Tag Archives: teaching

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.

 

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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.

Mae sot, teaching and prison

I’m going to hang around here for a few days more. It’s easy going,hassle free, cheap, stimulating, slow. But today I must stay put of the sun. I went for a breakfast. Time cycle around the town..it’s very small, and the breaking sun felt hot on my covered but singed shoulders.

I spent last night at the guesthouse over beer chat.ing with a fellow encumbrance, peter, 65, Australian, working as a teacher for 3 month on and off stretches at a school for Burmese. I learn a lot from him, and it’s quite inspiring to hear of kids (he teaches 17-19 year olds) who have real desire to learn and achieve and make something of their lives. It’s an interesting contrast with the students I work with, many of whom don’t recognise the fabulous opportunity their parents’ money has bought them, nor havethedriveor the realisation that an education can change their lives. Petter’s students are refugees, some using false names, some experiencing harrowing pasts. He told me of one boy, who he described as the happiest person he has met, a previous slave worker. This boy’s work was acting as a human shield for troops crossing potentially mined land.

His school scrapes by. The staff are volunteers, getting in recompense a lunch and a bicycle. They are undermanned, and resources are ones they cobble together through material donations back home, Catholic Church money and pillaging the Internet. I can see how rewarding the work is from peter’s immense pride in spite of he superhuman efforts he must put in. As he says,he is exhausted and will be going back to Australia for downtime to walk and swim. He lives in what he describes as a beautiful and natural environment.

Beyond here, I learn he is a very determined and focused person. He tells me of his walking of the camino. De Santiago de compostella. 34 days walking….physical, mental and spiritual battles, and days of crying. This is a walk that you do alone. Nobody else can walk your pace. His is a walk on which you learn about yourself. He tells me of his waking dreams and the. Battles through the near constant rain.once again, I sense him filling with pride as he tells me of this accomplishment.

I learn more about where I am through him too. The floods of several weeks ago forced him to relocate to this guesthouse.his former one being swamped with 40 cm of water, destroying clothes, the fridge floating away….

He tells me more about the precarious sitaution most of the refugees experience. The police spot check for pork permits, identity documents etc. those unfortunate to be caught out are stored in a place he ominously describes as “the cage” , near the abandoned project that is/was robe the new police station. My breakfast cycle takes in this place. And it is an apt name. Through an open gateway, so plainly visible to anyone passing, you can see a 2 storey wooden house. The ground floor is in fact the cage. Behind the bars I can see dozens of. Men and women, maybe even children. I didn’t have enough time to scrutinise, as, unsurprisingly, a coupled of immigration officials waved me, not aggressively, away. I don’t think they liked my camera. The conditions look pretty disgusting. How long they are kept there, I don’t know. As I pass by again I see a police prison truck back into the yard, the cage unlocked and a number of brightly dressed women shaparoned into he back. Evidently to be repatriated to Burma, where their fate Is probably not a promising one. Arrest, prison..or worse. I can only watch.

Breakfast is a bag of Burmese style pakora. 2 types. The most interesting contains pungent lime leaves. My bagful are freshly cooked on the road and cost 10 baht.