TET 2014

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.

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PS

 

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Late Introductions

“My name is Patrick Scott. I come from a town in England called Ipswich. I’m currently an English Teaching Assistant with the British Council, and I am teaching at Watphachi School. I am very happy to be making this video with you. I hope to teach you English in a way that is interesting and fun. I hope that this video is helpful for your English teaching. Happy studying!”

So then, my last week of teaching.

As I had expected we began the day finishing off some of the filming for Bubpha’s videos that we hadn’t done on Saturday. She wanted Pilot the headmaster to film an introduction to the games that we had already recorded, and I watched as he wrote out a massive speech on a nearby whiteboard so that he could remember what he was supposed to be saying whilst being filmed. I have no idea exactly what it is he said since it was all in Thai, but it took him a while to get through it all.

Whilst Bubpha filmed her own introduction (seriously, half of these videos are introductions) I tried to commit to memory my own speech before facing the camera, which ended up with me pacing around the school grounds saying it to myself repeatedly, probably looking quite weird in the process. When it came time to film it I managed to pull it off without any problems, although watching the video back I look quite awkward in front of the camera. Actors make it look so easy.

Yeh... probably won't be pursuing this as a career option.

Yeh… probably won’t be pursuing this as a career option.

p6 - Edited (1)All this video-making inevitably ate into the time I was supposed to be spending in the classroom so my Prathom 6 lesson was much shorter today, and consisted solely of trying to teach the students about different occupations. They’re asking me a lot more questions now compared to when I first started here, and it’s nice to see them gaining confidence around me.

Continuing the theme of out-of-the-classroom jobs, after my lessons today I was told to go to the library where I had to test all of the Watphachi School teachers on their English language skills. Apparently there’s a big test in Ayutthaya this week for all of the province’s teachers where they have to memorize as many English words as possible from an 8,000 word booklet, so the tests involved 3 minute sessions with each teacher where they rattled off as many words they could remember, whilst I recorded how many they got right. The record was set by Pujon with 48, which for 3 minutes in a school not fluent in English at all seems pretty good. Still, since I would assume that the majority of teachers in Thai schools wouldn’t be teaching english, this seems like a weird thing to be testing them all on.

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interview2 - EditedPossibly because I’d been constantly been around people all weekend, I wanted to be left alone after school. However, that’s pretty difficult when it’s far too hot to stay indoors and there are plenty of people around outside. Although I didn’t go to the market with Bubpha I was eventually roped into playing football with some of the students (still no improvement in my skills) and she eventually came back with some food for both of us. Whilst I’m always grateful that she supplies so much for me, I’ve found it very difficult at times to get across the fact that she doesn’t always need to.

Factoring into all of this is that I’m not in the best of moods at the moment. If I’m going to be completely honest I’m definitely ready to be finishing teaching this week, since I seem to be having less involvement in lessons than ever now as Bubpha is mostly teaching everything. To be fair, I can see why this might be the case; since there’s only going to be a few more days that I’m actually around in the school, it would make sense if she wanted to get each class less used to me not being in lessons. But this is leaving me with a general sense of not feeling like a have a place here, and the more I think about it, the more I’ve realised that I expected to have a better grasp of teaching in general by this point in the programme than I actually do.

I at least feel that I’ve had a bit of an influence though. One of the girls in my Prathom 4 class has tried speaking to me in English every day for the last couple of weeks, and whilst she only ever asks me how I am, which is the same question that every class asks me at the beginning of each lesson, the fact that she’s trying to speak it out of choice rather than being forced to is a promising sign. Like with Prathom 6 today, that would’ve never happened in my first few weeks here, so I don’t think I can lose all hope just yet.

 

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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PS

Watphachi Boat Trip

I spent most of Friday waiting for a boat.

Throughout my time here Bubpha has constantly told me how a trip around Ayutthaya’s river is one of the best things to do in the city, so it made sense that this would be where my official Watphachi School leaving party would take place. As exciting as this prospect was, having to spend all of Friday waiting for it to happen made my lessons feel like a bit of a slog.

Still, I had some nice surprises thrown at me throughout the day, which is basically another way of saying that I was given a lot of presents. One of the kindergarten teachers who couldn’t make the boat party handed me a bag with a photo album and a postbox-shaped money tin inside after school, a really nice gift especially considering I haven’t had much interaction with her whilst working.

mefern - EditedAt the end of my Prathom 6 lesson I was also approached by Fern, the student with a really obvious crush on me, who gave me a small transparent Christmas tree statue with flashing lights inside (of course it was going to be Christmas related). She also asked me what my favourite type of flower was, which is a bit like asking me what my favourite brand of table is since I’m so indifferent to them, but I told her the first name that came into my head. This ended up being red roses, so I really hope they’re easy to find in Thailand and that I haven’t accidentally sent her on a huge trek to find some.

***

 

As we drove to the boat in the evening Bubpha told me that it was so big that we could have invited the entirety of the school along. When we arrived I saw that she had been exaggerating a bit, but it was still pretty magnificent. As I boarded I was ushered past the huge table of Thai food and onto the upper deck, where we had a long photo session against the backdrop of the riverside temples before the boat set off. There certainly would have been room to take my favourite Watphachi students on board, although I guess that would’ve been a bit mean to the rest of them.

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pizzabirthdaypie - EditedI sat down at the table surrounded by both the entirety of the school’s staff and plates upon plates of food. Pujon and Bubpha had asked me earlier this week what I wanted to eat on the boat, and since fried fish and noodles were the first things that came to my head (I really need to stop making all of my decisions this way) I had these handed to me first, but it was soon followed by different soups and open coconut shells. Since I have constantly told the kids at Watphachi School that pizza was my favourite food, the school had supplied me with a couple of boxes as well. They’d really gone all out with this!

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I didn’t really get many opportunities to sit down and eat for long though, as the teachers kept pulling me up to take photos of the Ayutthaya views as we moved along. Really, I’m pretty impressed that I didn’t get indigestion from all the times Pilot brought me up to the front of the boat mid-food mouthful, but there were some really fantastic sights including floating markets and huge cathedral churches, which looked even more stunning as the sun began to set. It made many of the temples look like fairground attractions.

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When everyone wasn’t being distracted by the views or food we had a karaoke system to entertain us. Whilst it started with Bubpha and the IT teacher singing Thai songs I quickly found out that it had a limited selection of English stuff as well, so I ended up murdering some ‘classics’. I think more alcohol would have helped.

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***

During a family holiday to France I was 10, I have a clear memory of taking my bike and riding away from our holiday village to the outskirts of a field on more than one occasion, where I would just stop and stare into the distance for a while. Looking back on it I think it confirms that I was a pretty weird child, but it was such a nice moment that it stuck with me, and ever since then I think I’ve always strived to find peaceful, solitary moments like that again.

I was reminded of that moment on the boat, where I stepped away from the group for a while to look over the front as the sun set on the Ayutthaya river. Despite the noise behind me it felt so calm, relaxing, and kind of perfect. For a while I lost myself, aware of the company but also completely alone. It was a weird, beautiful feeling, and I think it sums up how I felt about the whole night.

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This has definitely been one of my favourite evenings in Thailand, but I think it reminded me of everything that I’m going to miss here when I leave. All of the teachers here, even the ones who I’ve had little to do with during school hours, have constantly gone out of their way to make me feel at home, and as a result through them all I feel a real sense of community. I don’t like thinking about how I’ve got less than a week of that community left.

 

PS

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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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.

interviewhouse - Edited

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