primary school

There Is No Ending

I started my last day at Watphachi School with the same exhausted, nonchalant feeling that I have had for this entire week so far. I ended it not wanting to leave.

Once again I didn’t have any proper lessons – Bubpha went to yet another school in the morning so I was left to my own devices with Prathom 1, which ended with me playing guitar whilst they all threw a ball around. After that the day was pretty much spent waiting for my leaving ceremony that was to take place in the afternoon. When it finally came time for that to happen I was directed into the school hall with all of the students following behind me, who then sat in rows representing their respective ages and classes.

Last week when Fern had asked me what my favourite type of flower was, I assumed it was because she had wanted to buy of bunch of them for me herself. When they entered nearly all of the students were holding a single red rose in their hands, and it became clear that she had been asking on behalf of the whole school.

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Before I got to find out what the relevance of this was, however, I was approached by Kru-Gel, one of the Thai language teachers, who handed me my parting gift from her; a wooden boat model. Add that to the list of things that will be near-impossible to pack.

She followed this by singing me and the rest of the room a traditional Thai song, which Bubpha joined in with on backing.

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piratepatrick - EditedAfter that I was sat at the front of the room whilst each class came up to me in groups for photos and to give me their flowers and cards. As the groups that came up got older their cards became better in design, and there were plenty of creative drawings of me with interesting attempts at spelling my name. Apparently there are at least two children who think that I look like a mashup of a pirate and a character from Dragonball Z, whilst another child simply referred to me as ‘Ben’ on their card. Whoever it was, I probably should have focused more on teaching them phonetic spelling.

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This was all very touching but as the amount of students coming up to say goodbye increased, I struggled to hold everything that I was being given. By the end of the ceremony I was covered in various soft toys and grasping onto what felt like a whole bed of roses.

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phonephoto - EditedThe room cleared out after all of the groups had said their farewells and all their photos had been taken, and as they walked out waving at me I solemnly realised that this was probably going to be the last time that I would see all of them. Nai, Fern and several other members of Prathom 5 and 6 remained however and we took some more photos and generally messed around for a while. These being the students that I have got to know the most over the last nine weeks, it felt fitting to spend my last afternoon in Phachi with them.

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We went out to play football and I actually managed to score two legitimately good goals that didn’t require the students purposefully running out of my way whenever I kicked the ball on target. Afterwards we sat in the shade and talked for a while about what music, food and films we all liked, plus the kids got me to ride on their bicycles around the school, despite the fact that I was far too big for them. They didn’t break however, so I can chalk that up as another success from the afternoon.

And, well, I guess that’s it. Everyone went home at half 5, Bubpha and I had steak in the evening after which I had a drink with Pekeng before heading back to the schoolhouse. Surrounded by half-packed bags as I currently am it’s striking me that this will be the last time that I experience the everyday life that I have become used to around here, and it’s likely that I will never be in a situation like this again.

More than that, it’s the last time that I will see many of the people who i have got to know; the teachers, the students, Bubpha’s family, and even the familiar sights of Phachi’s market and the train track we have to cross to get to it nearly every day. Tomorrow I will be heading back to the Ambassador in Bangkok, where this all began back at the end of June, and everything will all just be a memory. I think it’s only through writing this that it has hit me how much I will miss everything.

***

Which brings me to my final point.

For those of you who don’t know, as part of the TET programme every year the British Council run a blog competition open to all applicants, the two winners of which will be announced tomorrow during our farewell dinner at The Ambassador. Since from what I can gather from past years the winners are told beforehand so that they can prepare a speech, and since I have heard nothing, it’s likely that I haven’t won.

Whilst this was why I started writing the blog in the first place, the motivation I have tried to focus on throughout it is to create something that I can look back on in a few years time and be proud of. I guess only time will tell if I succeed in that, but for the most part this has been something that I have loved doing and has made my time here feel a lot more rewarding, not to mention that I’ve had some really nice feedback from people who have been reading.

