Well, this evening was pretty bloody awesome.
Mostly I’m surprised by that because this morning did not help the rubbish mood I’ve been in this week one bit. I had no lessons until about half ten, and although Bubpha said I was invited to another teacher’s Thai language class with Prathom 1 during second period I got there only to be told that it was a ‘serious lesson’ and that I couldn’t participate. I’m still not really sure what lessons aren’t ‘serious’, but it left me more frustrated than before and I sat moping in Bubpha’s classroom with nothing to do. She eventually offered me a pillow and I slept with my head on the desk for an hour; I felt a bit rude but she told me that the pillow was there in the first place for when she did the exact same thing, so at least I know the feeling’s common.
The one morning lesson I had wasn’t much better. Bubpha taught with the new curriculum but most of the kids didn’t have enough English knowledge, or just couldn’t be bothered, to actually learn any of it, so most of my time was spent repeating things to them to no avail.
English Camp, however, turned out to be a rare success. As we only had two sessions left this week before it finishes completely, today the teachers all split up into different sections and we played games with rotating groups of kids. My game involved phrases referring to a daily routine (e.g. waking up, brushing teeth) printed onto several pieces of card, which I then distributed around a group sitting in a circle who passed them round whilst I played some music on the school’s bongo drums (yes, that’s a thing most Thai schools have.) So basically, your standard pass-the-parcel sort of thing – music stops, kid says what’s on the card, start music again. They all seemed to respond to it well, although I saw several kids hold a card for ages and then immediately give it to their friend sitting next as soon as the music stopped, presumably just to annoy them. I responded by asking the cheating kids to say the card phrase anyway. Considering how obvious their ‘I Am Doing Something Naughty’ grins were, I don’t know why they were surprised when I caught them out on it.
Wirot, one of the English Camp teachers from outside of Watphachi School, teaches several English speaking night classes a week in Phachi, and today after school he invited me to teach and observe one of them. After driving through some areas of Phachi that I hadn’t seen before, we arrived at a fairly modern-looking building and I walked into a class of about 10 people who all looked very different from each other. After we did an inevitable photo session Wirot introduced me to everyone and I asked if I had any questions for them. The students ranged from a police officer to the mayor of a local district, and whilst most of them were above the age of 35 there were a couple of 13-year-old girls taking the classes who preferred Wirot’s conversation teaching to the grammar being taught at their own school. This surprised me a bit, but I felt that this was an interesting bit of information that I could take back to Watphachi with me. Still, I felt priveleged just being there more than anything, and as well as being able to see the variation in people who wanted to learn English alongside their motivations for doing so, I got to experience teaching in a much calmer, relaxed environment.
After I told everyone how much I was loving the food in Thailand they were adamant that I stay for a meal, so following the session the whole class went to the restaurant opposite the school that also happened to be owned by the parents of Too, one of the 13-year-old students. It turned out that this would be another ‘hot-pot’ meal where you had the cook the food yourself at the table, similar to the restaurant a few weeks ago where I had mis-understood the concept and ended up inadvertently eating raw bacon. That experience alone prompted me to take more care with cooking the food this time around, and in general I was more successful with it. Well, I sort of was anyway. At this point it was getting dark and due to a mini-power cut from a storm raging at the same time, our only source of light was a dim lantern, so it’s quite possible I ate a lot of meat that I couldn’t see was undercooked. But hey, I’m not dead yet.
After that there was a lot more photo taking, discussion and laughter, and all of it was pretty cool to be involved in. I had mentioned during the lesson that I played guitar so when Too brought one out I couldn’t resist it. I’m not sure if anyone knew what I was playing – they wanted me to sing Pharrell’s Happy but I found out the chords were harder to work out than I thought – but I busted out Get Lucky by Daft Punk for them, and was accompanied by a beer bottle orchestra and clapping which was pretty awesome. The whole night was just great, really – Wirot invited me back to a class next week and I left positively beaming, mainly because it felt so nice to be around some really fun, friendly people.
That feeling alone has made this one of the best evenings that I’ve had in Thailand so far. Wirot is one of the nicest people outside of Watphachi School that I’ve met here, especially since he seems genuinely interested in me as a person rather than seeing me as the ‘novelty English guy’ that it’s very easy to feel like around here.
I’ve been feeling pretty lonely this week, mainly due to the thought that I’m not really that close to many other ETAs out here, both in distance and in a friendship sense. I’ll inevitably end up feeling like that again, but times like these make me realise how misguided feeling like I have to make English friends just so that I can have a ‘comfort zone’ really is. The feeling of making a connection with someone or a group of people despite the massive language barrier, as I felt both tonight and on other occasions with Bubpha and her son Pekeng, is pretty amazing. In a week where I’ve been questioning the point of being here, it’s times like this that remind me exactly why this placement is worth it in the first place.