01.01.2014 - 26.01.2014
WEDNESDAY 1st JANUARY 2014
This morning Mr Noi invited me, Chwin and Jasper to his house for lunch. I assumed it would just be us and his family but when we got there a party was in full swing in the front garden with some wives singing karaoke while their husbands ate and drank. We sat with Mr Noi and chatted and lots of food and drinks were served. I accepted a glass beer but reluctantly because it usually sends me to sleep if I drink at lunchtime.
Luckily, Jasper wanted to get away to go and meet some Filipino friends in Kalasin city so Chwin and I took the opportunity and left when he left. By the time I returned to the teacher's house the banister painting I did this morning was dry and the finish looked good.
This evening I went to Kham Yai on my Scoopi to have dinner at Lom Mai restaurant. After I finished the family who own the restaurant invited me to join them at their table where they were having a barbecue. More food and drink followed and it was a pleasant evening.
THURSDAY 2nd JANUARY
Many students were missing from assembly this morning which I suppose is par for the course after the new year celebrations. On the other hand, many people in Thailand are enjoying a seven day official holiday at this time whereas we at school have only had five days.
Ajarn Tippakorn had to go to Kalasin city this morning so she asked me to take
her two classes today which was no problem though overall there were few classes today as students were engaged on other work such as M5 who had to sand the surface of all the classroom desks and stain them. Other students were helping Mr Kay and Mr Sompon make some wooden signs.
FRIDAY 3rd JANUARY
A lengthy teachers meeting held standing in a semi circle round the Director on the assembly area. As usual, no written record was made about what was agreed which, to me, seems very slack and definitely not best practice especially when one of the main topics was what budget to allocate for the upcoming school assessment on 17th, 20th and 21st January when three inspectors from Bangkok will arrive. After a lot of discussion, in Thai of course, it was agreed to allocate 30,000 baht (about £600) which will be spent on preparation expenditure – new signs, for example – food, including nice lunches, and so on.
Ajarn Tuk, the one-person Academic Department, who has the brain of an ant, announced at the meeting that the Mid-term Exams will take place on the first three days of next week.
But this is Thailand, so the Director instructed all the teachers to go easy when invigilating the Mid-terms and help struggling students by adding extra marks if scores drop below 8; the maximum score being 30.
My laptop refused to boot up properly this morning and I spent a long time trying to figure out how to make it behave. I tried everything I could think of but eventually decided I would have to take it into Kranuan for the computer wizard at Benz Computers to take a look at it. I had to leave my laptop there so it was a good job there was still some painting left to do to keep me occupied.
SATURDAY 4th JANUARY
I mentioned new signs. Perceptive readers will recall new marble signs being erected around the school just a few months ago and will remember that one of them, on a corner, had direction arrows the wrong way round as well as spelling mistakes. This sign is now going to be removed and several teachers spent most of the morning trying but failing to uproot it from its solid concrete foundation. If only the instructions given to the workmen had been checked or, if they were correct, if only the finished article had been checked before it was installed.
The sign is going to be repositioned on another corner where all but two of the directional arrows will be correct. Anyone following the two incorrect arrows hoping to get somewhere will find themselves directed along the public road that circles half the school leading back to the school gate where they first entered!
Jasper and I went into Kranuan to have lunch and to try and get materials for the projects we have to make for the coming school inspection. I also went to the computer shop to collect my laptop and was told that there is a problem with the motherboard. When I questioned this I was told that my laptop is old (it is only 4 years old) and things wear out. Later, back home, the computer booted up ok and I immediately started researching motherboards thinking I might have to buy an exact replacement. Since then, my computer has worked normally so the motherboard must be ok, even so, I have been backing up more than usual just in case.
SUNDAY 5th JANUARY
Jasper and I were invited to the wedding this morning of the eldest daughter of the owners of Lom Mai restaurant, where we frequently have lunch and/or dinner. We were there, as requested, at 8am but were amongst the first to arrive. The actual wedding took place inside the house attended only by the family; most of the guests were seated in and around the open-sided restaurant. Dish upon dish of food soon arrived as did liquid refreshments – beer and whisky were also available despite the early hour.
