I shouldn't have been surprised at the lack of organisation at my Thai school. On our first day at Muang Mai school, we sat in a room drinking coffee (more like hot, brown-coloured sugar water) waiting to meet our Thai "mentors". There are 7 of us interns at Muang Mai, each teaching a different grade, and each assigned to the English teacher of that grade. I've got 12 year olds, and a neglectful mentor. Her name is Tipworn, which I can only remember because it sounds like Hip porn (hey, I'm sure some people are really into hips..). Porno (even easier to remember) lead me to the Prathom 6 (or grade 6) assembly, where I introduced myself to the 300 or so kids I'll be teaching. 300 kids with either bowl cuts or frullets (front-mullets, for those unfamiliar with the term). I'd presumed that day one I would just be watching Porno teach English so I could suss out what they do and don't know, how they are, what they're learning etc. So I sat in on an English lesson with Porno, where she immediately pointed out one student to me and said "he worst student, very naughty, this his third school, naughty naughty" and then informed me about how stupid the kids at my school are, how they are naughty and don't study and are all going to fail their end of year exam. It's good she has faith in her students. Porno asked them to write something about themselves down in their books in English. She then walked around, picked up a student's book who hadn't written anything, showed me, and then gave him a good hard smack on the back. Right then. Then she chose some of the better students and got them to read out what they'd written. They read them out, and instead of congratulating them, she looked at me and said "see, only three can do it". Not getting good vibes from Porno. She then told me "you go lunch now", so I wandered out, wondering where the hell this mystical canteen was. I eventually found some fellow whiteys and had lunch with them, wondering how I was going to cope with 5 months of Porno's regime. I went back to the Prathom 6 staffroom and waited until I was told what to do. I hadn't been given a timetable, a curriculum or any guidance at all as to what I'd be doing with the students until October.
Another teacher came and got me from the staffroom, saying "Teacher Bee, come with me!" ('Bee' has become my nickname, and they all like to imitate a bee when they say it. I think I prefer it when they mispronounce my name is 'bitches'.....), grabbing my hand and leading me to a classroom. She stood me at the front of the class, they all stood up and said "Good morning teacher". Then the teacher that had taken me there said to me "you teach now". Oh, now? Cool. About what? Hello? So, having no idea what these kids knew, I greeted them with "hello" and drilled it about a million times. I told them my name, had them repeat it a million times until they were no longer saying "bitches", and tried to get them to brainstorm about Australia, which turned into naming all the animals that they knew. With nothing else to go off, I played about 12 games of hangman using animal names. When all else fails, hangman works. I taught another class afterwards exactly like this, and trying to get them to pronounce their 'l's and 'r's right. And I spent a lot of time acting like animals that they could guess. Who knew that hopping around like a kangaroo would be so popular. The highlight would have to be one girl at the front of the class who said to me as I was walking around "teacher beautiful". Top of the class for you, young lady. Some more hangman, and I was done with teaching for my first day. I sat around in the staffroom a lot, trying to get someone to help me out with getting my hands on a timetable or a clue as to what I'm meant to be teaching the kids. I never saw Porno again that day. Sweet mentor. No one seemed to be able to help me out on the timetable front. Every time I asked something, the answer I'd get would be "tomorrow". I also haven't checked out the toilet situation. My bladder seems to have gone into camel mode in self-defence. The history teacher started talking to me in very limited English, and made me a cup of coffee (hot, brown-coloured sugar water) and offered me all this food. She wanted to drive me home that afternoon as well, bless her. By the end of the first day I was more confused than before, a little put-out for having been completely neglected by my "mentor", but feeling good about my comfort in front of a class of 45 12-year olds and the kindness of Mol (the history teacher, whose name I can only remember for its closeness to the word "mole").
The second day was also clouded in mystery. I've begun trying to think of myself as part of the Scooby Gang, trying to piece together the clues of what I'm supposed to be doing. It's the only way I can cope with it all without huddling in the corner of the staffroom in the foetal position. So I've taken to just sitting in the staffroom, smiling at the other teachers while they speak Thai to each other and awaiting further instruction. I didn't see Porno until later in the afternoon, where I asked her again for a curriculum, and she told me to teach the children "communication" and "everyday life". Well that's something, at least. I was starting to get the feeling that maybe they'd hired me to write a curriculum for them. I taught about 3 or 4 classes that second day, just rolling with the "hello, my name is ...." and hangman theme. I spent a lot of time in the staffroom, and the more time I spent in there, the more the other teachers force fed me. A lot of mango, a lot of weird cakes (green ones) and a lot of boiled egg. I think that day I taught them all the word "full" (which they may have interpreted as "I don't want any more fucking boiled egg or green cake you crazy bitches"). I still had no resolution to my lack of timetable, and having no idea when I was supposed to be teaching. So, I would just sit and eat various forms of mango until someone said "Teacher Bee you come with me" and plonked me in front of a class. Despite having no plan with the class, I actually had a lot of fun with the kids, even if trying to get them to speak English is like pulling teeth from a mule (why a mule, I don't know, I just figured out of all the animals their teeth would be the most stubborn.... don't get me to explain my analogies again). That afternoon Mol drove me home, bless her cotton socks.
