08.07.2010 - 14.07.2010
Thursday 8th July
The morning assembly had a different finish today. All the boys went off but most of the girls remained. A selection process followed to choose the prettiest girls to dance at a big festival taking place in the village in a couple of weeks. Most of the teachers took an interest in the proceedings which, this being Thailand, were guided by three boys who remained behind who al happen to be gay.
I am sure almost any of the girls in the school would be perfect for the festival because one of the female students, who was made up and sang in costume a couple of weeks ago on Sunthon Phu Day, was unrecognisable as being her in my class next day.
As usual it was Scout Day today with students and teachers all dressed in their scout uniforms. Up till now, apparently, the school has been training the students to a point where they can perform a parade which they are required to do under the curriculum. Today was the first parade day and it was held on the grass football pitch and I have some photos in my gallery. It was a really hot afternoon without a breath of wind.
There were a few rehearsals and then the students ‘marched’ around an imaginary square. Then the bust of King Chulalongkorn (every school has the same one!!) was brought out and reverently placed on a stand and it was saluted and the parade was addressed by the senior scout/teacher.
The school has the instruments for a brass band but the school does not have a qualified music teacher and in this rural location such people must be as rare as hen’s teeth which is a shame. The consequence was that during the parade the beat was kept by a boy on a bass drum and one of the teachers on a snare drum. Considering no orders such as ‘left, right...left, right’ were given, the boys kept almost in step.
Another disappointing aspect of scouting Thai style is that no skills are taught, at least, I have not seen any taught at the schools I have been at. The scout uniform is something you put on every Thursday as a matter of routine, students and teachers alike and I don’t think anyone thinks very much about scouting beyond the weekly routine. I tried talking to one of the teachers about what scouting is really about but he showed no interest at all and asked no questions.
In passing, it was interesting to discover today that all the berets worn by the scouts here, and possibly throughout Thailand, are made in England out of 100% pure wool.
Debate about which team will win the World Cup continues. Thai tv has a live octopus in a tank which has the answer. Since the knockout stage the octopus has settled on one of two boxes each emblazoned with a team flag and each time that team has won. The octopus settled on Spain the other evening so it will be interesting to see if is right this time or not.
There is some kind of lottery going on here connected to the World Cup. One of the teachers has a brother working at the post office in Bangkok who sent her bundles of pre-printed postcards on which you have to select the team you think will win the Cup – Spain or Holland. You buy the cards for 2 baht each so the more you buy the better your chances of your card being picked out of the box. Apparently, the winner will go to South Africa to watch the Final on Sunday. The Director has bought 500 baht’s (about £10) worth of cards!
Friday 9th July
The wake continued over the road from where I live! For some arcane reason there are two wakes of three days each. It seems that each wake is for different people to come and pay their respects. The body of the man who died of AIDS has already been cremated I was told.
The sound system got going at 5am this morning which is ok if you are going to keep the sound within your own home but to have it so loud that it broadcasts not only the music but also the prayers of the monks is, I think, inconsiderate. On the other hand, it may be deliberate for the benefit of other locals. I don’t think that is the case though because there are few other houses nearby and the actual village is about half a mile away or more.
Another curiosity is that Thais go to some length to keep their skin as white as possible. Here at school some boys and girls, as well as teachers, shade their faces when outside in the sun. Others rub Johnson’s Baby Powder onto the faces before venturing outside after class. Whether the baby powder is effective is an unsolved mystery. I have mentioned in class the fact that westerners pay good money to come to hot sunny countries, such as Thailand, to enjoy the beaches and get a tan whereas Thais do the exact opposite.
This afternoon, as always, students gathered in the open space under one of the three main buildings for a Buddhist cultural lesson, the last of the week. It is difficult to know what they think of this but even if I could ask them in Thai I feel certain they would never comment negatively about it.
I was supposed to join Ajarn Surawit and Ruung to go to a wedding party near Loei city this evening but I changed my mind. This is because I realised that once there I would be trapped. They are both singing in a certain traditional style at the party and will most probably have to stay till the very end which may be quite late. I have an early start in the morning to go to the Tha Li border crossing to renew my visa stamp and I would rather be awake during the journey than half asleep with tiredness. Another reason is that I feel sure I will be the only Farang at the party and by the time all the whisky and beer have been consumed some drunken Thai will want to dance with me or pester me which is something I can do without.
