Uncategorized

Chinese New Year

Throughout the whole of January I have been subjected to the drumming coming from the Chinese Temple in the next street as they practised for this celebration. I can’t say that it was the music to try to go to sleep to, but you have to admire the dedication of these people, mainly youngsters  as they prepared to celebrate the most significant event in the Chinese calendar. On February 8th and 9th we finally got to see and hear the dragon and the gymnasts and it really was an amazing sight.

The dragon was paraded around the streets first, bring the already heavy traffic to a chaotic standstill, children ran up and down the pavements in excited anticipation and crowds stated to gather quite early on at the end of the street that house the Temple. The temple itself is beautiful and had been given fresh paint and a general spruce up before the event. It looks wonderful at night, red lanterns, trees spotlight from below, golden statues and icons and incense burning on the altars. I feel quite lucky to be living so close to this delightful structure, although as mentioned before I could have done without the drums for 30 nights solid!

When the dragon came to a halt the gymnasts took over. at one point a toddler, who could have been no more than 3 years old was hoisted onto a human tower of six adults,  each standing on the shoulders of the man beneath him. My heart was in my mouth as this tiny figure waved at the crowd from what seemed like the height of the neighbouring shops and buildings. Health and Safety? Don’t be silly! Mae Sot is a relatively small town but the display these people put on was very professional. Duelling dragons, a boy strapped to a pole and flung up towards to the dragon’s mouth brandishing fireworks, his teammates struggling to catch the pole, which was more like a very large and heavy log, as he hurtled earthwards, and all accompanied by drums bells and whistles. I’m really glad that I was able to see it. I have videos captured on my phone which show the cascading fireworks and the gyrations of the dragon much more clearly than the still pictures, and of course there is also the sound of the music and excited shouts from the crowd. Unfortunately, I’m not able to upload it here, but I will try to do so on Facebook.

2019 is the Year of the Pig. It’s element this time around is earth and if you are born in the Year of the Pig you will receive good fortune in health and financial matters, although it appears that your love/romantic life may not be plain sailing. As far as I am aware, there are no “forms” in Tai Chi that correspond to the Pig. Just as well really as they’re not exactly the most graceful of animals are they?

A good time was had by all as they say.

Fundraising Day at Mae La Camp.

IMG_1575

This is the school principal, Khu Paw, busy cooking in preparation for the fundraiser on Friday of last week. I have mentioned her before. What an amazing woman she is. She has to be a “Jill of all Trades” in her role as Principal and she keep the school going on a shoe-string. Donations are always welcome BTW.

The students also worked hard, cooking, playing music and making cold drinks to sell. I have said before that the sheer size of Mae La is quite awe-inspiring. I was there in the morning, and most of the “customers” came from nearby, but Khu Paw said she expected a steady stream of people throughout the day and evening from other parts of the camp. I can’t wait to hear how much they managed to raise.

That’s it for now folks, it’s getting late here and I have had a fairly long day sorting out arrangements for the Cambridge exams due to take place in March, and teaching my Mae Sot evening class.

Do you like the T-Shirt? (Not mine, the “Border Boy”?)

Namaste

Caroline

Uncategorized

Winter on the Border

Well it’s still “winter” here which means that the mornings are cool and pleasant and the afternoons are hot and sunny but not uncomfortably so. I hear that the weather in England is bitterly cold… what can I say? I’m happy to be here!

My landlady called round yesterday with a gift of a huge bunch of bananas from the tree in her garden, which was much appreciated. I still find myself looking at the coconuts on the palm tree next door and marvelling at how different life is these days. From apple and pear trees to banana and coconuts. Have you noticed that fruits that grow together, at the same time and in the same place are usually delicious when combined in dishes? I’m thinking of the apple and blackberry pies and puddings my mother used to make as well as the lovely sweet “cakes” you can buy on the street here for a few baht made form coconut, banana and sweetcorn. The corn is amazing! No need for butter, the taste is so much better than the supermarket corn cobs I’m used to.

