached to the temple where the festival is taking place. There was little for me to do during the day but I did manage to spend an hour or so at the local internet cafe. It is only 10 baht an hour (about 20 pence) so it is cheaper than cheap!

In the evening Mr Annan came to collect me about 8pm and we drove the short distance to the temple. The whole of the sandy football pitch in front of the school and the rest of the open space was occupied by a small fair, a large stage for dancing shows and where locals could dance together of payment of 20 baht for a the privilege. There were other entertainments and food stalls occupying much of the peripheral space. At one side the Muay Thai boxing ring had been set up and was certain to attract a large crowd.

When we arrived at the entrance to the temple grounds we were waved through once the local policemen saw that it was Mr Anan driving the car. We parked in the gravelly forecourt of a house adjoining the school and then walked behind the main stage to get a view of the dancing show. The girls on stage were certainly getting the locals worked up so I can only suppose they were good.

After a while we walked over to the Muay Thai boxing ring and took seats at the front. Like at Ban Chad, as I was with Mr Anan I got the VIP treatment as well. The fights we saw were very good with the fighters aged between 14 and about 21 coming from around the province including Chiang Mai and Lamphun.

We stayed until about 10.30 when we went back to the car and drove to a restaurant in Lamphun where we had some drinks and food. We were joined by Somchai Pengwan, the MD of a large engineering firm in Lamphun and by another friend of Mr Anan’s who is President of the body that looks after the interests of all 4,500 teachers in education district one. It was a very nice evening and we had quite a few drinks before heading home.

Thursday 6th May

Mr Anan called to collect me from the Home just before nine o’clock and took me to the temple. The Temple itself was already bustling with people. The area in front of the school where the funfair and other attractions were was all quiet. We sat along with some other people under an awning to watch two traditional dancing performances by local schoolchildren many from my school who I barely recognised dressed so differently and made up. The first performance was by the girls who, in addition to wearing traditional dress, also wore their extra long golden fingernails. The second, which also involved short sword play, was by the boys. Both performances were very good. We then left to go into the temple and thus missed other boys playing various traditional instruments.

Inside the temple, the women were at one end and the men were around the middle of the open floor – no pews, remember – all sitting cross-legged. Along one side nineteen monks sat in two rows on a stage. Before proceedings started some of the boy monks brought in small silver trays with sides containing a bottle of iced water, a small chilled bottle of orange juice and a drinking glass. The lead monk started the proceedings off with a chant which was followed by lengthy chanting in unison by the other monks. At certain points one of the ‘congregation’ took the microphone and chanted something.

After this stage finished, there was what seemed like a break because someone came round and brought everyone, including me, a small bottle of chilled water to drink. When proceedings resumed all the items due to be given to the monks were ‘blessed’ with water. The items included a shrink-wrapped set of six small bottles, about the size and appearance of a bottle of Carlsberg beer though I was assured the bottles contained a sweet watery liquid and nothing more than that. There was also a tray with a small arrangement of foliage into which an upright ‘stick’ had been planted. Each stick held a 500 baht note.

When the moment arrived, the small sets of foliage each with a 500 baht note were placed before each monk and then the sets of bottles were placed on the floor in front of each monk and then the oldest female members of the community shuffled forward on their knees in turn to present the item to each monk. As the monks cannot receive anything directly, the item was placed on a piece of cloth which each monk thoughtfully laid out for the purpose. Lastly, the head monk gave each of the monks an envelope which, I was told, contained more money though I am unsure how much.

When the proceedings were over everyone went out to the rear of the temple where they dipped a receptacle into one of two large bowls of flowered water in order to splash the nearby shrine. I did the same. We went to sit in the shade where we had a coffee and someone brought us a hot Lamyai drink. It was really delicious. It was the colour of unmilked tea and quite sweet. I cannot think of a similar taste in England to compare it with.

Mr Anan came back to the Home to collect me in the evening to go to the last day of the Festival. This time, when we parked by the house adjoining the school, the family living there were seated outside with some friends and they insisted we join them for a drink. I was presented with a glass of whisky but I managed to disappoint them when I said I don’t drink the stuff and preferred Leo beer. No problem. A chilled bottle of Leo was produced and opened for me and another glass was filled for me and everyone chinked each other’s glasses.

After a brief look at what was happening on stage we went to sit in the front row for the Muay Thai boxing. Most of the VIP seats were already filled but, no matter, people quickly moved to another seat for us. A number of other teachers were there in their sandy coloured uniforms and I was introduced all round. Drinks were on hand this evening and, once again, I was the odd one out not drinking whisky. But, again, a chilled bottle of beer was quickly obtained for me and my glass was kept full and well iced. If anything, the fights were better than on the first night. Not more gory or anything like that, but just more entertaining.

We left about 10.45 and drove into Lamphun where Mr Anan took me to another restaurant and, once again, we were joined by some friends of his and the beer flowed and food appeared and was enjoyed. It was about 1.15am by the time I got back to the Home.

Friday 7th May

Despite the late night last night I didn’t feel too bad for my three classes this morning. Everything went well and according to the plans I had made yesterday afternoon.

Mr Anan insisted I join him for lunch at the local noodle shop which was very nice of him. By the way, I keep offering to pay when the bill arrived but he refuses to let me do so! Back at the Home I packed my bag and hoped I could find a lift into Chiang Mai. Luckily, Glenn made one of his rare appearances and said he was about to drive into the city so I hitched a lift with him. The downside was that I had to wait while he went to the Immigration Office to renew his visa and while he did some other things. Eventually, he dropped me off where I could easily catch a tuk tuk into the old city.

