Finishing Touches, Farewells and Fine Food (‘Street Food’ Without the Street)

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Tanawan, Chaba, Jook and her Little Boy.

“Hello, Charot… Sorry! Have I woken you up?” I hear Tanawan say down the phone. At this point I realise that I have absolutely no idea what time it is. She explains that it is 11am and my dress is ready, the dressmaker wants me to come and try it on to make sure that it fits ok. I can’t believe it; I haven’t slept in that late in over 2 months. Within 30 minutes of opening my eyes I am standing in the bathroom trying on my dress. It is enormous and hangs like a sack… this is very disappointing. I had even had dress related dreams, except in my dream my grandmother had made me a beautiful floor length dress that fitted perfectly, the only problem with it was the Christmas patterns. I figured that I might as well ask if the tailor could take it in, that is what a fitting is for after all, so she took my measurements again saying I had lost weight (5 inches) since last time… 3 days ago. Maybe it was just difficult to measure over a baggy T-shirt. She zoomed off on her motorcycle to return within an hour or two.

Thai people seem to be very big on food culture. Tanawan took Nick and I for lunch, Khing didn’t come with us as he had been to the hospital with a fever last night and was lying like a patient in the living room of their house. We had Chinese noodles with herbs; there were 5 small noodle nests that were multi-coloured like pasta (orange, white, green, yellow and even blue!). We were also treated to a plate of scrumptious (Tanawan’s word, not mine) Pad Thai which was slightly browned from having been in the hot pan for a little too long, my favourite. We also had some ridiculously sweet, bright green guava juice… I must say I’m rather looking forward to a Rubicon when I go back to London.

We were sent off for another hour or two until the dress had been taken in. For the first time I had a go driving a geared motorcycle and if I don’t mind saying so myself it went rather well. The school grounds of Sukothai Technical College provided me with a safe and protected arena to practice and generally just gallivant around, at points getting up to 4th gear. I was pleased to be able to get the engine to start after one attempt of pushing down the lever (excuse my severe lack of technical terms). The thought of whizzing round London on a scooter/ moped is rather tempting, I’m just not how sure how pleasant it would be considering the predominance of precipitation.

The Chan family was no-where to be seen so we dropped in on Jook and her family who directed us back to the Chan residence. As we arrived there for the second time the family pick-up pulled in. I tried on my dress and to my shock and horror I could hardly squeeze in this time, in fact as I tried to pull it on I was sweating profusely (a combination of embarrassment and the heat). Tanawan and Jook had to assist me with the zip but when I managed to squeeze it on properly it fitted like a dream and I felt wonderful. That said Mr. Chan told me that I must lose a kg and have a helper at the ready when I want to wear it out. After taking a few pictures it was time to say goodbye, in a very maintained and dignified way. I was just relieved that I didn’t get too upset. In comparison to leaving Mauritius after 1 year and being able to speak the language properly it wasn’t too bad, phew. We can keep in touch also; I have Tanawan’s business card!

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Tuk Tuks.

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The View from the Bus Window.

The bus from Sukothai to Phitsanulok was reasonably uneventful, except from when a soldier dismounted, proceeded to urinate about a meter away from the door, hopped back on a couple of minutes later and sat down next to me. It took about 30 minutes longer than usual, I’m sure he had something to do with it, he inspired others to also get the bus to stop so they could go to the bathroom. En route I texted Doi (who I met at the entrepreneurial event at Sukothai Historical Park) to see if he wanted to meet up one last time before I head back to the UK. By 5.25pm I had no response and I was 2 minutes away from the bus station frantically zipping up my bag in order to jump off and sprint onto the last Wangsaipoon bus, which leaves at 5.30pm. Literally as we were pulling into the bus station he said he was free so instead of dashing across to get the other bus I strolled casually across to the motorcycle taxi area and got a lift to the train station whilst eating a packet of crips at the same time and preparing my money as shops, markets, people and multitudes of vehicles passed us in my periphery vision.

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Phitsanulok Town Centre.

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Aerobics by the River.

