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July 27-Aug 2nd: Farewell dinner-Goodbye MBV-Bus hold-up++



Tuesday 27th July

I slept ok last night despite sleeping during the day yesterday and my leg is much better too. Another day and it will be nearly back to normal I think.

I did some washing this morning and, as usual, this was the signal for the heavens to open and I had to hurriedly bring my washing in again.

I took the last of the three English classes this morning. The first thing I did was to revise what we covered yesterday morning. This included questions about capital cities. They had difficulty remembering that Paris, Tokyo, Seoul and Brasilia are capitals of their respective countries and, yesterday, I had to tell them the name of the highest mountain in Thailand which I would have thought would be part of basic knowledge especially as it is not that far away from Loei.

Fern and Noon left this afternoon to go back to Nongbua Lamphu and we said our goodbyes. I haven’t got t know Fern as well as I have the two boys as she only visits here occasionally but I wished her and her cousin good luck in the futures.

I eventually had some time to myself on my laptop this afternoon when I prepared something to do in class for the rest of this week. I also composed an address to the school which I am expecting to have to give on Friday, my last day as a teacher.

Wednesday 28th July

Back to school after the long 4-day Lent holiday. I had a lot of things to do on my laptop, such as updating my blog and photo gallery but although I had the first period free it was difficult to have time to myself to do these things because other teachers want to see your photos, or students want copies of this and that and my own time vanishes without trace.

During a lesson this afternoon one of the students sitting by the windows pointed outside. When I looked I saw two men, though it was impossible to tell what sort of age they were, being chased away by some other students. It seems the two men were intent on stealing whatever they could lay their hands on though they had picked the wrong time of day when there were a lot of students around. Moreover, they were wearing casual clothes and could never have passed themselves off as students!

Thursday 29th July

After assembly this morning I noticed many of the boys going into one of the vocational teaching buildings nearby instead of going towards the classroom buildings as normal. My curiosity aroused, I went to take a look. The boys were sitting cross-legged in rows on the floor as if attending a class. But this was no class. All the boys were here because they had lost their scout berets (Made in England) and, by the time I took a look punishment was well under way. Each boy came forward in turn, Wai’d the Scout Leader and prostrated himself on the ground and he was then given one stroke of the cane, a few received two strokes. Punishment given, each boy got to his feet and Wai’d again in almost one swift movement and dashed off rubbing his bottom and, this being Thailand, smiling. The boys awaiting their turn also smiled as they watched their friends being beaten. There was no effort to hide what was happening, and no embarrassment either and I took a photo which is in my gallery.

It is interesting how different classes react to me. Every class has been nice and polite and their individual characters have emerged more and more as the weeks went by. But when it comes to leaving, some classes don’t react at all whereas other classes have given me little presents and wanted me to autograph their exercise books and so on.

At the end of all my classes yesterday, today and, hopefully, tomorrow I will try and take a class photo as a lasting reminder of my time with them. I will post some of these in my gallery. Why only some, I hear you ask ? Well, I doubt you will have the interest or time to look at twenty-one similar class photos – if you recall, I have had that number of different classes each week.

I stayed late at school this afternoon and didn’t leave till 6pm. This was because I had to finalise the address I will have to give to the school in the morning and, because I can never be sure of having a wireless connection at home, I tried to get as much done in the school office as possible.

At home, Rhe had got a couple of bottles of beer and we enjoyed drinking them. Ajarn Ben was there too and they presented me with a pair of black trousers and a blue check shirt which was very nice

Friday 30th July

This morning I decided to wear a proper shirt and tie for maximum impact because I had to address the school during assembly. Once again, Ajarn Joy translated for me and we each had radio mikes. Because several people had already asked me, I told the students about my travel plans after I leave the school and about what I do in London. I also had a lot of people to thank and then, to finish, I had a message for all the students. I told them that the song “Whatever Will Be Will Be”, which every Thai student in the country knows well, is wrong and that, in reality, it is Whatever You Make It Will Be Will Be!!