Various ceremonies took place over the next couple of hours and I took some photos to share with you. The couple getting married also went around to pose for photos behind the guests at all the tables which is something I have seen before at other weddings. All in all, it was an enjoyable morning and the highlight of the day.
MONDAY 6th JANUARY
The announcement last week that the three days of Midterm Tests would begin today turned out to be incorrect, or rather another typical Thai mess-up as there were no classes today. Instead, students helped with various projects set by teachers. For example, M6 erected new school direction signs at the main junction in the village and at the turn off leading to the school gate; another class planted flowers, and M5 sanded classroom desktops and re-stained them.
I prepared the groundwork for an English grammar board game and took photos of busy students with which to decorate the English Department display boards that will be on show along with all the school files and folders to be viewed by the Assessors.
I forgot to mention that just before the five-day break the newly devised school motto was announced to the assembled students for them to learn in case they should be asked about it by one of the Inspectors. The motto is: Love Music, Love Sport and take care of the Environment. Nothing about “love learning” of course!!
TUESDAY 7th – THURSDAY 9th JANUARY
The rest of this week was spent preparing for the forthcoming school assessment. New wooden signs have been erected around the school naming which class is responsible for taking care of each area; the marble directional sign has now been repositioned and cemented into place; and students have been busy decorating their classrooms with posters etc.
Jasper and I went into Kranuan to the education equipment store – a really dismal place with half-hearted staff and a sparse selection of items on offer – to buy coloured paper and spray glue for my game and to buy posters to decorate the walls in the former school library which is now our English Dept.
I continued working on the Grammar Game and the English project board. I got around the problem of the lack of photos by getting sets of different students to pose as if they were working on both the project and the game. There will be no clues on the display to say when the project was done – other than 2013 - or when the photos were taken.
Tomorrow the school celebrates Children's Day so several teachers along with some students were occupied today decorating the stage, creating an archway for the guests to walk through going into the Sala, and building a floral display attached to the lectern. The Day itself will e organized by the Or Bor Dor, the local Council which is located next to the school.
This evening I had to go with other teachers to the funeral of one of the chiefs at the next door Or Bor Dor (local council) who has frequently been one of the VIPs attending functions at school. It was held at his house in Ban Daet, the next village to Sai Moon, and a lot of people were there. I took a few photos, as did many other people.
FRIDAY 10th JANUARY
Schools across Thailand celebrate Children's Day today although National Children's Day is actually tomorrow. The older children from nearby primary schools came to Sai Moon and were joined by our own the three younger classes. Two Or Bor Dor officials dressed as clowns mc'd the event and larked around between dance routines or songs performed by different groups of students. All in all, it was good fun and even the many parents who attended enjoyed it too. There are a number of photos in my gallery for you as well.
It was all over by about 11.30 when I went back to the teacher's house to get changed and pack my bag. Jasper then drove me to Namphong where I caught the bus to Udon Thani. As my last visa run coincided with my trip to Burma it was six months since my last visit.
I stayed once again at the Silver Reef hotel near the bus station which is very central and convenient for getting around anywhere. It was nice to be back in civilization again!
SATURDAY 11th JANUARY
One of the nice things about Udon is the easy availability of a nice breakfast which I usually have at the Coffee Corner café on the street alongside the hotel. The café does breakfast, sandwiches and a range of popular Thai dishes, all very cheaply but nicely cooked.
I set off to catch a bus to Nong Khai about 9am and found there was a minibus about to depart which I caught. It seems it is a new service that started operating since my last visit. It's faster and, it turned out, it takes one directly to the immigration office by the Friendship Bridge.
I duly presented myself at the small passport control window to exit Thailand and was told to go to the Overstay window, the potential problem being that I now have a brand new passport but my visa and last arrival stamp are in my old passport. The official at the overstay window said there was no problem and entered the exit stamp in my old passport and confirmed that I can re-enter Thailand again and still get another 90-day stamp on re-entry to Thailand.
For the first time today there was a long queues of people waiting for their entry visa into Laos and after filling out the two forms I joined the end of it. While I was in the queue I had doubts about the wisdom of entering my new passport number on the form rather than the old one so I changed it and this turned out to be correct. I was also able to pay the visa fee from the large bundle of Laos Kip which Veryan had given me in Pai back in April (she had no use for the money, she said, as she would not be visiting Laos again) amounting to some 5,000 Thai Baht (about £100).