Helen, another ETA, seemed unreachable. It was frustrating being so near her house but not being able to contact her. As I walked across the bridge by her house I glimpsed something rather entertaining; a large group of Thai people dressed up in sports gear doing an outdoor aerobics session led by a woman with a microphone on a stage. Out of the blue Helen called me up and I managed to convince her to come and have dinner with Doi and I. We first stopped off to pick up rotis from the ‘best place in town’ as Helen had never tried any, and then onto a restaurant for dinner. The rotis are large, sweet and filling and I had planned for that to be my meal. Eating it inside the restaurant proved to be no issue so it quickly became ‘street food’ without the street. Helen and Doi had steak, egg, sausages and bacon with chips for dinner… this place specializes in western food apparently. In addition to my roti I had a portion of chips with ketchup and mayonnaise- my first chips since I’ve arrived, and my last (though they were lovely).

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Sorry Doi!

During a quick nip to the Phitsanulok night market that sits on the river bank we bumped into Ricky, another ETA, who looked absolutely stunned to see us and after saying a few things about his project continued on his way; we will see him again on Friday at the meal in Bangkok. I was particularly taken with a key ring stand where one can get them personalized and got a few made for some of the teachers at Anubanwangsaipoon. Almost all of the stalls at the market sell clothes, shoes, accessories, make-up or food, barring one that had knuckle-dusters (which are apparently illegal to use here), machetes and replica guns, so it was not the best place to get gifts to take home. I think we’ll wait until Bangkok for that.

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The River

After Doi gave me a lift home (the last bus left hours ago) I accidentally woke up teacher Frenelly and went in; the extreme heat, the mosquitos, the lizards and the nature sounds, amazed me. After sitting for a while sweating profusely I remembered that there is such a thing as a fan and that it is unwise not to use it! This is useful to note for the future, tomorrow perhaps. I am so used to my bed that I don’t notice anymore that it is so hard that I used to think it felt like wood. How grateful I am that I find it fairly easy to get used to things, especially the ants (that were crawling over my mattress, not too many, but still…)

“Oh, is this a Chinese Temple?”: Bicycle Rides, Circle Dancing and a ‘Student Night’ Out.

"Oh, is this a Chinese Temple?"

“Oh, is this a Chinese Temple?”

Washing up out the kitchen window.

Washing up out the kitchen window.

A dose of French toast, cha yen (Thai iced tea) and lounging in the ‘gangster’ shelter just by my bedroom window where the ‘cool kids’ usually hang out was a good way to start the day. This was further improved with a reasonably long cycle ride/ rather unsuccessful mission in photography. As it turns out taking pictures while sitting on the back seat of a semi-fast moving bicycle is not the best way to capture the natural beauty of Wangsaipoon and its surrounds. I was very excited (to the point of suddenly and unexpectedly slamming on the shoddy breaks of my bike) to see glimpses of bright blue from a tree on the edge of a small, stagnant body of water. It was far away, but caught my eye and when I trained my camera in I saw a very small, quite impressive looking blue bird. Though the picture does not do it justice I’m glad I managed to capture it at all. I pedaled my ‘vehicle’ as far as the little shelter from the sun where I finished reading “Stoner” a couple of weeks ago. It was just as beautiful as I remembered despite the weather being distinctly greyer, one could say that this added to the atmosphere and made the field, with the rolling hills in the distance, even more scenic. As did a solo field walker who gave us a familiar nod.

There are about 8 buses that go from Wangsaipoon to Phitsanulok over the course of a day. By the time I looked at my watch it was 1.40pm, which meant there would be no way of catching the 2pm bus unless it was late. It is consistently at least 15 minutes late but I got the feeling that ‘sod’s law’ would intervene, the bus would come on time, and we would miss it. As such the only option was to wait to get the next bus at 3.30pm, much to the surprise of Doi and Ally. It appears that our plans were much too loose; Doi quizzed me as to whether it is normal in my country to be so vague as suggesting meeting up at the weekend with no set time, or even day. Meeting up this weekend got narrowed down to Saturday, then Saturday afternoon and finally 5pm (when it turned out that the 3.30pm bus was the only option).

At the Side of the Road.

At the Side of the Road.

The Vehicle... and the Initial Passenger.

The Vehicle… and the Initial Passenger.

In the Temple.