I plan to document my travelling in the South in the same way as everything else but since more recently I feel like I’ve overwhelmed myself by trying to write something every day I will probably wait until I am back in England to do it, so this post marks what will probably be the last thing I will write for the blog whilst living in Thailand. Therefore I would like to say a massive thankyou to anyone who has taken the time to read what I have been writing, whether it was one post or everything since June, and anyone who has ever said a kind thing to me about what I have been doing with the blog.

Finally, if you’re reading this as a potential future ETA thinking of taking part in the project, the only bit of advice I can give you is DO IT. Whilst you will inevitably encounter ups and downs in Thailand it will no doubt provide with an amazing experience that you will never forget, and you will be able to see the country in a way that millions of other travellers have not.

If you’re lucky enough to be placed in Watphachi School (assuming they take part in the future), you can expect to be around some of the greatest people on the planet who will treat you just as much as family as your own household do. Bubpha is the best mentor that you could have out here, and there are so many other kind, inviting people who will make you feel like you’re at home. My thanks go out to all of them.

Anyway, I’m going to stop rambling now. Once again, thanks for reading, and stayed tuned for more.

goodbye - Edited

PS

 

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

My Own Personal Roosters

My last week here seems to have come at the most inconvenient of times. Apparently there are a lot of teaching seminars being held in Ayutthaya this week, meaning that school is closed on Friday and most of the teachers will be dropping in and out during the next few days as they travel to various meetings and classes. Hence the problem they were all discussing before the morning assembly today was when to hold my whole-school leaving ceremony. Eventually Wednesday afternoon was decided as the best time, although most of the teachers apparently got distracted enough during the discussion to crowd around me and start laughing, joking and squeezing my arm for reasons that I wasn’t entirely sure of as I sat on a nearby bench. Bubpha clarified that they were just trying to tell me that they’d miss me when I leave, which was nice.

goldrooster - EditedDespite these arrangements Pilot the headmaster is still likely to miss my leaving event as he will be Ayutthaya for most of the week, so this afternoon I was called down to see him for what could possibly be the last time. Beside him he had two of the rooster statues that are dotted around the school and the whole of the Ayutthaya province in general, which he presented to me as a parting gift. It was a really sweet thought, especially considering I’ve mentioned before how much I like these statues (though not the actual animals they’re based on themselves, which never shut up). He also made sure to wrap them up in many layers of newspaper after we were done posing for photos so that they could be transported easily, although I think that’s going to be the biggest problem I have with them.

Seriously, if anyone reading this has any ideas of how to pack two bulky 12 inch rooster statues into a travel bag, please let me know, because I’m drawing a blank.

***

Lessons today had pretty much the same structure that they’ve had for the last couple of weeks or so. The girl in Prathom 4 who tries to practice English with me did gain a bit more confidence though, as in my lesson with her she began asking me if I would like some apples. I was impressed that she was using words that we haven’t really gone over in class for that long, although I was disappointed that she didn’t actually have any apples to give me. Would’ve been a nice touch.

silverrooster - EditedBy the time my lessons had ended mid-afternoon I really didn’t have the energy to do anything productive, but this was more due to being lazy and still a bit cold-stricken rather than being in a bad mood. I ended up staying in Bubpha’s classroom on my laptop watching BoJack Horseman for 3 straight hours (it actually gets pretty good after a few episodes), and when Bubpha eventually phoned me I realised that the school stairways had been locked and I had inadvertedly trapped myself inside. Had she not found a key when she came back to school to eat dinner with me, I could have had a very interesting night.

What I should have been doing today was working out where I’m actually going after my placement finishes. My flight back is on the 8th of September and although I’m travelling with Kerry to the Southern Krabi district for 4 days, that still leaves me with another 5 to work out how I’m going to spend before heading to Bangkok the night before I leave. Part of me really wants to try and wing it, but considering it took me nearly two months to work out a path a Reading’s town centre after I moved there, I dread to think what my unplanned navigation through an entire country would be like. I guess I may soon find out.

 

PS

Open Houses

A lesson with Prathom 5 this afternoon meant playing yet another barely comprehensible game with them on the field.

However, this time I think that I may have been able to understand it. Let’s see how far I can get with an explanation.