About 9.30pm, after dinner this evening, Rhe asked me if I would like to go to the farm with him, Fern and Saf. Fern sat in the passenger seat while Rhe drove there. Saf and I were in the back of the pick-up. As usual, mats had been spread out on the floor of the pick-up and two cushions provided as pillows. Saf and I lay here while we motored slowly through Muang Baeng village and along the road to Rhe’s rubber plantation. It was a cloudless night and it was nice to look up at the stars, so bright and clear. The pick-up stopped in the depths of the plantation and Rhe, Fern and Saf took a tapping tool each and went off to start work. I followed Saf. Like the others, he had a light attached to a headband and we went from tree to tree cutting a sliver of new bark to stimulate the emission of the valuable sap which flows surprising quickly into a small cup. Each sliver is cut at an angle so the sap flows down the slope and is caught by a small ‘gutter’ (I don’t know the actual
I forgot to mention that last Sunday, after visiting the temple and having lunch at a roadside food stall, we stopped at a few shops in Wang Saphung. At one point, Saf got out of the car to get an ice cream and got me one as well. It was the strangest ice cream I have ever had. It consisted of four small scoops placed in a line on a soft bread roll. It was nicer than it sounds, but an odd idea don’t you think ?
Saturday 10th July
I went to Thai Li today to renew my visa. Ajarn Ben brought breakfast over to the house for me and Saf at 7.15 which was nice of her and at 8am Ajarn Mayuree came in the school car to collect me. The driver, one of the former teachers at the school who now does part-time work there and is also a rubber farmer, took us to Ajarn Orapin’s house where we collected her and her son Dream. We then set off for Tha Li which is north of Loei on the Thai side of one of the Friendship Bridges leading to Lao.
We stopped off at a shop near Loei where the two other Ajarns bought a quantity of snack food for the journey which was otherwise very pleasant but uneventful. We took a wrong turning once but the mistake was soon corrected.
The border crossing is a little way beyond Tha Li where a sprawling market has developed. A smart looking building housed the office where the others, being Thai, had to buy, for 40 baht, a one-day Pass to leave the country. Armed with the paperwork we walked over to a small building where there was a single office for departures. On the way we p[assed a sign which said that Luang Prabang is 363 km distant. I presented my passport and waited. He asked if I spoke Thai and I said I only spoke ‘nit noy’ (a little bit). He then asked if I had a Thai visa and I said I did but as he flicked over the pages of my passport he failed to see it. He handed me the passport and I found the visa and showed him. A biro line had been drawn diagonally across the visa by mistake when I did the visa run at Mae Sai thus, at first glance, invalidating it.
When I pointed out to the officer that my visa is valid till September 29th, 2010 and that it is an M-type visa for multiple entry he relented but said I should point this out to the officer when I come back into Thailand though he might only give me a 15 day visa. This was very worrying as the last thing I want to do is to have to do another visa run in a couple of weeks.
We got a tuk tuk to take the five of us to the other side of the bridge and there was a brief passport check halfway across by Lao officers. It seems that few farang have come this way into Lao before
The Entry office on the other side was housed in a large new-looking building (see photo) but it appeared deserted. Someone came across the road and knocked up the person on duty to attend to me and 1400 baht (nearly £30) later I had a new Lao visa. The Lao officers were all very chatty and helpful and I was told afterwards that the reason was because they, like Ajarns Orapin and Mayuree, speak Loei, the local language here which is more sing-song than Thai and words flow into one another more, or so it seems to me.
We climbed back aboard the tuk tuk to travel the 200m or so to the market. It was baking hot and we all had umbrellas – I never thought I would ever use one but the ever-resourceful Ajarn Orapin had brought one especially for me – and it was nice to have the shade provided.
The market was very dull. A large number of stalls sold copy designer handbags for around £10 each. Many others sold a variable combination of playing cards, cigarettes, beer and whisky. A few sold CDs and a few others sold dried food of different kinds. We spent about an hour there which seems a long time but the two other ajarns wanted to browse handbags, what else ???
We got another tuk tuk for the 200-odd meters back to the immigration building and left Lao with no fuss. There was a small duty free shop which appeared closed but when I looked inside I could see the shopkeeper lying on the floor on a blanket and she hastily got up and unlocked the door. The shop only stocked spirits and clearly had very few customers so I can well understand why the shopkeeper was sleeping! Unlike the duty free shops at Nong Khai, where I did my first visa run in January, the shopkeeper would not discount the price. A 75cl bottle of genuine Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky was 800 baht (about £18), take it or leave it. So I took it as a present for Mr Songsak at Ban Chad.
