01.05.2012 - 25.05.2012
MAY 1st – 13th
I arrived back at school on May 1st only to discover that I need could have stayed in holiday mode for nearly two more weeks. It is actually nice to be at the teacher’s house alone but it was in a terrible mess when I got back. There was sand and leaves everywhere as well as gecko droppings and myriad insects. I cleaned up slowly over a few days in between the slow uploading of the last batch of photos to my gallery.
Mr Jasper was here too though he lives in the other teacher’s house but we often went in his car to Kham Yai to eat and occasionally into Kranuan to buy something or eat at the farang/Thai restaurant.
One highlight of these two weeks was my purchase of a cupboard. I suppose it is something I should have done a long time ago but never quite bit the bullet. Anyway, I now have one and it would have cost me 3,000 baht (£60) if I hadn’t negotiated a 500 baht discount. The cupboard man also sold me the mattress I bought several months ago and when I was in his shop he asked if my mattress was ok, and I said ok, he then showed me some mattresses he had with springs inside which felt very comfy whereas my mattress is a simple box type and is fairly rigid. The cupboard is now almost full and has enabled me to put away all the things I previously kept on the floor thus creating much more space so I am very happy with it.
Another day I had two high spots. The first, was getting my ceiling light to work again after three dark evenings. It was some kind of loose connection in the roof cavity but as there is no access the connection may break off again I suppose. The second, was nailing some hardboard over the mouseholes in my ceiling and the newly nibbled on in the landing ceiling. I just have to find a way to repair the holes in the window mesh now!!
Last night Mr Jasper spotted a snake on the handrail of the stairs in his teacher’s house and called me over to help. I had a look and realised immediately that it was a very different type of snake to all that I have seen before, which were all the same kind, so I rushed back to get my camera since I knew you would be dying to see as well and the result is now in my gallery.
It was a Green Tree Snake which, apparently, is very common in Thailand and it is very fast moving and is adept at climbing, especially trees, and has the ability to jump and glide from tree to tree. I prodded it with a broom handle and it reacted furiously and tried to bite the wood. All I wanted to do was dislodge it from the banister and point it towards the undergrowth just behind the stairs at ground level. Eventually it slithered down and hid amongst some disused boxes where I left it in peace. The snake was fortunate that it was found by Mr Jasper and handled by me. Had it been found by Thais it would have been killed and eaten.
During this period there was a teacher’s meeting which droned on and on and, as I am not a Thai speaker, it was hard not to drift off and fall asleep. The Director only spent about 30 minutes at the meeting because his mother-in-law has just died and he wanted to get back to Wang Saphung, Loei, where his family live. However, before he left the meeting, he said he wanted all Sai Moon teachers to come to the funeral to pay their respects. A minibus will be organised to take everyone on the 3 hour journey and back and it will cost 500 baht per head though 200 baht of this would go into an envelope as a donation to the family and the rest used for gas/petrol. As my sister said, it is a bit like rent-a-crowd though it happens often in Thailand and elsewhere is SE Asia.
At the meeting I was given the new timetable for the coming term only to find that I had fewer classes and all day Wednesday free. However, the next day I was given a revised version which allocates me three classes on Mondays and two classes on every other day which is as much as can be hoped for really.
Whilst on my holiday travels I bought a cute little digital temperature gauge which offers up the temp in either celsius or farenheit so, from time to time, I will be able to share the temp with you.
SUNDAY 15th MAY
I had to get up at 5.45 to be ready for the 7am departure for Wang Saphung. Mr Jasper, Mr Phong and I gathered at the school on time but no one else was around. When Mr Yor arrived he said departure time was 7.30 from Kham Yai. In the event, when Mr Mee (aka Mr Bear because of his small stature and strength) arrived in his large new pick-up we got in and went into the village where Mr Noi and Mr Weang were waiting. At Kham Yai we met up with the others in their own vehicle and by 8am we all set off for Wang Saphung 3 hours away.
The first stage in a Thai funeral is to pay one’s respects to the departed who will be resting in a coffin decorated with flowers etc in a room set aside for the purpose and then guests are given lunch. After lunch everyone moves to the temple where the cremation takes place with the bereaved arriving last. The crematorium is set aside from the main temple with space for processing around and for seating to be laid out in front. There is usually a covered area as well is case of rain.
As soon as we arrived at the house we paid our respects and then sat down for lunch. Some people were there before us. Family members acted as waiting staff and soon many dishes of food were laid out on our table and there is a photo of the food in my gallery.
A curious thing was that just inside the gate to the house there were several lottery ticket sellers. I assume they were there by arrangement as the house is not in the centre of Wang Saphung but what they symbolised I am not sure.
After lunch we headed to the temple where we had a long wait for other to arrive. Eventually the bereaved arrived and the ceremony began with all the family and friends processing round the crematorium along with the chanting monks following the coffin on a small flatback truck. Various elders had bags of sweets and from time to time they threw handfuls out which were gleefully scavenged by the youngsters present.
