30: If it's not one thing, it's your Mother
The school trip to Safari World went down without a hitch! The dress code was a conservative red, and the students' parents were also in attendance which meant that my job for the day was made considerably easier. All that was required of me was to 'wai' to lots of parents and smile for lots of photographs. It was really interesting to meet some of the children's parents, they were also very interested to meet me, probably to see where the extra money their paying for English lessons is going! Most Mums and Dad's seemed to have a little English vocabulary and clearly took great pleasure in telling their children the names of the animals in English. "Singto!" "No Luknum, it's a Lion!"
The trip was part of an educational scheme set-up by the provincial government of LopBuri. We had a convoy of eighteen buses in all and we were given a flashing light police escort from LopBuri to Bangkok and back again, neither parents, students nor teachers had to pay a penny (or a baht) for the whole day. There were two teachers assigned to each bus, I was paired with Khu Yok whose job it is to liaise between us (King's College) and Jindaratana school. Yok has become a very good friend over the last 10 months, she has a good level of English and is extremely organised, I can ask her anything about Jindaratana school and be confident that her answer will be 100% accurate. It was good to have a chance to talk with her for a couple of hours, debating everything from the latest class on her Masters Degree in Teaching English (in which she learns alongside 10 monks) to who is the greater martial arts exponent, Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee (Bruce, but Jackie makes you laugh more!).
I have been reflecting this week on how easy it's been to become completely immersed in my job here, I willingly complete jobs and activities which I know I'm not expected to, and which aren't necessarily in my job description. Perhaps it isn't a fair comparison but I remember the feeling of noncommittal ordinariness with which I woke up on a working day in England, shivering over my cornflakes and scraping the frost off my windscreen didn't help either! I wouldn't say that I triple-turn ballet dance out of bed all sweetness and roses, but I certainly enjoy going to work now, I find it rewarding and challenging everyday. Interestingly, this feeling hasn't yet reached a plateau, I still feel that I am progressing further as a teacher and as a person. The skills I am learning and honing should be valuable when applying for other jobs in the future, I am expected to write exam papers, I have responsibilities to plan and deliver at least 22 lessons a week, I must be able to speak confidently in front of an audience, I have to be able to stick to deadlines, I must be presentable and punctual. All of which are transferable skills that may be useful in any career path I should choose to follow. That is assuming I don't decide to become a street Phad Thai noodle vender, always a possibility.
On Tuesday (9th August) I gave my first lesson to the Thai teaching staff. It was a strange feeling to be not only the single farang in the room, but also the only male in the room, I looked around and found myself stood in the centre of a circle of 35 or more Jindaratana teachers all looking at me expectantly! I was a little uninspired as to what to teach the Thai teachers, some of them teach English as a subject, and some of them can't respond to "hello, how are you?" I decided to try and concentrate on useable English specific for them, I built up a short conversation you might have with someone when you meet them for the first time, and how to respond to questions such as "where do you live?" and "what do you do?" The teachers seemed to enjoy the lesson, I know I did, we are presently giving them 4 hour-long lessons a month though this may increase.
Friday was Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand's birthday, this coincides with National Mother's day here (as the King's birthday does with Father's Day). We had lots of Mother's Day activities on Thursday including (inevitably) Thai dancing and the singing of the National Anthem. We also had 29 Mothers joined on stage by their sons and daughters while the whole school joined together to sing a succession of 'Motherhood' based Thai songs. Some of which were so powerful that they had the Mothers, the students and even the teachers in floods of tears, not necessarily tears of sadness or unhappiness I think, only emotion showing the strength of the Mother-child bond. Friday was of course a bank holiday meaning a welcome three-day weekend. Now (Saturday 13th August) I am sat in a mock-African hut in Little Creek hideaway village, Kanchanaburi which remains my favourite province in Thailand. I am completely relaxed, the only foreseeable problem at the moment is how I am going to see the Premiership opener Manchester United vs. Everton tonight!