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18th Feb-Mar 12th: DECORATING..FINALS..TERM END..SUMMER HOLS

sunny 34 °C

MONDAY 18th FEBRUARY

There was a teacher’s meeting this afternoon starting just before the students left for home and it went on for almost 90 minutes. One of the main points was
a report by the new Deputy Director following the course he had just completed about revising the curriculum which will be implemented in time for the start of the new academic year in May.

TUESDAY 19th FEBRUARY

A scorching hot day today from sun up till sun down and it is a great relief to change into something casual and cooler after I finish teaching and go home.

WEDNESDAY 20th FEBRUARY

Jasper and I went into Kranuan this morning principally to buy some DVDs because the Director asked me to burn the contents of his camera’s memory card onto one but we also needed some more cat food because the local Tesco Lotus at Kham Yai had run out.

The Director has decided there needs to be a fax machine in the office so Mr Weang went out to buy a Panasonic Laser Fax which he has now installed in gthe main office. The only snag is that the school doesn’t have a phone line so he called TOT (Telecom of Thailand) today to get one installed. It will be interesting to see how quickly they can do this given that the next nearest landline is at a phonebox in the village about one and a half kilometers away and the nearest exchange is miles away.

But quite why the Director wants a fax machine is unknown since all Windows Operating Systems (OS) up to and including XP come with fax creating and receiving software and with newer OS like Windows Vista and Windows 7 and 8 you can easily use an external USB fax modem, about the size of a pack of cigarettes and cost about 500 baht (about £10), which would enable you to send and receive and store copies of as many faxes as you wish.

The thing is that Thais, in general, would never consider asking a foreigner for any kind of advice or information. They universally think that Thailand is great and Thailand is No.1 in the world so why should they ask any foreigner anything and this little example of the fax machine extends upwards to every level including ministries and the government as a whole. The consequence is that things in Thailand get tackled back to front and enormous and costly mistakes are common.

THURSDAY 21st FEBRUARY

Ajarn Tippakorn spent the morning filling forms and writing documents for herself and Ajarns Weang and Yor to apply for school transfers nearer to their respective homes: Nong Khai, Yasoton and Ayuthaya respectively. Once the forms are submitted to the Or Bor Jor (the Education Dept) in Kalasin city it will take about three months for a decision to be made. If it is a yes for any of them then they will move to new schools next year.

I have decided to postpone my trip to Burma until the October holiday. This partly because the Burmese equivalent of Songkhran known as the Water Festival gets in the way. Another reason is that the weather in October will be a bit cooler and more pleasant.

Diethelm Travel, the company I am planning to go to Burma with, have a very interesting sounding 11-day Colonial Tour package which covers everything and more that I would like to see and do in Myanmar. The only downside that I can see is that the itinerary doesn’t extend south to Mawlamyine (formerly Moulmein) which is where my Gordon grandfather represented the Bank of Bengal in the 1880/90s and I thought it would be nice to visit.

I went to Global House, a poor Thai version of a B & Q store near Kalasin city. B & Q has everything you can possibly imagine and more for home improvements whereas Global has a much smaller range and many things you’d expect to find aren’t stocked. However I did manage to buy most of the items I needed to decorate my room.

One item Global House did not have was matt black paint for the skirting board, the interior of the window frames and the ceiling border. All of these had been painted black previously and I thought it simpler to keep these areas black. With Jasper in his car we called at several stores in Kranuan all of whom had gloss black and no one could suggest where we might buy matt black. Eventually we found some matt black lacquer and I decided to go with that as the least worst option.

I also bought some more insect netting for the windows since the netting put up soon after I arrived at Sai Moon left gaps which delighted the insects and it had also been holed in a couple of places. The fine plastic netting was only 49 baht (about £2) per meter compared to some ridiculous price of £21++ I’d seen in the UK online.

FRIDAY 22nd – 25th FEBRUARY

Monday was Makha Bucha Day which is an important Buddhist festival in Thailand on the full moon day of the third lunar month commemorating the Buddha’s teaching of Ovada Patimokkha. So it was a nice 4-day weekend and I decided, finally, to get down to it and decorate my room at the teacher’s house the walls of which had probably not felt a paint brush since the day they were built.

A former student came to help me paint the walls a light sky blue colour and Jasper helped paint some of the ceiling. I concentrated on the corners which were unreachable by roller and on filling holes including the mouseholes. I also varnished all the wooden areas – the six shutters and both sides of the door – which improved the look of the woodwork enormously.

Jasper cut the netting to size and stapled it to the wooden frame that held the old netting to the windows but he mistakenly stapled it to the wrong side of the frame leaving the same big gaps as before so I had to buy some more.

