Thailand

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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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

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

Sunday Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PS

Karaoke Videos

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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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