10.08.2010 - 27.08.2010
THIS POSTING BRINGS MY BLOG COMPLETELY UP-TO-DATE. I HOPE YOU ENJOY IT.
Tuesday 10th August
This morning I felt happy that my left heel had healed up completely and was back to normal. If you remember, I had gouged a chunk out of my heel about ten days ago and it went septic and was very painful.
But my happiness was short-lived. As I stepped off the terrace where I had breakfast my left heel caught a small projection and I gouged out another piece of flesh just where the previous injury was. It was incredibly painful and it started bleeding immediately. Once the pain had diminished I hobbled off to the pharmacy where I bought some Optiskin plasters (transparent and waterproof) and some antiseptic cream in an effort to keep the flies of all sizes off my wound and to keep it dry and clean. The last two difficult to do in the rainy season wearing only flip-flops!
But I didn’t have too much time to waste as my flight back to Chiang Mai departed at 1310. Phone took me to the airport on his bike which was kind of him. I got there very early and read my book somehow resisting the temptation to doze off.
Once again, I was unlucky about getting a window seat so I didn’t get another view of the valley of stepped rice fields I saw on my incoming flight but I did get some great views of the heavily forested mountains and very long meandering rivers.
I checked into the Anoma, the same hotel as before, and had a rest and connected up my laptop. I was looking forward to Friday’s interview and wondered if I would have to give an impromptu lesson or not. I thought I had better prepare something just in case though I still felt sure that the job was mine for the taking as they want a native English speaker so badly.
Wednesday 11th August
I was worried about the wound on my heel and the open sore on my right big toe. I went to the pharmacy and got some advice from the pharmacist – here in Thailand pharmacists are able to give advice on simple health matters, for anything complex they will refer you to a hospital, or you could go to a clinic. I bought some cleansing alcohol and some of that yellow stuff that doctors use to disinfect something. I was also given some antibiotic tablets for the septic wound on my big toe.
Thursday 12th August
I got going early this morning because my flight to Udon Thani was at 0955. Unfortunately, Nok Air Mini – branch airline of Nok Air which uses small planes to fly some of Thailand’s domestic routes – has suspended the direct Chiang Mai to Udon Thani flights due to low passenger numbers so the only flight available now is via Bangkok which means flying all the way south only to fly north again.
Both flights only took one hour and I had a two and a half hour layover at Bangkok airport which seemed to pass very quickly browsing the shops and reading my book. Both flights also had a snack which was like parts one and two of my lunch.
I arrived in Udon Thani and I got a cab to my hotel in the centre of town. I got the driver to wait for me while I checked in at the Silver Reef hotel and changed and then he drove me to the No.2 bus station a few kilometres away on the other side of the city. I went to the departure point for buses to Nongbua Lamphu and bought the 80 baht (about £1.60) ticket. I phoned Ajarn John to tell him I was about to depart on the bus and he asked to speak to the conductor who was standing near me. This was fortunate because I was about to catch the wrong bus!
It turned out that the school was not in Nongbua Lamphu city, as I had thought, but in Si Bun Ruang, a very small town some 30km away and I needed to catch a bus going to Chumpae. Luckily, the right bus was just pulling out and I hurried over and got on it. I phoned Ajarn John and asked him to speak to the conductor so he would know when to tell me to get off. They spoke for quite a long time and the conductor said he understood where I should get off. But that wasn’t true.
The conductor told me to get off the bus in Nongbua Lamphu, not that I knew that fact at that moment. The conductor pointed behind me told me the school was there. I walked through the gates while phoning Ajarn John to say I had arrived and then realised it wasn’t a school after all but a provincial police station. I told Ajarn John I was outside the police station and he told me to walk down the road to the corner and I would see the school. I did this and, sure enough, there was a school. I called Ajarn John again to find out where I should meet him. It took a while for the penny to drop, or should that be a baht ? I was not only at the wrong school but I should not be in Nongbua Lamphu at all! The conductor had put me off the bus at the wrong place.
