22.12.2011 - 27.01.2012
THURSDAY 22nd DECEMBER – SUNDAY 22nd JANUARY
First of all I am sorry not to have updated my blog since I left Sai Moon at the start of my month away from school. While I was away I took the opportunity to have some R & R in Pattaya and I spent Christmas and the new year there. One of my ambitions was to spend Christmas Day afternoon on the back but I didn’t make it however I did get to the beach with some friends on Boxing Day instead and great fun it was too and I even went swimming.
I flew back to London on January 4th and duly arrived at Terminal Three Heathrow and was reminded once again what a dreadful terminal it is. I have only experiences this terminal but for all I know the others, with the exception of the newest Terminal 5, might exhibit the same awfulness: long, drab, low-ceilinged corridors that turn left and right and go up and down steps. One is left with the feeling that entry to the country is via the servant’s backstairs.
I arrived at the Immigration Hall, a vast room with a worn and discoloured carpet that might once have been blue in parts and another low ceiling that I could almost touch with my hands and I am only six feet tall. I joined the mass of arrivals emerging from the entrance and found myself in a funnel which gradually forced everyone into a single file which zig-zagged across the hall until one reached the head of the line when someone would call one to the next available Immigration Officer. The queuing took about forty minutes and the actual passport inspection only took about two minutes. if that.
Because all my previous flights to Thailand arrived the day after departure I assumed without thinking that this flight would be the same. I didn’t realise my mistake until I scrutinised the mass of hand-held signs looking for one with my name for the taxi to the South Bank where I live. After walking up and down the lines of drivers awaiting their passengers I began to wonder why I couldn’t see my name card. I decided to call the cab company and got a shock at the nearest phone box when I found that the basic charge for a standard domestic all was now 60p! A second jolt came when the taxi firm said he was expecting me to arrive the next day. It was then that it dawned on me that it was still Wednesday and not Thursday as I thought! Doh!!
I then decided to take the tube into central London which, at Terminal Three, entails a long hike down endless drab tunnels to reach the tube entrance. The journey was not too bad as my suitcase wasn’t full. An hour later I was home. It was about 9pm.
I spent a very happy and relaxed two weeks in London. I had a number of shopping assignments as well as some domestic admin to do but nothing too arduous. For three days the sky was clear crystal blue and very sunny and during this time I took some photographs of London which I thought would amuse some of the students back at Sai Moon and give them a glimpse of what life is like in London. All these photos are in my gallery for you to enjoy as well.
One of the tasks I had whilst in London was to decide whether to get a Kindle or not so on the day I met my sister, Ann, we went to John Lewis where Kindles and other ereaders were on display and could be handled and examined at will. In the end I decided not to get one just yet because I usually only read a short while before going to sleep and last year I only got through 3 or 4 books and I have half a dozen waiting for me to read at Sai Moon. I like the idea of an ereader and will definitely get one once I reduce my unread library.
THURSDAY 19th JANUARY
I left home about 6.30pm to go back to Heathrow Terminal Three for my flight back to Thailand. This time I had a ticket with Qantas being the cheapest I could find at the time of booking. Luckily, I tried to check-in online but when I couldn’t I phoned the airline and was told not to check in at Qantas but with British Airways instead as they have a code sharing agreement which means passengers fly Qantas one way and BA the other on flights to Australia. My flight was to Sydney with a stopover in Bangkok.
My check-in area was at the furthest end of the building and not called Check-in, but Bag Drop which was confusing to start with. At check-in there was a problem because they had overbooked the flight (I was told that all airlines do this by 5-10%) and I wasn't sure if I would get a seat or not. But there was a group of Aussies, I think, who had said they didn't mind giving up their seats and going to Sydney the next day (my flight was only doing a stopover at Bkk on the way to Sydney). Although I was constantly assured I would have a seat I was offered 600 euros for an overnight hotel and dinner and a flight at the same time next day.
I had to wait about 20 minutes before I had my seat confirmed and was given a boarding pass. By now time was passing and I thought there would be huge queues at security so I dashed off there only to discover when I got there that I had been given someone else's boarding pass. So I had to go all the way back, get the right pass, return, and then go through security which, luckily, was quite quick.
There was a huge queue at the gate – which was at the furthest extremity - and it took ages to board and I then discovered I had been upgraded to first class because of the check-in hassle which was nice outcome. We took off at 10pm in the end but the flight only took 10 hours 15 minutes to get to Bangkok which is nearly two hour shorter than normal.
