The First Day at School

Thai music blasting out of the school (which is less than 5 meters from my house) woke me up this morning. It began well before 6am, and there was a loud thumping also rippling through our corrugated iron roof. As is often the case for the first time in a different bed and setting I did not sleep well, partially because I knew I would have to get up early and I was tired; ooh, the pressure. Showering in my new abode proved not to be a problem. We have a traditional large terracotta container full of water and a little plastic bowl. It does the job; I came out feeling refreshed and ready to start my first full day of work.

Pineapple was on the menu for breakfast, no wonder, considering how much one of the teachers gave us when he found out it was my ‘favourite fruit’. I also had some Thai ‘roti’ (nothing like Mauritian roti) with this stuff that looks pretty dry and horrible, but seems to be more like a rough and natural looking version of candy-floss. Breakfast was quick I was in dire need of a shower. Our shower is a large terracotta container in the bathroom with a plastic bowl in it. It does the job, pretty effectively really; quick and painless.

Just before 8am Teacher Friend (what I call the Philippino girl who works at my school) and I went to the school building, walking around and greeting people. We went to the main field in front of the school where all of the pupils and staff were assembled in an orderly manner to sing the Thai National Anthem and to welcome me as a new English teacher to the school. I had prepared a couple of words (literally about 3 sentences) in English and then in Thai to make sure that everybody understood and got to use a microphone. It was a pretty special thing and teacher Tim took photos so I’ll need to try and get my hands on them.

The first class was grade 6 English and I decided that I wanted to observe and assist to see how things work here. I found that I could not understand most of the English class as it was conducted primarily in Thai. As there is a teacher who recently left and so there are many classes needing covered I decided to accept the challenge of taking my own classes. This means that I get more teaching experience within a regular state school and also the students get to listen to and communicate more with a native English speaker, which seems to be really important. I did five 1 hour classes during the day with a lunch break at 11.30am.

Although 11:30 sounds early, it felt very late. By this time I was a ‘ravening beast’ (very hungry) and was capable of employing my newly acquired Thai vocabulary relating to food and eating. To my great surprise and joy the food was delicious (alloy maak maak), but it is widely recognised that hunger is the best sauce also, so it will have been a combination of the two factors.

In terms of the classes I was particularly amused when I was marking a workbook of one of the students. The activity was to look at the pictures in the textbook and to draw one of their choice, adding a sentence at the end describing what was happening. E.g. Gogo is doing the vacuuming. This girl had drawn a picture of a lady frying some eggs and annotated it, “Jenny is cooking breast.” Another depicted a man doing the gardening and written beside it was “He is watering his pants”. I am aware that finding this amusing is slightly immature, but simple pleasures are more than welcome. The students seemed to enjoy when I wrote some Thai characters on the board to help them translate the fruits that they don’t have here (for example plums), I took about a minute to write each word as I’m still getting to grips with writing Thai characters. They forgave me though, as I forgave them for writing ‘rod’ (instead of red), ‘greer’ (instead of green) and colouring strawberries purple.

At 2.30pm there was a class for super keen students who just love English, and come because they want to, not because they have to. The age group was quite mixed. We did an activity together where we had to draw a poster about a member of our family and introduce them to the group in English. I did an example, and drew a picture of my brother Ben with speech bubbles coming out saying things like “My name is Ben and teacher Charlie is my little sister.” And “ I am good at swimming, even when it is very cold.” Of course I was gesticulating wildly, the general level of English is quite low so visual aids are key to comprehension.

Stealing, of course, is not something I condone. However, temporarily borrowing is a different matter. There is a green bike, which perches right below my window and has been tempting me since I arrived. I had an empty afternoon ahead of me so I investigated the ownership of the bike. The conclusion that I reached was that it belonged to a student, and that going for a 30 minute cycle would be no trouble as said student was in an extra class. I live in a fairly rural area with a long straight road that leads to a bigger road (but it takes a while to get there) and was fascinated to learn more about the area and the surroundings of the school. The area itself is called the Wang Sai Phun District and lies about 30 minutes east of Phichit by car. The ride was pleasant and I whizzed by empty dirt plains dotted with palm trees and houses not unlike my accommodation at the school. On my return I sat down to write some postcards and realised that sitting at the picnic table in the school yard is a good way to meet people and to stave off loneliness: in effect a remedy to what can sometimes feel like isolation. Numerous students, teachers and even the director of the school stopped by briefly for a chat. The next visitor came as more of a surprise. She was a middle-aged woman and did not appear to be friendly. She took the bike away… it belonged to her and not a student. This was an embarrassing realisation, but only until she left and I continued on my quest to write postcards and meet people at the same time.

A small gaggle of girls came over looking expectant when I was on the phone. We ended up singing head, shoulders, knees and toes; having a competition about numbers up to thirty and drawing each other. Immediately following on from this we walked to the post office and they each posted a card for me, before floating off in different directions to their respective homes and I to mine.

‘Hop on’, shouted Teacher Tim. (Well, not really, but she gestured for me to get on her motorcycle). She is a slight, very delicate young Thai lady, emphasis on the lady, and was wearing a little orange dress and flowers in her hair. I felt like some kind of giant on the back, but we remained stable as we drifted past the empty plains, barking dogs, families cooking and rice paddy upon rice paddy while the sun set sleepily in the sky behind. We were going to have dinner with the other teachers. Teacher Friend (I think she is actually called Frenelly…) told me that they do this quite often, maybe 2 or 3 nights a week. About 8 of us sat around a low table (actually a bed frame) with food and drink just talking, joking and laughing for hours as evening became night and hunger was satisfied. Yet again Pineapple was the main constituent of my meal; Cheetos, pumpkin seeds, popcorn and Doritos also featured. The others, however, ate chunks of meat that were prepared on a fire bucket with a grill. Although the conversation was conducted almost entirely in Thai I felt comfortable and happy, but also part of it. I chipped in occasionally, for example playing on the words for pineapple (sa pa lot) and monster (sa pa lat) to great comic effect. At around 10pm we headed home on the motorcycles, with the local dogs barking loudly, but unthreateningly; hot on our heels.

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