05.05.2010 - 14.05.2010 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.