A Travellerspoint blog

27th Jan-9th April: Final blog - bye Sai Moon - to London++

sunny -29 °C

MONDAY 27th JANUARY

I don't have any classes on Mondays so today I used the time to bring this blog up to date and to sort out some recovered photos.

[/b] TUESDAY 28th JANUARY[/b]

There was a lengthy teachers meeting with the Director after assembly this morning. Whatever other qualities she may have, the new Director can certainly talk a lot and as a result my first period class had to start about 20 minutes late.

I am still not feeling 100% with a headache hovering in the background but I hope my cold-like symptoms will finally disappear soon.

WEDNESDAY 29th JANUARY

I spoke with Mr Noi today about the possibility of selling my 2 year old Scoopyi motorbike the documents for which are in his name. He said he would buy it off me for 20,000 baht (about £400) which compares well with prices I have researched online.

He also chatted to me about staying on at Sai Moon but I pointed out that the salary is too low. Up until recently my salary has been taken out of the money that Jasper should be getting. Unlike me, he has a written contract with the school in which it states that he will be paid 20,000 baht per month. What the school has been doing is to pay half of this to Jasper and pay the other half to me.

What is strange is that before Jasper came to the school there was no problem about paying my salary but I suspect that more recently some budgets have been overspent or there was not enough money for something and a top up was needed so my salary was cut to pay for it. If I am to remain at Sai Moon there will have to be a really good offer to tempt me to stay.

Mr Noi is also keen for me to stay on at Sai Moon for several more years and thinks I should move out of the teacher's house into a house of my own, or a rented one. He knows of such a house about midway between my village and Kham Yai which is owned by the Director of Sai Moon before the last one who wants to sell it for 1,500,000 baht (about £30,000). Mr Noi took me and Jasper to look at it. It is set back from the Sai Moon-Kham Yai road and thus has a large space for cars or turning in front; there is also the makings of a single car garage.

The house was locked so we could only squint through the windows into empty rooms and look around the property. It has some potential if some money was spent to decorate and furnish it and equip the kitchen space and shower room. There is an outbuilding at the back of the house which is uninhabitable and full of junk and dirt.

I am not seriously interested in either renting it or buying it but it was interesting to see and speculate on the potential. Property prices in Thailand are rising so Mr Noi is convinced a decent profit could be made a few years from now.

THURSDAY 30th JANUARY

I had another rotten night last night with short nervy pain near my last foot which kept me awake for much of the time. At least, the cold nights and mornings seem to be over now and I can have my room windows open at night without having to wrap up in bed.

FRIDAY 31st JANUARY

I asked again about when the end is and still no one knows yet based on the date for the last three years it will be mid-March, ie about six weeks from now.

The same applies to the date for Scout Camp, something that comes round every year at this time yet the Thai teachers are only just beginning to think about it and don’t know where to go.

It is very odd. When I was at school all the fixed dates would be known at the beginning of the school year and everything else fitted around them.

SATURDAY 1st FEBRUARY

I went into Kranuan this morning for lunch and to buy things at Tesco Lotus and on the way we saw yet another accident. One has to be really switched on to avoid having an accident on Thai roads especially as local drivers/riders do the most crazy and unexpected things.

This afternoon I bought my ticket to fly back to London and once again British Airways turned out to be the cheapest direct option. The fare was also some £300 cheaper than the ticket I bought in February last year. This has something to do with the fact that my ticket last year was for London-Bangkok-London whereas the ticket I just bought is for Bangkok-London-Bangkok.

SUNDAY 2nd FEBRUARY

For the first time here I caught sight of a lizard near the washing line though there is nothing new in that; what was different was that it had a surprising electric blue back. Natch, I did not have my camera with me but I went to my room to fetch it and returned to see if I could spot it again, but no such luck.

The temperature noticeably cranked up today reaching 29C in the early afternoon. Still a bit cold though….ha ha ha!!! But just joking!!

The general election has been held today but it is unlikely to settle anything because no reforms are in prospect and the same corrupt cronies will probably return to power always assuming that (a) the election is deemed constitutional, and (b) that enough MPs are elected to form a Parliament, which is very doubtful as the opposition Democrats have decided not to stand for election as a protest of their own and the 40+ other parties are miniscule and go unnoticed by the media.

This evening I had swarms of insects buzzing around my room, the first for this year, but they were quickly dispatched with some spray which I left to work while I went to Kham Yai for dinner.

MONDAY 3rd FEBRUARY

The hot spell continues and today it was 32C in the shade at 4.30pm. I have been thinking about what to do once this term finishes during my planned three week break before returning to London on 8th April. I am toying with a final visit to Chiang Mai as well as visiting Kanchanaburi, northwest of Bangkok, where the Bridge over the River Kwai is located as well as the Hellfire Pass through which the rail line was intended to go to Moulmein, Burma.

TUESDAY 4th FEBRUARY

Once again there has been a hiccup concerning the salaries for me, Jasper and Chwin. It seems that the head of the Or Bor Dor has resigned and thus no one can take responsibility for signing the documents required to release the money. Dotty really; I always thought this is where deputies stepped into the breech.

I have yet to tell the Director and other teachers that I am definitely not coming back to Sai Moon. At the moment, they think I am just going back to London to get a visa and then coming back.

WEDNESDAY 5th FEBRUARY

Today Ajarn Tippakorn told me and Jasper about the forthcoming day we are going to have to teach English to the Gossanor students at their college in Huai Mek. The Gossanor is an informal college with students of all ages, but generally 16+, who either dropped out of school or want to continue their studies later in life. Tippakorn's original idea was to have four groups and four different languages being taught – Tagalog, Chinese, English and Vietnamese - but as no one knew of anyone able to teach Vietnamese that idea was abandoned.

It is only a one day workshop for the Gossanor students and I suppose it will be a different day and something amusing for them but I can't wondering the purpose of it as only 15 minutes has been allotted for the teaching of each language with another fifteen minutes for a game.

THURSDAY 6th FEBRUARY

As I have mentioned before, the students are given a vocabulary word each morning in English, Tagalog, Chinese and Thai. Jasper and I walk to the front of the assembled students with a whiteboard and Ajarns Tippakorn and Chwin stand alongside. Once the Bataan (head student) gives the command for the students to Wai us I say 'Good morning everybody' and then 'Do sit down.' But this morning, just for fun, I said 'Don't sit down' but the students did not realize what I had said and just sat down as normal. It was very funny!

Mr Noi began the charm offensive this morning to try and get me to stay at Sai Moon. It is hard to explain exactly why I want to leave without overt criticism and making accusations so I have to be careful in how I answer people.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that the sugar cane in the fields was being burnt and cut. What I forgot to mention is that this burning produces a lot of ash which gets blown everywhere and covers tables and desks and chairs and is very annoying while it lasts.

This afternoon there was a lengthy teachers meeting and one of the topics was about the forthcoming visits to nearby schools to attract more students to enrol in the junior M1 class at Sai Moon. Mr Noi and Mr Kay were given the task of organizing a timetable for the visits and they reported the details to the meeting. I managed to attract the Deputy's eye to indicate I wanted to speak and he alerted the Director. I said that which date to visit which school was the easy part, the most difficult part is to answer this question 'What would attract a potential student to enroll at Sai Moon'. The question is harder than it might seem because there is nothing about Sai Moon that is different from any other nearby secondary school who also want students to enrol with them.

I have taken part in these recruiting visits for the last three years and they result in very very few new students at Sai Moon. In my first year, the then Director pointed at me and said Sai Moon now has a Native English Speaking teacher. He also said that the internet was coming to Sai Moon. These two novelties will not work again because I will not be here and other schools have the internet now. I also pointed out that the most powerful recruiting agents the school has are not the (I wanted to say, but didn't – boring) teachers but the students themselves because they see their brothers and sisters and same aged friends every day, but the teachers do not. Last year, the Director agreed with me and announced at the next assembly that there would be a financial reward for every student that can recruit a new one for Sai Moon. A couple lf days later we had ten new enrolments! I don't think that students will be used in this way this time because the Thai teachers are fixated with their school visits and meeting teachers they have not seen for a long time.

After I finished speaking, with Ajarn Tippakorn translating, she said that there will be a meeting on my topic and that I will be informed of the result. How much more polite and inclusive it would have been if the response had been that a meeting will be convened to which I would be invited and I could expand on my suggestion and even try to answer the question I posed myself, but I doubt that will ever happen.

FRIDAY 7th FBRUARY

The new Thong Laang (Erethryna Poppegiana - Coral Tree) seeds arrived today. This time, I am going to look after them myself. I have already bought some compost and some small plastic pots in which to plant each seed. Each seed needs to be soaked in warm water and scarified before planting so we will see if they germinate or not.

SATURDAY and SUNDAY 8/9th FEBRUARY

A very quiet weekend. I had lunch at Lom Mai restaurant in Kham Yai by myself on Saturday which was as nice as ever. Jasper was away on Saturday so I just pottered around and continued trying to sort out the massive photos file which was created more than a year ago when I had computer problems in Chiang Mai.
On Sunday, Jasper and I went into Kranuan and I stocked up with things at Tesco Lotus.

MONDAY 10th FEBRUARY

I do not think I have mentioned our three cats for a while. Shorty never returned so I guess she either died somehow or she might have strayed somewhere else though apart from the council office next to the school it is some distance to any other houses.

The skinny kitten that appeared the weekend after Shorty disappeared has grown a bit and put on some weight but is slim and as playful as ever. If you remember, the two remaining older cats did not like the kitten and there were screaming fights almost every day. One of the things that annoyed the older cats was that the kitten was always in play mode when they just wanted to rest. More recently, the older cat with a pink collar finally accepted the kitten though the older cat with a blue collar remained distant and irritated by the kitten and they growled at each other. Fast forward to the present, the good news is that both older cats have now accepted the kitten and they now lick each other and touch noses on greeting.

TUESDAY 11th FEBRUARY

An early start this morning to go to the Gossanor College at Huai Mek for their language day. Ajarn Tippakorn is really good at warming up routines, games and getting people going and she needed all her skills this morning. By the time the students were split into four groups they were well prepared for some fun.

It was hard to think of a dialogue exercise which would be both useful and fun and I eventually settled on an internet dating scenario and there were a lot of laughs as we created a profile. I took some photos which are in my gallery.

WEDNESDAY 12th FEBRUARY

I was supposed to have M3 today but for some reason Ajarn Tippakorn hijacked my class so I had an unexpected free day.

THURSDAY 13th FEBRUARY

I had a long conversation with the Director this morning with Jasper translating as best he can though he misses a lot of the meaning. The new Director seems nice but she can really talk a lot and is skilful in deflecting questions and giving an answer unrelated to the question. Although she means well I do not think anything will change at Sai Moon as she has come through the education system herself and knows no other way of doing things although I raised lots of topics she never asked me a question about anything, such as why are you leaving Sai Moon ?

When I asked her if she proposed to try and find another Native English Speaker (NES) for the school she gave a very indirect answer but, even so, I had to point out to her that a salary of just 7,000 per month (about £140) will never ever attract anyone. She seems oblivious of the benefits of a NES compared to, say, a Filipino who has a strong accent and mispronounces or misinterprets a lot of words.

When talking about the finances the Director said Sai Moon is poor and has no money. I had to tell her that back in England and in Western countries generally teachers at schools without money to do things rally round and raise funds themselves, they do not sit around waiting for the education authority to give them a handout. She seemed a it stunned by this but I doubt that she or any Thai teacher will take the idea on board and raise funds for the school.

I made a start today recording short video interviews with the other teachers inviting them to say goodbye to the M6 class who will leave Sai Moon in about three weeks. It is hard to get teachers to be amusing or to reminisce about the six years that M6 have been at the school arriving, as they did, aged 12 and ascending the class ladder to M6. When the 1-2 minute interviews are complete I will stitch them altogether into a single video and post it on youtube.

There were no classes this afternoon as students went off to make merit at the village temple.

FRIDAY 14th FEBRUARY

Today was a public holiday but I stayed at home doing some chores and odd jobs around the house.

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY 15/16th FEBRUARY

The senior M6 class had their O-Net exams over the weekend at a school in Huai Mek. The English exam was on Sunday after lunch and some students came to the teacher's house to report that they found it difficult.

There have been many reports in the press about how educators here think the O-Net needs to be overhauled because it fails it meet its objectives. The test format and style of multiple choice questions have remained the same for some years. As far as English is concerned, there is no correlation between the textbooks we use and the exam itself which means we have to devote a number of periods before the exam to teach the students about the type of questions they will be asked some of which are plain stupid and some very ambiguous.

I also heard that students received help in some subjects because teachers invigilating in other schools quickly worked out the answers using a spare question paper and sent the answers by sms to their teacher friends elsewhere who then passed the answers on to the students.

MONDAY 17th FEBRUARY

This morning the Director said she would like to take me and Jasper to Kud Don to meet a friend of hers who married an American and we would have lunch together. We arrived at a large house busy with people coming and going and I wondered if there was an advice centre there or something but I was told they had vegetarian food on sale.

We were taken upstairs where there was a woman at a desk and the Director said we must make a donation and the woman took our names and addresses. We were then ushered through some sliding doors into a prayer room where about twenty people, mostly female, were standing in rows. What followed was very strange. It appeared to be a form of Chinese Buddhist religious service with all the chants and prayers in Chinese. Two women dressed in black entered the room after the service started and it turned out they were the leaders and both came from Taiwan.