In the Temple.

By the time we got to Wang Thong it was about 5pm. We piled straight into the truck and headed across to the temple. It transpired that it was closing at 5.30pm so it became a bit of a flying visit. Ally, the Texan girl on a Rotary Exchange Programme, exclaimed about 10 minutes in, “Oh, is this a Chinese Temple?” Doi, Nick and I couldn’t help but mock her gently; there were copious red Chinese lanterns, Chinese characters, Chinese Statues etc. Bless her. This was definitely one of my favourite temples so far, partly because it is located on the top of a hill meaning that the views are pretty amazing. We could see as far as Wangsaipoon in one direction, and if we had arrived earlier we would have been able to look down onto Phitsanulok. There was also a garden full of fake flowers, decorated benches with love hearts and large photo frames to appease many a Thai’s need for taking plentiful photos. I realised that I had actually seen photos from this garden as Teacher Tim and Teacher Frenelly visited a few weeks ago. My camera ran out of battery just as I had taken the last picture of the view. What a lucky person I can be sometimes.

The View.

The View.

Thai towns seem to be reasonably suited to vegetarians and Doi took all of us to a ‘Jay’ (V) restaurant. I was surprised to find a packet of ‘crispy Jew’s ears’ (mushrooms) and was distinctly un-adventurous in my choice of dish: roasted cashews with rice, whereas Nick and Doi had something much more exciting. Ali, however, had already eaten (and proceeded to laugh at Nick and I for our lack of spice tolerance.

Male Bonding.

Male Bonding.

Despite having visited Phitsanulok a fair number of times I had never visited the ‘Walking Street’ night market. It takes place every Saturday and the stalls take up a large long stretch of road beside the river. As with the Chatuchak Market in Bangkok there were live animals for sale; puppies, kittens, but also some eels/ other fish in plastic bags filled with water. The highlight of this trip, however, was the ‘circle dancing’. Doi had quite casually mentioned earlier on that there would be a ‘circle of old people doing traditional dancing’. We walked right to the end of the street and installed ourselves on the top row of the metal seating waiting for the action to begin. There were lots of Thai women (mostly round middle, aging, quite eccentric) wearing matching pink and white polkadot skirts, white frilly shirts, huge brightly coloured flowers in their hair and white sock/ white canvas shoe combinations. They all assembled in a big circle at 8.45pm and each of them were taken as partners by random people from the crowd who had to pay 5 baht (about 10 p) to be part of the festivities. There were lots of different rounds, the first one being traditional that dancing. They also had calypso, salsa and various other types of dancing that basically involved shaking a bit of booty. Doi told us that this kind of dancing was only for ladies and lady boys, not for men (his excuse for not dancing… at least until the last round). However Nick (male, not lady boy), Ally and I were fairly quick to ‘book ourselves a dance partner’. Mine was quite a short, plump woman of about 50 years old with an enormous, illuminating smile. I rather loved following along with the steps and got so into it that this rather effeminate little boy in the crowd would fan me madly to cool me down as I danced on by him.

 

The Walking Street, Phitsanulok

The Walking Street, Phitsanulok

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Some of the Dancers

Next up we had to drop Ally off home (because she has a traditional, very protective host mother- and she is only 17) before heading off to Doi’s ‘quartier’. He showed us a little bit of the nightlife right beside his university. Living in such a small place as Wangsaipoon (an entirely different story from London, but still) I was amazed by the bright lights, the loud music, the large number of young people/ people my age and by the short clothes all the girls were wearing… including me actually. It was more like something out of a film than something that was real. As soon as we arrived we were beckoned over by a group of Thai students who gave us whiskey and introduced themselves. Slightly embarrassingly Doi lent me some of his sexy (I imagine) Thai girlfriend’s clothes because the wardrobe that I had available to me in my rucksack consisted only of two obscenely long teacher skirts and two ¾ length work shirts. As such I turned up, shyly, in a white playsuit adorned with black lace. Though I don’t like to admit it I felt like a bit of a ‘sexy mamma’ and didn’t actually want to give it back to him at the end of the night. Nick was also encouraged to change from what is actually his favourite shirt to one of Doi’s oversized stripy shirts (it was big on Nick, and Doi is a lot smaller than him, so that was a little odd.) What I didn’t mention before was that Doi had brought me 5 outfits to choose from, which was incredibly sweet of him.

