11.12.2013 - 31.12.2013 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.