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The game is called ‘What Is He’ and involves one student being blindfolded and standing in the middle of a circle. The students making up that circle then rotate around whilst singing a song from their workbooks.

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As can be seen in the lyrics, the song eventually decides that the ‘he’ in the title is a fisherman and the student in the middle is asked if he will eat a live fish or a dead fish. I have no idea where this fisherman assumption comes from, but trust me, just go with it.

From what I can gather, if the student says they’ll eat a live fish, they then have to walk to someone in the circle, blindfold still attached, and work out who they are by touching their face. If they get it correct, that person is then blindfolded and sent into the middle.

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If they say that they will eat a dead fish, the circle students runs at the blindfolded kid in the middle and try to grab them, whilst blindfolded kid has to try to grab someone who is running at them. I think.

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Ok, so maybe I haven’t got this one as nailed down as I first thought, but considering I spend most of my time during these games trying to work out what is going on I’d say it’s an improvement. They’re fast becoming the best parts of my teaching week though, mainly because they’re entertaining to watch, and the one pattern I have noticed is that all of these games seem to end with the kids running around and tripping over each other. I wonder if that’s intentional.

***

Watphachi School have a policy in force at the moment that requires each teacher to visit a certain number of student houses and interview their parents. This evening marked Bubpha’s turn to undertake interviews, so I went with her as she visited some of the homes of students, ranging from Prathoms 1 to 3. All of the houses we visited were down the same street as the school so we didn’t have to walk very far, and as well as having too many drinks handed at me during pretty much every house visit we made, I got to see some notable contrasts in the backgrounds of some of the schoolchildren.

The questions Bubpha asked the parents were fairly standard; mostly they were about how their children travelled to school, and how much English work they did at home. As she was sitting down with the first three houses we visited I noticed how clean and spacious their front rooms were, mostly containing modern furniture pointing towards widescreen TVs and large Buddhist shrines on display to the room’s side.

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Eventually we made our way round the corner from the school and into the Phachi temple grounds, where we visited several houses that I hadn’t even noticed during the other occasions I’d visited the temple. These homes definitely weren’t examples of extreme poverty – they had roughly the same facilities that I have in my schoolhouse – but they were a notable contrast to where we’d just visited only slightly up the road. The metal sheet roofs and slightly run-down look suggested that these were more shacks than they were houses – Bubpha told me that they were owned by the temple and that the residents paid 100 baht a month as rent – and the one room I saw in each house consisted of only a double bed which took up most of the area.

I guess interviewing parents with completely different home backgrounds, as we did today, may provide some interesting differences in their answers about the school and their children, which was probably the intention with these home visits. Regardless, it was an insightful, if a little jarring, look into the divides of wealth that exist within the families that send their kids to Watphachi School everyday.

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We were caught in the beginning of a thunderstorm as we walked back to school and ended up sheltering in one of the hallways for a while. Chao Qui the stray dog joined us, as it turns out that he’s actually a complete pansy and is scared of thunder, so I watched as he tried to hide under chairs rather than lay out in the open and sniff around me until I gave him attention.

He seems to like me a lot now, and since I’ve got into a habit of fussing him when I’m lounging around outside he’s started following me everywhere. Infact, as I write this I can see him from the gap in my door, as he’s sleeping on the top step of the schoolhouse. At least I know he has my back.

He is terrible as posing for photos though.

Posing for photos is apparently too much effort for him though.

PS

Mundanity

I guess it’s not that surprising that, after 8 weeks, I’d eventually have a day where there’d be very little of note to talk about, but today finally seems to be that day. If anything, that’s a testament how eventful and varied living out here normally is, and a lack of decent internet plus the beginning stages of a cold are also factors as to why this post will be very short.