Friday morning, I did my usual routine of sitting in the staffroom until further instruction. At 8, Mol got me and took me outside to stand with the kids for the morning flag raising ceremony/national anthem (done daily). Then it was back to the staffroom where I was left to my own devices, wondering which hour/s I'd be teaching in. After about 20 minutes, Mol beckoned me, so I assumed I'd be teaching. She got me to sit in the back of her class, and told me it was my time to "relax, to sit", I guess while she taught history to the kids in Thai. I then sat through another teacher's science lesson, also in Thai. Super useful for teaching English. The Prathom 6 teachers didn't let me go and have lunch in the school canteen, they insisted on feeding me some boiled egg, fried fish, vegetables and rice (bitch). Teacher staffrooms at home have coffee makers, Teacher staffrooms in Thailand have rice cookers. (Eat more rice bitch, indeed). I then spoke with the head of Prathom 6 lady, who (finally) gave me a timetable. She tried to explain to me what I was expected to teach the kids/how it was going to work (her English isn't so good, so it was a challenge). So what I got from it was that I'd be teaching on my own, but a Thai teacher would be supervising to discipline (smack?) the kids, and translate my instructions into Thai (so long as they can understand me, I guess). I then asked about a textbook, and she said they were waiting for them from the government? Whatever. She disappeared for a while, and came back with a textbook that was half written in Thai, and told me that her and Porno would be using that to teach the kids. So am I supposed to use it too? Or should I plan my lessons with Porno so they correlate with what she teaches them? How can I understand this textbook when half of it is in Thai and the other half is in Engrish, not English? So many questions that she could not even understand, let alone know the answer to. So I finished Friday feeling a lot more confused than what I had been to begin with, but was stoked to finally have a timetable. I have 7 classes and see them each 3 times a week, except for 2 classes which I only see twice a week. Don't know why, but didn't bother to try and ask that. By the end of the third day I was more than ready for excessive amounts of Thai rum with my fellow interns.
After a long and heavy night on the SangSoms, I'd completely forgotten that I'd been invited by Mol to visit her house on the Saturday morning. After a half-handful of hours of sleep, I awoke at 9 on Saturday to intense rapping on the door, stumbled out of bed to see Mol looking impeccable and telling me that she'd wait downstairs for me. Ah shit. So I threw on some clothes, hoped that the SangSom wasn't steaming its smell through my pores, and jumped into Mol's car, feeling very dazed and confused. I wasn't quite sure what the day was due to entail, but assumed it was going to be a simple 'breakfast/welcome at my place' kind of deal. We got to Mol's place, where I met her sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and husband. They seemed to live in the army barracks or something, as we had to pass through a gate with armed soldiers outside to get to their house. Normal. I was then force fed some sweet cakes, sticky rice, dim sums, and pepsi for breakfast. Turns out, sticky rice, not so good on a hangover. Mol's husband (nickname 'Bin'...) presented me with a gift... it was a bullet that he had made (I'm guessing he works in some kind of artillery factory) that can function as a bottle opener. How did they know I love to open bottles? Mol then told me that "today we tour. I take care you all day". I guess I'd been taken captive by a Thai family? I was too hungover to deal with the massive language barrier, but that didn't stop Mol and family asking me things in broken English via a hand-held electronic dictionary. Bless. We got in the car (that was playing such wonderful tunes as Lionel Richie's 'Hello', 'We Are the World' and 'Careless Whisper' by George Michael) and drove to lunch (because it had been a whole hour since we last ate rice), where they ordered a banquet of delicious foods for me and wouldn't let me pay. Mol reminded me that "today I take care you". After lunch they took me on a tour around the palace of a past king, so got in some culture on my hangover day, not bad. We'd picked up their son (14) from somewhere, and later her daughter (12, and in one of my classes.... are they trying to butter me up so I give her extra attention?) as well. There was another boy at their house that they didn't introduce me to, but he seemed to be doing all sorts of tasks for them when they told him to. Slave? Black sheep of the family? Who knows! Throughout the day, Mol would point at me and say "toilet". I'd try to tell her I didn't need to go, but she'd do it again. I just hate it when someone tells me to pee! And yes, they did have a squat toilet in their house. In the afternoon we went to this dam about 50kms out of Lopburi and did a dam(n) tour on a tractor/train. The family bought me the tacky photo that had been taken of us while we were sitting on the "train" and as they presented it to me they said "we your family, family". Such a touching moment. It got to about 5 in the afternoon, and Mol asked me if I had plans that evening. I felt bad for doing so, but I lied and said I did. Don't take that wrong, I did love the hospitality and bizarreness of the whole day, but I'd already had 3 days of stilted English conversations and lingual/cultural barriers (plus I still had a SangSom belly) and was just exhausted. Mol managed to say "I want have dinner you", so I apologised and taught her the phrase "another time". The new knowledge seemed to make her happy. She then asked me about my Sunday plans, and I had to lie again. I was overwhelmed with hospitality and just needed a little break from speaking English unnaturally slowly and simply. That's what the school week is for. Plus I had to use Sunday to work out something to teach my kids this week (not that I used my Sunday productively, but the intention was there). So Mol and her family, after a long day of cheesy 80s ballads and being welcomed to their family, let me go at around 6 in the evening. I feel like if I hadn't invented evening plans that I may have never left their house.
So as I said, my Sunday was not entirely productive. I did have a play with my new toy, my bicycle! Turns out all the interns are given a monthly "transport" allowance, but if we wanted, we could get a bike instead. So now I have sick wheelz, and some kind of bike gang made of whiteys is forming in Lopburi. I vote we call ourselves "The Loppers" (of Lopburi) and have matching jackets. Mine will have "RICE" embroidered on the back. I bet we can get a good deal on jackets/embroidering from someone's aunt or brother-in-law.
We've developed a bit of a catchphrase here. "TIT!". It stands for "This is Thailand". Use it whenever something planned doesn't happen/happens several hours later/didn't exist in the first place/will never exist/doesn't function or just when something happens that if you were in your home country would cause you to check yourself into a mental asylum. The whole week has been filled with TIT moments. I have school tomorrow and have created a rough lesson plan which I'm not entirely sure is what they want from me, but am going to roll with it anyway, because, TIT.