I had planned to change hotels in order to save some money. The hotel I chose was the Anodard Hotel which was just around the corner from the Anoma, my hotel for the last few weekends. When I got to the Anodard reception I discovered the cheap rate advertised did not include anything else at all. Moreover, the hotel did not even have a restaurant. To quote the receptionist: ‘The best thing about this hotel is the staff!’ So rather than faff around in the heat I returned to the Anoma where I dumped my bag and then walked to the clinic where I was due to pay a second visit. The doctor examined my back and proclaimed the course of antibiotics a success. He decided to paint the bedbugs bites that were previously infected with a yellow antiseptic liquid and he gave me some more pills, just in case. He also relieved me of another 1500baht (about 30 pounds) bringing the total cost of the two consultations to 3,500baht (about 70 pounds).

Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th May

The rest of the weekend just flew by. I rested a lot and enjoyed free access to the internet and listed to some nice music thanks to the BBC’s programme catch-up facility. I also explored more corners of Chiang Mai and kept my eyes peeled for new places to eat and possible places to stay. Ideally, I would like to find somewhere else in roughly the same area so that I can walk nearly everywhere.

One of the surprising things about Chiang Mai is the sheer number of bookshops. Secondhand bookshops, that is. The largest company, Gecko books, has a number of branches dotted around the city and they have a large stock which is searchable online. All the bookshops buy and sell books giving the weary traveller a way of trading in the books he has read for something new and so recently published paperbacks often appear in these shops.

On Sunday morning I decided to visit the much advertised J.J. Market which is conveniently near to the Flower Market I had spotted on my map and also near to a giant size Tesco Lotus. J. J. Market was a disappointment. Many of the proper shops had closed for good the remainder seemed to be mostly restaurants. The covered market area held nothing of interest.

I looked forward to seeing the Flower Market imagining I would see lots of interesting flowers which I could photograph and entertain you with. But there was hardly a flower in sight. Most of the businesses there sold plants or trees, such as banana trees, for garden landscaping. Other shops sold masonry items, including large bricks of laterite – the natural material I have mentioned before which was originally used by the builders of Angkor Wat for their interior walls, rather like we use breezeblocks today.

The Tesco Lotus was truly enormous and very busy inside. In common with all large supermarkets here in Thailand the supermarket itself is on the upper floor. The ground floor is where the chain restaurants are located along with some concession outlets. All the various banks are represented on the ground floor and not just by ATMs etc but they offer a full banking service too and have the same long opening hours as the supermarket! Somehow I don’t think that idea will ever catch on in the UK! Whatever next ? Banks open the same hours as shops ? Never!

I had caught a tuk tuk to get to the J.J. Market area and thought I would find one easily going back. It was seriously hot and I waited in the shade of a tree but no tuk tuks came by at all. After an age a songteaw came by and stopped and I asked the driver if he was going into the old city. He was, and I jumped in with relief.

Soon it was time to pack my bag once again and head back to the Home. This time I caught a songteaw to Lamphun and arranged for Guide to collect me from a village not too far from the Home. I was taken by surprise, however, about halfway into the journey when the songteaw stopped and everyone got off. I thought it very odd to be the only person going onwards until a lady told me we had to change songteaws and continue the journey. I arrived back at the Home soon after the arrival of ten new Akha boys all aged about 8 years old.

Monday 10th May

The classes went well this morning and all the rubbish left behind by the festival-goers had been cleared away and it was as if the festival had never taken place. The ten new boys joined my senior class but I can’t do much for them as the Summer English Camp finishes on Wednesday.

There was a meeting of all the school’s teachers this morning. After classes finished at midday I was asked to join the meeting and was presented with two wooden hanging lanterns with small glass windows in recognition of my work at the school which was very nice of them

I was invited to join all the teachers for lunch at Big C supermarket near Lamphun. The plan was to eat at the M.K. Restaurant but it was very busy and we would have to wait about 20-30 minutes for a table large enough for our group so we went to the Black Canyon restaurant instead. The differences between the two restaurants was that the former served alcohol but the latter only served coffee which was just as well in view of the drinking that was to follow.

On the way to Big C we saw a funeral procession turn into the special temple where cremations take place. The timing was just right for me to take a photograph of the ornate trailer which carried the coffin. You can see the photo in my gallery.

The lunch at the Black Canyon restaurant was very nice and it was good to be able to chat to the other teachers, all women. After lunch the other teachers went their way and Mr Anan drove me to Lamphun to the restaurant we visited recently where a bonfire that was out of hand threatened the building and caused some panic. On the way to the restaurant Mr Anan stopped at a Seven Eleven store to buy a bottle of whisky – this is normal practice here as it is cheaper than buying the same bottle in the restaurant. Once we were seated we were joined by Mr .......? the Head of Education for Area 1 in Lamphun. Mixer drinks were ordered but I was out of luck with beer because restaurants are forbidden by law to serve alcohol between 2pm and 5pm. So I reluctantly had a weak whisky to tide me over. I didn’t have long to wait because at 3.30 I was asked if I still wanted a beer. I did and a bottle and some ice in a glass appeared and all was well.

During the afternoon a succession of Mr Anan’s friends joined us since this was a favourite restaurant of all of theirs too. Two uniformed and armed policemen – one a three-pipper - joined us who were Mr ..... friends. Their radios cackled away but they seemed unconcerned. They started by drinking water but then the three-pipper relented and accepted a whisky.

Mr ‘Hood, the lawyer I had met before, joined us later. He’s a very jovial man and has some well-remembered English. He, like many of Mr Anan’s friends who joined us, was Lamphun born and bred and was at school with Mr Anan some thirty years ago. He very kindly invited me to visit his offices and to come and stay in his home. Another guest was the police chief, equivalent to a general, and in civilian clothes, who was also very cheerful and friendly. Yet another guest was a lady who is a Community Development officer. She asked me if I could teach her son English. He’s in Mattayom 5 now and about to restart school for the new term (which, in passing last 5 months!) so must be aged about 16 or 17 I guess.