Before I exited Laos I had an early lunch at a café in the duty free area and wondered about what I could buy to usefully dispose of all my remaining kip. As I wandered around the shops I cast an eye over the many smart phones on offer and finally decided on an iPhone 5S! I also bought a couple of large bottles of Beer Lao to enjoy back at Sai Moon.
There was no passport problem re-entering Thailand and I remembered to avoid the tuk tuk hustlers on exiting the checkpoint and take the short walk across the junction where other tuk tuks are parked and waiting with realistic fares.
SUNDAY 12th JANUARY
After breakfast I visited the nearest IT centre, one of two in Udon and the one which opened almost a year before the second one. Despite its good location across the road from Tesco Lotus it has not done well. On my last visit six months ago, all the units were occupied by computer or phone-related shops, but this time many shops had closed and the few that remained probably won't stay for much longer. On each one of my visits there have been precious few customers although I have always been there soon after opening time.
After that, I got a motorbike taxi to tukcom, the newer IT centre which opened about seven months ago and follows the pattern of their other stores in Thailand with a whole floor devoted to eateries and a few other non-IT outlets.
I had lunch in Udon before getting the bus back to Namphong where Jasper met me and drove me back to school.
Mr Kay, one of the married teachers, has what Thais call a 'gik', or a girlfriend, on the side who happens to own a buffet restaurant in Kham Yai, about 7km from school. She has previously been working in a restaurant in Phuket and knows how to cook most Thai and western favourites. All other buffet restaurants I have ever been to have chilled meat and fish and other items laid out in trays on a number of tables from which customers pick and choose as much as they like for a fixed price then cook the food on a charcoal burner at their table. The Kham Yai restaurant is the same but, unlike all the others, she has an extensive illustrated menu of dishes one can order instead of having the buffet. This is really great and Jasper and I and several other teachers went to eat there this evening.
MONDAY 13th JANUARY
There were no classes again today as preparations continued for the assessment. Jasper and I had to vacate our office and move back to the office we used to use before because our room will be used for the opening ceremony and introductions.
TUESDAY 14th JANUARY
It was supposed to be back to normal today with classes as usual. My first class was M2 (13/14 y.o.) but only two students were present on time, the rest rolled in as they felt like it with the last two appearing five minutes before the end.
When students are late it is usually because they are eating or chatting at the canteen. One of the main topics of conversation amongst the Thai teachers this morning, I was told, was how to ensure that students attend classes on time during the assessment. It never seems to occur to them to close or restrict the opening times of the canteen which is odd.
WEDNESDAY 15th JANUARY
Two days to go to the assessment so today there was more preparatory work to do and only the occasional class all day since so many students are involved in either the newly formed Ankalung band, or the dancing, or singing and they need rehearsing.
More banners were nailed to the various office walls and new notices have sprung up all over the place. I have tried to illustrate all this for you and the pics are in my gallery as usual.
THURSDAY 16th JANUARY
There was no school today being Wan Kru, or Teacher's Day across Thailand. All Sai Moon's teachers drove off at 7am for the 60+km journey to Kalasin city where all the province's Provincial school teachers and directors assembled in a large hall all dressed in customary black.
The event was presided over by the governor of Kalasin province and once it got going a number of teachers, whose names were announced in the printed programme, received a special certificate from him. Then every teacher present (except foreign teachers!) lined up, school by school, to receive certificates congratulating them on being a good teacher.
There were the inevitable lengthy speeches and prayers but it was all over by about 11.30. Jasper and I travelled there and back in Mr Noi's new all white Toyota Fortuner pick-up and we were back at school by 1pm.
FRIDAY 17th JANUARY
The other day the Director issued an edict saying all teachers must be in school by 7am during the three days of the inspection so it was an earlier than usual start this morning - the first day of three school inspection days has finally, after much preparation, arrived.
The two inspectors, one 72 years old, the other 64, arrived at 8am and joined everyone at assembly and watched what was happening. They received a warm welcome which in included a short dance by the M5 girls. After assembly, it was unnaturally quiet around school throughout the morning as students had been told to be on their best behaviour and remain in their classrooms up to lunchtime.
