Tuesday, 30 June 2009
On Monday we had some of our kindergarten students at our morning assembly. This can only mean one thing, and that is a ceremony of some sorts. The little students were having fun being at the grown ups assembly.
Our two Brothers were standing at the base of our flag pole. They were waiting patiently for everything to begin.
There were a handful of important guests on hand as well.
It was nearly time for the gift giving to start, here the kindergarten representatives wait to offer their gift to the Brothers.
There was a line of people waiting to offer gifts to the Brothers, a few of our foreign teachers waited anxiously in line.
Some of the Thai teachers waiting were very happy to have their picture taken holding their gifts.
And there were some senior students also bearing gifts.
Our foreign teachers looked relaxed, I am sure they were a bundle of nerves though underneath their cool exposures.
Brother, (Forgot his nickname, sorry)
It was finally time for the gift giving and the VIP guests started the ball rolling.
When the small kindergarten girl gave her gift to Brother Sakda, she unexpectedly gave him a big long hug.
Then some small primary 1 students had their turn.
Then our two foreign teacher representatives took to the limelight and they did a spectacular job.
All the time the students sat patiently watching the proceedings with interest.
And after it was all done the Brother Sakda addressed the students with a short speech and the ceremony was over.
Oh, what was the ceremony about, you ask?
It was Feast Day; I have a broad idea about what this is all about when I researched it a few years ago. Many people acquire baptismal or confirmational names from the saint associated with their date of birth, so Feast Day marks the "name day" of the saint whose name they bear with special attention.
I found a website that has all the Saints names for all the months of the year. Now if this is the case we have held this day on different dates in June each year. So I am not sure if Brother celebrates this day on the 29th, 26th or so on.
Anyway, I am sure there is a good devote Catholic reader out there who can inform us much more clearly if need be about the day.
Monday, 29 June 2009
When I first came to Thailand over 4 years ago to live, I moved to the lovely Isaan area of Ubon Ratchathani. Ubon is sleepy but is quite a big city and you can get virtually anything you need. I have the best of both worlds.
After arriving in Ubon and making my way about the place and meeting many of the lovely Isaan inhabitants, I would occasionally be asked, my name, where I was from, how old I was, if I had a girlfriend. These were the standard questions.
But there was one question that always used to throw me. “Do you know Andrew Biggs?” But when Thais said it, “Do you know Andew Bick?” Now even if they had asked the question correctly and pronounced his name right, it wouldn’t have helped.
If you Google, ‘Andrew Biggs Thailand,’ there are just under 50,000 page results. The man even has a Wikipedia page be it brief, he still has one.
The first time I was asked if I knew Andrew Biggs, I thought he must be a famous local guy. Then it would be charades, he is on TV, no hair, and on it went. Now all this was going on in Thai and broken English. 99% of the time I thought these people were a little insane. In the end I would nod politely and say, “Oh, Andrew, on TV. Yes, he good man.” Then I would quickly run away.
Then one night I was sitting and watching Thai TV with Miss Noot and on come a programme called English Minute, it was a foreigner (farang as we are known) with some kids doing a small English skit. It would present a small phrase in English and then explained in Thai. It was really clever.
I asked Miss Noot, who is the farang? That is Andrew Big (Biggs). Oh, that is the Andrew Biggs people always ask me about.
I asked Miss Noot, ‘Is he famous in Thailand?’ ‘Yes, he is,’ she replied.
So I finally knew who Andrew Biggs was, well I could put a face to his name now. Then over the years I found out how popular he was. He was hosting a morning show on TV, in movies, on radio, and of course a successful author and the creme de la creme a few guest appearances on a Thai TV soap or drama.
When I first actually researched who he was, I found many people bagging the guy in forums across Thailand. I am pretty sure most of these people didn’t know the guy from a bar of soap but bagged him because of the persona they had seen on TV or what he had written in his newspaper articles.
After reading so many people bagging him I thought maybe he was a bit of a tool. But then I read what the guy has achieved in Thailand since moving here.
If you want to get a brief history on how Andrew came to learn Thai so well, there are two articles he wrote in two parts which are really well written and entertaining. Here are the links for Ramkhamhaeng University secrets part 1 and Ramkhamhaeng University secrets part 2. I recommend these two articles, the are humourous.
Andrew has won some very prestigious awards; in 2005 he received the prestigious Phetch Siam Award for excellence in using the Thai language, the first Westerner to receive the award.
In July 2007 on Thai Language Day, the Thai Government's Ministry of Culture awarded him Excellent User of the Thai Language. It was the first time the award had been given to a foreigner.
