Moving to Ban Phet

Moving to Ban Phet
On Wednesday, May 14th, I was picked up from my friend Emily’s house in Lom Sak by my consultants and taken to my town.  Thailand has a very friendly teasing culture, and my consultants teased me the whole way to town about rural living and how crazy it will be – i.e. “you have to pluck the feathers from the chickens before eating them” “watch out for the crazy bugs that crawl out of the countryside” “good luck out there!” and the like.  I laughed and joked along, but inside, the terror was mounting.  Holy crap.  I was moving to the middle of nowhere in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language or even comprehend the alphabet.
Saying goodbye to my good friend Emily!  She’s only a couple hours away in Lom Sak, and I’m sure we’ll be visiting each other and traveling together!

Almost immediately, I was taken in by the town.  I made friends with two key people – Pooky and Ell. Pooky teaches computer classes at the same school, and Ell has an internet cafe in town.  Both take care of me, feed me, make sure I am happy and comfortable.  They take me into town when I need to buy something.  They speak some of the best English in my whole town, besides some of the English teachers at the school.  I don’t know what I would do without them.

My room in Ban Phet when I first arrived – a bed, a closet, a desk, and two chairs.

The closet has more room than I need with my limited clothes.

My bathroom – a toilet and a tub of water.  I use the tub of water and a small handled bowl to take showers, flush the toilet, wash my hands, wash dishes, wash clothing, etc.  And if you’re concerned about the water being cold, don’t worry.  I’m always up for a cold shower in this country, and the water warms to room temperature anyways.  

Meet my friend Deef.  She is my landlady’s granddaughter.  She is four years old and she is hilarious and friendly.  Whenever I am around, she runs into my room and crawls up on my bed and chatters in Thai.  Of course we don’t understand each other, but we’re still buddies.

On day two in Ban Phet, an air conditioning unit was installed in my apartment.  It was totally unexpected and totally appreciated.  Now I have relief from the heat and I can sleep soundly.

Deef took this picture for me.  On the right is my landlady.  I can’t remember her name, but I call her Big Mama, and she thinks it’s hilarious.  On the left is Patty, her daughter.  Patty is 18 years old and graduated from high school last year.  In August she will be leaving for university.  She speaks a tiny bit of English and is sweet but painfully shy, and she normally only uses English when she really needs to communicate something with her.  Big Mama doesn’t speak any English at all.

The day before school started, I was taken to school to get my class schedule and meet my bosses.  Most foreign teachers will hardly meet their School Director, but I took photos with mine on the first day.

And another picture with the rest of the consultant team from MediaKids, the agency through which I am hired.  From left to right is Dayna (curriculum consultant, British), me, Yok (placement consultant, Thai), the director, Eye (HR staff from MediaKids, Thai), Joe (curriculum consultant, British) and Miaw (placement consultant, Thai).  My team is great and responsive and there for me when I need a hand or have a question.

My schedule!  I have 26 classes a week, which is more than most, and I also teach all six grades in the high school, since I’m the only foreign teacher.

In Thailand, school works like this – three years of kindergarten, six years of primary school, and six years of secondary school.  High school is called Matthayom, so I teach Matthayom 1-6.  This is the equivalent of 7th grade through seniors in high school.  It makes for an interesting and varied schedule. Not to mention a busy one!  On Mondays I see one M1, two M2 classes, one M5 and one M6.  On Tuesdays I have one M1, three M3 classes, one M5 and one M6, and so on.  I have some friends who teach in bigger schools and teach less grades but more classes of each grade.  For example my friend Emily only teaches M1 and M6, so about 10 classes per week of each.

My first night in Ban Phet, I was sitting in my room when someone knocked on the door.  That was when I met my friend Pooky.  His Thai nickname is Pook, he explained to me, “but you can call me Pooky.”  I hung out with him my first few days in Ban Phet, and he showed me around town.  On the first night, I went with him and his friends to a festival at the temple in the next town over, and the next night, I went to a concert at the same temple.  Pooky’s friends are all ladyboys, which means that they are very feminine men who like to dress up like girls.  And yes, they like to date boys.  No surprise there.  I had a blast hanging out with his friends, who are super friendly and goofy.

The concert was a traditional Thai concert, and the costumes were fabulous.

Pooky and I

Pooky’s friends.  Don’t let looks deceive you – they are all men.  The two on the left are wearing wigs and women’s clothing.  Including high heels!  I might have mentioned it before, but in Thailand, all sexual orientations are completely acceptable.  From a very small age, kids are able to choose how they want to be, and that is completely okay and normal.  I think it’s awesome.

Pooky had me and his friends over for dinner one night, and we sampled all of the foods sold are the market.

This was dessert – the solid pieces are gelatinous in texture and they are served in a milky sweet sauce.  It was served cold – almost frozen.  Delicious!

My favorite restaurant in Ban Phet.  It’s open air because, well, there’s no need for walls.

