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

Image

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).

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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:

Image

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!!!”

Image

Lovely Wee Class

Image

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!

Image

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.

Image

My Last Class.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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!

Image

Laughter, loudness and little lads…

Hot! In the last week it hasn’t rained here at all. Although it is the rainy season the powerful sun has dominated the skies and we are feeling the consequences. It has got to the point that only two showers a day is pushing it, to the point that all fans seem to do is create a regular warm breeze inside. Alas, we keep going, keep teaching, eating and sleeping, hoping for the sweet relief of rain and cool air; it will come.

I have been at Anubanwangsaipoon for three weeks today and as time goes on I feel myself improving as a teacher, but more importantly I am seeing the students come out of their shells, or receding back slightly (in the case of the loud, obnoxious ones). I have activities planned in advance of every lesson and am now managing to have enough different things to do to suit the wide range of keenness levels and ability of the kids. Grade 5/1, to my utter amazement and pride, walked in at 1.30pm and obediently returned to the positions I had placed them in yesterday without being prompted in any way. I was very impressed by them and the set up was conducive to a peaceful and productive lesson.

The kids love their pictures being taken. This was a "treat" for being so well behaved.

The kids love their pictures being taken. This was a “treat” for being so well behaved.

There is a set routine that takes place at the beginning of each class. One of the students is assigned to call out ‘please stand up’. Everyone therefore stands up and says in unison ‘Good morning teacher’. The teacher proceeds to say ‘Good morning students. How are you?’ They ALL say ‘I am fine thank you, and you?’ the emphasis on the ‘you’, it is always very amusingly intonated, being inflected at the end. The teacher tends to say ‘I am also fine thank you. Please sit down’, and only then can the class begin. I like to mix this up a bit to make sure the students actually know what they are saying, also occasionally saying ‘excuse me’ if they don’t speak clearly to the point that they end up shouting so loud they lose their voices- it keeps them interested and is hilarious to witness! Sometimes I say ‘I’m very good’ or ‘Not very well’ and explain why. This always surprises them. Today though, I made a slightly embarrassing mistake. When it was time for the students to stand up I looked out across the sea of them and saw one head that remained A LOT lower than the rest of them and gestured wildly for this rogue to stand up… On hearing ripples of laughter and spotting the face of this child I realised that it was Panumad, who is naturally a good foot or so shorter than everyone else in the class. Whoops. He didn’t mind and it caused a bit of hilarity, but in a very controlled and friendly way.

The theft of my handbag on the second day in Bangkok has had relatively long term effects. They are being resolved one by one. Apparently I can’t make an insurance claim until I get back to Scotland, I have a new handbag (that my director brought back from China for me), a replacement wallet etc, but the main worry was getting a new passport and visa. The process is slow, but is moving along now. For some reason British Passports cannot be processed in Thailand. This meant that my application for a new one had to get sent to Hong Kong and back to Bangkok. My passport, which contains a picture of me looking like a drowned rat after getting utterly lost and soaked in the tropical rain on the way to the photo shop in the dark, awaits me in Bangkok. Next Monday is (another) public holiday, this time to celebrate the Queen’s birthday, and more generally mothers’ day. As a consequence the passport office is closed. I’m currently trying to organise a trip to the passport office (that is only open between 8am-11am) so will mean spending at least one night in Bangkok and missing at least one day of school. Teacher Tim offered to come with me but I don’t think it would be fair on the children to lose 2/3 of the English teachers at once. The visa application will be the next step, and getting it re-stamped by customs, how exciting.

Post Offices are probably one of my favourite kinds of public buildings. I like writing letters, addressing envelopes, putting the stamps on and slipping them into the post box not to be opened again until it reaches the person on the other side, they might be round the corner, or on the other side of the world. A quick cycle (after re-claiming the bike I’ve been using from beneath one of the other teacher’s houses) to the post office was most welcome. It felt good to cut through the heat and feel the breeze on my skin. On the way back to school my eyes fell upon a striking scene. When winding slowly through the back streets I saw a traditional raised wooden house. In the open kitchen area an elderly woman sat cross legged peeling vegetables, her face illuminated by years of experience, clad only in a long skirt. It looked very natural and the orientalist within me appreciated the scene.

 

Pre-pool, post-concrete!

Pre-pool, post-concrete!

A concrete square was set on some grass by the side of the school on the first day I arrived. Gradually bamboo walls were put up around it, then an iron gate… and now an open-air swimming pool (like a large bowl) had been placed inside. From what I have gathered I am the only one who is excited about this, in fact I think I am excited enough for all of the staff. Bounding up to the director’s office to ask for the key was thrilling, until it transpired that he didn’t have it. I was told that another teacher had it and to come back later. Dutifully I returned exactly two hours later to discover that this chap wouldn’t be in until tomorrow. The water looked irresistible so I precautiously climbed over the iron gate and dipped my arm in. The sun had heated the first couple of inches at the top, but beneath that were the cool, tempting depths. I can’t have been very surreptitious as when I turned round to go back three boys adorned the gate and about ten others of various heights, shapes and sizes looked at me quizzically.  Later on I asked the director if I could just climb over and go for a swim but he was not keen and justified this by explaining that there was no chlorine in the pool so I had to wait. I’ll update on the progress of this avenue tomorrow!