Now, I don’t care what you say, you do not get recognition like this unless you are doing something right. So I shelved all those negative comments and put them down to the tall poppy syndrome. Just some expats, who were being tossers and shooting their mouths off at a guy who has succeeded in Thailand.
Andrew writes a blog andrewbiggs.com/blog2/ that he updates as often as he can being the busy man he is. There are some very interesting reads there. Last year he spoke about running a marathon and then blogged about his training and then the aftermath of the Bangkok Marathon. I gave him huge Kudos for running a marathon and the post is an excellent read on his experiences during the race.
This is a funny read on a Thai taxi driver who asked Andrew, Whose side he was on in the political debacle that was going on a while back. He writes about many things, really whatever is on his mind.
He wrote this article in the Bangkok post called, Sex in the Classroom and it is a really funny story. It goes over some of the small pronunciation problems Thais have.
Andrew Biggs Academy, is a popular extra curricular school he has opened. It teaches students from kindergarten to adults. There are also Thai classes for expats on offer as well.
Anyway after all these years, today I finally met the man. It was very briefly as he was busy. He was at Sunee Grand Hotel for an English Reading Marathon, this is what the flyers said that were circulated weeks before the day.
I wanted to get there about 10:30am but as things happen, I arrived late, just after lunchtime. Andrew had finished his morning presentation and was being whisked off to have some lunch before returning to judge a speech contest.
It had taken Andrew 50 minutes to walk from the 4th floor convention rooms to the van waiting for him. He had a crowd gathered around him as he looked at some stalls. He is seen as a star in Thailand, and in Ubon he would be elevated to superstar. He was very politely chatting to people, signing autographs and of course being in many photos.
I started to chat to the owner of the Toyota dealership here in Ubon. He has three sons who go to Assumption College; He was part of the lunch party and taking Andrew for lunch and invited me to tag along. This was incredibly generous and a genuine offer but I very politely declined as I hadn’t even met Andrew at that time and thought it would have been a little rude jumping in the van with them.
Anyway, I then had a chance to chat to Andrew. The first thing I said, “You are a lot taller than I thought.” He said that people always say this. The guy is 186cms tall.
What a stupid thing to say to the guy straight up, hey? From seeing him on TV I thought he was a little dumpy. I was wrong and he did say that he has been back exercising again after his marathon triumph.
We spoke for maybe 3 minutes, and all I can say is the guy was a champ. He seemed very genuine and I enjoyed the brief encounter. I wish I had enough time to do a small interview with him. We spoke about nothing over exciting. It was just two Aussies chatting.
He went off to lunch and I made my way to the speech contest area. There was a contest on and a few of our students from Assumption were competing. I was there to offer some support to them. Andrew returned a little late from his lunch date and the contest started.
I will blog on this in the next few days.
P.S. Has anyone else met Andrew Biggs, and if you have. How did you find the man, the persona, the superstar?
Saturday, 27 June 2009
On Friday we had a ceremony in the morning to celebrate Sunthorn Phu Day. Sunthorn Phu is considered one of Thailand’s greatest poets. I wrote a more in depth post on this day and about this man in a blog 2 years ago and can read that by clicking here if you want to know more about the man.
On this day the Thai teachers are encouraged to wear their best Thai dress and this means expensive Thai silk outfits. Here are a few of the teachers who looked dazzling.
All was nearly ready to start the ceremony and pay respect and remember Sunthorn Phu.
Our school Director, Brother Sakda took to the base of our flagpole to pay his respect to the dead poet.
Brother Sakda placed a flower garland at the base of the remembrance shrine that had been set up.
Brother then read out a short speech to the poet. What it exactly said, I have no idea.
Then a few of the Thai teachers said a few brief words.
Then a young and brave student, who had been luckily chosen from the few thousand, read one of Sunthorn Phu’s poems.
And this is a picture of Sunthorn Phu. It is of his statue that is situated Ban Kram, the supposed birthplace of his father, in Klaeng District. Or this is close to Rayong.
The Thai teachers then paid their respects by offering a Thai Wai and flower garland.
Here is one of the Thai teachers, in a respectful bow just before placing her flower garland on the shrine.
And here another teacher is paying her respect to Sunthorn Phu.
So that was just some of the excitement for my Friday morning before starting my hard day of work.
Thursday, 25 June 2009
When I arrive home Nong Ja has been sitting in the house with her mum waiting for me to get home. Tomorrow being Friday Ja is off to Bangkok for 3 or 4 months to live with her dad’s parents.
I was not happy with this arrangement but she isn’t my daughter but I hope the time goes very quickly. So every afternoon has been filled with being stupid, going for small walks and even sleeping which I have really enjoyed.
One thing she likes to do is change the TV channels with the remote control. She giggles away when I pretend to be angry and make funny faces at her for doing so. It is a classic watching her push the buttons and when she sees the channel change the cheeky grin she gives you, just waiting for you to go crazy.