Certain actions for the students were banned. For example, when people in Isaan sit they generally either sit on the “doc nam”, the low table that people have in front of their house where they eat, or they sit cross-legged on the floor, or they sit on their haunches – a way of sitting that is very popular and young people of sit like this on chairs. However, squatting like this was deemed impolite to the inspectors and thus banned. Bizarrely, they were also warned not to open water melons by smashing them – though it is not the right season for them.
Once assembly was over all the teachers went to the old library, which had been prettified and decorated, where the opening ceremony and introductions were held. A short welcome speech was given from memory by three students in either English, Thai or Chinese and the inspectors outlined what they were planning to do over the three days.
Lunch was held in the room where all the projects were on display and the two inspectors duly went round looking at them and as they and the teachers took their seats lots of food, sourced from a restaurant in Nong Kung Sri, began to arrive and the M5 girls provided the dancing entertainment.
Around 4.30 the two inspectors, the Director, and all the teachers went to the Kranuan Thani resort (about 12km away on the road to Kranuan) to eat, drink and sing a song. Everyone had a merry good time and I was coerced into singing a song as well.
It turned out that the home towns of both inspectors are only some 40km away from Sai Moon though neither had ever been to my school before. The older one spoke pretty good English and has a daughter married to an Englishman living in London.
SATURDAY 18th JANUARY
Spent the morning doing chores – applied the first coat of varnish to the front door of my teacher's house and the result looks good but it will look even better with another coat.
I have been asking in different hardware shops for floor paint but so far to no avail. TOA, a paint brand popular in Thailand, has floor paint illustrated on its website but TOA stockists don’t seem aware of the product.
For several past evenings Jasper and I have had dinner at the one and only buffet restaurant in Kham Yai whose owner is the 'girlfriend' of married My Kay, the health and sports teacher at school.
SUNDAY 19th JANUARY
I finally got around to doing something I have wanted to do for a while which was to get up early and take some photos of the nearby countryside soon after dawn when the light is as its best. For the last several months the landscape has been obscured by stand upon stand of sugar cane. Now that most of the cane has been cut the landscape has been revealed once more. There is something about freshly ploughed fields that appeals to me with furrows fading into the distance, for example. What you think about the landscape photos in my
MONDAY 20th JANUARY
Day Two of the inspection and everything seemed to go ok. I had to take one of Ajarn Tippakorn's classes as one of the Assessors wanted to speak to her during that period but ended up not doing so. She is now going to be interviewed tomorrow.
I checked on the wellbeing of the Jacaranda sapling I bought in Bangkok and took to Sai Moon. It had grown quite a bit and looks much less spindly than it did so I have hopes that it will survive for many years yet and grow into a spectacular blue flowering tree, as it should!
As for the Thong Laang (Coral Tree) seeds I bought about the same time as the Jacaranda, Mr Yor told me they were nibbled by insects and failed to germinate so I have ordered another set of ten seeds. I hope that next time they can be sown in individual pots and given lots of TLC.
This evening the two assessors hosted an evening at the Kham Yai buffet I mentioned above. Beer flowed, dishes of food kept arriving and there was general bonhomie. The younger (64) of the two assessors spoke to me and Jasper and said, amongst other things, that he will sit in on our classes tomorrow. I would have liked to ask him all sorts of questions about his opinion of the education system in Thailand but I managed to keep my mouth firmly and tactfully shut.
However, one of the Assessors told me that Sai Moon had passed all but two of the twelve indicators and that even the two we did not pass were not too bad. So the feeling is that we passed overall, but we must wait until the final report arrives to be sure.
TUESDAY 21st JANUARY
The final day of the Assessment and I expected the younger of the two Assessors to sit in on my class but that didn’t happen as he was busy with other things; he did not sit in on Jasper's class either.
At lunch there was more entertainment put on for the guests who included people from the Or Bor Jor, the Or Bor Dor and village chiefs who, together with all our teachers and about a dozen students, attended a meeting called by the two Assessors to talk about their findings though not give the final result.
After lunch, some students from Non Kung Sri Community Technical College came to show a film and talk about their college to some of the senior students.
