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adventures in Thailand


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Happy Chinese New Year

YEAR OF THE DRAGON

School’s closed today in honor of the Chinese New Year. A three day weekend—much needed for R&R. Lots of Rest, that’s for sure. Waking up and seeing that the temperature in my bedroom was 51 degrees made me want to go back to sleep and stay under the covers. It’s been particularly cold for the past couple of nights—no insulation, no heat—despite temperatures in the mid-80s during the day. It’s plenty warm for sleeping but on the chilly side for a morning shower.

We had a great time celebrating the Chinese New Year at school on Friday—read a Chinese dragon folk tale, made Chinese tea, watched a video of the Chinese dragon dance and then the kids did the dance. We got then in a line, put a long red towel over their heads, called it a fire dragon, and had them weave their way around the school grounds. They had a great time.  Oh, we also made “dragons” from rocks that they colored and added eyes to. Thank goodness it wasn’t the Year of the Rat!

BANYAN SCHOOL

School’s going amazingly well considering we’ve just opened. The first couple of weeks were soooooooo exhausting. Am a bit more used to the pace now. We have two Shan (Burmese) girls but the two boys we were expecting didn’t enroll due to an administrative problem. By the time we re-open in May we should have 5 Shan students. There are eight other students. Sounds like a small number in relation to three teachers (I’m in the classrooms 90% of the time) but we’re all very busy.

The kids are really enjoying the Montessori materials and learning a lot. We can see their concentration and focus improving every day. Feedback from town is the that the parents are saying positive things. Hurrah.

NEW HOUSE – NO WI-FI 

On January 1 I moved into my new house which I love. But there’s no internet there. Decided to wait until after the March/April break to install it. Meanwhile, it’s very isolating not to have internet there. No NPR, no WAMC or WMHT, no IM-ing, no Skype, etc. Have been reading a lot.

The house is a 5 minute walk from the school. Very spacious with blue tile floors, high ceilings and one interior wall made of stone in the living room. Lovely setting with a mango orchard behind it and rice paddies across the road, in front. There’s a cute little porch which needs some furniture and a hammock. Also need a dresser for my clothing. It came with basic furniture–bed, wardrobe, small table with chairs, Thai couch (big wooden bench), etc.

VISA RUN

Every three months I have to go out of the country and come back in. Last trip was Oct. 15 so I figured I had until Jan. 15. WRONG–turns out the visa was good only until Oct. 12 (exactly 90 days, not 3 months) so I had to pay a $50 fine. Bummer. It’s possible to leave Pai at 5 a.m. and return at 8 p.m. the same day, having spent all but one hour in the minivan. One hour allowed for crossing into Myanmar/Burma, buying fake Ray Bans, and coming back across the border with a new stamp good for 90 days. I broke up the trip by spending the night in Chiang Mai. But it was still a grueling day. Left CM at 8 a.m. and got to Pai at 8 p.m.

Hopefully I’ll get a one year working visa when back in the USA. Then the 3 month Visa Runs will be eliminated. We’re working with the govt. in Mae Hong Son, the provincial capital, for govt. approval of the school. The official said he’d help us with immigration which would be great.

There’s not much news from here other than the above. Would love to hear from you.

 

 

 

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“Kindness of Strangers” and New Year

Written January 2 morning.

HAPPY NEW YEAR rings true to my ears. I am so happy about my move to Pai, Thailand. Even happier that we’re opening the pilot Montessori preschool tomorrow, Jan. 3, with 12 students. one third will be Burmese (Shan) refugees from Pai’s three refugee villages. They will be on scholarship through out umbrella non-profit N.G.O., the Burmese Refugee Project (BRP).

It amazes me that we’re opening merely five months and one week after my arrival in Thailand. So much has been accomplished, especially in the last ten days thanks to Peter Muennig, co-founder of BRP and a Columbia University associate professor, plus a slew of  volunteers. That last word brings me to the next section with a nod to Tennessee Williams.

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS. If it were not for the many volunteers, we would be opening with a strong academic program and beautiful Montessori classroom materials but a physical plant that was lacking in many necessities and niceties. For various legitimate reasons, our Operations Manager has been unable to fulfill 95 per cent of his duties. It was impossible to find someone else to take over his responsibilities. So when Peter arrived on December 20 he became the de facto operations manager. Too bad he’s leaving January 5 and returning to Columbia to teach spring semester.

Over a dozen “strangers” have helped so far. Their nationalities include: Dutch, German, Swiss, French, Canadian, American, British, Australian, Spanish, Chinese and today, Jan. 2, we will have a Thai volunteer. The Thai is our teacher Nuy who will join the staff in May. She came from Bangkok, 600 miles south, for the weekend. This necessitated an overnight bus  (11 hours) between BKK/CM, then 3 hour mini-van to/from Pai.  It sounds crazy and grueling to travel so far for so little time but it is not atypical for a Thai.

So far the volunteers (mostly) and staff (Peter, Beth and I) have:  painted exterior building front and side walls white, put two coats of blue paint on 15 schools for lunch area, put prime coat on our big metal entryway gate, moved and re-potted over a dozen big plants, started to create our sensorial pathway with a variety of surfaces to walk on, built a sand box and moved it to a shady spot, created the perimeter of our playground space where swings and a tire tunnel will be installed, painted a lovely Banyan Center sign, designed a large tri-lingual sign (Thai, English, Mandarin) that eventually will grace our entrance over the metal gate, removed loads of debris, built two compost piles, purchased and lacquered a wooden door to be installed between the kitchen and classroom, repaired the front double wooden doors, delivered elephant dung for the composts, purchased about 20 flowering plants and planted them, removed existing three steps on side of building and replaced them with five steps that are more kid-friendly, and other things that escape me at the moment. Their pay?  Free lunch.

NEW HOME and OPEN HOUSE PARTY. New Year’s Day started with a delicious breakfast (organic herbs and vegetable omelette cooked in a banana leaf) at my favorite spot, Bueng Pai Farm. After a manicure and pedicure in town plus hooking up with Nuy and shopping for party beverages, we returned to the school house for ten minutes and then went to the new house.

Nothing like planning too much for one day, one of my specialities. We arrived at my new home about 30 minutes before the party was to begin. Thankfully, Nuy pitched in and the first guest arrived about 20 minutes after the official opening.

It seemed that everyone had a good time and the house received much praise. This came despite the lack of interior decorating and fairly bare walls. Nuy did manage to help me hang the original oil painting by the Burmese artist which was purchased at a gallery in CM in November.

Party food was supposed to be simple…cheese, crackers, nuts, dried fruit and pumpkin pie from a great bakery in town. However, it turned out to be fantastic because the owners of Bueng Pai Farm, who had been invited to the event, stopped by with fabulous vegetarian and chicken spring rolls and lovely banana leaf “bowl” of organic star fruit (carambola). They had made everything especially for the party.

In conclusion, let me wish everyone a Happy New Year and a year ahead filled with joy, happiness, good health, fun, prosperity and new adventures.