My Weapon and my Friend: Bringing Words to Life. Inaugural English Poetry Competition, Thailand 2014.

It’s 1983. In a school playground in East London a teacher gives a crying boy two tools to change his life forever. First, a pen: “This is your weapon”. Next, a blank notebook: “This is your new best friend”. Though young Charlie had been expecting something quite different, he noted his teacher’s advice, “Write down how you feel about school”. The white pages gradually filled with vengeance, in what he called ‘The Book of Torture’, plans for what he would do to any bully who touched him again. So, when someone grabbed him in the playground and pulled his school tie around his neck tighter and tighter, he knew he needed to do something, to say something. “If you ever touch me again I’m going to crush you like giants crush mountains”. The bully was so surprised that he left Charlie alone, and that is when he realised if he kept writing and reflecting no one would bother him again. He has written a poem every day since this day, so over 11,000 in total, and the notebooks in their thousands, fill his childhood home.

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Poetry can give children confidence, a voice, and power. The microphone can let them say things they’re too afraid to whisper. UK Performance Poet, Charlie Dark, sees poetry as a useful form of self-expression, like “a silent movie on a snow white paper screen”. He advocates empowering young people with language and ultimately bringing words to life, which is exactly what the 20 finalists of the Inaugural English Poetry Competition did. Charlie and the finalists first met during a workshop. With only one day before the final, the students were given the theme for their poems: themselves. The short time period between being given the theme, and the actual final encouraged the young people to think on their feet and the result was a mixture of nerves, inspiration and raw emotion. The confidence, pride, positivity of the students and their belief in the possibility for change and improvement struck a chord with the adults in the audience. The cheeky smiles and enthusiasm proved to be infectious, and the Director of English, Brian Stott, was even caught on camera pretending to be a DJ.

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The levels of English were impressive and one of the students, Gun, introduced her poem as follows: “It is written in the snow with the footprint of a sparrow, listen to it before it melts.” Transience is beauty, and though this afternoon will soon be a thing of the past it has made its mark on a number of exceptional young people, and members of the audience. Especially the winners, the top prize being a UK Study visit for one week, along with a set of books and vouchers.Through a dramatic reading of one of his poems Charlie Dark engaged and enlivened the audience, and succeeded in drawing a crowd from passers-by. Taking it line by line; animatedly acting out each part, the audience copied him bit by bit. It was a rare occasion when the crowd was as energetic as the performer: the positive energy was obvious. It must have been quite a sight from stage for him seeing the 20 finalists, special guests, visitors and friends pretending to be DJs, holding their pens (weapons) up to the sky, break-dancing and mock aggressively crossing their arms. It brought poetry to life.

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The students’ individuality became clear when they walked up onto the stage in turn to perform their poems about themselves. Some strode confidently, others paced timidly, many forgetting their lines mid-way through, but recovering, taking a deep breath, a nervous giggle, and re-gaining confidence. One boy did a little dance and rubbed his head as if he was massaging his brain so it would work again, another dug out scraps of ripped paper from her pockets and incorporated it into her performance so well that she was awarded the prize for ‘The Best Improvement’. After each performance Charlie provided feedback and the pride in the young people’s faces was overwhelming. He inspired them, but this inspiration was not limited to the young performers. Charlie’s performance and their words combined to produce an atmosphere of hope.

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“I just want to be seen like a book on a broken shelf.”

“I sometimes fall down, but I never give up like the flow of streams… I believe in myself.”

“I dream I can swim across the Pacific Ocean in 1 minute… I dream I can be everything I want to be.”

“I am like a grain of sand in the sea, so little, but strong if you bring it together into a bigger stone. From a grain of sand to something better…like a butterfly I will fly.”

“I am a big shark that can swim in a dangerous and beautiful sea… I can swoop up into the sky and grab my dreams.”

All I need now is my weapon and my friend…and perhaps you do too…

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Farewell Wangsaipoon: Theft, Thanks and The Trip Back to Bangkok

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Goodbye Teacher Charlie

Typing whilst in a fast moving, jolting minibus is probably not the best idea I have ever had. However, I’m going to be on the road for a few hours so I might as well utilise them wisely. English teachers surround me and we are all en route to Bangkok to the Ambassador Hotel for our farewell conference/ meeting with all of the other English Teaching Assistants, many of their mentors, the British Council and the Thai Ministry for Education. I’m very pleased that we are having some kind of a climax of our trip where we can see each other again and exchange stories and experiences face to face, as well as having the chance to nip to the incredible day markets and night markets in the capital itself to pick up a few things to take back to what is sunny England today (26 degrees Celsius I hear… the verdict for Sunday isn’t so promising, but I mustn’t complain).

