Tag Archives: school

Hong Kong day 7

After much dithering over breakfast I get an egg tart and sesame bun before heading to Kowloon tong to meet Kk. It’s a busy mrt station and Kk explains time his fascination with the sounds here. On swiping your octopus card to exit through the turnstile different electronic tones are made of different pitches according to whether you have a standard or concession fare. It’s a kind of wallpaper of bleeping but is a strange music. The soundscape is completed by babbling voices, footsteps and tannoy announcements repeated in Cantonese, mandarin and English embedding order and correctness subliminally. I can barely catch all the words. There is no “any abandoned luggage will be destroyed” like you would get on the tube in London, instead messages along the lines of “if you clear your throat use a tissue and dispose of it in the bins”. There is a nanny-ish obsession with hygiene here.
Kk takes me into a swish shiny upmarket mall called festival walk. It is aesthetically styled with multiple escalators, reflective glass walls, shiny floors, sitting areas (a luxury in hk) and a huge picture window framing lion rock and its residential foothills. We check out a fancy food stall called Taste, and it’s rather different from the Wellcome we visited yesterday. Western branded goods and European wines, an extensive cheese counter, waitrose labelled teas, olive oils. I’m interested who is buying these high ticket goods, and notice the shoppers with their minuscule trolleys only seem to be buying a handful of items. A weekly shop here would cost a fortune. Almost all the stores are western franchises and stylish jewellers. There is an ice rink named glacier ringed by eateries. It’s skating class time for kids, anything from 4 to 11 years old by the looks of things. When they fall down they don’t get hurt. Kk and I exchange our own single experiences on ice and are similar in our avoidance of doing anything that we can’t be good at or makes us clumsy. Later we see adults gingerly edging around the edge desperately grasping the rail. That would be us. Kk gets fascinated by the tractor that comes on during a break in sessions that polishes the ice. It looks like a simple but satisfying job being the driver. We have lunch in a western fusion type place by the ice. Kk has some lump of fish in a black bun. I have linguini in mushroom and truffle sauce.

Afterwards we leave the air con coolness to find a green minibus to revisit KK’s old stomping ground. He wants to show me la salle college, where he spent 12 years of his life. I try and imagine him here in his formative years. We can’t go in but survey the white block with its crest, so different from uk school architecture with its 9 floors, the statue of the benevolent founders, and a couple of kids playing football. School is out at the moment. On the wall of the opposite la salle primary school is a plaque which acknowledges a well known alumnus, Bruce lee. The plaque mentions the school’s reputation as “a breeding ground of the elite”. Is my friend a member of the future elite??

Kk shows me Kowloon tong, which is an old residential area full of eateries, and is familiar to me from the incredible photos of planes almost touching the houses as they came into land at the old airport. Kk seems to think the locals didn’t mind the noise so much.. At least not compared to the hike in property prices as the area prospered.

    
I want to visit the walled city park. This is a landscaped garden with water features and pagodas, which are pretty, but I’m interested in what once stood here, which is the famous dense labyrinth of the walled city, pulled down now 20 years ago at the behest of the British. This was the most densely populated land in the world, was home to lowlife, immigrants, triads and opium smokers, as well as containing cheap property for dentists and artisans. It evolved from a fortified settlement and all that remains now is the yamen ancestral home. There are diaramas, an interesting graphical cross section of life in these buildings rising 19 floors with no foundations. There is also the excavated remains of the original 16th century gate and a broken slogan. The garden, though relaxing in layout is plagued with dragon flies and we are jolted and vibrated by the pounding of a jack hammer that shakes the ground a block away. This deafening rhythmic thud bounces from mountain side to blocks and back again creating reverting all around us. It reminds Kk of primary school when they had to tolerate the same din for a few weeks. Apparently this kind of activity is restricted to an hour each rush hour time.
I’m keen to see the old airport but of course it is now being redeveloped and the spit of land that was the runway is now a pier for massive cruise liners. There are remains of access roads which sweep up and over the bypass, suddenly ending on the far side. They are overgrown and blocked off but we climb over a barrier to walk up and look at the view.