The Thais took turns to kneel in front of the 'altar' and make entreaties to the Buddha. Meanwhile, a muscular male assistant kept things in order and made sure people did what they were supposed to do. Our Director also busied herself seeing everything was in order which made me think she must be a regular at these services and she also urged me and Jasper to take full part. I had sneaked a couple of photos (in my gallery) by the time the Director told me no photos could be taken. When it came to our turn to go and kneel in front of the altar I decided I had had enough and moved to the back of the room whereupon the heavy came up to me and said if I did not take part I must leave the room, so I did.

After we got back home Jasper told me that he had been sworn to secrecy and that he had been given a secret password to be used in prayer when asking Buddha for things. I could not help wondering about the secrecy. After all, if it is above board and so good then why not be open about it and tell everybody.

I have since spoken to several of the Thai teachers about the experience and they had no idea the Director was involved and were surprised to hear that she wanted the junior M1 class to attend a service next term. As all the students are already Buddhist why would she want them to turn towards Chinese Buddhism ?

It also occurred to me that the secrecy might be because it was a Falun Gong service, but I do not know for sure.

TUESDAY 18th FEBRUARY

A new idea is to have a school birthday and the teachers decided to have it today coinciding with the ceremony to say goodbye to M6 and graduation for M3.

The Thai teachers seem to think the school was built 20/21 years ago and they could be right. I have tried to find out the age of the school on several occasions from people who have always lived nearby and have never got a definitive answer. A couple of years ago, a young man turned up at my former teacher's house and said the house used to be his family home when he was a boy but even he wasn't sure when the school was built. I suspect it is older than 20/21 years though!

During yesterday some teachers and students tied a thin white cord to the Buddha shrine by the school gate and then encircled every part of the school with it, including the two teacher's houses, to symbolize unity and togetherness.

The morning started with every student and every teacher and a smattering of parents lining up behind a long row of tables with food they brought from home to give as alms to nine monks from the village temple. The monks brought their own metal alms bowls and walked down the line of tables while students placed part of their offering into each bowl. When a bowl was full the contents were unceremoniously tipped into a plastic sack held just behind each monk by student.

Everyone then returned to the Sala and sat in front of the monks, who by now were sitting cross-legged on a long platform facing the students and teachers. Prayers followed with extended chanting and with teachers presenting each of the nine monks with more food. This part ended with a monk going amongst the audience sprinkling them with water.

The monks then left and the chairs were turned to face the stage. The Director sat centre stage flanked by two teachers who acted as assistants for the next ceremony when each M6 and M3 student would received their graduation certificates in a nice orange coloured folder.

The students left the Sala and lined up outside where their names were checked to make sure they were in the right calling order. They then walked through an archway of flags held by other students and resumed their seats in the Sala and almost immediately they were called forward in turn to receive their folder from the Director. The only snag was that the folders were actually borrowed and were empty, but it looked good! Some dancing by six M5 girls followed wearing some very fetching costumes and I made a video of their effort which I have posted on youtube at http://youtu.be/vMNVh36yaDA

There was then a pause while people had the chance to have some noodles and something to drink and while the chairs were moved to one side in readiness for the next stage. A giant 'Pan' was placed on a low table in the centre of the space, a lay priest took his place alongside and the M6 and M3 students gathered round. A string, starting and ending with the priest, was held by everyone to symbolise unity, and then he started praying. After the lengthy prayer he too 'blessed' everyone but this time it was done with rice whisky!

The students then split into smaller groups to have a short cotton thread tied to their wrist by each teacher who wished them every success and happiness for the future while doing so.

After this M6 and M3 posed for group photos with the teachers and then there was an orgy of self photo taking and small gift giving to their classmates.

It was all over by about 12.30 and most of the students went home apart from those detailed to clean up the Sala. I took Jasper into Kranuan on my Scoopyi and we had a nice lunch there as well.

In Kranuan we called at the phone shop where Jasper obtained his agent status for phone top-ups and we were subjected to an attempt to get our interest in a pyramid selling scheme for health and wellbeing products. It was the usual thing – you join and then get 10 more to join you, each of these then gets ten others to join them and a pyramid is built with you receiving commission from every sale made by people below you in the pyramid. The inducement on the glossy brochure was that “you too could own a new Lamborghini” alongside a photo of thirty such cars lined up with their owners.

This evening I hosted a graduation buffet party for M3 who will move into the senior half of the school when they become M4 next term. It was good fun. The students love nothing more than eating a lot and singing their hearts outs with karaoke.

WEDNESDAY 19th FEBRUARY

There was no school today. I guess that the Thai teachers felt there was no point in having classes just for the one day this week. I spent the morning editing and putting together the video clips from last night's buffet party. Thanks to the upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7 on my laptop I no longer have the video editing program I previously used so I had to get to grips with Windows Live Movie Maker which turned out to be far easier to master than I expected.

Most of the other teachers spent their free day, and most of the night, playing cards for money at the other teacher's house.

All the teachers were issued with new dark blue polo shirt especially for Scout Camp which starts tomorrow.

THURSDAY 20th FEBRUARY

A single decker bus was hired to take many of the students to scout camp this morning with the balance travelling in the back of various teacher pick-ups. Two students travelled with me and Jasper in his car. It took just over an hour to reach the camp which was located a few kilometers from Kalasin city deep in the countryside.

Nirunya Scout Camp, one of just three such camps in Kalasin province and privately owned, has some good facilities. Two other schools also arrived today so altogether there were some 500-odd students there.

Most of today, the combined students spent in the large open-sided hangar-like shed, with a stage at one end, having fun and games. The team running the camp turned out to be teachers from one of the other schools and they were so good with the games, banter and fun I assumed they had done it many times before.

One of the games involved getting the students into circles of six and they were then given an easy task and told they had to be ready to follow given commands such as to reform into, say, circles of eight, or seven or nine and they had about two seconds to do it. This was designed to create maximum confusion because students wanted to stay with their own and they had to get their numbers right.

For one of the tasks, each circle had to nominate a leader and then collect assorted items such as all the shoes, all the scout neckties, leaves from a certain tree etc etc. It was an amazing sight with everyone dashing hither and thither trying to assemble the items and hang them, as instructed, around the leader's neck. I took some photos of the chaos, I hope you enjoy them too.

Jasper and I decided to stay at a nearby resort because there were more teachers at the camp than available accommodation. At least we had beds and hot showers!

This evening there was an extended programme around a large camp fire. There was more fun and games with everyone coerced into participating one way or another. I took a number of photos and made a short movie of the Zulu warriors doing their flaming war dance around the fire which I video'd and you can see the result here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qW5x3gri5sk

It was actually quite cold in the evenings at this time and it was a struggle to keep warm watching all the students having fun.

Friday 21st FEBRUARY

The camp was all over by 9am. Before that there was a closing ceremony in front of the flagpoles. As you can see in the photos, scouts from one of the other schools wore ranger hats with their uniform and very fetching they look as well.

Jasper drove me and a couple of students back to Sai Moon via Thepsuda Bridge (about one hour from school) which spans a huge reservoir. Although we didn't visit it, there is also a swimming and eating area created by one of the outfalls from the reservoir which is a popular spot with our students.

Jasper's car had some overeating problems on the way back and we had to call in at a garage in Non Kung Sri to drain the sump and do an oil change.

SATURDAY 22nd FEBRUARY

It was a relaxing day today. I went into Kranuan with Jasper to try and find radiator hose for his car and we had to visit several shops before we found one. While he talked to the assistant at each shop I had the chance to wander around inside looking at the various mechanical things they had for sale. Several of the shops appeared to be very well stocked indeed, knowledge which would be useful if only I had a car.

This evening I hosted a graduation party at Kranuan Thani restaurant for the senior M6 class. The venue is not a regular restaurant, it has numerous thatched huts with different seating capacities perched on stilts above a lake each equipped with tables and chairs etc as well as karaoke equipment. There are also two quite large single storey buildings for more private parties and similarly equipped, The M6 party was in one of these buildings which meant the students could let their hair down, sing as loudly as they wanted with no interference and no one else watching.

I had visited the venue with Jasper a few days before hand with a couple of the students to choose the menu for the evening and on the evening itself Jasper and I called in at Tesco Lotus to buy the drinks being cheaper doing it this way rather than paying restaurant prices!

A fabulous evening was had by everyone and there was plenty of food and drinks and near continuous singing. During the evening I enticed the students individually to come outside where I persuaded them to say something with varying degrees of success about their classmates and say goodbye to them. I video'd the process and stitched them all together into a single video which is now on youtube at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rn8cc-GMHXA

SUNDAY 23rd FEBRUARY

Painted the common parts of the upstairs floor at my teacher's house with a stain which combines a varnish. The existing strip-wood floor surface has a dark chestnut brown veneer but there are scratches and because it was laid unevenly the veneer has come away a little at the edges. The result after one coat is very pleasing and will be even better with another coat which will hide the remaining wear marks and deepen the shine.

MONDAY 24th FEBRUARY

First thing this morning, Jasper took his car to a workshop midway between Sai Moon and Kham Yai to get his leaking radiator sealed and flushed out. As the mechanic was at home and able to start the work today he called me to come on my Scoopyi to pick him up.

At assembly this morning it was decided to bring forward the school's three days of Final Tests to start tomorrow rather than on Wednesday so I spent the morning finishing off writing the tests for M4, M5 and M6 classes.

TUESDAY 25th FEBRUARY

I topped up my Air Card probably for the last time this morning. The 3G package I use costs 899 baht (about £18) for unlimited use and up to 5Gb of downloads for one month.

As always, I was not required to do any invigilating for the Final Tests starting this morning so I had another free day. I spent most of the time rescuing some of the thousands of photos that were backed up into a single huge folder when I was last in Chiang Mai. I have deleted all the photos of less than 500kb which disposed of 20,000+ tiny pictures and by using the sort feature to put the remainder in chronological order, and then using my blog to determine what happened and when, I can place the photos into named and dated folders. So far, I have been concentrating only on 2011 and have found many photos I thought I had lost.

WEDNESDAY 26th FEBRUARY

Mr Noi confirmed this morning that he wants to buy my Scoopyi motorbike for 20,000 baht, so that was a relief.

THURSDAY 27th FEBRUARY

The last day of exams which finished by lunchtime. A few students who did not take all their exams will have the chance to take them next week.

In the late afternoon and all evening a frantic effort was made to get the bamboo flagpoles up, mark out the football field and other preparations for the day of sport tomorrow.

Yesterday I bought a small pack of three Ferrero Roche chocolate balls at Tesco Lotus and gave one to Jasper and had one myself. The third one I left in my room, still in its little paper cup, and I picked it up when I got home from school and popped it into my mouth. It was only then that I looked down at the paper cup and saw it was seething with ants. I could have spat it out but I decided it was a bit too late for that, and the ants, and swallowed it. Then I had visions of being eaten from the inside out by ants…….

FRIDAY 28st FEBRUARY

Today was given over to sports with competitions organised by Ajarn Kay for football, volleyball and takraw. An opening parade was also organized beginning at the road junction about half a kilometer from the school gate and ending on the football pitch. I took some photos which are in my gallery. It was a fun day for everyone.

SATURDAY 1st MARCH and SUNDAY 2nd MARCH

Two quiet days at home. Jasper and I almost completed the task of staining and varnishing the first floor landing outside our rooms. The colour of the stain is the nearest I could find to the chestnutty colour of the existing surface

MONDAY 3rd MARCH

The final assembly of term took place this morning though at the time I thought there would be more in coming days, but it was not to be.

About two thirds of the students came to school and most of their day was spent doing exams they missed last week.

I think I mentioned before that the plagues of various types of insect which have appeared during February over the past three years have failed to appear this year. I suppose the conditions have not been right for them. For one thing, it is a lot drier than before and the tall deciduous trees around the teacher's houses stand almost bare having shed nearly all their leaves.

The first of the flying termites appeared this evening swarming around the bright neon light but they were noticeably smaller than in other years.

TUESDAY 4th MARCH

The weather is certainly hotting up. It was 36.9C in the shade at my teacher's house this lunchtime.

The school is very quiet now. A number of students have already left to go to Bangkok (381 miles away) to work for the next two months. It is sad to see them go knowing that I am unlikely to ever see them again.

The local Council, the Or Bor Dor, next door organized their own sportsday today – football and volleyball – which was the only thing happening.

WEDNESDAY 5th MARCH

This afternoon there was a simple ceremony at Ajarn Kat's house commemorating the birth of her son. It involved tying a cotton thread around the boy's wrist, wishing him good luck, and giving the mother some money. There were some nibbles to eat and soft drinks too and that was it.

I finally got around to making a video of the 7km journey from Sai Moon to Kham Yai today. Jasper rode my Scoopyi while I rode pillion and held the camera. This is a journey I have made hundreds of times on my bike and I just thought that watching it back in London it will evoke tons of memories for me. This is the video on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBA8Ke1v610

THURSDAY 6th MARCH

I went down to school this morning but there was nothing official to do so I just passed the time on my laptop and drank copious amounts of coffee.

Mr Noi told me today that he was unable to buy my bike and that his wife (who has the money) did not want it. He went on to tell me that the old Director wanted to buy it for his son, so that was good news and I hope the new plan works out ok.

FRIDAY 7th MARCH

There was no activity at school though a handful of students came in to water plants and so on. Later in the afternoon a few teachers from the Gossanor informal college in Huai Mek came to school to pin up the schedule for the exams their students will be taking over the weekend.

SATURDAY 8th MARCH

All the classrooms were taken over by Gossanor students for the first day of their exams. Apart from them, there was no activity at school.

I had an SMS this morning from the old Director to say he did not have the money to buy my Scoopyi motorbike so I went round to Mr Noi's house to find out what had happened. He was not there but his wife and grandmother were and Jasper and I talked to them. His wife told me that she did after all want the bike so I am not sure what is going on between Mr Noi and his wife.

