A timetable does not mean that people will come at the time they are scheduled to. Since arriving at the school there have been lots of last minute and unexpected changes to mine. That is why I wasn’t surprised to find out that 3 of 4 of my classes today were cancelled because of activities in the name of Thai language day. They involved the whole school gathering together under one roof to recite poetry, sing traditional thai songs, perform entertaining dramas in Thai language and of course… to put the foreign teachers on the spot.
The poetry was interesting to listen to as it was so tonal. There were about 15 pairs or threes who got up and performed for everybody, but I got the impression that after the first few most of the students (and the teachers) didn’t pay too much attention. The voting system to decide the winners consisted of a few handfuls of students who were given a little stick with a star on the end, which they had to pass onto one of the competitors. The team who was given the most stars was the winner.
What followed was quite surprising. An awards ceremony led by one of the teachers broke all of my misconceptions about Thai schools. The teacher encouraged the students to shout out, to joke, to make wild guesses, to dance even, to laugh amongst themselves. This teacher was like a minor celebrity and the room was raucous but in a very positive way as it just meant that the children were able to express themselves in a way that sometimes they can’t because of the rigidity of their lessons and their relationships with their teachers within the classroom.
One is warned when one goes to work overseas to be prepared to embarrass oneself. There is a reason for this. People tend to put the farang in a position that they don’t put most locals in. For example, during the ceremony earlier (of which I could understand only the odd word) I heard my Thai name. Then I looked up. I was sitting at the back of the hall and virtually all of the heads in the room had turned to look at me, smiling quizzically as if to say will she do it, but what? I was beckoned up to the front and commanded, somewhat kindly, to do a speech in English to the whole school. Only a few sentences, but broken down very simply and slowly with translation going on between each phrase. Clearly this was not particularly fascinating so I decided to make a (little bit of a) stir and introduced the national dance of Scotland, at least one of them and started leaping side to side with my arms raised above me. This snippet of the Highland fling seemed to go down really well. It was quite an amazing and novel feeling having so many dark eyes from the whole hall looking at me, smiling, doing thumbs up and laughing. The teachers all clapped and then wanted Frenelly, the Philipino girl to come up and do her national dance. This did not happen and I cannot blame her.
Thai lady boys are world-renowned. Teenage boys dressed in drag with fake breasts made out of water balloons are not. This does not mean that they weren’t entertaining; they were hilarious. A gaggle of girls sitting near me didn’t stop shrieking from the start to the finish of this performance by the seniors. The boys looked quite striking with their high cheekbones, wigs and heavy make up. A highlight was when one of them, the tallest in the group who was clad in an orange dress, broke into a Beyoncé style booty shake, and he wasn’t bad. There was also a mock Muay Thai fight. One of the fighters was dressed in a bit of blue material tied into something that resembled shorts. He powerfully thrusted at the air in front of his opponent knocking him to the ground (excuse me if I haven’t described this properly.)
After life the excitement and activities continued. I was informed that Karaoke was taking place, but was somewhat disappointed to discover that the only two people who were allowed to sing were very talented, taking away from the humour of the occasion. Very suddenly it was over and I went straight to the classroom to teach my first lesson of the day (it started at 2.30pm). Only 8 of my students turned up, leaving big black marks on the register. Many of the students seemed tired from the heat and the jollity of the day. This resulted them in being quite studious and weary looking- their faces serious and downward. When I tried to lead a game I was met with looks that suggested they were thinking ‘we are too old for that’. They were a bit confused and merged sentences so they didn’t make sense. For example, instead of writing ‘she read a comic book or she drank some juice’ a lot of them simply wrote ‘she read comic drank.’ I will need to try and combat this in the future, but I do think it is important that the students can make mistakes and learn from them rather than just being spoon-fed everything so their jotters look neat.
Reading a novel, incredibly, took up my whole afternoon. What a luxury to sit on the field in front of the school, in goals actually, with my bike at the side as the sky changed from day to night and I retired home past sleepy dogs and frogs on the path.