The second semester is already more than a third over with, and is going by faster every day. After returning from Japan, I only had a day to settle in back home before starting classes again and time has gone by quickly ever since.
That Sunday night, before the start of the semester, Ben and I received over schedules via email. To our surprise, they were nothing like what we had expected, which to be fair was what we had been explicitly told our schedules would be. We were both very angry as we had had a meeting the end of last semester where we supposedly planned our schedules for this semester, and voiced our concerns over which classes we did and did not want to teach.
Long story short, while last semester I taught seventh and eighth graders, this semester half of my schedule was switched with Ben’s, so I now teach seventh and ninth graders (and Ben teaches the eighth graders). While I was not a huge fan of all the eighth grade classes I taught last semester, I felt like I was finally getting a rapport with all of my classes and understanding their strengths and weaknesses in English.
However, all that time spent getting to know and understand those students was basically thrown out the window, and instead I had to relearn names, and start anew with seven classes of students that I had never taught before. On top of that, I wasn’t sure what material Ben had taught the ninth graders last semester, so I had no idea where I should start and what material to avoid.
Still, while the semester got off to a rocky start because of the schedule change, it actually ended up working out fine, and I am enjoying my schedule this semester more than my old schedule. I still don’t know the ninth grade students that well, but as a whole they seem much more respectful and obedient than eighth graders. I am also a lot more confident leading a class, and a lot more used to how the students behave (and misbehave) in class.
Although my co-teachers said that would help plan much more this semester, they have taken the same backseat and been pretty much as useless as last semester. It would be nice to have more help but frankly I didn’t believe they would step up anyway, so it hasn’t been too frustrating or surprising.
The first two weeks actually went by quickly anyway because we had shortened classes due to preparation for sports day. Since I had heard Sports day was the biggest event of the year at the school, I was expecting a fun day of sporting competitions and interesting events. However, it was somewhat disappointing as it really only consisted of track and field events, ninety percent of which were just running.
It was still entertaining to see and the students were certainly passionate about training for it by running and preparing special cheers. All of the students and teachers were also divided into colored teams (orange, yellow, red, green, blue, purple), and I was on the orange team. At the end of the day, there was a relay race between all of the teachers which Ben’s team dominated (my team got second-to-last).
On a different note, last Thursday was Loi Krathong. Loi Krathong, meaning ‘floating lotus’, is a holiday that pays tribute to the rivers of Thailand. On this day, people all over Thailand make krathongs out of banana leaves, and then light candles in them and float them down rivers. People also light lanterns that are then floated up into the sky.
At school, each class made their own lanterns which were basically giant cubes made of pieces of tissue paper taped or glued together. Some of the more talented classes made designs on their lanterns or beautiful patterns using the tissue paper. At the end of the school day, everyone gathered on the field as each class first filled their lantern with air, and then lit some kind of burning fuse before floating the lantern away.
It was somewhat terrifying to see some of the students wielding the large torches, but surprisingly nothing went wrong and no one was burned or harassed by the torch-wielders. It was actually very cool to see the giant lanterns float up into the sky; some of the lanterns floated up a few hundred feet before tumbling back down, but others rose up to great heights and continued floating upwards off into the distance (where I’m sure they landed in rice fields and started small fires).
That night there was also a large celebration by the river. Ben and I went and met our friends Nam and Tham at the festival. We first watched from a bridge above the river as people lit the candles on their krathongs and floated them down the river. Although it was peaceful to watch the candle-lit krathongs float down the river, the serenity was somewhat ruined by loud bangs and flashes of people lighting and throwing fireworks everywhere. At one point, someone put a firework on the other side of the bridge which shot out rockets in every direction. One of the rockets literally flew at Ben and I, and we had to duck in order to narrowly dodge being hit by the rocket. After that encounter, we decided to retreat towards the festival grounds.
Our friend Tham was selling food from a stand, so we went and hung out at his stand for a while. He was nice enough to give us free food; he was serving yam moo yor, or pork sausage salad. It was pretty good, and spicy, although I am not a huge fan of that style of dish (cold pork sausage with tomatoes and lettuce and spicy dressing).
After eating, we watched part of a krathong competition in which judges were picking the best krathong out of several beautiful constructions. Ben and I thought the clear winner was a krathong shaped like a dragon’s head, which showed originality and creativity, and was flawlessly executed, but the judges ended up picking a different one that I found rather unimpressive.
After the competition, I ran into several of my students who wanted to float a krathong down the river with Ben and I. The students were very nice and bought each of us a krathong, so we went down to the river and floated our first krathongs. Floating the krathongs symbolizes two different things. It symbolizes freeing yourself of negative energies and bad feelings, as well as a wish for your future. I wished for a pleasant second semester in Thailand as I placed the krathong in the river and watched it float away.
After that, the students also bought a lantern which we lit together before letting it float upwards. It was awesome to have that experience with the students, and I wish that I was able to spend more time with students outside of school. Although most days many of the bad students I teach leave me frustrated and tired, it is the experiences with the good students that really stick with me and will be the experiences I remember. Already, experiencing Loi Krathong with my students has made up for any negative feelings I had about my schedule or bad students starting the semester, and I really feel like this semester will be much better and less stressful.
After saying goodbye to the students, we went back to Tham’s food stand, where we hung out for a while. Before we went home, we floated another krathong with Nam and Tham, and then released several more lanterns into the night sky. I really enjoyed Loi Krathong overall. I respect the purpose of the holiday, and found it very peaceful and spiritual, the fireworks notwithstanding.
On a random note, last Monday I helped with an event near Tha Wang Pha for a group of visiting diplomats. For some reason unknown to me, a large group of diplomats from a bunch of different countries (including Russia, Vietnam, Israel, Bhutan, Cuba, Germany, etc.), had a multi-day trip in the Nan Province through the Diplomatic Corps.
For part of their trip, they came and saw a nearby temple, Wat Nong Bua. Ben and I, along with several teachers and students, were guides at the temple, where we talked about aspects of the Thai Lue culture (the local Northern culture), as well as local crafts and customs. There were five different stations: about Pandan juice, fresh water seaweed, rattan crafts and furniture, silver jewelry, and local fabrics. I was at the rattan crafts and furniture station along with several students. It turned out to be somewhat pointless for me to be there, as no one wanted information about rattan crafts but it was interesting to see the diplomats and ask them about their perceptions about Nan. I still don’t understand why their trip was just in Nan but I found it interesting nonetheless.