The other night Joom and Ben were singing and dancing, this happens a lot and Nong Ja wanted in. It was hilarious watching her shake, clap her hands and scream as the girls did their thing. I have video footage of this and just need to edit it and then upload it to the blog. It is cute and also funny.
Each night Jack and Joom pick her up around 9.30pm after they close their shop. I am going to miss not seeing her. I am hoping to go to the airport in the morning at 6.30am to see her and Joom off.
Apart from that all is well, work is going well. My classes have all settled down as we have all the ground rules firmly in place. Some other teachers haven’t been as lucky, this could be for a number of reasons.
I and a few other teachers have now taken the responsibility of working on a discipline system or Behaviour Management. We are hoping that the system will make it easier for these teachers and also set concrete rules for what is considered acceptable behaviour and work ethic.
We have had one of the newest teachers resign; this is because of a number of issues. We are now looking for a math teacher who is very flexible, relaxed and can mould to the Thai education system which can be very testing if you let it.
I have a very busy weekend ahead, there is Book fair of sorts taking place at Sunee Grand Hotel and I will be attending as we have students from our school in what is called a “speech contest” but is no such thing.
I really hate these so called speech contests. Students are given the topics well ahead of the contest, sometimes there could be as many as ten topics. What happens next is bordering on ludicrous.
Thai teachers then write speeches for all the topics and the students partaking in the contest then needs to memorise all of them. Yes, all ten speeches.
I hate this as it is what the Thai school system is full of, rote learning. The children don’t actually get to input their own ideas even. Some of the words that are used in speeches by tiny little kids I have no idea what the meanings of them are.
I was stupidly asked once to judge one of these competitions and I don’t think they were expecting me to do anything but smile and nod.
When a student finished a speech I asked questions, one small student spoke about sustainable farming and the speech was very good and well memorised but she had no idea what the content meant. I asked some simple questions about the speech that she couldn’t answer.
In her speech she said, “Villagers grow many things so they don’t have to buy them at markets.” I asked her and it was even translated into Thai, ‘what were some of the crops or products that villagers used for self sustainability?’
She started to answer in Thai and I asked for her to do so in English as it was an English speech contest. After a few students’ speeches I was informed that I didn’t need to ask questions, I then informed them that I did need to ask them questions.
For some reason I have never been asked to judge a contest again. These speech contests should simply be the students turn up and the topics are revealed just before the competition, having Thai students think on their feet is not something done.
Nearly everything that is done in Thailand has to be rehearsed to death; it can be so frustrating for foreigners. If we could get schools to implement half the effort that goes into rehearsals for ceremonies and other such things into the work ethic of the students, the Thai education system would not be joked about as it is now in forums across Thailand.
I will go to the speech competition but am keen to see the English reading marathon and also the English books that will be available as here in Ubon Rathcthani we are not blessed with such an amazing range.
So that is a little of what has been happening the last few days, also I have spent many hours studying Thai each day. I have already done 2 hours today but still have maybe another hour or more to go and must get back to this now.
Sunday, 21 June 2009
I have been studying Thai around 2 hours each day; it is enjoying, but also very frustrating at times as well. Actually learning to read Thai has been the best thing I have taken on. Before when I looked at written Thai I had no idea where a word started or finished. I had no idea on how the vowels worked.
Thai is written as one long line with no gaps between words. Now I can pick words out and read them, albeit slowly. It is going to be a long time before I can read with any sort of fluency but I am on the right road now.
Last week I was informed that my niece Nong Ja is going to Bangkok for 4 months. Jack and Joom are taking her to Jack’s parent’s house and will then return to Ubon. When I asked Joom why they were doing this I got a few answers that were pretty piss poor.
Joom said, “A holiday.” When I asked why for 4 months she replied, “She needed a holiday and was tired.” Well I can tell you I was red, bright red and I let her have it.
I will not go into details but in a very brief summary I told her that she had been a poor mother to date, she needed to wake up to herself and start being a parent.
I gave her the whole, having a child is not something you just give back and forward when you are tired or bored. Sadly having a baby is a 24hr a day job and she has never been committed to this.
When we look after Ja we treat like our own child, we cook for her. We cook real vegetables for her and she loves them. Joom cooked a few times but the last few months I have never seen a container of freshly cooked vegetables.
All Ja’s meals that Joom brings for her are bought from food stalls and consist of fried rice, rice soup, noodle dishes and so forth. The additives in them I would not even wish to start to guess at.
Joom’s patience with Ja is short. Thinking a 1 year old can entertain herself while she watches TV or sings karaoke just isn’t going to happen too often. I could go on and on.
