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My Week of Kareoke Trauma and Vegetarian Sabotage

May 29, 2012

I’ve been a little slack with my writing over the last week since I made the mistake of starting to read Game of Thrones which means that I’ve done little else with my free time since then. As such many good anecdotes have been lost to the recesses of my memory but here’s the synopsis at the end of my first month anyway.

School generally begins with me sitting around outside the classroom whilst the children endlessly take off their shoes and put them back on again. There are always a few criers that have to be physically detached from round their mother’s necks, their tiny fingers forcibly unlinked before they’re carried away screaming. The mothers of these boys (it’s only ever boys) generally immediately turn tail and walk away once their child has been extricated before he can latch back on to a leg. They keep their faces completely composed but there’s always a telltale fluttering of hands and tightness of jaw which suggests they find it equally upsetting whilst their little baby howls with betrayal from the classroom door. There’s one boy in particular who does not desist in crying – I call him the class tear-leader. Often it’s not really crying so much as that childish wailing and sobbing where actual tears are generally not involved. They usually ignore him until its milk time when one of the student teachers will spend a short period of time trying to entice him to drink and he will choke with anguish and furiously shout ‘mai ow, mai ow!’ This is effectively Thai for leave me alone/I don’t want. I did wonder if he had perhaps the same feeling towards milk as I do towards Tia Maria; whereby maybe he’d had had a bit too much of a good thing once and now even the smell makes him groggy but generally once people start ignoring him again he’ll drink his milk and run off and play; attention-seek over.

Then there’s usually the school assembly which is held on the field. My kindergarteners have theirs separately but they’re pretty similar. First there’s the national anthem and then a few Buddhist prayers/songs followed by the news of the day. The main school assembly is always accompanied by the school marching band who are really very good; especially when you consider that they’re all 10. They make my junior school band sound like a group of wailing cats but then I think we probably did anyway, even before the comparison. The kindergarten assembly for some reason is always led by the same 5 year old girl from the private part of the school. A teacher gets it started and then up she comes on stage in front of all of her piers (the private and government pupils identifiable by their different school uniforms) and starts the songs off with a microphone before sitting herself cross-legged on the stage and leading the prayers; all this without batting an eyelid. I’m not quite sure how she landed that gig but I’m pretty amazed by her fearlessness every time. The kindergarten part of the school is definitely the most beautiful; especially the ancient tree. It is wrapped with ribbons and there is a little house nearby; it’s not to be played with though as it is for the spirits of the tree. Every time the school is added to, the tree spirits home must also be extended by the same proportion to avoid angering them.

Every day the teachers coordinate their clothing; Monday is military/English day (not sure whether that combination is intentional) and all the teachers wear their tan military uniforms with gold epaulets and badges on their chests denoting their ranks. The upper year groups are only allowed to speak English for the day and are threatened with fines for speaking Thai. Today all the teachers wore white and tomorrow they will all wear almost matching navy skirt suits; the higher the rank of teacher the more lacy the embellishment on their jackets. At the end of the day we all stand on the gate, show off our expensive faces to the parents and wave goodbye to the children. The rest of my group (‘gloop’ if you’re Thai due to the pesky l/r debacle, e.g. ‘herro’) ogle the gangster milfs or uniformed army dads but I can’t say I’ve seen anyone who catches my eye just yet.

On Thursday and Friday of last week the school hosted English camp – the top 2 pupils from each of the 70 schools in the province were invited to come and enjoy a two day English workshop hosted by us 5 TEFLers. I was looking forwards to this as it would be my first time actually teaching in Thailand but I quickly started to feel less excited when we got there and the supervisor, Teacher An, dragged us into a room to quickly practise the cheerleading routine she wanted us to do for the opening ceremony. I’m not the get-up-on-stage-and-leap-around type and the very idea made me nervous to my core. Fortunately she only asked us to do this once the officials had left and it was just for the kids; I was so relieved by this that I didn’t mind so much. The two days were fun, we all quickly developed our favourites and our less favourites; I’m pretty sure you’re not meant to do that but it’s pretty hard not to. A beefy boy at the back who refused to participate in anything except for what I’m pretty sure was abusing us in Thai fell pretty speedily into my latter category. He’s not on my Christmas card list.

Later on in the day after lunch Teacher An announced that to get all the kids fired up again all the falangs had to sing karaoke and the kids would vote for a winner. ARE YOU KIDDING was the first thought that flashed through my mind. I’m not a karaoke girl; in fact the very idea traumatises me. When I was about 16 my friend had a karaoke birthday party and at the time I sang in the school choir and used to sing solos etcetera. All the people at said party knew this but had never heard me sing so harried me up onto the stage. I chose a song I quite liked but didn’t know very well and the rest was a slow-motion train wreck, I only knew the chorus and that had quite a few key changes, all of which I managed to miss in spectacular style and by the time I sheepishly clambered down from the stage it was to nervous applause and general awkwardness. Ever since I have avoided karaoke like the black death and at the very suggestion my stomach was in knots. I managed to get away with singing (Summer Loving) with Katie and it can’t have been too horrendous since we won the sing-off, huzzah! Who knows, maybe travel will conquer that phobia as well as dodgy stairs (still working on that one).

On the second day we all were put in charge of a group and had to organise a short performance of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. My bunch of kids (with the exception of my director and Mummy Bear) were awkward, shy, a bit too cool for school and refused to do anything. I tried everything, including trying to loosen them up by chasing them round pretending to be a bear. This made them giggle hysterically but they immediately went back to hiding in their collars the second I asked them to act. Eventually it took threats; ‘you have

Goldilocks (left) and friend

five minutes until you have to go on stage and perform this for your friends. You had better prepare something.’ Queue another train wreck performance in Eira’s thespian back-catalogue. It was fun though; James’ Goldilocks was by far the best-loved child of the day and we were all very concerned when playing another game later on with the notoriously lapse Thai attitude to health and safety, she skidded on the polished floor at some speed and her head hit the tiles with an almighty crack. She was back up and dancing in no time though, the little rock star. On Saturday we went to see Lop Buri football team play at the stadium with the landlord of our local bar. In true football style the players were all on the ground whining every time they broke a finger-nail and Katie yelled the apocryphal line; “Goldilocks was up faster than you!” at the top of her voice.

I’m a rugby girl myself but I did enjoy jumping up and down with the Thais who are crazy about their team. We were stood behind 3 drummers, a megaphone and several air horns. Being Welsh it didn’t come easy to me to root for the team in white against a team in red but I did get my shout on at the end.

Other than this the only thing left to report is the total lack of vegetarian food in Lop Buri. MyPad (who’s subject is maths with meditation which she teaches open-air), despite numerous attempts to explain, continuously feeds me meat and tells me its vegetables and I’ve become extremely wary of putting anything she offers me in my mouth. Last week I ate pork for the first time in fifteen years. Even the street vendors seem to have no concept of it, outside of Lop Buri its fine but just here for some reason it’s a real issue. Several times now I’ve paid for a meal I couldn’t eat and after a week of nothing but white rice and plain noodles I nearly wept with joy when I found salad and some vegetable spring rolls at the Wednesday market. Wednesday is my new favourite day – Eira-gets-to-eat day.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 29, 2012 4:43 pm

    I love the idea of the tree spirit having a house and it needing to be extended if the school is enlarged. It really sounds as if you are on the way to going native; except for the feeding of course! I am not sure that being fixated by the Game of Thrones is a illegitimate use of your time though. How are you going to become the must have teacher in Korea? However, no matter how ghastly it is to harden yourself against the evils of Karaoke, it has got to be a cultural plus point in your favour.

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