The afternoon turned into the evening and the various friends had left one by one with other things to do. We were joined by two new friends, another senior policeman and a Lamphun restaurant owner and we moved to one of the karaoke suites in the restaurant where we drank some more and murdered some otherwise good songs.

It wasn’t such a late night tonight. I was back at the Home by 10.45pm but it had been a long day.

Tuesday 11th May

I had a long awaited message from Ao from Thai Dragonfly this morning telling me that she has found a good secondary school for me in Loei (like Ler-i though said quickly). Loei is just about in Isaan and is about 160km east of Udon Thani. Loei is the main town in Loei province. Apparently the school opens, like others, on Monday but they have some sort of Camp for the first two weeks so will not need me until June 1st.

There were classes as normal this morning. The senior class are looking forward to the test I will give them tomorrow when the student scoring the highest marks will receive my 500 baht prize.

Mr Anan took me to lunch again today. We had wanted to go to the local noodle shop but it was closed because of a wake taking place next door. The wake was well under way with music and dancing at 9am when I passed on my way to school. Mr Anan told me later that one of the two costumed dancers takes up the spirit of the person who died as everyone remembers the deceased.

We had lunch instead at a nicer restaurant on the way to Lamphun which was very tasty and filling. Mr Anan drove me back to the Home where I wrote the exam paper for my senior class tomorrow and I did my laundry. The weather became very threatening with some lashing winds and black clouds but little rain.

I tried to access the internet this evening but the pc kept crashing at the nearest internet cafe and there was no access at all at the other cafe on the way to Lamphun.

Wednesday 12th May

The last day of the English Summer Camp and the day of the test that I devised for my senior class of mostly 12 and 13 year olds though the new influx of younger boys means that they will be at a disadvantage but it can’t be helped. At least they attended my revision class yesterday when I covered all of the questions they will have in the exam.

My prize of 500 baht for the student scoring the highest mark certainly caught the interest of many of the students. The test itself went ok though some of the students were uncertain about some questions even though I covered exactly the same questions word for word in yesterday’s revision.

As students finished the twenty questions I began marking the papers and by the end the highest score was 72% which was very good. All the questions bar one were multiple choice so Lady Luck could have played a part where a student didn’t know the answer. One of the new boys even scored 60% which surprised me as much as it surprised him.

The final question asked Why is important to learn English ? The choices were 1. To play football for Manchester United. 2. To forget the Thai language. 3. To help get a better job with a better salary. And 4. To keep teacher Alistair happy. Someone actually said #2 was the right answer and a couple of students thought #4 was correct which was very funny.

After the test I took the middle class and at the end of the lesson the students, all 9 and 10 year olds, gave me a present of a heart shaped jewellery box filled with sweets which though a bit odd was very nice of them.

Mr Anan wasn’t at school today because he had to go to a funeral in Chiang Mai so when school finished at noon I was taken to lunch by one of the female teachers and her friend, also a teacher, who is also the principal of another nearby school. We had a very nice lunch at the M.K. restaurant at Big C and afterwards they decided to take me to Sisket where there is a huge garden complex covering 286 rai and featuring collections of palms, flowers, cacti and succulents, tropical trees, precision topiary and much more besides. We were first driven round the site in a large size golf buggy and then we got bicycles to explore further. The whole place was really nice and well worth visiting. There are some photographs in my gallery.

After we left we drove about 30 minutes and then stopped at a restaurant. It was about 6.30 and the sun was setting but I was just in time to take a couple of spectacular sunset photographs. The restaurant, like many in rural Thailand, was on a series of stilted platforms jutting out into a small artificial lake and we got a table by the waterside which was nice. See the photo in my gallery. We had some lovely food and someone was singing to an acoustic guitar.

During dinner the teacher/principal asked me if I would like to teach conversational English at her school for the next two weeks before I go to my next placement in Loei and as I have little else to do. I said I would be interested subject to when the Community Development officer, who I met two evenings ago, wants me to tutor her son. The school, which is a primary and secondary school going up to Mattayom 3, isn’t far away and is on the road to Lamphun and she told me that someone would happily ferry me to and from the school every day.

When the bill came I insisted on paying and gave the waiter the money but the two women insisted they wanted today to be a treat for me as a way of saying thank you for all that I have done and promptly gave me their money for the bill.

It was about 8.30 when we left and we were about 15 minutes down the road when I realised I had lost my mobile phone. I knew I had it as I went into the restaurant so we did a u-turn and drove back. As we returned to our table a waiter dashed forward having spotted my phone on the floor where I had been sitting and picked it up and handed it to me just as one of the teachers was phoning me as a way of locating it. Relief all round! There were no other incidents and I got back to the Home about 9.30.

My school is closed tomorrow and Friday and I am not sure what I am going to do but will see what turns up.

Thursday 13th May

The school was closed today and will be tomorrow as well because all the teachers are away at a meeting in Lamphun. The building work on the new site progresses with the eating area now finished and work starting on the girls’ dormitory now that the sponsorship money has come through for it.

None of the younger children can really do very much to help on the new site so when there is no school of any kind, such as the Summer Camp or regular school, there is very little for them to do. Some of the Wawee boys like playing games on my laptop which gives them something to do and keeps them engrossed for a while.

As for the conflict between Glenn and Rose, the underlying issues remain but superficially peace seems to have returned. Rose is as busy as ever and Glenn makes the occasional appearance at the Home.

