Stories, Questions, and Mysteries

Stories, Questions, and Mysteries

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Teaching Year End

End of teaching year.

              Wednesday December 24 this the last day of classes, as on Thursday three will be tableaus and celebrations for the local interpretation of what Christmas is rather than what it was or meant. And since the Generals have granted a vacation, to promote the economy, until January 4th this will be my last week at Bo Suay HIgh School. Details later.

              Medical Adventures.

             If this piece sounds like doctor's waiting room discussion of "my health issues" feel free to skip. I offer it as another set of travel experiences or cautionary tale about healthcare when away from local friendly general practitioners and pharmacies. 
            On Friday 10th I fell off my bike while riding to the temple. The bike and I descended into a concrete drain about 3 or 4 hundred mills deep and about 250 wide. I grazed my right calf. After washing and applying antiseptic cream I went to the hospital in Phon Phi Sai and had it looked at and dressed. This dressing daily went on for over a week, including one doctor prescribing oral and IV antibiotics. Day ten and on Sunday evening a doctor appeared in the  accident and emergency room where treatment is administered. He recommended I see the "specialist" who would visit on Monday. This all sounds so cliched.
            Monday morning I was summoned to Dr Tanet's room. He prodded and poked and talked to Jack my boss, interpreter. After 15 minutes of that Jack told me the situation was that though there was some superficial healing, there would be problems of a deeper infection which needed attention. He recommended opening the wound, cleaning and trimming skin and then regular dressing inspected by himself. 
           Terror cloaked me. I said that granted the infection control, or lack of it, in the place I had had the dressings minor surgery was out of the question.
           Options: 1. Go to Nong Khai private hospital where Thanet would operate anyway and they might want me to stay in hospital there isolated and the cost would be ten times that where I was. 2. Travel to Chiang Mai Ram hospital, an excellent place. 3. Do nothing. 4. Trust that Thanet knew what he was doing and go for it.
            None of my doctor mates or GP were available when I tried them on Skype. So OK let's do it; guaranteed I could have the use of the operating theatre. The coward in me was in constant negotiation with some inner common sense factor or at least pragmatic self.
           Out of street clothes and into operating gear and 'hat' was reassuring that they had heard of that kind of gear. I tried to chum up to the older lady who seemed to be the senior nurse. The operating table had arm-rests at right angles to the body. A nurse proceeded to tie my arm to the rest and desisted when I appealed to Tanat and he agreed to my freedom, probably concluding I was unlikely to hit him. 
           The Thais from my limited experience are good at analgesia. So I felt little pain, despite gouging and cutting and scouring. Jack was brought in all togged up, to translate. He was queasy so he sat on a stool with my reassuring hand on his shoulder. The reassurance was for me mostly I think. Eventually I was told to rise and reclothe. Jack and I did so in what seemed like a broom cupboard. Was I glad to get back into those clothes and appreciate my bandaged leg.
           A nurse took photos of the procedure and a video which I shall not append. Since then my daily visits for dressings have felt on a more solid base for genuine healing. My good mate Paul Flanagan, a very clever and experienced surgeon quotes a colleague from East Timor practice as saying that in these places we are in "a sea of pathogens".
Though healing will take time it should be straightforward this time.
Dr T doing a dressing in the E&E room.
          Today we passed two "clinics" full to overflowing and people on plastic chairs all over the footpath. They believe they are too poor to go to the hospital. Too health illiterate anyway.
          Bottom line? Do whatever is necessary to protect and expand national health services.   

Eye testing again.

         Thursday this week I went with Jack to a small school to do eye-testing. Sorting out those who may need glasses. 
         We worked in a small school I have mentioned before which services several poor villages.  Most of the children have but one parent, some none at all and are brought up by relatives. Two girls do not even live in what we would call a house, just a couple of sheets of iron. The teachers bought them some blankets for the winter. The teachers are matter of factly devoted to the kids whose homes they visit and link with whoever is parenting to assist the kids and assess the 'needs of the learners' as we used say in curriculum development.
Now the right eye.
         I shall take away some memories from this place which are wordless. When I was leaving and went to express my appreciation of the great job the teachers do I just burst into speechless tears trying to  talk to her. 
Easy work.

         The testing results were intriguing. We selected ten children from about thirty five for a further assessment. None of these was found to need glasses. However one boy was found, as we suspected, to have no sight in one eye and had compensated well. One girl will need surgery to help her eyelid muscles.

       The little lad in the red hoodie appeared first in the 6th classroom detached from everyone and occupying half a square metre on the floor. He worked assiduously with a pencil and ruler on his little book. Later he had moved to the verandah taking no notice of the people around him. The story was that he is from Kindergarten but their teacher was not there that day so there were no classes for them. He had come to school with his brother none the less. He has no parents but lives with his alcoholic grandmother.

