MONDAY 25th JUNE
I forgot to mention that yesterday I saw something not seen before. I was having lunch with Mr Jasper in Kham Yai when I heard a loud tapping sound and a motorbike with sidecar came into view. Usually, when traders come by ringing a bell or similar they are selling food of some kind but this man’s sidecar was emitting smoke and I assumed something was wrong with his bike. After he passed by he did a u-turn and came by again and stopped and I noticed the smoke was not coming from his engine but from below a vessel on his sidecar. It turned out that there was a wood-fired square tin drum on his sidecar and that his trade was dyeing clothing black such as a t-shirt or jeans. The item was submerged in water in this heated tin box and powdered dye was added and then stirred with wooden batons for a time before being lifted out and placed in a plastic bucket full of water to rinse any excess dye off. A man at the restaurant had his t-shirt treated and I can only suppose the trader got enough business to survive.
Great excitement this afternoon when new shirts and a new satchel were being given to every student. The shirts have been given now because the annual three-day anti-drug and smoking campaign takes place at the end of this week. This year the shirts are sky blue, last year they were a fetching pink colour.
As for the satchels, it does seem a bit odd that this time last year they were given their existing satchels but then I suppose the funds are coming from the organisers of the anti-drug campaign so every ‘gift’ is welcome.
TUESDAY 26th JUNE
The students all wore their new blue shirts this morning and they looked very smart.
Today is national Santhorn Phu Day commemorating the birthday of Thailand’s most celebrated royal poet, 1786-1855. Some of the students in their Thai class had to write out one of his poems and the results have been pinned on a display board.
This afternoon many students were involved in prettying up the school – sweeping the roads and brushing the dead leaves from under the trees. The stage in the ‘sala’ has been decorated again as well as the outside wall to make the place more welcoming.
WEDNESDAY 27th JUNE
Much of the morning squads of students swept and cleaned and tidied the school up in readiness for tomorrow’s Anti Drugs and Smoking Day. The few students who came late to assembly were punished with the task of cleaning some toilets.
I took one lesson this morning but there were only a handful of students present.
There were no classes this afternoon because of the final effort to prepare for tomorrow.
This evening I was using my laptop when I noticed large insect perched on the edge of a glass on my desk and I thought you’d like to see it too and took a photo which is in my gallery.
THURSDAY 28th JUNE
Today was the start of a three-day event organised and run by staff from the District offices in Yang Talad which is on the way to Kalasin city.
The event started with an Anti Drugs and Smoking Day and for the majority of the whole day, after assembly, the students had to sit in the sala and be talked at. The talking was interspersed with comedy sketches and routines and some entertainment using various songs one of which was the Thai version of Frères Jacques.
The M1 students (12 y.o.) were excluded from the 3-day event this year for some reason – possibly because of the short films about the perils of drug taking that were to be shown - though there was no problem with them at this event last year.
While all this was going on for the students we teachers were sitting in a meeting chaired by the Director. There were two main topics: one, Mr Weang and Ajarn Bui took turns to report on the week-long seminar they attended last week in Bangkok about school budgets which took all the time until a coffee break. The Director took over for the other topic which concerned the O-Net results for last year for Sai Moon.
Every year the body responsible for exams in Thailand publishes complete statistics about all the various exams students take including the O-Net. The stats do not show individual results but they show the number of students taking the exam at the school (Sai Moon), the highest and lowest scores for each subject taken, the average score and the median score for the school, for the Province, for the Jurisdiction/District and Nationally.
For English last year, 17 M6 students took the test, the highest score was 22, the highest in the Province was 80, the highest in the District was 70 and the highest nationally was 98. So you can see that Sai Moon is way down the scale for English.
The Director is now planning changes which will come into effect when Ajarn Tippakorn comes back from China on 7th July but he has already indicated he wants me and Mr Jasper to concentrate more on reading and listening.
During a break in the meeting a couple of teachers went off to search the backpacks of the students for any illegal items and they came back with a plastic bagful. I took a photo for you which is in my gallery – what do you think of the range of items ?
