Giving alms

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September 30th 2007
Published: October 9th 2007
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The view from the schoolThe view from the schoolThe view from the school

rather stunning.

Leaving School

After the kids left school we still had a week to put in. Not that we had anything to do - but we did have to turn up every day and twiddle our thumbs in the practically silent school. Basically this week was set aside for the students' reports to be written so they could be given to the parents on the Friday parent-teacher meeting. However, as the reports were largely in Thai there was little we could do and they were feverishly prepared by the Thai teachers while we played on the internet in the library and wandered aimlessly about sweating (it seems without kids in school we are rarely allowed air con! It helps save the planet you see...).

We finally got something to do on Friday when all the parents came to school to talk to the teachers and receive their kid's report. Some of the kids came with them so it was nice to see them again - if a bit sad! At the beginning of term the kids drove me crazy (this is Kris by the way), I can scarcely believe how gutted I felt when saying good bye to them when it
Burma is over that hill.....Burma is over that hill.....Burma is over that hill.....

Kris and Guy, our art teacher. At weekends he does body art on katoeys (ladyboys) in nightclubs.
was all over. I'm just a big soft get! Sia, one of the girls in my class presented me with a picture she'd drawn. It showed me, Kate and Sia and the Thai flag and said "I love Teacher Kris, I love Teacher Kate" and "Goodbye". It showed us all crying. I was rather moved actually! It was also really lovely when a few parents came and told us how sad they were that we were leaving and how much their kids loved us and how much they had improved in the English this term. Ouch.
I really hope they get great teachers next term and do really well....

Donations and worthy causes

After the meeting on Friday we had one more day with our teaching colleagues. It seems in Thailand, in affluent schools it's often the done thing to give donations to less a fortunate school at the end of term. This involves the parents bringing in various stuff from books and toys and games to food and clothes. Then, on the Saturday at the end of term the teaches have a grand day out delivering the donated items to the school. In our case, we were off to the Burmese border to a school where many of the kids were orphans and a lot were also Burmese refugees - particularly poignant given recent events.

So we loaded several pickup trucks with stuff and on Saturday morning all the teachers crowded into several minibuses and we took off on our road trip to the western border of Thailand.

An unexpected jungle-trek

The 1st part of the journey was, as you'd expect, along long highways and therefore smooth. However, as we closed in on the Burmese border it became quite hilly. No problem. Then a bit more hilly. Into a lower gear then. Then the road ran out completely. We turned a corner and came to a dip in the road where the tarmac became a stream and then rose very sharply onto a potholed rough dirt track winding through jungle. Amazingly, most of the drivers scoffed the ridiculous condition of the road ahead and it's unsuitability for overloaded minibuses and just floored it. Afterall, they probably had a Buddha image on the dash and some fresh flowers hanging from the rearview mirror and were therefore assured of safety. Our driver on the other hand, stopped dead
Kris giving a donation to a kidKris giving a donation to a kidKris giving a donation to a kid

Not sure what was in the envelope, all the explanation was in Thai. But we think it was money, a study grant so they could go to school.
and refused to go on. Everyone whinged. But to be fair, I don't think I would have chanced driving up that road unless I was in a big 4WD.

SO we climbed out of our nice air-con bus into the baking sun and started walking. The other buses had already left, leaving me and Kate with headteacher Dan, his wife and his son Aidan, from Kate's class. Along with 5 of the Thai teachers. As we climbed the hill into the encroaching jungle with one bottle of water between us I couldn't help thinking it was like a scene from a documentary about some disastrous events. A bit like that old one - "999", with Michael Burke. As we climbed I could hear Michael's voice echoing in my head - "The team of teachers, without supplies or adequate training, left the safety of their vehicle and trekked into the jungle...". Inwardly, I cursed myself for leaving my Swiss army knife in the bus.

10 minutes later we were knackered, sweating and sat in the shade of a tree waiting for someone to come back for us. Only Aidan was excited by it all and keen to carry on walking. I was on the brink of delegating different members of the party to build a shelter, find water, collect berries and also draw straws on who we should eat first...when 2 lads came whipping down the hill on a freewheeling moped. They stopped and explained in Thai that the school was miles away. Then followed this assertion with "keep walking, you'll soon be there". Hmm.

Thankfully, we didn't have to wait too long. Another driver took the wheel of our minibus at the bottom of the hill and pelted up to pick us up. We were finally off to the school and I was reunited with my Swiss army knife. I slipped it into my pocket just incase...

The school

The school was in a fantastic location. At the top of a hill overlooking a lake and facing another hill with a gold temple on top of it. Just over a ridge, I was told, was Burma. The kids were having lunch when we arrived - prepared by the Thai teachers from our school. This was lucky as we seem to have missed the work part by being in the forest. We were told that morning that
With some of our Thai and Filipino collegues at the schoolWith some of our Thai and Filipino collegues at the schoolWith some of our Thai and Filipino collegues at the school

This was supposed to be a picture of us and Susan, the pre-kindergarten teacher, but lots of other people suddenly decided they wanted to be in the picture just before it was taken!
we had to look after 200 kids with 0 English while dinner was prepared. Yikes.