The last time I wore a shirt and tie with my best near-white (that’s the actual colour!!) trousers all the female ajarns kept saying Handsome Man to me every time they saw me. It was the same today. If only I could believe them!!

I had one period free this morning and two this afternoon but with so many people wanting a slice of my time to chat or DVDs made of my photos or videos the backlog of things I need to do online is growing.

The English Department, which consists of Ajarns Orapin, Mayuree, Malaitong, Joy and Mr Surawit,
took me out to dinner this evening which was very nice of them. Ajarn Joy drove me and Mr Surawit to Loei and at one point she said I was being very quiet. So I asked them if they had heard the news this morning about a bomb going off in Bangkok. Ajarn Joy surprised me by asking how I knew and if someone had phoned the news to me. She seemed surprised when I said it was one of the headlines on the BBC News website. But getting any comments on the topic out of Ajarn Joy or Mr Srawit was impossible.

Conversation then shifted to Mr Thaksin. Ajarn Joy asked me what foreigners think of him. I said it was hard because I have stayed in villages where the people love him for providing roads and water and electricity and all sorts of other things. Whether this amounts to bribing the electorate is a different question. Other people, I said, hate him for his corruption and dubious methods of wealth accumulation. But, I ended up saying, until the Thaksin question is resolved somehow there will not be permanent stability in Thailand. Both Ajarn Joy and Mr Surawit professed to hate Thaksin, but squeezing any opinion out of them was impossible which was odd as we were in a car and there was no one else to hear anything said. So I concluded they must only be work colleagues, not friends, despite the smiles and banter and didn’t want to reveal their true thoughts to each other. Peace and harmony, it’s called here. It is certainly a conversation killer though. No wonder most conversations seem to revolve around the peaceful and harmonious topic of food.

We went to a restaurant in Loei which was like a huge high ceilinged barn with tables at different levels and a stage on which a band played Thai folk/pop music and large plants were all over the place. Though the evening was nice, it was no more than that partly because I was the only person drinking any alcohol (only one bottle of beer all evening) and I don’t think my fellow ajarns socialise much, or even at all, outside school-related activities.

One of the dishes we had was made up of chunks of various fruits, covered with a light mayonnaise, sprinkled with cashew nuts and garnished with battered prawns and lettuce leaves. It was so delicious a second serving was ordered and there is a photo of it in my gallery which also shows another dish we had which was chicken with cashew nuts which came in an edible basket. Both ‘sep’ in Thai or ‘delicious’ in English.

Saturday 31st July

It was a nice sunny day today for a change and I did some washing. I took my laptop downstairs where I could sit at the dining table as it really is uncomfortable sitting on the floor with my laptop on a coffee table in my room.

About 10am we went to Loei. On the way we collected Saf from his school where he had been preparing some plants to give to the teachers. Then we went into Wang Saphung to a secluded temple in an area I had not been taken to before. It was near the river Loei, which flows through the town, which is a tributary of the Mekong.

My heart sank as I thought the family were going to do some worshipping. Rhe had already tried to explain something about what was going to happen but I didn’t understand. All I grasped was that it involved me somehow. When we got there Saf jumped out of the car and, fending off the dogs, went round the side of the building to see if the monk was at home. He came back and said no one was there, so we left, and drove to Loei.

A couple of days ago I said to Ajarn Ben that I would very much like to give the family something for the new house as my way of saying thank you to them for everything they have done for me. I had thought about a washing machine since Ajarn Ben does all the washing by hand even though there is a modern-looking washing machine in the old house which I assume was broken because it was not used. But turns out that the reason for this is that there is a water shortage in Muang Baeng and everyone is affected. The water company has promised to increase supplies in six months so the washing machine will be used after that.

