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July 15-26th: Website--Arsaraha Bucha--Amazing decorations++



Thursday 15th 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 gecko disappeared with its prey. The other two confronted each other. I could see their tongues lashing and they wagged their tails aggressively before heading in different directions. Anyway, it passes the time till the next advertising break when I can leave and go back to ‘my’ house.

Friday 16th July

This evening we were supposed to meet Ajarn Ben’s sister, who I have not met before, but she was unable to come for some reason. We were going to have a family dinner at a restaurant but even though she could not come we went out to dinner anyway. We went to a different barbecue restaurant in Wang Saphun which had individual thatched huts for customers.

I didn’t know about the dinner until I got home from school. I stayed late because of the internet access and I updated this blog and the photo gallery and Rhe announced, as I got home about 6pm, that we were going out now. I had a hasty shower and changed out of my teaching outfit but in my rush I forgot to put some anti-mozzie cream on my shins, an area which the mozzies seem to love. Although the restaurant provided an anti-mozzie coil to burn they still came to feed on my shins and I got a few bites otherwise it was a very nice evening.

Saturday 17th July

I was happy when the noise from the wake across the road from where I live ended but, today, a new celebration began in the house next door and it involved loud music once again. This time it was because a 25 year old at the house is to become a monk and having his head shaved. The music started about 5am so I was still a bit sleepy when Ajarn Joy came to collect me at 7.30 to take me to her house about 30 minutes’ drive away.

Her mother is a teacher at an Informal School and the idea was for me to take a class of English language beginners. There were about twenty students aged from about 13 to 40 something and some had a few words more English than others. I have posted a group photo in my gallery for you. I did basic introductions and greetings which went ok but I could do no more than scratch the surface.

Three of my fellow teachers at school joined us for lunch and afterwards we drove to Phu Luang, a nearby mountainous park. There were a number of youths near where we parked and I thought they were just hanging around but two of them detached themselves from the group and became our unofficial guides. It transpired that they were going to do the climb anyway – they had been up many times before - and they were happy to help us.

Our aim was to see a series of nice waterfalls. It was a strenuous scramble over large rocks and small waterfalls through stands of bamboo and various trees. I didn’t see any wildlife or any flowers which was a disappointment. A couple of times I slipped and nearly fell twenty or more feet down a small cliff but I managed to get footholds at the last second and all was well but they were scary moments.

We didn’t actually go to the top of the mountain only to the topmost waterfall the source for which emerges from a cave. We tried asking our guide but he said that no one had ventured deep into the cave to see how far it extends. I have since done an internet search but there does not seem to be any information about it or about the source of the water. Not in English anyway. But I presume the rain falling higher up the mountain gathers in a channel which, over many years, has eroded the limestone to create a tunnel.

We came down by a different route. The path was well worn and passed through more bamboo and mixed trees. I heard a bird which had a wonderfully tuneful song but I didn’t see it and I don’t know what it was.

Sunday 18th July

A rest day, nothing planned. Did some washing first thing this morning and although the washing was kept indoors by the rain Ajarn Ben ironed the shirts for me in the late afternoon which was nice of her. The boys played on my laptop most of the afternoon.

Monday 19th July

Today saw the first set of last classes today and it was quite hard to say at the end of each class that I would not be seeing them again next week as usual.

Later, in the office, Ajarn Ben admitted to me that she had lost her self-control and slapped Saf on the forearm after he was very slow getting up and getting dressed and so missed the bus to school. His father took him and me to MBV and after dropping me off took Saf to his own school. After school, I went for a haircut in the village which wasn’t as bad as I feared. The two barbers, one male, one female, are more used to scalping students. I had the male barber and he did a pretty good job on my hair.

Tuesday 20th July

Today was the second day of last classes. During the morning all the students from M3/1 came into the office and presented me with an enormous basket of fruit as a parting gift which was very nice of them. A photo was taken which I will put up into the gallery as soon as I have got hold of it from the teacher who took it.

After classes finished I watched dancing rehearsals for Friday’s procession in the large meeting hall led by one of the boys. Even though they were wearing school uniform, and not costumes, the traditional Isaan dancing looked very good to my inexpert eye.

I also watched some takraw and volleyball practice that was taking place on the tarmac’d area where morning assembly is held.

I was just falling asleep tonight when I saw a small flashing light. At first, I thought I was beginning to dream, but then it was moving around my room just below the ceiling. It was the first firefly I have seen in Thailand, in fact I never realised they existed here.

Wednesday 21st July

A sunny day for a change. The teacher mother of one of my students organised a photo session of her son’s class with me after assembly. More than a dozen photos were taken and a couple of them are in my gallery.

