Friday, February 12, 2010

Hey Chris...
Ever hear this little ditty?

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files
We'd like to help you learn to help yourself
Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll the Lock Keeper's Inn until you feel at home

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

Hide the money in a hiding place where no one ever goes
Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes
It's a little secret, just the Robinsons' affair
Most of all, you've got to hide it from Peter

Coo, coo, ca-choo, Mrs Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the Sinn Féin debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you've got to choose
Ev'ry way you look at it, you lose

Where have you gone, Kirk McCambley
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you (Woo, woo, woo)
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson
Kickin' Kirk has left and gone away
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

via -Jeeem-
heh, heh...

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Mam and I arrived at school yesterday and noticed a large group of adults gathering around the front gate to the primary building. Mam was with me since we had to go to the main office and tell them I was leaving for my 90-day immigration check in Hat Yai that morning.

After having chatted with a couple people in the park across from the school, Mam asked me, “Do you know why all these parents are here?”

“No, I don’t. Why?”

“They want their children to go to Patong School. If they are late today, they will not be able to sign their children up for the school.”

“Ah…wow! There sure are a lot of them!”

And there were…hundreds actually.

Within just a few minutes the park across the street from the school was filled with people, most of them pressing forward and crossing the street, blocking traffic, and heading towards the front gate of the primary building.

When Mam and I approached the front gate, one of the guards had to physically push the people back to let us into the school. Thai’s were everywhere, surrounding me and giving me incredulous looks, since I was not wearing my school badge around my neck.

When Mam and I finished our business at the main office and left the school, we waded through the massive throng outside the gate and drove over to route four to park our motorcycle at the store where Mam's friend, the proprietor, lives. Then we crossed the street to hitch a ride on a Songtheaw to Hat Yai.

Route four runs from Northern Malaysia straight into Hat Yai, the largest city in Songkhla province.

Once Mam and I were on the Songtheaw and settled, I easily drifted into deep thought about yet another generation of Thai kids getting ready to perpetuate the dull, lifeless future that exists for so many in Thailand.

These new students will face Thai teachers who are so burned out by excessive paperwork and long hours including weekend work and overtime that isn’t paid, that they quite literally fall asleep in their (or my) classroom if they’re not actively teaching.

If not standing outside their classroom gabbing on their ever-present cell phones, these teachers only exist to repeatedly regurgitate material out of a textbook, often in a boring monotone, or write long Thai sentences on the black board for the students to copy into their notebooks. Very little, if any, attention is paid to teaching proper hygiene, etiquette, manners, the dangers of alcohol and drugs, sex education, or simply how to respect your elders.

School material in our primary building is terribly outdated, useless garbage belched out at the children day after day, month after boring month, year after year. Nothing much has changed in the paltry six years I’ve been teaching at Patong; except it’s obvious to me things are actually getting worse.

Voranai Vanijaka is a well known and highly respected journalist for the Bangkok Post. He writes a column in the Sunday Forum section, which is controversial to say the least since he’s Thai and often writes damaging articles regarding Thailand’s substandard educational system. Something you don’t see very often, as Thai’s rarely vilify their own way of doing things.

I’ve been reading the Bangkok Post voraciously for at least six years now, and Voranai's articles are among my favorite since he speaks the truth about the Ministry of Education and the Teacher’s Council of Thailand.

One of Mr. Vanijaka's past articles dealt with the very subject I was just mentioning, regarding Thai teaching methods. He has shed light on the glaring fact that Thai teachers are often…too often…lazy, over-worked, and under-educated. They often pay more attention to a student’s uniform and hair length, than to more important things like…well, education.

Mr. Vanijaka has simply reinforced the things I already knew about, but never opened my mouth about until now.

I’d like to begin this piece with Thai boys and wrap up with comparison to Thai girls.

“Snips and snails and puppy dog tails…”

What little boys are made of dates all the way back to the 19th century. Nothing much has changed since then either. Most Thai boys are naughty little explorers with short attention spans for the mundane and all the attention in the world for the sublime (such as online video games). Thai boys in particular are a lazy bunch, with dwindling respect for their teachers and elders. They go from fairly innocent little twerps, to astonishingly rude, pseudo-know-it-all's in the short span of just a couple of years. They hold anyone and everyone in contempt who dares challenge their self-delusion of authority.

Thai boys have very little sense of responsibility, which can be measured in the classroom by forever forgetting their notebooks or not even bothering to bring them to class, not bothering to complete their homework, lack of attention, full-blown disrespect for the teacher who is trying desperately to teach a class, extremely poor grades, and the list goes on…

Any foreigner who has lived in Thailand for a while and has taught English, will tell you that Thai male offspring are routinely elevated to an extremely high level of importance in the Thai family structure. Many of them know they can get away with murder, and often do just that.

To fully understand this male dominance is to take a peek at the fathers.

This is not a cookie-cutter type situation. Some Thai men or fathers are different than my example. However, it is my opinion, for what it's worth, that the lot of them, the majority if you will, easily fit into this description.

Arise early in the morning in Southern Thailand and look around you. You’ll see Thai men slowly coming out of the woodwork, a good majority of them terribly hung-over from the day and / or night before.

They speed along the Soi’s and back roads on their ill-maintained motorcycles, blue smoke belching out from the exhaust, one hand on the throttle, and the other holding their birdcage.