Around 5pm I took my bike down to a car washing area at school to give it a good clean. I was just attaching the hose to the water pipe when Arthit, an M6 student, came over and offered to clean my bike for me. While he worked we chatted and when I told him I am selling the bike he said he wanted to buy it for when he starts at university in a couple of months. When I told him the price is 20,000 baht he said he would go home and talk to his parents. After a while he returned and offered me 10,700 baht and I told him I would think about it as I already had an offer.

After thinking about it, I decided I would try and help Arthit because I felt he had a greater need for the bike as Mr Noi has a new car and a Scoopyi bike already.

About 3pm Arthit came to the teacher's house and asked if Jasper and I could come to see his parents and that they were prepared to match Mr Noi's offer for the bike of 20,000 baht. We went to his house and met them and through Jasper I told them the situation regarding Mr Noi's offer. It turned out Arthit's parents are friends with Mr Noi and Arthit went round the corner to ask Mr Noi to join us, and he did. But he said that he still wanted to buy the bike and that because he had made the first offer the bike should be his. There was nothing I could do. I was happy to make the sale but disappointed I was unable to help Arthit. As we left we invited Arthit to join us for dinner later on.

We had dinner and a few drinks at the buffet restaurant in Kham Yai and then walked into the large field next door where there was a Mor Lam show which was great fun to see.

SUNDAY 9th MARCH

The Gossanor students continued taking exams at school today but that was the only thing happening.

Mr Noi called at my teacher's house this morning to pay for my Scoopyi motorbike. His wife handed me large bundles of crisp new 100 baht notes which they had just withdrawn from the bank in Kranuan.

I finished off the last but one remaining section of the upstairs wooden floor this afternoon. I have had to do it by sections to allow the other teachers access to their rooms but it is beginning to look good and I hope when completed it will look fantastic.

MONDAY 10th MARCH

I stained the final section of the floor this morning, which dries with a gloss finish, the finished floor looked really good and I took a photo for you to judge. What do you think ?

Jasper and I invited Mr Noi to join us for lunch at Lom Mai restaurant in Kham Yai and then he drove us into Non Kung Sri. He seems to be back to his old chatty and joking self now after several weeks of being uncommunicative.

For the first time for months the sky clouded over and there was a smattering of rain but not enough to make any difference.

Two out-going M6 students joined Jasper and I for dinner at the Kham Yai buffet this evening which livened things up a bit.

TUESDAY 11th MARCH

I spent the morning sorting stuff out in my room and threw out a lot of things which I will no longer need though anything of use I added to a large pile of odds and ends which I am giving Jasper. There are lot of things which I bought when I first started at Sai Moon, an iron, shoe cleaning kit, umbrellas etc etc, all of which I have back in London so I am giving them away.

WEDNESDAY 12th MARCH

About twenty five Maha Sarakham university students arrived this morning to do some decorating work at the school. I am not sure whether it was the school or someone at the university who chose what work to do but they picked on the two outside toilet buildings. Most of our own students came into school as well though quite a number have already gone to Bangkok or elsewhere to work during the break.

Oddly, (though I suppose not for Thailand) instead of getting stuck in and down to work the whole morning was given over to introductions and endless singing, dancing and clapping routines. You can see a short video illustrating what I am talking about at: http://youtu.be/35cJ9iZfIbQ

This evening there was a ceremony and entertainment for the Sarakham students and those Sai Moon students who are (supposedly) assisting. Mats were spread out, on the concrete area where assembly is usually held, for the students to sit on; chairs lined one side and a line of small low tables (the kind you have to sit cross-legged at) was placed in front of them. During the afternoon some of the teachers were worried there would not be enough food for everyone since the Director invited so many guests.

By the time I arrived the students had already been subjected to more than an hour of happy clappy stuff but once everyone else had arrived various guests got onto the stage to address the Sarakham students telling them how wonderful they were to do this work for Sai Moon school and tell the Sai Moon students that they must work hard and lead a moral life. A couple of speakers turned out to be former Sai Moon students which was an aspect I think should be utilized much more to inspire present-day students.

After the speeches, the M5 girls performed a traditional dance while the boys carried a vast decorated 'pan' to place it in front of the stage. Then it was time to eat. The aforementioned little tables were groaning with dish after dish of food and all the VIPs tucked in. The problem with events like this is that there is never a chance to mingle and meet guests, unlike at a similar western where, say, canapés would be served to guests who would be standing and able to mingle at will. I would have loved to hear from the former Sai Moon students what life was like at the school 20-30 years ago!

THURSDAY 13th MARCH

The Sarakham students continued their work today. I have been around looking at the work and taking some photos which are all in my gallery. I suppose it is a kind of good deed on their part but the school had to pay for all the paint, replacements sinks, other materials, food and drink etc etc and I can't help feeling that a more professional result might have been obtained by spending the same amount (or less) on workers from the village.

Much of my day was spent sorting my possessions out and trying to decide what to keep and what to give away and what to dump.

FRIDAY 14th MARCH

There was a farewell lunch at Boracoy karaoke restaurant for me and Chwin which was very nice and we were each presented with a Thai silk bed runner. I was glad they didn't weight me down with lots of gifts as they did at Muangbang school in Loei.

I was asked to say a few words which Ajarn Tippakorn translated for me in which I said that the future of the school lies in their hands. With 22 M6 students leaving school at the end of this term Sai Moon has to recruit the same number of new students just to keep the status quo.

SATURDAY 15th MARCH

I spent the morning doing a bit more packing and cleaning up my room. Mr Weang told me the other day that he wants to move from the outbuilding he currently occupies into my room. He is arranging for the school to buy the electric shower unit I bought and had installed, a price of 50% of the cost has been agreed – about £60 – and he is personally buying the cupboard I bought for another £20.

SUNDAY 16th MARCH

It wasn't until this morning that I knew if my packing calculations were correct or not. My very large suitcase is going to be left in Bangkok while I travel around though have more stuff than can fit into this case which will not be needed on my travels. I also have a shoulder bag which I will take into the cabin and have packed it with heavier small items to reduce the weight of the checked-in luggage. Even so, I am resigned to the fact that I will be charged for being over the check-in weight allowance of just 23kg.

Mr Noi arrived in his pick-up car at midday to take me to Khon Kaen airport. Jasper came too and we had a pleasant lunch on the way. The old Director phoned me to wish me a safe journey and to reaffirm that he will deposit the money he owes me into my bank account and mentioned again that he would like me to teach at his new school when I return to Thailand in October. He also said that if I do go to his new school that if there isn't a room for me at one of the teacher's houses I could stay with him because he is the only one living in a large house near the school though I don't think that would be much fun with no privacy!

So, as far as Saimoonpittayakhom School is concerned, that is it. It has not always been as easy three years and two months and I leave with mixed emotions. Some crazy/stupid things happened at school though there will be many good memories as well.

Some of the daft things that happened include:

• The lack of any will or effort to obtain additional English textbooks for eight M3 students who have spent the whole year without one. I kept mentioning this during the first weeks of the academic year but to no avail. The local education book supplier didn't stock the title and the publisher said the order was too small for them to be bothered with.

• The unwillingness to ask me for help when designing the inscriptions for the marble direction and building name signs. A simple spelling check with me or any computer would have revealed that the word 'building' has an 'l' in it. Another check would have revealed the mistakes in a few of the vocabulary words that are attached to trees around the school. One of the misspelt words was 'Mavel' - what's that????

• The school has a small budget being a small school but an unhealthy chunk of it was spent in the weeks leading up to one of the four-yearly 3-day school inspections/assessments in mid-January year. I detailed this in my blog at the time and i felt then, as now, that the assessment was largely a waste of time though I cannot comment on the inspection of the school's documentation which was deemed an important element of the assessment. The two inspectors were supposed to evaluate all the teachers but didn't bother to sit in on more than one or two lessons and missed me and some others completely. At the closing meeting, when the two assessors summarized their inspection but did not say whether the school had passes or failed, their key observation was that the school would look better with a fence around the grounds. The ineffective and lazy Thai teachers, of which there are 2-3 at Sai Moon, seem to have got away with it and, sadly, will be able to continue as before.

On the positive side:

• It is very rewarding to see students grow up and develop as they pass through school years. For example, some of the terrors who entered M1 aged 12 three years ago have mutated into hard working students and really nice people. I will miss them and others. I would have liked to still be at Sai Moon to see them moving up the classes to become M6 students and finally leave school.

• Almost all of the downsides I have encountered here have revolved around school life. At weekends or away from school, life is very pleasant. People are very friendly and in Ban Had locals know who I am and are no longer afraid of this farang.

• Riding around on my Scoopyi motorbike has been the greatest fun of all. I constantly had to pinch myself in case I was dreaming. If you have never been on a motorbike nor ridden one then you might not appreciate my comment so you will just have to take my word for it!

And just one upside, amongst many I could cite, to living in Thailand in general:

• Living here one enjoys the same tremendous freedom that all Thais have. There is no nanny state here and no big brother, at least not in the countryside. Children have the freedom to run around and play and have fun without parents having to be ever-watchful and worried about what a stranger or some nutcase might do. Yes, people do things here that would not be allowed in the UK – for example, students can ride on top of the school bus (see past photo in my gallery), people can ride 3, 4 or even 5 on a bike like mine, people carry the most amazing things on bikes, on top of their cars, or in the back of their pick-ups. If you tried to do any of these things in the UK some jobsworth would tell you to stop and/or you would be arrested.

Oh, just one more thing that is incredibly nice: you smile at someone of any age, male or female, and they will smile back. Try walking around doing that where you live, you will soon get a one-way ticket to the mad house. For sure!!

For example, I pass young people (under 10's, say) going slowly on my motorbike that I have never seen before. Instead of shouting some abuse, they call out “Hello, how are you” or similar. Do such kids you have never seen before round your way do that to you ? I doubt it but with the exception of Bangkok, where I am always in the inner city, it has happened everywhere I have travelled. Amazing Thailand.

After leaving school I had almost three weeks in holiday mode and I did a couple of things I have wanted to do for years but never got around to doing. I booked myself on a one-day Thai Cookery Course in Chiang Mai which was great fun. It so happened I was the only student so it was a one-to-one session with Pan, the chef. I had to choose six dishes to cook out of six different cooking style categories and I chose Tom Kha Gai (Chicken in coconut milk); Phad See Ew (broad noodles and veg); Chicken with Cashew Nuts (I think you can work that one out yourself!); Massaman Curry (Mild almost Indian style curry with Pork, pots and onions); Papaya Salad (Som Tam); (shredded green papaya pounded in a mortar with cherry tomatoes, sliced green beans, some small toasted peanuts, lime juice, fish sauce, beansprouts and baby shrimps); and finally the classic Thai dessert of Mango and Sticky Rice. It was a lovely day and luckily I had been warned not to have breakfast because I ate most or all of several of the dishes I cooked.

The other thing I have done is to visit Kanchanaburi which is about 90 minutes from central Bangkok and is where the WW2 cemeteries are for all those, except the 130-odd US servicemen who were repatriated, who died during the building of the notorious Burma Railway whilst prisoners of war of the Japanese.

The main cemetery, alongside the excellent museum, is a serene and beautifully tended spot with row upon row of memorial stones each with its own inscription and regimental motif. I took some photos for you which are in my gallery.

I had a guide and driver to enable me to visit the different sites and I stayed in the town for a night at a very pleasant resort/guesthouse. I also took a 90 minute train journey to Hellfire Pass which I walked along and visited the memorial building; rode a longtail boat along the River Kwai and walked over the bridge.

On the second day I also visited the Seven-Tiered Erewan Waterfalls, the highest at 1,520m, which are an amazing sight and located within Erewan National Park. Luckily we went early so there were few people around on the ascent up the different levels and few people swimming in the pools. By the time we descended for lunch, about three hours later, half of Bangkok seemed to be picnicking, ascending the trail or paddling in the pools with their kids. The seven waterfalls were great to see and I had fun taking photos and trying not to fall over tip-toeing across various log bridges or walking along the very edge of a waterfall to get a good photo.

I was the first client my guide took to see the Srinagarind Dam crest. On one side of the road along the top of the dam one could peer down to see several giant tubes which funnel the water to the electricity producing turbines. The water then flows into a lower dam from where it is pumped back up. On the other side of the crest one has an unobstructed view across the huge reservoir. On the other side of the crest is a parking area with more viewpoints, a few low-key eateries, toilets and a shrine. I took some photos for you which are in my gallery.

In Bangkok, I visited one of the several new malls that have opened in the last year or so. I went to Terminal 21 at Asoke, a stops on the Sky Train from Silom where I stayed. The malls is themed like an airport terminal, so going up an escalator one “arrives” somewhere, descending, one “departs”. One of the six floors has a London theme with tube signs and familiar street names. This mall, like others in Thailand, was spacious and pleasant to be in. It wasn't overwhelmed by brand name stores, though there were plenty, instead there were also many small stores and unfamiliar names. I wish there were such malls in London that also had a deliberate policy of providing space for small entrepreneurs to sell their wares. I took some photos which are in my gallery.

So…..that is it. Tomorrow (Wednesday, April 9th 2014) I return to London but, as it was cheaper to purchase a return ticket rather than a single, I will be returning to the Land of Smiles on 21th October but I have yet to make any firm plans.

This is also the end of my blog. It has sometimes been difficult keeping the blog up to date in a timely fashion with one such instance being this posting which is wilfully late for which I apologise. If you are reading this then I hope you enjoyed reading the rest of this posting as much as I have enjoyed writing all the previous entries.

Thank you so much for all your support and wonderful comments though there is still time to add your final thoughts. Go on……do write something!!