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A ladder. Shortest to Tallest.
Teacher Joy, Teacher Frenelly, Teacher Charlie

Goodbye Teacher Joy, I say as I drop her off at 7/Eleven on my bicycle. Well, actually Teacher Oh’s bicycle, but during my stay I have had full use of it. She knows that I’m going to write about it on my blog and suggests what the line will be, “As usual, I dropped Joy off at the main road.” What a sweetie. Teacher Joy, I know you will be reading this, thank you for being a wonderful housemate for all the time that you have actually been at home and not off gallivanting in Myanmar, Cambodia or Laos.

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My name is Teacher Charlie

As I went up to the counter to pay for my breakfast I felt the blood rushing (at least slightly faster than usual) to my head. I was almost penniless. This came as a shock to me as I had been paid half a month’s wages just two days ago and my biggest purchases were cha yen (Thai iced tea- 40p), two sliced mangoes (30p) and a loaf of bread (40p), so not the most extravagant shopping trips. I moved away from the counter and walked to the side of the 7/Eleven, which is always blissfully air-conditioned (occasionally a stand alone reason for visiting the shop), and thought through the last day and what could have happened. After school yesterday when I had been sitting with two of my rather lovely students chatting away some of the older girls who I don’t know hijacked our little ‘picnic of words’ to get a picture with me. They were quite cold in their mannerisms and very quickly shifted off on their motorcycles. At this point my bag had been in the basket of my (or Teacher Oh’s) bike just a meter or two away, but out of sight. I imagine that one of their friends took the money while they distracted me with the photo taking. This was a fairly unsettling realisation to have just an hour before my last day of school, that I had been robbed by students… not just an unknown, faceless character on a bike (like in Bangkok). Although I can see a little poetry in being robbed on my second day in Thailand and on my second last day I was a little miffed. However, after interrogating some of the students and having a policeman into the school the director agreed to reimburse me the amount of money which had been stolen… a huge relief I’m sure you’ll agree.

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Thank goodness I don’t mind public speaking.

‘Chan pasa Thai dai…’. ‘Chan poot thai dai’… then, finally ‘Chan poot pasa thai dai lek noi’, I managed to spit the words out. During assembly this morning I had to give a speech to the whole school, what has become a fairly rare occurrence, but this time it was marking the end of my time here (or should I say there, as I get further and further away from the school and closer to Bangkok?). I have no issue standing in front of hundreds of people speaking; in fact I rather enjoy it. That said it is much easier when expressing myself in English. I was lucky enough to have Teacher Tim to translate for me so the students could actually understand the sentiment of what I had to say. Teacher Frenelly took a few shots and managed to capture some (at least slightly) entertaining gesticulations of mine as I spoke to the students.

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The School

As my first class of the day, Grade 5/2, filed into my classroom I was suddenly aware that this was my last day as Teacher Charlie (or even Teacher Chaba) of the English Department at Anubanwangsaipoon, Wangsaipoon Sub district, Phichit, Thailand! I also realised that I know all of their names, their faces, and to a reasonable degree their capabilities and most importantly to me their characters. Although they gel together as a group they are all such individuals and I sometimes enjoy just sitting at the front of the classroom looking over them from my ‘teacher platform’, observing how they operate, how they interact with each other. I’m definitely going to miss being around such curious, cheeky, funny and affectionate young’uns. They sprung to their feet and chanted with their usual enthusiasm and volume:

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Students: “Good Morning Teeechaa Chaahhlleee.”

Teacher Charlie: “Good morning students. How are you?” (Chirpily)

Students: “I am fine thank you, and you???” (With an endearing inflection at the end of the sentence)

Teacher Charlie: “I am very well thank you. As you know, today is my last day… so, what do you want to do?”

Students: “Play game!!! We love games!!!”

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Lovely Wee Class

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What a Wee Sweetie.

