Professional in Pink, Motorcycles and Running Water: Day 4 at Sukothai Technical College.

If you have ever tried riding a motorcycle wearing a skirt with very little give you will know that it results in well…indecency. For this reason, Mrs. Chan (who I now know… after weeks…as Tanawan) lent me a pair of ¾ lycras and even a ¾ length dress to cover my poor derriere for modesty’s sake again, though it was appropriately adorned with patterns of chaba (hibiscus) flowers. What a palaver.

Professional in PInk. Teacher Chaba, Mr. Chan and Teacher Falong (Mr. Nick)

Professional in PInk.
Teacher Chaba, Mr. Chan and Teacher Falong (Mr. Nick)

This morning was spent in the staffroom of Sukothai Technical College eating, being amused by the matching work uniforms of all of the staff (bright pink, floral shirts- one of the maths teachers was kind enough to lend me one so I didn’t stand out too much), practicing Thai, letter writing and of course munching leftovers. Notice: no teaching. Most of the English teachers have disappeared off the face of the planet… well, at least Sukothai… today. Dr. Suwat is at a meeting in Phitsanulok, Mr. Chan is in Chiang Mai, and Lek is busy with family things the list continues.

Getting started...

Getting started…

At around 1pm we were whisked off to the Chan residence with Mr. Chan, who doesn’t smile in photos in order that he doesn’t look too handsome. He has lent Nick (who has a full and valid driving license) a motorcycle… freedom. This means not having to rely on lifts to go anywhere/ everywhere and being able to explore much more independently. First stop was the post office where I encountered a member of staff who seemed much more interested in the film that was playing behind me than weighing my letters to send off the UK. In fact, when I requested stamps (as opposed to a specially generated exact weight sticker) he looked genuinely appalled.

The Temple beside Sukothai Historical Park.

The Temple beside Sukothai Historical Park.

Next stop was… yet again Sukothai Historical Park (at least the 4th time now), but we didn’t actually go into the park. There is a temple nearby the entrance, which is surrounded by a lake. The locals looked on amused as we sat in direct, scorching sunlight with our freshly sliced, juicy, watermelon. I really appreciate living in the tropics, if only briefly, for the dramatic skies, palm trees and amazing nature. Today was no exception; the catfish in the lake were hungry, but not tricked up to the surface by small stones and the beautiful sky reflected the surroundings above them like a sheet. On the island is one large temple, a couple of smaller ones, a small shrine containing Buddha’s footprint (which is rather large) and a mid sized open sided building made out of wood, bamboo and thatched leaves, which offered some protection from the hot, mid afternoon sun.

The View from the Sheltered Hut.

The View from the Sheltered Hut.

Closed!

Closed!

Going to the public pool in Sukothai near the bus station has become a bit of an afternoon fix. Many of the houses surrounding the college have had no running water for almost 2 weeks, so a dip in a refreshingly cool pool and a shower afterwards are welcomed with open arms. On arrival we were met by a large ‘closed’ sign, which enticed us into speak to the owner who said it wouldn’t be open again until tomorrow morning because it was being cleaned. The water was still and lovely, tempting, but it was not the time unfortunately. Ice tea, however, provided a distraction. Though the ice tea place that we had initially been planning to go to was closed it led us into the jaws, rather the entrance of Sukothai Buddha Park which is situated right beside the river. It is very impressive with lots of beautiful flowers, a couple of small temples and an enormous, rather unusual one which provides shelter for a number of large, golden statues of Buddha in various positions; sitting, standing, lying and (being Sukothai) walking.

Sukothai Buddha Park

Sukothai Buddha Park

A small ice tea joint provided us with a refreshing drink, a little wooden bench that became a prime spot to watch the world go by. Pick up trucks filled with novices in their orange gowns, songtaos (minibuses with no windows) ferrying large numbers of children back from a long day at school, a large farang man on a Harley Davidson who looked rather out of place, children walking by holding the finger of an older relative, cars with blacked out windows concealing mysteries within. As the blanket of night slowly descended we headed home.

Tropical Nature.

Tropical Nature.

