33: On the B of BANG!

Sports ParadeIt's been a month since the last Talkin' Proper, and as you'd expect, a lot has happened in that time. The new, and my last (there's a sobering thought), semester started fairly uneventfully and without a problem. On returning to LopBuri fresh (if that's the right word!) after spending a month or so in "the big smoke" of Bangkok, it was great to be back. After 16 months in Thailand, it has become clear to me that, while I occasionally enjoy the creature comforts offered by the larger cities, I much prefer the relaxed day-to-day life in provincial LopBuri and am always glad to get back here. Another reason I'm glad to get back here is that I can finally fall out of the mini van whose driver seems to think he is in a pace-race with a speeding bullet. He must wonder why people fall out of the van and start kissing the floor!

One thing that did feel a little different in starting the third semester of the English programme at Jindaratana was that we weren't being told 1001 things which needed doing. I arrived back from my first day, taught my lessons, and went home again. Curiouser and curiouser. No "Can you make a speech for assembly?" No "You have 3 extra lessons to compensate." No "You must go to reception for a photo." Just plan, teach, write up the record, and go home! Bliss, while it lasted. It turned out to be the lull before the storm.

The first event sprung on us was sports day, I was asked to help/hinder the yellow team. The first event involved parading through town dressed in anything yellow, from Thai shirts to sunflowers. While yellow may not be the most subtle colour, I was thankful I wasn't assigned to the red team where I could see fellow English teacher Ian dressed head to foot in a big, thick Father Christmas outfit complete with woolly white beard. Father Christmas clad, sweating ESL teachers join mad dogs and Englishmen out in the mid-day sun! The sound track to the parade was a loud roar from the teachers, "ooheehooheehoohee", quickly followed by a high-pitched screeching from the students, as if they were hurtling down a helter-skelter, "weeeeeeeeh!" I'm told that this call is usually reserved not for parades or sports grounds but for traditional Thai weddings!! The big finale to sports day featured a well known (and infuriatingly repetitive, though less so than that horrific crazy frog) Thai pop song played in the assembly hall while three extrovert students danced crazily holding a huge flag bearing their team colours. I found the spectacle very funny until, when the song finished, the three English teachers were called up to strut-our-stuff with the same flag, to the same song! Only the silliest/sexiest dance moves gained any applause from the students or, perhaps more worryingly the teachers, who had obviously been plotting our embarrassing fall from grace for days!

Capture the flag
Sports day at least offered a relevance to teach ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd etc) as well as an opportunity for a sporting cultural exchange. The latter being much more beneficial to teacher than student as Thai children are generally experts on American basketball along with English Premier League football. For my part I learned about tak-raw, a great game involving a small, light wooden ball being kicked over a net about the same height and width as a badminton net. You can't use your hands but you can use the backs of your elbows and your head. There is a huge dispute in Asia over who truly invented tak-raw; the Thais firmly believe it was them, the Malaysians are convinced it was their conception. The final of the Asian games recently featured the two "founder" countries; the Thais' famous victory secured bragging rights for the next two years.

With the flag incident forgiven if not forgotten - apparently there's a video to prevent that ever happening - next came the Loy Krathong festival. I remember last year's Loy Krathong with nostalgic fondness and was worried that spending another year at the same place might take something away from this memory. Turns out I need not have worried, this year's festival was every bit as memorable and enjoyable. My badly-made krathong flirted briefly with the rushes (sinkers of 1000 krathongs) before picking up speed to join the other candle-lit floats bobbing and gliding down the river. The main differences from last year's Loy Krathong were that this year students were running towards me to say hello instead of the opposite direction in tears, and that lots of kids seemed to have got hold of "fire-crackers" which occasionally broke the serenity with a bang louder than the Guns of Navarone.

I had a great time seeing family and friends at home over Christmas. Nice to get back to a scene resembling normality (?) and I've been spitting feathers ever since. Amazing how the sight of turkey with the trimmings excites one's pallet after months of curry, rice and noodles. The trip home is a costly luxury but one which I found, enjoyment-wise, was a double-edged sword. Firstly, you go home for a short time, catch up with everyone, gorge yourself on all that you've missed for the last year or so (carpets, potatoes etc), and enjoy habitual normality. On arriving back, Thailand once more seemed like the tropical paradise it did when I first arrived. I've actually felt like I'm on holiday ever since arriving back!

Pathetic fallacy
The temperature is rising in sunny LopBuri. After the nonchalant winter it's beginning to get seriously hot again! The irritable temperature reddens and rises as does the workload. Sod's law number 3247A states that (quoting from memory): "The ideal time for sitting watching the world go by while sipping a beer on the rocks in INSERT *country - month* (Thailand - January) is when the weather is roasting hot yet cool enough to sit outside in, and this must coincide with the time when you become busiest at work." And so it is. The ascending mercury came to an explosive climax today when, while in the teacher's room minding my own business, the air-conditioning unit blew up with a blinding FLASH and a BANG! I ran out into the playground screaming "Save yourselves, the Burmese are attacking!!" before realising that (1) it was only the air-con, (2) no-one was listening and (3) they wouldn't have understood even if they were.

Dan

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