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Archive for the ‘Chaiyaphum’ Category

I was looking through some old photos from my semester in Chaiyaphum, and I came across one that just had to go up on the blog. And I realized that I have never properly addressed the subject of ladyboys.

The well-dressed individuals in this photo are ladyboys.

They may be dressed better than most of the girls in the auditorium that day, and they definitely have more makeup on, but they are boys. They are students from a high school a few blocks from the school I used to teach in, and they are two of the many ladyboys you are bound to run into if you ever visit Chaiyaphum, Thailand.

Ladyboys are men who dress like women. Some stick to basic make-up (like the gentlemen on the left in the blue shirt), and others go all-out with make-up, wigs, and party dresses (like our friends above). Still others have surgical procedures to make it official.

It’s not unlike the transgender community in America, really. The difference is, in Thailand, it’s really not that uncommon for a boy to decide to be a ladyboy.

Every school has at least a few, including the primary schools. I may have been the only teacher in Chaiyaphum without a ladyboy in my class, which probably had something to do with the fact that all of my students were girls.

There are enough ladyboys in the schools of Thailand that English teachers have developed classroom strategies based on their ladyboy students. At our week-long training session in Bangkok before my fellow TEFLers and I were dispatched to schools in various corners of Thailand, someone from the human resources department of our new employer, the Media Kids placement agency, gave us a surprisingly useful piece of advice.

“Use your ladyboys,” she said.

She then went on to explain why ladyboys tend to be an English teacher’s favorite students.

Not unlike Chinese students, most Thai students are shy. They aren’t very confident speaking in English, and they get very embarrassed when you ask them to stand up in front of 45 classmates and say something in English.

Ladyboys are not shy.

They are confident enough to put on copious amounts of eye makeup, dress like a woman, and spend the rest of their day walking, talking, and acting like a woman. They don’t do all of this to avoid attracting attention. So when their teacher decides to turn the attention of the entire class on just one student, a ladyboy feels right at home.

So if you ever find yourself teaching an English class in Thailand, just look for the student who has way too much eye-shadow on and seems unusually proud of the fact that she’s a girl. Chances are, she isn’t.

And she’s the one you want to call on first.

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That pretty much sums it up. I haven’t posed for that many camera-phones in my life. I even got to sign a few autographs.

Here are some of the highlights:

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Most of Mathayom 4/2 didn’t make it to our final lesson, but a few of them did. And they even wrote some kind words on the blackboard.

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I took about a million pictures with Mathayom 4/10. Here’s a few of the best:

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I’ll miss you, Mathayom 4/9

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I just finished my last class here at Satrichaiyaphum High.

Final exams start tomorrow and run through the end of next week, which means I’m 150 tests and a bit of paperwork away from completing my first semester as an English teacher. I still can’t believe that sentence is true, but I’m getting used to the idea.

And yes, I have pictures:

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Super Thursday

Two days after the Super Tuesday primaries, the votes were counted here at Satrichaiyaphum High in the annual student leader election.

In a landslide victory, Satang from Mathayom 4/9 (one of my students!) won the election with 798 votes. The victory capped weeks of intense campaigning, including a last-minute rally yesterday afternoon that featured a surprise appearance from the candidate’s English teacher (the whole class stood in front of the school with a giant banner and a megaphone, and I posed for a picture with the campaign team).

The school has been covered with banners and posters for weeks now and all of the candidates gave speeches yesterday prior to today’s vote. The votes were actually counted publicly in the center of campus this morning. One student counted the votes and read each one out on a megaphone and another student tallied each vote on a big whiteboard. There was a small crowd around the vote-counting station all morning listening to the returns.

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Make that 100 days

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In my last post, I mentioned that music has been banned throughout Thailand since the death of the King’s sister on Jan. 1.

I mentioned this because I truly could not imagine something like this happening in the States or in any other Western nation. If our president was assassinated, you could play any song you like at the bar the next night. And if his sister died of cancer, many Americans would not even hear about it.

Can you imagine what would have to happen before every bar in a major American city agreed to stop playing music for more than two weeks?

How about three months?

Here in Chaiyaphum, the city appears to have decided that 15 days was not sufficient to pay its respect to the late Princess. The city has extended its period of mourning to the full 100 days that will be observed by the royal family. The initial mourning period ended on the 16th, but the full mourning period will last more than three months.

That means us teachers are expected to wear black to work for the full 100 days (teachers are considered government employees, since we work for public schools). It also means there may be no music played at the city’s annual festival, which was already pushed back to the 17th so it would not take place during the initial period of mourning.

