As we pulled into Watnongkhae early on Monday morning, I assumed the fixated faces and stares of awe were a result of my obscene amount of luggage and the arrival of a new teacher.
The students, who are expected to be at school an hour before lessons begin in order to perform cleaning duties, came bounding up the car to relieve me of everything I was carrying and take it to my office. Mrs Usana led me through to see Somsri, and I was greeted with excitable sa-wat-dee-ka’s from everybody I passed.
Each morning, after cleaning is done and before lessons begin, the students uniformly line up outside for Buddhist prayer and to sing the national anthem.
I was formerly introduced to the students, having already had notice boards dedicated to me up around the school prior to my arrival. Somsri handed me the microphone to give a short speech whilst she translated, before presenting me with a beautiful bouquet of lilies and roses as a welcome gift.
Whilst I had been emailing Somsri during my exams and before I left for Thailand, we exchanged FaceBook profiles in order to see what each other looked like. During my stay with Mrs Usana in Bangkok, she told me of a ‘very sexy picture’ of me that had been hanging above my assigned desk for a few weeks. Intrigued yet puzzled, I put the demotion of the term ‘sexy’ down to a language and communication error. You can imagine my horror as I glowingly strutted into the office for the first time to see this on full view for all to see:
How Somsri found that photo, or what on earth possessed her to print it on A4 photo paper and put it in the wall is completely beyond me.
I soon learnt that the mesmerisation on the children’s faces that morning wasn’t due to my obscene amount of luggage, but more to do with my ethnicity and newness. If anything, teaching at Watnongtakea is one enormous stream of ego boosting. The students absolutely adore me, hanging out of the windows to scream ‘Good afternoon teacher’ during their lessons when they see me walk by and busting into the office to pass me hand written letters of love and admiration.
Being the local royal led me to momentarily forget why I was actually in Thailand in the first place: to teach. Mrs Usana had told me at the weekend that I would be teaching in all her classes and thus she would always be in the lesson too. I hadn’t realised however, that her ‘being in the room’ would be literally to translate in case the students couldn’t comprehend me, and I awkwardly found myself standing in front of 20 eleven year olds with nothing prepared save for my marker pen and a stack of post it notes. A couple of games, name introductions and a round of ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ later, all the confidence gained from the reception of my arrival was restored.
A welcome party was held for not only myself, but two other new teachers at Watnongkhae. Here I was presented with yet another stunning bouquet, along with some small gifts from a few teachers. Platters of Thai food lined the tables at which we sat, with the guests heartily outnumbered by the amount of food. I’ve come to learn that in Thailand, if I enjoy eating something which I’m not quite sure what it is, don’t bother asking. Happily ploughing away through a plate of what I thought to be crispy bacon, was in fact deep fried pigs intestines.