vrijdag 1 juni 2012

A fortnight of dress ups and goodbyes

Teaching the local children in Surin English is not longer done by us. Because yesterday, we finished our last lessons in our school. It was a day to remember.
But before I talk about that, I would like to give you an insight in the different costumes and uniforms the teachers and pupils wear during a normal school week. On Mondays, each teacher wears a uniform fashioned by the Thai government. It’s a beige outfit and they look like military uniforms. On Tuesday, every teacher wears a pair of sweatpants and a green polo shirt emblazoned with the school logo.

On Wednesdays, its boy- and girl scouts day. And not only do the pupils wear a uniform; the teachers wear it as well. I got to say, seeing a grown man in a costume meant for children and young adults is quite hilarious.

On Thursdays the teachers are free to wear whatever they want (and this is the only day mind you) but some pupils wear a dark green military uniform. If they wear this every Thursday for three years they can skip their military duty.

And on Fridays every teacher wears a blue/green shirt with the school logo on it, also known by two foreigners as: crazy Friday. Oh, by the way, the hat in the following picture isn’t required but it does make one hell of a nice picture, doesn’t it?

During this week nothing really interesting happened apart from the fact that I joined the English Club on Thursday. The goal of this club is to ‘Edutain’. We tried to achieve this goal by singing and dancing the ‘Hokey Pokey’ song and playing a couple of games of Hangmen afterwards. The pupils seemed to love it, so of course, I was happy too.

During the weekend we went to Surin for the very last time. We met up with Sally to get some school work done and we decided to pay one last visit to our favourite shops and bars. After a nice stroll to the city we went for a swim in our hotel and grabbed lunch afterwards. We were back home at around 14.30 on Sunday and we got some more school work done. Instead of decreasing this work seems to pile up so we got going and didn’t stop until dinner.

On Monday morning Nele and I had a strange feeling; it was to be our last full week in Thailand and this was just strange. Time flew when we were here and we couldn’t believe it was our last week. We got dressed, took our cameras and were off to teach some English.

During this last week we also said goodbye to all of our classes. Some pupils were happy because know they didn’t have to speak English anymore but most pupils were genuinely sorry to see us leave the classroom for the last time.

 And now we’re at Friday the 1st of June. Our last school day and a day full of things that will be hard to forget. First off, we had a give a goodbye speech to 1700 pupils and about 100 teachers. Stage fever? Bad luck… With the money we received for guiding the project at the university we decided to buy English reading books to put in the school library. We gave these to the principal during the official morning ceremony just after our speech. To be honest it was hard saying goodbye to all those smiling faces shielding their faces from the morning sun.

In the course of the day rain started pouring down; a sign that even the weather gods didn’t want us to leave their country? Anyway, we said our last goodbyes to our ‘favourite’ pupils and we headed to the teachers’ lounge. 30 minutes later we were headed to the Lamduan Karaoke Bar for a night of sheer fun and delicious food.

We had heard from several reliable sources that Thai people loved singing karaoke and indeed, they do. We entered a strange looking room (to be honest, it reminded me of a football cafeteria) and sat down with the principal and vice principal. In the end, about 10 teachers joined us that night and we had a lovely time. We ate some yummy fish, spicy soup and French fries as appetizers.

During the meal every teacher sang at least three songs and of course, we didn’t want to stay behind. A list of our performance;

-          R.E.M. – Losing my religion

-          Train – Drops of Jupiter

-          Eagles – Hotel California

-          John Denver – Country Roads

-          Out Of Reach – Gabrielle (Nele’s Solo)

One thing we noticed, every Thai sings as if their lives depend on it. They make funny faces, go on stage and when they do they receive tips from their colleagues. We laughed a lot and time passed quickly. Before we said our goodbyes, every teacher wanted their picture taken with us and we gladly obliged.

zondag 20 mei 2012

*Yawn* Good morning teacher!

I know it has been two weeks since I posted an entry but to be honest, nothing interesting happened so I decided not to bore you with my futile stories. You’re welcome.

But hold on to your seats because this just in: the new school year started and in this eventful week the teachers provided us with no more than 8 hours to teach!
On Monday and Tuesday we were to help two Thai teachers teach the new pupils revision lessons before they entered the English classes in our school. I was shocked at the level of English these children ‘mastered’. Some pupils couldn’t count to twenty and some had difficulties reciting the alphabet. They have been getting English lessons since they were 8 years old so I wonder what the hell the teachers have been doing.

