I thought I would dedicate most of this post to the actual work I am doing out here on the border, not least because several people (mentioning no names) have forgotten about the time difference and think I am dossing about during the day!
Seriously, I came here for many reasons, some of them purely selfish ( as in I needed to have an “adventure before dementia”) and some of them of a more altruistic nature. The photo shows the entrance to the Phu Taw Junior Memorial College in Mae La camp. This is where I teach for 2 mornings a week at the moment. The students are very keen, very polite, vert helpful and totally delightful, just as I was assured they would be. However, and this is what I really find interesting and amusing, they are also very very typical teenagers!
For the whole of my teaching life I have taught this age group, along with what I call “proper adults”, and I have to admit that I have seen a drastic decline in motivation, engagement, and old fashioned manners over the last few years in the UK.
Even at its worst, trying to teach plumbing and electrical students literature (including Shakespeare) I never really found it intolerable. We had an understanding, and whatever “they” wanted, we did our best! I cannot claim to have converted a kid from Manton, who probably had so much “baggage” that you or I would have given up at the earliest opportunity, to a love of “The Bard”, but I do know that I did what was necessary for some of them at least, to move them on to the next stage. I believe it is called “rapport”! Whatever, us teachers know what it looks and feels like.
Regarding the issue of manners: My students here will meet me at the gate, carry my bags and bring me a drink of coffee or water. If we are going somewhere else within camp (and it is HUGE) they will not go in front of me! ( Bit tricky at times, cos I don’t have a clue where I’m going) They will, without being subservient, ask me how I am, and actually care about my answer.
I have learned, very quickly, not to do the Western thing of focussing on the negative ( think about it) because these people really do care about your answer. If I say “I’m very hot” they will try to alleviate the problem. It really makes you think about the way we communicate with each other. We need to be more straightforward and honest if we can. “I’m fine” says absolutely nothing really. Again, just think about it.
I have also found out a few interesting things about Thai culture just lately. My students are all Burmese ( mostly Karen) but I live in Mae Sot, which is Thai. I did start to wonder why the ladies who do the massage, or who serve me in shops, or even the bloke who sold me a better bike, said things like “You are very strong” and “How old are you?” The ladies also added flattering comments, asking me how I looked after my skin.
I asked my guru ( Aka Yin, logistics and all round expert on all things Thai) who told me that the “strong” comments referred to my tattoo! (WWE etc LOL) and the age comments were because it is really important in Thai and Burmese cultures to get the right form of address depending on someone’s age. Makes you think… why are we so obsessed with staying “young” in the West?
As ever, I have strayed from the point. I really would welcome your comments on these outpourings folks.