As such we all bounded across the school grounds to the activity hall to play a few last games of ‘What’s the time Mr. Wolf’ and Simon Says. At one point Teacher Tim came over to discuss the ‘stealing’ incident and told me that they were interrogating the older kids and a policeman had been called in. While we were talking my class who were assembled behind me in the formation for Mr. Wolf rearranged themselves into a sitting circle, picked a ‘chooser’ and started playing Duck, Duck, Goose without any kind of directions being given to them. I was very proud of them.

Initially the plan had been for Teacher Tim to drive Teacher Frenelly and I to Phitsanulok at about 5pm (before dark) and sit in her brother’s house until about 12pm in time to get the bus at 12.30am, which would result in us pulling into Bangkok at 5.30am (or later knowing Thai buses) with no-where to sleep. I’ll be honest; this didn’t sound appealing so I tried to engineer the situation to be more pleasant. After convincing my mentor to phone a friend of mine’s mentor it was agreed that we would leave at 1pm and meet them in Phichit Town and transfer into their minibus and spend the night in Bangkok. What a relief, in one way, but I needed to pack!

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The Time has Come

I dashed around frantically trying to pack my life into a small bag, and after an hour or so of hot running around and listening to Kate Nash (or all people) to calm myself down my room was ready. It looked bare, especially as Teacher Frenelly had stripped the bed first thing in order to wash the bed clothes soon enough for them to dry by night time. When I leave I get the feeling that a lot of things will change. The English Department will go from having three teachers, to two; Teacher Frenelly will move into the house under Teacher Tim; Teacher Kan will move into our house; it even sounded like Teacher Joy may not stay on the school grounds of Anubanwangsaipoon anymore. In some ways I’m glad that the packing (and even the leaving) was such as rush as it meant that I had less time to process it, believe it and get upset about it.

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My Last Class.

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Some of my Boys.

My afternoon classes were not to have a teacher, when they thought they would. Thankfully I had time to head up to my classroom for one last time and say goodbye to one group of students who were incredibly sweet and at the last minute cut me up little white hearts writing their names and little messages on them, the girls coming up one by one to the front of the class and sticking little love heart stickers on my dress looking up at me admiringly and even nostalgically for they knew that I wouldn’t be standing there tomorrow. Even the boys, who seem to make a special effort to annoy me, walked up meekly to hug me. I found myself standing in the corridor surrounded by my favourite little people hugging me from all directions; it was rather lovely actually.

And suddenly it was time to go. I felt like a celebrity when I rolled down the tinted electric window and waved out of the open space to my students as they ran along beside the car. And suddenly we had pulled out of the school grounds, out of Wangsaipoon and were driving down the open road en route to Bangkok. I don’t remember the journey taking such a short time before, but we were in the capital in time for dinner. After checking into a hotel that wasn’t too far from Khao San Road we found somewhere, after a bit of searching, where they served some vegetarian dishes. Typically I managed to eat a chili during the meal and become flustered, all to the entertainment of my teachers/friends and even the minibus driver.

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Khao San Road

I have never got a taxi for such a short distance in my life. We were confronted with about 6 hellish lanes of traffic that seemed impossible to cross and Dr. Suwat matter of factly hailed a taxi to literally take us to the other side of the road! It cost very little and just meant that we went down the road and turned at a roundabout when so that we were on the right side of the road, but I was thoroughly entertained. The scene was quite magical with fairy lights lining all of the trees and brightening the skyline. We lounged in a park just before a large and beautiful Temple that was closed for the night and in Thai style took a couple of pictures, and the others took a couple of selfies. In the distance, behind the court building, I could see a storm brewing with flashes of lighting illuminating dark clouds with white and purple forks, sheets of lightning (or faalep) filling the sky.

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Pancakes (cheese… and then cinnamon) ensued and then a trip to a really amazing jazz bar filled the rest of the evening. The jazz flowed so naturally and I found myself in a very cool (I can’t use another adjective) jazz bar, which was fairly small and filled with jazzy Thais. By the window the band were installed; a double bassist, a keyboardist, a guitarist, a singer and a saxophonist who casually joined in part way through and they performed wonderful, very soulful and spontaneous songs with such energy and passion. It was a pleasure to share a room with them.

That’s enough for now, but all I can say is I had an amazing ‘second’ last day in Thailand and I am so grateful to everyone at Anubanwangsaipoon for their hospitality, encouragement, humour and… food!

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Duck, duck, goose; dog walking and dutiful daytime divas.