On Wednesday it was the official start of the new school year. A long morning ceremony followed by no classes pretty much covered the entire day. So after half an hour of socializing with colleagues we skipped school (after we had asked permission) and went home to get some other things done.
On Thursday most of the teachers still had to go over the new rules, aims for their courses and so on. Since all of the lessons would be in Thai today we ended up spending an entire day in the library with no internet. I do love Thai schools, don’t get me wrong, but spending 8 hours in a room where fans are non-existent? Not cool.  
We put on bold faces and told the teachers that if we didn’t have any classes on Friday, we would just stay home. Luckily they created a timetable for the upcoming two weeks so we would have something on our hands. Seems like I’ll be teaching more than any regular English teacher, but hey, I am not complaining.
After four lessons (Introducing yourself and revising numbers + alphabet) I was back in ‘the zone’. The negative vibe we picked up in the last couple of days disappeared once we were back in front of the classroom, trying to help Thai children understand a tad more of English than they can possibly learn by their normal teachers.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention I spotted a strange looking gecko (or chameleon) in one of the hallways.

vrijdag 11 mei 2012

A private hairdresser please!

Because we only had to teach on Thursday this week we had a lot of free time on our hands. On Monday we decided to book a hotel room in our all time favorite town: Surin (not that we have a choice, it’s the only ‘town’ near us).

We had a swim, had a couple of nice meals, bought (even more) souvenirs and I got a haircut. Not that special you think? Guess again. I entered the sleazy looking ‘shop’, was assigned a seat, waited five minutes and gulped. A pair of rusty scissors, shampoo bottles with greenish mold on them and some other dirty artifacts.  Luckily the woman that came in had her own materials and they were clean as a whistle. Phew. Before she started cutting my hair she spent at least 10 minutes blessing my hair, making ‘Wai’s’ and asking me of it was okay is he touched my hair. Of course I said yes, otherwise she’d have troubles actually performing her job. After twenty minutes she was done and I had to pay 1.75 EUR.

Tuesday and Wednesday: nothing special to report. We did some work for school, watched a couple of movies, and that’s it really.

On Thursday we finally had something to do. We gave our final day of English Camp at Surappinpittaya (our school name) and we were rather excited. We again gave the pupils the assignment of creating a booklet about English Camp and we were going to receive them today. Everyone single pupil had finished them so we were happy as can be. After doing some more activities, we had lunch and after our meal we started the closing ceremony. First we awarded the prizes for the most beautiful booklets, we gave every pupil a certificate of attendance and we had a few bags of chips and some refreshing drinks. After we said goodbye, we cleaned up and said goodbye to Sally. She is going back to her school for the remainder of our time in Thailand.

Now it’s Friday and we are sitting in our room with a fan blowing. We just went out for a drink (Ice-Chocolate for Nele- I already dread the time she has to go cold turkey – and Iced Green Tea with milk for me) and we had to run back inside. It’s just too hot. Well, beats rain, doesn’t it?

zaterdag 5 mei 2012

What happens in Cambodia, stays in Cambodia

Our first week of English camp in Lamduan is finished, 4 days of teaching grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary really is quite tiring. Luckily we try to make these lessons as fun as possible to throw in a couple of games and fun activities.

Because we will only be holding this camp for 5 days, it was a real struggle deciding which parts we really wanted to teach. We managed to provide a lot of variety for the pupils and still let them experience what it feels like to follow a coherent course.

We noticed that the level of the pupils in this school is higher than the level of the pupils in Sally’s school. This could be due to the fact that our school tries to hire a native speaker for at least one year. I don’t need to tell you that this really does help the pupils’ progression, do I? This, plus the fact that we only have 7 pupils, makes the pace of the camp a lot higher.

Like I said before, the organization of this camp is far worse than on Sally’s school. On Wednesday they forgot we like to eat during lunchtime so we only had 10 minutes to gobble up our meal. Not that bad, but if you are having trouble eating rice in the morning, it is hard to skip lunch. And in this heat (approximately 40°C) you really need your nutrients and sugar. Especially the sugar.

On Friday we gave out pupils the task of creating a booklet about English camp. Because we had already received some beautiful ones during our other camp, we wanted to extend our collection.
On Friday night I had the realization that another week had almost passed. Time flies when you’re having fun. But time is flying really fast now...

On Saturday we left the country. Just like that. We were sick of Thailand and we wanted to leave. Just kidding! We needed to get a stamp on our visa in order to prolong our stay for at least one month. Otherwise we would be illegal immigrants and since this can cost you around 20.000 Bath and some jail-time, we decided to get the stamp.

