Two in Thailand

After raising three children and watching them graduate from college, Bob and Carol decided to leave the educational field and pursue a dream that had been put on hold for 35 years (since graduationg from the University of Northern Iowa). "Two in Thailand" is the journal dedicated to that dream - to serve in the Peace Corps. This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed within do not necessarily represent the views of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.

Friday, May 12, 2006

We Meet Our Co-teachers

These pictures were sent to us while we were in training. Carol's co-teachers were Nipon (in the first picture) and Maa and Dtai in the second picture (Maa is the second from the left and Dtai is on the right).

It must have been a Wednesday because the students are wearing their scout uniforms (not related to the Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts organizations in America. Students wear uniforms every day. There is also the official uniform worn three days/week and a sports uniform worn 1 day/week. Students who cannot afford uniforms are assisted by monies raised by the school (usually from school garden sales).

Bob's teachers are Toy (seated on the right in the third picture with the science teacher) and Tawee in the last picture.

During our first three weeks in the village, we met with our co-teachers to set up some strategies and create some lesson plans as well as some teaching visuals. We later discovered that the lesson planning was a new concept to Thai teachers and that a new mission would be to introduce planing, establishing learning objectives, grade books, and seating charts in addition to introducing student-centered education as opposed to the teacher-centered style that exists in Thailand.

Surprise, Surprise!!

After a few weeks of lesson planning with our Thai co-teachers, we were told that we were being taken to TaPhraya to see a parade honoring the Thai New Year. It's a festival where people throw water on each other for four straight days. It is an act of cleansing away the evil spirits and wishing good luck. We were told that we would actually have time to do some shopping. When our driver left, I kept saying that we were going in the wrong direction. Instead, they took us to an event where all the senior citizens from the six villages were trucked in to be blessed. Bob was told that he had to give a speech in Thai and then Carol and Bob, officially blessed the people with fragrant water and powder. Note: It took us a few months to learn to ignore what was being said and just enjoy the ride. The senior citizens were a delight!!! Bob even got into an exercise class with the senior citizens. Note: Bob is in step, the guy on the right didn't understand the Thai instructions!!! This Songkran Festival celebrated in April (the hottest month of the year) is often highlighted by wild antics of water dousing unsuspecting "victims" but we found that it is actually a moving and spiritual event in the smaller villages of Thailand.


It's Off to Work I Go!!!

The is no school in April because it is too hot. We planned lessons (a new concept for our teachers) for week and now that the"bit term" (semester break) is over, we are finally ready for our first day of teaching!! Carol rides her bike to one of her schools (4 km) and Bob walks 1 km. Sometimes it's a delicate balancing act for Carol as she straps on her backpack and secures a basket of teaching materials above her rear tire. We have definitely discovered the importance of drinking plenty of water. It's very easy to dehydrate in temperatures near 100 with humidity in the high 90's.

Look at that smile!!!! Retirement and adventure all combined into one!

School Bus

The students are also on their way to school in the local "school bus". It's a little scary to watch the bus pass by our house everyday. We get hit by torrential downpours, so you can imagine what happens to the students on top. By the way, I don't think the students on top are wearing seat belts! Please click on the photo to enlarge it!!! If the bus suddenly stopped or rolled into a ditch, we doubt that there would be a lawsuit by the parents. The students chose to ride the bus, so it was their destiny. We are still getting use to the Buddhist way of thinking!

The Family Station Wagon and a Few More Surprises

Bob's first day brings a few surprises! The first is the means of transportation. There are 4 children on the motorcycle with mom. We have even seen 5 people and 1 baby! And we Americans thought we were ingenious when we crammed 20 people in a VW Bug!!!!


More surprises were revealed before the first class had even started. Every morning, the
students stand and listen to announcements for the first 30 minutes. Even the little preschoolers are expected to stand at attention for that time (could American children do that? In the picture below, we think a younster (dek-dek) got the teacher's attention.
"Spare the rod and spoil the child" is a strong belief in Thailand. Click on the picture to see the teaching tool the teacher has in her left hand. Also notice the dogs which are everywhere in Thailand.
After this first set of announcements, they clean the school (there are no janitors). They then come back for prayer and more announcements, while their assigned areas are inspected. The teams that did a good job have their flags raised (note the different colored flags). The loudspeakers are turned up for music to accompany morning aerobics. This entire process takes anywhere from 60 -75 minutes. Teams that don't have their flag raised must go back and clean again and then do a mandatory set of calisthenics.
It's not unusual to escort dogs out of the class since we have the doors wide open to allow a breeze. However, they are welcome to stay if they help clean the school!