I don’t know where the food theme came from, unless it’s because I’m trying to improve my diet at the moment! This is not the forum upon which to share my domestic arrangements however, so I’ll spare you the meal plans for now. I eat at the camp on Wednesdays and Fridays, usually fried rice with chicken or maybe noodles and soup. The food is very good, and the principal of our college (PTMJC) often does a shift in the canteen/cookhouse before she starts work. I cannot begin to express the admiration I have for this woman who is dedicating her own life to the youngsters in Mae La camp to try to give them a future of some sort. She herself has been there for over 2O years and has a daughter of her own who, at 9 years old, speaks almost perfect English. As the years go by the funding is becoming tighter, facilities more difficult to access and aid of all kinds more scarce. Yet Khu Paw, and people like her, continue to battle on, refusing to take the easy way out (she could be resettled in the west if she chose). I feel privileged to work with her and her dedicated team of teachers, some of whom are in the same situation as she is but continue to put the needs of their colleagues and students first.  It kind of helps to put all of the depressingly gloomy news and comments on Brexit and other issues from home into some sort of perspective.

The health service in Thailand is very good and guess what? It is government funded. It is not in place to make a profit and access to doctors and clinics (which you can find on every street) is very affordable. You may pay a few baht for some antibiotics for example but not as much as you’d pay for a prescription on our NHS.

I’m not going to use this blog to make political statements ( I can do that elsewhere) but I am going to say that the arrogance of the so called “developed” world is truly breathtaking at times. Trust me “West is best” is a misguided and very narrow minded view. We do not always know best that’s for sure.

The photos at the top of the page show myself and my students getting on with preparing for their exam which  will take place in March. The pairs of students are Lolla and Conquer, Mountain and Mayflower. ( I have their permission to share these with you). As ever, the whole class continues to delight and inspire me and, as I get to know the students better, the more I realise that I will truly miss them when it’s time to leave. I never, ever, hear them moan or complain. Every time I arrive in camp I am greeted by cheery faces and excited greetings “Good morning Teacher!” “How are you Teacher?” and, how lovely is this? “You look beautiful today teacher” !!! What??? I’m ashamed to say that my first reaction was to assume that they were being cheeky or sarcastic (too long spent amongst disaffected youth I expect), but no, they were just impressed with my Karen clothing and new earrings!

I hope I have managed to make a few of my teacher friends jealous now! It’s a great place to work as long as you aren’t looking for a five star lifestyle.

That’s all for now folks. It’s Sunday and I feel like doing something relaxing now. I might check out the herbal sauna at the Temple later, and of course there is my “private pool” to visit.

Take care all,

Namaste

Caroline

 

Uncategorized

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,

Namaste

Caroline

Uncategorized

Christmas in Thailand

Hi everyone,

A few thoughts and observations this week on the strangeness of spending Christmas away from home.

But first I want to share this with you:

IMG_1303This is Phil Towns, who comes from Durham and has been coming out to the border for several years. I am so full of admiration for this man. He recently set off on his bike to cycle over 2000 km through Myanmar raising money for a project called Kickstart Art. He was alone on this marathon, cycling in punishing temperatures and stopping at various guesthouses along the way. He kept us updated on Facebook with selfies and comments but even so it must have been hellishly lonely at times.

At the last count he had raised enough money to keep the project going for another 6  months at least, which is an amazing achievement. Kickstart Art uses art therapy with children to help them recover after trauma. This is putting it very simply, but I have seen the results of some of these sessions and they  are really awe inspiring. The people, especially some of the children, in this area have been through some horrendous experiences which I don’t feel that any of us “back home” can begin to imagine. However, if you look at any photos of kids in schools here, both Migrant and Thai, the recurring theme is smiles! Phil was renamed “Mr Smiles” on his journey through Myanmar and I think nothing could be more apt. Respect.

Christmas

There are a few scraggy looking Christmas trees around town, and some of the shops have tins of biscuits with red ribbons. Apart from that you could be forgiven for forgetting that it is December, which is actually quite nice for me. I am not the world’s biggest fan of Christmas, for reasons I will not explore here, or anywhere in the public domain for that matter, so I am enjoying wearing shorts in December and contemplating an ex pat Christmas meal that will be nothing like anything I’ve done before.