Friday 14th May

This morning I went to the first day of the annual 3-day Agricultural Fair in Lamphun with Rose, the three older boys and three of the older girls. For a while now Rose has had a plan to produce Lanna style fish sausages and to this end she and some of the older children have made three visits to Maejo University Fish Faculty in Chiang Mai where they have learned about the whole process of making different types of fish sausages starting off with live fish and ending with cooked sausages. I also went on their first visit to the university and took some photographs which I posted in my gallery.

Rose’s idea is to produce and sell the sausages to local restaurants and thus make some money for the Home. She thinks she has spotted a gap in the market since, she says, no one else offers Lanna style fish sausages. The other day she booked space in one of the covered areas at the Fair to promote and sell the sausages and offer free tastings. She also took space for a noodle stall amongst other food stalls in the open area outside where she sold hot noodle meals.

The fairground wasn’t that big but it did show off everything of interest to a local farmer or gardener from tractors to orchid seedlings. An actual fairground with carousels and wheels etc had been erected on an adjacent area. During the morning and afternoon the fair was moderately busy but a large influx of people was expected after people finished work and during the evening as the Fair was open till midnight.

I wish Rose every success but several of the people I witnessed tasting the fish sausages didn’t seem to like them very much. Taste apart, they do not look very appealing when sliced because the contents look like and have the colour of days’ old compressed grass. Unsliced, the sausages are a sort of grey/brown colour. I tasted them too and they are quite spicy and I could not detect any fish taste at all. To me, I might just as well have been eating, well, compressed grass!

Rose has invested quite a lot of money purchasing new cooking equipment and other items for the Fair which will take a long time to recover from the meagre profit she thinks she can make from selling the sausages.

I am not quite sure how Rose thinks she can manage the Home and look after the interests of all the children AND embark on two food new ventures. I should add that Glenn has no part in her sausage or noodle plans and is still leaving everything for her to do regarding the Home.

I left the Fair about 4.30pm when one of the older boys went back to the Home on the motorbike and I got a lift. I changed and packed my bag and I thought he was going to take me to the old Lamphun-Chiang Mai road from where I could catch the songteaw into Chiang Mai. Instead, he took me to another main road just outside of Lamphun and dropped me off at a bus stop telling me this was where I could get the bus in Chiang Mai and then he left.

The bus duly arrived and I got on board. About 5 minutes later the conductress came and I asked for a ticket to Chiang Mai and she yelled for the driver to stop and in the same breath told me this bus was going to Lampang which is in the opposite direction to Chiang Mai. I got off, crossed the dual carriageway and stood by the side of the road where I hoped to flag down the correct bus. It is normal here to get off or get on where you want as well as at a bus stop. But no bus came by and darkness was approaching fast and I realised that though I would be able to spot the bus during daylight I had no chance doing so with all the different headlights after dark. I thought it would be better if I walked back to a bus stop where I knew the bus would stop.

It took about 30 minutes to get there and as I walked I kept turning round to check the oncoming traffic and, luckily as it turned out, no buses came along. I reached the bus stop and bought a cool drink. No sooner had I paid for it than TWO buses appeared. The first bus was a big long distance double-decker heading to Chiang Mai from Khorat and the second a coach with no destination board on the front. I assumed the second bus was the correct one and ran to reach it before the doors closed. It turned out not to be the right bus so I began to run back to the first bus but it closed its doors and set off before I could reach them.

I swore loudly and went back to the bus stop and resigned myself to another long wait. Just then a third bus drew up at the stop. Lo and behold, it was going to Chiang Mai and as lots of people were getting off I had time to ask the conductress if I could get on before doing so. I took a seat and heaved a big sigh of relief.

It took about 30 minutes to reach Chiang Mai bus station and I grabbed a tuk tuk to take me to my hotel, the same one I have stayed in before, and I showered and relaxed.

LATEST NEWS....THE TROUBLES IN BANGKOK:

Just to let you know that the violence you have probably seen on the tv news is confined to Krung Thep (aka Bangkok) and that the rest of Thailand is peaceful.

Posted by talismanic 14.05.2010 20:45 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Friday 30th April to May 4th, 2553

sunny 34 °C

Friday 30th April

Rose, Glenn and all the children, except the three oldest and the three youngest, departed for Pattaya at 3am this morning to take part as ball boys and girls in a rugby tournament at Horseshoe Park. I can’t say I envy them since they are travelling in the Home’s open-sided school bus. The vehicle is larger than a minibus and has a separate enclosed driver’s cab. Bench-type seats are arranged along each side of the back of the bus with another bench seat along the middle making the total comfortable capacity for children about 18 or so. The 423 drive to Pattaya is going to take several hours and every time the bus takes a corner it lurches to the side so the children are going to have to hold on tight for much of the time.

You are probably wondering where the children will be sleeping in Pattaya. They’ll be sleeping in Glenn’s house there so there’ll be no hotel bills to pay and they are due back late on Tuesday night. Whether it is a good idea to go so far for the children to work while others have fun playing their sport is debatable. What do you think ? I’d love to read your comments.

After school at midday Mr Anan, the school principal insisted on taking me to lunch in Lamphun which was very nice of him. He took me to a different restaurant from the previous occasion and we had lots of nice food and a few Leo beers. During lunch there was a scare that the restaurant would be burnt down. When we arrived I noticed a large bonfire in an open space opposite the restaurant and behind another house. The fire got out of control and the wind spread it dangerously near then house over the road. Fire engines were called and all was well in the end but the restaurant owner and the staff were running around looking very worried for a time while Anan and I calmly enjoyed our lunch.

When Mr Anan realised that I planned to go to Chiang Mai he immediately offered to drive me there but, first, he wanted to take me to his home, mid-way between Chiang Mai and Lamphun, to introduce me to his wife and to his five dogs. It was interesting driving there because, for once, I had an opportunity to see what the hinterland consists of beyond the main road and usual shops and stalls that I normally see. What I saw was a real surprise because here was a maze of twisty unnamed lanes just wide enough for two cars to squeeze past slowly and lots of nice houses and all the things you would find in a village, such as a temple etc.