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Posted by talismanic 07:09 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

Jan 1st-26th: INSPECTION...INSPECTION - PASS OR NOT ?

sunny

WEDNESDAY 1st JANUARY 2014
This morning Mr Noi invited me, Chwin and Jasper to his house for lunch. I assumed it would just be us and his family but when we got there a party was in full swing in the front garden with some wives singing karaoke while their husbands ate and drank. We sat with Mr Noi and chatted and lots of food and drinks were served. I accepted a glass beer but reluctantly because it usually sends me to sleep if I drink at lunchtime.

Luckily, Jasper wanted to get away to go and meet some Filipino friends in Kalasin city so Chwin and I took the opportunity and left when he left. By the time I returned to the teacher's house the banister painting I did this morning was dry and the finish looked good.

This evening I went to Kham Yai on my Scoopi to have dinner at Lom Mai restaurant. After I finished the family who own the restaurant invited me to join them at their table where they were having a barbecue. More food and drink followed and it was a pleasant evening.

THURSDAY 2nd JANUARY
Many students were missing from assembly this morning which I suppose is par for the course after the new year celebrations. On the other hand, many people in Thailand are enjoying a seven day official holiday at this time whereas we at school have only had five days.

Ajarn Tippakorn had to go to Kalasin city this morning so she asked me to take
her two classes today which was no problem though overall there were few classes today as students were engaged on other work such as M5 who had to sand the surface of all the classroom desks and stain them. Other students were helping Mr Kay and Mr Sompon make some wooden signs.

FRIDAY 3rd JANUARY
A lengthy teachers meeting held standing in a semi circle round the Director on the assembly area. As usual, no written record was made about what was agreed which, to me, seems very slack and definitely not best practice especially when one of the main topics was what budget to allocate for the upcoming school assessment on 17th, 20th and 21st January when three inspectors from Bangkok will arrive. After a lot of discussion, in Thai of course, it was agreed to allocate 30,000 baht (about £600) which will be spent on preparation expenditure – new signs, for example – food, including nice lunches, and so on.

Ajarn Tuk, the one-person Academic Department, who has the brain of an ant, announced at the meeting that the Mid-term Exams will take place on the first three days of next week.

But this is Thailand, so the Director instructed all the teachers to go easy when invigilating the Mid-terms and help struggling students by adding extra marks if scores drop below 8; the maximum score being 30.

My laptop refused to boot up properly this morning and I spent a long time trying to figure out how to make it behave. I tried everything I could think of but eventually decided I would have to take it into Kranuan for the computer wizard at Benz Computers to take a look at it. I had to leave my laptop there so it was a good job there was still some painting left to do to keep me occupied.

SATURDAY 4th JANUARY

I mentioned new signs. Perceptive readers will recall new marble signs being erected around the school just a few months ago and will remember that one of them, on a corner, had direction arrows the wrong way round as well as spelling mistakes. This sign is now going to be removed and several teachers spent most of the morning trying but failing to uproot it from its solid concrete foundation. If only the instructions given to the workmen had been checked or, if they were correct, if only the finished article had been checked before it was installed.

The sign is going to be repositioned on another corner where all but two of the directional arrows will be correct. Anyone following the two incorrect arrows hoping to get somewhere will find themselves directed along the public road that circles half the school leading back to the school gate where they first entered!

Jasper and I went into Kranuan to have lunch and to try and get materials for the projects we have to make for the coming school inspection. I also went to the computer shop to collect my laptop and was told that there is a problem with the motherboard. When I questioned this I was told that my laptop is old (it is only 4 years old) and things wear out. Later, back home, the computer booted up ok and I immediately started researching motherboards thinking I might have to buy an exact replacement. Since then, my computer has worked normally so the motherboard must be ok, even so, I have been backing up more than usual just in case.

SUNDAY 5th JANUARY
Jasper and I were invited to the wedding this morning of the eldest daughter of the owners of Lom Mai restaurant, where we frequently have lunch and/or dinner. We were there, as requested, at 8am but were amongst the first to arrive. The actual wedding took place inside the house attended only by the family; most of the guests were seated in and around the open-sided restaurant. Dish upon dish of food soon arrived as did liquid refreshments – beer and whisky were also available despite the early hour.

Various ceremonies took place over the next couple of hours and I took some photos to share with you. The couple getting married also went around to pose for photos behind the guests at all the tables which is something I have seen before at other weddings. All in all, it was an enjoyable morning and the highlight of the day.

MONDAY 6th JANUARY
The announcement last week that the three days of Midterm Tests would begin today turned out to be incorrect, or rather another typical Thai mess-up as there were no classes today. Instead, students helped with various projects set by teachers. For example, M6 erected new school direction signs at the main junction in the village and at the turn off leading to the school gate; another class planted flowers, and M5 sanded classroom desktops and re-stained them.

I prepared the groundwork for an English grammar board game and took photos of busy students with which to decorate the English Department display boards that will be on show along with all the school files and folders to be viewed by the Assessors.

I forgot to mention that just before the five-day break the newly devised school motto was announced to the assembled students for them to learn in case they should be asked about it by one of the Inspectors. The motto is: Love Music, Love Sport and take care of the Environment. Nothing about “love learning” of course!!

TUESDAY 7th – THURSDAY 9th JANUARY
The rest of this week was spent preparing for the forthcoming school assessment. New wooden signs have been erected around the school naming which class is responsible for taking care of each area; the marble directional sign has now been repositioned and cemented into place; and students have been busy decorating their classrooms with posters etc.

Jasper and I went into Kranuan to the education equipment store – a really dismal place with half-hearted staff and a sparse selection of items on offer – to buy coloured paper and spray glue for my game and to buy posters to decorate the walls in the former school library which is now our English Dept.

I continued working on the Grammar Game and the English project board. I got around the problem of the lack of photos by getting sets of different students to pose as if they were working on both the project and the game. There will be no clues on the display to say when the project was done – other than 2013 - or when the photos were taken.

Tomorrow the school celebrates Children's Day so several teachers along with some students were occupied today decorating the stage, creating an archway for the guests to walk through going into the Sala, and building a floral display attached to the lectern. The Day itself will e organized by the Or Bor Dor, the local Council which is located next to the school.

This evening I had to go with other teachers to the funeral of one of the chiefs at the next door Or Bor Dor (local council) who has frequently been one of the VIPs attending functions at school. It was held at his house in Ban Daet, the next village to Sai Moon, and a lot of people were there. I took a few photos, as did many other people.

FRIDAY 10th JANUARY
Schools across Thailand celebrate Children's Day today although National Children's Day is actually tomorrow. The older children from nearby primary schools came to Sai Moon and were joined by our own the three younger classes. Two Or Bor Dor officials dressed as clowns mc'd the event and larked around between dance routines or songs performed by different groups of students. All in all, it was good fun and even the many parents who attended enjoyed it too. There are a number of photos in my gallery for you as well.

It was all over by about 11.30 when I went back to the teacher's house to get changed and pack my bag. Jasper then drove me to Namphong where I caught the bus to Udon Thani. As my last visa run coincided with my trip to Burma it was six months since my last visit.

I stayed once again at the Silver Reef hotel near the bus station which is very central and convenient for getting around anywhere. It was nice to be back in civilization again!

SATURDAY 11th JANUARY
One of the nice things about Udon is the easy availability of a nice breakfast which I usually have at the Coffee Corner café on the street alongside the hotel. The café does breakfast, sandwiches and a range of popular Thai dishes, all very cheaply but nicely cooked.

I set off to catch a bus to Nong Khai about 9am and found there was a minibus about to depart which I caught. It seems it is a new service that started operating since my last visit. It's faster and, it turned out, it takes one directly to the immigration office by the Friendship Bridge.

I duly presented myself at the small passport control window to exit Thailand and was told to go to the Overstay window, the potential problem being that I now have a brand new passport but my visa and last arrival stamp are in my old passport. The official at the overstay window said there was no problem and entered the exit stamp in my old passport and confirmed that I can re-enter Thailand again and still get another 90-day stamp on re-entry to Thailand.

For the first time today there was a long queues of people waiting for their entry visa into Laos and after filling out the two forms I joined the end of it. While I was in the queue I had doubts about the wisdom of entering my new passport number on the form rather than the old one so I changed it and this turned out to be correct. I was also able to pay the visa fee from the large bundle of Laos Kip which Veryan had given me in Pai back in April (she had no use for the money, she said, as she would not be visiting Laos again) amounting to some 5,000 Thai Baht (about £100).

Before I exited Laos I had an early lunch at a café in the duty free area and wondered about what I could buy to usefully dispose of all my remaining kip. As I wandered around the shops I cast an eye over the many smart phones on offer and finally decided on an iPhone 5S! I also bought a couple of large bottles of Beer Lao to enjoy back at Sai Moon.

There was no passport problem re-entering Thailand and I remembered to avoid the tuk tuk hustlers on exiting the checkpoint and take the short walk across the junction where other tuk tuks are parked and waiting with realistic fares.

SUNDAY 12th JANUARY
After breakfast I visited the nearest IT centre, one of two in Udon and the one which opened almost a year before the second one. Despite its good location across the road from Tesco Lotus it has not done well. On my last visit six months ago, all the units were occupied by computer or phone-related shops, but this time many shops had closed and the few that remained probably won't stay for much longer. On each one of my visits there have been precious few customers although I have always been there soon after opening time.

After that, I got a motorbike taxi to tukcom, the newer IT centre which opened about seven months ago and follows the pattern of their other stores in Thailand with a whole floor devoted to eateries and a few other non-IT outlets.

I had lunch in Udon before getting the bus back to Namphong where Jasper met me and drove me back to school.

Mr Kay, one of the married teachers, has what Thais call a 'gik', or a girlfriend, on the side who happens to own a buffet restaurant in Kham Yai, about 7km from school. She has previously been working in a restaurant in Phuket and knows how to cook most Thai and western favourites. All other buffet restaurants I have ever been to have chilled meat and fish and other items laid out in trays on a number of tables from which customers pick and choose as much as they like for a fixed price then cook the food on a charcoal burner at their table. The Kham Yai restaurant is the same but, unlike all the others, she has an extensive illustrated menu of dishes one can order instead of having the buffet. This is really great and Jasper and I and several other teachers went to eat there this evening.

MONDAY 13th JANUARY
There were no classes again today as preparations continued for the assessment. Jasper and I had to vacate our office and move back to the office we used to use before because our room will be used for the opening ceremony and introductions.

TUESDAY 14th JANUARY
It was supposed to be back to normal today with classes as usual. My first class was M2 (13/14 y.o.) but only two students were present on time, the rest rolled in as they felt like it with the last two appearing five minutes before the end.

When students are late it is usually because they are eating or chatting at the canteen. One of the main topics of conversation amongst the Thai teachers this morning, I was told, was how to ensure that students attend classes on time during the assessment. It never seems to occur to them to close or restrict the opening times of the canteen which is odd.

WEDNESDAY 15th JANUARY
Two days to go to the assessment so today there was more preparatory work to do and only the occasional class all day since so many students are involved in either the newly formed Ankalung band, or the dancing, or singing and they need rehearsing.

More banners were nailed to the various office walls and new notices have sprung up all over the place. I have tried to illustrate all this for you and the pics are in my gallery as usual.

THURSDAY 16th JANUARY
There was no school today being Wan Kru, or Teacher's Day across Thailand. All Sai Moon's teachers drove off at 7am for the 60+km journey to Kalasin city where all the province's Provincial school teachers and directors assembled in a large hall all dressed in customary black.

The event was presided over by the governor of Kalasin province and once it got going a number of teachers, whose names were announced in the printed programme, received a special certificate from him. Then every teacher present (except foreign teachers!) lined up, school by school, to receive certificates congratulating them on being a good teacher.

There were the inevitable lengthy speeches and prayers but it was all over by about 11.30. Jasper and I travelled there and back in Mr Noi's new all white Toyota Fortuner pick-up and we were back at school by 1pm.

FRIDAY 17th JANUARY
The other day the Director issued an edict saying all teachers must be in school by 7am during the three days of the inspection so it was an earlier than usual start this morning - the first day of three school inspection days has finally, after much preparation, arrived.

The two inspectors, one 72 years old, the other 64, arrived at 8am and joined everyone at assembly and watched what was happening. They received a warm welcome which in included a short dance by the M5 girls. After assembly, it was unnaturally quiet around school throughout the morning as students had been told to be on their best behaviour and remain in their classrooms up to lunchtime.

Certain actions for the students were banned. For example, when people in Isaan sit they generally either sit on the “doc nam”, the low table that people have in front of their house where they eat, or they sit cross-legged on the floor, or they sit on their haunches – a way of sitting that is very popular and young people of sit like this on chairs. However, squatting like this was deemed impolite to the inspectors and thus banned. Bizarrely, they were also warned not to open water melons by smashing them – though it is not the right season for them.

Once assembly was over all the teachers went to the old library, which had been prettified and decorated, where the opening ceremony and introductions were held. A short welcome speech was given from memory by three students in either English, Thai or Chinese and the inspectors outlined what they were planning to do over the three days.

Lunch was held in the room where all the projects were on display and the two inspectors duly went round looking at them and as they and the teachers took their seats lots of food, sourced from a restaurant in Nong Kung Sri, began to arrive and the M5 girls provided the dancing entertainment.

Around 4.30 the two inspectors, the Director, and all the teachers went to the Kranuan Thani resort (about 12km away on the road to Kranuan) to eat, drink and sing a song. Everyone had a merry good time and I was coerced into singing a song as well.

It turned out that the home towns of both inspectors are only some 40km away from Sai Moon though neither had ever been to my school before. The older one spoke pretty good English and has a daughter married to an Englishman living in London.

SATURDAY 18th JANUARY
Spent the morning doing chores – applied the first coat of varnish to the front door of my teacher's house and the result looks good but it will look even better with another coat.

