Happy New Year!

Hello everyone! It seems ages since I posted anything on here and it is high time that I brought you up to date on my “Border Adventure”

Let’s start by getting the work aspects of my six month sojourn out of the way. My apologies to those readers who are not, never have been, and have no desire to be, teachers. I may slip into jargon-based descriptions, which tends to happen in all professions but I will do my best to avoid tedious detail.

My Mae La students have just sat their mock exams and I was very pleased to see how far they have progressed in their speaking exercises. I haven’t had a chance to look at the written work yet but I am really hoping that I see similar improvements there. The quandary I am now facing with these lovely young people is that I have to make a decision now as to who will sit the actual Cambridge English exam in March.  When I first arrived here there were 49 potential students for my English classes at the camp. The first time I met them I had to administer (sounds like medicine!) a “placement” test, which was basically a past exam paper. The scores from these tests then determined who would be in the class, with a view to gaining the much coveted Cambridge certificate.

Of course, I had never met the youngsters before, so the papers I marked then were merely names with a score attached. I ended up accepting 27 of them into my class after that first assessment. Now this is where is gets tricky because I have grown inordinately fond of every single one of them. They are just delightful human beings. They support each other, they never complain about their lives, (use your imaginations here folks, lovely though the setting is, it is still a refugee camp) they are unfailingly courteous to me and to everyone who is older than they are, they are full of enthusiasm for trying something new… Need I go on? And now, after I’ve marked these papers I am going to have to tell some of them that they are not yet ready to the exam. I’m dreading it! I just don’t think I can bear to see their disappointment, which will be far harder for me than enduring the “attitude” of some of my young learners back home. Rest assured that I’ll be bending over backwards finding things to reward when I do start marking.

The class that I teach at our office in the town of Mae Sot is slightly different as the students are older and are already working. Some of them are teachers in the migrant schools, a few in Thai schools and some are working with NGO organisations. However, I have also grown very fond of these students too! The prospect of having to deny some of them the opportunity to sit the exam is not one I relish.

Just a quick aside here to those non-teachers who are thinking along the lines of “why doesn’t she just let all of them have a go at the exam at least?” There are two reasons: one is the fact that it is Harrow International School that registers, pays for, and organises the exams for migrant workers and refugees and they are in turn constrained by the size of the exam venue. This is not the main reason however, as we all want to do whatever we can for these students, including, if necessary, bending a few rules. More important is the need to accept that if we set students up to fail this can be a lot more damaging than simply asking them to wait for another chance to sit the test after they have had more teaching and practice. Not easy is it?

OK, to lighten the mood a little, here is a picture I took this morning. The piglets were definitely not on the scene when we broke up for Christmas. They are now wriggling around just a few feet away from our classroom.

Kho Samed Island Break

And now for something completely different. We booked a break in the south of Thailand for the beginning of January and intended to go to the Islands – Krabi, Phi Phi and all of those wonderful places you see on travel websites. Torquoise waters, white sands, totally relaxed atmosphere etc. Basically the tourist part of Thailand.

We caught the night bus out of Mae Sot to Bangkok, which means a drive of about 7 hours in varying degrees of comfort. The VIP buses are really quite luxurious, with reclining seats, blankets, on-board toilet and so on, but the fact is you are still sitting for a long time, and if you’re lucky you may be able to sleep. I didn’t!

No matter, we arrived in BKK  in the early morning and stumbled blearily through the bus station, breathing in the delightful scents of carbon monoxide, diesel and 7/11 coffee. To be fair, their coffee is actually pretty good and was certainly most welcome after the bus ride. I keep hearing the expression “only in Thailand” and this was definitely relevant when I noticed a girl/young woman striding purposefully through the station dressed in her pyjamas! Slippers, the lot, and she didn’t seem to see anything odd about it.

Fast forward to our hotel (very comfortable) and a full English breakfast in a little cafe just up the road. After this, we gate crashed a nearby hotel that had a roof top pool and promptly collapsed on the sun beds for a few hours. The evening was taken up with a visit to the tallest building in the city and a cocktail bar at the top called “Above 11”. Fantastic views of the city at night from here.

The next morning we were sitting outside a rather lovely artisan bakery enjoying more coffee when the phones started beeping, jingling and doing all of those things you will be so familiar with now that we live our lives in techno world. At this point I do need to point out that the “we” I keep referring to is me, my friend, and her daughter.  There is no mystery here, I just don’t want to name people in such a public forum.  My friends’ boss seemed very concerned about our travel plans because, as we now know Pabuk was about to hit Krabi and surrounding areas. I must admit that I started to become uneasy when we both receiving messages urging us to “stay safe”.

After several minutes of indecision and frantic consultations of various weather apps the pair of us (daughter still in bed) made an executive decision to abandon Krabi in favour of Kho Samed Island. Thank goodness for the marvels of technology! It took a couple of hours with the laptop to book a completely different break and off we went to the coast to pick up the ferry/fishing boat across to Kho Samed.

What a delightful place this island is! Breakfast in a cafe called “Bilbo’s” was full English or just about anything you wanted to order. Right next door was a hostel and bar with cushions, futons and cocktails where some serious relaxing was frequently indulged in, and motorbikes cost 300 baht to hire for the day. The infamous Naga bar offered body paints that glow under the fluorescent light and the sand on “White Sands Beach” was so fine and soft it was almost a cliche.

We did get the tail end of the storm on the island, but this manifested itself as a lack of blazing sunshine a bit of a breeze. I can live with that. Needless to say, we ate and drank far too much, lazed around on beaches, in bars and restaurants that offered bean bags on the sand as their seating, and just generally had a jolly good time!

And now folks I really have to sign off as I have dinner to pick up, friends to meet and marking to begin.

I’ve no doubt you’ll hear more about the lovely Kho Samed next time.

Take care,



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