Ajarn John said I would have to get another bus to Champae at which point, hot and bothered, I could have told him where to go, but I didn’t and thought about how to get to the bus station. A tuk tuk came by and I flagged it down and the driver spoke with Ajarn John. I thought he would take me to the bus station but, instead, he took me to another boarding point by a junction where the Chumpae bus was pulling out. The bus stopped for me to get on and off it went. Once again, I got Ajarn John to speak with the lady conductor and this time she really did understand and duly put me off in Si Bun Ruang. I walked up the road to the corner at there was the school and Ajarn John was waiting there for me.
The school has 2,300 students and about 120 teachers and it is the school that Fern, my host family’s 15 y.o. daughter, attends. Classrooms are split between three large buildings whereas my school at Muang Baeng has 750 students and the same three buildings. So I thought that class sizes are probably very big and the noise levels high making it harder to teach.
I expected Ajarn John to ‘sell’ me the school by telling me how wonderful it is, what great equipment it has, how good the students are etc etc. But he didn’t. The only fact he told me was that the school had won a provincial first class prize for its gardens which didn’t impress me at all.
He took me to the English Department office which was in a half-basement with low concrete beams which meant that I had to duck every few steps. There was little natural light and it looked very cramped. He told me he wanted me to teach Mattayoms 1, 3 and 5 and that I would only teach three days a week and only be paid for those days. During October, when schools are closed for holidays, I would get half-pay.
The upshot was that I wasn’t very impressed. I didn’t get the good feeling I had when I first visited Muang Baeng school or Wat Kheelek and so I decided not to take the job. While it was great to get a job offer I did not want to accept one at any price even though I would really like to stay longer in Thailand. I will now have to put my thinking cap on again to consider my future options.
It was while talking to Ajarn John that he asked me where I was staying. When I told him I had to get back to Udon Thani he said we must hurry because the last bus goes at 7.30pm and it was almost that time already. We got into his car and he drove me to the bus station where I had a short wait for the bus to arrive.
I arrived back in Udon about 9pm and immediately went in search of some dinner. I ought to mention that Udon has quite a sizeable farang population and many of them have set up bars or restaurants right in the centre of the city. However, after 9pm, one’s eating options begin to diminish rapidly but I did find a small place that was still open and had something to eat and a Leo beer too.
Friday 13th August
I have visited Udon Thani a few times before but have never had the chance to properly explore the centre on foot. As with so many places, big and small, in Thailand (and Laos) appearances can be deceptive. What appears to be a dull, and dusty shop can turn out to be really interesting inside full of hi-tech gadgetry.
Saturday 14th August
I had a very nice breakfast this morning at Coffee Corner, close to my hotel, and after phoning Rhe to make sure everything was ok for me to visit my host family I collected by bag at the hotel and got a motorcycle taxi to take me to the No.2 Bus Station where I got a bus departing at 10am for Wang Saphung. The journey took two and a half hours but was pretty painless. I called my host family about ten minutes before arriving so I had a short wait at the bus station for them to arrive. It was very nice to see them again and the boys gave me a big and enthusiastic welcome back.
We went for lunch in Wang Saphung. As I got out of the car the thong on one of my flip-flops snapped which was annoying. Still, I suppose after four overseas trips in three years I had my money’s worth out of them. For lunch I had rice with crispy pork and greens followed by a coffee ice cream which was very nice. Afterwards, we drove down the road to a shop where I got a new pair of flip-flops. The shop assistant had to dig deep into her stock to find a pair that would fit me.
On the way back to Muang Baeng we stopped off at Saf’s school which has some nice grounds and I think the idea was to spend some time there and then go to the market. But after only a short stay it was decided to go home anyway. I spent a relaxing time at the new house with the family. The boys played games on my laptop while we adults sat back in wooden reclining chairs and watched tv, or in my case, read my book.
Later, Saf persuaded me to play ‘football’ in the tiled open space on the ground floor of the new house. We had played like this before and it was fun. He represented Spain – which he followed during the World Cup – and I was saddled with representing England. We played with a light plastic ball and the four rectangular pillars in the playing area provided an interesting hazard and were like static players making it harder to score.
