14.05.2010 - 22.05.2010
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.