We found out that the Thai students are extremely shy about speaking English. When you speak to them in English, you get the most horrified expression! We also discovered that most of the students, even the high school students who have had 9 years of English can only respond to "What is your name?" and "How are you?" When we asked, "How old are you?", the response was, "I am fine....and you?" We realized we had a lot of work to do!!!! But the main job was to reduce the fear level and establish teaching English as a fun activity. Luckily for Bob, he had the younger students who did not seem as scared as the high school students. The smiles on their faces and eager expressions made his job a lot easier.

Love those bright faces!

These are fifth graders at one of Bob's schools. They are copying some basic sight words because Bob has discovered that they don not know words such as "at", "to", "the", or "with".
They are extremely bright and catch on very quickly. They are use to simply repeating words they hear, so getting them to read is a challenge, but they are learning quickly!!! The picture was taken on "Scout Day" which is every Wednesday. All students are either Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, but it is not associated with Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts of America.

Our Transportation to Our Second Site

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, our second city was in a village about 25 kilometers away. A few weeks before the start of the new school year, we made a practice run on our bikes. It was a typical hot day in Thailand with temperatures and humidity both in the 90's. On the way back, Carol became extremely dehydrated and we had to stop for an hour, We thought, we have to do this twice a week? What happens when the monsoons arrive and it rains in the morning and the afternoon? We called our supervisor and said that it was asking a little too much for these two senior citizens to make a daily 50 km trek, especially given the weather and the narrow roads.

Luckily, arrangements were made for a van to transport us to and from school.

To say the van was in bad condition was an understatement! We usually arrived at school in different seating arrangements, since the seats weren't bolted to the floor. The needle of the gas gauge had never seen a position off the "E" and we were usually running only on gas fumes. We often convinced Khun Thaa, our driver (the agriculture teacher), to stop at a gas station and gave him 100 baht so we wouldn't be stranded next to a remote rice field. The other downside is that are driver frequently forgot to take us home, because he was so busy with the crops. In the second picture, we asked him "what happened". His response was, "Pom luum", which means "I forgot."

Looking back, we had more laughs with the driver about the transportation even though he spoke no English because humor is universal. We would often stop midway at a local gas station/convenience store and offer to buy him any refreshment he wanted .... but he would only take water. He was extremely kind and humble and as the Thai saying goes ... jai dee ... which means kind-hearted.

Teaching English is Both Fun and a Challenge!

At the second site, Bob's Thai co-teacher is Toy. Toy teaches at a school that is in a much poorer area than the other site. Bob and Toy have fun, but are exhausted at the end of the day. Getting Thai students to try to speak English is very difficult because the sounds in the English language are quite different from Thai. They do not hear the difference between "L" and "R" (see you tomollow). When we ask them to say "favorite", they say "friend". And consonant blends are nearly impossible: "Sister" is "sitter", "fish is "fit","world" is "wern", "much" is "mutt", "spend" is "sa-pend", "drive" is "die", "large" is "lard", "stomach ache" is "sata-mat aitch", etc. So it's no wonder that they are extremely shy about speaking English. In these pictures, we are saying, "Give the ball to her." Then we ask them, "Who has the ball?" --- to which the correct answer might be, "She has the ball". We get hilarious results, but the whole idea is to get them to speak, which in this case was quite successful.


Little Classroom on the Pond

This is a view of Carol's classroom at the second site. The ponds are used to raise fish to eat and sell. If Carol would buy a fishing pole, she could catch her lunch! Our son, Rion, an avid fisherman and hunter, would be so proud of her!!!

Carol's First Assignment for Her Students

After a few days of teaching, Carol had her students draw the flag of Thailand and put information on the flag about themselves. This gave the students a comfort zone (they are so shy) because most of them are extremely talented artists. These are just a few of the assignments she received. The picture is just a small section of the bulletin board in her classroom where they are displayed. Please click on the photo to enlarge it.

Let the Painting Begin!!!