I am certainly NOT missing the ridiculous hysteria and consumer gluttony that marks this month back home. I do not miss not being able to find a parking space when all I want is my regular shopping. I do not miss the traffic jams and the rain/sleet and it getting dark at 4pm. I do not miss the Christmas cookery programmes that are on a loop every year, or the stress of buying presents and trying to please everybody (and failing miserably).

The other thing I do not miss is work related. I left my salaried teaching job early for a reason, well many reasons, but this time of year always brings back the kind of memories that make me shudder. I don’t know why, but our team always suffered the agony of “observations” in the  2 weeks before breaking up for Christmas. So, on top of all of the above demands on most of us, we were up our necks in schemes of work and stressful inspections. It’s still the same! My heart goes out to my former colleagues at this time. We literally used to “crawl” to the end of term, which is no way to live.

However, there are things that I do miss! I miss my family and friends and our get togethers and Christmas “fuddles” and I am definitely missing both of my kids now. For the first time in the history of the world ever I actually wrapped presents in September! I had to use last year’s wrapping paper because the shops hadn’t got round to getting it in. I’ve forgotten what I bought now. Thank heaven for Skype and Whatsapp, at least I can talk to everyone back home, although it does feel strange to be in such a different environment.

The students I teach in Mae La are Christian (baptist) and I also have Buddhist friends so I’m happy to have a multi faith celebration!

And just so that you know I’m not Ebeneezer Scrooge or The Grinch re-purposed:

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

Namaste

Caroline

Uncategorized

Exchange Visit Refugees and Harrow

This week end saw the annual exchange visit between students from Mae La camp and students from Harrow International School Bangkok.

This is an annual event, and is much appreciated by students from both institutions. The refugee students really enjoy the novelty of going into town ( they have to have camp passes to do this, which cost money and are therefore rarely available) and the Harrow kids get to meet with young people who are in a very different situation to their own. They also use this visit to help them achieve an in-school award, which sounds similar to the Duke of Edinburgh award we have back home.

We did quite a few things over the week end, including a visit to the SAW orphanage, where the students organised various sporting events and a fashion show.  The latter consisted of making outfits from bin liners, newspaper and coloured paper/plastic bin liners in purple and orange. The creativity they displayed was very impressive.

We shared meals together in different restaurants and had a swim in a public pool. We also had our very own ice cream vendor. First time I have ever had sticky rice with ice cream! It was actually very nice.

I asked my Mae La students to write about the week end when I saw them today. Their responses were very interesting. Many of them had never swum in a pool before, and most of them had never visited a shopping mall, so both of these activities went down well. They all commented on how expensive things were in town, which was not surprising, and they all commented on how much they had enjoyed making new friends with the Harrow students.

From a teacher’s point of view ( well mine at least) it was so gratifying to see how the two groups immediately took to each other and began playing games right from the start. It goes without saying that their lives and backgrounds could hardly be more dissimilar, but they connected with each other straight away. For my part I am glad to have been a part of the experience, and to have seen the genuine respect each group had for the other. It was exhausting though!

As you can see from one of the photos, the job satisfaction is off the scale. The student hugging me has chosen the nickname “Mountain”. I also have an Orange, a Snow, a Sweet, a Lolla and a Yellow. We ask them to give themselves a nickname because we are so rubbish at remembering their Burmese names, which can be quite convoluted. Their choices can be surprising, ranging from Jack to Mr Goldenberg. I have no idea where they get them from!

I am actually dreading doing the official exam entries for these groups as the Karen, along with most other Burmese peoples, do not have family or surnames, and our systems are just not set up for this. They will be sitting the Cambridge KET (Key English Test) in March, which is a very valuable qualification that is recognised worldwide so I really need to make sure I get the entries, and the names that will go the certificates, right.  No pressure then.

Meanwhile, back in Mae Sot, my other class of migrant workers is taking part in a “linking” exercise with the students up in Mytkinya in northern Burma. They will write to each other, and the tutor from Mytkinya will act as courier when she visits at the week end. The trip is not a straightforward one, so I’ll be interested to see how long it takes her to get to Mae Sot as I’m hoping to go and visit her within the next couple of months. I think I have to  go via Yangon, or possibly Mandalay, who knows? It’ll be yet another adventure for me anyway.

Signing off now because its getting late.

Till next time folks,

Namaste

Caroline