I head back to Kowloon with Kk, where he is meeting his parents. I carry on walking south in search of temple street market. Along Shanghai street are sea food restaurants with blue lit tanks of crabs and various fishes lining the Windows. There are neon lit games houses, and, I suspect a cluster of prostitutes on a corner. I come across the Art Deco 1920s cinema now the home of the hk opera and dwarfed by its surroundings. Next to it is a crumbling wholesale market that looks of the same era. At the top end of temple street I eat in ying vegetarian. It has a great menu but I probably order the wrong thing as its a bit dull; mock beef rice pot. Temple street market is cut in half by a busy road and after climbing around the temple garden I’m in a back street under the flyover, where there is a curious mix of fortune tellers and penned off areas which I can’t quite grasp. They could be bars, but there is no bar. In each one there are a few tables and chairs of the garden variety. Some of the ground is covered with carpet. Sitting there are old men in vests, smoking and drinking. At each of these 4 places someone is singing tunelessly into a mic. At one place the singer is accompanied by an old codger playing a keyboard. The singing clashes with one another. When I try to take pics, one guy gets a bit mad with me. Further down the street a guy is swaying to the music on his chair then gets up to slowly dance with his arms in the air with a not particularly willing passerby. Then I’m in temple market. It’s full of tourist tat, paintings, DVDs, tshirts, souvenirs. At an intersection is a stretch of bars mainly catering to gweilos drinking. I’m not interested in this kind of place.

I hit Nathan road which is full of night time promenaders. On the street corner opposite Chungking mansions are dodgy looking non oriental Asians whispering to passers by about their wares. Counterfeit watches was something I was offered. The big green mosque is closing for the night. I intend to take the star ferry from tsim Sha tsui, and take an underpass that is some long gallery depicting the history of the city and detailing the lives of its stars. This is the avenue of stars. It brings me out quite far from the pier so I walk around the back of the space museum, where there are strange little Astro grass islands, each crowned by a tree under which young couples lie looking at the sky or embracing. 

After disembarking at admiralty I undertake the long walk to fortress hill, pausing to watch late night football on the multiple pitches on Victoria park.

A few nights ago I was confused by alighting from the lift of my building and my room not being where it usually is….how can a lift take me to a different place not he same floor? Tiredness obviously was a factor. Today I noticed that the concierge’s desk was slightly different and the layout of the lobby too. But he seemed to know me and let me in. As I was waiting for the lift it struck me I might even be in the wrong building…it would have been too embarrassing to walk out, so I resolved to take the lift, go up and come back down as if I had visited someone briefly. On the 16th floor it all came back to me. This is where I was before. There are two entrances to the block on the same street 2 doors apart. And I hadn’t gone crazy. Anyway the adventure didn’t stop there as my key card wasn’t working so I had to go over the road to reception to sort things out. It was past 11pm… Had to hope someone was there. Yes. To my relief.

Advertisements

Nakhon si Thammarat day 3

Ning and co come and pick me up at 7.45 to take me to the class at the uni. It's raining.

They tell me the students will be so surprised, and excited. The uni is about 8 miles out of the city, at the foot of a mountain (which freshers climb, believing conquering it will enable them to graduate). At the far end of the entrance driveway is a massive seated Buddha.

This is the university of communication studies. I meet the vice dean, who is a northerner and an ex-well-known radio dj. She also shows gratitude for my coming and wishes her students to swell the size of the group to over 50.

We have to remove shoes, both teachers and students. The classroom is quite formal in layout and has a raised wooden stage and a framed portrait of the king at the teacher's end. Students are in uniform, though rather scruffily, of white shirt and black trousers/skirt. They are a rag-tag bunch. Pretty little girls, some with powdered white faces and finely plucked eyebrows. Callow boys with moustaches and open top buttons. Some Muslim girls with head scarves, a rather ballsy loud girl with a top knot, brimming with personality and playing to the teachers and crowd. The teacher uses a microphone, which seems somehow to create a distance between her and the class. She greets them in English and is replied by a clumsy chorus. It's difficult and slow to manage the class into small groups, and I don't think they, or the teacher are used to this more dynamic and interactive pattern. The vision was that the students would ask me questions… I get involved in setting up how this could work. Smaller groups. Time to prepare….

Their English is mostly quite poor. They have trouble constructing questions. In the end most manage to ask me my name. The girls want to know if I'm married. The boys get energised when we talk about football. Their are some odd questions: ” do you think x is a hermaphrodite?” !!! ” what is your motto?” (I have to think, but end up with some cliche that they might understand : life is short, so enjoy it..). Anyway I have a lot of fun chatting to them,but I'm not convinced they learnt very much. At. The end there was a surprise. One of the girls stood up and made a speech she had written, expressing the class's appreciation for my coming. Then 3 girls, one with a ukulele, sandy a song in English..something like ” we hope you enjoyed the show”. This was followed by 3 more girls (never the boys) singing and doing a little dance in thai, led by the flamboyant girl. Later I Learn that in her interview for the uni, she stated that her ambition was to be a star!