The Assessors will go back to their office to write their report and submit it to the Ministry of Education in Bangkok who will then inform Sai Moon of the result, a process which could take a couple of weeks apparently.
Lunch also marked the end of the inspection. The inspectors, Director, teachers and some dozen students assembled in the former library for a summing up by the two assessors. Although it was all in Thai I was told afterwards that one of the main points made was that the school would look better if there was a fence around the grounds. Apart from a section of about 300m which borders someone's farm there is no fencing at all and as far as I can make out never has been. His remark is a great example of why Thailand's education system needs root and branch reform. The new school motto is another example, but there are many others!
This evening the two inspectors and a number of teachers went to the Kham Yai buffet restaurant. I didn’t go, claiming I had a headache, but there was lots more eating and drinking and song singing.
WEDNESDAY 22nd JANUARY
I have been waiting for the Assessment to conclude before speaking to the Director about my need to go back to London to renew my visa and that I may not return to Sai Moon. She was very interested and wanted to know why and so on. One of the key reasons is that there is virtually no chance of any salary increase and for there to any real change or improvement at Sai Moon, or any other government school for that matter, the whole system needs reform and leadership needs to come from Bangkok. Putting the current political crisis to one side, such leadership at the top has been distinctly lacking mainly because there have been six different Ministers in new one comes in and sweeps clean regardless of whether previous proposals were good or bad.
Now the school assessment is over the work began to dismantle everything – banners and plants were removed, tables and chairs returned, the colourful drapery taken down, all the folders and files returned to their dusty cupboards where I imagine they won't be touched again for a good long while, and all the project work stacked and stored.
Needless to say, there were no classes today as students were occupied with the above clearance work. Very soon the school will be back to its normal appearance and it will seem that nothing had happened over the last few days at all.
To make matters more exciting, there were three separate power failures today which underscored how dependent everyone is on electricity for laptops etc
There has been a very chilly wind these last few days. I did not feel my normal self and felt shivery. I went to bed early for the second evening running with double socks and double t-shirts to supplement the thinly padded bedding I have which is fine in hot weather but not really good enough when it is cold. The last four winters have not been as cold as this one and a few weeks ago, when ground frost appeared on high ground near Chiang Mail, Thais and tourists from hot countries flocked to see it and have their photos taken with frosty leaves etc.
THURSDAY 23rd JANUARY
I heard today that Nong Joe, the student Jasper and I had been giving English tuition to, who wants to be a pilot, has passed the exam to be accepted for pilot training which is very good news. Apparently, there will be a party to celebrate next time he comes back to Sai Moon and we will be invited.
FRIDAY 24th JANUARY
Ajarn Tippakorn and another teacher are both wearing trousers today and very smart they look as well. If you recall, a few months ago I asked her why none of the female teachers wore trousers and was told is would be disrespectful to do so though she was unable to tell me who it would be disrespectful to. As she was wearing trousers today I could not help remarking on the fact and she said she had sought permission to wear them from the Deputy Director as the weather was so cold. It just seems odd to me that teachers cannot decide for themselves whether to wear (smart) trousers or not. In fact, the new Director has already worn trousers at least once since she has been at Sai Moon and no one fussed about it or complained they felt disrespected!
The ankalung band continues to play at assembly though sometimes a little shakily and always slowly. I am sure they will improve with more practice but they certainly enliven assemblies.
This afternoon Jasper and I moved back to our old office in the former library the only downside of which is that not being in the main building one doesn't always get to hear what is happening.
SATURDAY 25th JANUARY
Jasper and I cooked a very nice breakfast at our house this morning which was very welcome and tasty otherwise the day passed doing odd jobs, doing laundry and catching up on internet news.
A few days ago I placed my digital gauge outside my room on the balcony to get an idea of the temperature at night. I noticed today that the average temperature over several nights has been 14-16C while the temperature climbs about 10-15 degrees by midday.
SUNDAY 26th JANUARY
It was not so cold today which I hope means that warmer weather is on its way at last. I managed to finish several of the touch up painting jobs today though a couple still remain.
The front door of my teacher's house has been much admired since I stained and twice varnished the woodwork which made me happy.