Welcome to Sunday Summary, the meme in which I attempt to summarize the week that came before.
I have been ill most of today and seriously doubted that I would start working on this blog entry up until an hour or so ago. It remains to be seen whether I can push through to the finish. In fact, I haven’t felt much like blogging at all for most of the week although I did finish a lengthy article on Great Britain’s stamp issues for March.
I think I am just treading water until the end of the school year which will occur on 31 March. It doesn’t help that Kan was stuck in Buriram for a few extra days during a planned brief visit with her mom; I am surprised that she never seems to remember how difficult travel from there to the “outside world” can be! In addition, she was in some sort of accident the day she returned to the Big City (hasn’t explained exactly what happened yet) and now has to miss an additional week of work as she is unable to walk without pain.
As my mind is elsewhere at the moment, I am keeping to a chronological format for this edition of “Sunday Summary” in the hopes that the process goes somewhat faster.
Sunday, 12 March
Last Sunday evening, I wrote the first two of a total of only four blog entries for the entire week — one on a set of stamps released by the Australian Antarctic Territory and the other was the 30th edition of this weekly summary series. The former concerned stamps bearing paintings by Sidney Nolan; during the research for these I began entranced by a painting series the artist did which covered the entire saga of the crime spree and arrest of bushranger Ned Kelly. I found out that I actually have a stamp bearing one of these paintings and there have only been a handful of stamps that portray Kelly himself (one was a joint issue with Ireland). As a result, I am planning to put together an article on this topic for A Stamp A Day at some point during the upcoming school holiday.
Monday & Tuesday, 13-14 March
The first day of the last week of final exams (and of our students’ attendance) for this school year. I only had two or three children to track down and give exams to in most of my classes. These kids had been absent during the previous week (two weeks in some cases) and it was important to get scores for them as soon as possible. During the first class period, I traveled from room to room grabbing students to test. Luckily, most of them were found. I then visited Nursery 1 (the 2-year-olds). Around half of them were out sick. As a result, I was finished with testing for the day by 10:00. After entering the scores into the assessments spreadsheet, I had five hours of nothing at all to look forward to.
The Chinese teacher at school had brought a friend with her (I believe she’s her replacement for next year) who invited me to lunch. We walked along the busy highway until we found an eatery that didn’t look too grungy (my philosophy is that the older and more run-down the place looks, the better the food). If you cannot speak Thai, the point method works so I pointed at a photo on the wall that looked appetizing and the Chinese lady did the same. We were both quite pleased with the result and the portions were large (huge, actually) and quite tasty. Cheap, too. For the two of us, the total came to 140 baht including water to drink. Not bad and I will definitely return one day very soon.
The afternoon, as did all afternoons this week involved me trying to stay awake at my desk until such time as I could go wake the members of my dance team from their naps so we could attempt a rehearsal. We had a few good practices but, mostly, the children were anxious to just run around and have fun. We did a lot more of that than dancing.
I did manage to write and publish one blog entry for Philatelic Pursuits on Monday — a brief article about Bermuda’s first stamp of 2023, an Express Postage item which is the first of any nation to bear the portrait of King Charles III.
Kan video-called me Monday afternoon just to chat and again in the evening to tell me that there still weren’t any buses from Nang Rong Village to civilization on Tuesday and that she would attempt to travel Wednesday night. I also began reading The Last Kingdom by Steve Berry, published late last month.
Tuesday followed the same basic routine as Monday (without the yellow shirts). The Word of the Day at the Morning Assembly was “snail” (which turned out to be the last of the year) and the kids from K1/1 performed a dance routine with ladybug headgear. They were dressed as they do when they go to visit the adjacent temple but there were no prayer offerings on this day. I walked across the street to a local mini-mart to buy some cold yoghurt drinks at lunchtime and began downloading stamp images from the Royal Mail “Special Stamps” website. I had noticed that they had finally revealed the designs of their upcoming set of Garden Flowers stamps due for release on 23 March. These are to be the first stamps from Great Britain to bear the silhouette of King Charles III.
I had held off finishing an article about Great Britain’s other March issue — the Flying Scotsman set from the 9th — until I could include these. Royal Mail is one of those postal administrations that provides high-resolution images of their upcoming releases in advance. The problem is that EVERY stamp set includes a wealth of items to purchase to it takes considerable time to download all of the images. I like to have transparent backgrounds for my stamp images so that when I put them in the blog they appear to be mounted on the page. Thus, it can be time-consuming to edit each image once I have it on my computer. I spent most of the afternoon at school Tuesday (save for an hours’ dance practice) downloading these stamps and starting to edit them.