Thursday 22nd July

There were classes as normal this morning for most students and then this afternoon everything was given over to preparing for tomorrow’s Arsahara festival in the village. In one part of the school the giant candle was being decorated. The core of the candle was metal with a three inch covering of orange-coloured wax around the shaft. Then, elaborate decorative wax shapes were placed around the wax working from the bottom upwards. Each shape was warmed with a hair dryer and then placed into position and then fixed in place with pins.

I also watched the float – a pick-up car - being prepared for the procession. By the time I got there the framework was already in place and so were some of the decorations. But there groups of (mainly) girls sitting amidst heaps of banana leaves which were being intricately folded into Naga head and other shapes. All of these attached to the frame in the correct position thanks to a staple gun.

If you wondered, like me, how the folded leaves retained their double bend in the decorative photos I uploaded about three weeks ago, the answer is two wires. First, a section of banana tree stem is cut into the shape of an extra long thick ruler and then two metal wires are then threaded through the stem. The banana leaves are then folded around this stem and stapled into place. Then the finishing touches, like the ‘tongue’ were added.

Other girls were working on the flower arrangements which will surround the base carryingthe huge candle. I took a series of photos to illustrate the creative work which I hope you enjoy.

I also saw the other school dancing group – eight girls - who will perform a special dance on stage tomorrow. They were rehearsing in a part of a long shed-like building that I had not been inside before. To my surprise the room looked like a real dance studio with a mirrored end wall and a tiled floor. The group performed well and, with costumes and the full music, will look really good.

Friday 23rd July

I got up early this morning because the Arsaraha Bucha (Lent) festival was due to open at 7.30am, or so Ajarn Joy told me. I walked to school and when I got there the office was full of girls in their traditional Isaan dress being
made-up before being taken to the assembly point at the village market.

I was concerned about the time because I had promised the band, Butterfly, that I would make another video of them and I did not want to miss their performance immediately after the openingceremony. I had a quick breakfast which Ajarn Joy made for me and then we set off in her car. Some cars and many motorcycles were converging on Muang Baeng school and we got stuck in a jam or a short time. The procession, meanwhile, had already started along the same road but in the opposite direction.

I began making the first of a series of videos which I knew could be stitched together to make a single movie later. Six other schools in the area were taking part but our school contingent was the largest. Each school had a float with a huge candle mounted on top and sitting in front was each school’s entrant in the costume/beauty competition. Each contestant was dressed in traditional costume and it seems some sort of agreement had taken place beforehand since each costume was a different colour so there were no clashes.

Each float was followed by each school’s contingent of dancers who were also dressed traditionally. To begin with, our dancers, rather incongruously, wore their normal fluffy sandals of various kinds but they had taken them off by the time they entered the village proper and danced barefoot.

I was walking ahead and stopping taking photos when I was approached by a strange woman. I have been approached by drunks and other strange people at various times during my time in Thailand and I just though this person was another village crank. This person had wild grey hair and had blood oozing from the corner of her mouth.

She asked me where I was from. I said London, and was just turning to make a getaway when Ajarn Joy came over to tell me that she was the famous presenter of a Channel 7 television show and she and the director wanted to interview me. So I went over to the others and was interviewed briefly. Then, I had the worst kind of embarrassment for me. The ‘crazy lady’ presenter pulled me over to dance with her, Isaan style of course.

Astute readers will recall that I’ve been dragged off to dance before so I was not unduly fazed except that, this time, my effort was televised and the presenter was deliberately acting crazy for laughs....at my expense!!

In the showground, in reality the grassy sports area in from of the local school, all the floats were lined up and there was a large crowd in front of the stage. Around the edge of the area food stalls had been set up as well as awnings to create shade.

Talking of the weather, it rained the day before and this morning the sky looked very threatening. It didn’t rain all day though it looked as if it really might at any moment.

During the morning, all the various school directors and members of the Provincial Education Authority gathered in a semi-circle to pose for a photo. A group of various young performers sat in front of them. I was busy taking a photo when I was hauled to the front by the ‘crazy lady’ and asked to sit in front at the centre. This time the director asked the questions and the ‘crazy lady’ just clowned and laughed alongside while another crew member held a microphone to my lips. As well as the usual questions I had to shout ‘Yes...yes...yes’ on cue which wasn’t too taxing or embarrassing. There is a photo of the occasion in my gallery.

My school was the last of the seven sets of dancers to perform on the grass in front of the stage and they did really well. The other dancing group, who I watched rehearsing a couple of days ago, were dressed in gold coloured costumes and they performed faultlessly.

Each of the activities – the candle making, the decorated float the dancing, and the costumes of the girls who sat in front of the candles on the floats, were competitive and during the procession the candles were measured for height. My school won the overall first prize of 2,000 baht (about 40 pounds).

