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

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Goodbye Teacher Charlie

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

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

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

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My name is Teacher Charlie

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

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Thank goodness I don’t mind public speaking.

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

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The School

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

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Students: “Good Morning Teeechaa Chaahhlleee.”

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

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

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

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

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Lovely Wee Class

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What a Wee Sweetie.

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

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

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The Time has Come

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

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My Last Class.

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Some of my Boys.

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

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

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Khao San Road

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

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

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

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“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.