Our meeting finished and then everyone - students, teachers and campaign staff - had lunch at tables set up at the end of the sala and I was ready for it when it arrived.
In the afternoon the VIP guest arrived – the head of the Ampher (District) which is Huai Mek – along with the head of the Tambon and our village and their retinue. The No.2 police officer based in Huai Mek also arrived and I had a chance to meet and chat with him and he speaks quite good English.
The VIP guest lit the candles on the altar to one side of the stage and then made a speech which droned on and on. He has a soft voice which doesn’t come across well on a PA system. Then our Director said a few words of welcome and then the police officer – Mr Wisuth Poojeera – took the mike and told the students about the dangers of drugs and smoking and explain that the police are employed to arrest people and he told the students not to ride motorbikes without their helmet and not to ride and use a phone – oh yes, they do!!
I had a second chance to chat with the police officer after his talk and I asked him if it would be possible to give a student a shock treatment if we, the teachers, thought he (usually a he) was heading for a life of crime and prison and wanted him to change his errant ways. If you recall, I suggested this treatment for Panaphon but no one took up my idea and I don’t think the other teachers thought much of it. The police officer explained he and his team already do something like this for schools so I took his contact details which I think will be useful in the future.
At 4.30 the students went to their classrooms to have a shower and get changed. The female students were all in the M1, M2 and M3 classroom wing of the school, while the boys occupied the M4, M5 and M6 wing.
Shortly after this I went back to the house to take a shower and change. No sooner had I got back to the house than the Director arrived with one of the team leaders for the weekend, who normally works at the Municipal Offices at Yang Talad, and some Leo beer. I joined them after I got changed
Some teachers and some people from the village were sitting at a table outside Mr Weang’s office/room and I joined them for a beer. Soon afterwards there was a sudden commotion in the boy’s wing nearby as an M2 student (Rittigai) came running out of the building, passed where we were sitting, closely followed by a melee of M5 students one or more of whom punched Rittigai though none of the people I was with saw the punch/es.
The teachers immediately went to investigate and the M5 students were made to line up and sit on the ‘patio’ in front of their wing where they were questioned about what happened and who did what etc. It was also decided to send Rittigai and Nattawat, who was also somehow involved, home for the weekend to separate them from the M5 students who, it became clear later, they had been annoying. Mr Weang then spent quite a long time talking to the students to give them guidance and get them to mend their ways.
The students were served dinner in the sala as were the event staff and I joined the latter to eat. The rest of the evening was given over to entertainment. I have uploaded a couple of short videos to youtube to give you an idea of what this entertainment consisted of and to illustrate how the event staff presenters – and you also see the phenomenon on every show you see on TV including the news – always worked in pairs or in threes interacting with each other rather than the audience just like they do on TV which gets very repetitive in the end.
FRIDAY 29th JUNE
The students had assembly before having breakfast at the far end of the sala. One of the activity staff instructed the students in a routine they must follow before eating every meal. This involved crossing one’s arms and raising the folded arms to be parallel with the table and then, under the direction of the staff, reciting a sort of long version of grace Thai style.
After breakfast, the students moved the plastic chairs back to the other half of the sala where they sat and listened to the event staff sing and joining in from time to time and laughing at their sketches. About 9am the students moved to the large classroom upstairs where they watched short films about the perils of drug taking etc.
Another meeting began this morning about 10.45am during which the Director outlined directions from the Education Office at Kalasin about changes coming in next year. For the first time in any Thai school I have taught at I heard the word ‘curriculum’ being used which could be a good sign.
Lunch was in the sala again and there was much the same ‘edutainment’ this afternoon for the students. For me, it was a bit boring because there was little to do and there was nothing of much interest to take photos of. It is difficult to determine what the students think on occasions like this because if you ask any of them they will say everything was ok....sabai, sabai....and that it was good even if they really feel the opposite.
This afternoon the students walked the 500m or so to a drainage ditch between fields in order to fill sandbags which were then used to build a small dam to prevent excess water flowing into the fields. The weekend staff organised the activity and the dam building was a project following the King’s advice about last year’s floods.
