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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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.

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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.

In the jungle… day one!

This morning we (myself and 13 other ETAs) were on a mission… to get the Rainforest Resort near Wangthong. I love place names in Thailand, almost every address has some kind of underwear of phallic word in it (or both!)

We took a Tuk Tuk (sorry) or two to the bus station and managed to hop onto the correct bus, which left almost immediately. The first stop was the old bus station, which is a bit of a way out of town, and at this point one of the ETAs realised that he had left all of his money in a drawer in the hostel. What a bunch we are. He jumped off the bus and re-appeared at the resort a couple of hours later. As a single farang walking down the road in Wang Sai Phun I tend to get noticed, but can you imagine the fuss it caused when 14 of us got on one single decker bus! Amusingly the monk sitting in front of me knew about some of the ETAs who worked nearby, they have ears all over the place or so I have heard.

The first portion of the bus journey only cost 15 Baht (about 30 pence). It turned out that all 14 of us had got our final destination wrong and had to go about 11km further, which cost us an extra 18 Baht: still not bad. The bus stopped abruptly outside the place and we pottered in. On arrival we were given luke warm purple juice which I found delicious until the after taste kicked in and after allocating people to huts we went to lunch. The restaurant section is almost like being in quite a spectacular tree house. The view from it was just lush green rainforest, what you might expect, but it was so calming. I hadn’t had such a delicious or filling lunch in a long time/ since I arrived and was very grateful for it. My favourite bits were probably the deep fried kale with pear sauce. Aroy.

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One of the main foci of the trips was the white water rafting. This place is number three in the whole of Thailand for it and the trip (that takes about 3 hours in total) covers level one to level five, if that means anything to any of you. We had quite an extensive session before we were allowed to go into the water, which was first delivered in Thai and then translated into English, thank goodness. Our team was split across two boats, and on each boat there were two trained professionals. We definitely relied on them for steering, safety and sanity! The first bit of white water we went through was thrilling and as we glided over the rocks we found ourselves what felt like midair and then suddenly gravitated back to the water, which splashed madly into the boat around us.

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When we were on a plain of calm water we were allowed to swim. Many of us took up this opportunity and jumped gleefully into the brown river water. Swimming away from the boat with my life jacket on I was able to get some distance from everybody else and to take in the views of the leafy dark green surroundings, the mountains and the wildlife. Total calm would describe how I felt when floating on my back down the river Khek, the current gently enticing me further and further down the river, but never too far away from the gang.

Reaching the end of our rafting trip we jumped overboard, onto dry land and immediately set off on a short but reasonably treacherous wade to an unknown location (to me at least). I followed blindly. En route we passed a rotting dog with holes in it where maggots feasted on the flesh. It smelt vile, truly. Continuing on we had to navigate over rocks, avoiding the green, slippy grime, through rapids and deep water too. The view and the sensation at the end of it was one of total relaxation and satisfaction. The sun was shining and its beams lit each and every drop of water that bounced excitedly off the ledge where the magic happens. The waterfall was enormous with multiple layers, rocks sticking out, spanning the whole way across the wide river. It was picturesque and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who wished I had a camera with me. Large violet dragonflies added to the scenery flying low and plentiful in the surrounds.

In the evening, after six consecutive showers were taking in my hut, we had a fairly spicy dinner and then headed riverwards. Right by the waters edge there are a few simple and serene huts where visitors can sit and socialise, and that is exactly what we did. Most of the party managed to squeeze themselves onto the deck to enjoy the warm darkness with drinks and friends, as well as copious species of animals including what seemed to be a chameleon. It is quite special that although most of the ETAs only really met for the first time last month it feels like we have a bond, and as if we have been friends for a long time. We have at least one thing that unifies us all, this British Council Scheme and lots of things that make us separate, unique and interesting to each other.

The bed was softer than concrete (I exaggerate, but my mattress is extremely hard) and I’ll admit to enjoying the luxury of a shower, and even better… a hot one! What a way to end a good night.

Thai Language Day

The gang.

The gang.

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.

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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.

Back home: the return to Wang Sai Phun and an ETA dinner.

Locator map of Phichit Province, Thailand

Locator map of Phichit Province, Thailand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was no escaping loud Thai music and announcements early in the morning in Sukothai. However, they did begin that bit later than they do in Wang Sai Phun.

On the walk to the bus station down the busy, dusty dual carriageway I got two large blisters and by walking fast made the bus to Phitsanulok. I had been told that they left on the hour. It left at 10 to, so it was basically perfect time. It left as soon as I sat down. The whole journey was actually relatively smooth. The connecting bus was waiting at the station, I hoped on and it too left within 5 minutes of boarding. I was pleased, but not appreciative enough. I have since seen that this is not commonplace, and is indeed something that happens once in a full moon (note the purposeful adaption of the expression).

I managed to make it back to school in time for the first class after lunch and taught three in a row until school finished. So far I’m enjoying the teaching and have liked the challenge of surprising the students into doing lots of work. I’ve found that unexpectedly getting them to stand up, sit down, spin around, run (carefully) around the room or having an impromptu game of Simon Says or rendition of ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ never goes a miss.

Today was the first day in Wang Sai Phun that I have experienced real tropical rain. I thought that it would never end and despite living a 2 minute walk away from the exit of the staffroom I waited it out in order not to get totally drenched before going out in the evening.

Mam, the pastoral care officer appointed by the British Council in the ‘North’ of Thailand organised a meal for the English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) from in and around Phichit province, including someone who is working in Petchabun and Phitsanulok as well. Our mentors were also invited along to share some food, company and stories of our first week.

The journey to Phichit was dramatic. The picture shows the sky before we entered the storm, the perpetual black cloud that we are living in.storm

The meal was delicious and bountiful. There was more food than I had seen in a long time, and rather than feeling still hungry at the end I was full and satisfied after having eaten nice vegetarian curry (if somewhat spicy), rice and lots of fruit. It felt fantastic to be able to speak English with native speakers without having to simplify or gesticulate wildly in order to be understood. I sat next to another ETA who has been, by the sounds of it, having an incredibly difficult week; apparently the hardest week of his life. Being bitten by his mentor’s ‘friendly’ dog and having to go to hospital was one of many stories that had made up his week. Another ETA who was sitting opposite me had lived in four different places, with four different sets of Thai people within the space of one week and was feeling incredibly unsettled, unsurprisingly really. Emotions were running high and the atmosphere was a little frantic and disjointed as the ETAs sat in the middle talking English very quickly and, in some cases, madly whilst many of the Thai mentors were more sidelined (in terms of their seating position at the table) and being a little quieter. That said, I was really glad that we had the meal together; it was lovely to see the other ETAs again as they were going through similar things, could speak amazing English and we had all been in the same group for our orientation in Bangkok so already knew each other a little. Those guys seemed like a network of friends.

Teacher Frenelly sent me a text, which I received on the way home saying that my room was probably flooded from the storm. As we don’t have windows it can sometimes be quite impossible to stop rain from getting into our wooden house. As I had locked my room and she didn’t have a key there was nothing she could do to help. I came home expecting there to be water all over my floor from the monsoon… I found soy sauce everywhere because the bottle opened itself in my cupboard.Image