The other item I thought of was a refrigerator since the one in the old house looks very old and one of the glass shelves broke the other day. It’s also not really big enough for all the family’s food storage needs. So we settled on that idea and this is what we went to Loei today to buy. We found a really nice Samsung fridge which Ajarn Ben and the family liked. It has a large freezer section on top of a normal size fridge and, after a 2000 baht discount, it was only 7190 baht plus a 200 baht delivery charge. So that was my thank you gift for the family.

Whilst in Loei we also visited a small department store. It was a curious place with men’s and women’s clothes on the ground floor, a supermarket on the first floor, and more clothes and things like camping gear and video games for kids to play on the two floors above that. It was from this store that Ajarn Ben bought the trousers to give to me. As they were unsure of my waist size they took from my room a pair of trousers that I use for teaching. This particular pair was a mistaken London purchase of mine with a 36” waist but it served its purpose, however, Ajarn Ben thought that this confirmed my actual waist size and so the trousers she bought had a 36” waist as well. But 34” is more accurate. At the store I was able to change the trousers and have the leg length adjusted to fit with no problem at all.

On our way back we had lunch and then continued on our way back to Wang Saphung where we revisited the temple. This time, the monk was in residence. We entered the modern viharn carrying a plastic bag of orange drinks and soya milk cartons as well as two saplings which, I was told, were of a tree from India. Kneeling in front of the elderly monk my birth details were worked out. The idea is that the saplings, a symbol of new life, will be planted in the temple grounds with details of my birthday. The monk had a lot to say and seemed very interested in me. He said I was not strong enough and gave Ajarn Ben a small bottle containing dried berries, about the size and hue of blueberries, which, the monk said, I should take every day to make me strong.

I am fairly certain that the tree from India today is the same species as the first ‘tree from India’ that I saw at the local temple next to the school at Mungwa which held the English Summer Camp and which had tempting but inedible fruit dangling from its branches.

About half an hour after we got back home the fridge was delivered to the new house which, I thought, was pretty good service.

It had been very hot all day so when we got home the two boys immediately went to the pond (in reality, a small water reservoir for the house) for a swim. I declined because I really needed to do things on my laptop and make some more bookings etc for my coming trip on the internet. To do this I planned to take my laptop to the school where I can get a good wi-fi signal. But I found myself left in charge of the boys. The pond is really an excavated hole and the water is invisible from the house so I felt obliged to stay there just in case something dreadful happened to either of them.

A little later Rhe appeared and said it was time to drink the two bottles of beer we had bought earlier and we had a good chat. And so my time vanishes once again.

Sunday 1st August

Wow!! August already. I miss all the usual trappings of summer in London and now August has arrived and it rains almost every evening/night here.

This morning we went off to Wang Saphung to buy some baby fish with which to stock the pond. Rhe bought 100 of three different types of fish from the fishery. They were supplied swimming around in large plastic bags which were inflated with oxygen from a gas bottle and then tied securely.

Monday 2nd August

Rain thundered down as I woke up. After I had showered and shaved Saf and Rhe came to give me their leaving presents. The idea was for Saf to present them to me before the bus came to take him to school. But I was only dressed in some boxer shorts with a towel draped around my neck. They gave me three presents: a diary with all their personal details in it as well as photos and messages from everyone. It was a super idea and deeply touched me. Fern gave me a picture she had made and framed of a horse in gold which was beautifully done and the boys gave me soft and warm scarves.

I spent most of the day sorting things out and packing. I decided to send some 6.2kg of stuff back to London in a box. Rhe went to Muang Baeng to get me the postal box and I filled it with my teaching papers, the pieces of material I’ve been given, my plastic waterproof jacket which I have never used so far and my blue bath towel.

The rain had stopped by the time we set off for Wang Saphung. I took a video from the car which includes scenes of flooded fields and roads. Quite a few people along the road were fishing in the paddies and catching very small fish.

The post office was very busy so we went for lunch and had rice with crispy pork and greens which was very nice and finished it with a chocolate chip ice cream.