Walking back to school I had the chance to take a couple of photos of the surrounding fields which are rapidly turning bright green with recently planted rice. Elsewhere, farmers and their families or casual workers, can now be seen
standing in the wet paddies, bending down all day as they insert the individual rice plants into the mud.
There was a drama this evening when it was discovered that two students were missing. They had been present during the evening’s entertainment which ended at 11pm and they were found to be missing when a roll call was made in each of the classrooms which were being used as bedrooms by the students.
The two students were a 13 year old M2 boy called Nattawat and a 14 year M3 old girl called Thadaw and there is a photo of each of them in my gallery. He often messes around in my classes and in the Thai teachers classes too but he has been a bit better this term. He is a good futsall/football and Takraw player and he’s gregarious and a bit naughty outside class too but he certainly isn’t high on the scale of badness. He has been late arriving at assembly a few times which seems to annoy Thai teachers more than, say, missing classes but it seems he is in their bad books for sure.
She was new to Sai Moon this term having come from another school straight into M3. From her first day in class I thought she was somehow different as she didn’t laugh and joke around as Thai students are always doing. In class she sometimes refuses at first to come up to the board but does come in the end and her work in general is a bit above average.
The other thing about these two students is that they were discovered by one of the Thai teachers coming out from behind the shelves in an otherwise empty library a week or so ago. Nattawat came out immediately but Thadow lingered behind the shelves before coming out herself and it was noticed that her hair was a bit messed up and she was wearing her belt incorrectly and a conclusion was drawn that there was something going on between these two.
There was more entertainment for the students this evening and they played a game where music was played while a container of talcum powder and a ball were passed around the circles of students. When the music stopped the person with the powder had some put into his/her hands and had to spread the powder over the face of someone as determined by forfeits in the ball. Needless to say, I eventually became one of the victims so if you have ever wondered what I would look like with my face smeared with talcum powder now’s the chance for you to find out in my gallery.
I went to bed when the entertainment finished as I felt exhausted and I only learned about the drama from Mr Jasper who came to the teacher’s house to tell me. I was to discover more in the morning.
SATURDAY 30th JUNE
While waiting for breakfast time I heard that the Thai teachers had an informal meeting last night and decided to expel both Nattawat and Thadow. I was told that it was because the school had laid down the rules for the students this weekend and by leaving school to go to the village (or wherever it was that they went) they broke the rules.
I felt very concerned about the turn of events. It is not that I want them to escape punishment for what they did but that I think expelling them both is a step too far since they are both young and, although they are not the most perfect students, I think they could be with the right encouragement and teaching. Kicking then out of school simply passes the problem to another school and it means that we as teachers at Sai Moon have failed these two.
I also felt concerned about the casualness of the decision. A group of teachers that happened to be around at 11pm last night (ie three or four) decided that Nattawat and Thadow should leave Sai Moon. I thought it was rough justice by any measure and I was surprised that there wasn’t a more formal procedure to expel a student; that neither Nattawat nor Thadow had a chance to speak up for themselves and their parents appear not to have been consulted or informed.
While I was chatting to Mr Noi about last night a woman from the village came up to us and introduced herself as the mother of Sassina, a very pretty 13 y.o. girl in M2. She told us she was worried about her and was thinking about removing her from school because she was afraid that her daughter might get pregnant since two other underage girls in her village are expecting babies. The mother’s husband is working in Bangkok and she is thinking about taking Sassina there. She revealed that Sassina isn’t quite the nice diligent girl she appears to be in school. She has a long list of friends on her phone and spends a lot of time chatting to some of them and she uses facebook a lot too. Sassina has also lied to her family about her whereabouts at weekends, for example saying she is working on a project at school when in fact she is with a friend. The mother spoke at some length and I got a translation afterwards but that is the gist of what she said.
I don’t think there is any easy answer to the mother’s worries but, to my mind, the best one would be not to take her to Bangkok. Here at Sai Moon there is nowhere for a student to run away to as we are surrounded my fields for miles whereas Bangkok is a big city where anything could happen.