After lunch we visit the teacher' s house. Very impressive. Just build, airy, spacious. Contains a shrine. Ning says I should drive her car to trang, rather than her. Well, my first time driving a car in Thailand, first time diving an automatic…not a big deal, but the weather is dreadful. Heavy rain, pools of water on the road. By the time we get to tang the rain is easing, but I'm still unsure of what to do. Go to libong, another island, stay in tang City, go elsewhere….amazingly, although I've only been ther once, I'm able to easily navigate us to the centre and the place where I can get some concert info about the weather and the availability of accommodation and of transfers to the islands. I make up my mind to go back to ko muk. We get some fruit and set off, then down comes the rain. I sense Ning thinks this is a bad idea, though she won't actually say so. She mentions getting a train somewhere. I pull over and check my train timetable. There's a train going north in an hour. I have to make a decision, now or never. We go back to the station and I get a sleeper to hua hin, basically because anywhere else would mean arriving in the middle of the night, or be too close to bkk.

I get an Indian meal to eat on the train, and Ning and I finally say goodbye. She drives back to hat Yai,and I settle into a peaceful ride and a sleep, I hope. However the guy in the next seat strikes up a conversation. He is a flabby, stinky American called mike. Turns out he is a psychology professor at a bkk uni. He. Smells of booze, and eventually he lets on that the clear liquid in his bottle is whisky, and it smells quite surgical. He offers me a nip. It's strong, and I can see now he is a bit pissed. Later he tells me he enjoyed talking with me, thinks I'm a smart guy. It's funny how so many people seem to latch onto me and want to tell me their life story, which he does. It's full of conspiracy, hardship, fighting court cases, being branded a terrorist by his family for expunging anti- American views. He feels in-American, despises the place and the people,and has lived in Cambodia and now thai land for 20 years or so. Something he tells me is quite creepy. It's about the murde of the. British tourists. He says he knows who e killer was, and that this person is high up and connected to the royals. This person is a student at his uni,. Nothing will be proven against him. Conspiracy, cover-up, scapegoating of the burmese workers. Hearsay….

I sleep until 3.30. Get off at hua hin at 4.20.

 

People Sangkhlaburi

Children are brushing the verge in front of their school with straw brushes, like a little militarised unit. The Thais seem to be obsessed with brushing up leaves. Maybe it's meditative.

A group of orange clad monks, two white robed shaven headed nuns in tow. They move graciously and with dignity in public presence. When it gets dark I pass them on the second bridge smoking and browsing their phones.

Small boys diving from the flat bridge still in their khaki school shorts. The older ones are plunging from the 30m mon bridge.

In the market a woman with bad teeth chews on a cheroot and tries to sell me some sweets. I buy a bag of black rice from another mon woman, yellow ash daubs on her face.

At dusk a raft boat is towed out into the lake. Full of monks. Maybe going for a few days of peaceful meditation afloat on the water.

Two boys play a kind of cricket. Wickets a kind of tripod of twigs. The ball is a punctured yellow plastic one, the bad a stick. One of them is wearing a Man Utd shirt.

On the flat bridge a small group of Thais are dangling string with balls of bread in one of the gaps between the bamboo struts. Small children look on at their fishing.

In the dark on the bridge a teenager is listening to some western rock music on YouTube.

A policeman on a garishly lit Harley revs up illuminating the banana pancake man. His small daughter is standing on a box fingering the balls of dough.

I see women making handicrafts in doorways, whilst the men swing in hammocks.