By Saturday afternoon the single one gallon container of blue emulsion paint had run out so we had to return to Global House again which was just as well because more insect netting was needed as well as some more paint brushes – Thai brushes are very poor quality – and sandpaper.

To do the painting I had removed almost everything from my room apart from the wardrobe. One major deficiency at Global House was dust sheets so I bought some black bin bags and by cutting them open and stapling them together I created some workable dust sheets to keep paint being splattered everywhere and one of these was draped over the wardrobe.

The filler I used to block the mouseholes in the ceiling was acrylic, the first time I’d used it, and using it was like trying to spread molten chewing gum, it was very sticky and glutinous and I wished I had found some plaster of Paris instead.

Working as fast as we could in my baking hot room all the major work was finished by Monday afternoon when I went round touching up. Despite the dust sheets some paint did get onto the wooden floor of my room and I had to spend a long time scraping or rubbing it off and generally cleaning up. It must be remembered that Thais by and large do not spend any time maintaining their homes and they are not house proud like westerners so paint spatterings here and there in my room didn’t matter to my students helpers and they created more cleaning up work which took me a long time.

Late Monday afternoon I got everything finished and started moving things back into my room. Though I don’t have enough proper storage space for everything my room now looks far better than before and I am happy with the result.

TUESDAY 26th FEBRUARY

After school today Ajarn Sompon started lighting a series of bonfires next to the other teacher’s house and, sure enough, the billowing smoke drifted across to my teacher’s house and into my room through the window. At the time I was doing things on my laptop and the last thing I wanted was to work in a room full of smoke. I went over to him and told him it burning was not a good idea and that it was filling my room with smoke. He very sensibly decided to quench the fires with water which was just as well because I was not a happy bunny!

WEDNESDAY 27th FEBRUARY

The Director decided today that M6, the senior class who are about to leave Sai Moon for good, should work on the path laying project outside the Sala for the rest of this week. For some time now there has been a problem with the sandy soil when it rains and it runs over the concrete path next to the Sala which is at a lower level. The project now is to raise the level of this path thus removing the problem and thus providing a kerb to contain the sand within the flower beds.

Sacks of cement, loads of sand and gravel had already been delivered when M6 went to work mixing the concrete and I took some photos which are in my gallery.

THURSDAY 28th FEBRUARY

Another scorching hot day today – 35c!

After lunch this morning I went to Nong Kung Sri with Director in order to cash cheques, in my case a portion of my salary. There were a lot of people at the bank but they have a numbered queuing system, comfortable seats to relax on, and a water cooler should one feel thirsty.

This afternoon we had another round of Oral Tests for every class. I devised a series of questions for the students to answer – one set for the junior classes and a slightly harder set for the senior classes. Most students did well but the ones who don’t normally pay attention in class didn’t do well at all and will have to resit.

FRIDAY 1st MARCH

There is definitely an end of term feel at school now. It’s hard to keep to the teaching syllabus when it is like this so I try and make the lessons into a game which then become much more fun.

SATURDAY 2nd MARCH

I spent much of today making bookings for my summer holidays. I’ve left it later this year than ever before because of the uncertainty over dates. I asked the Director again this week if he could confirm the school closing and opening dates but he didn’t know because the Or Bor Jor (Education Authority in Kalasin city) haven’t notified him of the dates yet. This simply confirms my opinion, expressed here before, that the people at the Or Bor Jor are totally incompetent and unfit for purpose.

With two month of holiday time to fill it is, believe it or not, hard to think of interesting and different things to do that don’t cost the earth. This holiday my first stop is Udon Thani for two nights, Chiang Mai for 7 nights, Mae Hong Son 7 nights, Chaing Mai 7 nights, Chiang Rai 7 nights, Mae Sai 3 nights, Bangkok 4 nights and finishing up in Pattaya for two weeks before flying to Khon Kaen and back to school about a week before term is likely to start.

Believe it or not, Ajarn Yor started a bonfire next to our teacher’s house this afternoon and, not for the first time, I had to tell him that with the smoke drifting round to the rear of the house my room was full of smoke again. It amazes me that my fellow Thai teachers simply will not learn or use common sense. And why burn leaves anyway ? He is an obsessive leaf sweeper sweeping every day and creating a cloud of dust in the process. To dispose of the leaves all anyone has to do is to take them over to the stand of trees (about 20ft away) where nobody goes and add them to the layer of leaves already there where they will decompose by themselves without burning.

SUNDAY 3rd MARCH

A friend in Bangkok has asked me to help a friend of his by checking the English in his thesis. It sounds simple enough but the topic is about how heavy metals contaminate aquatic organisms which makes reading and correcting heavy going and I spent most of the day making corrections.

