Well it’s been a long time since I last posted, but that’s mainly cos I’ve been pretty busy with my visa run and a New Year’s holiday, which is a pretty good reason I guess.
But before I start talking about my trips away from Hat Yai, there have been a couple of things which have happened at school which are probably worth a mention. The first of these has to be the school football tournament, in which I was asked to play for Team Teacher (or team Man Toilet as we were apparently called.) I couldn’t work out what the point of it was, or if it was a knock-out or group stage competition, or what the prize was. But obviously I jumped at the chance to play, and cancelled any classes that might get in the way of my participation. And I have to say parts of it were brilliant. The cheer I got when I walked on to the pitch was easily the loudest of the day, and I was asked to show my non-existent six pack ……. by two thirteen year-old boys. One of the guys I work with, who unlike me has actually experienced the world of generic office jobs and living in Slough says that he will never get tired of the celebrity status that you enjoy here as a ‘farang’ teacher, and I definitely agree. Sometimes it might get a bit annoying, and constantly hearing ‘teacher you are handsome’ can somewhat diminish its power as a compliment, but as a general rule I think it’s better to hear these things than not to.
However, not everything about this tournament was so positive, and parts of it were pretty frustrating. One of the reasons that the cheer was so loud (besides my good looks, athletic physique and previously established footballing prowess of course) was that I was actually a bit late, and all the other players were warming up waiting for me. I’d been told the game started at 4:00, so I got to the pitch (a patch of concrete with some markings and goals) at 3:45. But somewhere down the line, the kick-off time had been changed, and no one had seen any reason to tell me. The next day, our game started at 3. So I got changed into my kit at 2:45 and headed down to the pitch … only to find actually it kicked off at 4. This left me looking like a bit of an idiot in my kit a full hour before the kick off of a 20 min game/glorified kick around. These misunderstandings were probably a result of my very poor Thai and the marginally better level of English among my teammates, but the Thai teachers all seemed to get the message.
This frustration continued when we started playing. Once we kicked-off, it quickly became apparent that the Thai teachers really had no intention of passing me the ball. As far as they were concerned, asking me to play was a nice gesture, and the kids go to cheer their farang teacher, but now that was all out the way, it’d be much appreciated if I’d just sub myself off and let them get on with the business of playing. When I first got subbed-off, I didn’t want to cause offence by telling anyone else to come off so I could come back on, so I actually played less than half of the game. The second game (against the star players of the school, who I think I’ve already mentioned are pretty good) was a bit better, although there was one moment when I had to point out that I’d already been off once, and had only been back on the pitch for 2 mins, so wasn’t about to go off again. (I feel like I should point out that though we lost the game something like 4-2, in my time on the pitch it was 1-1). For our third game we were missing a couple of our main players so I actually played nearly the whole game – we won 5-1 and I finally got on the score sheet (twice), but by this point the tournament had lost whatever buzz it had, and had there been any more games I wouldn’t have bothered to play – sometimes I even ended up staying in school past 4:00, which my colleagues will know is something I rarely do willingly.
This tournament took place in the run up to Christmas, which unfortunately at my school isn’t a very big deal. While most other teachers got at least some days off, we were required to work right through to the 28th. But I did manage to spy an opportunity to do a bit less work, and so I held Christmas parties with every class that could be trusted not to turn an hour of non-structured festive celebrations into a Lord of the Flies type scenario – so of my 19 classes, 5 were treated to some food and drink (which they brought in themselves on top of my contributions) and my ipod’s collection of Christmas music. I even managed to use up another lesson by getting the kids to write Christmas cards to each other via secret santa – I got involved too, and found myself making (not just buying) Christmas cards for certain kids. In the middle of all this, I was also told that on Christmas day, I’d have to be in school by 6:30 to dress up as Santa and give presents to the kids. Well this I did, and you wouldn’t believe what a Thai kid will do to another just to get a single tiny chocolate football. But this was not the end of my duties. I also had to, along with one of my colleagues, tell a Christmas story and sing Christmas songs in front of a few hundred children. Well my colleague is South African, and they don’t really have Christmas songs or stories like we do in England, so in the end I had to sing Jingle Bells and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer in their entirety. I was actually surprised by how many of the words I remembered, considering I haven’t sung either since I was about 13, but the again, it’s hardly like reciting the Qu’ran is it? After about 30 mins, we were both drenched in sweat (we might have been dressed in Santa outfits, but the weather was certainly not North Pole-like), and desperate for it to finish. Eventually it did, and all I can say is that is maybe my most ridiculous teaching experience in Thailand yet, and I will never ever work out what point it served, beyond my school showing off their farang teachers (unless this was the actual point, which is more than likely).
