Edit Blog Post
Published: November 23rd 2012
The famous Buddha head statue
During the siege of Ayutthaya, the Burmese military smashed many of the Buddhist statues. A strangler tree eventually grew around one of the heads.
It was with great pleasure that I learned the Global English Program would be taking a field trip to the former capital city of Thailand - Ayutthaya. I had already travelled to Ayutthaya, well over 200 km from Nakhon Sawan on a Fino motorbike down Thailand's busiest highway. I had seen the ruins, ate the food, drank the beer, and survived the ride home - in the dark no less - to blog about it. This time I wasn't headed there as a tourist, but as a tour guide of sorts - well, actually more of a chaperone, to be honest. Nevertheless, I was very excited for my first field trip with the Thai students. I had been on many field trips as a kid in America, and had chaperoned a few as a teacher as well. What I was really excited to see was how the trip would be similar, and different, to the ones taken back home.
We set off early in the morning on two large charter busses. The students, ages ranging from 12 - 18 were already in full-blown over the top energy mode and I felt as if the bus very well may have been
swaying from side to side. As we got moving the sound explosion eventually faded to a lull, and most of the kids were soon asleep with their I-Pods in their ears. As the Global English Program is a tuition-based private program in a public school, many of the kids come from the kind of money that would at least place them in the middle-class by American standards. I highly doubt many of the government school students have I-Pods / Phones / Pads or take field trips on charter busses, and I certainly know it to not be true in the rural parts of the provinces, but I digress. Technology did what none of the teachers could, quited the children for a bit.
When we arrived in Ayutthaya the bus stopped at the first set of ruins. Our boss, Ajarn Rudee, instructed the students to be back to the bus in one hour, and off they went. When I inquired about our jobs for the day, I was told that we could go enjoy the sights, and not to worry about the students, that they would be fine. This was a very honest assessment, as the students walked around, took
some silly pictures, bought some snacks, and then ran back to the bus to escape the sun. Many Thai people are sensitive about the color of their skin. Much as Americans will go to tanning beds just to keep a tan, Thai's will go to great lengths to keep the sun off their skin, as you have likely noticed from some of the photographs on the 95 degree day.
It is also a welcome relief here that Thai students do not need the level of supervision that is required in America. I had a friend here who lived with his Thai fiance and her family and he recalls days where he would get home and there was the five year old, completely unattended, standing over a hot wok cooking himself a meal. The last time I went for noodles at a notoriously delicious noodle shop, there was a three year old boy, completely unattended, rocking himself in a metal cart. The cart tipped, he fell down, cried for a moment, and then stood up and got back in the cart, this time deciding not to rock it. The kids here do not hve mommy chasing them around with anti-bacterial
hand lotion - they learn the ropes at an early age. So while a teenage Thai student might seem childlike, playful and naive (ex. a 17 year old boy walking around with a stuffed octopus toy on his head) by American standards - many of them also raise siblings, take care of aging relatives, help run family businesses, and have been driving motorbikes since their early teens. So as far as taking care of themselves and each other they are wise beyond their years. This is why, to many teachers who have also worked in the American school system, the lack of supervised study halls, lunch blocks, hallways, after school activities and the like are welcomly non-existent. Even the sports teams, school activities and elaborate parades require little teacher attention, the older students and class leaders, accustomed to taking a leadership role, are ready at the helm. I suppose it should come as no great surprise then that both we and the students were free to roam as we pleased.
After visiting the ruins which the kids - like their American counterparts - were only mildly interested in, we went to everyone's favorite part, the floating market. Picture a
Playing with his new toy. We thankfully didn't have to remove it from anyone's skull.
mall, except it is all shops on boardwalks winding over the top of a medium-sized lake. This was the floating market, nothing like what you would picture a 'traditional' Thai floating market to be, but fun none the less for students and tourists alike. When we ran into some of the M1 (12 - 13 year old) students they had gotten their hands on some ninja stars. These are actually quite common marketfare in Bangkok, along with switchblades, foldable police batons, tazers and numb-chucks. Apparently there is little in the way of age requirements for these goods. We ran into another group of students feeding some fish from a baby bottle. An ingenius vendor had come up with an idea to take fish food, mix it with water, put it into a baby bottle and allow visitos to feed a pool full of fish (coming to a carnival near you, America), for a small fee of course. The students were even more in love with the little booths where you dangle your feet into a tank of water filled with fish that eat the dead skin off of them. I'm not sure what the appeal is, since they sat there
and giggled and screamed for most of it, but it certainly drew a crowd. After a bit more money spent on silly-hats and the like it was time to head back.
The trip to Ayutthaya was certainly not the most educational experience ever undertaken. It would be a bold-faced lie to say that the students stood in awed splendor at their once great capital, now reduced to scorched brick after a devestating invasion. The students reacted like most young kids do when confronted with incredible history - took a quick look and then found something fun to do. Thai people remain deeply connected to their history and culture, which helps preserve the unique attributes of their people in the face of homogenaic modernity. I longed to see the students shun their I-pods, fastfood and trendy clothing and stand in solemn reverence to their cultural past - but that is not the world we live in, not here, and increasingly not anywhere. Besides, I remain convinced that as they grow and mature, so too will their thirst for knowledge and their appreciation of who they are and from where they came. On the other hand, being on the trip with
them also shows that, despite the rapid influx of modernization, the kids continue to embody the characteristics that make these a great people to live amongst. Fun is at the center of everything, even work, and everything is approached with a light-hearted attitude. While some of the students may have fled early for the refuge of the air-conditioned bus, there were no scowls, no long-faces, no tears, no scorn and no drama. No one had the attitude of "this s*** sucks, lets get the f*** out of here." When you are surrounded by so many people with the attitude that there is no reason to be too serious, you in turn can let a little bit of your own guard down. When one spends a life conditioning the mind about the seriousness of everything - be it financial problems, disagreements with friends or family, trouble at work, the need to get good grades, a good career, and to move up in the world - they in turn are spending a lifetime losing touch with what life really is. None of us really know why we are here, but surely it isn't to live everyday under the crushing burden of stress,
in a constant state of seeking. For me at least, the childlike smiles and simple pleasures of an afternoon spent with the Thai students is enough to put this into perspective.
Tot: 0.881s; Tpl: 0.067s; cc: 12; qc: 65; dbt: 0.0395s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb