Around Phachi Town

Dinner And A Show

Well, at least everything seems to be winding down with me. I wasn’t in school for very long today; my leaving ceremony has been moved to Thursday and my only lesson of the day was with Prathom 6 in the morning. Bubpha had to undertake some testing in a school in Ayutthaya so I was left by myself, and whilst I planned a few things only half of the class actually turned up. After waiting 15 minutes I asked one of the students where everyone was, who replied saying that they had all gone “to the hospital”. All of them. I later saw them return in the afternoon on the back of a truck with nobody looking like they had just received or needed to receive medical treatment, so I suppose this will be another of those Thailand things that gets left unexplained.

Regardless I played hangman with the half that had turned up, but after trying to teach them some things following that they got as bored as I did, so I ended up bringing the guitar up for the the last half hour. It was my final lesson with them, so I have an excuse.

***

coveredeyes - EditedWhen she returned Bubpha whisked me off to her friend’s school that had its own mask workshop, which I had previously visited about three weeks into being here. She introduced me to a group of students who were wearing some traditional (and sparkly) Thai outfits, and after the usual discussions about how old I was and where I was from we were off again with this new group to a restaurant around the corner. I wasn’t really sure at this point what was going on, but I was more distracted by the museum of what i could only describe as ‘Thai kitsch’ items that led on from the restaurant’s seating area. It mostly consisted of weird mannequins dressed as Batman interspersed with old furniture and pinball machines, but it was still pretty cool.

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dancersandwaiters - EditedIt was clear that this was more of an ‘entertainment centre’ than just a restaurant (albeit a slightly old-fashioned one), and the Mask Workshop kids were about to put on a show for the groups of restaurant-goers that had arrived shortly after us. The event started with a group of Thai dancers entering the grounds followed by waiters formally parading behind them with carrying trays of food on their shoulders. The intention was clearly for this food to be presented to the customers in the most show-stopping way possible, which they succeeded in doing.

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After these theatrics the students entered and began their performance, which I think I got the general idea as to what was going on. One student who was bigger than the others was dressed in green sparkly clothing rather than the various other colours that the other, smaller students were wearing. This represented that he was the ‘giant’, and the show consisted of the other kids trying to defeat him in a battle.

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Naturally this involved a lot of backflips, dancing and the students lifting each other up and twirling around. In the climatic fight scene, they all started hitting each other with tree branches. Intense stuff all round then.

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It was actually really impressive considering that all of these students were of primary school age, and the audience loved it too, though I guess that this all taking place within touching distance of the restaurant tables helped with the immersion. We stayed for lunch afterwards, during which the waiters had lined up along the road outside to say goodbye to the customers who were now driving off. One of them was now wearing a massive bobble head, because hey, why not.

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By the time we were back at Watphachi it was around half 3 and the students were heading home. Although my intention was to go to Bubpha’s room and try to do work (ok, watch Netflix), I started feeling pretty weird around this time and instead ended up sleeping on a bench outside for about an hour. Eventually some of the students woke me up so I went to the schoolhouse to continue sleeping, but soon realised why I hadn’t done that in the first place; it’s unbearably hot in there during the afternoons.

Still, I’m feeling slightly more alive now, despite the creeping feeling that I should be packing more since I have two days until I leave. I managed to formulate more of a rough plan as to where I’ll go during my Southern travelling week after leaving Krabi however, so I think that’s probably more than enough work for today.

 

PS

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Sunday Recovery

In a habit that I am far too familiar with whenever I end up drunk, I awoke the next morning on a sofa.

To be fair, this had been planned beforehand – I had left my schoolhouse windows open during the storm in Phachi on Saturday which resulted in my bed being soaked since it is placed next to said windows, so I had little option but to stay at Bubpha’s house. What was less expected was the massive headache and general sense of confusion as to what had happened the night before. I soon got a reminder, however, after checking Facebook and seeing that Art, one of Pekeng’s friends who I had apparently accepted a friend request from, was steadily uploading a slew of videos, all of which featured me singing karaoke versions of Green Day and Coldplay songs. I’m sure that won’t come back to haunt me at all.