I have been asking in different hardware shops for floor paint but so far to no avail. TOA, a paint brand popular in Thailand, has floor paint illustrated on its website but TOA stockists don’t seem aware of the product.

For several past evenings Jasper and I have had dinner at the one and only buffet restaurant in Kham Yai whose owner is the 'girlfriend' of married My Kay, the health and sports teacher at school.

SUNDAY 19th JANUARY
I finally got around to doing something I have wanted to do for a while which was to get up early and take some photos of the nearby countryside soon after dawn when the light is as its best. For the last several months the landscape has been obscured by stand upon stand of sugar cane. Now that most of the cane has been cut the landscape has been revealed once more. There is something about freshly ploughed fields that appeals to me with furrows fading into the distance, for example. What you think about the landscape photos in my
gallery ?

MONDAY 20th JANUARY
Day Two of the inspection and everything seemed to go ok. I had to take one of Ajarn Tippakorn's classes as one of the Assessors wanted to speak to her during that period but ended up not doing so. She is now going to be interviewed tomorrow.

I checked on the wellbeing of the Jacaranda sapling I bought in Bangkok and took to Sai Moon. It had grown quite a bit and looks much less spindly than it did so I have hopes that it will survive for many years yet and grow into a spectacular blue flowering tree, as it should!

As for the Thong Laang (Coral Tree) seeds I bought about the same time as the Jacaranda, Mr Yor told me they were nibbled by insects and failed to germinate so I have ordered another set of ten seeds. I hope that next time they can be sown in individual pots and given lots of TLC.

This evening the two assessors hosted an evening at the Kham Yai buffet I mentioned above. Beer flowed, dishes of food kept arriving and there was general bonhomie. The younger (64) of the two assessors spoke to me and Jasper and said, amongst other things, that he will sit in on our classes tomorrow. I would have liked to ask him all sorts of questions about his opinion of the education system in Thailand but I managed to keep my mouth firmly and tactfully shut.

However, one of the Assessors told me that Sai Moon had passed all but two of the twelve indicators and that even the two we did not pass were not too bad. So the feeling is that we passed overall, but we must wait until the final report arrives to be sure.

TUESDAY 21st JANUARY
The final day of the Assessment and I expected the younger of the two Assessors to sit in on my class but that didn’t happen as he was busy with other things; he did not sit in on Jasper's class either.

At lunch there was more entertainment put on for the guests who included people from the Or Bor Jor, the Or Bor Dor and village chiefs who, together with all our teachers and about a dozen students, attended a meeting called by the two Assessors to talk about their findings though not give the final result.

After lunch, some students from Non Kung Sri Community Technical College came to show a film and talk about their college to some of the senior students.

The Assessors will go back to their office to write their report and submit it to the Ministry of Education in Bangkok who will then inform Sai Moon of the result, a process which could take a couple of weeks apparently.

Lunch also marked the end of the inspection. The inspectors, Director, teachers and some dozen students assembled in the former library for a summing up by the two assessors. Although it was all in Thai I was told afterwards that one of the main points made was that the school would look better if there was a fence around the grounds. Apart from a section of about 300m which borders someone's farm there is no fencing at all and as far as I can make out never has been. His remark is a great example of why Thailand's education system needs root and branch reform. The new school motto is another example, but there are many others!

This evening the two inspectors and a number of teachers went to the Kham Yai buffet restaurant. I didn’t go, claiming I had a headache, but there was lots more eating and drinking and song singing.

WEDNESDAY 22nd JANUARY
I have been waiting for the Assessment to conclude before speaking to the Director about my need to go back to London to renew my visa and that I may not return to Sai Moon. She was very interested and wanted to know why and so on. One of the key reasons is that there is virtually no chance of any salary increase and for there to any real change or improvement at Sai Moon, or any other government school for that matter, the whole system needs reform and leadership needs to come from Bangkok. Putting the current political crisis to one side, such leadership at the top has been distinctly lacking mainly because there have been six different Ministers in new one comes in and sweeps clean regardless of whether previous proposals were good or bad.

Now the school assessment is over the work began to dismantle everything – banners and plants were removed, tables and chairs returned, the colourful drapery taken down, all the folders and files returned to their dusty cupboards where I imagine they won't be touched again for a good long while, and all the project work stacked and stored.

Needless to say, there were no classes today as students were occupied with the above clearance work. Very soon the school will be back to its normal appearance and it will seem that nothing had happened over the last few days at all.

To make matters more exciting, there were three separate power failures today which underscored how dependent everyone is on electricity for laptops etc

There has been a very chilly wind these last few days. I did not feel my normal self and felt shivery. I went to bed early for the second evening running with double socks and double t-shirts to supplement the thinly padded bedding I have which is fine in hot weather but not really good enough when it is cold. The last four winters have not been as cold as this one and a few weeks ago, when ground frost appeared on high ground near Chiang Mail, Thais and tourists from hot countries flocked to see it and have their photos taken with frosty leaves etc.

THURSDAY 23rd JANUARY
I heard today that Nong Joe, the student Jasper and I had been giving English tuition to, who wants to be a pilot, has passed the exam to be accepted for pilot training which is very good news. Apparently, there will be a party to celebrate next time he comes back to Sai Moon and we will be invited.

FRIDAY 24th JANUARY
Ajarn Tippakorn and another teacher are both wearing trousers today and very smart they look as well. If you recall, a few months ago I asked her why none of the female teachers wore trousers and was told is would be disrespectful to do so though she was unable to tell me who it would be disrespectful to. As she was wearing trousers today I could not help remarking on the fact and she said she had sought permission to wear them from the Deputy Director as the weather was so cold. It just seems odd to me that teachers cannot decide for themselves whether to wear (smart) trousers or not. In fact, the new Director has already worn trousers at least once since she has been at Sai Moon and no one fussed about it or complained they felt disrespected!

The ankalung band continues to play at assembly though sometimes a little shakily and always slowly. I am sure they will improve with more practice but they certainly enliven assemblies.

This afternoon Jasper and I moved back to our old office in the former library the only downside of which is that not being in the main building one doesn't always get to hear what is happening.

SATURDAY 25th JANUARY
Jasper and I cooked a very nice breakfast at our house this morning which was very welcome and tasty otherwise the day passed doing odd jobs, doing laundry and catching up on internet news.

A few days ago I placed my digital gauge outside my room on the balcony to get an idea of the temperature at night. I noticed today that the average temperature over several nights has been 14-16C while the temperature climbs about 10-15 degrees by midday.

SUNDAY 26th JANUARY
It was not so cold today which I hope means that warmer weather is on its way at last. I managed to finish several of the touch up painting jobs today though a couple still remain.

The front door of my teacher's house has been much admired since I stained and twice varnished the woodwork which made me happy.

Posted by talismanic 05:10 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Dec 11-31st: NEW DIRECTOR..LOCKED OUT BY CAT..CHRISTMAS..+++

sunny 20 °C

WEDNESDAY 11th DECEMBER

Today was a cleaning day and classes were sacrificed to sweep leaves off the grass and generally tidy up a bit. Tables and chairs were laid out in the Sala in preparation for the lunch tomorrow.

About two weeks ago when the money ran out on my prepaid AIS aircard I decided to get a Truemove 3G aircard – True being one of the three main telecoms providers in Thailand. I had tried AIS and Dtac aircards and found the internet to be very slow but I had heard from students that True was the best of the bunch.

The aircard including the SIM was 990 baht (about £19) and the unlimited internet package with a 2Gb download limit was 499 baht (about £10). For the first two weeks my internet speed was great and it was a real pleasure to leave the old slow internet behind. But, now, after just a couple of weeks my internet speed has been cut and it is often as slow as it was with the other two aircards. I have read about this problem in IT forums and it seems that True use 3G to lure customers while not having the capacity or national coverage to provide it for all their customers.

THURSDAY 12th DECEMBER

No classes again today as there was a ceremony to welcome the new Director to Sai Moon. Directors from some of the other provincial schools (of which there are 12) in Kalasin came along with a few of their teachers and a big posse came from our new Directors old school.

We were told to be on standby from 9am and the first few guests arrived an hour later and the rest arrived in dribs and drabs over the next couple of hours.

Every school brought a gift, mostly flowers (see photo) but there were also a couple of mystery boxes and two schools gave large portraits of the King – I always think the portrait gift is a copout. Every household already has between one and several portraits of the King and Queen and by the time a teacher rises up the promotional ladder to become a Director he/she will have been given several already.

Eating began soon when the first guests arrived and other gusts were served on arrival. The food was prepared by a restaurant in Non Kung Sri (about 10km away) and brought to the school in extra large cooking pots (see photo) first thing in the morning so nothing was expected to be hot as such. There were also welcoming speeches ending with one from the new Director. Many guests drifted away soon after they had eaten and by the time the pooying (remember the meaning ???) students performed their traditional dance most guests had left. Later, the few diehards that remained sang karaoke but by this time I was back at my teachers house and out of earshot!

FRIDAY 13th DECEMBER

This morning the new Director spoke at length to the students stressing the importance of the family and family unity etc after which the poochai (boys) students were lectured about their low standard of school dress and those needing haircuts were told to get one pronto.

Early this evening a Thai couple was introduced to me by the school caretaker whose son needs a temporary tutor to help him pass an upcoming exam and it was agreed that Mr Jasper and I take turns at this for the next three Sundays.

SATURDAY 14th DECEMBER

I mentioned last update that I had lost the ‘at’ sign and apostrophe on my keyboard but they have miraculously returned and the relevant key is working as it should. Now all I need to do is to find a way to change the headings in Word 2007 from Thai into English. The instructions about how to do this are all in Thai which isn’t very helpful.

This morning I gave an English lesson to a student in the village who is in his final year at a school in Khon Kaen. He has an English exam early next month and an interview for a university place on 22nd January and wants some help to revise things he has forgotten or never understood. He is a very bright students and wants to be a pilot. When I first heard about this I did some googling and found that Aviation English, as it is known as, is a big industry with many agencies and airlines offering training and a number of differently accredited exams on offer. Luckily, he is not at that stage yet but he will need to have a good memory when the time comes.

SUNDAY 15th DECEMBER

Jasper went off to Kalasin city yesterday and won’t be back until tomorrow so I spent this afternoon painting and touching up various difficult to reach areas.

MONDAY 16th DECEMBER

Rain began in the night and continued most of the day. It also turned colder too but not so cold that I had to wear any extra clothing though the students came to school dressed as if for an Arctic trek.

TUESDAY 17th DECEMBER

Last night was quite cold, even for me and I normally don’t feel the cold that much back home in London. I actually wore a vest and thin jacket as well as my shirt.

This evening Mr Noi invited me, Jasper and Chwin to a graduation party for his niece in the next village of Ban Det. There was a semi-religious ceremony performed by a local ‘priest’ which was similar in actions to a wedding ceremony though I suppose the Pali chants might well be different.

Food was served afterwards on the verandah and though everyone sat on the floor cross-legged, something I cannot do, it was actually very delicious. You can see the food photo in my gallery. Beer was served too and it was a pleasant evening despite the cold.

As I mentioned, sugar cane cutting is taking place everywhere now but before they cut it the undergrowth is set alight so every evening, the preferred time, you can see whole fields burning merrily. Next day, cutters come and stack the blackened canes in heaps of ten so they can easily be loaded onto a lorry to take them to the weighing station.

Having got so used to the fields along the road from Sai Moon village to Kham Yai being full of 6ft tall canes they look totally naked now that they have been cut.

WEDNESDAY 18th DECEMBER

Classes were cancelled this morning in favour of, yes, you have guessed it, more cleaning around the school. The reason being that half a dozen school, from among the other 12 provincial schools, are coming here next week to have a preliminary look at the school documents so the school has to be clean and tidy.
The main inspection and evaluation of the school will take place in mid-January and will be undertaken by people from Bangkok so I would think the school will need cleaning up again nearer the time.

THURSDAY 19th DECEMBER

There were no classes again today while junior students frantically swept leaves from under the trees and from the grassy area and senior students planted pot plants here and there.

FRIDAY 20th DECEMBER

I was on standby with the other teachers from 9.30 this morning waiting for the expected arrival of someone from the Or Bor Dor in Kalasin along with a couple of Directors from nearby schools. The boys drum and percussion team was lined up and waiting and so were four dancing girls.

They arrived in dribs and drabs but only four people came. They got the musical welcome and a buttonhole of flowers before going upstairs to the room where all the schools books and files had been neatly laid out.

Once they were seated they were given a written synopsis of Sai Moon’s current status and were welcomed by three students, first in English, then Chinese, then Thai. It sounds good but they only understood the Thai version!

During the welcome speech they were asked to look at the video which followed on the big screen but they only glanced at it now and then. The ‘video’ was actually a series of still photos which had been strung together with fades and transitions to simulate a movie. The video showed photos of some of the school activities during the last year but was these activities are undertaken by all schools the only difference lies in the changing faces. For example, Wai Kru day or the Queen’s or King’s birthday is the same whichever school you go to so I wasn’t surprised the inspecting team looked bored and didn’t watch.

A lot of effort went into decorating the room, laying out the files and folders, and information screens for the inspectors and I took some photos so you can see everything too.

While the team was at work the students remained in their classrooms under strict orders to be quiet as all the teachers were in the room with the inspectors. The only task the students had was to copy and colour Christmas related pictures from a book. Unfortunately, most of the junior students spelt Christmas without the ‘r’. The students went home at midday so that was the end of two ‘productive’ days.

SATURDAY 21st DECEMBER

Jasper and I teamed up for this morning’s two hour class for our village student who wants to be a pilot. He is a very good student and not only very bright but unafraid to try and say any word even if he has no idea what it means. He’s not only very studious buy also very determined and gets a lot of support from his parents who own and operate one of the two petrol stations in the village.

SUNDAY 22th DECEMBER

I went into Kham Yai this morning to get some more of the Saffron colour paint for the exterior front wall of the teachers house and to finish the walls that have not yet had a second coat. An M3 (16 y.o.) student who wanted to earn some money painted the bottom half of the front of the building and made a good job of it. There are still five doors and the banisters to paint and a little more second coat painting to do then the project will be completely finished but the house looks really nice already.

MONDAY 23rd DECEMBER

If you go into a supermarket or minimart you will see a range of drinks in small cartons such as fruit and other juices. One I particularly like which I have not seen in the UK, though I may well have missed it, is milk flavoured with orange juice. It sounds a bit odd, but it is very refreshing and tasty.

Yesterday saw the biggest demonstrations so far in Bangkok. What unites the various groups is their desire to oust PM Yingluck and rid politics of all vestiges of the Shinawatra clan. Yingluck Shinawatra, you may remember, is the younger sister of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra who is in self-imposed exile in Dubai and dictates policy to her from there. The Party in power is the Peu Thai Party and Thaksin is their hero despite the fact he was convicted of abusing his power to help his wife buy public land at an auction and has a two year prison sentence awaiting him. The Amnesty Bill which the government recently tried to ram through Parliament would have absolved him and about 2500 others of all their wrong doings including those responsible for the deaths of more than 90 people during the 2010 riots in Bangkok.

The previous PM, Abhisit, and Democrat Party leader, is also on a murder charge though I don’t suppose he will stand trial being one of the elites.

The demonstrators also want to rid the country of the rampant corruption and to reform the country as a whole including the police, for example, who are amongst the most corrupt organisations in the country. An election has been call for February 2nd but the main opposition party, the Democrats have now said they will boycott the election.

So it is anybody’s guess how things will turn out but one thing is certain – you probably won’t hear it here first!

TUESDAY 24th DECEMBER

An earlier than usual start this morning with Mr Noi coming to the teacher’s house in his new car to collect me and Mr Jasper at 7.30 for the ride to Khlong Kham school and three other schools - Lam Pao school, Na Chueak school and Kumin school.

My school was closed for the day because all the teachers toured these four schools in turn to see how they coped with the inspection/assessment by the team from the Ministry of Education in Bangkok.

I mentioned that Sai Moon’s administrative files were checked last Friday to see if they were up to scratch but the forthcoming scrutiny in mid-January will be more intensive. Members of the inspection team will sit in on classes and will also speak to the students as they go around the school. But only in Thai, not English.

I had been to a couple of the other schools we visited, and they have an advantage of having more modern buildings. One of the other two, though with fewer students than Sai Moon, has managed to paint interiors over the last 2-3 years thus making everything look clean and fresh. This is something that Sai Moon has not done which may well cause some criticism from the assessors.

I have posted some photos in my gallery and you will see in pictures from the first two, schools tables laden with files and folders. Many of these contain documents relating to the administration of the schools, but others are teacher portfolios in which there are photocopies of activities they have taken part in and certificates they have received for doing things at their school.

I asked one of the Thai teachers at Lam Pao school if there were any documents relating to the academic side of the school’s life and she had to ask another teacher to try and find them and there was a frantic flip through folders to find the page where it states how many students have passed the annual O-Net exam or have gone up to university.

These teacher portfolios, very like a scrapbook of one’s life at a school, are the reason why teachers love taking photos of each other and they snap each other tirelessly.

At the last school we visited, Kumin, with some 400-odd students, they have about an acre of land behind the school for agricultural purposes and they grow a variety of different vegetables, banana trees, cassava plants and take care of some chickens all of which our school Director took a great interest in which suggests she may well copy some ideas at Sai Moon.

This evening Jasper and I and a friend of ours, a former Sai Moon teacher who lives at in a nearby village, drove into Kranuan where we enjoyed a Christmas Eve buffet and a few drinks accompanied by a live band.

WEDNESDAY 25th DECEMBER

It was Christmas Day for you but a normal day for me, well, not quite normal because there were no classes this morning in favour of more cleaning and rubbish clearance around the school. It was back to normal this afternoon though.

After school Jasper and I went into Kranuan to finish off our present buying. Students have to buy one present each of 100 baht or less which will be given to another student on our Christmas/New Year activity day on Friday. Teachers have to buy at least one or more presents for students of around 100 baht and one for another teacher of 300 baht upwards. Not knowing who will receive either type of present, or if it will be a male or female, makes it hard to decide what to buy.

In case you are wondering, I have decided, because most students now have smart phones, to give phone top-up vouchers since by Friday Jasper will be an authorized top-up agent for the three main phone networks. I have created the vouchers on my laptop, some for 50 baht a few for 100 baht, and I will put the vouchers in separate envelopes and all the recipient has to do is take their voucher to Jasper who will activate the top-up for their phone which I have already pre-paid.

Other student gifts are aimed at their home – a glass jug with four matching glasses and two container sets for things like coffee, tea, and sugar. For teachers, I have bought a memory card reader able to read any type of card but this reader is in the shape of a small cute pink coffee mug! This will be coupled with a set of USB speakers.

THURSDAY 26th DECEMBER

No classes this morning as students prepared the Sala for tomorrow’s present giving activity. A tree has been cut down to simulate a Christmas tree, the stage front has been decorated and a sound system installed.

Jasper and I went into Kranuan this afternoon to visit the phone shop which is giving him the authorisation to be a phone top-up agent for the three main telecoms providers – Truemove, DTAC and 12Call. On Tuesday he will become agent for all three and will make 2.7% profit on his income from customers.

FRIDAY 27th DECEMBER

This morning there was the Christmas/New Year celebration at school during which every student receives at least one present. Five students at a time are called to the front of the assembled school and each person draws a number which corresponds to a number that has been attached to every present – it’s a sort of lucky dip. Every student has bought a present to give and every teacher has also bought one or more student presents.

In case you are curious, I bought two different coffee/sugar/tea container sets and I created gift vouchers of 50 and 100 baht which students can exchange for free phone top-ups via Jasper.

It wasn’t all present giving because at intervals each class performed something for the other students – a dance routine or a sketch. There was also an English reading competition and a Sing an English song competition which I had to judge. All in all, the morning was great fun and there are some photos in my gallery for you.

By 2pm it was all over and students and teachers headed home for a break over the next five days.

I went back to my teachers house, unlocked the padlock on my door and discovered the door would not open. No matter what I tried the door refused to open. The only other lock on the door was the bolt on the inside. One of the crafty cats I left sleeping in my room this morning must have tried to open the door and in so doing edged the bolt into the closed position thus locking me out.

I considered what to do and came to the conclusion that I might gain entry though the window but the recently fitted insect screens were locked in position so it was not going to be easy. I called Jasper and together we fetched a very long, and surprisingly heavy, bamboo ladder but it was the two of us could do to lift the ladder up to rest on a protruding part of the roof. The ladder was sideways on to the windows and using a plastic folder cover we hoped to swipe the screen locks open by forcing the thin but stiff plastic through the gap at the edge of the screen. After repeated attempts Jasper managed to open the screen and climb into my room and unlock the bolt. The cat dashed out and I heaved a big sigh of relief!

SATURDAY 28th DECEMBER

I spent most of the morning trying to finish the remaining painting jobs at my teacher’s house. The nice orange (aka Saffron) walls needed a second coat and the five door surfaces need gloss paint.

After lunch Jasper and I had our third class with Nong Joe, the student in the village that wants to be a pilot. We finished at four after another good lesson and drove to Kranuan where, amongst other things, I bought items to make a good breakfast with. I just thought it might be nice to indulge a bit over the holiday.

Back at home I strung two sets of flashing Christmas-style lights in a zigzag across the two ‘windows’ or openings at the front of the house and they looked really good when I switched them on this evening. A surprising number of houses in the village, and the next door village, have similar lights strung up in trees.

SUNDAY 29th DECEMBER

This morning I cooked a breakfast of scrambled eggs, fried bread, bacon and beans. I had to think about the cooking sequence because we only have an electric wok to work with. However, I heated the beans by placing them in a glass and putting it into the water heater which did the trick. Breakfast was basic, but very welcome and Jasper enjoyed it too.

We continued painting until lunchtime and then drove into Kham Yai for something to eat before returning to the village for another 2 hour class.

MONDAY 30th DECEMBER

I forgot to set the alarm last night and so got up an hour later than normal. Jasper and I didn’t have time to visit Tesco Lotus in Kranuan yesterday so we didn’t get more bacon for breakfast for both of us this morning. Jasper cooked what bacon and eggs we had left and I just had what I have normally every day – Muesli with milk.

We began the final stage of the painting this morning by doing the banisters. I put a first coat of varnish on the wooden bench on the balcony and it is beginning to look good.

Jasper and I had another two hour class with Nong Joe in the village this afternoon. It is a joy to teach someone who really wants to learn English and is very bright.

TUESDAY 31th DECEMBER

I did some more painting today often accompanied by the kitten and one of the older cats. Both of them like company and follow one around in and out of the house.

There was no class with Nong Joe this afternoon but we will resume on 2nd January.

One of the saddest things about this time of year is the huge number of people who die on Thai roads during the five day holiday. This year deaths had reached 409 over four days by the end of today from a reported total of 1818 accidents – staggering numbers – mostly due to drunkenness.

This evening I hosted a small party at Castle Howchow in Kranuan where they put on a special New Years Eve buffet and entertainment at 500 baht per head (about £10). It was good fun and the buffet was very good as well. There weren’t as many people there as I expected, perhaps because the owner had decided to replace the band of the last two years, which performed covers of British music, with a Thai band. I thought the band was good with some multi-talented members playing different instruments with ease.

And so, another year draws to a close. I just thought you might be curious about my highs and lows of 2013:

The highs were – my first visits to Pai (in Mae Hong Son province) and the surrounding area in April and visiting Myanmar/Burma in October. The former impressed me set, as it is, in a mountainous landscape with fertile valleys. It was great fun roaming around the town of Pai and surrounding area on my rented Yamaha Mio Fino motorbike.

Visiting Myanmar was something I had wanted to do for a long time and the actuality was unforgettable. I now want to explore more of the country. I also hope you get the chance to visit before everything changes there.

The lows were – having to listen to a number of seemingly endless speeches both at school and elsewhere. The moral is to keep Thais away from microphones because they cannot resist yacking away or bursting into (usually bad) song.

Other lows include…the dead slow or no internet access which I endured for so long until I discovered Truemove and bought one of their air cards which has brought much faster internet to me. Until I bought an electric shower unit, I had to endure icy cold scoop showers every day. Cold showers are history now but they were a definite low for me. A final low has been the daftness that goes on in the education system.

If you have been, thank you for reading my musings during 2013 and thank you also for all your interesting and amusing comments – just keep them coming next year, ok?

I would like to wish all my readers a very Happy New Year with tons of 2014 good luck thrown in as well.

Posted by talismanic 03:04 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Oct 28th-10th Dec: School reopens..new passport..protests++

sunny 26 °C

Monday 28th October – Saturday 30th November

My school duly opened on Monday 28th October but not many students turned up probably because all other schools nearby opened a week later. In any event, nothing much happened and there were no classes.

The old school Director, although he has now moved to his new school elsewhere in the province, is still nominally ours too and he comes to Sai Moon one or more days a week to sign documents and do anything else that need his attention. You might be wondering why the new female school Director didn’t appear on the first day of term to make her mark. Apparently, the paperwork authorising her to leave her old school and assume her new post at Sai Moon does not have her correct name so her transfer will be delayed a few weeks/months while her correct name is inserted. At this point I imagine you are, as I was when I first heard about this, absolutely amazed at this example of Thai efficiency. It is like the old question about how many people it takes to change a light bulb – how long does it actually take to delete and then retype a document containing her correct name ?

The “academic department” sounds great but is in fact one female teacher who decreed at the start of term that students must remain at school an extra hour in the afternoon to participate in activities. She stressed that these would not be extra classes but would be fun and easy games decided and organised by the three foreign teachers – me, Jasper and Chwin.

I could not see the point of keeping the students at school just to play silly games but the three of us did our duty and reluctantly organised games for the students who had been divided into three mixed class groups for the purpose. I had all of M5 and about six students from M3.

The first afternoon I had my group playing Bingo, the second afternoon they played Word Bingo and on the third a balloon bursting game suggested by the younger M3 students. While all this was happening the Thai teachers went home or played cards or surfed the net; but they didn’t help at all although they were supposed to.

The third afternoon was a Friday and I told the others that from Monday I would not be doing it any more and that if Ajarn Tuk (the Academic Dept) wanted games she could do it herself along with the Thai teachers. This coincided with the need to train up about 10 students due to take part in a provincial schools competition event on November 29th. The English language-related events were Crossword, Dictionary Opening, Spelling Bee, Speech Giving and Singing a song in English. The extra hour at school had to be used for this extra training so neither I, Jasper or Chwin could organise games. As usual, Ajarn Tuks idea had not been thought through and is probably now a dead duck.

The competitions took place at Jum Jang School about an hour and a half away by car but still in Kalasin province. Several other Sai Moon teachers had students competing in their own subject area so almost fifty students took part overall. None of our students came 1st but one came second in the Crossword event and two came 4th in the Speech Giving and Dictionary Opening events. It is hard for a small school like Sai Moon to compete against fee-paying Buakhao School with over 3000 students to select competitors from.
Since coming back from Myanmar Jasper and I, with the help of a couple of students, have painted the Hong Nam (shower room and loos) and it now looks very welcoming, smart and clean with Bluebell blue walls and a white ceiling and there is a photo in the gallery for you to inspect.

