One of the students in Prathom 6, Fern, has a bit of a thing for me. She’s always waving whenever we cross each other’s paths at school, and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard her shout ‘I Love You Teacher!’ from a distance on more than one occasion.
Fern was also one of the first people today to notice my new hair as I arrived at the school in the morning. She laughed, pretty visibly, and quite a lot. I don’t think that’s a good sign.
Whilst I was expecting a similar reaction from most of the other students during my morning speech, most of them filed into the school shortly after I arrived, so I wasn’t even invited to give one. More confusingly, many of the older kids stayed in the area and lined up near to the entrance whilst I stood idly by watching and trying to work out what was going on. The teachers where organising some decorations around the school’s massive portrait of the King, which gave me some clues.
Bubpha explained to me that the school was required to supply the Thai military with evidence of students praising the king every month, meaning the selected kids spent the next 15 minutes in silent worship. I haven’t really discussed on here how much the King of Thailand factors into the daily lives of Thai residents, and part of that is because I’m learning new things about it every day. It is illegal to publicly disrespect him, which extends to factors like not dropping money on the floor so that his face is not in contact with the ground, and as the school’s ceremonies today proved frequent evidence of dedication towards him is also required by law.
For once, I actually didn’t mind teaching Prathom 1 this morning. We split them all into groups and did some role play about greetings and how to reply to a “how are you?” question, which a decent amount of the kids seemed to understand and listened to me when I was trying teach them. Not that the irritating ones didn’t persist at being irritating, but I’ve started to ignore their constant attempts at shaking my hand, partly so I don’t distract them further but mostly because I hope they’ll get the hint and stop trying to do it a million times a day.
Just after lunch we had a saleswoman come into the school grounds to persuade everyone to buy some fancy sandals, because apparently Watphachi School hasn’t yet met its weekly quota of people who come in and try to sell stuff that nobody wants. Still, some of the teachers were interested, although certainly not enough to actually spend any money.
Prathom 4 involved more discussion about food and teaching them some of the leftover English Camp songs. Of these, Song Song Song is probably my favourite, and not just because it shares its name with a great track by Owen Pallett. The dance moves involve a lot of weird hand movements and the lyrics, which are below, manage to be simple with just the right level of non-sensical:
Song Song Song, I like to sing a song.
My Father likes song, let’s sing a song for me.
Walk and clap your hands, turn left and turn right now,
I am happy, I am happy to sing a song.
Why does my Father ‘like song’? Why is this mentioned once in the second line and then never referred to again? I guess I’ll never know.
What I’m beginning to be more sure of is that the ‘English Club’ that has been on my timetable for the last two weeks is probably just an urban legend. Bubpha told me it would be taking place in the hall during the last hour, but I arrived there to find about 50 students being taught by one of Phachi’s local monks instead. Now having another hour of free time to kill, I figured that I may as well sit in and watch the lesson.
Bubpha translated for me and described how the monk was telling the students about the new buddhism workbooks they had sitting in front of them, and how they should be careful not to write anything in them that would disrespect the religion. He then taught the proper way to respect a monk, which involved three steps.
Step 1 was a simple hand greeting, similar to what is used when acknowledging a person in Thailand older (and thus more respected) than yourself.
Step 2 was a movement in a position to be ready to bow, which I saw as more of a half-way point between step 1 and 3 but Bubpha told me was a ‘step’ in its own right.
Step 3 was the bow itself. As per Buddhist religion the boys and girls were separated within the hall, and each group bowed alternately.
That closed off the school day quite interestingly, and definitely provided me with a better hour than if I had sat at my laptop pretending to do something productive. I still don’t want to claim that I completely understand Thai culture, and I’m constantly paranoid that I’ll do something without thinking that will be seen as hugely disrespectful. But at least getting to witness classes like this is a step away from that mindset.
Plus as I was walking back to the schoolhouse Fern ran up to me to shake her hand, so the new haircut can’t be as mentally scarring as I first thought.