After every contingent had danced my school’s float and many students went to the local temple where the candle was presented to the two monks there and put in place by the ‘altar’. Some prayers were said and a collection was made and about 2,800 baht (about 56 pounds) was presented to the monks.

At the temple, the Director had a few words with Ajarn Joy. It transpired that he has to go to Bangkok at the end of next week which conflicts with plans by my fellow Ajarns to have a farewell party for me as the Director would like to be present too and I am due to leave for Chiang Mai on Saturday 31st July.

So Ajarn Joy asked me if I could stay on for a couple of days so that the party could be held on Monday evening. Luckily, I have not yet booked my hotel in Chiang Mai so I could cut short my time there. If I do so, then I will miss revisiting the Sunday ‘Walking Street’ Market (where I took all those food and other photos) and it will little time other than make some visits to friends. I had, for example, planned to visit Doi Internon, the highest mountain in Thailand which is a day trip away from Chiang Mai. I think I will have to agree to the request though I have mixed feelings about it.

Ajarn Joy drove me back to the showground where the band were about to start playing. They had hooked themselves up to the large loudspeakers which were part of the stage set-up but the result was that their sound was awful despite there being a mixing desk some distance away from the front of the stage. The band seemed to know the sound wasn’t good and, besides which, by the time they started playing the only people that remained to listen to them were some inebriated villagers, teenagers, children and a few workers who were beginning to dismantle the stage and the sound rig.

I videoed a couple of songs and then Ajarn Joy and I left to have lunch in the village. We placed out order and sat down to enjoy our sugar cane drinks when she received a call to say the band were having a problem with the drunken villagers so we paused our food order and left our drinks and headed back to the showground. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

It turned out that the problem with the drunken villagers was not with the band as a whole, but with the lead guitarist and band leader who comes from a village which has some kind of ongoing dispute with the different village where the other villagers come from. Several other teachers responded to the phone call for help which was made by the office manageress.

We arrived about five minutes after receiving the phone call and the other villagers had disappeared and the band were packing their kit away. It was thought that the lead guitarist might face danger if he went home on his motorbike as he has to pass through the other village to get there so he was driven home instead. Ajarn Joy and I returned to the cafe and resumed our drinks and had lunch and that was the end of the excitement for the day.

Saturday 24th July

Quiet morning....after getting the boys to go home I had my laptop and my room to myself and it was nice to listen to some music via the internet and update this blog.

I have been thinking of giving my host family a leaving present and I thought about taking a family portrait and having it printed properly and framed. The problem was that Fern wasn’t home and any portrait needed to include her. So I was relieved mid-morning when she arrived from Nong Bua Lamphu and I duly took some family photos which look really nice and I can get them enlarged etc next week in Wang Saphung.

After lunch I went with Ajarn Ben and her husband to the local town market where she bought food for dinner this evening. I was also pressed to try some donut-like sweet things. There were three different kinds and Rhe urged me to have one of each which I did and they were nice.

On the way back we called in at his mother’s house to see her and to buy some rice. She seems fascinated – as most people are - with the details of my itinerary after I leave the school despite talking about the same subject on my first visit a couple of weeks ago. It’s slightly annoying being talked about as a farang as if I wasn’t there. Also rather annoying is the way that farangs are always expected to drink water and a glass will always appear though no one else drinks any. Wouldn’t it be nicer, and it would certainly save some effort and washing up, if I was asked if I wanted some water first ?

I have mentioned before about the obsession with food in Isaan and today saw a god illustration of it. We got back from the market after about an hour and the noodles and sauce that were bought were shared out as if lunch hadn’t taken place a little over an hour beforehand. I was urged to have some even though I had had three of the deep fried thingys at the market. Shortly after the noodles were eaten and dishes cleared away bags of popcorn were brought round and then some rice cake/biscuits. The flow of food is never ending.

About 5.30 Saf said that the family were going jogging around the school and he wanted me to come too. I opted to take photos while they jogged. Saf and his father did most of the jogging. In fact, Saf is a very determined boy and managed ten laps around the road circuit. His father completed almost as many too.

After dinner Rhe said he would like me to give Saf, Fern (who is at home for the 4-day holiday from Nongbua Lamphu) and their cousin, Noon, an English lesson tomorrow morning and Monday and Tuesday mornings too, all at 9.30. As nothing else seems to be on offer for the long break I agreed.

Sunday 25th July

A later than normal start this morning. Breakfast was brought over from the other house for me and Saf and we ate it downstairs at the dining table. My English class started on time and luckily, but unknown to me, they each had a Green Light English Textbook with them so I was able to use that as the basis for the lesson rather than the ideas I had thought of. It is a little difficult because Fern and Noon are 15 years old while Saf is 14. The two girls go to school in Nongbua Lamphu, while Saf goes to school a short bus ride from home and they are at different levels of English learning, the girls being more advanced than Saf.