“Teacher Chabaaaa… Meeting!” I wake blurry eyed to these words at a time unknown to me. I fell asleep at about 4am. Frantically looking around I see that my phone is out of battery (so no alarm clock) and my watch is not in sight. I don’t even know what time it is. Until Teacher Tim from outside shouts ‘Meeting. 9.30!’ In my whole time I haven’t overslept, but this time I think it is excusable. After a long weekend in Bangkok and an (overnight) bus ride back to school my tiredness caught up on me. Standing pathetically at the ‘window’ (there is no glass) she sees me and her eyes soften. She lets me sleep… a little longer.

Gathering strength and forcing my eyes open with cold water (also tipping it over my head), I jostled through various school buildings to my classroom to find ALL of my students outside and a big fat lock on the door. (Beware: tense change). There is a girl in this particular class who, for the first two weeks, came and ‘dragged’ me up to the classroom when I thought I have a free period because of errors on my timetable. I asked her to fetch a key. She returned with no key. This meant that we had no access to the room, the desks, the books… anything. I thought that this meant no class, but the students stuck by me. After playing briefly with putty, which stupidly to surprise the students I put in my pocket only for it to get green goo stuck on the inside, I knew I had to step up and come up with something for everyone to do…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Somehow I managed to sort a group of 30 rowdy ten year olds into a single file line of boy, girl, boy, girl etc. Off we went. First playing follow the leader, then duck, duck goose (which I can justify because it fits into the category of revising animals…tentative, I know) and finally ‘zap’. This was very difficult to explain and took a lot of trial and (mostly) error! Unfortunately the impromptu class outside ended in tears. One of the boys took his rope and hit one of the girls unexpectedly, what a shame. It is quite ordinary for the students to carry ropes on Wednesdays, as it is the day of scout uniforms and ‘survival’ activities. Often I see them with big red bamboo sticks, hats, orange shoes and neckerchiefs in beige uniforms with badges sewn on. The girls wear very smart, long green skirts and shirts.

In position...

In position…

Sleep was on my mind and by midday I was shattered and felt like locking the door of my classroom and kipping on the floor. However, this is not what a responsible adult should do, especially a teacher. I left my door open only to be greeted by friendly hello’s and the familiar faces of the grade 4s. The class started well with the call and response and I found myself again at the front dancing around, singing, joking around. The class was really responsive, especially when we were doing vocabulary about ‘things to do’ and ‘walking my dog’ came up. One of the boys who sits at the far left of the back row fidgets endlessly, with anything (ANYTHING) he can find. Today he was concentrating on his rope, which I promptly confiscated. To try and use a little of his excess energy, keep in mind he has a sense of humour, I got him to kneel on the floor and loosely tied his rope round his wrist and took him for a little walk around the classroom. He woofed eagerly and wagged his imaginary tail. It is at times like this when I adore working with young’uns.

When I came to Thailand I never expected to have such divas in my classes. Three of my more rotund students volunteered themselves to stay behind after class to clear up the room in time for the English speaking competition tomorrow. I put on some ‘housework music’ and the responded hilariously. Firstly, they danced around gleefully and then, at a particularly ‘punky’ part of one of the songs they changed the position of their brooms so that rather than looking like cleaning implements they looked like electric guitars (allowing for a bit of imagination). Although this portion of the day was relatively short it was amazingly sweet and I felt at peace dancing around my classroom goofily with these little critters.

Dutiful Divas...

Dutiful Divas…

Finishing school at around 3.30 I wondered what to do with my evening. It was filled with replacing my Thai sim card (which for some reason gobbles all my money as soon as I top it up), cycling around the area, munching rotis (and getting to know a little bit about the seller), lounging outside a small shop at a table drinking Fanta and writing a letter, watching a cat fight (literally), making French toast, chatting to friends from home and Thailand, running through the kitchen to fend off a hungry rat from my unattended French toast, wiping away the sweat, rubbing mosquito repellent onto my already bitten skin… I think that would be a quick and easy summary of the evening.

Although there is relatively little ‘to do’ I feel like I’m always busy, but in quite a relaxed way. I’m so pleased to be back at school and am curious as to what tomorrow has in store!

Bangkok. ‘Around the world in 80 days’ and ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’, eat your heart out!

Wangsaipoon and Bangkok are not comparable; they are totally different worlds.

