Anecdotes, Volume III: enough parties already
New Year’s festivities
In my little town in Thailand, Christmas came and went with hardly a batted eyelid. New Year’s, on the other hand was cause for celebration on both sides of January 1st. On the final day school in 2015 the morning held quite a surprise. I was told of an activity but, keeping with tradition, the details were scant. I was told to wear a traditional Thai shirt, which was provided for me, and to go to the gym. The activity started with 10 monks I believe were from a local monastery coming and leading prayers for about 30 minutes. We then went outside and lined up to give the monks food. In this case when I say “we” I mean every teacher and student in the school. Food was provided for me to give out as well. Allow me to attempt to describe the scene. Imagine two lines of people about 10 feet apart each holding various combinations of bottled juice and water, packaged snacks, bags or bowls of rice and other assorted food items. In the front of the lines are the teachers who have a little of everything and tables in front of them as well, this is where I am. The monks, holding only a small bowl, walk through the tunnel of people one by one each closely followed by a local volunteer holding a giant sack. The mass of people press their offerings into these small bowls and every few feet the monk turns to deposit the bowl into the larger sack. Predictably, every time the monks makes it 20 feet or so the sack has filled up and another volunteer steps in with an empty sack to continue the process. This continues all the way through the double-sided lines of people which stretches from the entrance to our school, down the first road, around the corner, down that entire long road and around the next corner. So to quickly recap: ten monks, over 1,000 students/people stretching about 400 meters, countless large sacks (we later saw them being taken away by the truckload) of food and drinks. Needless to say I feel confident the monks will always have some sort of food for the year to come.
And in case my description was inadequate here is an attempted photo through the throng…
New Year’s Eve in Bangkok
Every now and then I’ve heard New Year’s Eve described as the most disappointing night of the year and therefore I’ve learned to keep my expectations of big parties and fun atmospheres pretty low. This year I knew I would be with friends in Bangkok so I decided to follow the crowd and not bother myself with what we would be doing on the much-anticipated eve. So as the evening went on I was simply bemused at the overcharging taxis and the attempts to get into a celebration which turned us away. Then I was even less surprised when we exited our taxi at the most cliche Bangkok destination possible at 11:59 in time to spend the last moments of 2015 walking among drunk people on a street corner in Bangkok. It didn’t matter to me though. The symbolic act of the countdown holds no real meaning and given my way I might have chosen to already be sleeping by that time. So after the obligatory noise-making and confetti we forged against the mass exodus leaving Khao San road and searched for a bar to spend our money in on the less important side of the New Year’s Eve holiday. It wasn’t a bad time, but it didn’t really feel like a New Year’s party either. The following evenings were much more my speed as we managed to find some relaxed settings to spend our time in. So although New Year’s Eve itself was nothing special I enjoyed being in Bangkok for the long weekend.
The rest of Bangkok
I’ll spend a brief moment talking about the rest of the weekend in Bangkok because there were several highlights aside from the tumultuous New Year’s. First of all, it was incredible to see some friends I had made during my TESOL training again. It helped to hear most of them were having similar struggles as I was and feeling the same misgivings at times. I am also learning to appreciate every conversation I can have in real English as I often fear I am forgetting how to speak my own language from lack of use. Secondly, as a huge city Bangkok has vast food and beer options that I have been missing more and more every day. I ate almost everything I wanted to while I was there (though I missed out on sushi). I had a real pizza, Mexican quesadillas, falafel and beers from all over. I’d say the highlight of the trip was the last night when a few of us went to a nearby bar and started talking to travelers from Belgium, Germany and Denmark. We each chose the next beer for someone else and it made for a nice, relaxed evening.
Parties on parties
As I mentioned above, New Year’s was celebrated in my town on both sides of the actual day, therefore when I returned from a fun yet exhausting weekend in Bangkok I was ready for the New Year’s party at school which took place on the next Tuesday. It was an enjoyable affair in which gifts were exchanged – because that’s a New Year’s thing in Thailand – and I somehow won some sort of lottery twice and walked away with two new blankets. It was a late night but I figured I could catch up on my sleep later in the week. I was taken by surprise the next day when my director invited me to “drink beer” that evening at the restaurant by my house. I found out soon after that what he meant to say was that it was my landlord’s birthday and there would be a huge party with better part of the town arriving to drink, eat and be entertained by the comedy group hired from Bangkok for the event. Needless to say it was a fun evening where the comedy group was quick to pick me and my fellow teacher out as the only foreigners there and make what I hope were funny jokes at our expense.
And after the fun party I spent another night not catching up on my sleep and suffering for it. I was tired but this was a small price to pay for the opportunity to engage in the community. The next night, Thursday, I prepared myself to be asleep by nine and was already relaxing when a fellow foreign teacher called and told me it was her birthday and that I should meet her at the local bar in 20 minutes…
Not the socks!!!
This last story hails from the last week of school in 2015 when I was doing gate duty on a Tuesday morning. “Gate duty” is when teachers stand at the entrance to school and greet students as they come in. In theory, at our school there is supposed to be one foreign teacher and one or two Thai teachers every day. In practice, most days the foreign teacher find themselves alone. On this day however there must have been important visitors coming to school because a horde of Thai teachers joined us at the gate. This was unusual in itself but even stranger was when all the students were lined up and made to show their socks. If their socks were not white or brown, they removed them and I can only assume had to go buy new ones. While the event was interesting for us, this story is a sad one. One little girl chose the wrong day to wear her beautiful, fluffy pink and blue socks complete with an animal face printed on. I swear as she reluctantly removed those socks and begrudgingly threw them onto the pile there were tears forming in her eyes. I wiped away my own tears as she silently walked away while glancing back wistfully at the beautiful socks she knew she would never see again. I took an important lesson away from this devastating moment: Never risk wearing your favorite socks to school in Thailand.