Doi and I.

Doi and I.

I would agree with people who say that the best way to get to know a place is with the local people! I feel so privileged.

Sukothai Historical Park (Take 2), Good Food and a Night on the Mezzanine.

A piece of cake is great way to start the day. Despite having the opportunity to go to the café round the corner from Helen’s in Phitsanulok I have always resisted (for cost reasons usually), but the time had come and I treated myself to a rather small slice of mandarin flavoured (and coloured) sponge cake. The café strikes me as one that would be quite at home in East London; not on a busy street by the river in a fairly sleep town in central Thailand. The chic interior and photography equipment and brick based decoration (see photos) contrasted significantly with the open planned (and reasonably scruffy looking) tire and pipe shop across the road.

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The decor. It looks more like East London than Phitsanulok!

Helen and a few of the others had been planning to go through to Sukothai, as was I, so we had decided to join forces. However, just before getting the bus it transpired that Helen’s companions had bailed on her. She had been planning to go to Sukothai Historical Park, and as a history student from Oxford University (!) I didn’t want to deprive her of the experience. As such I offered to accompany her instead, after all it is a very fascinating and beautiful place to spend time. Over the course of our journey on the ‘gangster’ (Helen’s words, not mine) Thai bus we managed to work out a plan with Nick, an ETA who lives in Sukothai. Instead of Helen and I going alone we would meet Nick and Mr. Chan, one of the English teachers from his college, and all go together. The bus ride whizzed by. This was largely due to kipping en route, but somehow I managed to avoid Helen taking any embarrassing sleeping photos of me because my ‘spidey sense’ (or something) woke me up just as she was sneaking her camera out of her bag. Cheeky.

After slipping in some mud, falling up the curb, my bag pulling me face first into the concrete and grazing my arm slightly (only to be laughed at by Nick and Helen- It must have looked funny) we jumped into Mr. Chan’s pick-up truck. We swung by their place and had some corn that had just been picked by Mrs. Chan’s students and got into two separate trucks to go for lunch (the students came too). We arrived at a semi-indoor/semi-outdoor restaurant where we feasted on delicious Thai food including Thai Green Curry, mixed, roasted, cashew nuts and mixed vegetables in a mouthwatering soup. It was lovely to be surrounded by (some of) the Chan family, Mrs. Chan’s mature students who I already knew, and to be between two lovely ETAs- Helen and Nick! The group was extremely pleasant company and we made jokes together almost constantly as we ate. The jokes were interspersed by slow, educational English conversations with the students to allow them to practice in a safe and informal environment.

nick and charBeing foreign English teachers, and being under the wing of Mr. Chan we were allowed to enter the park for free! The perks. Helen, Nick and I were let loose on the park when the others sat in a little restaurant shack together. As it was my second time at the park it felt weirdly homely, especially knowing that I would be back in another two days time. Helen seemed really impressed by the park. We were all slightly/ very taken back by a large group of Southern European tourists who were scantily clad, riding around on bikes, playing loud music and filming themselves dancing around beside various ancient Thai temples and relics; it felt more that a little inappropriate considering the religious surroundings, not to mention multitudes of Buddha statues. When we had exhausted the park for Helen’s 1st, my 2nd and Nick’s 3rd time we headed back to meet the others and were treated to quite unusual ice/jelly/condensed milk/ toukmaria deserts (that looked slightly like pink frog spawn).

 

Khing (a.k.a. “little Chan”) attends Saturday school every week until 4pm. In quite quite succession we headed from the Old City to the new city to meet some of the staff at his school, pick him up, drop Helen at the bus station and nift straight over to Dr Suwat’s. He is another English teacher at Sukothai Technical College who had invited us all over for dinner, and more importantly a long and loud session of Karaoke. I had been warned that Dr. Suwat had a nice dog and a very scary dog. The former amicably pottered up to us to say hello and I heard the latter before I saw him; thankfully he was in a cage. Khing, as a rather sensitive 10-year-old boy, was terrified of the larger and more aggressive dog. Nick and I combined forces so that I would cover both of Khing’s ears and Nick would walk on the right hand side so that he couldn’t see the dog or hear him! It worked surprisingly well.

