Two Week Derailment

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December 12th 2013
Published: December 12th 2013
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Heavy LiftingHeavy LiftingHeavy Lifting

On my long weekend, I found something to occupy myself with (the photo's title will make a lot more sense if you read the article)
It started last Monday.

I teach first and second period. My regular 11th grade classes aren’t quite ready for presentation and report writing like I’m supposed to teach them, so after three weeks of blank stares I make a judgment call. It’s back to basics.

It’s now third period. I’m sitting in the English office with one of the Thai English teachers and a friend who is visiting me, when I hear shrieks. I step out into the open-air hallway that overlooks the schoolyard. A group of men dressed in street clothes rush up the road that connects our school’s three buildings. The flags that they are carrying cause them to stumble as they run. Pick-up trucks follow them, their beds overloaded with men and women waving the King’s yellow flag and the stripped red, white, and blue Thai flag. The procession heads to the administrative building on the far side. The students outside take notice, and their cheers and whistles are deafening. Why they have whistles in their pockets, I don’t know.

I am a bit shocked and confused by the commotion. I lock the office door, and it remains locked until the Thai teacher gets curious.
Lizard on the NoseLizard on the NoseLizard on the Nose

Photos help boost readers attention spans. My flogs are read on average twice as much as text heavy blogs. I have a lot of text heavy blogs in production, but I promise reading them is worth your while. The first three photos are all from Wat Bang Riang, which is about an hour drive from Phang-nga town.
My friend makes fun of me for overreacting, and I point out to her that things like this don’t happen in quiet Phang-nga. Besides, it looked like a Delacroix painting when I saw people with flags running up the street.

Is it a protest or a party? The students pour out of their classrooms. They line the road that runs between Deebuk’s buildings, cheering, blowing whistles, smiling. A 12th grade student who always plays the ring-leader is giving three-word stump speeches to a small crowd of enamored females. No pro-government people here. If they are present, their mouths are shut. The teachers are among the cheering students. I walk down the hall and stand next to a group of 8th graders I taught last semester. One student tells me that he is worried Thailand has some serious issues to face. I am impressed by his command of English and insightful comment.

Apparently, the protesters ask the School Director nicely if he will cancel classes so the students can join them. A staunch anti-government man, he agrees. I wonder to myself if this is staged. How else could all the whistles and flag pins have been distributed so quickly?
The Lady of the ValleyThe Lady of the ValleyThe Lady of the Valley

Does anyone else notice a Chinese influence?
The students are excited to be free, and the school empties out. Thus begins a two-week period of TBD, i.e. we interrupt the regular program, i.e. we will have class tomorrow, next period (maybe?).

Except for the occasional whistle blown in the hallways, Tuesday and Wednesday classes are normal. In the afternoons, I notice an unusual number of kids speeding down main-street on their motorbikes. They have Thai flags painted on their cheeks and are blowing whistles. Sometimes, the bike’s passenger waves a flag attached to a pole. Is this a political statement or an excuse to make noise and drive fast?

At night, I walk the deserted streets of the town with my friend. I pass houses with doors open wide to let in the cool night air. The exposed rooms are lit by the televisions fluorescent glow, and the people inside are glued to their seats watching protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban speak his mind. Even though it is night, it must be hot on the podium. He is sweating profusely.

Thursday the 5th is the King’s birthday, and both sides revere the King. All over Thailand protesters leave their picket lines, and former stand together
Broken Rope BridgeBroken Rope BridgeBroken Rope Bridge

in Suratthani Province. Also taken during my 4-day weekend
on stage for a televised spectacular in homage to the King.

I take the opportunity for a long weekend and use a flex-day Friday. The photocopy lady is gone and the worksheets I’ve left don’t make it to my students. No one says anything about it.

Tuesday is Constitution Day, and the school has declared the Monday off as well. That is what I understand until Thursday morning when I am loading my motorbike. Jacob tells me that Monday has been un-cancelled. So it is.

I show up for work on Monday. The morning flag raising commences and ends on time. I wait thirty minutes for my first period students, but they don’t come – not a new phenomenon. I investigate and find the remnants of the class in front of building three. They rest have gone to the protests at the Government house. The protesters in Bangkok are back after a weekend hiatus, and Phang-nga protestors have taken their cue.