At the time of the Princess’s death, the government declared a national mourning period would be in effect for 15 days, during which time all government officials and state employees will wear black clothing and flags will fly at half-mast.

Apparently, the interior ministry also asked businesses to “refrain from entertainment activities” during the national mourning period. I’m not sure what else falls under the mourning ban, but live music was among the “entertainment activities” that businesses have dutifully refrained from for the past two-plus weeks, at least here in Chaiyaphum.

There is an annual festival here that was scheduled to begin shortly after the mourning period began. It was pushed back to the 17th, the day after the 15-day mourning period ended. The festival has been on for four days now, and it will continue until the 25th. But it now appears it will do so without music.

Traditionally, music is played each night at the nine-day festival, often with a big-name act playing on the final day (I’ve heard Body Slam, one of the top pop bands in Thailand, was supposed to play this year). But so far, the live music has been called off out of respect for the late Princess.

I’m not sure whether the ban will be lifted for the final night of the festival (I’ve heard from some people that it will be, and from others that it won’t), but I’ll keep you posted.

The music ban is not being enforced in tourist areas (I was in Ayuthaya this weekend and one of the bars there had a guy singing terrible American oldies songs and playing an acoustic guitar; I’d imagine the same sort of thing is happening in Bangkok and some of the islands in the South), but at least in the northeastern provinces it’s being taken quite seriously.

Incidentally, this is not the first time the government has banned “entertainment activities” nationwide since I’ve been here. There was an alcohol ban in effect for the weekend before the national elections, presumably to ensure the nation would be sober when votes were cast.

Here in Chaiyaphum, that was extended to include the weekend two weeks prior to the election as well. Bars and restaurants strictly observed the ban, refusing to serve drinks during both weekends. As foreigners, we were able to convince someone to sell us alcohol at a convenience store, but only after we agreed to conceal the bottle in a handbag before leaving the store.

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To … you

I’ve received quite a few strange letters and messages since moving to Chaiyaphum and I’ve been frequently propositioned in broken English, so I thought I’d share one particularly amusing episode with all of you.

A few days ago, I went to a Japanese place on the top floor of the multi-story Tesco Lotus complex for lunch with my friend Joel. When Joel’s meal came out, our waiter called my attention to a message someone had scribbled on a napkin and placed on the tray next to Joel’s bowl of soup.

My secret admirer did not know my name, so across the top of the napkin he/she had written, “To … you.” Below that was the following message:

What your name?
Do you have telephone?
I miss you. (This line was written in the left column of the napkin, with the words “very much” crossed out)

The letter was signed, “From cook.”

There were only two cooks working that day (the kitchen is visible in this place) and both were male. But we’re hoping the letter was actually from one of the significantly more attractive servers, who mistakenly used the word ‘cook’ instead of ‘waitress.’

Either way, we resisted temptation and rudely left without leaving my number on the back of the napkin.

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On Wednesday, we had the day off to celebrate the king’s 80th birthday. I thought about heading down to Bangkok for the festivities at the palace, but I ended up staying in Chaiyaphum to take part in the celebration here.

The town erected a large stage (above) with an impressive collage of photographs marking different points in the king’s time on the throne. A few dozen students on xylophones provided the musical accompaniment as a few dozen people paraded onto the stage in groups of three to present decorative egg-shaped somethings in front of the king’s picture. A few dozen more stood in front of the stage holding flags (some yellow with the royal insignia, some with the colors of the Thai flag).

This went on for what must have been two and a half hours before the farang left for a bar down the street. We missed what was probably a fairly dramatic moment when the few thousand citizens in attendance lit candles to honor the king, but Jerry was thoughtful enough to light his on the table at the bar.

We did catch a modest display of fireworks (nothing like the display for Loi Krathong at the lake), and we saw a bit of the traditional dragon dance on our way to dinner. At some point after the seemingly endless egg procession, the area in front of the stage was transformed into a dragon-dance floor (someone brought a bunch of decorative poles for the dragons to dance through and around). Someone also set up three large outdoor movie screens next to the stage, which played Thai action movies for small pockets of the crowd that had strayed from the dragon-dancing area.

We spent most of the night standing around wondering what was going on, and taking pictures with our students and the Thai teachers from our school. But there aren’t many places you can find thousands of people standing around a stage in the same yellow polo shirt, so I’d say it was worth seeing.

At some point in the evening, I realized that I have no idea what the president’s birthday might be, much less which day of the week he was born (Thais wear yellow shirts every Monday, the day the king was born). My British friends did not know the Queen’s birthday, either. I’m not sure what that says about Thais, but it’s definitely interesting to watch.

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