This morning I was made aware that my foray to Sak Lek was not to be repeated. An older member of staff had spied me riding my bike down the road through the rain and the storm and worried. This worry spread amongst many members of staff and I was informed gently to ‘cover up’ more. Though I wore a skirt that fell below my knees my shoulders were on show and in the ‘rock, paper, scissors of Thai dress legs beat shoulders (in other words it is preferable to have your legs on show, rather than your shoulders.)
I felt a bit frustrated and stuck earlier. The language barrier got me down and I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. Having classes on my own means that it can be quite difficult to communicate with the students and that I have little contact with people who speak Thai all the time. Consequently, my language skills are trailing behind. I understand some Thai and quite a lot of words but in all honesty I can’t really string together a sentence properly and it is frustrating. Before I cam to Thailand the only Thai I knew was taught to me at a 30 minute taster class on Coll during the training with the Project Trust Thai volunteers who were about to go to Thailand back in 2010.
As with last time grade 4/2 turned up at the wrong time and the same girl came to haul me out of the staff room where I was happily preparing for their class (which was supposed to be at 10.30am, not 9.30am.) Because I hadn’t been in the classroom from the start of the period a lot of the children were really rowdy, loud and kind of obnoxious. It was not a good start. Nor was having less than 4 hours sleep last night due to being overwhelmed by insects inside my mosquito net. When tired and hungry teacher Charlie is not at her best and being dragged into a full class of screaming children doesn’t help. I had to move various students around the classroom and actually send one of the boys out because he hurt another boy. I felt so bad because I didn’t know what happened but this boy in the front row was sitting crying, trying to get on with his work while the other boy looked smug. I’m sure this wouldn’t have happened if Teacher Tim had been there.
The last class of the day was my saving grace. Only about half of the students turned up and this meant that it was really easy to lead a game and keep all of them engaged, whilst also learning all of their names at the same time. We all really enjoyed ourselves whilst consolidating some vocabulary around the ‘ugh’ sound. At one point I had all of them sticking their tongues to start the word ‘thought’ (which they struggled with), but they were all laughing and so was I. It was such a happy classroom environment to be a part of. I realised half way through the lesson that my 100 Baht (£2) watch had stopped working (but two days later it started up again, it must have just been exhausted from the humidity). However, the slightly odd jingle that plays out of the speaker phones to mark the start and end of every class was very helpful.
My class finished at 3.30pm; the exact time the bus to Phitsanulok was supposed to leave from the main road (there wouldn’t be another one for over 1.5hrs) The last time I waited for a bus there it was around 20 minutes late and I hoped for the same luck again. I ran through the school with surprising speed past many of my students who looked on a little confused, jumped on my bike and zoomed to the bus shelter. I was so frantic that I cycled into a recycling bin and fell over in front of everybody else who was waiting for the bus, mostly schoolgirls and old men. Phew. The journey took just under two hours, more than it did before, and we whizzed by Sak Lek within 10 minutes of setting off (rather than 40 as per the day before)
After waiting for over an hour at the station in Phitsanulok (my friends’ bus, like mine, was running behind schedule) I was surprised to hear whistles being blown loudly and sharply. Immediately following this every single person in the bus shelter stood up (and those who were walking stopped and stood to attention) as the national anthem was played. It lasted about 2 minutes and it was totally surreal. As soon as the song was over, as if nothing had happened, everybody continued about their normal business, sat down, kept walking, got on their buses. I was also interested to see that there was a special ‘pen’, or gated seating area, specifically set aside for Monks. Four of them, clad in orange, sat peacefully together as the madness continued around them, out with the gates.
“I left my diary on the bus, it has all of my money in it.” My friend from Sukothai Technical College, after having turned up at Phitsanulok rather late, and after walking about a kilometer from the bus station, realised this. The adventure took us back to the bus station, into a military policeman’s car, 8km out of town to one of the bus depots, back to the main bus station and finally to the central police station. After retrieving the diary from the bus where various bus workers cleaned and feeling the sweet relief of not being thieved, when he opened his diary it dawned on him that the money had been stolen from within it. We backed up again to the bus company employees who denied knowing anything about this and after frantically trying to explain that we needed to go to the police station and get a report for the insurance, to little avail, we were taken there.
As some of you will know, this was not my first time in a Thai police station, but will hopefully be my last. The main image that sticks out in my head from the inside is that of a young, tall woman with a ghostly, pale face and blood shot eyes sniffing and trying to hold back tears. Handcuffs also restricted a slightly balding man who sat down trying to fill in forms. Not speaking Thai was extremely inconvenient in terms of trying to get a police report. In fact, after around 3 hours in the police station there was still no sign of one. A number of bus drivers had been called in, I’m not exactly sure why, and sat patiently for a while before getting bored and confused, falling asleep and then offering my friend half of the amount of money that was stolen from him in order that they could just get home and forget about the whole matter. It was a little odd, but it seemed like a reasonable resolution, as there was no sign of any of the police officers who had been dealing with the matter. And that was that.
Next off we headed down the river to meet the other English Teaching Assistants, at last. As we arrived they were just leaving a bar and we headed to a club on the other side of town. It was very loud inside (and also a bit expensive) so some off us nipped off to the corner shop outside. There were a few Tesco Lotus employees who had been off work and were still wearing their matching green T-shirts as they ate dinner and had a few drinks. They kindly invited us to join in and we did. It was a very positive experience just sitting, talking and joking with Thai people our age. They were so friendly and when they saw that the mosquitoes were enjoying our foreign blood they gave us some mosquito repellent cream (from a sachet that they bought especially). It was sweet when they tried out some English words they knew and we got to try out a bit of our Thai before heading back up to the club.
The club was pumping with live music and dancing and the drinks were flowing. I particularly enjoyed when a Thai lady I did not know took me by the hand and pulled me over to dance with her. It was unexpected, but enjoyable and I found myself instantly amongst a group of young Thais dancing and laughing, and miming along to the song (even though most of us didn’t know the words). Some of the boys said that they had felt like celebrities as lots of people were just handing them drinks and asking them to dance, taking photos with them and introducing them to their friends. The walk home was long and refreshing, and we went to bed with enough time to get up at a reasonable hour the next day to make our way to the rainforest.