In one Bangkok day I do more than I could in a Wangsaipoon week. I enjoy the contrast of city and country. Although I can appreciate the hustle and bustle for the weekend I know that if I lived here the novelty of navigating the buses, the motorcycle taxis, the train lines, sky-high buildings, sky-high prices, farang everywhere would ware off.

Oil, a fascinating young woman who works for the British Council, suggested that Frances and I visit Terminal 21. It was only a walk and a train away and when we arrived we were not too surprised to see that it looked and was set out like an airport terminal (the clue is in the name). Each floor was done in the theme of world cities. ‘Around the world in 80 days’ eat your heart out; we went around the world in less than an hour; to Paris, Istanbul, Tokyo, San Francisco, London etc.…all over the place. Even the bathrooms fitted in with the theme and all of the floors supported ‘Japanese style’ loos with various functions, including heated seats. Needless to say people were so comfortable that a queue developed fairly quickly. The views were also amazing. I was particularly amused, being a ‘Londoner’ to see what was picked out. There were road signs to various sights, a red telephone box (which was bigger than life) and a mock tube train with a ‘Bakerloo line’ sign. If the only qualm I have is that the colour above this sign was blue (Piccadilly line colour), rather than brown, I think it is safe to say that they did a pretty good job.

Cycling through San Francisco!

Cycling through San Francisco!

Lumpini the lizard.

Lumpini the lizard.

After a quick waffle on the run Frances and I boarded the train to Lumpini Park. This is where I was robbed on the second day, but today I had quite a different experience. It took us a while to navigate our way from Lumpini station past the police station and an extremely long, uninterrupted (by doors) gate. On entry to the park we were ‘inspected’ by some guards. Lumpini Park is enormous and green with lakes, aerobic areas, a food stall section, and lots of trees and surrounded by tall Bangkok-ian buildings. From a distance it appeared as if there was a large market on, but on closer inspection there were lots of little tents, lots of little children in pyjamas and stalls selling very specific items (such as body lotion… I’m still not sure why). Many of the people had been camping out for a large, peaceful protest. A friendly Thai lady saw our slightly lost faces and explained that there were there to fight against corruption in the government. There were queues at various tables beside the action and the stage. We decided to hop into one of them and learnt that they were free food and drink stalls. So, whoever said there is no such thing as a free lunch… We were given a plastic bag full of ice and extremely sweet, dark green liquid; a little pot with porridge, rice, sugar, water and condensed milk and a deep fried desert that was covered in a mixture of crushed sugar and sesame seeds. What a treat.

Lunch.

Lunch.

Tom, an English artist, has lived in Bangkok for 3.5 years. He is a friend of Frances’ big brother; they went to school together when they were younger. Frances met him for the first time on her first day of her Thailand trip, but because of the family connection they seemed to have an instant bond. We were so lucky to get shown around by a ‘local’. First off we took the metro to a station called Hua Lampong, which marks the end of the line. We walked for about 10 minutes to take a look at the hostel where Frances stayed on her first night. It was nestled at the end of an incredible street filled with real people working in tailor shops, sitting outside with their families, tending to crying babies; the brightly coloured washing brightening up the fairly drab flats and buildings covered with corrugated iron. So, we saw that even within Bangkok there are different worlds. Sukhomvit, the area where we were staying, is both a business district and apparently one of the largest ‘adult playgrounds’ in Asia.

Holy Tree.

Holy Tree.

We all exchanged looks across a busy road, and about 3 minutes later, when the traffic cleared for a few seconds, we were able to scamper across to the other side in time to meet Tom. He took us on a personalized tour of the little streets surrounding his studio, past engine sheds, old men playing checkers, old women complimenting our modest clothing in Thai (which Tom translated for us), boarded up buildings, Chinese pagodas, and the river. He took us to a concrete platform right by the river’s edge, which he had tracked down purposefully after spying it from a boat when numerous locals practiced yoga and aerobics in unison. I didn’t mention earlier but today was the queen’s birthday, and therefore a national holiday in Thailand which doubles up as mother’s day. We saw numerous little groups of mothers with their children of diverse ages. I accidentally became a temporary personal photographer for one such group who got me to snap them in various poses with quite different backgrounds while Tom and Frances waited in the shade for me.

China Town.

China Town.

