30.05.2010 - 06.06.2010
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.