Wednesday & Thursday, 15-16 March
I arrived on time Wednesday morning (6:30) as usual but the teacher who has the key was around 20 minutes late. This through all of my pre-Gate Duty tasks into disarray and I was in a bit of a foul mood when I went downstairs at seven-thirty. That morning saw a slight change to the flag routine. After the anthem and pair of Buddhist prayers, a group of students lined up as usual to dance. The tune seemed vaguely familiar but once the kids were handed roses, I knew this was leading into the “Goodbye to My Favorite Teacher” ceremony. At some schools, the students are allowed to choose which teacher they want to give the flower to which often results in one or two teachers ending up with a garden while the other teachers are left standing in the dust. One year, I had a big stack!
I couldn’t tell if the kids were each assigned a teacher on this particular morning, but I returned to the line of teachers while still filming and quickly noticed Nicha from K3/3 making a beeline for me. She handed me the rose and soon after had a bear hug around my knees and was sobbing, “I love you, Teacher Mark!”. It was so heart-felt that I teared up as well, captured by the school photographer but a quick check reveals the photo is not (yet) on the school’s Facebook page.
Having obtained tests and other scores for the last few remaining students (some with the help of their teachers phoning their homes), I finished my spreadsheets and submitted the scores to the agency. This received the accolade that I had been an excellent teacher all term without any problems. Hey, just doing my job.
That afternoon, we had what was supposed to be our final dance rehearsal. The workers had just set up the stage and were in the process of putting the backdrop up. The kids took the opportunity to misbehave in full view of the school’s staff and many of the Thai teachers. They messed up the dance routine repeatedly in their efforts to show off with that audience. I was embarrassed as I knew they were much better than what they presented. I think they were as sick of this as I had become. We all just wanted for Friday’s performance to be over and done with. Only one of my video clips is semi-watchable.
I spent much of the downtime through the morning and lunchtime working on the article on Great Britain’s March stamps. I had discovered that the Flying Scotsman steam engine and tender honored with so many stamps and other items had been the same locomotive that my dad and I had climbed aboard on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf circa 1971-72 and I now knew why it was in the States to begin with. I even found video of the train steaming down the Embarcadero during that period. This led me to put together a full history of it rather than just the brief synopsis I had planned. In the end, I also ended up giving full details about each of the flowers in the second issue making for a very lengthy article but one that I am particularly proud of. I finally hit the “Publish” button after returning home in the afternoon. It was my final blog post of the week other than the “Sunday Summary”
Kan called me from the Buriram City bus station Wednesday night while she was waiting for the bus to return to Bangkok, an 8-hour journey. We had a nice talk and she assured me that she would text me in the morning once she arrived at her apartment. I didn’t hear from her again until Friday afternoon. She was in some sort of accident although she has not given me any details at all other than a photo of her heel which was not pleasant to look at in the least. She cannot walk well and will miss another week of work. She has seen the doctor twice since but, again, has been silent on details. This long-distance relationship seems to be suffering a bit at the moment which requires some extra patience and understanding on my part. I am pretty good at both. So, I sit and wait…
Thursday morning, the teacher with the key was late again and there were four Thai teachers waiting by the time we could go inside the school building. No matter because the temple cat kept me company. At morning assembly, I was getting ready to do the last “Word of the Day” of the school year when two K2 teachers approached me during the second of the Buddhist prayers.
These ladies are sort of in charge in the absence of the school director (who hasn’t been seen since before New Year); they told me my kids had to dance for the student body in a few minutes. What? Talk about lack of advance notice (and I think it was in retaliation for the kids taking the piss the afternoon before). Uncharacteristically, I argued with them but in the end had to run up the three flights of stairs to my office. The song wasn’t even on the memory stick as I had been in the process of removing my introduction, count-in, and outro in preparation for Friday’s performance. I hadn’t finished due to the lateness in entering the school. I copied the unedited track back onto the stick and ran back downstairs.