After the game, and by now it was early evening, Rhe invited me to join him in a glass of beer which was welcome after my exertions and, later, I had dinner with the family. They had bought some of the dishes I liked from the market in Wang Saphung which was very kind of them.
I joined the family in front of the tv but there is nothing more soporific than watching tv in a foreign language and very soon I was nodding off. My bed was still in my old room so not much had changed in the last two weeks.
Sunday 15th August
I came downstairs this morning to find that my laptop wasn’t where I had left it but I wasn’t worried it had been stolen as I felt sure that one of the family had put it somewhere thought to be safer. Sure enough, I found it in one of the bedrooms upstairs and I set it up on the dining table intending to update this blog. When the boys brought breakfast over from the old house and saw my laptop they soon wanted to play games so I didn’t get much updating done.
Ajarn Joy and Malaitong came to the house and took me off to lunch at the garage restaurant in the village. Ajarns Surawit and Orapin and her son, Dream, were waiting there for me. It was nice to see everyone again. Luckily, my visit coincided with a meeting of the English Department at MBV school which was why everyone had lunch together. There is a photo in my gallery.
After saying goodbye to all my fellow teachers I went back to the house where Saf wanted me to play football again. It is fun kicking the ball around with him but I didn’t want to get all hot and sweaty just before getting my bus back to Udon Thani. So I only played with him a very short time.
Rhe drove me and the whole family into Wang Saphung where, once again, we bought some squares of that sticky cake/biscuit in the market before catching the 4pm bus to Udon Thani. It was another emotional moment as the family waved me off. I will miss them, especially the two boys, very much.
Three hours later I was back in Udon Thani and I showered and changed and had dinner.
Monday 16th August
I spent a good chunk of today catching up on my blog and my photographs. Later in the morning I set off to look at a bookshop and restaurant I had glimpsed previously. It was a nice looking restaurant with a menu of mostly English cuisine but with a Thai section too. Despite being tempted I have, so far, avoided Western food other than at breakfast. There were also many shelves of secondhand paperback books which I browsed before having lunch.
Tuesday 17th August
I did some more exploring but found that parts of the map were out of date thanks to newer building developments and clearances.
Wednesday 18th August
I got a m/c taxi to the No.2 bus station and took caught the 11.45 bus to Na Wang to see a friend of mine and arrived there two hours later. The fare was only 60 baht (about £1.20) I had a very pleasant relaxing time in Na Wang but I only stayed one night.
Thursday 19th August
I got the bus back to Udon Thani at 12.45 and arrived in Udon two hours later. I took the same m/c taxi driver to my hotel where I dumped my bags in my room and then had a late lunch at Coffee Corner, a smart but inexpensive cafe/restaurant, just around the corner from my hotel. I was quite tired and after doing some shopping I returned to my room and rested. In the evening I went to Mojo’s restaurant for a very pleasant dinner and beer. The food portion was so large I only just finished it.
Friday 20th August
Caught the 7.45 bus to Muang Phon and arrived there three hours later. Mr Songsak arrived to collect me after a ten minute wait and took me to Ban Chad school where preparations were underway for a community sports day tomorrow.
It was good to see Mr Songsak again and to see all the teachers at the school. The school now has one additional assistant teacher and one new intern. Mouk, the school secretary, retired last week and her place has been taken by a young man, Thun. New equipment includes one overhead projector and screen and one laptop.
I had lunch at the school and everyone was very interested in my travels since I left and my future itinerary.
Mr Songsak and I left the school about 4.15 and he drove into Muang Phon to his wife’s flower shop though she wasn’t there when we arrived. Mr Songsak bought a couple of bottles of Leo beer which we shared and, when his wife returned with food for dinner, he drove us back to the house where I presented him with the bottle of genuine Scottish duty free Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky which he is so fond of.
I took my things up to my old room and it was almost as though I had never been away. Everything was just the same, except the garden wall which, I am sure you recall, was being built when I left to go to Lampnhun on March 5th. The wall is now finished apart from the decorative railings between the pillars. Another change was that the small rabbit they had was given away a few months ago when Mr Songsak and his wife had to go to Bangkok for a week and there was nobody to take care of it. Instead, they now have a small dog, a very friendly dog called Dai which looks like a Spaniel.
