Phachi

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.

churchguy - Edited

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.)

uni1 - Edited

 uni2

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.

thegroupagain - Edited

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.

movedtotheshade - Edited

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.

drunkgroup - Edited

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.

theturtlefarm - Edited

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.

whereisbuddha

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.

morenightclassteaching

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!

 

PS

Night Classes

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.

 englishcamp

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.

classwirotgroup

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.

steam

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.

 guitarthumbs

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.

 

PS

Megaphone Meals

“Good morning teacher!”

morning megaphone

“Good morning students. How are you today?”

“I am fine thank you. And you?”

“I am fine.”

The usual awkward pleasantries of my morning speech end after that. However once again I actually have something else to talk about, as Bubpha tells me to talk to the kids about what I did after school yesterday.

“Last night, I went to Ayutthaya in the evening. I went to the…”

I realise I have no idea what the name of the temple we went to yesterday was, so I turn to Bubpha to get it confirmed. Wat Chaiwatthanarm, apparently. I’m never going to be able to pronounce that.

“I went to Wat Tai… Chai Prat Two Na Ram Temple. It was very nice.”

Eh, close enough.

ayutemple

buddhas

I spout more stuff to them after that, mostly simple words about how England doesn’t have any nice buddhist temples like Ayutthaya does. They’re probably cottoning onto the fact that I’m just making it up as I go along again, but by that point I bid them goodbye with a “Thankyou” and walk to the side, triumphant that I got through another speech.

That is, until Pilot the headmaster hands me a megaphone and makes me repeat the whole thing again.

megaphone

 ***

Most of my bad day and mood yesterday stemmed from the triumphant return of English Camp this week to Watphachi school. My timetable schedules me to be there for 2 hours at the end of every day, but since a lot of that time is spent by teachers from other schools coming into teach, I’m often left to do nothing but sit in the corner and play games on my phone. Great for getting new high scores on Temple Run, pretty terrible for making me feel at all useful.

I told Bubpha all of this and I think she understands where I’m coming from. Today she told me that she was going to work on a new curriculum with some of the classes – the front cover of the textbooks sitting beside me display that they are British Council recommended ‘Teaching Kits’, so hopefully that should mean that I get more involvement in general. With the older classes such as Prathom 6 we’re sticking to what we’ve been previously been doing though, but since they’re the oldest class here their English skills are generally much better to work with. This morning I played hangman with them, but despite my attempts to use the more complicated words from their textbooks in the game they guessed them all pretty quickly.

goodness

Probably a good thing, since that list of incorrectly guessed letters looks like it could have taken a very unfortunate turn.

Today’s English Camp didn’t go much better, but that was more my fault – I had a splitting headache for most of it and for some reason the afternoon heat is starting to get to me again. The school is apparently stopping the sessions at the end of this week as nobody seems to be happy with how they are going, so at least I now know we’re into the home stretch with it.

***

This evening Bubpha was desperate to show me how to cook Thai food; I don’t know if this was out of a desire to get me to learn something or a subtle indication that I should be paying back for the all the food I’ve been given here, but I’m not complaining either way. My university eating habits are terrible so this was probably the first time in a while that I actually put some effort into cooking a meal, albeit with a lot of help and Bubpha showing me what to do. We bought some oysters and pork from the market to fry Thai-style, although it turns out this is still pretty similar to every other method of frying food. Plus for only the second time in my life I made rice that didn’t come out of a microwavable bag, and managed to not mess it up.

Overall, it turned out pretty well. If I keep up with doing this I may return to uni with a greater incentive to cook better food, which certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing.

20140723_183224

But just to tip the scales back to lazy eating, I also had the Thai version of a pot noodle. It’s pretty much the same as any other Pot Noodle. With a bit more shrimp.

20140723_172621

At least it has an honest name.