The next stop on our tour was China town proper. I’ll put in a picture to give you a little impression; all I’ll say here is there was a lot of meat! I introduced Frances to the wonders of fresh pomegranate before we were led into the entrance of Tesco Lotus. We didn’t go inside the shop, but instead into a little lift, and up to the 10th

10th floor passing a multiple storey car park en route. What awaited us at the top was actually quite mind blowing. The 10th floor is empty except from a couple of little shops that are in the process of being built. So we had a vast concrete expanse before us, and beyond the walls was Bangkok. High rise buildings, flats, temples, the river, houses, people, and bright umbrellas appearing only momentarily as flashes as their owners scurried through little alleyways. Stunning. After being on the ground for the weekend, in the markets and the red lights district it was very refreshing to be able to just look down on it all from somewhere else.  The monsoon rain changed the atmosphere even further to one of contemplation and we all looked down on the same block of flats wondering who lived inside, wondering what their lives had been like and what stories they had to tell.

 

The view.

The view.

The rain was incredible and unending. When it ceased (a little) we went to get the lift, and I just saw Tom looking in lovingly saying ‘hello there’, imagining it was a lost child, only for a minute later to see it was a dog. Frances was scared, but managed, and I’m sure our laughter helped. We ran out into the middle of the busy road, hopped onto the bus and took it to the studio. It was such a creative space, quite modern and open planned with various desks covered in paint, freshly screen printed t-shirts and bags, quite a few laptops and scanners, drawings, paintings, and… of course… the Artists! The majority of them were gathered at a table on an outside porch, which was covered from the rain, surrounded by flashes of green outside and buildings. They sat playing dominoes, smoking (they must have been) and drinking cider. It was about 30 degrees and humid. One of the women stood out to me in particular. She was Thai with a heart shaped face, thick, dark rimmed glasses, and bleach blonde spikey hair. At various intervals she nipped inside to talk to Tom or Nathan (a Thai/Australian who was working away). They (at least Tom) have an exhibition coming up in a week or so to mark the anniversary of the gallery that they have downstairs and were working away hectically so we dashed off when the rain died down a little. I didn’t mention that Tom has been sleeping (with various friends) at the studio for a few weeks… that’s how busy he has been, so it’s amazing he fitted us into his plans and showed us around.

Two of the artists 'at work'.

Two of the artists ‘at work’.

By the time we left Frances and I were ‘hangry’ (hungry and ‘angry’- more like desperate). She led me to a vegetarian restaurant, which she had been to before and told me that they serve almost any meat dish (including shark fin soup and ducks legs), which looks and tastes the same, but is not made out of meat. It was jam packed when we arrived, but we managed to bag ourselves a small table outside at the end. Many of the things on the menu were either finished or unavailable so in the end we went for a fairly unadventurous ‘vegetable fried rice’ and ‘vegetable noodles’… Maybe next time we can eat a dog?!? (made out of soy).

By the time we got back to Sukhomvit we were tired and craving ice cream. After this ‘need’ was satisfied we proceeded back to our apartment. The sky was like nothing I have ever seen before. We experienced a real tropical lightning storm with sheet lightning illuminating the whole sky and various buildings too. It didn’t start raining for quite a while after the lightning begun. I was stunned and a little too excited to go to sleep, so yet again it became a little bit of a late one. Not too late though, it’s just living in a rural area in central Thailand has changed my standards.

Passport pick-ups, veritable visas and the long (but direct) road home.

(PLEASE EXCUSE THE LACK OF PHOTOS…)

Today was the day we had both been waiting for. I had been waiting for over a month to pick up my new (replacement) passport and visa. Frances had been waiting for over a week to find out where her new school placement would be in Thailand! When her phone went off in the early hours I had imagined that it was the all-important call, but alas, it was just an alarm.

After a brief nip to the post office Frances headed home, only to realise as soon as she got back that I had accidentally pilfered her sunglasses. So, I fast walked through the red lights district (there is a distinctly different feeling in the morning and the night) to meet her at the hotel where she was waiting for me with a cold glass of pineapple juice. Refreshing. After handing over her sunglasses I walked even faster down our long road (Sukhomvit Soi 2), round the corner to Phloen Chit Station, straight ahead, across the insanely busy road ducking through swarms of motorcycle taxis, and finally turned right to find the British Embassy before me. Mam, who has been appointed as the ‘pastoral care’ office for the North of Thailand, was waiting for me with her colourful and very important notebook with all of her ‘to do lists’ for various ETAs, and herself. She had accompanied me to the Embassy when I was applying for my replacement passport so it was some kind of reunion for us.

Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, Mam was not allowed to come with me past the front gates. As my phone was confiscated I couldn’t even tell her how long the queue was and she had to wait at a bus shelter outside until I was done, bless her. She was probably working away constantly as she is being kept on her toes by the ETAs. There were 32 seats inside and only 3 of them were free so I imagined I’d be there for quite a while. The ‘occupants’ of said seats were quite varied, but consisted mainly of pairs of young female travellers who had been robbed and couples usually consisting of young Thai women and always (at least slightly) older British men. This was the case last time as well. It sounds like for them to get married it takes an awful lot of paper work and frustration, one man had travelled back to England solely for the purpose of collecting a document that was vital to the process of the application! When it was my turn (after about an hour) I went up and collected my passport from the same woman who had been ‘dealing’ with me last time. She remembered me and even what job I was doing, which I thought was really sweet.

embassy

I feel pleased that my new passport has such a story; that it was replacing one stolen in Lumpini Park on my second day in Thailand and the story of the photograph. On the second day after our activities with the British Council at the Ambassador Hotel in Bangkok I was sent off with a couple of their young employees to get some photographs taken. This all went smoothly, the pictures were taken and I was told to return in one hour. A reasonable request, I thought. I pottered off with the others to MBK (an enormous shopping mall) to Skype my mother to hell her what was going on and told them that they could go if they wished, that I would be able to make my own way back. This was not the case. First off  I spent more than 30 minutes trying to find the right exit, after this step was achieved I ran outside into the hot, dank, darkness; into the tropical rain which everybody else was sheltering from; and straight down the road ahead. But, wait, was it that other road? After 10 minutes I was drenched and felt totally ‘at sea’ (lost!) The shop was closing at 8pm and I kept running madly around until this point, my map soaking and tearing in my shaking hands. There was no hope, so I had to return to MBK to get another one. By this point I looked like a drowned rat and had been crying (it can be overwhelming when lost alone at night in the rain in a new city). This is the story of my passport picture. Much better than my last one, ‘Ummm… Sorry, I was tired’.

After reclaiming my confiscated phone and backpack Mam and I headed across to a quiet shopping mall where she took a few calls (busy, busy) before hopping on the Sky Train to Mo Chit Station. I had been here before for Chatuchak Weekend Market, so it looked totally different today. There was no time for food (unfortunately, as I hadn’t eaten yet and was getting peckish), so we jumped straight into a ‘meter taxi’ to go to the immigration office. It took us about 30 minutes and cost 98 Baht exactly (about £2). We bee-lined for the food court, where Mam spied us out some vegetarian food. The choices were excellent and yet again I was impressed by the price; 15 Baht (30p) for an amazing meal. I made the beginners mistake of eating a red chili thinking it was a red bell pepper causing me to cough, for my eyes to water and for me to go bright red. Thankfully Mam has a lot more dignity than some of my other friends (no names) so I lived it down and the burning sensation diminished with a little time.

Lunch for 30 p, what a bargain.

Lunch for 30 p, what a bargain.

The whole process of getting a replacement visa was actually amazingly simple. I had to bring:

  1. A copy of my original passport
  2. A copy of the crime report
  3. A copy of my new passport
  4. A letter stamped by the British Embassy

Simple. Then there were two short queues where people from the world over gathered. We were sorted into different sections of an impossibly large waiting room. It looked like we would have to wait for about 4 hours when we went in, but as it turned out there were only two people in the queue in front of me and one of them didn’t show, so we weren’t waiting long. After a little bit of confusion about which kind of visa I needed my passport was stamped very precisely and neatly by a young woman who was in training and being supervised by an older gentleman. I was amused to see that the document they were holding had a picture of me when I arrived at immigration for the first time in Thailand (the sneaky one they don’t tell you they are going to take) and a copy of my passport. Very efficient. The visa was also free and I had expected it to cost £50, which goes VERY far here, so that was an added bonus!