The procession halted after going round the crematorium three times and then the coffin was hoisted into position on a sort of mezzanine a dozen steps up on the crematorium which was bedecked with floral displays. Then there was some dancing by a group of costumed girls which I presume was traditional for such occasions.
The last act involved all present climbing the front steps up to the mezzanine and placing a white paper lily onto a table and then going down again via the steps at the side. Everyone attending was presented with a small Buddha image in a plastic case as a memento before leaving to go home.
Almost three hours later we were back in Kranuan where we had dinner at a barbecue restaurant before heading back to Sai Moon which we reached about 9pm.
MONDAY 14th MAY
The school officially opened today and I would have thought that any student would take care to attend school on the first day and be on time but at assembly it was obvious that a number of students were missing from the senior classes.
It was good to see the students moving up a grade at assembly. The old M6 has gone, and now M5 are the new M6 and the other four classes have also moved up a grade and there is a brand new intake of M1 12 year olds.
Unlike last year, when the students spent most of the first week cleaning up inside and around the school, only the first period was devoted to cleaning classrooms etc today and then lessons got underway.
At the teacher’s meeting last week another long discussion was about getting an agreement to shorten the length of classes to squeeze one extra period into each day to make seven in total. So now, classes are fifty minutes each and not one hour.
There is a new teacher at Sai Moon, Mr Komin though I cannot understand why he has been appointed having heard his background from a Thai teacher. Apparently he used to teach at Sai Moon before but he used to drink a lot of whisky during the day and evening and would frequently take lessons in a drunken state. The Director at the time, about two or more years ago, sacked him though I am not sure what he did then. Mr Komin lives in Sai Moon village and teaches social studies though we already have a teacher for that subject. I can’t see him bringing any benefit to Sai Moon whatsoever which makes me wonder if the appointment was foisted on the Director by the Administrative Office in Kalasin city.
At the end of last term all the textbooks were gathered, class by class, and put on a desk in the office I use and they were all still there when I opened the office this morning. Later, Ajaan Walida came round with some students to collect all the textbooks and take them to her office. New textbooks have been ordered but they have not arrived yet.
My first two lessons went well which surprised me a bit after eight weeks of not teaching. Getting dressed in my teaching rig was a bit of an upset as was putting on a pair of proper shoes after using flip-flops throughout the long holiday.
Today was also extremely hot, 32C in the shade!! Just before lunch, which is now 12-1pm in the new timetable, it was realised by teachers that the lady who normally cooks two very boring food dishes for the student’s lunch hadn’t done so though I am not sure why this was. The Deputy Director decided to send the students home for lunch and for the rest of the day since it would be impractical to arrange and pay for transport to take them to their villages and bring them back a second time.
While the students were leaving there was an informal teacher’s meeting in the shade of the trees next to the open space used for assembly. At one point a student came by on an excessively noisy motorbike which drowned out the meeting.
After the meeting I had lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon sweltering in my room and working on my laptop.
TUESDAY 15th MAY
There were more students at assembly this morning than yesterday which was good to see. Mr Noi addressed the assembly after the anthem, prayers and the flag raising ceremony finished. Amongst other things, he singled out the rider of yesterday afternoon’s noisy motorbike and told him to fix it or not come to school. He also castigated the students, mostly boys but some girls too, who had not had a haircut and told them that if they didn’t get it cut and keep it short they can move to another school.
I am sure Mr Noi knows what he is doing but in the worst case scenario if Sai Moon loses students over this warning then the school will also lose the per capita funding it gets from the lost students.
I find it curious that while so much effort is spent in checking and cutting the student’s hair that an equal amount of time and effort isn’t put into general discipline, classroom absences, lateness and so on.
It was a bit cooler today which was nice. There was a visitor to the teacher’s house this evening. An M4 student brought Peter, his English step-father, to see me seeking some teaching advice. He has married a Thai woman (the student’s mother) and has a house in the village which he has nearly finished refurbishing. He has been asked by a school in a nearby village to assist a Thai teacher in class (for which he will be paid 10,000 baht/month, the same as me) and he wanted me to give him advice about how to go about it which I gladly gave him.
WEDNESDAY 16th MAY
As usual it was Scout Day today and all the students were dressed in their uniforms looking so smart. There is an ongoing discussion about having a board with some vocabulary shown to the students at assembly and for them to practice saying each word. Personally, I don’t think this is effective but some teachers here, including the Director, think it is a good idea so I have to go with the flow. The question now is how many words to show. It was decided last term, when this idea started, to have 4 or 5 themed words which students can relate to in their daily lives. So far so good. I would devise the theme, choose the words and write them on the whiteboard while Mr Jasper would deliver them to the students at assembly.
