A Travellerspoint blog

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


***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 19:53 Archived in Thailand

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