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The Chans

Dr. Suwat immediately endeared me. He had a winning smile, a strong and friendly handshake and wore a rather snazzy Hawaiian style shirt with quite snug black ¾ length jeans. As many Thai people do he has a covered, open-air kitchen which he had made full use of. There was so much food and it looked incredible, he had also pushed the boat out to make nice vegetarian food as there were two present. We assembled everything on a table on his roof terrace above his house, but almost immediately the afternoon rain started to fall so we had to move it down one level to a slightly lower, covered seating area. I must say I do enjoy keeping the company of this particular 10 year old. He is a hilarious lad and adores both food (probably more than anything in the world) and dancing. Although he appreciates singing he is not a fan of grasping the microphone himself, probably a wise choice as I was electrocuted by it a number of times. In the UK I have only to my memory done Karaoke once, Thailand has multiplied this number dramatically. My repertoire of songs is rapidly expanding, although I can’t quite sing in Thai yet. Luckily Dr. Suwat and the others were amazing and when they sung it was quite charming.

I’ll just say that some of the herbal remedies here are amazingly effective, in fact, unbelievably so. I tried some of Mrs. Chan’s, rubbing a little onto my temples, my forehead and then (regrettably) under each of my eyes. Within a minute my whole face felt cold and was stinging, my eyes watering and the rest of the company laughing slightly madly. I know now not to do this again, unless it is an emergency and I have to be wide awake but do not need the use of my eyes! What a night. It just feels so lovely to have been accepted into the family and social circle of such a lovely Thai family.

In the jungle… day 2… and then back to reality (Wang Sai Phun)

Sleeping in until 8am has become a luxury. Due to the loud noises at school that begin at 6am even if I wanted to have a lie in, or ‘lion’ as I used to say, it is just not possible. In the rainforest there were no speakers and to my joy I slept past 8am, just, and went for a solitary walk through the trees down to the river and sat for a while just listening to nature sounds and watching it pass by, this water that has travelled so far already, and has so far left to go. I took a couple of pictures on my camera and got frustrated with the quality so kindly Caron let me borrow hers for a little while before breakfast. Image

The turn out was quite impressive, almost everyone came to eat breakfast at the ‘Matthews’ tables (the booking was under his name). It was an ‘American Breakfast’, which for the meat eaters consisted of small Thai sausages, a fried egg, a bit of salad and some toast. I concentrated on stocking up on toast, which meant battling with the toast machine. I think the bread was quite reserved so it had to go through twice before reaching ‘maturity’. There were three bowls next to the toast; butter, jam and something white that I was convinced was condensed milk. It was salad dressing. So when I bit into my toast expecting it to be sweet I was a little surprised. There was Heinz tomato ketchup on the table with Thai characters on the bottle. Anyway, that’s enough of breakfast, for sure.

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The resort is renowned for being environmentally friendly and sustainable. In fitting with this one of the owners runs a farm down the road and invited us all to come along. We happily accepted and as we ventured down the dual carriageway we experienced a fair bit of hooting from cars passing by. Ken, who is the owner and speaks good English, took us through the farm in stages. We saw the fruit and vegetable plots, the chickens, the pigs and various pieces of equipment that use natural resources to create useful products like biogas, fertiliser and a kind of petrol but to name a few. There was one section laced with hammocks where we took a break from the heat. Some of the other ETAs fed the pigs while some children were mucking them out (if that term can be applied). The children come from local educational institutions and agricultural families and agree to work for pay at the weekend to help them afford materials that they need for school.

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The ‘wall of happiness’, I think it is called, has been created and is displayed near the entrance of the resort. Visitors are invited to write on a nicely shaped bit of card what happiness means to them. Most of them were in Thai and dated according to the Buddhist calendar, so some of the others (the girls, I might add) contributed. I particularly appreciated the one that said, “Happiness is being half way around the world and still feeling at home. ” It reminded me a little bit of looking through Project Trust literature.