Some of the films on offer were the same as on my Eva flight to London but they had Tinker, Tailor... and Sherlock Holmes. They also had a number of TV series on offer including Downton Abbey and I thought 'yes' and planned to watch it later but there was a problem with the computer providing the movies etc so for a long time the entertainment system didn't work and when it did some films didn't work and Downton Abbey didn't work either. So I still haven't seen it! But the seat was nice and the food good.
SUNDAY 22nd JANUARY
I stayed at the Bangkok Heritage hotel in Silom, Bangkok, for the last two nights and this morning I got a metre taxi at 10.30am to take me to Suvarnabhumi airport (the main airport, not the old one that was flooded). Using a metre cab it only costs about 300 baht (about £6) to reach the airport and takes about 45 minutes, sometimes less depending on the traffic.
I went straight to the Nok Air check-in desk and as expected my suitcase was over the 20kg weight limit. I told the check-in girl that I was an English teacher and that I had all my teaching stuff in my case. Only the first part was true but I knew that such is the respect for teachers in Thailand that I would be given an extra allowance and was duly given 5kg extra for which I had to pay a 300 baht (about £6) surcharge which wasn’t too bad.
The flight was only one hour to Udon Thani where, once again, I found taxi drivers trying to charge double the fare from the city centre to the airport for the journey the other way. I decided to get the public minibus instead which was 80 baht rather than the 200 baht for the taxi.
At the bus station I had to wait about 30 minutes for the bus to Nam Phong to depart. I phoned Mr Noi once I was on the bus and he duly collected me and we drove the one hour journey back to Sai Moon.
On the way back Mr Noi told me that he had sold the old motorbike I had been using and that he had bought 5,000 baht (about £100) of lottery tickets with some of the money. He said he wanted to get me a new bike and that his sister-in-law’s family had one for sale.
I noticed a couple of changes on the way back. A new Tesco Lotus has mushroomed in Kham Yai (7 km from my school) which I will check out soon. Also, the road leading from the village towards the school has been stripped and piles of large grit awaits spreading to smooth the many potholes that were in the road.
MONDAY, 23rd JANUARY
Nothing much had changed at Sai Moon while I was away. I was told it had rained heavily for a couple of days during the previous week and, sure, enough, the grass on the football pitch was nice and green. It’s now the Thai autumn and many trees have shed their leaves and undergrowth near the teacher’s house has been cut back by students making the area around the house seem more open.
At assembly this morning I was given a good welcome by all the other teachers and my new black trousers were much admired as was my red check short sleeved shirt which I bought in Chiang Mai last visit. Afterwards I gave out the presents I had bought: a litre bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label for the Director; a selection of various kinds of fudge for the Deputy Director which I knew she would share amongst the other female teachers; a 2012 calendar with photos of English Gardens for Mr Noi to inspire him in his garden.
This afternoon I went with Mr Noi and his wife to Kranuan where he kept his promise to buy a new motorbike. He bought a blue Honda Scoopyi (Scoopy-eye, in case you were wondering how to say it!). I contributed 6,000 baht towards the down payment and Mr Noi paid 5,000 and he said he would pay 2,000 each month for two years. I thought this was very kind of him and I rode back to school on the bike.
TUESDAY 24th JANUARY
It was nice to be back at school again despite the negative things I said about the place last year. The photos I took of London were sought after viewing today.
WEDNESDAY 25th JANUARY
At assembly this morning Mr Noi told me that his wife wanted to have the Scoopyi we bought on Monday and he now proposed that we go back to Kranuan to buy another bike for me. So after class this is what we did; his wife and Mr Jasper came along too. The only difference this time was that Mr Noi wanted me to pay for it. He returned the 6,000 baht I contributed on Monday to which I added another 5,000 for the deposit, as before. I didn’t want to string out the payments over two years adding a lot of interest on top so an arrangement was made where I could pay the balance over three months with no extra interest.
I was a little unhappy with Mr Noi changing things in this way as it landed me with an unexpected expense. But then I thought of a solution. Last year I loaned my host family at Muang Baeng, Loei 200,000 baht (about £4,000) to build a house extension and thus enlarge the shop they have. When I last visited the family back in early December Mr Pinolet (the head of my host family) told me that he wanted to repay the money and I gave him my account details but a few days later he told me that he’d been to his bank and numerous others but they had all said they could not transfer the money to a foreign bank. I later learned that there is a government restriction on such transfers so we decided the only way would be for me to accept repayment in cash. This would be ok for me as I could then use the cash for out of school expenses when I have to go into holiday mode and live in hotels etc. I phoned Mr Pinolet and he agreed with the plan. The only remaining thing to arrange is the collection of the money.