We have been amazed at the conditions our classrooms are in. Most classrooms are open to the elements, which means the weather, insects, and critters take their toll. Carol finally managed to get the school to supply paint -- little did we know that we had to add the dye and mix the paint. Also, we had to improvise on equipment (e.g. paint roller trays cannot be found in our area). The paint went on very uneven and was a lot darker than we imagined. It absolutely looked terrible! But as the paint dried, it dried several shades lighter (the opposite of what we are use to in the U.S.)

Six hours later, we stand in front of our masterpiece. In the first picture, Carol is standing with Ajaan (teacher) Maa. The school's vice-pricipal, Ajaan Suree, joins us. We hope that the results will inspire others to take pride in the appearance of their rooms. If nothing else, Carol can enjoy her new surroundings for the next two years!

Monday, May 08, 2006

3-Day English Camp

After only a few days of teaching, we conducted a 3-Day English camp for Thai English teachers. The English Resource Instructional Curriculum (ERIC) staff was very pleased with our proposal, so they arranged the three-day camp to be held at a beautiful campsite next to a lake. Everyone stayed in bungalows and were treated to three meals a day. We organized games in order to teach English. All instructions and commands were in English. We did this because their English skills are very limited, and giving 8-hour sessions/lectures each day would have been a waste of everyones time. Needless to say, we all had fun!! We were exhausted at the end of each session and went to sleep at 10 pm each night in our little bungalow while the Thai teachers stayed up and partied into the early morning hours. We do not know where the get all their energy!

Some of these pictures show the skit that we required all 24 Thai English teachers to produce. The teachers were in 4 teams of six and wore their team colors around their head, neck, arm, or leg. The skit was entitled "Teaching English in Thailand". We thought that they would spend one hour at the most and then take advantage of the fact that we gave them 4 hours. They were so enthusiastic (and competitive), that they spent the entire 4 hours (skipping coffee and snack breaks) preparing the skit. We told them that the skit has to be in English, which is a little scary when you consider thast most of them have very limited English speaking skills. The skits were both inventive and hilarious!!! The other pictures show competitions we set up. Basic English instruction words were used to demonstrate how students could learn English by doing a project. We were amazed at the ingenuity the teachers demonstrated as well as the competive nature that seemed to conflict with our predisposed understanding of Buddhism.

Silk Weavers

At the end of our 3-day English camp that we conducted, the teachers took us to a small village that weaves silk. Thai silk is the finest in the world. It will take about two days to make a piece of silk that measures about 2 and a half yards. The piece of material costs around $1,250 baht which is a lot of money for most Thais ($32.50). The women work in a space under the house in temperatures that hover between 90 and 104 degrees.

Some of the Thai English teachers and weavers pose with us in front of the house where the silk cloth is made.

After watching the women weave the silk, they took us down the street to a woman's house where the silk worms are raised. The larvae are fed mulberry leaves until they spin their cocoons. One cocoon produces 800 meters (880 yards) of the very fine silk thread. If you click on the close up, it will enlarge to show the individual larvae. The people with Carol are Thai English teachers who are our co-teachers.

Ancient Ruins in Thailand

These ruins date back to 1100 A.D. They were established by Cambodians and represent a giant calendar. There are six doors and when the sun can be seen through all six doors, it is the first day of spring or the first day of fall. Although Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, the ruins were erected by people who practiced Hinduism.
If you click on the last photo and enlarge it, you will see Bob and Carol.

Mat Weavers

The mats are beautiful and cost only $5.00. It's a tedious project, but if they sell one mat a day, the money will allow them to meet all their necessities. Naturally, we bought one. Those are Carol's legs in the background!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Border Market

1000's of Cambodians cross daily into Thailand to sell clothes, baskets, etc. They have a huge process wereby the sort clothes, iron them, and put them in 100's of make-shift stores. Fish are also brought to the market to be sorted and prepared.

Friday, May 05, 2006

On the border between Thailand and Cambodia, 1000's of Cambodians are allowed to come across the border and sell their goods. These are scenes of the fish market. It is nearly 100 degrees and the humidity saps all the energy from your body, yet these people work 8 hours a day preparing fish for sale. The smell was nauseating, but these people toil to make a living. Be thankful you have air conditioning and better working conditions.