Last Sunday I was walking from my apartment to the HUGE Tesco Lotus (think Super Wal-Mart) store here in Suphanburi. As I’m walking I pass a building called The New Brain Academy. (I know, funny name right? The first time I saw it, I thought it said New Brian Academy. Businesses are named like that in Thailand. For example, there is the Happy Good restaurant close to where I live. The name is both unique and informative – who would have thought?) There were school students (I could tell because they were wearing their school uniforms) milling about outside of the New Brain and some of them start saying “Hello Teacher Paul.”
Keep in mind that this is Sunday morning about 9:30am. I recognize their faces right away and I stop and say hello, then we start chatting away in English. I say chatting away, but that really means saying things like: Good morning. How are you? I am fine, thank you. It is hot today. Yes, it is always hot in Thailand. Etc, etc, etc…. They smile and I smile and then we wave and say goodbye.
As I continue walking I started thinking about the differences between school in America and school here in Thailand. This is Sunday! How many kids in America are going to school today? How many kids in America go to school on the weekends? (Unless it’s Saturday detention.)
Here in Thailand, the normal school day starts at 7:45am and goes until 4:00pm. Then, many of the students continue with ‘after school’ classes and then special tutoring after that. Plus, the New Brain Academy, and other educational facilities like it, operate from 4:00pm to 8:00pm or 9:00pm Monday to Friday and then all day Saturday and Sunday. While not every student in Thailand goes to an extra educational institution like this – many of them do. Plus, there are hundreds of students that travel into Bangkok from one or two hours away (or more!) every weekend to go to extra classes and extra school.
It’s amazing! Many parents and many students take school very seriously here. Granted, some students would rather be playing football (in America we say soccer) or video games or Tak Kaw (a game where a lightweight ball about 6 inches in diameter is hit back and forth over a badminton type net by two teams using nothing but their feet and their heads). Tenth graders are still tenth graders, even if they are on opposite sides of the world. But, Thai students put in many hours per week at school or some other facility as well as doing hours of homework. They work hard, they respect their teachers, and they come to school with a clean uniform every day. It’s a nice environment for my first teaching gig.
Before I start with Thailand revelations and realizations this week, did anyone notice when I paid homage to the famous 1956 movie called “The King and I” with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr? (It’s near the end of paragraph two.)
*Sidewalks here in Thailand are totally miss-named! There is no “walk” in sidewalk. They are just an extension of the business on one side or an extension of the street on the other side! I have never seen so many obstacles on a sidewalk that must be dodged as you try and move along. There is no such thing as a day-dreamy type stroll down the sidewalk in the evening. You have to keep a sharp eye out for motor scooters, cars, trucks, signs, step stools, dogs, chairs, old TV sets, new TV sets, umbrella stands, old windshields, old tires, new tires, baby cribs, potholes, garbage containers, merchandise for sale, more signs, ropes that tie the signs up, ropes that hold the signs from blowing away, tables with merchandise set up on them, carts selling food, carts making food, carts that are abandoned, sewing machines, shoe repair shops, more motor scooters, bricks that are missing, mannequins with clothes on them, mannequins that are naked, cats, bird cages, roosters, bike racks, shoes that have been taken off but are not abandoned, bicycles, lottery tickets, even more motor scooters, etc, etc, etc…. (go Yul – the first man to make bald look cool)
*A couple days ago I stepped into a public restroom and stopped dead in my tracks! I couldn’t believe it! A SOAP DISPENSER! A rare find in Thailand. Kind of like seeing an albino Rhinoceros. But it was there, on the wall next to the sink. Unbelievable! Of course the soap dispenser was empty, but it was there – in all its glory! I took a picture.
*Just when you think crossing the street is easy and risk free – don’t be fooled!! Pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way! Green lights mean nothing, red lights mean nothing, and crosswalks mean nothing! Just remember, look at least twice both ways and then run like hell. I think there is an unwritten rule with Thai drivers – if they can clip a farang, there’s an extra 20 points that’s added to their tally!