A further change was that their daughter, Fern, is now studying at a very good school in Khon Kaen and lives there too.
After dinner we drove to Khunkeaw, the bar/restaurant where there is an excellent band and the place is one of the secondary reasons why I want to return to Ban Chad because the band is really excellent.
When we arrived we called in to see Nee’s brother who lives next door to Khunkeaw. I thought, as we entered the house, that he would bring out a bottle of whisky and that the drinking would start for himself and Mr Songsak. But no alcohol appeared. Instead, it started pouring with rain. At 9pm, when the band normally starts, we walked over to the restaurant and tried to dodge the rain.
Khungeaw is like a hollow square with tables and chairs on three covered sides and the stage with the band on the fourth side. The area in the middle is open to the skies and is for dancing. As I probably mentioned before, waiting staff attend to every table whether it is refilling your glass from the dinky little drinks trolley that stands by each table or whether it is getting food that you order.
Tonight, with rain pelting down, there was no dancing. The poor waiters, who have to cross and recross the central area got rained on but instead of moaning and avoiding taking orders they went about the work cheerfully and seemed not to notice the rain. Some people even danced in the rain though I don’t think they had heard about or seen that famous Gene Kelly movie!! It was a good evening and I enjoyed it enormously.
Saturday 21st August
Believe it or not, the community sports day started at 8am. Feeling a bit under the weather after last night I didn’t feel like going quite so early, but I regretted not doing so later as I missed seeing some potentially interesting things.
But, first, I need to explain what ‘the community’ means. Thailand is divided into 76 provinces and each province is divided further. The lowest level division is the Tambon each of which comprises a number of villages. Ban Chad is one of fourteen villages in the Tambon so ‘the community’ does not mean the Ban Chad community, it means the community of all fourteen villages and all these took part in the community sports festival which my old school at Ban Chad hosted.
I missed some of the early events including a marching band which I would have liked to see and hear. By the time I got there at 9.30am a team of women from a community exercise group were being put through their paces. The football competition started after that as did the volleyball contest and the takraw event. There was also a very popular Pétanque (Boules) competition. Many supporters from each village formed the noisy and enthusiastic crowd at each of the sports.
Even though it rained for most of the day, sometimes heavily, nothing was cancelled and everything carried on as if the sun was shining. I met all the teachers again and some of my ex-students which was nice and they all remembered my name. As the day progressed I was followed around by a group of girls, all Ban Chad students, aged about 10. Amongst other things they were fascinated by my hirsute arms and seemed totally in awe of me. Now and again it was amusing but most of the time it was a bit annoying. I took some photos of them so you can see for yourself.
About 5pm I had a phone call from Mr Songsak to say he is going urgently to Udon Thani because one of his brothers (he is the youngest of 11 children) who lives there has had a heart attack. He said he would still be able to take me to Khon Kaen airport tomorrow for my flight to Bangkok but, later, I got a message from Jarunee saying she and Mr Tanyut would be coming to collect me at 8.15 tomorrow to take me to Khon Kaen.
Sunday 22nd August
One of the slightly disappointing things about this visit is that Mr Songsak didn’t mobilise the people I met when I was here before. People such as Mr Thun, his cousin, the Director of Hun Yai secondary school where I taught, and Mr Tanyut, the head of the English programme at Area Education Office District 3 in Muang Phon.
I got up a bit early because I thought it would be interesting to take some photos of the fields around Mr Songsak’s house to compare them with the photos in the dry season that I took back in March.
Annoyingly, the dog wanted to come too as I walked down the lane. I knew nothing about the dog and was scared that if it followed me it would disappear somewhere and I would get the blame. I tried to deter it from following me, but it took no notice. At one point down the lane the dog disappeared and I thought it was chasing chickens. Luckily, the dog came back into view and I managed to get it to come to me and it followed me home to my relief.
I too some photos of the lush green rice fields and they make an interesting comparison with my earlier photos. I have posted both in my gallery.