One of the items in the textbook lesson talked about a collection, as in collecting things. Despite having an English-Thai dictionary to hand I found it impossible to get the collecting idea across to the girls. Worse still, was the idea that they could say they collected any item as an answer simply for the purposes of the exercise. Thai students, in general, do seem to lack any imagination at all even when they have the chance to say anything they like.

For example, I played a game of Consequences at the start of a class with M3/1 (the highest level stream of 14/15 year olds). In this game, I begin a story on the whiteboard and the students have to continue the story no matter how fantastical it becomes. I started the story with: ‘I came to school and then...’ There was no problem about the students taking part. The problem was that they simply recounted factually what they did during the day even when I added a line here and there saying things like: ‘...and I saw Ajarn Joy dancing on a desk and then...’ Thai students are full of fun, that’s true, but the many students I have met seem to lack much imagination at all. Sad really.

Before lunch Saf persuaded me to have a football kick around in the large tiled empty ground floor room of the new house. It was fun, though exhausting. He represented Spain (who he supported from the start of the World Cup) and I represented England. The pillars in the room provided interesting hurdles. My lunch was brought over from the old house while the family had theirs there which was a bit odd but then it is not the first time this has happened and I don’t really mind.

After lunch I settled down to prepare an address I will have to make to the school at assembly before I leave. I want to say more than just goodbye and thank you so I need some peace and quiet to think of something and type it but such time to myself is a rare commodity. I had written about two paragraphs when Rhe came in and said we are going to the farm and we duly set off with Saf and Bet as well.

Although I didn’t really want to go it was actually quite fun. Rhe took a different route which was full of twists and turns whereas the route previously taken was a rather boring straight road. We seemed to drive deeper and deeper into the countryside which is covered with acre after acre of rubber trees, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, maize (sweet corn), banana groves and papaya trees. The flat valleys of Loei with their reddish sandy soil are very fertile it seems.

Along the way we stopped at different places where Rhe showed me things to photograph such as the inedible fruit f the rubber tree, nice red flowers growing under the canopy of rubber tree leaves, sweet potato plants and a dried fertiliser making enterprise. Photos of all these, apart from the latter, are in my gallery.

On the way back I sat on the tailgate of the pick-up with the two boys and we called in to see Rhe’s oldest brother (photo in gallery) and later visited his uncle in the village. It was an interesting round trip.

Back home, the boys wanted to go jogging but I declined and they then suggested basketball and we duly had a basket contest which involved little running around for me. Our game soon turned from getting baskets to getting goals, England versus Thailand, and it was during this kickabout that I fell and pulled a muscle in my right knee. At first it didn’t hurt so when Saf’s his father, sister, younger brother and cousin appeared our game turned into a football game which was fun, tiring and a very sweaty affair.

I had to stop playing after a while because my leg was hurting and it transpired that I had pulled the muscle at the back of my knee but I had also bruised the front of the knee as it took the brunt of my fall. Luckily, Rhe had some boxing liniment which was applied to my knee.

For the rest of the evening I hobbled about. I was unable to completely straighten my leg or bend it very much, but I managed. The worst was having to get down to sit on the mat on the floor for dinner and getting up again was hard too.

Monday 26th July

I didn’t sleep much last night because I was unable to find a comfortable position without my leg hurting so I tossed and turned all the time.

I had breakfast downstairs with Saf and, later, I began the second of the English classes which went off ok. I felt really tired and rested upstairs in my room while the two boys played games on my laptop.

Later on, I was called downstairs where, to my surprise, I was asked to plant three different fruit trees. This was a follow-up from a question I was asked last night by Ajarn Ben and Rhe about which were my favourite fruits. I chose Mango, Papaya and Longan and it was these three young trees I was asked to plant in prepared holes in the ground around the new house. It was a thank you to me from the family. The mango tree, I was told, is of a type that has especially large fruits weighing a kilo or more.

Apart from that highlight, I dozed on my bed for a lot of the day or read my book. About 5.30 we set off for Loei where the family gave me a farewell dinner at their favourite barbecue restaurant which was nice of them if a little unimaginative. For some reason, the sale of alcohol was banned today but it was probably something to do with Buddhist holiday though, oddly, alcohol sales are back to normal tomorrow which is the last day of the holiday.

A curiosity I have not mentioned before is that Thais don’t feel the same way about sweet and savoury foods as we do. We usually follow savoury food with a dessert while a Thai will happily mix the two together and dipping into a dessert (ice cream or mini profiteroles, for example) while also eating a spicy salad, as happened last night. I noticed this in Ban Chad as well but thought it might be a one-off, but not so.

Posted by talismanic 08:27 Archived in Thailand

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