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After one last look at the river and a brief, relaxing sit down at one of the huts we had to pack up and leave. Somehow all fourteen of us managed to fit into two vehicles, it was a squeeze, but the journey up to the village was not very far. On the way our bus passed us going in the opposite direction meaning we had to wait outside a little corner shop by some mango trees for about an hour. Somebody had left their iPod at the resort (there is a recurring theme here), and one of the members of staff drove back specially to return it, how kind. The company made the time fly by both waiting for the bus and during the journey. The trip was beautiful, and very tropical. The back door of the bus was tied open. I was sitting right next to it and the warm air swirling around me made me sleepy, but I couldn’t resist taking in all of the views of green pastures, rugged, dark green mountains and little wooden huts raised out of deep mud and water where people live. Earlier on I saw a ‘tourist map’ that had Tesco marked on it. This made me laugh but when I saw it, and when I heard that it is the biggest Tesco outlet in the whole of South East Asia I was more forgiving.

A number of the gang left at Phitsanulok, taking other buses to transport them to other areas (some of them as much as 5.5 hours away). Ten of us remained and after a ridiculous negotiation we crammed ourselves into a Tuk Tuk. The woman had tried to charge us each 120 Baht (£2.50) meaning the journey would cost £25 in total rather than £2 in total, which is what we paid. The standard price is 10 Baht each and we were not going to be ripped off, keep in mind we have local salaries. We nipped briefly to Helen’s and then back out to the market, which for the first time I saw was closed. The meat eaters found a stall and acquired some rather tasty fried goods and noodles. Frances (a fellow vegetarian) and I pottered off to try and find an alternative. I fell upon some bananas and bent down to pull four off the bunch. Frances warned me not to, but I didn’t heed this. As soon as I laid my fingers on them the woman ‘manning’ the stall screamed quite loudly at me and hit my hands away, brandishing a sharp knife. I obeyed and moved back. Then she cut four off for me, I paid and left, and realised that some of them were still too green to eat. Frances got coconut water, which, by the sounds of what she and Polly said, is quite filling, very refreshing and delicious (but also nothing like coconut milk).

By this point it was about 3pm and most people were flagging, with the exception of Will, who seems to be endlessly jolly and sociable. It was very hot and it felt like we had lost our sense of direction. Two of the others- Maddy and Will- were heading back to the bus station (which is too far to walk) so we got a Tuk Tuk together and no bargaining was required. My bus was supposed to leave at 4.30pm, so I was glad I was early because it actually left at 16:00. It was the same bus conductor as I had before, we gave each other a familiar look and I sat down at the back. Somehow I had to slip my tights on without anyone noticing because I had the feeling I would be judged when I got back to school. The change was relatively successful, barring the point when I saw the bus driver looking at me in the mirror all the way from the front of the bus.

The route to Wang Sai Phun is pretty picturesque and the smell of the white flowers with the yellow middles (I should really know their names by now) was exquisite. As my bike had been removed from the bus station I had to walk from the 7 Eleven to the school for the first time… ever. I have always cycled or been given a lift in a motorbike or a car. It took 10 minutes and I must say I prefer cycling, as it is a good way of avoiding embarrassing or intense eye contact. When I arrived home the bike I have been using for the past few weeks was gone without explanation. This was an upsetting discovery as it is my main means of getting around and more importantly getting away from the school grounds. However lovely it is to live here I do depend on being able to get away and drift through the countryside immersed in its beauty, and my own thoughts (or a good book). I realised that my main sources of pleasure: reading and cycling were no longer possible as I have ran out of novels and no longer have a bike.

French toast (or eggy bread, depending on what you call it) has made up a large proportion of my dinners for the last week. It is delicious, cheap, easy to make and full of protein (relatively). Just writing about it is making me want to have some more… now! I also had some mango, which I am becoming a master at cutting, because a while back the director donated about 20 mangos to the Philipino girls and I for our own consumption. Hence why breakfast often consists of rice and chopped mango.

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In some ways I was glad to be back to living somewhere where there is exciting wildlife inside as well as out, the mosquitoes were not so welcome though after two nights of living without them. I was so tired that I fell asleep after listening to two songs, a record!

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.

