29: A nod and a grin
White faced gibbons!! A whole family of them, the father gibbon is spinning the baby gibbon round like a basketball and they don't even have a safety net. Khao Yai is Thailand's first and (mainly due to its proximity to Bangkok) most popular National park, we have been tracking this family of gibbons for about half an hour or so through thick jungle, the Thai guides showed an admirable talent in finding them but now we have them in our sights, their booming cacophony of 'oo oohs' and 'aaahs' are echoing around us tumultuously, we couldn't lose them now even if we wanted to.
Going to Khao Yai was decided on a whim after a couple of beer Singhas on a Thursday evening and I'm certainly glad I went. The only problem is that this national park is hardly undiscovered, on the contrary, the spotlights after sunset were reminiscent of a late night rave rather than a place of untouched beauty. That's not to take anything away from the national park itself, it is undoubtedly a place of exceptional natural beauty, and the fact that it is regarded as being one of the best managed in the world - closing down hotels and golf courses in a bid to keep the park as uncultivated and as inartificial as possible - makes day trips here a pleasure. I did get the feeling though when Pooma, our fearless guide, kept stumbling on various creatures that perhaps he had made a quick call to his ranger friend a moment or so earlier; "Ok, set the snake just by the side of the road, we'll be there in two minutes!" I think a better way to see the park might have been take advantage of one of the park's many camp sights and get off the over-used trails a little. My experience may also have been soured slightly as I was hoping to se some wild elephants, maybe next time.
The other real plus point to the weekend was that my cheap, clean, family-run accommodation (Green-leaf guest house with whom we also took the tour) provided a chance to while the evening away putting the world-to-rights with interesting people from all kinds of different cultural backgrounds. We (the other Jindaratana teachers and I) even managed to coax a couple of them back to LopBuri to see the monkeys! I spent most of the 3 hour return journey talking to a Thai University student studying medicine, travelling on public transport throughout Thailand brings about a number of different reactions form the locals. Often people just want to talk to you, to practice their English conversation skills and just to be friendly. There is the oft-encountered group of teenage girls (usually including at least one ladyboy) who make some comment about your white skin (in Thai) before collapsing into fits of giggles, and then there is the older generation who don't often speak any English. They usually suffice with tipping you a friendly nod and an amicable grin. Either way, travelling on the public services here rarely a bore!
Back at school on Monday and its all systems go. I feel I have allowed my teaching persona to drop a little and my actual personality to take over more in the classroom as my contract approaches its concluding couple of months. I have mentally relaxed and this has definitely had an impact on the students. Most of my classes have responded well and my rapport with them has grown accordingly, a couple of classes however have taken this as an invitation to use the classroom as a Muay Thai (Thai boxing) arena. Still though, I am enjoying the teaching as much as ever, each day is packed with challenges, rewards, fits of laughter and anger, crying, screaming, smells which would make milk curdle, and looks of sheer bemusement from both the students and myself in equal quantity.
Today I heard a vicious rumour being voiced in hushed tones from the hallways to the staff rooms, apparently people are whispering that tests may need to be made soon! At the moment it remains unfounded, but there's no smoke without fire. Along with end of month reports, English activities for assemblies to devise, and lessons to be delivered to the Thai English teachers there is enough to keep me busy during the week, the weekends are still (mostly) my own to do with as I please.
Next week we have been penciled in to attend 'Safari World' in Bangkok on a school trip. Although I don't mind taking the day off teaching to peruse some drowsy giraffes and comic sea-lions, I am a bag of nerves waiting for the dress code, pink may have been done already but I wouldn't be surprised if this time all teachers were expected to wear skirts! Now that really would get the locals nodding and grinning!!