27.02.2014 - 09.04.2014 -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
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!!
* * *
* * *