My next project is to decorate the communal area on the ground floor, the stairway to the first floor and the landing area outside my and the other three teachers rooms. This project has been at the back of my mind for a while but has been put into action now because a couple of students are seeking work to earn a bit of money and are eager to help. The walls are going to be a sort of orangey peach colour, the ceiling off-white along with two dies of the four building support pillars. I will post photos in the gallery when it is finished.

One of the three cats disappeared for a few days which was worrying by thankfully she reappeared and all seemed to be well. The kitten and the red collared cat are now friends and touch noses ad sometimes lick each other. The cat that went missing has a blue collar and she is still unfriendly towards the kitten but will hopefully make friends eventually.

As soon as I came back from Myanmar I applied for a new passport as I only had one free page left. The British Embassy in Bangkok no longer deals with such mundane matters so one now has to apply to the Consulate in Hong Kong. The application form is downloadable and so too is the credit card authorisation form both of which are straightforward enough to complete. The photograph requirements are very exact and rejection is threatened if the instructions are not followed. It took just under four weeks for the new passport to sent back via DHL to me which is pretty good really.

You will have probably seen TV coverage of the protests in Bangkok and there has been widespread coverage here though one would have to toggle the channels to get a full picture of what is happening in the capital. This is because of the lack of any form of balance and blatant bias – the state owned channels resolutely put forward the government viewpoint; the Democrats (the opposition party) have their own national TV channel so they out forward their side; the army also own TV channels – they have decided not to intervene this time remembering the disaster that followed when they did so in 2010 and more than 90 people died. The independent channels are all commercial and they bow to the dictates of their advertising paymasters and do not broadcast anything which may harm their revenue.

Both sides took a break to pay respect to the King in his birthday on 5th December but the rallies and protests will continue after that and it is difficult to predict how things will turn out. One of the key aims of the protesters, now that the Amnesty Bill has been shelved, is to rid the government and ministries of traces of the Thaksin regime and this is why PM Yinglucks resignation is being sought since she is the younger sister of Thaksin Shinawatra and he controls her like a puppeteer (and the Red Shirts) from his self-imposed exile in Dubai.

The leader of the protests, Suthep Thaungsabun, has called for the formation of a Peoples Government if and when Yingluck steps down. Naturally, the government are resisting this idea saying it is not feasible on constitutional grounds but others insist it can be done and have cited what Iceland did recently following their banking crisis as an example.

As you have probably heard by now, Parliament has now been dissolved and elections will take place on February 2nd though this is not what the protesters want since Yingluck could well be re-elected as the Peu Thai Party, her party, have nominated her as No.1 candidate.

The rice cutting season is mostly over and people have been laying their rice grains out in the sun to dry on large blue plastic sheets. Any flat open space is used for this and a local farmer even commandeers the schools basketball court for his. It is the sugar cane cutting season now and the roads are full of big lorries lumbering along with their vast loads of cut cane and at night flames leap from burning fields as farmers burn the undergrowth in the cane fields.

A couple of weeks ago I had a problem with my laptop which refused to boot up. I tried everything I could think of to induce it to open, but it refused to do so. I do have a boot disc but I left it behind in London so I took my laptop to the one and only computer shop in Kranuan to see if they had a suitable boot disc. They did not and said that the only solution was to reinstall the operating system which I was reluctant to do since I remember the way all my photo were bundled together in a single giant folder the last time the OS was reinstalled about a year ago in Chiang Mai. In any case, the shop said, they would be unable to reinstall Windows Vista and I would have to update to Windows 7 or 8.

I then came to the conclusion, now that my laptop is 4 years old, I would have to buy a new one and I would have to accept the problems that an operating system reinstall would cause.

After some prompting the shop then suggested removing the hard drive from my laptop and placing it in a kind of rectangular shoe, about the size of two cigarette packets. Inside the box, the drive connects up with terminals and I would be able to connect the box to any computer using a USB cable and access it like any other USB memory device. It was a great idea and it has turned out to be an excellent solution; I just wish that I had been told of such an option last year in Chiang Mai.

At this point I must apologise for the lack of apostrophes in this blog update – or did not you notice ??? The new hard drive in my laptop now has Windows 7 Ultimate installed and I have been busy adjusting the settings so programs are in English, not Thai. One thing I have been unable to adjust so far is the apostrophe and ”at” key so I am without those two symbols for now.

I heard this morning (6th Dec) that the new Director is now coming on the 12th when the school will host ten of the other 11 School Directors who will welcome her and have lunch here too. Now the date has been settled, school cleaning up has begun again in earnest at the expense of some classes.

A controversy is brewing regarding my salary. Up till now, 7000 baht, of my 10,000 baht per month salary, has come from the school budget with the balance coming from the Or Bor Jor (provincial education authority) in Kalasin city. They now say that they do not have the budget for this this term so they are dropping my salary accordingly. I have told Ajarn Tippakorn, the Thai English teacher who has been the conduit for this discussion at school, that this is totally unacceptable and that if they value having a Native English Speaker teaching at Sai Moon the budget must be found from somewhere.

In my opinion, the Or Bor Jor is an incompetent organisation which should not be in charge of its twelve provincial schools since forward planning in non-existent and they spend money on all sorts of irrelevant things such as the competitions mentioned above which also included two large stages for live band entertainment. They also issue edicts to the 12 schools a day or two before expecting the teachers/students to scrap classes and take part in some ceremony or some stupid activity.

If I knew who to contact at the Or Bor Jor I would contact them myself, but I do not and it appears that none of the Sai Moon teachers is prepared to put his/her head above the parapet to fight my corner. Criticism and complaining are not really the done thing consequently not much ever changes and nobody learns by mistakes.

The weather just now is cool and it can be quite cold in the late evening and early morning and students come to school in jackets. The sun warms things up for a couple of hours either side of midday which is welcome.

There has been a four day holiday from school because on Monday 9th December five teachers were on the last day of a 3-day seminar about English Education in Schools and Tuesday 10th December was a public holiday because it was Constitution Day.

Posted by talismanic 05:05 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Oct 9th-15th Nyaungshwe and Inle Lake - truly amazing!!

sunny

WEDNESDAY 9th OCTOBER

I left hotel at 6.30am for the airport and checked in and went downstairs to the departure lounge which was chaos. International and domestic flight passengers were mixed up and there weren’t enough seats for everyone. My Yangon Airways flight was delayed and left about an hour late because of fog at Heho.

At Heho luggage was brought to the terminal building by handcart and just placed on the floor of the first room passengers arrive in which caused some confusion. I met my new guide and driver and soon we were off to Kalaw where it was market day. We stopped to walk around and it was fascinating, far more interesting than the other markets I have visited on this trip. There are several hill tribes in the area who wear different traditional dress or headgear and as the region is very fertile and has a temperate climate a greater variety of vegetables, and fruit when in season, are on display. I have tried to illustrate all this in my photos.

Then we checked in at the Amara Mountain Resort which dates from colonial times when it was the home of a senior British transport official. There were two colonial houses in the grounds both of which have four double rooms. I was assigned the VIP room, a lovely spacious room which had a private house feel about it. There was a large original ensuite bathroom with an uncomfortable-looking marble bath but luckily there was a shower too.

On the way to lunch we took a look at the railway station, which is 4,297ft above sea level, because we spotted a train picking up passengers and loading goods there. There are some relics from the colonial period still there such as the sign for the Station Master’s Office and some old Avery goods scales.

We had lunch at the 7 Sisters restaurant, or Thirigayhar restaurant, which is in one of the old colonial cottages. Lunch was superb and I hope the photos make you salivate!

Another guide joined us while I had coffee who is the local hiking expert. She and I had a wonderful walk through the mountains near the village. We drove to the starting point and the stony track climbed quickly up the side of a hill. Soon, we were in a pine forest the pines having been introduced from Australia in 1903 because the previous hillside forests had been chopped down for firewood and building. Eucalyptus trees were introduced at the same time. The entire hike was superb with wonderful views along the way.

After about an hour we began to emerge from the forest and descend into a valley. On the way we passed a cabbage patch gleaming in the sun and further down in the distance I could see bonfire smoke curling lazily, a small hut, and a man ploughing his field with an ox. We walked down and across fields to get a closer look and the result can be seen on youtube at http://youtu.be/IRVCLdgWfvA

The whole area around the lake, in fact the whole region, is incredibly fertile and many different kinds of vegetables and fruits are grown. Leaving the ploughing we passed field after field of carrots, tomatoes, chillies, runner beans and more besides. The lane we walked down was much used by farmers to take their produce to market using ox drawn carts and it was very muddy indeed and it was liberally fertilised by the oxen as well. My guide and I wore flip-flops and we had to tread carefully on the little dry islands of mud. Everything was fine until I took a step forward with my right foot only to find my left flip flop stuck in the mud behind me. I turned to take a step back to retrieve my flip flop and my right flip flop glued itself to the mud. Suddenly I was barefoot and covered in mud and just had to laugh at the ridiculous situation. I recovered both flip flops but had to hurry because an enormous oxcart was bearing down on me. I slithered and slipped to grassy patch at the edge of the lane and my guide and I tore off some large leaves to try and make the flip flops usable again. A handywipe did just that and we set off again.

At the end of the lane we entered a village and people were doing all sorts of things by their houses. We passed a man pounding something using a very large pestle and mortar. I took a photo and was told he was making gunpowder for festive rockets. Another family in another house were drying peanuts, nearby two small children were clutching a fractious baby, further on two girls told me proudly that they were ten years old, some other girls were on their way home from school still wearing their dark green longyis.

We paused at a house where I was able to wash my feet, flip flops and hands. The house turned out to be a regular pit-stop for the guides and their clients and was given refreshing oranges and some water and with the guide translating I asked them about their lives. Four generations of the same family had been born and lived at their house and I took the opportunity to ask them what life was like when they were young – the husband and wife are 70 and 64 respectively. They are very friendly and happy to answer all my questions and they had quite a few for me as well. Before we left I took their photo outside the house and you will see what mean.

We walked on past an array of stupas to a large cave system which you can walk through. In Thailand and Laos every nook and cranny in such places is adorned with a Buddha image and my guide thought that was really special, some of the Buddha statues were 200 years old she said in awe but when you have seen hundreds of Buddha statues, some much older, it didn’t make much impression on me.

The car met us at the cave entrance and we drove back to the Amara Lodge hotel. I forgot take my camera to dinner so I have no photos to show you but it was very pleasant though not in the same league as previous dinners.

I had a somewhat disturbed night because there is a new tradition-to-be of monks taking it in turns to recite the Chakras all day and night. I noticed this first in Bagan and in the daytime it is inoffensive and almost pleasant for a non-believer like me. But this time the monastery was quite near to the hotel and the recitation much clearer during the night and I often woke up.

THURSDAY 10th OCTOBER

I got up early this morning to pack, have breakfast and have time to wander around taking photos in the garden which is very beautiful and very photogenic.

I met up with my guide for the hour drive to Nyaungshwe where we took a long boat to the Inle Princess hotel which is simply magnificent. The boat takes a turn-off to the left into a narrow channel and after about 10 minutes the engine is cut and we gently pause at a stilt house where a boatman boards who leg-rows the rest of the way to preserve the tranquillity. I urge you to pause and go right now to see this part of a magical arrival at my hotel on youtube at http://youtu.be/f6ZjUzqsy64

If you have just seen the video I think you will agree it is a very very special place indeed. After a simple check-in I was shown to my chalet, 214, which has a wonderful view of a lake and the mountains.

I made a separate video of the walk from reception to my chalet and my amazing rooms inside. This video is also on youtube at http://youtu.be/d-I0PxZNWHE

We then got back on board the long boat and set off down the side channel to the lake itself. It is a huge fresh water lake, 22km long and 11km wide, almost surrounded by mountains on the slopes of which many different tribes live. We journeyed south down the lake to the Golden Moon Restaurant where I had an excellent lunch. This time my camera was to hand and the results are in my gallery. Enjoy!!

After lunch we walked between the houses to see some local paper making using tree bark as the raw material. The Mulberry tree leaves are pounded until soft and then spread evenly over a frame which is submerged in water. Once the leaves are spread the frame is lifted out of the water and left in the sun to dry. Once dry, the freshly made paper is simply peeled off the frame and is ready to use.

One use for the paper is to make traditional umbrellas and we went to a workshop to see nimble fingered women stripping bamboo with which to make the umbrellas and the cutting the paper to fit the curves. They made it look easy but I am sure it wasn’t!

Afterwards, we went to see some Long-necked women and was told that the tradition was first started in Burma and migrants took the tradition with them when they went to Thailand years ago. Such women never take the ring off – it may look like a series of rings but it is in fact a single coil and, to extend it, it has to be removed and a new longer one wound around the person’s neck. The old one is then melted down and recycled.

Back on the boat we set off for the hotel again and we passed many interesting houses and scenes one of which was tomato growing on one of the many floating islands. In effect, these tomatoes are grown hydroponically and can crop just seven weeks after sowing. I also made a video of the journey so you too can enjoy the feel and excitement of being in a longboat.

I hope you enjoy the video and the photos though I know the still shots would have been so much better if my Nikon camera had been working. This video is at http://youtu.be/oPby0-apnyk

Dinner this evening was in the hotel’s stunning restaurant. I had a free run of the menu which featured Local, European and some Thai dishes. All the choices were mouth-watering but knowing I will be eating in the restaurant for three nights I decided to eat local and have the Pa Daung (Ka Yan) Set Menu which I thought sounded good and it was delicious. Go on!! Check the photos and drool!!