But overall the day has just felt, well, mundane. I had lessons with Prathom 1, 3 and 4, during which we mostly played games that involved throwing scrunched up pieces of paper around which the students then had to open and read to the class, and another where we created a makeshift washing line that the kids had to run up to and memorise the words that had been taped to it. English Club was scheduled, and yet again didn’t happen because it never, ever does.

 washing line - Edited

Bubpha and I went to the same food shop this evening and although she was going to teach me some more Thai words at her house when we got there I immediately crashed on the sofa, waking up about an hour later with a cold brewing. She noticed this and went into full-on mothering mode, driving to the pharmacy to pick me up some aspirin and the Thai equivalent of Olbas Oil, which she then spent 5 minutes dabbing over my hands and shirt whilst also making me agree to put it all over my schoolhouse pillow so that it would be extra effective during the night.

Finally she gave me a new duvet from her house, fearing that my current one wasn’t clean enough and therefore wouldn’t help my mildly ill state. It has Angry Birds on it, so I’m not complaining.

The kids in school are going to be so jealous.

The kids in school are going to be so jealous.

I guess maybe this is a sign that my school days are setting into much more of a standard routine, which is pretty redundant seeing that I have less than two weeks left until I leave. But whatever, I don’t have the energy to ponder this. I’m ill, my priorities now are covering my bed in Olbas Oil substitute and falling asleep.

 

PS

Funerals and Missing Birds

The feeling that I hadn’t achieved what I wanted to at the weekend meant that I woke up today in a bad mood, although that was also influenced by having to get up earlier than usual.

I’d been to a funeral procession in Phachi Temple before, way back in my first week of teaching infact, but this morning was a bit different. Today marked four years since a former teacher in Watphachi School had died, and as well as the usual evening ceremonies many of the students proceeded to the temple this morning for an early service, whilst I tagged along at the back.

A row of trays were presented to us as we entered the main hall of the temple, and several pots of rice were soon brought out and placed beside them. Along with the other students I was told to scoop some rice and place some in each of the trays, which would then be used as an offering to the temple’s monks. Other visitors had brought their own food as gifts and I sat and watched the monks eat the feasts in front of them for a bit, the shrine to the deceased teacher displayed to the side of them. A session of prayers followed this and then it was back to school, but not before Bubpha told me there would be a second ceremony in the evening which all of Watphachi’s teachers would attend, including me. The lack of coffee running through me meant that I was barely awake at this point, but I was at least interested to how the evening events would be different.

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Of course, I had to get through the school day before all of that. Bubpha had clearly didn’t have any qualms with my solo teaching attempts last week so she let me plan a lesson with Prathom 6 today, and after skimming through their workbook topics I decided to start teaching them about sports. Overall it went a lot better than when I was left by myself last week, although since Bubpha was still in the room she was able to provide translations and smack any kids that were misbehaving, which helped a lot. Not that the latter was needed though, since the benefit of Prathom 6 is that they’re the oldest and easiest to teach class in the whole school, and I had plenty of familiar faces in front of me who I always find amusing.

monkpresents - EditedMy afternoon lessons were less eventful, and after eating at a Phachi restaurant in the evening with Bubpha I changed into completely black clothing, as is traditional for Thai funerals, and headed to the temple for the second time today. There were no rice pots needing to be filled this time, and the room was full of teachers from Watphachi as well as many others from local schools that Bubpha knew. A large golden goblet was passed through the crowd which was used for individual prayers, and the monks were once again supplied with boxes of food. We were given supper as well (my second of the night), which turned out to be a Chinese soup dish that tasted a lot nicer than it first looked, but these were taken away once the monks started prayers again. The shrine to the deceased teacher seemed a lot more prominent than it had done this morning, and the greenery and miniature fountain it contained highlighted how impressive it was. I’ve only been to one funeral in England but it’s weird to see how it contrasts to the processions here. Despite the fact that everyone clearly had some connection to this teacher, everything felt so normal, as if the procession would be carried out and accepted without any strong emotions being shown.

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***

But that wasn’t the only school-related loss I had today.

byebyebirdieClearly one of the teachers had opened the casing of the fan that the bird from last week had been nesting in, as when I turned to check on it at lunch it had disappeared, the fan whirring as usual with no traces of a nest having ever been there.