Mr Anan drives what I can only describe as an oversize pick-up truck. It rides high off the ground and had large wheels and a fence-like structure in front between the headlights. It can seat for people and the open part at the rear can carry almost anything. In fact, the rear part is often used as a people carrier and I often see whole families sitting in the rear or workers/labourers squatting there.

He has a very nice clean and comfortable-looking house. His wife is a teacher of Thai culture and computing at a primary school in her village and immediately I arrived she produced iced water and plates of water melon slices, whole rambutan and sliced green mango to nibble on.

After the visit I was expecting Mr Anan to drive me back to the Home so I could change and pack my overnight bag etc but instead he headed towards Chiang Mai. I had to seek confirmation a couple of times that we were in fact going back to the Home and each time he said yes. It wasn’t till the third time of asking, and we were drawing ever closer to the city, that the penny dropped and we did a u-turn and drove back towards the Home. Luckily, it wasn’t very far and he was very apologetic about his misunderstanding which arose because he thought I was only visiting Chiang Mai rather than staying for two nights.

We duly returned to the Home and I rushed off to change and pack and about 10 minutes later we were back on the road heading to the city once more. He dropped me off near the Tha Phae Gate and I walked the rest of the way to the Anoma hotel where I had stayed before. I had been thinking about going somewhere else a bit cheaper but I felt that until I knew if my ATM card worked or not I had better say where I had access to some more cash.

Apropos my ATM card, I received the new PIN by email after my friend in London had opened the letter from my bank for me. The new PIN turned out to be the same number as my old PIN and I began to wonder if my bank had made a mistake. It was with some trepidation that I walked down to the ATM after checking in at the hotel and pushed my card into the slot. Joy oh joy, it worked ok so I was fluid again.

My next most important task was to discover a reputable clinic because I had recently found a large number of spots on my back. I was unable to see them all in the mirror but I could see that a few were larger than the others and looking an angry red. Luckily, the owner of the Anoma had no hesitation in recommending the clinic she and her family attend which was only a short walk away on the other side of the moat. I decided to go there as soon after it opened in the morning.

Saturday 1st, Sunday 2nd May and Monday 2nd May.

After breakfast I walked to the clinic and went in. There were a number of people sitting in the foyer who I assumed to be waiting attention. The lady at reception took my name and age and asked me to step onto the weighing machine and I was shocked to find I only weighed 64kg whereas in London my weight was a steady 70kg. I knew I’d lost weight but this was the first time the amount was quantified.

The receptionist then told me to go into Room One. I did and sat down expectantly. A couple of minutes later one of the two doctors at the clinic popped his head round the door and told me he’d just be five minutes. The doctor – tall and silver haired - looked avuncular and very professional.

When he came back I told him about my back and after examining it and asking me some questions he pronounced the spots, or rather bites, the result of bedbugs. He gave me a jab in my backside -with a hyperdermic syringe that is - and prescribed a course of antibiotics. Two capsules three times a day, another capsule twice day for the next week and I am to see him again on Friday.

He told me that he was originally from India and had trained there. He spoke fluent Thai and accent-free English and, while he was giving me the prescription, we chatted about the UK election this week. He felt sure that G. Brown will be out with his tail between his legs!

The cost of my consultation ? A reasonable 2,000 baht (about 40 pounds and rising as the pound drops to even deeper lows!!) and this includes the drugs.

The remedy for the bedbugs ? I searched for info and the net and soon discovered that the blighters are hard to eradicate. However, a pharmacist familiar with bedbugs told me an effective remedy is putting the mattress outside all day and letting the sun beat down on both sides of it as well as washing the sheets and pillow cases and any blankets. I was unable to do anything about my mattress whilst in Chiang Mai but planned to act on this advice when I got back.

I spent some of my time in Chiang Mai exploring a few more corners of the old city which is always a very nice way of passing the time. I also kept an ever-open eye out for nice but inexpensive restaurants where I could have lunch or dinner and I found a couple that fitted the bill two blocks away from my hotel. I also took a new photo of the moat, or the canal as some locals call it, with the fountains playing which is now in my photo gallery.

On this visit to Chiang Mai I brought my laptop with me. I found that I could just squeeze everything I needed into the same bag as my laptop. IT was good having it with me to take advantage of the free wi-fi at the hotel.

During the weekend I discovered that Monday was a public holiday and everybody assured me that my school would be closed. I emailed Mr Anan for confirmation but I didn’t a reply as quickly as I had last time I mailed him. I also phoned Guide at the Home for his opinion and he checked the calendar and assured me it was a public holiday and that the school would be closed. In the light of all the similar opinions I decided to stay in Chiang Mai Sunday night and return to the Home Monday afternoon as there would be nothing for me to do there.

As a result of this decision another highlight of the weekend was the Sunday Walking Market which I had only glimpsed before on my way back to the Home. The main spine of the market takes place along Ratchadamnoen Road, which is at the top of the road where my hotel is located, so very close. This road and several leading off either side of it are all closed to traffic. Both sides of these roads and the middle are lined with temporary stalls selling everything you can imagine. Most of the articles on sale are handmade or made by villagers as part of the OTOP scheme that I have mentioned before and they are very different from the stuff you see on sale in tourist areas and are of a much better quality. Consequently people flock to the Walking Market and there is a king of one-way system with people going up one side and down the other side of the lines of stalls. Most of the market strollers were Thais, many in family groups. There were farangs too but few.