When I used to watch the girls chew food up and then put it into Ja’s mouth I was disgusted but when I said this, it was always, ‘This is Thailand.’
When you broach these things you are always met with shock and the phrase, “this is Thailand not from Farang land.”
So I haven’t seen Joom or Jack for a few days, not since I got right up them. This doesn’t worry me in the least. I couldn’t care if I didn’t see them ever again but it is Ja who I worry about.
Jack’s mum and dad are lovely people; I have had the pleasure of meeting them many times when they holiday here in Isaan. They already look after a grandson. Their daughter had a baby and they look after him for the daughter and husband who live here in Ubon Ratchathani. He comes to Ubon to see his mum and dad 4 or 5 times a year and they do travel to Bangkok to see him. In Thailand this is just such a normal thing for young parents to do.
Young Thai parents offload there children to their mum and dad, or grandpa and grandma or even relatives and then go about their daily lives. Some are lucky to actually see their kids a few times a year.
Many people who have been to a rural Thai village would have noticed many young kids about the village but mainly girls 16-30’s are absent. They are usually off working and their children are being brought up by family.
I am not really one who can judge, I was not the model father;
I was a young parent and made many mistakes, I didn’t grow up quick enough and in the end it cost me the relationship and sadly my son. I became a parent at 23 with a girl who was 26. She was mature and a smart girl who became an amazing mother to our son.
I on the other hand was an idiot and still one of the boys, going out, drinking and partying and the worst gambling, this eventually cost me the relationship.
The old if you could go back and change things line: Would I go back and change things? No, I wouldn’t.
I wish I had spent more time with my son and also had grown up and been a father but I didn’t and that is the past, and it paved the road to where I am today. Life is full of twists and turns, ups and downs and you just have to get on with it.
I just don’t want Jack and Joom to have any regrets, if Ja goes to Bangkok for 4 months they will miss so much of her early development. I also worry that when the so called 4 months are up, this holiday will be extended.
All this isn’t really my worry as Ja isn’t my daughter, but I think of her as one. I think I am trying to make Joom and Jack understand that they will not be able to get these months back. They will miss things that can never be replaced.
It is funny as I was sitting here writing this blog I heard the familiar noise of Joom’s shoes clicking on our concrete driveway, I walk out to the lounge room and here is Ja, Joom and Jack. I wasn’t informed they were coming and I simply asked, “Is she staying the night?”
No, she wasn’t.She was only staying until about 9:30pm when Jack closes his shop up and then she will go home. So that meant I had to leave this story for a few hours, but I didn’t mind at all. I got the camera out for some quick pictures.
We went for a ride on the motorbike to Big C shopping Centre and walked around the shop, she loves shopping and then off to the food stalls to buy a snack. We arrived home, fooled about for ten minutes and then Ja was tired and needed a short nap. She has stolen one of Noot’s gifts from my mum. Mum sent a koala bear as a present and Ja now makes it hers when she stays over. She bites it, shakes it, talks to it and sleeps with it.
When she awoke it was off for a warm bath and to play with her toys. Her mum and dad then arrived a little earlier than expected and she has now gone home.
The good news is that she isn’t going to Bangkok, tomorrow. She mightn’t be going until Thursday or Friday. I will wait and see.
Thursday, 18 June 2009
Finally after an hour and a half of practice, the real ceremony started. I was well away from the hall and heard the Assumption School song and quickly made my way back to find Brother Sadka doing the opening rituals.
There were senior teachers, past and present on the stage and some VIP guests.
There were more VIP guests on hand.
Also VIP parents, or parents with nothing else to do and had time to attend the ceremony.
The students stood and repeated a prayer.
Some senior dux students then paid their respects to our Brothers.
Then some of the VIP guests paid respect to there past and current teachers. This was very pleasing to see. This was humbling to see people who have a lot of respect and also power because of their status showing this side of themselves.
Assumption is 50 years old and former students who are now successful have returned to show their respect to their old teachers.
The Sunee Grand Hotel Convention Hall.
The students in a low and respectful bow.
It was finally time for students to offer the flowers to their homeroom teachers.
Each Class pools their money; some classes spend lots, a few thousand Baht for their offering.
The designs vary greatly depending on the chosen pupil of each class who is in charge of making the purchase or some even make their own offering. Each small flower on this offering is pinned into a foam base. That is a lot of pins.
This was my favourite, it looked so beautiful, the student or students who chose it did very well.
A student is paying respect to his teacher before offering her his gift.
An EBP teacher with her flower gift.
I thought that this would now bring the ceremony to a close and the Thai dancers would come out and finish the show. I was wrong, there was still plenty to do I found out but will blog on this another time.