P’Mook picked us up on Saturday morning together with a Science teacher and off we were! After a one hour drive and a nice lunch we arrived at the border where we were ushered to a man sitting behind a register, checking our ID cards. We were often passed by some Thai people throwing money in his booth, and what do you know, they didn’t have to show anything…
We followed our ‘guide’ out of the office and we were in Cambodia! The first thing you noticed: four big casinos. Since gambling is illegal in Thailand, there are a lot of Thai people hopping the border every weekend to try their luck in one of the big and beautiful casinos right across the border. Cambodian marketing at is best.

After having our picture taken, paying way too much money (money you know never reaches the right person) and waiting for our visas we were back in Thailand. In the end, I think we passed four control booths for two stamps. Hail bureaucracy!

After this we went to a famous market just near the border. You could practically buy everything you wanted here. Name it and they sell it. Car parts, furniture, clothing, army supplies, food, wooden structures, plastic plates, tablets made by Apple running on Android, “Sumsvng” cell phones and so on. A nice place to browse for stuff you don’t really need.

At night we watched a movie and went to sleep peacefully. Tomorrow’s plans? Doing laundry and doing some work for school. That’s all folks!
Strawberry and Chocolate Potato Chips

dinsdag 1 mei 2012

Lamduan, we're back!

On Saturday, we packed our bags for the last time. The next time our clothes go in our rucksack, we say goodbye to Thailand. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, shall we? First we need to focus on our second English camps. This time we will be doing them in the school where Nele and I have taught the first three weeks of our stay here.

On Sunday, P’Nee, our host, picked us up at the university and drove us to our familiar house in Lamduan. We thought we would be saying goodbye to Sally (she will be staying with another English teacher for two weeks) but her host wasn’t home yet, so she spend the day in ‘our’ home. We killed time by playing childish games like Oxo, reading (I admit, I secretly slept for half an hour until Nele busted me…) and so on. We had a nice lunch and dinner and about half an hour after the meal, Sally was gone.

We unpacked our bags and got settled quite easily. That’s the nice thing of spending our last 5 weeks in our first host family; we already know everything there is to know so we can adapt really easily.

On Monday, we had a day off, well; we were supposed to meet P’Mook in the afternoon so we set our alarm clocks at half past 9. Only to rediscover the thrills of speaker boxes in the middle of the street, sprouting Thai nonsense at half past 6 in the morning… Eventually we got up at 10 o’clock, had breakfast and slept some more. At about half past 12 in the afternoon we leave for school. We told our host we would be walking to school and so we did. Never again! It was way too hot and we stopped 2 times to buy a refreshing drink. When we almost made it to the front gates of the school, some teachers picked us up and drove us inside. Much obliged!

We met P’Mook and discussed some formalities about the English camp. One thing we immediately noticed, it wasn’t organized as good as it was in Sally’s school. We didn’t know in what room we would be teaching, didn’t have an exact number of participants, and so on. We told ourselves it would work out just fine and left for home. On the way back I drank a Thai Ice Tea with Milk (looks really orange, almost chemical), it’s so delicious! In the evening we had dinner and watched a movie, nothing special to report.

Today (Tuesday, the first of May) we had our first day of our second English camp. We were assigned a room with a beamer and a whiteboard so at least we had that. Then again, no speakers (luckily we brought our own), the classroom covered with a layer of dust (which we quickly took care thanks to some nice pupils), benches and chairs all over the place, and so on. A fine mess it was. But being the neurotic types that we are, it ended up being quite ‘cozy’.

12 pupils showed up and 2 left after half an hour (not sure why though). We also had the pleasant company of Mr. Chatchai (the radio host) who wanted to see us in action. He told us the activities we did were very stimulating and he was going to use some of them in his courses as well. Yes, we were quite proud to have a man from the English Consulate tell us that he wanted to ‘borrow’ our material. Or is that just naïve, ah well, he’s a nice guy so were happy to oblige him.

Our first day was quite okay, the children being still very shy and all, but we were surprised about their reading skills. They ended up being quite good and we are happy to say that they all did a wonderful job today. Onwards to day 2!

zaterdag 21 april 2012

The Voice of Surin

On our first day back at the university we didn’t really do anything special, we caught up on some tasks we have to finish for our school on Belgium and that was pretty much it. I couldn’t catch much sleep so I read a bit. At Koh Chang I picked up a good read: ‘Kafka on the shore’ by Murakami. Yes, this was my most interesting news I wanted to share. Quite sad isn’t it?

