28.06.2010 - 07.07.2010
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.
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