Bubpha gave me some coffee and which put my body in a better state and we headed out to her Baptist church in Ayutthaya with the rest of the family. Her other motivation for keeping me in Phachi this weekend was so that I could join her for Sunday prayers. As I expected these were much calmer than the last time we had visited the church and were more what I expected Christian services to be like. However, much like before the services ended with a live band performing Christian songs, which were a highlight as they’re really quite good.

Afterwards we were given some lunch and I sat around talking to some of the other churchgoers who wanted to try out their English skills. It’s still weird thinking that Bubpha is so devoutly Christian in a country that is so heavily influenced by Buddhism, but this have given me some great experiences in Thailand that I doubt many people in my position have had before.

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We went to Rajabhat University after that as Bubpha wanted to visit their market. Although I briefly looked around it I spent most of my time here checking out the rest of the campus itself, which were a fairly big contrast to the Reading University campus that I’m so used to back at home, and had nicer looking buildings (although as anyone who studies at Reading will tell you, it’s not too difficult to find a building nicer than HumSS.)

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thaihouse - EditedThe group from last night were apparently throwing yet another party in the afternoon, so we ended up back in the same house that I could only slightly remember being in the night before. I was soon whisked off on a tour around some of their other houses however, as many of them were keen to show me around now that all of our priorities were less focused on drinking and Karaoke.

I had much less energy and enthusiasm to get involved than I had last night though, so whilst I tried to comply with all the standard questions the group were asking me about England and English culture I eventually had to dip out to a room in the back of the house and fall asleep for an hour. We stayed for a few more hours after I had woken up, by which point I was completely overwhelmed with being the centre of attention and battling with Pekeng’s friend’s limited english to try and answer all the questions they seemed to be throwing at me. Still, they’re a really fun group of people, and they definitely provided me with some interesting experiences, even if there’s probably more videos of them than I would like there to be.

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I ended up having to stay at Bubpha’s again that night since my room hadn’t fully recovered from Saturday’s storm, this time stating in a room with a glorious air conditioning system. Whilst trying to sleep I thought about how weird the weekend had been; I never would have thought that I would end up spending it with the people that I did, but I guess the completely unexpected nature of everything meant that it was the most accurate way to see off the last remaining bits of free time that I have in this town.

 

PS

Karaoke Videos

Bubpha had told me that she wanted me to stay in Phachi this weekend. Considering that this was my last one before finishing teaching I didn’t intend to travel anyway, but her motivations for keeping me here weren’t just for more celebrations.

video1 - EditedAs it turned out, there has been a point to all of the weird, barely understandable games that we have been playing with Prathom 5 over the last couple of weeks. Bubpha has wanted to film them and put them online for other schools to see for years, and what with me being English and having a fairly decent camera on me, I clearly presented a perfect opportunity. Hence I waited at the school field at 9am like she had told me to do, wearing my casual friday uniform since I had no idea how formally dressed I was supposed to be for this, only for her to not turn up for another hour. The students she would also be using in the videos were waiting as well, so we ended up playing volleyball, a sport that I ended up not being that terrible at. I guess I had a bit of a height advantage.

When she did arrive we set up on the field with the first of the five games we were planning to record. I had apparently been designated the role of cameraman at some point, again something I wasn’t told about, so I filmed for as long as I and my camera could stand the heat for. Since this all took place in the heavy morning sun, this wasn’t very long.

For the next couple of games we moved to the shade which was a blessing, and in the afternoon we filmed in the classroom where Bubpha wanted me to read out the various poems that (barely) double as instructions for each game, which the students would then repeat after me off camera. By this point I was getting really hot and tired, so there are parts in some of the videos where you can clearly see me getting frustrated at having to repeat certain sections again, which is something that I feel quite bad about. But we got through most of what Bubpha wanted to do in the end, until about 4pm when Phachi was hit by a massive storm that cut out all of the power in the school.

