Bollywood, Bicycles and Back to school (again)

I will begin by setting the scene. At present the staffroom is not supporting a sleeping dog, just myself and a Thai teacher, who looks like he is doing some serious work… that is only until I spied Facebook and pop music on his computer screen.

The music began today at 5.30am, later than usual. I guess that it must have been my punishment for missing half a day of school yesterday.

Today is my first full day of timetabled classes. I was in my classroom 30 minutes early in order to sweep the dusty, littered floor and write a few things on the board. At 8.30am grade 4/2 were supposed to come- I had prepared their work and activities knowing that I would have a free hour before my next class. They did not come. Instead, grade 5/1 came in and sat down expectantly, their ‘Gogo loves English’ workbooks signaling to me that this was the wrong class… or the right class at the wrong time. We overcame this and I sneakily made a register to keep track of who comes to class, and more importantly who actually does the work. The prospect of learning so many (over 100) Thai names and faces is daunting, but it is possible and there is still time.

Classes start at 8.30am.

This is what my classroom looked like:

They didn’t come. I later realised that this was because they had been timetabled to be in two places at once, and chose not to come to English. Initially I was frustrated as I had prepared my lesson and was raring to go, but reading a bit more of ‘The English Patient’ in my classroom, in the hope that someone might turn up at some suited me just fine too. I also had to collect and hang up my washing (some of which was stained by the soy sauce experience of last night), and by not turning up my students gave me some time to do this.

It is always nice when the students are unexpectedly excited and enthusiastic about things. When trying to glean their names earlier I got them to write A5 name cards that they will use every lesson so that I can put their names and faces together. They actually cheered- they just adore drawing.

For lunch there were two vegetarian dishes: one with mushroom, and another with egg and squash. Thankfully I had a sneaky pineapple in the fridge at home so I brought that in to supplement the plain rice. A little girl just ran over to me with her hand in the shape of devils’ horns and shouted something indiscriminate before scampering off. She turned back and said ‘I love youuu teacher Charlie’. That was five minutes ago and somehow (perhaps by watching me) her and her gang just found me in the staffroom and peaked their little heads in- they are still there. I can see a foot… a leg… a head… a face… a whole child, NO three! There I never a dull moment.

School has finished now and almost all of the other teachers have trickled home with the rain. I’m still here though. Two of my students (one of them is fat and cheeky, the other one is amazingly keen and clever) came to join me. We started off trying to make conversation, but it was surprisingly difficult so I showed them some pictures from home and then whacked on some Bollywood music, pulling a few of my old moves out of the bag. The boy watched on entertained, and the girl tried to imitate my every move- she was actually an amazing dancer. It was so hot that we had to put the fans on full pelt. I miss dancing with people, with friends, with strangers, for crowds etc. There is something very satisfying about learning a new dance and breaking a sweat from joyful physical activity as opposed to just sitting still or walking down the road.

As I was walking to my front door one of the other teachers shouted my name and shoved a well-used bicycle in my direction. I didn’t understand the full implications of this. He was not just lending it to me for one quick ride, as I realised the next day (excuse the confusing tenses- I’m actually writing this between ‘today’ (24 July) and ‘today’ (29 July) when it was still by the foot of our stairs. I immediately mounted my bike and set on an adventure feeling glad to be away from the school for a little while. It is rare to see a farang around these parts, but seeing a European is virtually unheard of. As I went on my way down the road beyond the school gates I was greeted by many of my students, local families, business owners and a number of ‘friendly’ neighbourhood dogs. The speed of the bike meant that I could whizz by and casually say hello without having the awkwardness of walking past, being met by prolonged stares.

I had only ever been as far as the temple, which is about 1km down the road to the right of the school. On this trip I went a lot further than that and fell upon beautiful expanses of rice paddies, cool breezes, a bustling (yet very local) market and mountains in the distance with impatient clouds waiting above them.

What was going to be a fairly mundane night in became unexpectedly long and interesting. Three of the other teachers and I nipped off for dinner at a noodle stand by the main road, and afterwards shared a couple of snacks on Teacher Tim’s ‘angry birds’ tables and chairs. Then, when I thought we were going to pop off to the corner shop to get something, we ended up going to the director’s house for a drink. We stayed for a couple of hours and there were lots of other, more senior teachers, who I didn’t know, some of them even coming from others schools in the surrounding provinces. The director gave us each a bag of dried sour cherries that he had brought back from his trip to China and we sat around, somewhat awkwardly, as they made jokes about Frenelly and I being farang (foreign) in quite limited English. If we ever replied in Thai ripples of surprised laughter filled the room. I was glad to go, but found this a little tiring having to sit politely and laugh at everybody’s jokes who I didn’t really understand so we managed to slip off (not without having to sneak back in and out to get my wallet which I had left on the table). When my Thai is better I must go back!

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