There was one other slightly annoying thing about the motorbike and that was the colour. Of the five remaining unsold Scoopyi’s I chose a yellow and blue one which is not such a good colour scheme as the first bike but the other bikes were even worse and one even had Liverpool FC’s colours and name on it in big lettering!
This morning my M3 class was cancelled because most of the students were practising their dance routine to prepare for tomorrow. In my M2 class which followed there were only three girls left after the boys ran away. Nobody cares of course so nothing will happen to the absentees.
This evening dinner was held al fresco at the Director’s behest at a table set up in the road in the school near Mr Weang’s homestay, as he calls it, where the Director shared the whisky I gave him with some of the other male teachers and food was brought in from the village. It was a pleasant evening.
Whenever the female students perform in the morning they usually sleepover in a spare room in the other teacher’s house so they can get up early and get their costumes on the do their make-up etc. But they are a noisy lot and usually make a lot of noise getting up in the morning.
THURSDAY 26th JANUARY
The girls got up about 3.30amand although they made some noise it was as prolonged and as annoying as last time. I got up at 5.45am for an expected 7am departure to go with the school to Dong Moon School about 25 minutes away for a mixed competitive event starting at 8am. I was only told last night that I was to be one of the three Drama Judges but that was ok since I did the same thing at a similar event last March. Today’s event was much the same with competitions in dancing, music playing, crosswords, speech giving, drama, ‘pan’ making, volleyball and so on. Sai Moon only had two teams entered in anything and that was in the volleyball where we came 2nd out of five teams which wasn’t too bad and the traditional dancing/singing event where we didn’t quite make the top notch because our singer’s diction wasn’t good enough.
The drama event was almost a non-started because for a long time I was the only judge who showed up. I learned that one of the others was at university somewhere and the third was yet to be found. However, one of last year’s judges stepped in so the event could start but then there were only two drama groups: one at senior level, the other at junior level. The scripts were marginally better than last March but the English was still mangled. On top of that, PA announcements being made outside were so loud they drowned out the voices of the actors! With only one group at each level they both won gold medals by default.
After the drama finished I had lunch and was then able to wander around. There were some outstanding sights for me. One was the very large and intricate ‘pan’ that students from various schools had spent all morning creating – I took some photos which are in my gallery. The other event was the music event which featured an excellent 12-piece band playing mainly traditional instruments which I had seen before at another school event. I learned later that the band had played abroad including the US.
I asked the Director if he could collect the money from my host family as he is going to see his wife in Wang Saphung over the weekend and will have to pass Muang Baeng school on the way. He readily agreed so, fingers crossed, everything should be ok.
FRIDAY 27th JANUARY
No classes today since the Provincial Authority in Kalasin city decreed that schools in the province should celebrate Buddha today. Last night some musicians and performers – students from the Kalasin campus of Mahamakut Buddhist University (MBU) in Bangkok - camped at school and rehearsed last night as well.
The event got underway in the Sala hall straight after assembly this morning, ie 8.30am, when two of the MBU students get the Sai Moon students warmed up with jokes and fun. When the Director and monks arrived a simple opening ceremony was held and the music and dancing started. Members of the very talented eight piece band also took the mike to sing and in between music sets there was slapstick comedy with one MBU student dressed as a ladyboy (katoey in Thai).
During the morning the senior monk of the six attending, only about 40 y.o. or so, addressed the students for a short time and told them, amongst other things, that f they worked hard they could get a worthwhile job and travel abroad just like Ajarn Al, ie me!
The morning was fun and I took photos which are in my gallery and I also took a video. If you watch it make sure you go right to the end as it is not all the same!! It can be seen on youtube.com here http://youtu.be/sJ21ftV9ZzM
The afternoon was less fun for me because the morning performers had gone back to MBU and only the two warm-up MBU students were left along with a couple of monks. The Sai Moon students were, amazingly, still very attentive and amused by the proceedings but I began to fall asleep so I left and went home to have a coffee. None of the other teachers remained in the afternoon so I was not alone.
I had a message from Mr Pinolet this evening to confirm the money collection plan but to say that he cannot give me the whole amount due this weekend, only 120,000 baht of the 400,000 I loaned him. It is ok as I know he will repay the rest in the coming weeks.