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I’m sure we’ll have a fun-filled monday finishing off the rest of the videos, but I at least got some clarification in the evening after we had finished when Bubpha told me what her motivations behind the videos were. The games themselves were devised from her work with the previous director of Watphachi School, who died in a car crash two years ago. Judging by the stories Bubpha has told me the two of them seemed to be very close, and although it had been the director’s idea to film the games it clearly never happened, for whatever reason. Bubpha seemed very happy that she had finally been able to film them, so she talked in the evening about how grateful she was that I had helped and about buying me a gift as a thankyou present. I tried explaining to her that she didn’t have to do this, as I felt quite humbled at being involved in something that was clearly meant as a tribute just as much as it was a teaching tool.

***

In the evening we drove to a house around the corner from Phachi’s strip of shops to meet up with several friends of Pekeng, Bubpha’s son. Supposedly the reason for this gathering was a birthday party for one of the children of the house, but after we got there it became clear that it was more of an excuse for everyone to get together and drink. There was a birthday cake though, which was nice.

I won’t lie to you, a lot of this night is a blur. I sat around with Pekeng and his friends for most of it as they kept handing me glasses of Thai whiskey, and after somebody brought out a karaoke machine my main memory is singing a lot on it. There are videos of this floating around which aren’t too hard to find if you look hard enough, but I’m definitely not going to point you in the direction of them. It will be a lot more fun for you, and less embarrassing for me, if we all just leave it to the imagination.

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Finality

Thursday afternoon saw another trip to Phachi’s temple for the cremation ceremony of the former Watphachi School teacher, following her funeral on Monday. I was a bit confused by this as I was sure that I’d been told she had died 4 years ago and that Monday’s ceremony was an anniversary-type affair, but I guess something got lost in translation.

We arrived to an already large crowd, most of which were mourners who were sitting waiting for the ceremonies to begin. A school marching band also played at the side of the temple area where the teacher’s body laid, who were followed by a group of colourful, traditional Thai dancers.

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betterdancers - EditedAside from that this seemed like a very Watphachi School based affair. For the past couple of days after our morning assemblies and speeches Pilot has been teaching groups of the older students how to serve the guests of the temple, and today they were walking around with trays of water handing out drinks to whoever looked like they needed one.

This meant that I was surrounded by cups of water by the time the cremation was over, as although I tried to say that I had enough on me they insisted on repeatedly coming back to give me more.

The teachers themselves also had an active involvement. During these ceremonies all guests are given a flower that is to be placed in a ‘fire box’ at the end of the event that will then be cremated along with the body. According to Bubpha this fire box had been donated by the Thai King himself, which meant that a large group of teachers from Watphachi and other schools were dressed in their most formal wear in order to deliver the box to the grounds.

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thowing1 - Edited (1)Following that were the standard prayers ending with all the guests walking up to the fire box to donate their flowers. A couple of monks were throwing petal-like items from the temple as well, which turned out to be Thai baht coins tightly wrapped up. A student gave me one that she had rushed to collect after it had fallen, but I forgot to open it so at the time of writing I don’t actually know how much richer it has made me.

As I left to go to Wirot’s night class I noticed, for the second day in a row, a massive swarm of dragonflies circling the skies, which I’ve taken to believe will mean that a massive storm is soon to follow. Whilst the one that did wasn’t as bad as Wednesday’s, it did mean that we were stranded at the temple for a while. Personally I would have been fine trying to leg it through a mild storm, but I didn’t want to complain.

***

Wirot’s night class, which will probably end up being the last one I attend since I’ll likely be packing this time next week, was just as pleasant as it always is. Granted, I’ve had mixed feelings about the last couple that I’ve been to; whilst I enjoy the company, I’ve also had to sit through 3 hour sessions that I don’t get much of a chance to be involved in teaching wise.

This one felt different however, possibly because the class seemed more interested in me after it became apparent that I may not be coming again. Inevitably it ended with a photo session and with me giving my Facebook name out to half of the class (good luck distinguishing which Patrick Scott I am on Facebook’s search system though), following which a group of us crossed to the restaurant on the other side of the road, where I ate too much food and was given copious amounts of Thai Whiskey.