This term things began as before but today the Thai teachers decided that students should have their exercise books and a pen at assembly so they could write down the vocab. The Thai teachers also told me and Mr Jasper to reduce the number of words to 3 and to show sentences using the words even though the portable whiteboard we use is only large enough for the shortest of sentences.
The Director came into the office I use this morning and said he wanted to talk with me about something and immediately began wondering what the topic could be. Pay rise maybe ? The sack ? A ticking off ?
In fact it was none of those things. He began by telling me his 16 y.o. son has ‘problems with his behaviour’ and has been going around with some bad people. In addition he said, his son has ‘fallen in love’ with an older woman of twenty-two. To remedy this the Director said he will bring his son from Wang Saphung (where his family home is) to Sai Moon and that the son would be joining the M4 class and that he will live with his father at his house in Huai Mek.
The Director went on to say that just before Songkran there was a storm in Wang Saphung which blew down some trees onto his house and caused a lot of damage and he is having to pay out a lot of money to get the repairs done on top of the costs of the funeral last Sunday for his mother-in-law. Could he, he asked, borrow 10,000 baht ? Although he already owes me 20,000 baht (about £400) I agreed and we went into Non Kung Sri so I could use the ATM there.
THURSDAY 17th MAY
After assembly today some of the Thai teachers were talking about 15 y.o. student Rittikai who is a cousin of Mr Phong, the computer teacher. The Thai teachers, and I, are worried about Rittikai because he came to Sai Moon last term from another school in Kranuan and he arrived about 3 weeks after term had started. That was ok and he settled in well and I could see in my class that he was a good student. But there is one bad boy in this class (who we suspect of taking some kind of drug) and a couple of other boys who like to mess around all the time in class and the result is that Rittikai has been dragged down step by step.
Mr Phong told me today that Rittikai’s parents have split up and that he lives with his grandparents who are not in a position to help him learn. So this morning we were trying to consider what to do for the best. If Sai Moon was a bigger school with more than one class at the age level then the disruptive boys could be split up but that isn’t an option. Removing the suspected rug boy wouldn’t make a huge difference as this boy has never really fitted in with anyone else and keeps himself to himself. He does little in class but he doesn’t disrupt the other students. Home tuition is a possibility in Thailand as it is in the UK, but I don’t think that is an option in this case given the circumstances. It will be interesting to see what remedy the Thai teachers come up with.
FRIDAY 18th MAY
No classes today as it was the day set aside for parents to come to school to meet the teachers. It was also an opportunity for parents to be reminded of the dress and haircut code.
After lunch there was a Teacher’s meeting at which the main point was budget submissions. I was told afterwards that nobody had forewarned the teachers that this topic was going to be discussed and they were surprised when the Deputy Director suddenly handed out the submission forms and asked the teachers to complete them.
Although the meeting was, as is usual, in Thai I soon realised that budget proposals were being put forward and I was very miffed when I was not given a form or even asked if I had any thoughts about making a proposal. It’s back to my regular complaint of being in the teaching team yet not part of it. The various proposals and budget requests were read out by the Deputy after the forms had been collected and it soon became obvious that all the teachers had pet projects they wanted to pursue. As I don’t have any pet projects I would have proposed funds to fix the fans in the classrooms some of which don’t work. I would have also proposed fixing the split wiring in a couple of the classrooms which hangs loosely from the switch which could be why the fans don’t work. Neither of my projects would cost a lot but the result would benefit many students and the teachers using the relevant classrooms.
During these budget discussions I heard the sun of 50,000 baht mentioned (about £1000) though I am not sure where this money has come from.
SATURDAY 19th MAY
At lunchtime I went to Kranuan on my Scoopyi to Tesco Lotus, the bank and to have eat at the Pizza House where I had their delicious Pork Yellow Curry.
SUNDAY 20th MAY
I did my washing this morning and I was lucky it was a nice sunny day with broken clouds. Once again I went to Kranuan for lunch and in the evening to Kham Yai for dinner. The rest of the day was spent doing the odd chore or on the internet.
MONDAY 21th MAY
The school often gets packs of posters from the Admin Office in Kalasin city which may contain information about university courses, or news about an exhibition etc. Today I got a pack of posters seeking entries for an essay writing competition and a Spelling Bee. The regional essay first prize is 10,000 baht but if you go through to win the final you get an additional 50,000 baht which to a student is a big sum. The topic is My Biggest Decision and the essay has to be in English and be between 800-1,200 words.
Today I had classes M4, M5 and M6 and I told them about the essay competition thinking it might be fun to get them to try and complete the sentence ‘If I had 60,000 baht I would.....’ Western students would have no problem thinking of different ways to use such a sum but my students took an age to think of anything to buy or do so I am beginning to think that the essay topic could be the decisions they faced having won such a sum.