The weather seems to be on the change because it tried to rain today and for a few days now the sky has been overcast.

During the evening, until about 10pm, M5 students were making and constructing three archways near the Sala to be used as photo backdrops tomorrow.

MONDAY 4th MARCH

It rained this morning quite heavily but not for long enough to make any difference and it stopped by 8am.

There were no classes today as it was devoted to the goodbye ceremony for M6 and M3. After assembly, the finishing touches were made to the arches, balloons were blown and placed, and congratulatory signs were written, cut out, and attached to the arches.

At the ceremony, M5 took care of M6 and a number of mothers attended as well though not nearly as many as last year. There were VIP guests from the Or Bor Dor (the local Council located next to the school) and all the teachers were present too. The ceremony opened with some traditional dancing and a video of this and parts of the rest of the ceremony are on youtube at http://youtu.be/WkvlnhgKHn4

The local priest (for want of a better word) presided over the religious part of the ceremony which ended with a water ‘blessing’ for each of the students. The came the tying of lengths of wool around the wrists of each of the students by the Director and all the teachers accompanied by words of congratulation and good wishes. After this students exchanged friendship necklaces – formed by a wool thread around the neck with a small see-through plastic envelope attached with a message on the outside and containing a sweet/s.

And then there were photocalls for M6 and M3. Although all of M6 will leave school for the real world outside I don’t know if any M3 students are thinking of leaving for another school or leaving education altogether. It was all over by lunchtime and the students went home and Jasper and I went to Kham Yai to have lunch.

TUESDAY 5th MARCH

The Director decreed that there should be no classes today to give all the students the chance to revise for the exams at home. When I heard about this I thought it was a misguided decision since I doubted that many students would do any revising at home. A very few of the poochai (boys) might open a book but many more pooying (girls) are likely to since they are generally the better and more serious students.

Many of the Thai teachers spent today frantically writing exam papers for their subject. Typical really, since Thais always leave things till the last minute and have great difficulty thinking ahead. I wrote mine two weeks ago so I had a free day.

This evening, I was in my room working on my laptop when I heard loud crackling noises. I have become used to these sounds now and knew that a farmer nearby must be burning his sugar cane. When the crackling became louder and louder I realised the burning must be closer than I thought and went outside to look fearing that, perhaps, the burning had got out of control and that my teacher’s house and all I owned here might be in danger. Sure enough, wild flames were raging about 50 meters from the house and I wondered what I could do if they came closer to consuming the mostly wooden building. Not much, I concluded but, luckily, the breeze was blowing away from the house and although it was a very scary moment I knew that the dead and very dry sugar cane leaves and undergrowth always burned furiously leaving the cane stems untouched. And so it turned out. There are some flaming photos in my gallery.

WEDNESDAY 6th MARCH

No classes to day as all the students taking the first batch of exams. I had a free day because the Thai teachers always do the invigilating despite the fact I have much experience invigilating university exams.

Ajarn Weang told me today that TOT (Telecom of Thailand) do not want to lay a phone line for the school to allow the new fax machine to be connected. I am going to speak to the Director about this at the next opportunity because, as mentioned before, a cheap USB fax modem can do all that is required if, that is, the school really does need to receive and send faxes.

THURSDAY 7th MARCH

A number of senior students were absent from assembly this morning which caused Ajarn Tuk to make an ad hoc pronouncement that those students will not be permitted to take today’s exams.

As it is exam time here I thought you’d be interested in a story that hit the national news this week. The news item was about a test taken by would-be Assistant Teachers in sixty different provinces around Thailand. The exam’s objective was to select 2,000 candidates for assistant teaching positions paying 9,000 baht per month (about £200 at today’s exchange rates).

After the test it was found that 486 test-takers achieved a perfect or near-perfect score. On investigation it was thought that some had paid between 200,000 and 300,000 baht for the test answers. It may seem strange to you that someone would pay so much up front to succeed in an exam for a job paying only 9,000 baht per month.

The answer lies in the fact that an Assistant Teacher’s job is the first step to getting a full time permanent civil service position and thus access to much more money, by fair means or foul (think corruption), later on. Why else would someone pay around a quarter of a million baht for a job paying so little ?

A full scale investigation in now underway though I would have thought a re-sit with different questions and proper exam paper security and invigilation would have sufficed since it is possible that the 486 candidates really did get their good marks without cheating as there is no proof, as yet, that any cheating actually took place. It is only a suspicion after all, but then This Is Thailand.