The morning for the students was taken up with more entertainment and a review of thee weekend. Each student also received a Certificate of Participation from the head of Huai Mek District and then received 100 baht to cover expenses.
SUNDAY 1st JULY
I just managed to do my laundry and get it dry on the line outside when the heaven’s opened and it poured with rain.
This evening, as it was still pelting with rain, I watched another DVD from my small film collection. This time it was The Ides of March with George Clooney in the lead and it was an excellent film drama and can recommend it if it comes your way.
MONDAY 2nd JULY
I mentioned at the end of May that the Director spoke about my salary and he said that he will be receiving money in a lump sum for my salary for the next few months. He went on to say that he will increase my salary by 5,000 per month. At the time I wasn’t sure if this would become effective at the end of May or June. In the event it didn’t happen at the end of May and it didn’t happen today – pay day – either.
What did happen, and for the first time, was that I was asked to join Ajarns Cat and Yor going to Non Kung Sri where I was handed a cheque for 50,000 baht made out in my name which I had to cash and do this I had to show my passport. I had to hand this money over to Ajarn Cat who, back at school, passed it to the Director who then paid me my regular monthly salary of 10,000 baht. So no rise after all.
Later in the afternoon I went to see the Director and reminded him of his promise to raise my salary and he said he will be raising it to 20,000 baht per month from next term and I got him to clarify that he means from November 1st when the new term starts after the October holiday month. So once again I will have to wait and see.
I had also planned to speak to the Director about Nattawat and Thadow but, in the end, decided to wait until the next social occasion when things will have settled down completely. However, I did learn that the key reason Nattawat and Thadow were to be expelled was because the rules were broken and the other students would think it was unfair if they weren’t.
TUESDAY 3rd JULY
No classes for M4, M5 and M6 this morning because after assembly they were all taken to Huai Mek where they joined with equivalent students from other nearby schools to take a pledge before various officials not to take drugs, not to smoke and not to drink alcohol. Apparently this was the idea of Yingluck Shinawatra, the Thai P.M. and similar ceremonies are being held around the country. It will be interesting to observe in the coming days how effective this pledge will be in the coming months because I know of several students who absented themselves from school today to avoid taking the pledge.
An odd thing, to me at least, was the decision to exclude the younger classes, M1, M2 and M3, from the pledge. I would have thought that instilling the idea to abstain at the earliest opportunity would be beneficial rather than waiting until they are aged 16 in M4. What do you think ???
On the same topic, life in rural areas involves a lot of sitting around and doing nothing, or rather, sitting around smoking and drinking and male family members go round from house to house while waiting for their rice/rubber/sugar cane to grow. So most children grow up seeing their father and males from their extended family smoking and drinking very often. What they drink is either beer, whisky, rice whisky (which is like rocket fuel it is so strong so it is sold in small bottles) or brandy.
WEDNESDAY 4th JULY
On his way back to Sai Moon from Roi Et this morning about 7.30am Mr Kay came across a motorbike accident outside Huaimekwittayacom school. A 16 y.o. boy on his motorbike, an M4 student at the school, had been hit by a bus and was killed. When Mr Kay came by the student was lying dead in the road, the accident having just happened. Mr Kay told me later that the bus driver had given 10,600 baht (about £ 212) to the victim’s family which means, I imagine, that will be that being Thailand.
There was a storm this afternoon with the most powerful thunder and bolts of lightning I have ever witnessed. The eye of the storm hovered over the school for a long time and it got so dark it was difficult to read from the textbook. The students wanted to close the shutters because splashes from the rain came into the classroom and onto nearby desks. They also wanted to close one of the doors because of the wind. The worst of the storm occurred just after my M2 class and although the students were laughing and joking around as usual they dropped to the floor the moment there was a flash of lightning as it preceded the nerve tingling claps of thunder. They also implored me to switch off my mobile phone in case it attracted a lightning strike but I think that’s an urban myth.