Industrious little self contained mite referred to in text.


Computer room, Admin Room, 6th classroom, Teachers' lunchroom.

From here on in.

           The next three days will be my last at Beautiful Mouth HIgh School.  With the extended break over the New Year there are about a month's more classes this semester. I will miss the kids I help teach and those who have lunch with me and I will miss some of the teachers. But I cannot do any more. Health and leg issues aside the job of "teaching English in a HIgh School" is scarcely a doable job in organizational terms. My enthusiasm dominated my due diligence before I signed on. 
          The situation is that the majority of the secondary school students do not speak English sufficient to teach them even the most basic conversational English. So it is not possible to stand in front of a class on my own and say in truth I am teaching them English. Sure it is possible to entertain them and play games, but that is not what I came to do. So the alternative is to be there while a teacher "teaches English" which is often American English from a text-book published by National Geographic with quaint pronunciations. She, always she, then expatiates on the text in Thai. Sometimes they do an exercise like 'using a phone', or 'cancelling a credit card from an American bank.' Serious matters for kids from remote villages. The kids can mouth out stuff by rote, but have no idea what they are saying, most of the time. Resulting in, "What is your name?" "I am fine thank you."  dialogues abound. If one moves from the chorussed word you realize that scarcely any transmission of information or skill has taken place.
            Sadly most of the English teachers have scarcely any English and those who do struggle.
            But their friendliness, apart from the odd one, is warming. But I spend a lot of time waiting for a teacher with whom I can work by making English noises when asked to do so. I have come to realize that Thais are generally too much in the moment to be reflective and will go through the motions of doing something, take the photos with the right people in front of the camera and move on to the next thing. So if students did not learn something the previous year there is not a lot of opportunity to revisit and rebuild.
           I am not sufficiently deluded as to not ask myself whether I am whimping out. But the work needs to sustain me as well as the work itself. This is not currently the case, I wish it were otherwise.
  Have a good week of celebrations.


Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Grains and Granuals.

For whom the bell  does not toll.

        This silent cast metal bell used be the school summoner. It is severely neglected, though once a proud and powerful force. Students and teachers need a sound marker to assemble, change classes, go to lunch or just ignore.
         The bell replacement is a jarring couple of bars of "Home Sweet Home" culturally foreign and cacophonous; belted out from an impaired electronic keyboard.

Little school; big school.

          We visited a small primary school threatened with closure because of declining numbers of students. They have their first foreign teacher in Georgie from Bolton near Manchester who has won their hearts and minds. Teachers ply her with food, children bring flowers to her and make lovely little cards expressing deep love. There is a palpable spirit of community at the school.

Georgie and class.
Admin, 6th class, teachers' lunch room, TV Room.

          This is the more remarkable as 80% of the students have one  parent or are cared for by grandparents, aunts or uncles. Adults often go overseas to bring back hard earned cash and find their relationships are in tatters.
           One building has already been abandoned. One room functions as staff room, classroom for year 6 and "canteen". A tired full size football pitch suggests former days. Soon these comfortable and co-operative students will be bussed to a larger distant school where as minnows they will flounder. Sad to see such rich social capital being dissipated.

Widow Ghost.

          Outside my room the Widow Ghost bush nightly exudes an exotic heavy perfume like Frangipani.  The folklore is that if a man sleeps with a sprig of this bush the Widow Ghost will spirit him to his death during the night. It did not work for this iconoclast. But I imagine the potent services of the Widow Ghost have been used to remove or explain the removal of the odd villager.  "Well, Officer, I just put this sprig near his pillow to help him sleep, and he was gone in the morning".

Contemporary Courtesies.

       Having found myself abandoned at the dinner table by young volunteers welded to their smart phones, as yet not bound by the courteous conventions for tables and phones I have suggested the practice be called "textabating".

New Arrival.

       A thai English teacher with whom I work has just given birth to a son. HIs name is iPhone. Obviously the apple of his mother's eye.


         "Our house will burn down" usually gets action. Patricia in the house next door was justifiably concerned when a farmer burned a heap of dry rubbish and coconut leaves so that the flames ran up the coconut tree  and set the crown of it alight. Coconuts and burning bits showered the base of the tree and beyond. 
          With a trickle from a blue plastic hose and a rake I grabbed from the gormless woman pyrometrical farmer we got it under control, while dodging intermittent showers of  great balls of fire.
          Jack the boss here asked the farmer about the incident. "I don't know why she did it". He remarked of the incident. End of episode.

Nasal Work.

       Alex a Spanish, English teacher pointed out  large number of "nose jobs" which are popular among local women. Small noses are the mark of  Isan people. It is so sad to see them wanting to look so different they they will have plastic surgery to enlarge what they recieved at birth. 
       On the other hand had my Dwyer relatives been on the scene they could have made considerable donations of tissue to these ladies.

Disability Run.