FRIDAY 11th OCTOBER

I had to leave the hotel at 6.30am to witness the highlight of the annual Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival. Phaung Daw Oo is a notable Buddhist site in Myanmar and the Pagoda houses five small gilded Buddha images which are believed to have been brought to the Pagoda by King Alaungsithu in the 12th century. For the Festival four of the images are placed on a replica of a royal barge, designed as a Hintha bird, and taken clockwise to villages around the lake. One image always remains at the Pagoda. The highlight of the 18-day Festival is the arrival of the ‘royal’ barge in Nyaungshwe, the most important and largest village on the lake.

We watched as the boats in the procession got ready. It was an amazing sight and there was a genuine feeling of excitement and anticipation in the air. Once the procession got going the ‘royal’ barge was towed by six longboats with the other longboats at the head of the line. There were about 25 long boats in total, each with 70 or more leg-rowers powering each one.

The scene appeared to be a bit chaotic with locals in their boats and some tourist boats as well all vying to get a good view of the processional longboats. All the boat movements made the lake water a bit choppy and to get a better view I tried to stand up to take the video. I managed to stay upright for a while when an urgent swell nearly tipped me over the side so I sat down fast. This video is on youtube at http://youtu.be/LET3AfqeevM

We then motored ahead to Nyaungshwe to get into position to see the arrival of the procession and the ‘royal’ barge. Our position was near to the VIP’s building and I had a good view of the boats arriving. It was a truly amazing sight and one I will never forget. It was entirely fortuitous that I was in Inle on the right day; I was very lucky indeed!

As we got off our longboat here was suddenly a commotion amongst the crowd and I turned to look at the boats on the river to see what had happened. Had I turned just seconds earlier I would have seen a shorter boat on which there were some yellow-costumed girls performing a traditional dance tip over. The girls and the five large silver cups with lids they were dancing around fell into the river. Immediately, boats turned or approached to help rescue the girls and anything that floated. Later on, after all the racing was over boats with men using long bamboo poles probed the water to locate the precious silver cups on the river bed which at that point was about 6ft deep but I imagine the bottom was very muddy. I was told later that one cup was recovered and by the time we left the others had not been found.

Masses of people from the village and other villages around made for a very interesting ethnically mixed crowd. You can usually tell which tribe someone belongs to by the way they dress as you will see in photos in my gallery and my youtube videos. This video is on youtube at http://youtu.be/gdsVmpldf_A

When the boats arrived, each boat representing a different village, cheers of excitement rose from the crowd on both sides of the river. Each boat was dressed in full regalia and each looked magnificent with the right legs of the rowers moving in unison powering each boat forward. These special racing boats are fitted with a metal bar down the centre of the boat for the leg-rowers to hold onto.

At the end of the line of longboats came the point of the whole procession which was to take a golden Buddha image, housed in a replica temple to the many different villages around the huge lake. The complete festival lasts 18 days with each village being visited in turn and sometimes more than one village is visited in a day depending on location.

As I mentioned, the highlight of the Festival was the arrival at Nyaungshwe. Being tall I was able to get a good view above the heads of all the locals in front of me but some women, older ones too, were very pushy and forced their way to be in front of me. Sometimes the jostling caused camera wobble so I apologise for that.

Once the procession finished the boat racing began though the starting point was out of my sight I did have a clear view of the finish. Two boats raced at a time and, remember, no motors and no hands, only legs and it was an amazing spectacle and people watching near me and elsewhere got very excited as the boats crossed the finishing line. I also made a video of the boat racing and this video is on youtube at http://youtu.be/_U5ubGGCzp4

After the racing finished we walked through the bustling market which, I was told, was far busier than usual because of the crowd coming to watch the longboat procession and boat racing. It was fascinating seeing so many different tribespeople, all Burmese, wandering through the market lanes and often looking at me probably because of my height. I made a video of my market walk-through so if you would like to get a real feel and a genuine sense of being there too, take a look. This video is on youtube at http://youtu.be/Qkpn4xC20is

My guide then took me to the local post office where I bought some stamps for the two postcards I bought and I took a photo of the inside. On the way we came across some school girls discussing excitedly about who was going to take the limited free seats available on a nearby fairground ride. In this photo you can see their chocolate brown school Longyis; the ones wearing a shoulder sash sang the Chakras at the temple. The fairground ride they wanted to go on was very tame by Western standards but great fun for the giggling girls.

We then got back onto our longboat and headed out into the lake to a restaurant where we had a lovely lunch. On the way we passed two longboats from the procession and they began to race as we passed which was fun to see. There were five delicious salads for starters together with chickpea poppadoms, rice cakes and crispy rice crackers. I chose what was a delicious chicken curry and dessert was a gludgeous homemade chocolate cake with a little bowl of choc sauce to pour over it. One of the things on show at the restaurant was a quirky 3-person trishaw which might be good for getting around London.

There followed visits to a weaving workshop where everything was exquisitely done by hand including stripping Lotus stalks to obtain the strings which were rolled up, joined up, and made into thread with individual dyes applied by hand. One Lotus thread scarf costs just over $100.

Next was a visit to a Cheroot making family and it was interesting to see how natural materials are used not to mention the tobacco which is grown in the hills. After that we headed back to the hotel, the end of a wonderful day, one of many that I have had so far.

It was about 4.30pm so I wandered around taking some photos of the hotel grounds and the large vegetable garden. Sunset came about 6pm making for a very attractive sky and I took some photos.

I don’t think I mentioned that there is an outside shower mostly surrounded by an Adobe wall attached to my villa and I had a shower there in the late afternoon sun and it was really lovely!!

For my second dinner at the Inle Princess Resort I decided to go European starting with Warm Goats Cheese Salad followed by Grilled Chicken on a bed of home grown Vegetables and Potato Croquette and for dessert I had a Chocolate Fondant which was served in three almost complete eggshells. I also enjoyed some glasses of Red Mountain Estate Sauvignon Blanc which is produced at the nearby vineyard and is delicious.

SATURDAY 12th OCTOBER

An 8.30am start this morning which is a bit later than usual but, sadly, this is my last full day at Inle Lake.

First, we rode our longboat to Intha market named after the Intha tribe whose market it is. It had a different spirit compared to the other markets I have visited with the stallholders and market-goers looking very different. Many dozens of boats moored right beside the market made another difference and a good photo. Some of the goods on sale were also different such as the huge bags of Poppadoms which people actually bought.

After the market we went to a longboat building yard at one of the stilted houses on the lake. The boats are made entirely by hand from long lengths of teak and, interestingly, the basic frame of each boat is made from only five planks. My guide told me that a regular longboat costs about US$3,000 but will last a lifetime.

Our next visit was to a Silversmith’s workshop where several generations of the same family worked entirely by hand making various type of jewellery. Not only did everyone work by hand but also without any magnifying glasses to assist with the very detailed work required. One young man was making a silver chain by hand by joining tiny links one by one until the right length was achieved.

It was interesting work to see but I think it sad that aids such as large magnifying glasses aren’t used to assist. Once that young man’s eyes deteriorate it will be too late for him. I wandered around the showroom but the prices were very steep not that I had ideas about buying anything.

After this we set off in the longboat turning down one of the four rivers that feed the lake. After some distance we arrived at Nyaung Ohak village where we had a very nice lunch at the Lucky Star cafe where I had a delicious Cucumber and Peanut and Chive Salads as a starter followed by a Pork and Potato Curry.

The point of going to this village was to visit a group of Stupas at Nyaung Ohak which the then Burmese King copied after a visit to Ayutthaya. The style of the many stupas is very different from those hitherto seen in the country. Many of the stupas have very detailed and intricate surviving stone carvings. Although some conservation work has been done many of the stupas are succumbing to nature with plants growing out of them or even trees too.

On our way back to the longboat I spotted something my guide missed – some locals playing Carom – and I wandered over to take a closer look. I was first introduced to this game by my Aunt Ruby Thomas (née Gordon) who brought a Carom board home from Ceylon. Much later, my father and I made our own Carom board when we lived at Huxley and I now have it in my flat in London.

In the village, two friends were playing very expertly. The game is a bit like table snooker and you flick large counters instead of hitting a ball with a cue. Some tables have four pockets, some six as this one did. It was fun watching such experts play so deftly.

We arrived back at the hotel about 4.3opm and I took the chance to try and update my blog but the internet connection was very weak.

I had another lovely dinner this evening and finished off the other half of the Red Mountain Estate Sauvignon Blanc which I started on last night.

Some time later, back in my villa, I found I had acquired a mild dose of the runs and I immediately started taking the Imodium tablets I always travel with but my stock was almost depleted. I knew there was no chance of getting any more until I got back to Thailand so kept my fingers crossed there would be no accidents.

SUNDAY 13th OCTOBER

It was an early 6.30am start at the jetty this morning for the boat journey to the village where we picked up the car to go to Heho airport and my flight to Yangon. At the airport I couldn’t stop shivering and on the flight I had to ask for a blanket to keep warm.

I was met at Yangon airport by the guide I previously had and we drove to the same hotel as before. My room this time, Room 217, wasn’t as sumptuous or as big as it was located in a more recently built wing but it was still very comfortable with great views over Kandawgyi Palace Lake, adjacent to the hotel, and the long teak walkway that joins the two ends of the lake in a long curve.

So far my health on this trip has been excellent with no problems at all but it is starting to go downhill. About three days ago I began to get the short sharp nerve-end tingles in my left leg. I have had this experience perhaps half a dozen times over the last ten years and it is extremely irritating at night, having settled down after a persistent tingle, and on the verge of sleep, another nerve tingle arrives and I am wide awake again.

On previous occasions some paracetamol or similar soon calms the leg nerve/s enabling sleep to resume. This time, however, the same trick no longer worked. The cause of the tingles is usually a pinched or trapped nerve but seems not to be the case this time round.

However, I tried to ignore my problems to enjoy the very nice lunch at the hotel’s Agnes (French) Restaurant which was superb. I was given a complimentary glass of chilled Champagne which was a nice touch. The buffet selection was magnificent and beautiful to look at. The French chef and his team are obviously able to work culinary wonders. I chose a selection of saucisson and various salads followed by Rack of Lamb which is a meat never found on Thai menus and it was excellent. The dessert was excellent too but my only regret was that I discovered the cheese board when I couldn’t eat any more.

MONDAY 14th OCTOBER

This was my extra day in Yangon and I arranged to hire my guide and his friend’s taxi for the morning and I hoped to some interesting things. Unfortunately, the big (formerly Scott’s) market is closed Mondays but I had planned to buy some t-shirts or small Jade elephants there to give my fellow teachers as presents.

I also needed to get some more money from an ATM. The one in the hotel didn’t like the cards I had so we drove to some other ATMs at another big hotel and I managed to extract some more cash though at a price no doubt.

We also visited a pharmacy recommended by my guide and although I didn’t know it then I was prescribed the correct remedy for my annoying nerve-end tingles, namely, Vitamin B12. Later, in Pattaya, I consulted a doctor and he prescribed the same tablets and they were effective.

I asked my guide to take me somewhere local for lunch and he took me to a very busy restaurant crammed full of locals. It was a kind of buffet where you select what dishes you’d like from a vast display and then it is prepared and brought to your table for you.

I couldn’t face doing any more exploring after lunch so I returned to the hotel and paid my guide and driver and settled down to rest. I felt very tired and very thirsty.

For dinner this evening I went to the hotel’s cafe just off the lobby and scanned the menu for something simple and filling and chose a Quatro Stagione pizza. It looked great when it arrived but was a bit too salty for me and, anyway, I could only manage to finish half of it.

I had an early night and I hoped that I would feel better in the morning.

TUESDAY 15th OCTOBER

I didn’t feel any better this morning but I managed to have some breakfast and meet my guide for the journey to Yangon airport. My flight to Bangkok was delayed by an hour which meant a lot of sitting around and waiting. My journey was uneventful and when I arrived at Bangkok I took a cab to the city where I wanted to leave my Nikon camera to be repaired before continuing my journey to Pattaya.

It turned out that the Nikon service centre in Silom which I have used several times before is no longer the main repair centre as well; this is now in Sathorn so I took another cab to the Empire Tower where the Nikon Service Centre is on the 45th floor.

While I was navigating my way to the Service Centre my cab circled the base of the building and I picked it up again after leaving my camera to have the electrical fault repaired.

A couple of hours later I checked into my hotel in Pattaya where I looked forward to some days of relaxation and, more importantly, to get back to feeling normal again. I still had a near constant headache, felt thirsty, felt tired and felt generally awful and off food.

Over the next few days I began to feel better and better. I arrived back at Sai Moon on Friday 25th October and all’s well.

Looking back, I had a fantastic trip to Myanmar and I am really glad I decided to go as I was wavering in the early planning days. The people of Myanmar are now free to do all the things they were previously forbidden to do under the military regime and that includes freedom of expression and being able to talk to and welcome Western visitors.

Tourist numbers are not yet huge, but they are growing. Elections are due in 2015 and the present or future government will have many agonising decisions to take not least of which is to decide the balance between development and growth and conserving what it is that attracts people to visit in the first place.

My trip had a focus on colonial history. The Myanmar Heritage Trust has been doing a stellar job recording the history of old buildings and fighting battles to prevent demolition. Many fine old colonial buildings have already disappeared, others have been snapped up for conversion into hotels.

Myanmar is very unlike Thailand. The colonial era left many marks and bequeathed many benefits and these show up in everyday life and attitudes in contrast to Thailand which lags behind and is undeveloped in so many ways.

I hope you have enjoyed my Myanmar blog and that my photos and videos have entertained you despite the fact that I was quite unable to do a daily update as I envisaged.

Sai Moon school opens for the new term tomorrow, Monday 28th October, so my regular blog will resume in due course.

Posted by talismanic 03:31 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

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