Friday, December 6, 2013

Extra English lessons after school

One afternoon after returning early from school we went to visit Pim’s mother at work. She owns a small shop opposite primary school in the village, where for a few baht she offers snacks and drinks to kids. We arrived at the time when classes at school finished and found the shop crowded with kids. Two of them approached me immediately and started asking all questions they knew – what is your name, where are you from, how old are you etc. At the same time the others were just observing from far, too shy to speak to a foreigner. Luckily after a few minutes of gazing from a distance they became more comfortable and slowly the crowd started talking to me. After hearing all of them answer a few simple questions they warmed up and were ready to show me all they learned at school. Out of a sudden one girl stood in front of the group and as if she was reciting a poem she said:
My name is xxx, I’m 10 years old. I’m a student. My school is xxx. My director’s name is xxx. My father’s name is xxx. He is a farmer. My mother’s name is xxx. She is a farmer. My friend’s name is xxx. I like to eat xxx. I like to drink. My favourite fruit is xxx. My birthday is xxx. Thank you.

 After the first brave presenter I heard the exact same expression from every single child. It was sweet to see how overwhelmed they were and how big this performance was for them. I could feel that even if their English level was low they were truly interested in learning and understanding it. I liked this group very much J We soon left home and they also went their ways. Later I heard from Pim that they don’t have an English teacher at the primary school, so the only English lessons they receive is from someone who knows how to speak a bit. From what I noticed the main focus on these classes was to memorize a few English sentences…
 My new friends :)

Sunset in our village
The day after when we arrived from school the kids were walking around our house, waiting for us to come back home. They were shy to come by without being invited, so they just whispered “hello” from the distance… We invited them over to enter the house. They were four of them and they came to sing me a song which they learned at school. It was a song of Rod Steward “I’m sailing” – you can see their performance under this link (Thai kids singing Rod Steward)
I found the music to the song and we ended up singing it together for a few times. They were very happy that I liked their singing and that I joined them. We agreed that the day after we will learn a new song. J I was very excited for these after work lessons and the same on their side – they were happy to have a foreigner teacher giving them a lot of attention J
And so our English class continued the day after with the song Old MacDonald had a farm – a very easy song to learn and have a bit of fun with it. When we arrived home from school a few of the kids were already waiting in front of our house – the news spread and there were nine of them today. I printed the lyrics for them and together with Pim we translated them and were ready to sing. They were very motivated to learn and very attentive when we explained the pronunciation. It was a lot of fun and they were adorable singing J When it got darker I was happy to see them walk by while repeating the lyrics… J