At 9 in the morning we met with P’Nurai, she is the vice-dean of the English department of this university and she was going to provide us with a busier schedule. Turned out we even have less classes to teach now. But good news came as well; Sally received a call from the English consulate asking us if we would be interested in tutoring local doctors and nurses in the hospital of Prasat. We were very happy to have a change of scenery and of course we eagerly accepted this proposition. We felt quite honored to be able to teach people with a higher degree than we will (most likely) have so we were a bit nervous at first. However this nervous feeling quickly turned into anticipation as we reached the hospital.

It turned out we were assisting Mr. Chatchai Chumnum, a member of staff of the English department. He prepared an entire lesson and we were to help him with the pronunciation bit. We introduced ourselves, showed the ‘students’ some pictures of our school and town and then we did some origami. I know, sounds silly, right? In wasn’t exactly origami but all of the students received a piece of paper which they folded into a neat little book. A Tinybook, if you will. This kind of activity made me think of kindergarten but to be honest, I actually enjoyed it. Mr. Chatchai had us make 6 books: one in which he introduces himself, another about the famous YouTube hit: Charlie Bit Me! (of which we didn’t really got the gist, but hey, at least the movie is pretty funny), one about common errors made by Thai people in English, one about health issues and the last one was filled with tips and tricks to study English in a fun and motivating way.

The lesson itself was pleasant to sit trough but we didn’t really participate as much as we expected. Then again, this lesson was probably the closest thing to teaching so far at the university.
Almost forgot: due to the heavy storms: Blackout number 2. Reading a book by candlelight isn’t that romantic when you suddenly spot a cockroach trying to get in your bed. After a bloody battle (none of mine), I won and could sleep safe and sound.

On Thursday (19th of April) it was my first real lesson at the university. The Thai teacher had seen the grammar part and it was up to me to let the students practice this by using conversations used in everyday speech. I prepared a lot of activities and conversations only to find out that the students didn’t really get the gist of the grammar and since the Thai teacher had suddenly vanished into thin air, I improvised some fun games about pronunciation. The students seemed to like getting taught by a Farang because some students were more occupied taking pictures of me than actually paying attention to their peers. It was a fun lesson but I didn’t get any feeling of accomplishment.

In the evening we were invited by P’Nurai and her fellow teachers for dinner at the dam. Since we like being in the company of other people (and I just can’t resist Thai food) we accepted her invitation. Rain seemed to rain on our parade (I know, ha-ha) but luckily it stopped as soon as we arrived at the dam. The place was crawling with people, all eating at the artificial shore and their children swimming in the huge lake. We had a typical Thai dinner, washed it down with a couple of beers and watched the sun set in beautiful shade of red. The funny thing is, we didn’t really expect to bond with these teachers since we don’t see them that often. Turns out every one of them is simply adorable. We had a very nice and cozy evening at the dam and went to sleep really excited. Could this be because tomorrow we would become FBIS (Famous Belgians in Surin)?

Remember Mr. Chatchai from the English department? He happens to host a radio show in Surin called The Voice of Surin’ and we were invited to tag along for a 45-mintute interview with him live on antenna! The goal of this radio broadcast is to make people more aware of the importance of the English language because of the fact that is Asia is becoming one union in 2015.

Mr. Chatchai picked us up at 08.30 and took us to Surin, where the radio program is being broadcasted. We are welcomed into the building and are offered a hot beverage. Not that we needed a hot drink, it was already about 35°C, but we politely accepted it anyways.

We were ushered into the broadcasting room, were assigned seats and a microphone and suddenly, without any warning the light flashed and we were live on Thai radio. Mr. Chatchai started talking in Thai and then asked to introduce ourselves. Without any form of preparation we were asked a lot of questions about teaching English in Thailand, what the differences are between Belgian and Thai culture, and many more. It’s a really funny feeling knowing that this conversation is live on radio but we managed to uphold our nerves.

Once the interview was over we were given an MP3-file containing our feat so that we can listen to it again. We thank everyone there for having us and after a short drive, Mr. Chatchai stops at our favorite bakery in Surin. Here we have a coffee together and he asks us if we would be willing to rejoin him for his show next week Friday. We are already looking forward to this.

I will soon let you know if it’s possible to listen to our live broadcast next week. Stay tuned!

maandag 16 april 2012

Unforeseen pleasantries

I know I promised you all some information about the lessons and teachers in the university, but something came up. Due to the fact that we only have about 9 classes during the whole of April, we had a lot of free time on our hands. So we decided to take a short trip to Koh Chang, an island in the southeast of Thailand.

