On Wednesday of November the 21st, 2012, we arrived at Klongbaipat Primary School. I remember that the day was sunny and hot with thousands of crickets droning in a strange chorus. It was all very relaxing. In a weird way, it reminded me of Tibetan chanting. It was about half an hour away from Gun’s home. The school lies west of the main north-south highway in the direction of the town of Pak Chong and Kao Yai National Park. The entire area is fully rural and the views outstanding.
Our host teacher Ning and her husband Sigah picked us up that morning. Pickup trucks seem to be the most common vehicle in this part of Thailand. So Silvia and I grabbed our backpacks and jumped onto the back of the pickup truck and off we went! The drive to the primary school was amazing. The rolling countryside was breathtaking. Cornfields dotting the landscape, giving way to a region of small lakes, landscaped gardens and tourist bungalows. After winding passed this area we found ourselves in a land of corn and sugarcane fields.
When we arrived, we did not go directly to the school. Instead Sigah took us to a nearby restaurant to meet with the head director of the school briefly. My first impression was of a dour, stone-faced man, but it became apparent that he was a little shy and self-conscious about not knowing English. He introduced us to his wife and we chatted briefly with Ning as our interpreter. After saying our goodbyes, Ning and Sigah took us to the school itself, which was nearly identical in its layout to Wat Tun Jan School in Paktongchai.
Sigah drove his truck straight to the back of the school where teacher housing, offices, infirmary and computer rooms are located. This is when I noticed that right across the street from the main entrance there was a simple shop and retaurant. No table cloths or waiters here; all simple and practical. Our room was literally the small infirmary of the school. Spartan, no nonsense and two beds that were hard as concrete. After dropping off our backpacks in our new lodgings, we ate a light breakfast. Ning then introduced us to all the teachers. We walked around the school grounds and met a number of the students as well.
The school is that odd mix of old rustic and modern, which I love about Thailand. The squat toilets are about forty meters from our room. Our bath was a big concrete cistern filled with clear and very cold water. Much appreciated in the stifling heat! Aside from the squat toilets, it reminded me of my trips to rural Cuba to visit relatives. You use a bucket to get went, soap up and then start dumping buckets of the coldest water imaginable to rinse off! Yet, as I mentioned, the school has an impressive computer room at the same time. The school also has printers internet and a modest library. Nearly all of which was donated by Thai families, community organizations and companies – a process closely associated to their Buddhism and the idea of acquiring merit.
We were under the impression that they would want us to get started right away. However, there was no rush for us to do anything and Ning told us that we could settle in and rest. Gun had told us that we should dress in our teaching clothes, as we’d be going straight to the school. We had no idea where we would be staying on the school grounds until we actually got to the school and they showed us the infirmary. Silvia was eager to get started, but Ning just wanted us to take the place in, rest up and start fresh the next morning. I was more than happy to follow Ning’s lead! Thailand is hot and my body was still getting used to it. I also realized that Thailand has its own pace, particularly rural Thailand. So we changed into our shorts and had lunch with all the teachers. They were all delighted to have us there and we were delighted to be there. The language barrier was no problem at all. Even when Ning wasn’t around, body language and five or six Thai words can go a long way!
We did eventually take a nap. Later we read a bit. One of the volunteers we met at Gun’s house had lent us a book about a young girl’s ordeal in Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Before dinner we had some lesson plans printed out. Not long after that had a nice chat with Ning about what our duties would be for the next three weeks. It was clear that the level of English of all the students was basic to almost nil. We knew we had our work cut out for us. I asked Ning about any special needs children, so Silvia and I could prepare accordingly. This is a very poor region and some children are illiterate or borderline illiterate in their native tongue. Others come from broken homes or are being raised by their grandparents because their own parents are in Bangkok or Pattaya usually working in tourism. So it was good to know which children might need special attention or something to get them excited and eager to participate in class.
Eventually, dinnertime rolled around. As we would discover, the food anywhere in Thailand tends to range from very good to orgasmically good! Even the street food tends to be off the hook (this in sharp contrast to Cambodia.) We were living on school grounds with Ning, her husband Sigah, Tong and his girlfriend. So for our stay at the school, these two awesome couples were our constant dinner companions. They all took turns cooking and everything they made was amazing!
In the evening, Sigah and I put up the mosquito netting while Ning brought the sheets and pillows. We later reviewed the weekly syllabus, bathed and hit the sack at about 10 PM – the fresh highland air making us drunk with drowsiness. So went our very first day at Klongbaipat Primary School.