The art room was, as with last night, was the place to ‘work’ overtime. More teachers joined us; there were six of us in total. Spending the evening in the company of them makes them feel closer to being friends than colleagues, especially as I don’t encounter any of them during my classes as we all teach on our own. The director joined us too and there was some talk of all of us going to the ‘Crocodile Bar/Club (?)’ in Phichit to go dancing. However, Teacher Tim told me that if we did this she would sit and watch, as she doesn’t like dancing. I’m not sure about it. Maybe tomorrow…

When I got home I had some contact with the UK, with my mother. When we spoke on Skype I had to turn off the fan because it was too loud, the result being a very hot and sweaty Charlie. Despite having a “shower” beforehand I had to follow up with another one afterwards. I’m just glad that in my net mosquitoes, and moths actually, proved not to be problematic. For the first time in a while I was able to listen to music directly in my ears when I went to be, finally I got round to replacing my (very) broken headphones and it feels like magic having such a clear sound.

Reasonably sized animals in the house.  He is one of my favourites.

Reasonably sized animals in the house.
He is one of my favourites.

If you have any music recommendations for me please comment, I’m quite keen on trying out some new things!

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.

DSC00864

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!

DSC00871

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…

Bollywood, Bicycles and Back to school (again)

I will begin by setting the scene. At present the staffroom is not supporting a sleeping dog, just myself and a Thai teacher, who looks like he is doing some serious work… that is only until I spied Facebook and pop music on his computer screen.

The music began today at 5.30am, later than usual. I guess that it must have been my punishment for missing half a day of school yesterday.

Today is my first full day of timetabled classes. I was in my classroom 30 minutes early in order to sweep the dusty, littered floor and write a few things on the board. At 8.30am grade 4/2 were supposed to come- I had prepared their work and activities knowing that I would have a free hour before my next class. They did not come. Instead, grade 5/1 came in and sat down expectantly, their ‘Gogo loves English’ workbooks signaling to me that this was the wrong class… or the right class at the wrong time. We overcame this and I sneakily made a register to keep track of who comes to class, and more importantly who actually does the work. The prospect of learning so many (over 100) Thai names and faces is daunting, but it is possible and there is still time.

Classes start at 8.30am.

This is what my classroom looked like:

They didn’t come. I later realised that this was because they had been timetabled to be in two places at once, and chose not to come to English. Initially I was frustrated as I had prepared my lesson and was raring to go, but reading a bit more of ‘The English Patient’ in my classroom, in the hope that someone might turn up at some suited me just fine too. I also had to collect and hang up my washing (some of which was stained by the soy sauce experience of last night), and by not turning up my students gave me some time to do this.

It is always nice when the students are unexpectedly excited and enthusiastic about things. When trying to glean their names earlier I got them to write A5 name cards that they will use every lesson so that I can put their names and faces together. They actually cheered- they just adore drawing.

For lunch there were two vegetarian dishes: one with mushroom, and another with egg and squash. Thankfully I had a sneaky pineapple in the fridge at home so I brought that in to supplement the plain rice. A little girl just ran over to me with her hand in the shape of devils’ horns and shouted something indiscriminate before scampering off. She turned back and said ‘I love youuu teacher Charlie’. That was five minutes ago and somehow (perhaps by watching me) her and her gang just found me in the staffroom and peaked their little heads in- they are still there. I can see a foot… a leg… a head… a face… a whole child, NO three! There I never a dull moment.

School has finished now and almost all of the other teachers have trickled home with the rain. I’m still here though. Two of my students (one of them is fat and cheeky, the other one is amazingly keen and clever) came to join me. We started off trying to make conversation, but it was surprisingly difficult so I showed them some pictures from home and then whacked on some Bollywood music, pulling a few of my old moves out of the bag. The boy watched on entertained, and the girl tried to imitate my every move- she was actually an amazing dancer. It was so hot that we had to put the fans on full pelt. I miss dancing with people, with friends, with strangers, for crowds etc. There is something very satisfying about learning a new dance and breaking a sweat from joyful physical activity as opposed to just sitting still or walking down the road.

As I was walking to my front door one of the other teachers shouted my name and shoved a well-used bicycle in my direction. I didn’t understand the full implications of this. He was not just lending it to me for one quick ride, as I realised the next day (excuse the confusing tenses- I’m actually writing this between ‘today’ (24 July) and ‘today’ (29 July) when it was still by the foot of our stairs. I immediately mounted my bike and set on an adventure feeling glad to be away from the school for a little while. It is rare to see a farang around these parts, but seeing a European is virtually unheard of. As I went on my way down the road beyond the school gates I was greeted by many of my students, local families, business owners and a number of ‘friendly’ neighbourhood dogs. The speed of the bike meant that I could whizz by and casually say hello without having the awkwardness of walking past, being met by prolonged stares.

I had only ever been as far as the temple, which is about 1km down the road to the right of the school. On this trip I went a lot further than that and fell upon beautiful expanses of rice paddies, cool breezes, a bustling (yet very local) market and mountains in the distance with impatient clouds waiting above them.

What was going to be a fairly mundane night in became unexpectedly long and interesting. Three of the other teachers and I nipped off for dinner at a noodle stand by the main road, and afterwards shared a couple of snacks on Teacher Tim’s ‘angry birds’ tables and chairs. Then, when I thought we were going to pop off to the corner shop to get something, we ended up going to the director’s house for a drink. We stayed for a couple of hours and there were lots of other, more senior teachers, who I didn’t know, some of them even coming from others schools in the surrounding provinces. The director gave us each a bag of dried sour cherries that he had brought back from his trip to China and we sat around, somewhat awkwardly, as they made jokes about Frenelly and I being farang (foreign) in quite limited English. If we ever replied in Thai ripples of surprised laughter filled the room. I was glad to go, but found this a little tiring having to sit politely and laugh at everybody’s jokes who I didn’t really understand so we managed to slip off (not without having to sneak back in and out to get my wallet which I had left on the table). When my Thai is better I must go back!

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