“Do you hear that?” punctuated by whoops from downstairs indicated a dramatic change of some sort. I listened intently and heard the faint trickle of running water. The possibilities. Showers, washing dishes… cooking, all sorts. This was to be the first meal I had cooked all week; partly because of the generosity of the other teachers but also because cooking with dirty pots and pans (and no water) can prove to be rather un-delightful. Even spreading butter with a knife that hasn’t been touched in a while can result in an ant filled piece of bread. After a quick jaunt on the motorcycle to Big C (a nearby supermarket) dinner preparations were well underway. Fresh egg noodles with pumpkin, broccoli, carrot, peanuts and onions as well as black pepper and soy sauce seasoning. It was rather satisfying to have a home cooked meal, in truth I rather enjoy the taste of my own cooking, there is some comfort in knowing that I have chosen everything that goes into it. Aroy Mak Mak (very tasty indeed).

The End Result... Amazing.

The End Result… Amazing.

Phitsanulok

Phitsanulok (pronounced Pis-an-u-loh) is a reasonably sized city in central Thailand. It takes about an hour to drive from my school and en route there are lots of stalls selling fresh banana, green plains and rice paddies as well as the occasional ‘lying Buddha’. My mentor and I visited one such Buddha; it was impressively large.

The train station in Phitsanulok is fairly impressive and an old steam Engine with the number 181 on it stands proudly beside the entrance. I was expecting to see Helen alone(another ETA), but I was also greeted by Caron, Will (Weew), Matt and Tom. All of us had been in the same small group at the orientation in Bangkok so it was great to see a few familiar faces and also to be able to talk very quickly in English without fear of being misunderstood.

We passed our day going between inside and outside attractions. The first attraction was Helen’s apartment. She has a large room in an apartment block with windows, curtains, two beds, a mirror, air conditioning, a flushing toilet and a hot shower; it was unbelievable… After trying some interesting fruits and cakes we took a tuk tuk to a large temple beside the river, which is apparently very famous.

The sky was sweating with humidity and as a result we did too. After taking our shoes off and stashing them in my bag (I’ve heard of shoe thieves) we went inside the temple. There was a very impressive and quite large golden Buddha as well as many other related religious items. As it was the weekend of the festival of Kaw Pan Sa it was very busy both inside and out. There was an interesting mixture of people praying and people posing for photographs; often the two went together.

Trams were something we had been told to investigate. I had imagined traditional trams with overhead wires; what we took was more like a bus in the shape of a tram carriage. As we were about to leave we spotted Jodie, another English teaching assistant, being led by two Thai ladies. She was busy, but we got her number for future reference.

The tram tour was relatively cheap (40Baht for 40 minutes- so just less than £1). I liked being able to sit in the shade with the breeze rushing by as we took in the sights of the city. The tour guide was extremely friendly and smiley, but her English was quite impossible to comprehend. A kind Thai lady who lived in Switzerland offered us up some laminated bits of cards, which had the information about each of the ‘sights of interest’ on it. My favourite part was one of the comments about a king who was “brave, strong and strange”.

After a long walk through town, with a brief cool down in a department store with air conditioning, we went back to Helen’s for a snack. The boys pottered off to find a hostel as there was not enough room for all of us in the apartment.

At around 6pm we headed to the food market where I was overwhelmed by the sights and smells of cooked rats, swarms of live bees, multi-coloured curries, all sorts of fruit and randomly an underwear stand in the thick of it. Dinner was very filling- by the end I was eem mak (VERY FULL!) to the point that I thought I would have to lie down. Eating more than half a pineapple has become a rarity. Although pineapple did make up a large part of my meal, I also had fried sweet corn balls and sweet pancakes with warm green paste in them.

The next stop was the night market which predominantly focuses on clothes, accessories and make up. It was set up just down by the side of the river and took more than an hour to walk up and down. I was impressed by Caron’s bargaining skills and saw that knowing the numbers in Thai well can come in handy. I got two lovely flowing dresses that will be suitable for school for less than £10 for two.

A riverside beverage came next when Helen, Caron and I rejoined with the lads. The mosquitoes weren’t too fierce, but after a while we left because we were just so tired our eyes couldn’t stay open. A friend of mine who I met at a hostel in Bangkok told me about a website called ‘post secrets’ where you can send a postcard with your biggest secret into a special address and the best ones get published online weekly. The first few were entertaining and lighthearted, but as we scrolled down we saw some that were moving and others that were just sad or depressing. This is how our evening ended. It was bliss going to bed without being too hot or being munched by mosquitoes.