At 3.45 Rhe drove me into school because it had started to rain heavily again. I sat in the office chatting to Ajarns Joy and Ben and others who popped in. About an hour later I was ushered into the Hall of Fame, the first time I had been in there, and here were 19 other Ajarns there and then the Director joined us who led me to the centre of the u-shaped table while the other teachers gathered round the arms as it were. About sixteen of them presented me with farewell gifts beginning with the Director. Soon I had a large pile of presents on the table in front of me and it dawned on me that I was back to square one as far as luggage space was concerned!

After the present giving I said my thank you’s to the Director and to all the Ajarns and then the Director said how impressed he was with me and thanked me for all the work I had done and how sorry he was to see me go and wished me the best of luck in the future.

Ajarn Joy drove me and my large bag of gifts back to the house where I enjoyed a final couple of Leo beers with Rhe. Later, I had dinner with all the family at the garage restaurant we had been to before but this time I took a photo. At about 8.30pm Rhe drove me and the family into Wang Saphung where our first stop was the ‘Safe Food Street Market’, as the sign proclaims, where
Saf, Bet and I went to a particular stall which sold a variety of homemade Thai desserts. This was because a couple of weeks ago I had commented how much I liked the crunchy sweet nutty dessert we had after dinner one evening. It turned out that this dessert is only available at one stall in Wang Saphung where the vendor makes it and the other desserts on sale at her home. Saf bought four different squares of desserts for me to enjoy on my bus journey.

Then we went to the bus station to await the arrival of the bus coming from Udon Thani and going to Chiang Mai. Soon, some of my fellow Ajarns arrived to see me off including Ajarns Joy, Somphong, and her student son, Champ, and Ajarn Orapin and her son, Dream. Various people pressed packets of mint drops or chewing gum into my hands as well as those nasal inhalers which Thais never seem to be without. We had to wait more than twenty minutes for the bus to arrive and when it did Rhe hefted my case into the storage compartment for me while I stood in the doorway of the bus to wave goodbye to all my well-wishers. It was an emotional moment as the door closed and the bus began to move away.

The bus journey should have taken nine hours but ended up taking nearly fourteen hours. I slept fitfully and woke up numerous times. I woke at 7.30am when we stopped unexpectedly and noticed that we were in a line of vehicles with another line alongside. I recognised where we were because my bus from Chiang Mai to Wang Saphung two months ago stopped on the same stretch of road.

So there we were. Time passed and nothing moved. I tried hard to figure out the cause of the delay and thought of various scenarios the likeliest being an accident, though I was wrong about that as I was to discover later.

I noticed that we were on a paved section of road and that on the opposite side the road was unpaved and very muddy from all the rain. Various small vehicles drove by on the unpaved road and soon a queue built up which soon became stationary and I began to think nobody was directing traffic because groups of four or five heavy vehicles at a time began to drive slowly past on the only remaining section of unpaved road heading in the opposite direction to my bus.

After two hours we began to inch forward. Eventually we reached the actual hold-up which was not an accident, as I had thought, but a part-built bridge. An excavator was busy working on the exposed concrete sections of the bridge which we had to cross. For some reason, all the heavy traffic, such as my bus, was being directed over the single lane bridge thus forcing two lanes of traffic in both directions into one lane. All the light vehicles were being directed onto the old, lower road, A lot of people were standing round watching the traffic crawl slowly over the bridge presumably waiting for one or other vehicle to plunge down into the heavily swollen river below. I took a photo as we crossed the bridge which is in my gallery.

The remaining journey passed off uneventfully passing through Uttaradit which is a bigger city than I had imagined and one which looked quite attractive with lots of trees and gardens. Chiang Mai beckons again.....

Posted by talismanic 19:59 Archived in Thailand

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Is London going to feel like home after this!? I always feel like Thai food after reading your blog...
From Jenny

by amontilado

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