Life, Death, Dancing, Dinner and the ‘Bright Lights’ of Phichit.

The morning rain.

The morning rain.

This morning, unlike most, it is raining. It is 10am: two teachers, one of my classes and I are sheltering from the downpour outside: as such it is refreshingly cool. Since the Thai teachers entered, the room has been fairly still and quiet with the students doing homework instead of balancing pens between their lips and noses (with me), dancing or play fighting. I’ve been working here for a while but I’m not sure if I’ve said that I really like the kids. They are (can be) so enthusiastic and entertaining, just quite sweet and innocent. As I’m writing quite a few of them are giving me some eye contact and raising their eyebrows repeatedly and dramatically to make me laugh: needless to say, it’s working.

Group work is something that, in my experience, doesn’t feature heavily as part of the Thai curriculum. I surprised myself when my students arrived and I started writing names on bits of paper, getting designated people to cut them in half, writing instructions on the board and splitting people up into pairs. We were going to play a bit of an elaborate game relating to birthdays that would involve pairs talking to individuals, finding out when their birthday was and writing the sentence ‘His birthday is on…’ or ‘Her birthday is on…’ on the correct section of the paper. A few people were off so there were only 17 and as pairs they were supposed to be competing to get the birthdays down fasted. As it turned out they were too friendly and united for that, all of them queuing up at the board when every pair had finished; all being given little, shiny, red star stickers at once. Then we proceeded outside the classroom during the lesson, which seemed to be a bit of a novelty for them, they handled it well. The next part of the game required all of the students to line up in order of birthdays from January through to December; this provided difficult, but we managed.

Grade 5/2 in order of birthdays.  Left to right: January to December

Grade 5/2 in order of birthdays.
Left to right: January to December.

Often at lunchtime I dash into the kitchen, eat very quickly and dash out again. This is not really the best way to get to know the staff, and usually only happens when my mentor is not there (which is the majority of the time). However, she was there today and I stayed with the other members of staff almost for the whole lunch hour, using a chocolate ice cream as an excuse to stay sitting around with them. I’m going to try and do this more often. Usually I’m not really involved in conversations, but today was a bit of a breakthrough. Even though people were making fun of me for having a big nose (how does she eat an apple or a guava (big round fruit)… her nose must get in the way- I humoured them and said that I chopped the fruit first) I felt included.

After lunch I had two classes back to back. In the first one I was leading a game of hang man based on the vocabulary that the students were learning but after being warned a number of times I had to cut the game short, though I felt a bit guilty for the kids who were behaving. The class involved a number of confiscations, a number of alterations to the seating plan (including moving one boy to an entirely different classroom) and when said boy was playing up another boy who is a bit of a lad but always finishes his work and more offered to hit him for me. Though this entertained me, I was clearly bound to refuse politely. In the second class the students didn’t turn up until 15-20 minutes after the classes. Well, most of them didn’t, two girls appeared on time and we started the class without the others! One of the girls offered me a Barbie as a present and somebody whipped a sheet of stickers out of their wallet. My first sheet of red star stickers from Bangkok went missing and I am entirely certain that they were the same ones… a little weird, but I know that she didn’t steal them.

Outside the staffroom with some of the grade 4s.

Outside the staffroom with some of the grade 4s.

Thursday straight after school tends to be a time when students like to stay behind in my class and complete homework, or at least expect to be entertained by their farang teacher. I stepped up to the bar and showed them a couple of Bollywood videos on my lap top before putting on some Justin Timberlake and choreographing/ teaching quite a simple routine to a few of them while the others watched on amazed. Being in 35 degree heat, in a small class room full of students and wearing (overly) modest clothing results in a little/ a lot of overheating. My floor length skirt proved to be dangerous when I did dramatic spins and fell over… Oom, one of the students who was copying each and every move of mine, fell over dramatically also. I couldn’t help but laugh. Justin Timberlake ‘Cry Me a River’ was the song that we danced to and I think the moves weren’t bad.

When the dancing became (far) too hot and sweaty we stopped and I became a student, they became my teachers. I had to sit at their desks, whereas they stood up beside the board and taught me various Thai words and phrases for use in the classroom by acting things out. For example, two boys started mock fighting and the girl holding the pen shouted ‘ham-len’ and they broke up the fight. Then they started again and I had to instruct them to stop, they looked so proud of me. It was actually very handy, they may regret teaching me those things when (and not if) I use them tomorrow!

The staff room provided a haven of some sort again and I was able to sit down and write a letter to my great aunt, the poet, who I haven’t put pen to paper for since I lived in Mauritius. An evening of no set plans awaited me until Teacher Tim called me up and asked me if I wanted to go to Sak Lek market. I almost jumped out of my seat to go and meet her immediately; this opportunity doesn’t come up every day. Six of us piled into her car and had a bit of a hilarious drive there. The market in Sak Lek surrounds the temple near the bus station and sells all sorts from pumpkins, to whitening skin cream, to chopped pigs ears to pots and pans. I acquired a towel (finally, after being here since 12 July), some mango and sticky rice, some fresh corn and a whole pumpkin (these are not available in Wangsaipoon); the grand total coming to well under £3! I have got so used to the prices here, when I go back to London I am certain that I will be horrified and not want to buy anything.

As we hopped back into the car we (Frenelly and I) were told that when we got home we had to put on black or white clothes to go to the temple… for a funeral. This was all communicated very unceremoniously. When we got back we had 10 minutes to get ready, I had to borrow clothes from two fairly little Philipino women because Thursday is my clothes washing day and they were all absolutely drenched. We then piled into the director’s car and drove for what I think must have been an hour and a half, I slept most of the way in a state of mild confusion. The hot evening spilled into the car when we opened the doors, the air-conditioned air quickly escaping as we walked towards the temple. It was busy inside with lots of people standing, sitting on red and blue plastic chairs or sitting on the floor. Most people had their hands in a prayer position and their heads bowed facing a line of (I think) eight cross-legged monks. The ceremony lasted for about an hour and consisted of prayer, members of family and friends offering lotus flowers to the monk, individuals taking incense and praying to something that looked like a coffin, but I don’t think it can have been because it was so brightly coloured and lit up. Most people seemed fairly jovial, including the widow (a teacher at school) and I only saw a few small tears shed. Afterwards the smell of boiled meat filled the space and schoolgirls handed out bowls of noodles, stew and cups of cold water to the guests. Then everybody dispersed and that was that.

We piled back into the car and immediately fell asleep, only to wake up to the ‘bright lights’ of Phichit town. The director got out and we followed him, somewhat blindly, to a restaurant across the road from the parking spot and sat down to eat. The waiter, on my telling him in Thai that I am a vegetarian, suggested that I could have chicken or pork. I laughed, thinking he was joking (so many people do), but no, he was being serious. Thankfully Teacher Tim was next to me and came to the rescue by ordering nuts and broccoli. After about an hour of eating, drinking, glimpsing a Thai film on the TV in the background and listening to ‘English’ music we shot off, returning in convoy to Wangsaipoon.

Some days very little happens except in my imagination, but today was most definitely not one of those days!

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