THURSDAY 5th JULY
Since Ajarn Tippakorn went off to China last year Ajark Tuk has taken it upon herself to oversee English at Sai Moon though it took her a few months before she started poking her nose into English. It is not her subject and it can be quite annoying when she says we – Jasper and I – must do this or that. It wouldn’t be a good move to simply tell her to get stuffed though that is what I felt like doing today when she sent a message saying she wants there to be an English progress test next week. If there were to be progress tests in each subject I would have no objection because then it would be a school activity but to demand one on her whim is irritating to say the least.
Next week Ajarn Tippakorn returns to Sai Moon so I expect Ajarn Tuk’s nose will retract and she’ll concentrate on her own subject which is the wishy-washy one of Thai culture aka brainwashing.
FRIDAY 6th JULY
I spent a chunk of today, between classes, writing the two progress tests that Ajarn Tuk wants to have next Tuesday afternoon. One for the three younger classes and one for the three senior classes though I had to be mindful not to use any difficult words. The tests will actually be hardest for M3 and for M6 since the topics covered in class this term were covered by these two classes last term or the term before. The first question contains the vocabulary words that the students are given during assembly each morning. They will have ten words in Thai to translate into English and ten in English to translate into Thai. Both tests have the same first questions with the same words so it will be interesting to see the results!
Most of this afternoon was given over to a dental check for the students. Three dental nurses came from Huai Mek hospital and, class by class, they gave each student a cursory look inside their mouths.
After school this afternoon the Director practiced his golf swings on the school’s football pitch and surrounding area. He called me and Jasper to come and have a beer with him. Once darkness fell some food was cooked for dinner. A couple of others joined us as well. During the evening I asked the Director for his thoughts on the situation regarding Nattawat and Thadow and, amazingly, he admitted to me that he had taken my advice. As we’d both had a few glasses of beer by this time I was desperately wondering what advice he was referring to but it turns out that neither student is to be expelled after all as the Director agrees with me that if they did leave Sai Moon we as teachers would have failed them. I just hope that both students behave themselves from now on.
SATURDAY 7th JULY
I went into Kranuan again today to get a haircut and go to Tesco Lotus but there was a queue at the barbers shop so I will try again next week. On the way back I got another flat tyre, my second in three weeks. This was on the back tyre, the other was on the front tyre. Once again, I had to limp home at about 20kph to the motorbike workshop in Kham Yai where for the princely sum of 140 baht (about £2.50) I got a new inner tube fitted.
SUNDAY 8th JULY
There was no water at the teacher’s house this morning so my plan to finish my laundry was thwarted. I stayed at the teacher’s house all day and it was very pleasant.
MONDAY 9th JULY
Ajarn Tippakorn arrived back in school mid-morning and received a nice greeting from everyone she met. She had a bagful of key rings and heart-shaped dangles for everyone as well as boxes of Happy Coconut Balls, basically, a large marble sized ball of coconut filled with something sweet which were all very nice. She told me that her plane was unable to land at Bangkok because of bad weather and that she came straight to Sai Moon from the airport whereas I am sure a farang teacher in their home country would want some home leave first having been away one year in China.
She also told me that the Director wants her to teach Basic Chinese to some classes as well as some English and it seems that until the end of this term, at the end of September, she will take some classes from my schedule. I hope this doesn’t leave me with an overabundance of free time which is what happened last year.
I went into Kham Yai with Mr Jasper to get some lunch today. On the way I noticed water flowing freely in the drainage ditch the students dammed last week so maybe the dam has been removed. In any event, the water was flowing in the opposite direction to that which I was told on the day of the activity.
TUESDAY 10th JULY
Ajarn Tippakorn told me this morning that the Director’s new plan is for me teach English classes with her and that she will also do some basic Chinese classes and that Mr Jasper will teach basic Tagalog though I am not sure how useful that language is going to be to the students.
I can’t say I am really happy with this new situation as I would prefer to teach alone and get the sense of one’s own achievements or otherwise but I will see how it goes when the new timetable begins tomorrow. If it is too awful or too boring, as I fear it might be, then it may crystallise the decision I have to make about whether to stay in Thailand and continue teaching next year or not.