But first we welcomed Mrs. Van Cauteren and her husband in the country of the eternal smile. They arrived on Saturday (7th of April) and we showed them around in Surin on Sunday. We had a lot to talk about regarding our project and progress here and it was nice to share this with our teacher.

On Monday we took a trip to Buriram. These are remnants of Khmer temples and look like they ran away from Disney’s ‘Jungle Book’. After a steep climb on a volcanic plateau, we arrived at the top of the temple and were able to witness a beautiful temple on top of a big valley. After we descended in the blistering heat, we hogged back in the van to visit another temple, this one surrounded by artificial ponds decorated with Nagas (five-headed snake creatures).

In the afternoon we took another trip to Elephant Village, being our second visit there. As you most likely will have read in one of my former entries, Nele got a massage from an elephant there. Well, let’s say me and Mrs. Van Cauteren’s husband had higher hopes of our first Thai massage… We explored the grounds of the village while watching the elephants and their trainers doing the same thing. Meanwhile, we talked and talked and talked some more. (I bet you don’t have any difficulties believing this if you know Mrs. Van Cauteren and Nele).

On Tuesday we took our teacher to see our dorms at the university, we met the spokesperson here on campus and we went to see the school where Sally teaches. Mrs. Van Cauteren was surprised about the conditions in which we have to teach and told us these classrooms were the worse she had seen so far. Then again, she also mentioned that the school gave her a relaxed and nice feeling. She met P’Boom (Sally’s Thai foster mother) and was happy to hear that we were being treated with the utmost care.

On Wednesday we arranged a van to take us to the ferry to Koh Chang, a 7 hour drive from Surin. When we arrived here we split ways with Mrs. Van Cauteren and her husband and we took off to our hotel. The manager of the hotel and the other staff) greeted us with a warm welcome (and some orange juice) and were shown to our rooms. They were nice, clean and cozy and the best part was that we had a hot shower! Once we unpacked we took off toward the beach only to find that our hotel was quite secluded from taxis… So the manager brought us to the beach without even charging us a single Baht! We dove headlong in the warm ocean and enjoyed the fresh sea breeze. Once in the water, we looked back and saw that most of the island is covered in rainforests and tropical trees.

The first day we just decided to take it slow and relax on the beach. However on the second day we felt adventurous and went for a hiking trip to Klong Plu, a beautiful waterfall with a natural swimming pool in front of it. (Plu Waterfall, please tell Peter Aimé about this) After 30 minutes of climbing and walking through a dense forest, it was quite refreshing to jump in those waters. And of course, I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t climb the rocks and jumped in from every angle that was possible. When we got back to the beach we ate a lovely dinner on the beach while the sun was setting on the horizon.

Because the beaches and places of interest of the island are quite scattered we often had to take a taxi to reach those places. And since Songkran was coming up, the taxis were quite expensive. In case you didn’t know, Songkran is the Thai equivalent of celebrating the start of the New Year. They celebrate this by throwing water at every person they come across so it isn’t really that surprising we were soaking wet wherever we went. This event lasts for three days and they do this to please Buddha so he will bring prosperity to the next harvest. A nice tradition and very fun to participate in, although it was very one sided: Thai people throwing water and we getting wet. And when you do get a bucket of cold water thrown in your face, it’s hard to be mad at those grinning faces, waving and yelling: “Happy New Year!”

The only thing that was rather disturbing was that the women were dancing quite ‘exotic’ in the middle of the street and the western tourists looking at them as if they were browsing for furniture. It just doesn’t feel right when you see an overweight fifty year old man walking hand in hand with a Thai girl about 15 years old. This sight reminded me of why I was here in the first place, trying to provide a better education for some pupils so they don’t end up being someone’s sex slave. Harsh words, I know, but the truth nonetheless.
On our last day on the island we bought a book, rented a nice lawn chair and enjoyed the good life. We went for a last swim in the ocean, had lunch in a shack on the beach under the palm trees and went back to the hotel to pick up our bags. We needed to get to the ferry but this was very much like ‘Mission Impossible’ because everyone seemed to have the same idea. Traffic jams, rain showers and a lot of Thai people made our trip to the ferry rather unpleasant. Luckily we were rescued by three guys on scooters who were willing to take us to the ferry free of charge.

8 hours, 3 stops, 2 naps and a couple of cookies later (it is now 1 AM) I was glad I felt a pillow under my head and I dozed off instantly.