It’s weird to think that today marks a month since I got on a plane heading to Thailand. I feel that in some ways everything has gone quickly, but thinking about how much time left I have here feels daunting on occasions. I’m not really sure why I’ve spent this week with more of an uneasy, anxious mood about me, but I wonder it’s largely down to the novelty of Thailand having mostly worn off by now and having to accept both the positive and negative aspects of my day-to-day life here. Hopefully, it shouldn’t take much longer for me to do that.

 

PS

Monkey Market Madness

(19th July)

As I’m doing some extra paid teaching at another school tomorrow I haven’t had the opportunity to stay anywhere this weekend, so Bubpha took me on a day trip to some nearby places that I’d been itching to go to. She agreed to pick me up at 8 but ending up running late, so I impatiently sat at my schoolhouse windows, drinking coffee and watching the English language film channel I discovered my TV could get the other day. White Chicks was on, which I laughed at more than I’d like to admit.

She eventually arrived and we made it to the station in time for the 9am train to Lop Buri, which is a province about an hour north of Ayutthaya. Lop Buri is famous for being home to an abundance of wild monkeys, and I had heard that they can be seen running through the streets and temples whilst pestering tourists for food. Naturally I was excited to get there, because monkeys are awesome, but the first temple we explored opposite the train station was a bit of a disappointment. I can understand the historical importance of it, but it looked very similar to many of the ruined temples that I’d already seen in Ayutthaya. Plus, there were no monkeys. Not even one.

lopburistation

At this point I was getting worried that the day would be completely monkey-less, but a quick walk up the road from the station put my concerns to rest. We made it to the Phra Kan Shrine, which doubles as both a temple and a feeding sight for the monkeys. Although we missed the monkey’s daily feeding taking place there were a few hanging around making their way through the leftovers of the feast of fruit they’d been given in the morning, but we still hadn’t seen the biggest monkey swarms just yet.

standinginfront

monkeyfeedingtime

monekyfeedingtime2

It soon became pretty clear to me that worrying about not seeing monkeys in Lop Buri is redundant, as it would be much more difficult to try and avoid them. Whilst walking around I saw dozens of them swinging from balconies, signposts and electrical wires, whilst others hid under cars and in back alleyways. Bubpha found my obsession with taking photos of them quite amusing, despite my attempts to explain to her that this is nothing like anything I ever have or ever will see in England.

monkeywires

The greatest monkey hub, however, was the Prang Sam Yot Temple across the street from the shrine. As we entered I bought a few bags of sweetcorn and some weird drink that had a dead wasp floating in it for some reason, which were being sold as monkey food. Needless to say, the next 30 or so minutes involved a lot of monkeys clawing, jumping and grabbing food out of my hands, whilst Bubpha attempted to take some good action photos.

 monkeybags1

monkeybags2

monkeybags3

monkeybags4

monkeytempletime

monkeybuddha

We ventured into the innards of the temple itself after that, which the monkeys aren’t allowed to go into, but they make up for this by climbing and sprinting up the wire fences that surround the construction. I found out that they’re all massive posers at heart, to the extent that they will literally push other monkeys out of the way in order to get in a photo.

monkeypose

Eventually we moved on and found Lop Buri market, despite the fact that I was still on a slight monkey high (they’re just so awesome! don’t pretend you wouldn’t feel the same.) Bubpha told me that there were a lot of good clothes shops here, but she then dismissed a bunch of shirts I was looking at as “old people clothing”, delivering another massive blow to my belief that I have any sort of good fashion sense.

lopburimarket

Before heading back onto the train we stopped at a pizzeria for lunch, which Bubpha was excited to take me too because I’m always telling the schoolkids that pizza is my favourite food. It killed me to tell her that this wasn’t the first time I’d had pizza here, since we got some in Kanchanaburi last week, but the beastly shrimp and ham one we decided on was tasty enough regardless.