Yes, I said BIRDCAGE.

These cages range from plain to elaborate. The most elaborate are fashioned from carefully tooled bamboo or iron, into highly fanciful works of art, practically all of them housing the red-bearded bulbul.

The Red Bearded Bulbul or Red Whiskered Bulbul is the favorite among Thai men because of its song. It’s not so much that Thai men are naturalists who appreciate wildlife, it’s all about opportunity. These opportunists are setting out to make money in songbird competitions. They are all traveling with their birds to some large communal area where other Thai men gather to sip (or guzzle) Thai whiskey as early as six o’clock in the morning, and discuss their bird’s abilities.

As you travel around a neighborhood, you’ll see what you would normally regard as pipe’s set up as a convoluted clothesline, but they are not used for drying clothes as much as they are used to hang birdcages in full view of gathering crowds of men.

A lot of talking goes on before the actual event begins. This discussion is most likely about odds and money, a complicated procedure I don’t fully understand. But, it’s interesting to watch.

Suddenly the bird owners will stand up and begin going through varied contortions, making kissing noises, waving their arms, and taunting their bird or bird's to sing. Many theories abound, regarding techniques that work, succeeding in a bird that breaks out in beautiful money song.

Ultimately a winner is decided upon and currency quickly changes hands, almost imperceptibly, causing me to get the drift this activity may be somewhat illicit.

Come mid-morning the birds are put away and out come the fishing poles and nets.

I’d like to point out that these waterborne activities are all easily accomplished while drinking Thai whiskey and the sheer amounts of this favorite beverage of Thai men country-wide, which are consumed in a day, are absolutely astounding.

Thai men gather at a river bank, stream, pond, or lake, and cast their nets or lines out into the water.

Fresh water shrimp and a wide variety of fish are either brought home for dinner, or sold at the markets for cash. The cash, in turn, is often used to purchase another bottle or two of Thai whiskey.

Other Thai men either not equipped for fishing or not interested in standing around in the blistering sun for a day, wander about in their run-down trucks, or on their motorcycles equipped with sidecars, scrabbling through trash bins for recyclable materials such as plastic, cardboard, steel or glass. These items are collected throughout the day and turned in at the local recycling center on the main road, for cash.

The more industrious Thai men will set out looking for small jobs. Construction, painting, gardening, anything they can manage to find, often attained in conversation during their bird competitions or while fishing.

These men are dark skinned, sinewy fellows who work hard, holding off the booze until they are off the clock, then drinking a good majority of their profits away. All this while their children show up at school in old, ill-fitting, tattered uniforms or hand-me-downs since Daddy can’t afford a new uniform or shoes for them as it would interfere too much with his drinking money.

Many a student of mine has come into my class with their head lowered, trying to hide their blackened eyes or bruised face after surviving a night when their father went "Bah," (Thai for 'Crazy')... blind drunk on Thai whiskey and Chang seltzer water, and looking for a punching bag.

Sometimes the same scenario above includes not only Thai whiskey, but also "Ya-Bah," (The name is understandable) a dangerous Thai amphetamine drug that is widely produced and abused and which many Thai men end up going to prison for possession or use thereof.

There is more to this sordid story, but that should suffice for now.

Young Thai boys are conditioned early in life to follow in their father’s footsteps, or to follow the example of some other father-figure in their life (Por bun tam) since their birth father left the scene when they were but flailing fetuses, or shortly after their birth. Another example of the irresponsible traits of Thai men, in a third-world country that does not, by any stretch of the imagination, hold a Thai father accountable when they abandon their wife and children.

Young Thai girls, in contrast, are almost exactly the opposite.

"Sugar and spice and everything nice…"

The majority of Thai girls are good students who remember to bring their notebooks to class, study hard, pay attention in class, and get good grades. Very, very few are naughty, and those that are naughty are typically tom-boys.

When not in school, it’s not so much that they are responsible (they’re kids for crissake!) as they don’t really have a choice.

While their brothers laze around or are out in the street playing takraw or football (soccer), gathering up frogs, playing in mud, swimming, or generally trying hard to get into some sort of trouble, the girls are busy…very, very busy.

Busy doing the laundry, washing the dishes, taking care of the babies in the family, heading out to the market to purchase vegetables and sundries, cleaning the house, folding, pressing, ironing, toiling, and after all that, they settle down to do their homework. For some young girls in the household, there is scant time or opportunity for play.

Asian culture leans towards its male offspring, some women actually feeling disgust if they give birth to a girl rather than a boy.

While girls are wonderful students, they too fall prey to the substandard educational system in Thailand. If they graduate, (many drop out in order to ‘help’ the family, and never finish high school or attend college), they are vomited out into society to work, usually for peanuts. Even if they do end up attending and finally graduating from college, their salaries are never equal to their male counterparts.

So, this perpetuating situation rolls along like a giant boulder, gathering up the young kids as it rolls along...Smashing their lives, and flattening out their existence. These youngsters end up living lives exactly, if not worse, like their parents lived before them, struggling to hammer out an existence in a society that is operating in a vacuum.

The boys turn into men, who turn to Thai whiskey, gambling and illegal activity, squandering their family’s assets and living on the same old Soi where their father’s lived, carrying on the family condition. A very sad situation indeed, and one that I've witnessed now for well over six years.

I welcome your comments and thoughts on this subject.


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