In passing, would-be policemen have been known to pay 1m baht (about £21,000) for test questions. This is another job which pays peanuts, but policemen make their money by extorting in unrecorded ‘fines’ for all kinds of petty offences or even made-up offences.

FRIDAY 8th MARCH

The last day of exams and the last day of term. The students who didn’t turn up for assembly on Thursday are going to have to take their remaining exams on Monday but I hope the Thai teachers have considered that these students will probably chat to their classmates who have already taken the exam and discover the answers.

At this time last year I took M6 out to a buffet dinner at Kranuan Thani but this year’s M6 are quite different. The old M6 were fun and went around together and were part of everything. The current M6 boys are a lazy bunch who don’t take part in anything; the girls are much better and studious in class and they get involved with anything that’s going on. I won’t be taking M6 out to dinner this year and they are not expecting me to either which is just as well.

SATURDAY 9th MARCH

The school was busy today with Gor Sor Nor (adult education) students taking exams which continue tomorrow. They rolled up to school on their motorbikes and cars and parked all over the place and many had their families in tow. The students are mostly people in their thirties and forties though some are older still. There are usually some younger 18+ ones too. Most enrol at the Gor Sor Nor school in Kham Yai, which I was told is very well equipped with all the technology and so on, to catch up on exams they flunked or failed when at school; some enrol for social reasons and some for job related reasons.

I was a bit annoyed this morning with Ajarn Narongsak, one of the sharers of my teacher’s house, because he spent the whole morning from soon after 8am till about 12.30 faffing around washing his laundry which meant no one else was able to do any.

Also this morning, I was uploading photos to a web album when I noticed the upload speed was the fastest I had ever seen it. The photos were being uploaded in a flash whereas it normally take forever. Later, I got an sms message from dtac (my Air Card service provider) to say my 3G allowance had expired but if I wanted to extend it I could pay 150 baht for another seven days.

SUNDAY 10th MARCH

A very cloudy windless start to this morning and I thought there’s not much hope of any laundry drying today but an hour or so later the sun emerged and I decided to take a chance on it staying out to dry things.

I went to Tesco Lotus in Kham Yai to put some more credit on my Air Card to get the 3G extension but I am not sure that it is making much difference today. Despite what the call centre said which was that the 150 baht (£3) 3G extension would last a month it will in fact only last seven days.

I have recently been trying to discover where I can buy some seeds of the Erythrina Poeppigiana tree. As I have mentioned before, this is the famous Coral Tree which has masses of crimson flowers at this time of year and can be seen in many regions of Thailand but nowhere near Sai Moon. If you remember, when I was in Bangkok recently I tried and failed to find a seedling and bought a Jacaranda plant instead.

I have now found a source for the seeds of this variety of Erythrina – there are more than 100 different varieties and I will make my purchase after I return to school in May. In passing, this tree has a number of different names including Flame Tree.

MONDAY 11th MARCH

The students who failed to turn up at assembly last Thursday morning took their Final Tests today meanwhile I spent most of the day marking the test papers for M4, M5 and M6 and most students managed to get above 50% which is not too bad.

M6 students, boys and girls, were also given the task of creating beds and planting some roses in front of the office building. There are some photos in my gallery but I am not confident that the roses will be alive and healthy when I get back to school after the holidays. We’ll see!!

TUESDAY 12th MARCH

I spent much of this morning getting things ready and packing my bags so I didn’t go down to the school until 11am and, by chance, as I hadn’t heard about it, I was just in time for a teacher’s meeting in the Director’s office. The main topic was the proposed teacher’s trip to Chiang Mai but for some reason the destination has changed. I had wondered why Ajarn Wanida was taking more than two weeks to come up with an itinerary when I felt sure I could do it in about 30 minutes.

A discussion followed about other destinations and eventually they all settled on Sattahip which is about one hour along the coast from Pattaya on an attractive peninsular with a very long beach. Sattahip is where the students at my first school, Ban Chad, went for their annual trip. There is also a large naval base nearby where Thailand’s one and only aircraft carrier is moored which I was banned from boarding when all the other teachers and students toured the vessel. The reason given was that I was a foreigner and there was something top secret on the ship. When I got the chance I googled the name of the ship and very quickly discovered what this so-called secret was – the ship has a cabin reserved for the King and his family should there be a national crisis of some sort. Wow!!

After the meeting I packed my bags in Jasper’s car and we set off for Kham Yai where we had some lunch and we then drove to Nam Phong where I caught a bus for Udon Thani and the start of my summer holiday tour which will take in Udon Thani, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Sai and a border crossing, Bangkok and Pattaya. I’m looking forward to it.

Posted by talismanic 05:12 Archived in Thailand

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by C.Gordon

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