Month 7 (March) Council Sports, Science & English Camp, Graduation and Holidays
March began with the annual sports competition for all the local councils. Instead of just setting it over a full day or even a weekend, Phana went all out and held it over the course of 2 weeks. The Phana council buildings are located right behind our house so we were right next to all of the action. Every day at around 4 when most people had finished work the area next to buildings sprang into life as various sporting events were held. Kevin and I were given official Tessoban T-shirts (bright orange) as we worked for the council and so that everyone knew what team we were on. All of the small councils had their own teams from all around Phana district and it was a great sight to see as all the brightly coloured teams would descend behind our house. The sports events were football, volleyball, petanque and trakaw (Thai mixture of volleyball and football). As a total football nut I had been asked if I would like to play a match for our council team so I stripped up. It was great fun getting to play alongside other teachers and people I see on a weekly basis and thankfully we won 3-0 although playing in Thai heat took football to a whole new level of difficulty!
The following week we got asked by the high school, Phana Suksa if we would like to help them at an English and science camp that they were holding. Since I enjoyed physics at school and am planning on studying it at university I got to help in the physics stations. My station involved 4 brainteaser experiments where the pupils had to figure out how a certain task was completed using basic Physics theories like friction. It was a fun day as we got to have an insight into teaching kids the same age as ourselves which was a totally different experience to the primary teaching I am used to. I felt like it was a lot easier to explain ideas to them and that they absorbed a lot more knowledge but I almost felt although it was lacking the playful nature that is present with my normal classes. It was an eye-opener to see the vast difference between primary and secondary education and it would have been a totally different experience had I been teaching at a high school for a year although I cannot say I have any preference having not experienced both fully. At night the school had got in some local university science teachers to show the kids some space science which was very cool as we got to look at the moon and Saturn through high powered telescopes.
The following day marked the final day of the council sports and they were having a parade followed by a party to celebrate. Kevin and I got to hold the main banner saying what team we were as we paraded through Phana finally arriving at the large football field in front of the district offices. Surrounding the pitch each council team had erected their own stages overnight and the noise coming from each was deafening! They all had massive speakers the size of cars and were trying to outdo each other. Our afternoon then consisted of eating lots of food, dancing on the stage to hilarious Thai pop and singing karaoke at the top of our lungs. The grand final of the football tournament was also contested in the searing Thai sun, unfortunately our team had not made it that far but I was quite happy sitting in the shade sipping an iced drink watching others labour!
The 18th of March saw our final day of teaching before the 2 month long school summer holidays and also the graduation of the primary 6s before they go to high school and the secondary 3s that would have to move to another school as secondary education stops after the third year at our school. The previous day we helped all of the teachers to decorate one of the rooms with banners and flowers. On the day the kids received a certificate from the mayor and were blessed by a local monk and the teachers that they had known from between 6-9 years. It was a very sad moment when I realized that I might see some of the kids that I have seen on a weekly basis ever again as many were going to schools quite far away as it was closer to their homes. It was all rounded off with a massive Thai barbecue for all the pupils and teachers.
With the passing of the graduation came the exciting prospect of our long holiday that we had been looking forward to for a while. We had already booked our flights to the countries we wanted to visit a few months previous but in the few days before we were due to leave Phana we booked a few attractions and activities that we fancied doing/seeing. The last tasks were to pack a rucksack (a lot easier now after experience of having to travel light!) and give the house a good clean.
Our first destination was Singapore so this meant getting an overnight bus to Bangkok and spending most of the day waiting around in the airport. We touched down in Singapore and my first impressions were that of awe. We got a taxi to our guesthouse and everything that passed by the window was modern, futuristic and brand new. The cleanliness was also something that stuck out at me, unlike many cities I have been to, Singapore is very recently developed and they are very keen on keeping the city spotless. In a recent poll Singapore came out as the most expensive city to live in and this was very apparent to us when we went to buy food. What would normally cost pennies to us in Thailand was suddenly what seemed extortionate although it was pretty much the same as what it would be back in Britain. It was a very strange sort of culture shock to have the opposite views to that of when we arrived in Thailand and everything was cheaper.
We had 3 days in Singapore so we had planned to pack as much in as possible. This included the main Bay area, the Singapore Flyer Giant Wheel, the Gardens, Little India, China Town and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple located there. It was a very small city so we managed to walk everywhere although every night my legs would remind me of the accumulated miles they had done! On the last day we met up with another PT volunteer (Lizzy) who we knew from our training before we came out and who had originally been in India but due to problems at her project had moved to a new project in Malaysia. It was great to see her after such a long time and hear about all of the differences that can occur being in a different country, environment and culture. To celebrate our last night in Singapore we all went up the famous hotel that overlooks the whole city to see the sunset which was spectacular. My favourite feature of Singapore was the whole Bay area that encompassed nearly all of the sights we saw and is so modern and futuristic in its aesthetics (something that I really find appealing about cities) and so I kept finding myself in awe at the architecture surrounding me.
Our next stop was a short flight North to Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia. Yet again we did not have as many days as was necessary to see such a vast place (only 4) but we had planned everything in advance to make the most of our time. One of the first things I noticed was the change of predominant religion from Buddhism to Islamic; it was very refreshing and a new experience as I had never been in a predominantly Islamic country before. From the way people dressed and greeted each other to the architecture and buildings it was all so different to Thailand although my favourite has to be the way they eat with just one hand which although quite messy looked rather fun! In the first day we went to KLs massive aquarium, the famous Petronas Towers and the Kuala Lumpur Tower which gave breathtaking 360 degree views of the sprawling city. The following day saw us take an adventurous journey out of the city so that we could visit the Batu Caves (a religious site) and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
To round off the visit we had the Malaysian Grand Prix to look forward to. Both Kevin and I love Formula 1 and thanks to my dad who had found out by pure coincidence that we were in KL on the same weekend as the annual race we had managed to get our mitts on some tickets. Saturday 29th was Practice and Qualifying and so we had to make the trip by bullet train back out to near the airport where the Sepang International Circuit was. It was incredible seeing the million pound lightweight machines fly around the track at frightening speeds and a gigantic monsoon made it all the more exciting as the rain bounced metres off the tarmac back into the air. Our tickets were for a hillside on one of the corners of the track although we actually got to see a whole half of the track from our vantage point. Sunday was race day and it didnt disappoint. The race lasted nearly 2 hours although it felt like 2 minutes as Kevin and I were transformed into 5 year old boys again by the mere sound of the cars. The experience did not end there as our tickets also allowed us to go to the after race party which was headlined by one of my favourite DJs that I have craved to see live: Calvin Harris. So I ended the night sweating in the humid Malaysian dusk bopping along to some electronic dance music.
The last day of the month was dedicated to yet more travelling as we had to fly from Kuala Lumpur to the south of Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City. We very nearly never made it too as we ended up in the wrong airport after boarding the wrong train in the city centre. A lot of worrying and a hurried taxi thankfully saw us arrive at the CORRECT airport thankfully with enough time to check in and let our blood pressure decrease to a normal level!