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tourist for a weekend

Once I returned to teaching in Saikeaw I knew that my next weeks will be calmer as I will stay here until the end of my volunteer program. The third work week passed quickly. Days at school were busy and I was focused on getting to know my students better. In my free time I searched for lessons’ materials that will be both informative and interesting and planned my weekend trip to the “famous south”. My friend Javier was visiting Thailand and we tried to match our travelling paths at least for a weekend. What a cool idea to meet up on the other side of the world and explore the unknown together. :) Due to adverse weather the trip was different from what we expected, but still it was a memorable weekend.
The trip was quite long. In order to get reach Bangkok I had to take an overnight bus on Thursday evening. A bit hesitant on that, but left with no other choice I left Prasat around 10pm and quickly fell asleep in a comfortable chair with massage… Around 4am I arrived to Bangkok and took a colorful taxi to the airport – taxis in Bangkok have all colors of the rainbow – starting from standard yellow to orange, flashy pink or green. J My flight was comfortable and around 8:30am I arrived to Krabi. I was welcomed by rain… That’s not exactly what I expected, but as always I tried to stay positive. We met with Javier and Felipe at their hostel and took a boat to Koh Phi Phi island. We planned to stay one night in Koh Phi Phi, take a morning boat around to see Phi Phi Leh and spend the next night in the mainland, in Ao Nang.
So how was the amazingly beautiful Koh Phi Phi island? Not too impressive under the rain I must say… Due to weather conditions boat trips were cancelled and we didn’t manage to see the Phi Phi Leh with the paradise beach. Also the day after, when we were supposed to leave the island we learned that due to wind and high waves there are no boats today… Some people scared us that last time it happened it lasted 5 days, but luckily for us the day after everything was working. After we heard that one boat sank in the morning we haven’t searched for alternative ways to leave the place…
So what do you do when stranded on an island? Thai people took care of that – along the streets were dozens of tiny shops offering souvenirs, clothes, tattoos, Thai massages, beauty treatments etc. During our two days on the island we walked around those, bought some gifts and enjoyed the massages. Thai people we met there had a real entrepreneurship spirit and would try to sell you as much as possible… You could feel that they were very friendly, but not because of their hospitality, but because we brought them money. What would I expect? Some decency I guess… I was especially disappointed with restaurants. Not only we paid at least two times higher price comparing to what I’m used to pay in the north, but the portions we were served were very small and not very tasty… Adding to that service of poor quality didn’t make our restaurants’ visit very successful. The last night was the only exception – even if weird waiter served us the meals were delicious and we even received a free lesson of Thai language – a printed page listing a few basic expressions to communicate, so called survival vocabulary.
Luckily, the night life on the island didn’t slow down in the rainy weather and this saved our weekend J While walking in the rain in the search of pancakes ;) on our first night we randomly found a bar with a ring and Thai boxing fights. It appeared that anyone interested could fight, even the tourists – for what they would receive a bucket of alcohol. And the later in the night the more tipsy tourists would try their luck fighting on the ring. I couldn’t’ believe in it, especially because just before we entered we saw a young man knocked out – carried outside by a few other guys  who put him on a small rickshaw explaining him and his terrified girlfriend (as I assumed) directions to hospital… But still, people were very courageous and watching the fights was a lot of fun for us. A special show was when we saw two girls fighting on the ring. One of them was pretty good, while the second one did kind of dance / attempt to fight...  Once midnight struck we started birthday celebration for Javier and the night was a lot of fun.  
The night after just before heading home to get an early sleep we went to the beach which was supposedly a place to be in the evenings… And there the real Koh Phi Phi opened its door to us welcoming us to a crazy night… People were dancing everywhere along the beach, each of the bars played its own music styles and offered a different atmosphere. But most of the crowds were focused at the entrance, more explicitly where crazy fires games where – burning ring, bar, jumping rope were the main attractions! I’ve never seen something like that before J
On Sunday the sun finally shined over the island, but for us it was the time to leave… We enjoyed the various attractions Koh Phi Phi offered to us and will certainly go back once again to appreciate the nature wonders we would missed on this time. I was going back reflecting if the atmosphere in all tourist places in Thailand is similar… Although I had a lot of fun I had a feeling that I didn’t experience any real culture during the weekend. I was very happy to return back “home”, where people were naturally friendly, the food was spicy & delicious and my lunch costs less than one euro ;)
A few pictures from the weekend:
 The adventurers!

 View from my bungalow

 Koh Phi Phi pier on a windy morning

 The famous beach as we don't see it on postcards...

 Leaving the island

Monday, December 2, 2013

Loi Kratong

The festival of lights
My come back “home” to the first host family after a week away started with a very special celebration, namely with the Loi Kratong festival night in Prasat. Similar event would take place in every town around Thailand on the full moon night in November, when the moon is at its brightest.
'Loi' literally means 'to float,' while 'kratong' refers to the lotus-shaped container which can float on the water. Originally, the kratong was made of banana leaves or a spider lily plant. A kratong can contain food, nuts, flowers, joss sticks, candle and coins. The loi kratong ritual is simple. You light the candles and the joss sticks, make a wish and let it float away with the current of a river or a canal. What makes it special is that thousands of people will gather beside the canals and rivers to do the same creating a very unique atmosphere. It is considered a romantic night for couples who would make a wish together to stay happily in love in the future.
Together with Pim, Mint and a few of their friends we prepared the kratongs by ourselves using banana leaves, flowers and candles. It was fun building the constructions together and although mine was very simple I was proud to have it done from the scratch J When all of us were ready and it got dark outside we drove to Prasat. I’ve never seen the place so crowded. The festival took place around a small artificial lake – at the entrance was a mini amusement park and some bars with music and on the other side I could see a big stage with dancers performing to the sound of Thai music. In the middle of the lake – hundreds of kratongs were floating creating a very romantic atmosphere. We found a spot at the riverbed, lit the candles, thought a wish and let our kratongs float in the water. May the wish come true!!!
As we walked along the lake we passed by kratongs prepared by different schools in Prasat – they were much bigger and so beautiful!!! The place looked wonderful and full of magic. This was definitely one of the nights to be remembered.
Below a few pictures from the preparations and the festival:
  The team :)
  Work in progress
  May my wish come true!
 Kratongs prepared by students from Prasat schools