After a couple of phone calls in Thai to my mentor in Wangsaipoon and various bus companies it was agreed that I would get the 8pm bus from Mo Chit back to school. This meant arriving in at around 2am, but Teacher Tim was willing to pick me up. I was slightly taken back as I had envisaged another night in Bangkok, but I was pleased to know that my students (fellow teachers…) ‘needed’ me. By this point it was only early afternoon so I headed back to central Bangkok for one last time and happened to meet up with Frances again. She find out about her placement finally so will be in Bangkok indefinitely. I had a waffle before getting onto a rush hour train to Mo Chit (again). I had been warned that the traffic was bad so left lots of time… perhaps a bit too much as I was two hours early for a bus that both arrived and left late.

The bus ride felt long but was greatly ameliorated by having a free seat beside me and by putting on an extra skirt as a strange kind of sleeping bag (use your imagination, I have no photos). The driver dutifully shouted me awake at 2.30 am when we pulled into what seemed like a fairly dismal Wangsaipoon. It was raining heavily, there were various people sleeping on benches at the bus station, lots of barking dogs, mosquitos, flies congregating in light, dry areas such as under the shelter of 7 Eleven (which really NEVER closes). Thankfully Teacher Tim came quickly and whisked me off home on her motorcycle. I awkwardly held an umbrella to keep us dry but it felt like a work out because of the air pressure pushing against its pore less surface, If I had changed its angle slightly we would have probably flown off in another direction.

After a warm welcome home from the ‘school dogs’ who I’m more used to seeing in the staffroom, or on the football field than in my living room guarding the fridge I headed bed-wards, dreading the meeting at 9am the next morning.

Welcome Home.

Welcome Home.

Lost in Bangkok… in the rain storm (and the dark!)

I feel really homesick just now, for the first time since I arrived here. I thought that tonight was going to be great. I was going to go to dinner with all of the other ETAs and have a really nice time and afterwards meet up with another friend from the hostel on Khao San Road. Neither of those things happened…

Instead I had to get passport photos straight after the session today (and hence not get to hang out with anyone). Getting them taken was fun; I went with three Thai people who are working here for the event. Afterwards I went to the internet café to have a chat with mummy and then started heading back to the photo shop only to realise that I had no idea where it actually was in relation to where I was, and that I couldn’t’ even find my way to the right exit. I finally, somehow, after lots of frustration, managed to make it onto the street where we came in. By this point torrential rain filled the streets, and people lined the edges, which fostered some kind of protection. I was drenched within less than a minute and shocked by how dark it was already; it was way before 8pm.

The streets all looked the same and quickly my map was drenched and I knew that the place I was looking for was within the bit that said Siam Square, but it was far too wide to be able to tell where to go. I was running around barefooted and dripping searching for this photo shop, which seemed impossible to find. It was impossible; I couldn’t find it in time. This realisation sparked more panic as it had consequences- without the photos I wouldn’t be able to get a passport or a visa, which would mess things up further than they already have been.

This meant backtracking to MBK and frantically searching for a shop where I could get new photographs. I looked significantly less appealing in the second set of photos, and the staff (this time) hadn’t been kind enough to Photoshop away the imperfections so in my passport picture I will appear with large dark bags under my eyes from crying and some kind of a drowned rat look. At least there is a story in it somewhere.

The day has come… leaving London!

I’m currently sitting on a busy plane at Heathrow, which is going to Dusseldorf. Outside it is extremely hot and sunny. This morning I had to say goodbye to some of my friends. Josh and Andrew came at 10am for a fry up (before which I was packing frantically). They brought cranberry juice, one egg and some pre-cooked sausages as well as a piece of home made carrot cake that I will eat in a minute. We sat on the wall outside the front of the flat together; Lucas, Hanan and Ed joined us too. It was a wonderful send off.

I have somehow, in less than two weeks, managed to acquire a passport, a visa, health and baggage insurance, a CRB check, an ID check from the post office along with a few clothes… while at the same time completing the Project Trust internship. On Monday I was on public transport for about 10 hours due to a school talk at Sheringham High School in Norfolk. One little addition- I watched Wimbledon at Canada Square Park with Bryony, Andrew, Josh, Liam and a couple of their friends. Afterwards we went to Josh and Andrew’s for a BBQ which ended up being one of the best parties/ gatherings that I have ever been to.

Anyway, I’m feeling quite calm now but earlier I was panicking a bit. I’m looking forward to meeting and working with the children and scared of getting lonely and about Thai language- it looks almost impossible. I was semi tempted to turn back, but no, that is not an option. I cannot waste this opportunity.

We are just about to take off, so the next time I write I will either be in Dusseldorf, Abu Dhabi or Bangkok!