This evening saw the first training session for a new junior futsall team which went very well. While I was watching the training Peter came to Sai Moon on his motorbike and told me about his first day at his school. He was taken on at this school as an assistant to the Thai English teacher but about five minutes after the first class started the Thai teacher left saying the class was his which left Peter, who has never taught before, struggling to fill the two hour period. I gave him more tips and advice and I expect I’ll hear in due course how he progresses.
TUESDAY 22th MAY
A lot of the students come from very poor families and I frequently get asked by the younger students to give them 20 baht for their lunch as they have no money at all. I cannot feed everyone 20 baht notes but I do help sometimes where I think it is most deserving.
Unlike other schools I have taught at Sai Moon usually prefers to use a student’s real first name rather than his/her nickname and I am trying hard this term to memorise more of them; names such as Nattawat, Chaiwat, Naromon, Santhipap, Nattapon, Thanakit, Thaksakon and many others.
You see some odd things in Thailand from time to time such as the small plastic sachet that was given to me to accompany some food. Half the sachet contained chiili sauce the other half sugar but when I looked at the sachet more closely I noticed that the symbol indicating the half with sugar was distinctly odd. Take a look at the photo in my gallery and see what you think!!
WEDNESDAY 23rd MAY
Peter came round again just as I was about to return to school after lunch at the teacher’s house and he told me about his first days at his school.
Last night, the mouse/rat chewed a nice neat round hole in the gaffer tape I’d used to block up the hole in the ceiling of my room in the teacher’s house. This time I was happy about it because I knew the rat would use the hole to come into my room at night and I wanted to put out the rat poison to get rid of him.
This evening I went into Kham Yai for dinner with Mr Weang and Mr Kay at the new restaurant. During conversation I said I couldn’t understand how Mr Komin had obtained the teaching post at Sai Moon. It seems, as I thought, that he was imposed on the school by the Kalasin Admin Office and now, Mr Weang explained, local people are upset over the appointment and don’t think he is a good teacher and they want him removed. The Director is now involved in discussions about how to achieve this outcome.
It rained very heavily in the early evening and during the night.
THURSDAY 24th MAY
Before going to sleep last night I put some of the pink coloured pellets onto two old plastic plates and placed them at each side of my room where I thought the rat/mouse would notice them. I also put some pellets on the ledge of the window frame since I have seen the rat using the frame as a pathway.
Sure enough, about 3.30am I woke and heard the unmistakable sound of the pellets being disturbed on the plates and I looked forward to finding a corpse in the morning.
When I got up I looked around for a corpse but I couldn’t find one. Most of the pellets had gone from one of the plates but the others on the other plate and those on the frame were untouched. I looked everywhere for a corpse thinking that the rat/mouse might not have died on the spot but there was no corpse anywhere.
I came to the conclusion that I had not put enough pellets out and so I will try again tonight. The pellets contain Warfarin which I recall reading that rats had become immune to the poison in the west – I just hope that immunity hasn’t spread to SE Asia!
About a dozen students, mostly from M4 and M5, had to remove their plimsoles at the end of assembly this morning and were told to go barefoot for the rest of the day as a punishment for wearing the wrong colour shoes. Apparently, though this is the first time any such rule has been implemented while I have been here, school rules state that only black or white plimsoles can be worn. It’s not such a harsh punishment as you might think because all students must remove their shoes before coming into one of the offices or before going upstairs to the first floor classrooms.
Peter came to the school again this morning and sat in on my M1 class which he found very instructive.
Mr Jasper came to my room this evening with what looked like a medieval torture instrument, a stout rectangular wire cage with a wire on which to attach a bait, a falling wire door and a latch. When I saw it I doubted it would catch anything let alone a determined rat but Jasper attached a small piece of dried meat onto the hook and set the door flap to drop shut if the bait was pulled.
In the early hours of the morning I was woken by the sound of the cage door snapping shut and I was happy the rat had been caught at last. I was kept awake by two sounds in particular: the sound of the rat trying to escape from the cage and the sound of the rat trying to gnaw its way through the cage itself.
FRIDAY 25th MAY
When I got up this morning I inspected the cage and the rat was cowering in the corner no longer looking bold and destructive. The rat was later killed but I know there are more because I can hear them scampering about above my ceiling so I decided to bait the trap again tonight.
For the last couple of days workmen have been laying a new fresh water pipe which has resulted in the two teacher’s houses being without water. There has been enough in the concrete water tank for showers, but not for laundry. I am not sure why a new pipe has been deemed necessary or exactly how the new pipe will be connected to existing taps etc. The blue pipe is only about one inch in diameter and is being laid in a small hand-dug trench about six inches deep. There’s a photo in my gallery.
Tomorrow sees the start of the three day village festival which kicks off with a parade through the village and there will be Ban Fai rockets fired and Mor Lam and much else besides.