To add to the week of firsts, as in first week of teaching ever, first week in Dan Chang, first month in Asia, first time picking up a dead cockroach, first time ever running over something(i.e., snake); I also experienced my first school holiday. Apparently there are a lot of unannounced school holidays, and it’s casual for students to just go MIA from class. At times even the entire class will disappear. Less work for me, so keep doin you Banhan(my school). My 22nd birthday also happened on the same day, also the day of a welcome dinner for me and one of the Chinese teachers I live with.
I am lucky that I was able to experience Wai Kru coming into the school year a month late, as many schools celebrated it the week before. Wai Kru is like teacher appreciation day, except unlike in the US it’s filled with pomp and circumstance and a ton of chanting that I didn’t understand. I’m not sure what the literal translation is exactly, but “wai” is when you bow to someone out of respect, and I know “kru” can be a prefix for a teacher’s name, so I’m assuming that it means something along the lines of teacher respect. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, the Thais are all about that. Morning classes were cancelled(bless up) so that we could all sit out in the 90 degree heat while the students put on a ceremony, showing respect for their ajarn(teacher/teachers). Ironic that students who disrespect the teacher by showing up to class 20 minutes late every day took the entire morning off to show respect.
The ceremony consists of students presenting the teachers each with elaborate flower arrangements in front of the whole school, many of which had been made the day before while students were absent from my class. The school made a competition out of it and gave prizes for the most creative, best design, etc. by grade level. Afterwards a couple scholarships were presented, and the students all bowed to us in unison. They also said a bunch of important-sounding stuff in Thai that I didn’t understand(again, a running theme).
Some of the arrangements were funny, consisting of pictures of one of the teachers and pictures of each individual student, arranged to look like a class. Others were edible, cleverly bribing the judges with sweets like cupcakes. Apparently the food was meant to be some kind of offering, to whom or what I am unclear. Of course, out of all the breathtaking arrangements in the land, I was presented with an arrangement that had some kind of Ken doll enthroned on it, clothed in nothing but leaves. No idea what the “symbolic meaning” of that was supposed to be.
The nicest part was after the ceremony, when individual students came up to teachers and gave us little bracelets they had made out of flowers.
After all the bowing, chanting, and arrangement-sampling, class resumed as normal. During fifth period, as we were running on Thai time,of course, even though the ceremony ended at 9:30AM.
That day I was fortunate enough to experience another first, my first real life Thai monsoon!!! They really do mean “monsoon” when they say Monsoon Season. After school all of the teachers in the foreign language department were meeting at a restaurant to welcome me and a Chinese teacher, and of course, it explosively down poured. It rained so much that the streets were mostly flooded by nightfall. You would think that in a country that literally has “monsoon season” they would have a better drainage system?
The other Americans & I were concerned about riding our motorbikes in the storm, TG one of the Thai English teachers picked us up. The ride was almost normal until I noticed the excessive amount of American flags present in the car. Did he decorate for the occasion? No joke, there was an American flag rug and an American flag throw pillow in the back seat, it was like riding in the July issue of the Crate & Barrel catalogue. I’m all about the feng shui, but putting throw pillows in your back seat is like Martha Stuart on house arrest level decoration. By far the most patriotic ride of my life.
The dinner was nice, Chong Pun(completed butchered the spelling I apologize) and I were presented with arrangements. By nice I mean there were a bunch of Thai people there who were able to order for us non-Thai speakers. You’ve never really known a language barrier until you’re limited to ordering the one menu item you can pronounce that you’re hoping is on the menu you can’t read.
Seeing that there was already a welcome dinner for me, I had made the executive decision earlier that telling people it was my birthday was unnecessary. I thought celebrating the fact that I’ve made it 22 years without dying while already celebrating my arrival at Banhan would be excessive. I mean you can only honor one person so many times in a day.
So I was taken by surprise. While I was receiving welcome flowers on a small karaoke stage at the restaurant, trying to scamper out of the spotlight ASAP, the teachers all burst out into a heavily-Thai-accented rendition of “Happy Birthday.” But no worries, they only went through about 7 choruses of it while waiting for the candles on the cake to properly function, as I stood dying a slow painful death of embarrassment. Of course it took 7 rounds for the candles to function properly, classic Thailand. My coordinator P’nga must’ve seen my birthday on my passport when she was doing my visa paperwork.
Happy Birthday “Tine,” the Thais tend to leave off the last syllable of a word.
It was very thoughtful, and I doubt I’ll ever have another birthday where a chorus of 20 Thai people serenade me in the midst of a monsoon. Did I mention this restaurant was outdoors, similar to a patio set up, like most other restaurants in town? Try making small talk with people who don’t really know your language and then throw in a Moby Dick soundtrack. Challenging would be an understatement.
Seeing as we had forgotten to pack our scuba gear, the other two American teachers and I decided to ring in 22 with drinks at our house. P’nga surprised us with Leo beer, Lay’s potato chips, and pork skins to celebrate, along with Heineken beer glasses she had bought each of us for the occasion. Justin Bieber, fried pork skins, American flag throw pillows, AND beer glasses, it was my most American day yet. Oh and whiskey, for some random reason rice whiskey seems to be the popular Thai choice of poison. I tried to explain tequila to P’nga and the best I could come up with was “evil Mexican whiskey.” After cracking into the Lay’s she told us that the Thai word for potato chip is “Man Farang,” literally meaning “foreign potato.” I’ve always wanted a processed spud named after my people.
Between Dan Chang and Leo beer, I’d say 22 is off to an okay start. Oh and the fact that I’m in Thailand, that helps too.