 bubphapizza

After falling asleep on the train, which I keep seeming to do here, we ended up and the Bang Pa-In Palace in Ayutthaya. Apparently it’s used as an occasional summer residence for Thai royalty but is open to tourists during the seasons where nobody is occupying it, so we got to see a lot of the royal chambers and temples. Plus the whole area is massive, to the extent that it wouldn’t surprise me if the phrase ‘fit for a king’ originated from here.

palace3

 palace

palace2

After an hour of looking around Bubpha told me that there was even more of the grounds to see, but it required us taking a ride over the Chao Phraya river that connects a lot of central Thailand. Last week in my blogs about Kanchanaburi, I joked that everywhere in Thailand had a bet on to see who could provide the most dangerous transport. As if to prove this even further, this was what we had to cross the river on: dodgyriverride

so it’s probably not that surprising that I feared for my life (admittedly for about the 50th time in the last few weeks) during the 20 seconds it took to cross. The worst part was the sudden halt the “carriage” (I use that word very loosely) made when it stopped, as it swung outwards even further and would have sent me flying off into the water below had I not quickly grabbed onto the railings.

 dodgyriverride2

Still, feeling triumphant at not being dead, we made it round a couple more temples and saw a school for Buddhist monks before heading back to the train station. I ended up speaking to a monk inside a Buddhist church about England whilst also admiring the building’s colourful windows. Bubpha began to ask me questions about the Buddhist temples in England, and after telling her that I didn’t know any I began to wonder how many we even have. They’d certainly make the country a lot better looking, judging from everything I’ve seen here.

buddhistchurch

We arrived back to Phachi’s Saturday night market, which was overflowing with foodstalls and clothing. I finally bought a belt so my work clothes actually look a lot more complete now, but much like the monkeys this morning I got distracted when I found a guy selling baby chicks from two boxes he had placed on the floor (I’m very easily please by this sort of thing.) Weirder still was that the chicks in one of the boxes were multi-coloured and had clearly been dipped in some sort of dye, and I couldn’t work out what the purpose of selling them would be, unless there’s a large demographic in Thailand that is inexplicably bored with the natural fur colour of chicken and want something new and exciting.

normalchicks

colouredchicks

colouredchicks2

Bubpha had pretty much made it round the whole market during the time I’d spent taking rainbow chick photos and when I found her again she was carrying food bags fully of rice, steak, crabs, spicy beef and salad, so clearly this market is an excuse for her to buy as much cheap food as possible. We headed back and I managed to eat about 20% of everything I just listed before feeling like I didn’t need to eat for the next few days (as if that will ever happen here), and even that felt impressive considering I saw a gecko the size of my face scuttle across the walls of Bubpha’s house that reduced my appetite somewhat.

giantgecko

I’m feeling pretty tired now and should get some sleep, especially since I have to be up for the horrendous time of 6.30 tomorrow, but since this is the second day in a row I’ve experienced gecko based horrors I’m wondering if trying to make my house wildlife-proof would be a better use of my time.

Except that would reduce my chances of getting a monkey as a room-mate, and after today that’s totally something I want.

 

 

PS

 

 

The Mask Workshop

“Scuse me mate, do you know who won the world cup?”

This was the question a very British-looking man in his thirties, pushing a bike along and looking more than a bit tired out, asked me whilst I was waiting at the Bangkok train station information desk on Monday morning. Unfortunately for him, I was just as clueless as he was, and I told him that I was trying not to look with the intention of watching it when I got back. He seemed disappointed, and I started wondering if I could even keep to my own word.

My train ticket back to Ban Phachi station cost me 19 baht. On the one hand, that’s seems like an amazing price – it’s the equivalent of 34p for a two hour train ride – but on the other hand, as several people reading this will probably know, me and the number 19 don’t have the greatest history of success together. This was proven after I realised that I had infact bought a third class train ticket, the type that Bubpha had specifically warned me against getting at the beginning of the weekend, so as I left the others and boarded I didn’t really know what to expect. Plus I caught a glimpse of the newsreel on the station’s big TV screen displaying that Germany had won 1-0, so that whole ‘no world cup spoilers’ thing lasted for the best part of 15 minutes.