The first week of school was dedicated to introductions and making of nametags.  Here was my script for my introduction:

My name is Erika Wilmes. (have them repeat the name)  You can call me Teacher Erika.  I am from America. (point to it on the map) I am from Oregon. (point to it on the map)  I like volleyball (act it out) and basketball (act it out).  I like Thailand. (this always got a big smile and ohhs and ahhs).  The food is delicious (act it out, and if they looked confused, giving a few examples of Thai dishes I like – pad thai, pad se ew, kao pad, etc) and the people are friendly.  In this class, we speak English and have fun! (smile big and point that all my students are smiling)

I recorded all my student’s names and nicknames and took a picture of each student.  In Thailand, children are given a name and also a nickname at birth.  The nicknames are typically shorter (and easier to pronounce).  Here are some examples of what my students look like:






They love me.  It’s completely unjustified.

I eat dinner at Ell’s house almost every day.  Here is a good example of what we eat – white rice, sauteed pork and green beans, a fried egg, and some other noodle and egg and soup dishes.

On a night where I didn’t eat with Ell, I went to the market to buy food.  I ended up buying “pizza” (I quote it because it was hardly pizza… the topping was mostly mayonnaise, not cheese.  Yikes!).   These girls were at the pizza place (maybe their mom runs it?).  They are M5 students at my school.  They got all nervous and silly around me, but posed for a quick picture.  You can see the pizza stand on the right.

A student asked me for a picture after class, so I obliged, of course, and got one on my own camera as well.

M4 students diligently working on their nametags.

Here is my office.  My desk is the one on the front right.

The rest of the office area.

My classroom!  Eventually I’d like to decorate the boards.  Haven’t gotten there yet.

The schoolyard from my room.

Some students at school.  The dog pictured on the left is a stray.  Lots of strays in Thailand, and most just mill around and wander wherever they please.

The court where morning assembly is held every day.  There is a stage in the center where speakers stand and a statue of Buddha on the left. 

Princess Chulabhorn is visiting on Friday, and here is the helicopter pad put into place for her arrival.  More on her visit later on.

The indoors assembly hall.

The cafeteria.

Students riding on a motorbike through campus.  That’s three full-grown sized Thai men on one bike.  Not an uncommon sight.

On Thursday, after mounting political tensions, the military took over the country, suspending the Constitution.  Thailand has a long history of (generally peaceful) coups, and this one is proving to be no different.  As a result of the coup, all schools in Thailand were cancelled on Friday.  I seized the opportunity of a rare 3-day weekend to visit my friend Kathryn in Sukhothai.

M, Kathryn and I on a scooter.  M is Emily’s agent, but she is more of a friend than anything!

On Saturday, we went to a waterfall.  And by waterfall I mean a trickle of water that occasionally accumulates into pools of water big enough and deep enough to swim in.  But the water was cold and felt great.  Also, I should mention that Sukhothai is the hottest province in Thailand.  If Thailand is an oven, then Sukhothai is the surface of the sun.  The kind of heat where you actively sweat at rest in the shade.  The only relief is cold water and air conditioning.

Mountains on the way to the waterfall.

A typical house in the countryside.

Cruising on the scooter with M!

The rocks were broken off in really neat formations along the creekbed to the waterfall.

This is the biggest pool and the spot where we spent the afternoon.  All of these kids were high school age, and most of them were from the school where M taught.  They were being typical young kids – laughing and joking and jumping into the water from too high of heights that made us nervous.

Do you see that slanted rock in the middle?  It functions as a waterslide.  I showed curiosity and one of the girls showed me how to get up there and slide down.  It was fun!
Vines hanging everywhere.  I made this one into a swing.

This is M’s house.  The ground floor is like a house on stilts, with a kitchen in the back and the rest an open air area.  the upstairs has the bedrooms and a bathroom.

Kathryn and Murray kept raving about how they make fried flowers, so we made some on Saturday night.  We dipped them in a lime-chili sauce.  Yummmm.

On Sunday morning, before I caught a bus back to Chaiyaphum, they took me to Sukhothai Historical Park.  Sukhothai is one of the old capitals of the Thai empire, and we went to visit the ruins of the old city.  It was beautiful and ancient – about 700 years old.  The structures were built from brick, mud, and stone, and were quite impressive, even after the elements chipped away at them for 700 years.

After visiting the ruins, we grabbed my bags and dropped me off at the bus station.  I took this picture waiting for the bus to arrive – I was in a complete sweat from my strenuous morning of riding on a motorcycle and very leisurely walking around the ruins.  Once it cooled, it crystallized into salt crystals.

This is a view from the bus window on the way back to NE Thailand.

I caught this picture of a large Buddha statue against the sunset on the way home.

And back to class on Monday.  I think these students are M2.

Laundry day at my house!  Also, the outside of my apartment got a paint job, and I learned that I live at 54/4.  Haha.

My room after a little makeover – they installed a curtain separating the front of the room from the back – that way only the front part is kept cool from the A/C.  Also, I bought a shelf, a comforter, and a nightstand.  I spent 1900 baht on the shelf, which was by far the biggest purchase.  That’s about $58.  It’s nice to have somewhere to put my things!  I also bought a mirror that I hung on the opposite wall.  Now I can see myself when I put on makeup!

Feeling much more homey.
This is my friend Ell and her neighbor, New.  He is adorable.  And shy around me.  He always rolls his eyes when I say something about him, and cheeses back when I smile at him.

Erika written in Thai!

That is all for now!  I will write another post soon – we are having a royal visit at my school on Friday, and you can feel its effects rippling all around the town.  I will take lots of pictures and tell you all about it!

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