Remarkably, the market opens before dusk at about 6pm and doesn’t close till midnight when the stallholders pack everything away in their vehicles until next Sunday.

Food stalls are dotted along the way and several temple forecourts become food courts for the night with some very tempting delicacies on offer. I am not really an eat-as-you-walk person because it is impossible to do so AND take photos but I was sorely tempted by many delicious looking things I saw. I took some food related photos so you could be tempted too. I also took some general photos so you can get a feel of what the market is like. Take a look in my gallery!!

On Monday morning I received an email reply from Mr Anan who said that he’d told the students on Friday to disregard the public holiday and to come into school for my English classes. Unfortunately, it was too late for me to find a way back to the Home to change and get my teaching files and get to the school. So I replied sending my sincere apologies.

Later, I took a stroll down Nimmanhaemin Road where my hotel was located when I was last in Chiang Mai four years ago. Back in 2006, only one of the sois was gaining a reputation of being a creative centre with some galleries, some artisan boutiques, a saa paper specialist etc etc. The rest of the road was then very uninteresting and there was certainly nothing of interest open at night – I know because I walked down the road in 2006 looking for somewhere to have a drink that was more interesting then my hotel but failed to find anything at all.

Now, Nimmanhaemin has changed almost beyond recognition. The road is a-buzz with trendy boutiques, eateries and galleries and much more. Down the various sois there seems to have been a building boom since my last visit since there are a large number of apartment buildings, residences, condominiums and so on which, I assume, cater to the aspiring and/or affluent Thais, Koreans and Japanese and others. Why else would stores call themselves Ice Chic, or describe themselves as the Bestaurant. One oddly named place did catch my eye which was The Salad Concept. They only serve salads but innovative ones as well as Caesar Salad and the like. The menu has illustrations of all the various types of lettuce – some of which I have seen in supermarkets in the UK, some not – descriptions of all the various dressings, and all additional toppings you can have. The prices were very reasonable, cheap even, and the place was full of hungry customers. Considering Thais don’t eat salads as we know them I thought this restaurant was onto a good thing.

Apropos signage, I saw a large banner advertising a steakhouse which read Rare or Medium but always well done. Did this mean that the steaks are always burnt ??? The Johnny Walker sign intrigues me too. You see banners advertising the whisky everywhere. Below their logo it states: Keep Walking. To me, this means don’t stop by for a drink, keep walking, give it a miss. In passing, I hate whisky so I for one would definitely keep walking by.

I returned to the Home on Monday afternoon. Guide came into Chiang Mai to collect me and we had an uneventful journey back. That evening Guide took me to Big C supermarket where I stocked up on fresh milk for my breakfast muesli and some other things.

Tuesday 4th May

Things are very relaxed at the Home with Rose and Glenn and most of the children away. Work on the new site has slowed to a crawl as the older children enjoy the novelty of sleeping in and doing what they want for a change.

Nobody was around by the time I was ready for my lift to get to school so I woke M up and he gave me a lift on his motorbike. The children at the school were very pleased to see me. I was only able to give two lessons, one to the senior class and one to the junior class. I’m not sure what happened to the middle class students, perhaps they went home early. As a result, I was finished by 11.15 and Mr Anan invited me to walk around the temple where preparations were taking place for the annual festival on Wednesday and Thursday when, you’ve guessed it, the school will be closed again!! As soon as we arrived in the main area we were invited to have some noodles. It was impossible to say no and so we sat at a table and women bustled round serving us with iced water and said noodles which, by the way, were really delicious.

Mr Anan was very keen that I accept his invitation tomorrow evening to see the festival Muay Thai boxing and the dancing. I can’t say I was that keen since it means being trapped at the Home for the two day holiday with precious little to do in the searing heat. I’d much rather return to Chiang Mai where at least there are choices about what to do and when.

Luckily, today was blazing hot and sunny because before I left for school this morning I left instructions for my mattress to be taken out and left in the blazing sun and for the mattress cover and pillowcase to be washed and the blankets to be hung outside too. When I returned to the Home after lunch at the temple I turned the mattress over so the other side would get the same treatment. Everything else had been done for me and I began to feel confident that my bedbug episode was finished.

The bus returned from Pattaya with the children about 9pm and there was pandemonium as they debussed, unloaded kit, greeted those that stayed here and grabbed something to eat not that they had had nothing to eat on the journey. Food is part of the welcome in Thailand.

A large polystyrene box was also unloaded containing some fish which will be turned into more Lanna style fish sausages which Rose is selling to local restaurants. It appears that the children enjoyed their role as ball boys and girls in Pattaya and they returned looking very tanned after spending so much time in the sun.

Posted by talismanic 04.05.2010 21:23 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

April 20th - 27th, 2553

sunny 37 °C

Tuesday 20th April

The classes for the 10-12 year olds and the 8-10 year olds went well this morning but I am finding it harder and harder to find simple fun things to do with the youngest class of 7-8 year olds. An hour is a long time to keep them occupied I find and the material I have found on the internet is either far too simple or too hard. This class likes noughts and cross, or XO as they call it, and even here it is getting harder to let them win convincingly.

This afternoon a friend of Glenn’s, Steve, arrived who has promised to provide a series of DVDs and players to trial an English language learning program he has developed at the village school where the Summer Camp is taking place.

If there was a gold medal for talking at the Olympics then I am sure Steve would win it hands down. I have never known anyone talk quite so much and be so full of himself and his program.

I was promised a lift to the post office where I need to post a document back to London. The document cost 12 pounds 45 pence to send it Registered post to me and it took 10 days. The same document will cost 80 baht to send regular post or 845 baht (about 17 pounds) to send EMS, or express post. I decided to send it EMS but I didn’t have enough money to send it then so I went down the road to an ATM to withdraw some cash. By mistake I used the wrong PIN and my card was refused. I tried again and again, but each time the machine said my PIN was invalid even though I felt certain I had used the right one to start off with.

