A Tribute to Buildings 1&2, Rajabhat Maha Sarakham University

They are knocking down our “Little House on the Prairie” schoolhouses and will soon replace them with new facilities. They were probably the oldest buildings on campus with solid wood construction, and were a lot cooler than the concrete buildings that have come to represent typical SE Asian construction… In recent years, some of the rooms had been upgraded with whiteboards and sound systems, but there was nothing like going into class every morning and asking students to clean the blackboard erasers.

They would knock the erasers on the outside wall below the window sills, which is how students coming in late could hear that class was starting. These classrooms were a pain to teach in on the hottest days, but were still more comfortable than their modern uncooled counterparts in our newest buildings (one of which is the tallest building in Sarakham yet boasts classrooms with no AC, broken desks, and in the ghettoiest rooms, blackboards as well).

Photo by Aj. Manoon; used with his sister's permission <-- SE Asian due diligence

These were mostly used as auxiliary classrooms and our English program will eventually move from our home in an old administration building (Building 4) to the new buildings whenever they are finished. Reversely, the prior occupants of Buildings 1&2 (including Thai Dance, Music, and Thai Language departments) have come to replace the Law department in our building, so instead of meeting aspiring ambulance chasers in our hallways, we are now serenaded by glorious band practice sessions and Thai dancing below the stairwells. We’re so used to it. it’s hardly even surreal anymore..

What’s going on (May 2011 edition)

So we went to Koh Samet for a few days with a bunch of my coworkers and some of their families. It was awesome, but I feel the need to write about what’s been happening around here before moving onto editing the trip photos and video.

Max and Mina started school on May 18. Max is now going to the demonstration school at the old Maha Sarakham University campus, very close to the Rajabhat University where I work, because his old school shut down at the end of the last term. Mina is going to a nursery school very close to Nam’s office, at the new Maha Sarakham University campus. Both of them were having a hard time the first week, but Mina seems to enjoy going now. Max has separation issues and still cries some mornings. Today it was very hard. Since they are the same issues I had when I was little, I end up spending most of the day wondering if he’s happy or not, and whether he will remember how he feels now when he grows up… I still remember holding onto my dad’s gold chain as hard as I could and crying my head off as a teacher tried to pry me away – then wondering 30 minutes later, as the tears dried, why I had felt so sad before. Anyway, watching your kids being unhappy has got to be one of the hardest things to face. I only take consolation in our after action reports when I pick him up from school and he says he had fun playing with his friends and doing art, dancing, eating paste, etc.

As I write this, my head is starting to hurt. Nam took me to Mahasarakham hospital today, where I had three warts from my head, one from my face, and several skin tags from my chest, back, and neck removed. The ones on my head were large and required excision, as well as four, two, and three stitches, respectively. There is probably a big enough area on my head unaffected enough to be able to lie face up on a pillow tonight. Stitches are scheduled to come out in a week, and the doctor told me not to try removing them myself, but I probably wouldn’t try anyway since I can’t see them (although being told not to try kind of makes it tempting — actually, maybe the doctor’s busy next week and doesn’t want to do it, so laid a reverse psychology trap…).

The decision to send Mina to school at one and a half years old was kind of forced on us. We lost Max’s beloved nanny back in March, when her husband cheated on her and she went suicidal. We looked after her as best we could, and started looking for another nanny. Long story short, it is hard to find good help these days. We make an effort to take care of our help and still… It’s just really hard. So we started looking at school as an alternative to Mina being watched at home by people we couldn’t trust 100%. Guess what, we would never leave her with someone we don’t trust. So she is going to school, and seems to be loving it now that she’s in the groove. She is the most precocious child her age we’ve ever seen, and that is why we worry about Max more than Mina at school.

My stream of consciousness is now being interrupted by burning sensations where my scalp is stitched up.

There was one sight at Koh Samet that really made a strong impression on us… We went on a snorkeling tour on a speedboat, and on the way back to our resort, stopped at a fish farm. It didn’t appear to be a commercial farming operation, rather it seemed to exist as a tourist attraction. There were many tour company boats docking up next to it at any given time (I never saw if we paid an entrance fee or not, I have a feeling each tour company pays and that part of our payment for the tour went toward that). The farm consisted of neighboring fish pens arranged in a grid; pens were square and consisted of a net suspended from steel frames tied to blue plastic 55 gallon drums upon which wooden catwalks were laid — the catwalks were approximately one foot in width. Nam carried Mina, and Max insisted on walking by himself to check out each pen of fish, so I held his hand and let him walk in front of me. Imagine my surprise as we slowly proceeded (LOOK, DADDY! FISHIES!!) past pens of barramundi, snapper, clownfish, pomfret, gouramis, jacks, and a sad-looking giant grouper and eventually came upon an open pen of sharks! Two zebra sharks and two leopard sharks, four or five feet long, swimming in never-ending circles and chomping on bait the tourists were throwing in! This being the biggest attraction, people were passing each other on the narrow catwalks and the entire structure was bobbing up and down from the shifting weight — I am SURE somebody has fallen in there before. I guess nobody’s gotten bitten, though, because the fact that the shark pen is uncovered just blew our minds. Max thought it was cool as hell, though (I did, too, but for different reasons — it was like hearing about renting RPGs and buying cows to shoot in Cambodia or something).

So the staff in the operating room today were really excited to have a foreigner to practice English on, and it was funny and surreal all wrapped into one as I listened to the molam tunes playing through a portable radio and smelled my flesh being cauterized while being asked if I “wanted more drug” or not (oh hell yes!). It reminded me of the time I got hit by a car on my scooter in Japan in the dead of winter, flew over the handle bars into a snowy rice field and banged my head hard enough to crack my helmet, then after a long ambulance ride and wait on a cold gurney, being told a one-word prognosis by the doctor: “Lobotomy.” Shit, I wish I’d had a video camera for that one…

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A picture’s worth a thousand words update:
Somebody’s photo of the fish farm
Somebody else’s photo of one of the sharks

Quick trip to Ko Samet

I am taking the family on a work trip from now. It will be an overnight bus ride, followed by a boat ride to Koh Samet and a smaller ferry-to-shore. We plan to return on Monday night, just in time to finish preparation for the new school term.