Discarded Wheel Chair
Mother with kidney failure and disabled daughter.
Taking Daughter for a walk.
          We visited several families caring for their disabled children on Constitution Day December 10th. Managing these people in a developed country like Australia  is a challenge. The challenges here are similar and the questions the same; "Who will look after my child when I am gone?" 
          But the vast difference is in the resources available and affordable. We delivered disposable nappies, rice, packaged milk and dried fish in differing quantities for different family needs. To those of you who have supported me financially, I thank you for the little I was able to pass on. 
           On our way through the small villages we came across women women splitting reed like plants to make strands of weft for floor mats. Others wove straw into bands for sewing into hats. They talked, children talked to them and played, some sat around in hammocks. They sold us a couple of mats for about six dollars or less.
Community work.
           At a brief glimpse they seemed more contented and aware of who they are and what they do than many of the people I see in Oz. These villages are puddles of equanimity though of course there is no nirvana. They are also puddles of intrigue, magic, teenage marriage and abandoned children.
          We also saw fisher folk with beautifully formed nets. They cherished each little fish collected.
Getting Dinner.

          Nearby there was a charcoal oven ready for firing. These things exist around the world, but each region has its own design flavour.

          Thai has some words which are common and central to their everyday life. Truism, yes. But these words do not have the same meaning in English. Fuck Thong is a pumpkin. A bean filled loofah plant is Fuck Keow (pronounced a bit like "You"). No offence intended.
Fuck Keow 

Next time medical services at the local hospital.




Saturday, 6 December 2014

The King's Birthday and other delights.

Friday December 5th King's Birthday.

        King  Bhumibol Adulyadej is the the world's longest reigning monarch and is 87 this year. He has reigned since 9 June 1946. A remarkable innings considering there have been 20 attempted or successful coups during his reign.
         He has been much loved by his people and with good reason. Though he did not chose to rule, but was required to by the death of a relative, he has been an intelligent and compassionate promoter of significant initiatives. Throughout Thailand there are "King's Projects" in areas of agriculture, science, renewable energy etc. which benefit not only Thailand but other countries as well.  Whatever ones views of monarchs, he like Elizabeth II has done his best to do a decent job, as I see it, and I am no monarchist, especially for Australia.
Now hear this.

          No school on Thursday was ceremonies and entertainment before lunch and cleaning the place after lunch. We assembled in the large hall and in threes signed messages of respect to the king, there were speeches and the headmaster in smart tailored yellow jacket droned interminably. The students responded with mutual disrespect, drawing on oneanother's backs or just talking. Like the captain of an aircraft carrier sailing through a flotilla of canoes he drove his trail unaware of the casualties to respect or learning.

Backing up the speech.

Not like they look in class.

Likely lads.
         The students entertained, charmed and amused. The dancers of both genders looked very grown up in traditional make up and costumes. The event is difficult to describe in words but was a series of rich pictures.
     Old mate Tarn excelled himself. 
Talented Tarn

Spiritual Foundations.

       On Tuesday the excuse for missing classes was that the new school building was to be blessed/protected from and by the spirits or commenced or foundation stone equivalent laid, or whatever. Unfortunately I have no photos.
            A marque was set up on the building site, teachers and senior students attended and the head honcho from either the Education Department or the province of Non Khai (I could not find out which) came along decked in a haircut which was half shaven and half comb-over; sort of post prime punk. The village spirit man took a bamboo fish trap about a meter and a half long and stuffed it with leaves, branches, rice, money and some papers. This was secured to the nine or so long meter reinforcing rectangle for the first column and a second trap for the second minor column. Cotton thread was attached to the far end  top of the steel reinforcing structure, teachers and students held the  symbolic cotton raising rope and twenty workmen with arms and sticks pushed up the column after the head man had lit candles, muttered incantations and bowed profusely. This was an animist ceremony, without a Buddhist monk in site. What the students were learning, both in both the visible or hidden curriculula
I have no idea.

Exotic Market.

       A market  appears Sundays several kilometers from here where traders from the nearby jungle mountains of Laos and  and Thai buyers deal.  There is the usual swag of clothes, mostly for women, with "sports clothes" club jerseys and track pants for men and food along with seriously dubious jungle fauna and flora. Jayne and I have watched documentaries horrified, about these places where endangered species trade evades the eyes of officials, even though there were immigration and police people around. Rows or rats might not look appetizing to us, but racoons and squirrels and other items were confronting. The shopkeepers brushed them with damp tissues either to convey they were fresh or keep them alive. There were grills  of unintelligible offal which looked as if someone had confected them to conscript vegetarians or instantly convert carnivores into anorexics. But what the pics never convey are the aromas, amazing, assaulting and astonishing.
Anyone for grasshoppers?

Don't laugh; could be an Australian parliament.

"All the perfumes of Arabia..."