It was a fun end to the day, but I think it also marked the first time that I felt a real sense of finality about everything here. School this week has carried on as normal and, since I seem to have found a pretty natural routine, I think I’m forgetting that I’ve only got a week left. I guess the reality will probably hit a bit more in the next few days.

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Just A Trim

Here begins a story with an important lesson about barbershops. Namely that, if you go in there and tell the hairdresser to just go nuts, it can provide interesting results.

But first, from the beginning. My lessons today were pretty boring, to the point that I can barely remember what happened in them. I was supposed to be going with Bubpha to Ayutthaya as Itiya, the women I had dinner with on Friday, had invited us to see her school, but during my last hour Pilot the headmaster walked into our classroom to tell that a staff meeting was to take place today, ruining any chances of that happening.

I was quite frustrated by this, partly because I wanted to go to Ayutthaya, but also because I figured the school staff meeting would involve nothing but sitting in the library for a couple of hours whilst everyone spoke a language I wouldn’t be able to understand most of. Whilst that was pretty much what happened, since Bubpha translated for me I at least got the basics of what was going on, and it was nice to be kept in the loop of things in the same way that the other teachers were. The meeting mainly concerned the ceremonies for the being of the Mother’s Day weekend; these will take place on Friday, and I’ve now been roped into playing guitar as a big finale for them, potentially alongside the IT teacher. Should be interesting.

We also discussed the leaving party that would be held for me at the end of August, which will take place on a boat ride around Ayutthaya’s river. An exciting prospect, even if I don’t really want to think about leaving here just yet.

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Bubpha and several of the other teachers had been dropping hints that I should get my haircut for the last few days, and since our initial plans were derailed after the meeting we headed to one of the barbers in Phachi. I should probably note at this point that, despite having gone to university in Reading for the last two years, I have still made no attempts to find a good hairdressers based on the fear that if I get it wrong my hair will be temporarily ruined. Glen’s Barbers in Ipswich know me well enough to just trim a bit off every time I come in, so my hairdressing choices extend no further than there.

Of course, Glen does not have a branch in Phachi, and I didn’t think Bubpha would appreciate me being fussy over another option. With that in mind, I just decided to go all out – if I was going to get a bad haircut, I may as well get one in style. Bubpha got the camera out as the barber tried to indicate to me how much she was going to take off. She was speaking in Thai, so I felt that the easiest thing to do would be to comply with whatever she said.

Take off most of the fringe? I guess I shouldn’t argue.

My beard? Yeh, you can take that all off too. Why the hell not.

The 'before' shot. Bubpha's neighbour in the background is clearly scared for me.

The ‘before’ shot. Bubpha’s neighbour in the background is clearly scared for me.

She started with some uncomfortably long scissors and I could feel part of myself falling away along with the hair. Eventually she cut around the sides until I could actually see all of my ears for once. I don’t know if I like them.

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As I sat staring at myself in the mirror I began to fear that I was being given the ultimate bowl cut and wouldn’t be able to be seen in public for the next few weeks because of it. Eventually it started to take shape and I became more accepting of it, maybe even liking it.

Then she started on the beard.

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I found some novelty in having a knife scraped over my face, if only because I’ve always been stuck with stupid Gillette shavers before so someone using an actual knife made the whole thing seem a lot more majestic. The novelty wore off, however, when I realised that one sudden movement from either me or the barber if she made a mistake could potentially cut my throat, so I sat back as calmly as possible, waiting for it all to be over and hoping that I’d actually end up looking passable/not covered with shaving cuts by the end of it.

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It actually became sort of relaxing after a while, so I nearly fell asleep in the chair. But eventually we were done, and I looked up to see the damage.

The 'after' photo. This is me for the next few weeks. Oh god.

The ‘after’ photo. This is me for the next few weeks. Oh god.