I didn’t actually have to work the whole of Christmas week, because on boxing day I had to head down to Malaysia to get a new visa, as my tourist one was due to expire on the 27th. I had wanted to go down much earlier, but my agency didn’t get round to arranging a substitute teacher (and still only managed one for 1 of the 3 days I was away) until the last minute. They also gave me some not very clear information about how long it could take, and while I won’t go into it, I’ll just say that I can’t work out if they were just lying or incompetent. Anyway, getting down to Penang was fairly simple, and I quite enjoyed my stay there really. I can see why people who have been on a few visa runs get bored of it pretty quickly, but the food was incredible, there a few other English teachers from Hat Yai on their visa runs as well and there were some nice things to see – it is a UNESCO world heritage site after all. And I even managed to find a used book shop, which I was pretty excited about. After an initial scare, I did manage to get my Non-immigrant B Visa, which means that I can now get a work permit if I choose to do so, although it’s maybe not worth it at this point. While I was in Penang I also got a message that there were still tickets for the night bus to Koh Samui/Pha-Ngan on the Friday, making spending the weekend and New Year’s Eve on one or the islands an option. So after picking up my visa, I got the bus back to Hat Yai. Within about 1 hour I got home, showered, packed and got back to the bus station.
We ended up going all the way to Koh Pha-Ngan, and despite being told otherwise, we found (good) accommodation quite quickly, for the first night at least. We rented a couple of bikes and hung out at a couple of beaches. We then had something for dinner and then went got some beers and took a walk along the beach, To avoid this post becoming too long, I’ll just quickly go over what we got up to over the rest of the weekend – to be honest it was pretty standard ‘weekend on an island’ fare (#bigtime), and there’s not really a stand-out moment to dwell on. On the Saturday we went on a cruise, went snorkeling and did a bit of hiking and I had 4 donuts and about a million slices of watermelon and pineapple for breakfast. We also managed to find accommodation for the night. On a quick side note, if you ever go to Koh Pha-Ngan for a New Year’s full moon party, you will no doubt be told that you won’t be able to find accommodation unless you book in advance, Well unless you’re dead set on staying in Hat Rin (where the party actually takes place), it’s not too hard to find decent accommodation as long as you’re prepared to ask around a bit. The next day (the day of the full moon party) I went off to find some friends in Hat Rin which wasn’t the easiest thing to do armed with only a Thai phone, but eventually I bumped into them. It was pretty cool to see some friends from Hereford/Exeter, and it gave me and my travel partners a break from each other. After dinner I went to find the guys I’d traveled from Hat Yai with for the main event – the New Year’s Full Moon party.
Apparently, there were 30,000 people at this party, although I think the ridiculously terrible weather of that day perhaps meant there weren’t quite as many. But there were still enough people like myself decked out in fluorescent clothes and face paint to make it easily the biggest party I’ve ever been to (after Queen’s Day in Amsterdam of course). The buckets were cheap, a lot of skin was on show, and yes, someone got shot. All in all, it was ok. I really can’t say it was brilliant or the best party I’ve ever been to. I think in that sort of situation you really just have to go all out to have a good time, but I guess having no place to stay meant that I had to be quite careful about how much I drank among other things, and probably hampered my enjoyment slightly. But probably more significant was the fact that I didn’t really come to Thailand to hang out on a dirty beach resort with a bunch of juiced up Aussies and sunburned British girls, and I don’t think anyone, least of all myself, would ever mistake that for my ‘scene’. Now I’m not gonna start accusing these people of ‘ruining’ the island – quite frankly if you sell buckets including 1 bottle of spirits, energy drink and coca-cola for only 150 baht (like £3) you’ve only got yourself to blame – but I think that when you’re on the other side of the world, there are many more rewarding experiences that can be had. My favourite parts of my time in Thailand so far have been when I’ve managed to engage with the native population on a level beyond tourist/native. I’m not talking about discovering that we are ‘one’ or ‘the same’, just that when I’ve managed to get past the barriers that exist (language, culture etc…), Thailand has felt more like ‘home’, which personally I find quite important. But still, I had fun, and while I wouldn’t go out out of my way to do so, I would definitely go to another Full Moon Party if I was around for it.
Anyway, that’s all for now – I might have another trip planned for this coming weekend, but after that I really have to turn my attentions to saving money for the summer holidays and working out what I’m gonna do during and after them, so I might not have so much to talk about for a while!
Laterz, Horsinho xx