By this time it was past 7pm when the post office closed so there was no alternative but to try again tomorrow.

Thursday 21st April

Kreis, the new arrival, could be more of a hindrance than a help at the school because after the first classes finished at 10am he arranged with Mr Anan to show a film – Narnia, the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe – to which all the children were invited. He didn’t ask me for my opinion or my approval he just did it which disrupted the lessons I had planned for today. The movie is very long and most of the children had lost interest in it after the first 90 minutes.
Steve came to the school about midday to speak with Mr Anan about his proposal to trial his DVD English learning system. As it is a free offer Mr Anan is keen but he will have to oversee the Thai English teacher’s implementation of the system for it to work properly.

One of the nice things about Mr Anan’s school is that they bring you coffee and a pastry in the morning as well as a bottle of chilled water and a glass. At about 11am someone will bring round a plateful of fresh fruit cut into slices to pass around the children. It varies but on most days it is a choice of apple, water melon or unripe green mango. Interestingly, the children always go for the unripe green mango first which is quite bitter and leaves your mouth feeling dry. But the children love it!!

Guide took me down to the ATM again this afternoon. I tried my PIN and the machine said t was invalid so I tried different combinations of the four digits I knew were correct but to no avail. Afterwards we sent into a branch of another bank and was told that all the ATMs in the district were offline so nobody could withdraw any money PIN or no PIN.

I decided to call Natwest taking into account the 7-hour time difference. Glenn kindly let me use his computer in his house to make the call so I didn’t have to make an expensive mobile phone call to the UK. On the way to Glenn’s house Steve told me that he has lived in Thailand for seven years after getting fed up with the UK. He said he lived a solitary existence because his wife has left him, he doesn’t socialise, he lives for his work and he’s happy watching football on his pc or watching a DVD in the evening and drinking some beers. Thailand seems full of similar sad people and I have met several on this visit.

In the evening Glenn, Steve, Rose, her Aunt Am and I went into Nikhom, an industrial area near to Lamphun where there is some nightlife consisting of bars and restaurants. We went into a pleasant beer garden and had some beers and chatted. It was a nice evening but it was nearly 2am before we got to our beds.

Friday – Sunday 22nd – 25th April

Classes resumed as normal this morning though the lessons were only about halfway through when the students from the youngest and middle classes started clamouring for a game. I usually have a game for them towards the end of class anyway but it is hard to introduce new ones when the youngest group always ask for noughts and crosses and the middle class always asks for Simon Says.

Yesterday Kreis promised to give me a lift into Chiang Mai this afternoon but when he arrived this morning he had Bart on the pillion seat. He claimed not to have forgotten and said that his Boss, Ron, would be visiting the Home this afternoon so my lift was assured.

However, when Kreis and Bart were getting ready to leave for Chiang Mai it became obvious that I would not be getting a lift after all. Luckily, Rose was working nearby and overheard the conversation and, after Kries and Bart had left, offered to drive me to the old Lamphun to Chiang Mai road where I could catch a Songteaw to take me into Chiang Mai. Soon afterwards Rose drove me there and after a short wait I hailed a passing Songtheaw which took me within walking distance of the Tha Phae Gate all for just 20 baht. The Songteaw took about 45 minutes to reach central Chiang Mai and I arrived at my hotel about 4.30.

I checked into the same hotel as before and enjoyed all the comforts as before as well. I was really tired from the late night last night so I had a snooze. I then tried to sort out my Natwest card problem. I went to a central ATM and tried to withdraw some cash but, once again, the machine said my PIN was invalid. I rang Natwest in London and was told that I could resolve the issue at the ATM by choosing the PIN Services option on the menu. I went to the ATM again, a fifteen minute walk away. I tried to do as Natwest suggested but the system wasn’t helpful and I failed. I returned to the internet cafe where I could make international calls and called Natwest again and was told the only thing they could do now was to send out a new PIN to my London address and I agreed. I think the letter will arrived on Monday or Tuesday when my flatmate can open the letter and email me the new PIN.

I then had to find a way to get some cash as I only had about five pounds in my pocket. I returned to my hotel where I spoke to the owner and she kindly agreed to withdraw some money using my credit card. It is not an ideal option as there is a 3% surcharge and the bank in UK may charge a fee too, but this option put some much needed cash into my wallet which is what I needed for the weekend. Later, I had dinner at one of the same nice but inexpensive restaurants I ate in last visit.

My two days in Chiang Mai were mostly spent wandering round the interesting sois I mentioned before. I also visit Central Plaza, a large shopping mall, not far from the international airport. It is a huge place spread over three floors with a multiplex cinema as well as a large food court where I had lunch on Saturday. For dessert I had a Thai favourite, Lod Chong, sticky rice and mango with coconut milk.

If anyone is wondering what I am doing about laundry I have brought some with me on each visit to Chiang Mai to get washed and ironed. There are many shops/individuals offering a laundry service and the price is usually 30 baht a kilo (about 60 pence). You see signs everywhere saying Laundry: wash, iron, dry though I hope none of them do the laundry in that order!!

On Saturday afternoon it rained hard for a short time which cleared the air and refreshed everything nicely. Looking across Chiang Mai from my 3rd floor hotel room I could see the mountains, where Doi Suthep is located, and also see raining falling in other areas. There was a nice sunset behind the mountains which caught them in sharp relief. A photo will be plodded to my gallery very soon.

In passing, if anyone wants to comment on anything I have said in this blog then do feel free to do so. It is always interesting to read your comments and thoughts, positive or negative.