Anyway, after eating we all filed into their open-air hall - basically a concrete-floored shelter with open sides and views across the lake and mountains. It was time for a short talk in Thai by the school headmaster and a short talk in Thai by some of our Thai teachers. Basically about the donations that were stacked at the back of the hall. Then we all had to give certain kids an empty envelope with our school crest on it. It was apparently something to do with providing them with educational funding. Hard to say. The usually confusion ensued, but as I was bustled to the front I dutifully handed over and empty envelope to a girl and smiled for photos - looking very much the respectible teacher with 2 days worth of stubble, wearing shorts and a Velvet Underground t-shirt.

What followed was surreal. The school put on a performance of sorts. Here we were in the middle of nowhere, with a crowd of rural kids from Thailand and Burma. What sort of performance would they put on do you think? Maybe sing a song? Maybe even some traditional dancing? Well, neither. The ace up their sleeve was that they had an aspiring ladyboy in the class who liked dancing to trance music. Out of the blue, a young lad of maybe 13 or 14 appeared before us wearing loads of make-up and with clips in his hair. He minced across the tiny stage and put on a CD. Then he took to the floor to perform, what could only be described as a the kind of slinky dance Kylie Minogue might do on one of her videos.

Around the room, jaws dropped. People didn't know where to look. On the one hand they didn't want to ignore the performance going on in their honour, but on the other there was something distinctly wrong about watching a young Thai boy dressed half like a girl doing the splits and wiggling his bum at you. Plus, it went on for ages. And ages. I thought the song was on a loop. When it finally did end he bowed and went back to the audience to rapturous applause. Jaws remained in the dropped position for a further few minutes with a few mumbled - "well...I didn't expect that" and " takes all sorts...".

My guitar!

After the above, the kids went back to playing and we started getting ready to leave. Then I remembered my guitar was in the front of the minibus. Not wanting to carry it around and given I bought it for less than 30 quid, I decided to donate it to the school. I grabbed it and went back to the hall where the headmaster was enjoying a cigarette and chatting to his fellow teachers. I handed him the guitar and explained in sign language it was from me to the school. His face lit up. He thanked me profusely and turned and explained to his mates who also looked over the moon. I felt quite pleased with myself and realised it was the right thing to do. Despite all the stuff we'd delivered the headmaster looked overjoyed with the guitar. And if it actually ends up round his house providing the music to a night's entertainment with a bottle of Thai whisky, it's fine with me. I hope he occasionally lets the kids play it though!
I was sad to see it go and I'm currently guitarless until I get home (sniff).

Hollywood-style farewell

We piled onto the buses and wound our way out of the school grounds surrounded on all sides by the kids frantically waving and shouting goodbye! It was brilliant and an amazing experience. I hope the donations are really useful and they have bright future. Especially the lad with the make-up. He's clearly going to be a star...

Goodbye to Nantawan School

We had one more port of call before the day ended - a floating market 2 hours outside Bangkok. This was a day out for all the teachers as well as a worthy donation, remember! We only stayed a short time as we had to get back to our flat to pack. There was time though for Dan to make the announcement for those who didn't already know that we were leaving and this was the last time they'd see us. At this point a load of teachers broke into a "thank you" song - presumably from kindergarten as it was lead by Susan, the head of pre-kindergarten that I visited once a week during term to attempt to teach 1 year olds English. It was again, pretty touching. Especially when people came up to us individually to wish us luck and say they were sad we were going. Amazingly so when it was people we'd only spoken to a few times. We said goodbye, promised we'd send postcards and they took off into the market as we climbed back into the minibus and headed to Bangkok.

"Maybe tomorrow, I'll wanna settle down"...etc...

The next day, Sunday, we packed our rucksacks and hit the road. 1st, we had to go back to school to drop off the keys to our apartment. Mr Chu, the school owner was taking advantage of the school pool as we walked in and shouted us over. He invited us to visit whenever we wanted and wished us good luck. Then when we were in the office they handed us a copy of the school yearbook as a memento. We thought this was pretty nice....but then Mr. Chu's daughter turned up with an ornate Chinese teapot as a gift! How nice is that?? I can honestly say that I think that our time at Nantawan School was a job surprisingly well done considering we've never really taught before! If anyone from there ever reads this - thanks for everything!! It was a pretty incredible experience.

We again bidded farewell and got a taxi from the school entrance back to Banglampu area of bangkok to a guesthouse for the night - where it all began! We were meeting our fellow teacher mate James and the next day....we were heading to Cambodia and the jungle covered temples of Angkor Wat!

To be continued....


16th October 2010

I have just read through all of your adventures. Amazingly epic! I suggest investing in some ear plugs though? ;) Thanks for the suggestions for Vietnam. Wishing you many more happy travels, Michala

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