On the way back we stopped off at a nearby Phra That, which is some sort of sacred shrine/temple, and we climbed to the top from where there were some nice views. I had to kneel clutching the three incense sticks, two candles and small flower garland and pray, as the others did. I have had to do this before so knew the drill. Ajarn Mayuree said to me, before we knelt, that ‘some Muslims don’t like to pray like us.’ I felt like saying that many others might not like it either. I went through the motions just to keep the peace. There are some photos in the gallery.
Back in the car heading towards Loei, Ajarns Orapin and Mayuree discussed where to have lunch. I had said that I would like to pay for lunch as a way of saying thank you to everyone for coming to Tha Li with me. It was eventually decided to have lunch in Loei but this didn’t stop the flow of snacks which had been eaten all the way out from Loei too.
Lunch was at the same restaurant that Ajarn Joy took me to about three weeks ago and it was very nice. We had about six different dishes – see photo – one of which was Som Tam, the green papaya salad I have mentioned before. Normally it is very ‘phet’ (pronounced ‘pet’) or spicy-hot but the chillies can be left out as it is always freshly made and then I think it is really delicious.
Talking of food, I have been asked a few times if I would like to have Cow Pat, yes, true!! When I first heard the name of the dish I did a double-take and thought though Thais eat everything, surely, they would not go that far. It turns out to be rice with vegetables...Khao (cow), is rice....Phad (pat), is vegetables.
On the way back from Loei after lunch we stopped off at a nursery where one of the ajarns wanted to buy a plant. I got out of the card to take a look round expecting to see some nice tropical flowering plants but it was the dullest nursery I have ever seen. There was nothing there that did not grow locally. The only mild excitement was when, unknown to me, a giant grasshopper landed on my trouser leg. I only knew it was there when Dream took a photo of it before picking it off my leg to throw it elsewhere.
I got back home about 4.30 and found I had about thirty minutes before my host family left for Fern’s birthday dinner in Loei. We set off in the car, Ajarn Ben, her husband Rhe, Fern and the two boys, and we went to the farm where we collected Rhe’s younger sister (the one with the chicken farm) and her young son, Tun, who is about seven or eight. We changed vehicles too. We left the car at the farm and continued on to Loei in a pick-up with the three boys and Rhe’s sister in the pick-up section at the back.
We had dinner at the same barbecue restaurant where Bet had his dinner about three weeks ago. It was very nice. Fern has an amazing appetite and ate a huge amount including three large desserts!
As before, the bought cake was produced at home. Sixteen candles placed on it and Fern blew them out (see pic) and we all ate a sticky sweet slice.
Tun and Bet get along well together and they bounced around the big open tiled ground floor hallway of the house I live in chasing each other around the pillars and having lots of fun. The trouble was, for their respective mothers, to get them to leave to go home and go to bed. Eventually they succeeded and everyone left and I could go to bed too.
One of the really nice things I discovered when I got back home from Tha Li was that Ajarn Ben had done all my washing for me. There is no washing machine so it all has to be done by hand. So it was very nice of her as I was aiming to get it done tomorrow morning.
Sunday 11th July
A lazy day. Saf played games on my laptop while I read my book we also played some games of Pelmanism, the memory game, which he enjoys. Bet bounced around as usual and the boys often commandeered my laptop to play games during the day. It wasn’t until 9.30pm that I finally had some peace and could do some work on my computer.
Monday 12th July
Ajarn Joy was not at school today. I heard she went to Loei but I am not sure why. In fact, three of the Thai teachers I normally work with on Mondays all had other work to do and did not attend class. If I was not working at the school, and the Thai teacher didn’t have me as back-up, the various classes would have been given some work to do by themselves. To my way of thinking, the kind of administrative problems that the missing teachers sort out should be done either before school starts in the morning, during the lunch break or after classes finish at 3.40. But then, that’s not the Thai way it seems.
It is an annoying coincidence that nearly every time I have a free period the internet network is ‘down’ and I have to postpone doing things such as making my flight/hotel bookings in August.
Tuesday 13th July
The school day is becoming routine now and nothing unusual happened to report here. After school I walked home and stopped off at my host family’s house as Ajarn Ben was by the entrance. I showed her my itinerary for the period after I leave MBV school and she and Rhe were very interested in my future movements.
Later, we drove to the market but called in at Rhe’s mother’s house first. After the introductions, when she wanted to know the answers to all the usual questions, we walked round the side of the house where a machine was milling rice from last year’s harvest. I also visited her vegetable garden where she grows chillies, pumpkins and a green vegetable you see halved in Thai curries. There was also a banana tree in flower within which I could see baby bananas forming and I took a photo for my gallery.
Afterwards we went to the market where Ajarn Ben bought food for dinner and I spotted some delicious peanut crispy things. They were made from small whole peanuts embedded in a hard thin sweet caramel-coloured sheet the size of a banknote. I imagine the peanuts were immersed when the sugar mixture was molten and then left to cool and harden. I have seen similar things in the UK but don’t know what they are called.
I also saw a stall I missed on my last visit to this market which was run by an old lady selling bamboo shoots. I’ve often bought sliced bamboo in tins but have never seen whole shoots for sale before. Ajarn Ben bought some and we had them for dinner. The outer layers were peeled off and they were ready to eat but, sadly, they taste ok but have very little flavour.
Wednesday 14th July
I had a free period this morning and I thought I would, at last, be able to make some flight/hotel bookings inline. I had barely got started when there was a power cut. Power was restored about five minutes before my next class which left insufficient time to do anything useful.
I had another less than happy class with M6/1. This is supposedly the senior stream, and therefore the best, class in the school with students likely to go to university. What annoyed me wasn’t their miserable English, though after nearly ten years of English classes I would have thought they would be a lot better than they are. No, what annoyed me was the persistent chattering amongst some of the students. I told them that they would not chatter like this if Ajarn Joy was present so why do so when it is my class ? Whether they understood this is doubtful since the chattering continued. I then repeated what I’d said more forcefully and they seemed to get the message. But, blow me down, one girl in particular still chatted to her neighbour after that which made me angry so I said as strongly as I could that when they become teachers, as some of them want to do, then they can enjoy classes that chatter when they do the teaching. But, until then, I am the teacher and they are the students and they must pay attention and keep their mouths shut until asked a question. That finally grabbed their attention and they listened to me for the rest of the class. Am I a grump or
Just as I got home Rhe asked me if I would like to go to his younger sister’s farm to see the chickens being sold. When we got there the unfortunate chicks were being loaded into airy plastic boxes, 20 to a box, and then finely sprayed with water to keep them cool. There is a photo in my gallery of the interior of the chicken shed. I didn’t stay long enough to see this but once all 2,000 chickens were in the boxes they were loaded onto pick-up trucks and driven to Udon Thani for slaughtering and processing to go on the menu at Finger-Lickin’ KFC.
I asked about prices and was told that each chick was sold for between 40-50 baht (between 88p and £1.10). I am not sure what KFC Thailand’s prices are like but they are probably a bit less than those in the UK.
As I was going to bed, and just after I switched off the light, I noticed the shadow of a lizard on the tiled floor. One side of my room consists of large glass doors and the lizard was on the outside of the glass and I immediately thought the lizard’s underside, including its ‘hands’, would make an interesting photo. The result is now in my gallery though I wish I had been able to avoid the reflection of the flash on the glass door.
Thursday 14th July
At lunchtime I had the chance I have been waiting for to speak to the Director about creating an English language section of the www.mbvschool.com website. At the moment, the address is in English but the entire website is in Thai. Other similar schools in Thailand have English sections which encourage the use and learning of the language as well as imparting all the news and information about the school itself.
The Director thought it was a good idea, and so does Mr I.T., the teacher here who looks after the website and whose name I can never remember. Whether anything will come of my idea is another matter. I told the Director I would happily help check the English for any mistakes before anything is uploaded since nothing is worse than trying to read strangled English online. I also told him that I can still do this via email after I leave the school.
A good example of how not to compose an English section on a school website can be found at www.loeipit.ac.th which is the school where Ajarn Joy attended a seminar earlier this week. Just click on the flag at the top for the English version. I thought it was hilarious when I first read it but then....well, what do you think ?
After dinner with my host family they often watch a tv soap opera which, though I can’t understand what the characters are saying in Thai, seems to revolve around tempestuous love affairs and bumping one another off. While this is going on I sometimes watch the gekkos on the wall. They hide out behind the calendar or poster and appear now and again. This evening I saw a small one catch a large moth that had fluttered by. Just then, two other gekkos appeared and seemed intent on grabbing the moth for themselves. A chase ensued and the first gekko disappeared with its prey. The other two confronted each other. Their tongues lashed and their tails wagged aggressively before they headed in different directions. Anyway, it passes the time till the next advertising break when I can leave and go back to ‘my’ house.