But you know what? Now that the initial shock of being clean shaven for the first time in ages has worn off… I kind of like it. I’m sure there are several people reading this who will see it and laugh, but I feel like a look a lot smarter, which was obviously the point of Bubpha pushing me in here in the first place. Plus it only cost 60 baht (£1.11) so even if it had turned out like a travesty, at least it would’ve been a cheap one. After being sceptical to begin with, I’m left thinking that getting my hair cut in Thailand is clearly the way forward.

The real fun, however, will be in seeing the reactions of the staff and students tomorrow.

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Casual Fridays

So after 5 weeks, it’s finally happened.

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Today I put on my Friday uniform shirt, a.k.a the Ayutthaya top, a.k.a The Embarrassing Dad Shirt, after weeks of either forgetting to buy it or having it being washed at the worst possible time. None of that matters now, as today I finally felt like I fitted in with everything. The teachers all seemed to be very excited for me too, which of course resulted in a photo session, plus I learnt what the exact relevance of the shirt is. Apparently the flowers displayed on the front represent the symbol of Ayutthaya, and whilst Bubpha told me what their Thai name was it has completely slipped my mind.

Not only that but, as if someone read my blog from yesterday, we used a different song for the student’s morning exercises today! However this didn’t really feel like much of a success, as the new track was some weird Thai club music that wasn’t very good, and I began to miss the reggae beats and happy verses that I’ve become used to hearing during every 8am start. I may have to youtube it again, as my day doesn’t feel complete without hearing it…

***

betterchaoqui - EditedToday was boiling, the kind of weather that gave me a disappointing reminder that I’m not as used to the heat out here as much as I’d like to think. I was pretty jealous of Chao Qui the stray dog, who had plonked himself in front of a fan in the school hall with the clear intention of not moving from it for the rest of the day, so after trying to follow his lead and stand in front of any fan I could find for as long as possible, I realised that it would probably be more worthwhile to distract myself with the teaching that I was actually here to do.

In Prathom 5 this morning I returned to acting out one of my favourite classroom activities –  picking out kids at random who clearly don’t want to answer questions and making them talk. We were still on the subject of food, and as I was walking around the classroom getting the students to say things about hamburgers and pizza I tried to make a game out of it by walking between the desks mysteriously and turning around at the last moment to put someone on the spot. The whole class seemed to find this amusing, so it’s nice to know we share the same ‘laughing at other’s misfortune’ sense of humour.

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I’ve begun to realise that the whole of Prathom 3 seem to decide at will whether they actually want to learn anything in a lesson or not just before it starts. Today was a case of the latter, so I felt like giving up on them when half of the class made no effort to respond to the questions I was asking. My last lesson with Prathom 6 made up for it though. Earlier in the week I had promised I would play guitar to them all, so I spent most of the afternoon playing whatever indie song came to my head and watching them dance to it.

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After school I sat in the field with a bunch of the students as well, and we played some more ball games that dissolved into a lot of embarrassing dancing from myself. They all danced too though, so I think that makes it fine.

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This evening Bubpha took me to another one of her friends’ houses, a teacher called Iritchi who works in an Ayutthaya school with over 4,000 students. Possibly because of this, her living area was very secluded – we arrived in a small road with three huts that had been lifted onto a second storey in a similar way to my Watphachi schoolhouse (except they obviously all looked a lot nicer.) The other two huts are owned by Iritchi’s brothers who both work in the South, which meant that for most of the year she lives by herself. Bubpha made some comments about how secluded that must be, although personally I don’t think I’d mind it.

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cowscowscows - EditedIritchi also took me on a bike ride around her local village where I got to see some pretty beautiful landscapes amongst sites of cows and salamanders casually strolling across the road, all whilst on a bike that had brakes so sharp I nearly threw myself off it a couple of times before getting used to them. We had dinner next to the lake outside her house after that, and I got a bit too transfixed with the presentation of the fish that we were eating as the sun went down.

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***

So that’s week 5 done, and I think this one has left me with two impressions. The first is that I really need to get more sleep than I am, as the amount of stuff I’ve ended up doing this week has left me pretty knackered. The second is that I don’t like how quickly these weeks are going by.