Mr Songsak and his wife did not return from Udon Thani so I did not have the chance to say thank you and goodbye. Jarunee and Mr Tanyut arrived at 7.45 and we loaded my case and bags into his car and set off for Muang Phon where we had breakfast accompanied by a glass of Leo, the first time, I hasten to add, that I have ever had beer at breakfast!
We drove into Khon Kaen and went to the Bussamayrat Hotel where two education seminars were taking place. A fellow teacher from Ban Chad was attending one of them, and some members of Jarunee’s English team were attending the other one. I was introduced to everyone and a photo was taken as well. The English team have all been studying academic English and are very good at it.
After the coffee break we left the hotel and drove to Khon Kaen airport where I said my thank yous and goodbyes. The airport is only a small one with few flights a day. It was very quiet when I arrived but the shops were open and at one of them I saw a selection of Chateau de Loei wines. I was tempted to buy a bottle but was not sure about how to get the bottle back to the UK.
The airport also had free wi-fi but for some reason I was unable to get connected to any of the three networks available though the internet was working ok at the information desk. I think there may be a problem with my laptop.
My Thai Airways flight was at 2.40 and it took off on time. To my surprise the plane was a Jumbo 747, a much larger aircraft than I expected, and to my further surprise it was almost full. Forty minutes later and after a very welcome snack we landed at Souvanabhumi airport where I got a cab to take me to Pattaya.
THE FINAL CHAPTER
After a few days in Pattaya for some rest and relexation I will return to Bangkok and then, on September 15th, I will be leaving the Land of Smiles and return to London.
By the time I leave Thailand I will have been here three weeks short of a full year. I have met and made friends with many interesting and wonderful people in and out of the schools where I have worked and I shall never forget all the good times we have had.
I have been asked what I liked the most during the past year and I have been unable to give a single answer. As with any long trip there have been ups and downs.
My many ‘ups’ include:
Christmas 2009 at the Scout Camp with Ban Chad and four other schools
The Phi Tha Khon Festival, Dan Sai, Loei
My two weeks teaching at Wat Kheelek Secondary school, Lamphun
My eight weeks at Muang Baeng Wittayakom secondary school, Muang Baeng, Loei
The school trip to Sisaket province last June
All the wonderful happy smiles of my students
Khunkeaw nights out
Songkhran in Chiang Mai last April
The wonderful Thai food at the Hot Chilli restaurant, Chiang Mai
The Sunday Walking Street, Chiang Mai
Arsahara Bucha Festival, Muang Baeng and twice being accosted by Channel 7 TV
My wonderful host family and their two boys at Muang Baeng
My visit to the Buffalo and Cattle Market, Ban Chad
My few ‘downs’ include:
Eating difficult food such as grasshoppers, beetles and weird composite dishes
Having obvious words modelled for me, such as ‘banana’ as if I had never seen or eaten one before
Being repeatedly asked about one’s age, family status (married/single/other)
Being repeatedly told I am tall and that Thais are short
Being repeatedly asked if I want a Thai Lay-dee
Tripping on uneven or non-existent pavements
To sum up:
It has been a wonderful experience and one which I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone of whatever age. Yes, you CAN do it too. Experiences like this do not have to be in Thailand because virtually every country welcomes volunteers in many different fields with the exception, perhaps, of North Korea! If you like the idea of volunteering in Thailand and doing the sort of things I did then contact Dan Lockwood of Thai-Dragonfly (www.thai-dragonfly.com) at firstname.lastname@example.org and, remember, the Foundation offers other opportunities apart from teaching English.
So what’s next for me ?
Well, I am definitely coming back to my old life in London on September 15th and I will see how I feel after a few weeks there. I have a sneaky feeling that I will wish I was back in Thailand once the cold wet weather sets in and that I will miss the ups and downs of life here.
One option is to take another year out and offer myself direct to schools in areas of Thailand that I have yet to explore, but I will see.
That’s it. Finito. This is where my blog ends. I have enjoyed writing it and if you have been thank you so very much for reading it.
See you next time.