So just like that, The Bird In The Fan was gone, as quickly as it had entered the school and my life less than a week ago. I feel slightly bad for implying that it was waiting to kill us all the other day, but I can only imagine it being happy to be on the road (well, the sky) seeking another unusual home. Maybe it’ll set up in a small disused heater, or even in another electric fan that’s closer in proximity to the ground.

Whatever it is you do bird, I’ll be thinking of you. Don’t forget to write.

closebird

♪ Memories… ♪

PS

Inner-City Schooling

As I caught myself humming the National Anthem of Thailand whilst getting ready for school this morning, it dawned on me that I really have been in this country for quite a long time.

To be fair, it’s a great national anthem. I haven’t seen the lyrics translated, but it just sounds so majestic, and despite having heard it every schoolday morning I’m yet to get tired of it. By contrast, I can get through about 5 seconds of England’s God Save The Queen before getting bored, and thinking about it I don’t know half the words to that either.

pilotcertificate - EditedAlthough the anthem is normally played from speakers during school assemblies today this was changed to the kids singing the words with no backing track as the flag was raised, which was a bit disappointing as my morning humming had really got me pumped to hear it. This morning’s focus was more on the many certificates that Bubpha had in her hands, which were to reward certain students for their involvement in class activities, and presumably for good results in the recent exams. I was pretty much delegated the role of the photographer for this, as seems to be happening a lot in the school lately, so my camera is now full of various teachers handing various students certificates. I was roped into handing them out too, although Pilot spent some time making sure I had the ‘giving a certificate pose’ just right.

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Yeh, that’s some good certificate giving right there.

baghead - EditedBubpha has been reading my blog a lot more recently and, probably based on my teaching stories from yesterday, she wanted to make sure that I knew how to play her invented game with Prathom 5. This morning we were back out on the field, except that this time Bubpha had brought along a rolled up jumper to give to the group of students who had formed a circle, which turned out to the crucial thing that I was forgetting. One student had to walk around the circle with the jumper and drop it next to another student, who would then have to pick it up, chase the original student and try and hit them with it. During all of this, the other students in the circle have to clap and sing a song relevant to the game, both of which are described on the same page in their workbooks.

So at least that’s a bit clearer now, although to be fair when I was trying to work out what the game would involve yesterday, “chasing and hitting each other with a rolled up piece of clothing” was quite low down on my guesses.

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After the ill-fated attempt last week we actually made it to Withayalai School in Ayutthaya this evening, where Bubpha’s friend Itiya works. The initial intention of going was so that I could speak to the headmaster and english staff as it had been suggested that I could have a job at the school after graduating from university, but Bubpha mentioned in passing the other day that I would be required to have a teaching diploma to be employed. So that idea is down the drain, at least for the near future.

ball games - Edited Still, I thought it would be interesting to see what an inner-city school in Thailand looked like, especially in comparison to the more rural area that I’m based in. The differences became clear immediately as we arrived; the grounds resembled a university campus more than they did a school, and place was swarmed with students either just hanging around after lessons, taking really unsubtle photos of me from a distance or apparently enrolling in an outside orchestra practice session. The place even had its own massive pool, and that alone could make it worth spending a couple of years on a teaching diploma.

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When I had met Itiya before she had been excited to mention that the school had its own ‘magic board’, which turned out to be a white board that you could write on. I know that doesn’t sound that impressive but once you’re shoved in front of it and told to ‘write something’ as I was it’s easy to get hooked, and I may have delayed Itiya going home a bit by spending too much time drawing smiley faces and being amazed at how quickly I could erase it by the click of a pen. I’ve clearly had a deprived education by not having access to this.

whiteboard - Edited

***

Anyway, by popular demand (by which I mean one person asked me) I’ll leave with another update on the Bird In The Fan situation.

It’s still there, except it’s now sitting underneath one of the fan’s blades rather than beside them, and continues to give me a cold stare whenever it catches my eye.

The bird friend it made yesterday didn’t return and I’m beginning to get concerned that it might have had something to do with that.

It hasn’t even made any effort to improve the nest. All it does it sit there, watching.

Waiting.

darkbird - Edited

We’re all going to die

PS