Regardless, I’m set to be heading up some mountains this weekend for a bit of camping, which I’m told are home to a lot of monkeys. They certainly know how to sell these trips to me.

 

PS

The Phachi Temple Turtle Pond

Every morning during the school’s opening ceremony and before my attempts at a speech, all the students are required to take part in 5 minutes of exercises, whilst a reggae song plays in the background.

Aside from another weird Thai disco track that hasn’t been played in a few weeks, it is always the same reggae song. Every day. I’ve just Youtubed it and found that it’s called ‘I Love Thailand’, is sung by a band called Mocca Garden, and currently has 17 million views, yet I’ve never heard it playing anywhere else. The song has verses sung alternately in English and Thai, and from what I can gather is a conversation between a local and a tourist about how great Thailand is, but until today I couldn’t understand why the school was so obsessed with it. Asking Bubpha, I found out that this was all for me – apparently it helps the kids focus on the song’s english verses whilst they are exercising, which then enables them to be a bit more prepared for me to try teaching them.

I guess that’s pretty cool, and whilst it’s actually not that bad of a song, after hearing it almost every day for a month I feel like a change wouldn’t hurt.

***

prathom5scouts - EditedToday’s lessons weren’t that exciting really. I had Prathom 1 in the morning, which I’ve realised is probably my least favourite class to teach. I think part of this may be because they were the class I had to essentially babysit for 2 hours the other week, during which half of them refused to behave and became immensely irritating. But another large part of it is that they’re a bit too young, which makes it much more difficult to teach them anything that they’ll actually remember in a moment’s time. Plus most of the class swarm me whenever I walk nearby them and try to shake my hand, which was cute at first but has quickly become annoying.

My afternoon lessons with Prathom 2 and 5 were pretty much the same as yesterday, but at least these classes seem a lot more enthusiastic about learning, which means that I have a lot more fun with them.

Prathom 2 are particularly mental.

Prathom 2 are particularly mental.

Thursday meant that the students were all wearing their scout uniforms, which for some reason also meant that several groups were taken to Phachi Temple to do some drawing. I didn’t particularly understand the logic behind that, especially since this trip hasn’t occurred during scouting day on other weeks, but since I got to come along I wasn’t complaining. After following one of the groups who had been instructed to draw turtles I found out that the temple had its own turtle-filled pond, which sounds pretty awesome until you realise how badly it smells. The kids were still enthusiastic about it though, and they drew better turtle pictures than I ever could.

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The other group who came along at the same time were instructed to draw the Buddha statue that resided on the other side of the Temple’s lake. I, of course, was eventually roped into drawing this as well, and whilst the drawing itself is far too terrible to post on here I can tell you it firmly represents that art is another skill that I have yet to master. Regardless, I enjoyed getting a temple trip, and I still find it a bit surreal that our school is right next door to such majestic buildings.

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Wirot picked me up again this afternoon and I made a second appearance at his Thursday night class. There were a lot more students this time, and since my novelty had probably worn off a bit I wasn’t introduced to them and we immediately got down to lesson Wirot had planned, which turned out to be the same topics that we had taught to the university students yesterday. Because of that it was a bit uninteresting at times, but I still had a good few opportunities to teach the class myself, and despite most of the class being at the same level as the students yesterday they were a lot better with their pronunciation and recognising words. I think the fact that it was a big group helped, which supports my point from yesterday of confidence being a major factor in improving a student’s learning.

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nightclass teaching

After the class we had another meal at the restaurant over the road cooked by one of the students, which was as amazing as last week (better infact, since I didn’t have to cook anything myself) but the amount of spice in most of the food was a bit much at times. After a few drinks i had a guitar shoved at me again too, plus I was introduced to Bow, one of the restaurant owner’s dogs who actually seemed very calm and nice.

I think that means I’ve found another dog here that I’m confident doesn’t want to kill me, and that I actually want to be around. Hooray!

 

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