In my office again, I ask my boss in broken English, “The students, when will they be back?”“In the afternoon,” she says.

This isn’t a particular enough answer for me. I soften my follow-up with maybe. “So what period, maybe?”

“5th maybe,” she says.

Nothing is yes or no here.

It is now 11 am. My boss still insists that the students will come back. I clean out my backlog of ungraded papers and walk to a nearby restaurant with Chris, the German English teacher, and Qin Qin, a Chinese teacher at the school. In route, I encounter one of my 8th grade students.

“Will you be in class today?” I ask her. I repeat myself to make sure she has processed the question.

“Umm, we will go home,” she says.

“Home? Why home?” I ask.

“Protests. Over there.” She points south towards the seat of the Provincial Government.

When I get back from lunch, my boss does not insist that the students will come back.

Today is Wednesday. I prepare for the first period, which begins at 8:20. It is still quiet outside, a sign that the flag raising ceremony has extended into first period – a weekly or bi-weekly occurrence. My planning for the whole day done, it’s now 8:40. I step outside and find my boss, Chris, and the new Filippino English teacher, Freddie, huddled near the round stone tables in front of the administrative building. Apparently, the students are preparing for Sport Day on Thursday and Friday. Sport, Sports, Day, Days? I don’t even notice these plural mistakes anymore.

This is the second sports day in a month. Last sports day, students played team sports – volleyball, doubles ping-pong, basketball, tug-of-war, and tacloban, a game where teams of three kick a ball made of straw over a net volleyball style. This time is track and field events.

Remembering where I am, I ask my boss, “Will we teach today?”

She says in a matter of fact tone, “Yes, but not in the afternoon. Six and seven, yes. No nine. No eight.”

Incomplete information. I continue prying for the answer. “What about the morning?”

“Not one, but two maybe.”

“So second through seventh?”

“Yes, maybe… I’m not sure.”

Another teacher walks by and I pose the schedule question. “Third. Afternoon,” is the response I get.

I go get worksheets printed for the class of nurses I will be teaching this evening. When I come back, Chris and Pi Wannee are sitting on the bleachers. Pi Wanee is a teacher at Deebuk who declared day 1 that she would be my Thai Auntie. Her English is impeccable. She is fulfilling the role marvelously.

We sit for a while and my head spins in the sticky air. It is now rolling into second period.

“Will we teach today?” I ask.

“Yes, maybe starting fourth period,” Pi Wanee answers.

It’s fourth period now. Some Deebuk students sit on the blacktop in opposing phalanx formations. They are organized by team color. Each member of purple, my team, holds a rectangular shaped slab of cardboard draped in purple foil on one side and gold on the other. They use it to shield themselves from the sun, which though hiding behind the clouds is still blinding.

Another team parades in circles around Deebuk’s practice field. They are marching in rows of two to four that I notice tend to squish around the corners. The procession follows the school band, which I am pretty sure is playing a rendition of the U.S. Marine Core theme song.

In the bleachers overlooking the field, some of my 11th grade students sit and play on their phones. Behind them, three students wheel a 6 foot-long boat across the parking lot. Closer inspection reveals that its frame is PVC and chicken wire. The outside is coated in red aluminum foil. I wonder what it will be used for. Cool craft!

I go back to my office. My boss and another teacher are rearranging boxes out front. They take the opportunity to sweep up the accumulated dust.

Bored, I head up to the annex Foreign language office on the third floor. The teachers who have desks there are decorating for the holiday season. On the desk by the door, there is a cardboard Christmas tree adorned with red streamers, ornaments, and an oversized star on top. Underneath the tree, there is a slew of wrapped presents and a wicker basket of paper snowflakes, all hand made. Two snowmen round out the assemblage. They ask what else they are missing. “Ice skaters, maybe?” I make the dumb observation that it is too hot for snowmen. They might melt in the humidity. When I leave, they are cutting out brown fur for a reindeer.

Lunch time. I bite into a small piece of chicken bone and emit a yip. I really need to stop eating at this place in the canteen!

Now, I’m taking my tray back and two of my 10th graders approach me. They have to go to the Stadium to prepare for Sport’s Day tomorrow. I’m impressed that they came to warn me. It’s a pleasant surprise. But I guess I won’t be teaching today either. There are some things I will never get used to here.


12th December 2013
Heavy Lifting

Cute photo
We are enjoying your travels.

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