A B Cs… Adventures, Bicycles and Classes.

It’s almost 9pm and I’m sitting in my beautiful wooden house beside the school. The fan is on full pelt causing the smoke from my mosquito ‘coil’ to billow wildly up and through my decorative blue scarf on the wall. The combination of the smoke and the fan are killer and as of yet I haven’t been bitten, at least not tonight; a new record.

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I can now confirm that my teaching timetable is wrong. At 8.30am grade 5/2 came instead of 4/2 and then nobody again until 12.30. There was not supposed to be another one until 1.30pm so when a girl hunted me down in the staffroom and virtually dragged me upstairs to a room full of my students I was more than a little surprised. Today I felt that my teaching was better than it has been in previous weeks. A boss of mine from my hometown, Currie, sent me an email with seven tips from ‘teacher to teacher’. He has recently been teaching teachers to teach physics in Ghana. It made me imagine being the students having a farang who can’t speak much Thai trying to explain everything. I think they have probably not heard so much English in their life. Although it will be a steep learning curve for them, I hope it will prove to be beneficial for them. I have managed to compile a register for 3 out of 4 classes. The last class can’t write their names in English making things slightly difficult in this respect. Mind you, I could definitely not write my name in Thai characters when I’m 10. Nor can I do it now come to think of it.

In the afternoon I had two classes in a row, which seemed to go smoothly. At the end of the lesson many of the students piled their jotters up high on my desk to mark, a satisfying feeling. To my surprise when the bell sounded 2.30pm a number of members of the class ran up to me and hugged me affectionately. Then they did not leave. We had an impromptu ‘homework club’. The kids just stayed and completed the activity that I had set for them, I told them a story in English and after acting out we all headed off in our separate directions.

The bike ride yesterday was so lovely but I was determined not just to fall into a rut of doing the same thing everyday. The sun was shining so I decided to go for a bike ride but in a different direction. The next town along, Sak Lek, is 6km away (or so I thought). This seemed like a reasonable distance so I set off on my way. The heat was like a cocoon around me, but pleasant at the same time. I passed lush green fields, over rivers, past hamlets on stilts above water, banana and melon stands, temples, and as I approached the town it became bigger and more built up with motorcycle shops, schools and even a Tesco Lotus. I had envisaged the journey taking about an hour. It only took 40 minutes as I peddled quickly in the hope that the town would rise up around me eventually. When I got to the centre of town by the bus station I turned back around stopping by at 7 Eleven for a well deserved cold drink. When I left the air-conditioned shop I was overwhelmed by the heat and by the dark clouds that had suddenly formed in the sky directly above me. The rain was coming and nothing would stop it. I had cycled 14 km and I had another 14 to go!

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My boredom has led me to do various things and this is included in one of the more dramatic ones. Cycling 30 km down a dual carriageway in rural, central Thailand half in the scorching sun, the other half in the midst of a Monsoon. Within a minute my clothes had become a shade darker and I could hardly see. The mosquito repellent on my face found its way into my eyes as I rubbed the rain out of them furiously. Every car, lorry, van, bicycle, motorbike that passed contained passengers who seemed both entertained and endeared by the wet but smiling foreigner 304 km away from Bangkok. A highlight of the trip was seeing two of my students passing by on a motorcycle as I struggled through the rain and the wind on my clanger bike. The look on their faces was priceless.

The enormous portrait of the king framed in a ring of gold marks the centre of Wang Sai Phun district. I could see it in the horizon and peddled fast. Gradually the distance between us diminished and I found myself conveniently parked next to the roti stand. Two rotis with condensed milk were on the menu and I perched in what is now to be referred to as my ‘roti spot’ on the bench just outside the post office. This was after being invited to teach English to the policemen at the station 2km down the road in the opposite direction. What a lark.

The ride home from the post office was full of coincidences. I bumped into Teacher Tim and Teacher Frenelly on their way to buy some dinner, and a couple of minutes later I saw Joy and she hopped on the ‘passenger’ seat of my bike.

Very wet...

I will next write on Monday (I would imagine) as I’m going to Phitsanulok this weekend with 13 other ETAs (English Teaching Assistants) on an adventure weekend. Until then…

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