Around 4pm on Sunday afternoon traders begin setting up their stalls along Ratchadamnoen Road and in Tha Phae square. The road is closed to traffic and becomes thronged with shoppers after darkness falls. I walked along the road on my way to meet Guide who had come up from the Home on a motorbike to collect me and take me back there. The walking street market every Sunday is well worth a visit because the goods on sale are way above the average tourist stuff you see everywhere else. All the products have an OTOP rating – OTOP stands for One Tambon One Product (a Tambon is a grouping of villages into a sort of municipality under a kind of mayor, though he is not called as such) - and they are mostly handmade and distinctive.

Guide met me at the Tha Phae Gate and we returned to the Home. Glenn and Rose were away at an ANZAC Memorial gathering in Kanchanaburi near to where the famous episode of the Bridge on the River Kwai took place and where the Japanese POW camps were situated. There is also a large Commonwealth cemetery there.

It rained heavily in the evening for about forty minutes which helped clear the air and dust and refreshed the greenery.

Monday 26th April

Got up this morning in good time, as usual, to be ready for my classes but the children at the Home were late again. It is unfair on the children who normally attend the school who are always on time or early for our children at the Home to be late. Their lateness also shortens the first lesson which is unfair on the teachers who have prepared sixty minutes of tuition.

The classes went well today and Anan gave me a lift back to the Home. After lunch I went down to a local computer store to help Guide collect his pc. We rode there on one of the motorbikes but found the shop was closed when we got there.

Late in the afternoon the children began to make sausages in the Lanna style under Rose’s directions. I have asked a couple of time what defines a Lanna style sausage from a normal sausage but I have yet to receive a definitive answer. The best answer I can offer you is that the difference is in the herbs and spices used.

As with most recipes in Thailand the ingredients had to be finely chopped first and this was all done on the wooden tables in the dining area which is where the children have their meals which are served on large multispace metal plates. Several of the children were helping chop this and that and handling the ingredients and I wondered if they had washed their hands first or not. Somehow I doubted that they had. The tables where the chopping took place are normally brushed down with the same brush that they use to brush the concrete kitchen floor and I doubt that the tables have ever been scrubbed clean.

Once all the ingredients were prepared and cooked they were mixed together and then the length of sausage skin was stuffed by hand. I was later offered a cooked sausage to try but I refused with the excuse that I was already full after my lunch.

The fridges are often disgustingly dirty and hygiene is not a word I have ever heard at the Home so I guess it is not surprising that upset tummies are very common here. It is purely chance that there have not been any cases of severe food poisoning while I have been here.

In the afternoon Nev came to visit with a friend of his who used to manage a number of Thai holidays resorts. They both drove up to the new site and I chatted to them when they returned. Nev mentioned that there are a number of holes in the roof of the boys’ house. The roof is made from palm leaves pinned to a strip of wood which in turn is pinned to a roof support. I mentioned this problem to Rose later and she replied that another layer of palm leaves will be added on top of those that are there. Whether that will be sufficient to exclude the heavy tropical downpours here is debatable but, either way, she didn’t seem very surprised or concerned by my question.

Nev’s friend also pointed out that unless the wood used in the buildings on the new site are treated against termites they will be eaten away in a year or so and all the money spent will be wasted and new money will have to be raised to start all over again. Nev’s friend warned the owner of the same thing at a resort he managed and his advice was ignored. The result was that a lovely new wooden floor was destroyed by the termites inside twelve months. Once termites infest a building there is no way to get rid of them successfully. Termite activity has already begun in the boy’s house so it may already be too late.

In the evening I joined Rose a Thai friend of hers and Guide for a drink and snacks at a restaurant near Saraphi (pronounced Sara-pee with both ‘a’s as in cat) which was very pleasant.

Wednesday 27th April

All this week a minibus has been calling at the Home at 7am to collect the children and take them to school a journey which takes about 10 minutes walking. I’m not exactly sure which local organisation provides the minibus but the negative effect is that the children arrive far too early and they leave when the minibus reappears about 11.30 which is 30 minutes before the last class is due to finish. Quite what the children are expected to do for the best part of two hours before lessons start at 9am I am not sure. It is also very annoying that the last lesson of the morning is cut short unnecessarily.

I had a call from Dragonfly today about my next placement. Ao, the person looking for a suitable secondary school in Nongbua Lamphu for me, rang to say she is having a problem speaking with the director of the schools she is in contact with. He is the person who would decide whether to have a volunteer like me or not at his school. So, to widen the scope a bit and increase the chances of finding somewhere good I have suggested she look for schools in Loei and in Udon Thani. The next school term starts around mid-May and I think it would be better all round if I could start at the same time rather than butt in like Johnny Foreigner after the term begins.

You will have gathered from the above that I have relented and decided to stay here at the Home rather than escaping early. My weekend in Chiang Mai was a welcome break from the Home and if I can get away every weekend then that will make things much better for me.

One of the many nice things about Chiang Mai is that there are laundries on almost every corner. You often see signs outside premises proudly offering WASH, IRON, DRY though I hope they don’t do the laundry in that order!!
The going rate for laundry is usually 30 baht (about 60 pence) a kilo of dirty clothes. You take the dirty clothes in in the morning and they are washed, dried, ironed, neatly folded and ready to be collected by five or six o’clock the same day. What better service can you get than that ?

On the other hand, surfing the internet is far more expensive in Chiang Mai. At the nearest internet cafe to the Home the price is an incredibly low 5 baht (about 10 pence) per hour whereas in CM it is generally 15 baht (about 30 pence) per hour and sometimes more.

I am hoping to take some more photos in Chiang Mai this weekend. If anyone would like to request a photo of something special then just let me know. I will then upload it to my gallery for you and everyone to see.

Posted by talismanic 28.04.2010 23:08 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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