I’ve been told that third class is supposedly the ‘authentic’ way of travelling by train in Thailand, which I was sure was just a nice way of saying that it’s a very hot and cramped experience that you’d want to avoid in the future as much as possible. I was probably the tenth person to get on our carriage, and I noticed that those already on had taken all the seats that were in direct position of one of the overhead fans, so my best bet was to sit where I could only receive a tiny bit of fanning with the open window on my other side to provide the rest. Whilst I wouldn’t exactly have called this a pleasant experience I at least didn’t spend the whole journey in a constant sweat, and I was left with the impression that third class trains don’t really deserve some of the notoriety they have.

thirdclass

We’d got into Bangkok from Kanchanaburi very early due to little traffic on the roads, meaning that I got a much earlier train than I expected to and Bubpha, who was supposed to be picking me up, was still in Ayutthaya getting her computer fixed when I arrived at Ban Phachi station. As I had an hour to wait for her I took the opportunity to wander round Phachi’s market area for the first time by myself; previously I’d only been here with Bubpha on various forms of transport, so I thought it would be nice to see everything on foot.

Thus I learnt an important lesson – if you are an obviously western guy wandering through a small town in Thailand by yourself, prepare to get some strange looks. A LOT of strange looks. Clearly not as many people in Phachi recognise me as I thought did, so to most of them I probably looked like a very, very lost tourist as I awkwardly moved around the market streets trying to find something to drink. Eventually I decided that heading back to the station to wait for Bubpha was my best bet, although even after doing this I was approached by several of the train staff asking me what I was doing here. Luckily they bought my story, or at least thought it would be amusing to leave me to my own devices and watch from afar. When Bubpha finally arrived about 30 minutes later, I eagerly jumped into the car, if only to be around the one person who could actually make sense of my presence in a town that was quite far from anything that could be considered touristy.

Bubpha took me to a local school to meet her friend – I thought we were going there for dinner at first but it soon turned out that she just wanted to show me around. The school in question apparently only has 60 students, but more notable was that both Bubpha and the other teacher kept showing me various masks that were placed around most of the schoolrooms. I didn’t really get what they were trying to tell me about them at first, but soon figured out that Bubpha’s friend clearly made the masks as part-time work – she quoted some prices at me but I couldn’t really tell her that I had about 50 baht left on me after walking around Phachi.

masks

maskconstruction

maskcase

Most of the masks related to Buddhist culture and Monkey symbols, although Bubpha’s friend also showed me a few that had more cartoonish face designs. I couldn’t really work out what they were relating to, only that when she put one over her head to show it to me she looked she’d just stepped out of a horror film.

scary

We did actually go to restaurant after we were done here, although Bubpha kept referring to it as a ‘coffee shop’ so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It turned out that it was another open-air restaurant, one that had a small cabin with a speaker system in the middle blurting out terrible covers of Michael Jackson songs that sounded like they’d been recorded at a particularly bad Karaoke night. The place had a nice layout despite this though, and I ate the usual bucketload of spicy food that was given to me. Except that this time everything was served in coconut shells, which was confusingly cool.

rice

selfierice

The ‘coffee’ part of Bubpha’s description came from the fact that the owners had just released their own brand of instant coffee that was apparently really good. She bought me an iced cappuccino thing and I discovered that she wasn’t wrong – this thing was a fraction of the price of anything from Starbucks and about 100 times tastier. I can’t actually remember the name of what this coffee was, but it’s definitely something I’m seeking out again before going back.

So, in general this was a pretty nice end to the long weekend, especially since I thought that the early train back would leave me with nothing to do. The last few days has given me a lot more motivation for school this week too, even if all the parents will now be confused that the very lost tourist at Monday’s market has managed to find himself a job.

PS