School and sauna

Today I went to peter’s school, which I would never have found had Kaye, 27, a volunteer administrator not taken me there. Amidst the back streets behind the hospital, in a poor Burmese area on the due of town. The school is a concrete building with 3 teaching rooms, a library of very soiled second hand or hand me down books, each room giving onto the next, no doors. To the rear is a long area that serves as a kitchen, and where lined up are small plates of fish in sauce, the students’ lunch. On entering the building I find myself in a class, and also there is a long table which seems to serve as an admin desk. His is where Kaye works. Peters class numbers 16 and the students are an even mix of 17- 21 year olds. The boys mostly wearing longyis. They converse amongst themselves in English. Peter is rather paternal in manner and the students are called in turn to stand and address the class. They seem confident, expressive and imaginative, and are not fazed by my initial presence. Brian is another post 60 year old Ozzie and has a lower level class. He is doing a rather clumsy and pointless exercise in following instructions. A drawing dictation which doesn’t really go anywhere. I place my finished cup of tea on a flappy table chair top and it slides of crashing and smashing on the floor. How embarrassing, but nobody is perturbed. Peters lesson is about creative story writing, involves drama, characterisation etc. he doesn’t frame it very well, and the students that I talked to wre not entirely sure what it entailed. They act these out hen he gives them a similar task for homework. There are no language aims, but the fun element is there and the students seem quite content. I spend some time with Brian’s class and never have I sweated so much in a lesson, my salmon shirt is dark with perspiration.They are invitee ro ask me questions. you would expect them to ask the standard ones like : are you married? whats ypur name? but the first one was from a little boy with short hair, white shirt and purple longyi whi asks me “are you sort or long? ” he is talking about height…! what a strange opening gambit…anyway i explain that or a european im not veryfall. i ask him how tall he is and he replies “5 inches”! i ask him to to stand up. obviously he means 5 feet. interesting how the burmese use feet and inches.I discuss with them where I’m from. Their world geography is unsurprisingly minuscule. They know I’m a native speaker but they are guessing I’m from Spain. They think paris is a country in the uk etc…..

 

After break I talk at length with Kaye and learn about his life here. He is studying psychology at university, but finds it tough going. Critical thinking is a challenge, so too are very new and difficult concepts. He has been here for 7 years as a refugee. Most refugees have I’d cards issued by he Thai authorities and are restricted to the Mae sot area. There are immigration road blocks. In fact I encountered one on the way in. He is able to travel all of Thailand if he wishes. He tells me more about the cage, where he was once locked up, for not having his papers with him. There is no food provided there. He bailed himself out with 6000 baht. Twice a week the detainees are transported by boat back to Burma, and many of them just keep coming back. It’s like a yo yo. I learn from him about the Chinese food aid. This happens once a year. A few years ago it was so hectic that a baby died in the crush. There is also a yearly Muslim aid hand out too. I hear about the occasional antagonisms between local and Burmese workers and sporadic killings off migrant workers and hushed up burials. I tell him about my experiences in Burma and he acknowledges the inequality of the society, the self- interested power borking, the useless and corrupt police.

Brian’s second class is about business and trade. He models a transaction and introduces vocabulary in the context of trading mangoes for chickens. Interesting that when role playing the kids do not have much desire to make profits…..

At lunchtime the classroom is cleared out and 2 tables positioned for the 3 teachers, Kaye and myself. There are 3 simple dishes and rice prepared for the staff by the administrators and a student. We sit and eat,the students mill around the other rooms and eat their fish.

After lunch I circulate with my bags of longans and mangosteens, and sit with a group of boys and chat about English football. They ask my views on Alex ferguson, and why Liverpool and man utd hate each other. I get a a group photo then begin to show them pics of Brighton, not conscious that I’m cutting into their next lesson!

I make a gracious farewell and depart, getting lost on the way. It was nice being in a school where nobody is feeling under pressure to learn, where the mood is so relaxed, where the students are so open and smiley. I’m not sure about the methodology nor the language content. It’s all how I imagined an expat volunteer school to be. But, these students are producing English, are motivated and its a nice environment.

Cycling back I come across the end of Friday prayers at the mosque. Many cultures here, many religions! I’m now going to get out of my sweat soaked clothes, relax, then probably hit the sauna again.

On the way to the sauna I buy another half kilo of longans. The stall holder mimes to me how to eat them…as if I don’t know already! I’m an experienced longan eater now!

There are already 2 guys in the sauna. One has many boils or similar all over his back. The other talks to me through the fog. He is a police officer with Chinese blood. He has two grown up kids,his wife has a banana stall. He asks me if I’m married. I hate that question actually. It’s expected of me robe married at my age….anyway he says see you tomorrow as he leaves. Soon after the big guy who I saw last time arrives. The one who rocked around flapping his arms. He speaks quite good English. He is Karen, has been in Thailand 45 years and doesn’t want to go back.he has a Thai wife and 2 kids. He Gets changed into his coloured sarong again and begins once more the same pacing, flapping routine. Although he has put some money in the box, I don’t think he goes in the sauna.

After 5 or 6 ins and outs from the steam room, I’m done, I take some photos and wander the temple grounds. Back to base, where the mosquitoes are active this evening.