In the process, I had missed out on giving the last “Word of the Day” and also most of another “Honor Your Teachers” ceremony. As I stood looking for my dancing kids, I was asked to pose while a random student presented me with a wrist-garland. The resulting dance performance from the understandably surprised kids was rife with mistakes but nothing too major unless you’d seen prior rehearsals. At least all of the kids were facing the correct direction for most of the two songs! It felt odd to hear my voice booming from the speakers above. . .
When we returned inside after the assembly, I asked if I could have at least one more rehearsal with my kids and if I could do so on the actual stage as it was now clear of obstructions. I was given the green-light and let a couple of other teachers do their performances before mine. This gave my kids a bit more confidence as they saw the others making mistakes too. One of my boys whispered in my ear, “We can do better!”.
There were a lot of kids still in the hall while my group waited to take the stage. I thought they would be nervous with so many eyes and I was scared they would try to show off again. If anything, the children seemed extremely relaxed and were spending the build-up playing with their friends in a way they aren’t often allowed. The Thai teachers were so occupied with the last-minute practice that they didn’t have time to yell at my kids for, well, being kids.
Finally, it was our turn! There were still a few minor mistakes but they tried their best. I was happy with their performance and the Thai teachers seemed very pleased as I was praising the kids. I started to walk upstairs when the kids came and tugged on my pant legs. “Teacher! Can we do it again?” Jack told me that he’d forgotten a bit and that Mongkao also wanted to see if she could do it better. I was shocked that they were thinking about it that much!
I didn’t film the second take but it was almost perfect. The group received big cheers from the other K3 kids who were still in the hall (the assembly had brought gasps when they realized what we were doing; we’d kept it a secret until then). I think they were thrilled we were doing something with a beat and I had kids coming up to me all day demonstrating some little bit from the “Wednesday Dance” usually while singing the Lady Gaga “Dance With My Hands” bit rather than the “Goo Goo Muck” version we were doing. It looked like one little girl from K1 was interviewing Pete like he was a rock star!
Some of the other teachers did a final rehearsal in the afternoon but three out of my five kids had already left so I just lingered a bit to watch. After I did leave, I went home for a quick shower and then went out to buy some candy and gifts for the graduating students and also got my hair cut. I relaxed during the evening by watching Season 3 Episodes 2 and 3 of The Mandalorian.
Friday, 17 March
I had been so busy during the week that I never even realized that it was St. Patrick’s Day until I returned home Friday evening! Oddly, the school was already a hive of activity by the time I got there at 6:30 and I quickly pitched-in to help. One thing that has always bugged me about Open Houses at other schools was the complete lack of English materials on display as if the instruction of the language was completely non-existent. I had already gathered a selection of flashcards with the intention of adding these to the displays and didn’t wait long before I asked one of those in charge. She seemed a bit reluctant but relented and I bounded back upstairs. I was given a prominent place to hang the cards and the other Thai teachers seemed very pleased to see them. They were also thankful that they had someone to help carry heavy things up and down the stairs (particularly afterwards).
I wasn’t at school long before somebody told me that Pete’s grandfather had died suddenly the afternoon before. Pete was our best dancer and, yes, I was disappointed that he wouldn’t be joining us. But I hope he is coping with the death as I know how difficult the passing of a close family member can be to kids. I have had a lot of first-hand experience.
Mongkao was the first of my dancing kids to arrive and she was rushed upstairs to have one of our staff members do her makeup. The transformation was remarkable. Jack was so late that I began worrying if he was going to come at all. Teacher Ern (his homeroom teacher) called his father for me but I couldn’t hear anything he said as the speakers in the hall were blasting pre-show music by then. Anyway, Jack’s mother arrived with him in tow about 10 minutes later. He was dressed more like a miniature Bruce Springsteen (complete with bandana) than a zombie but it was fine.
The kids were kept in an air-conditioned holding area upstairs but were getting restless the longer we were made to wait. I took them downstairs several times for peek at the proceedings. We saw the monks chanting and various VIP’s making long-winded speeches. I assume most of these were from the local municipality government but really have no idea who’s who. I have not been introduced to local officials probably since the very first Thai government school where I worked in 2011-2012 (the lady who was mayor of Phuket Town at the time still remembers me whenever we encounter each other during a festival or other event.
We were allowed to wait on the steps when it got closer to showtime. The kids told me that they weren’t nervous at all. I had enough nerves for all five of us!
It was about 15 minutes before 10 when we were ushered to the front and introduced. Rather than centering Jack at the back, I went for a “missing man formation” in honor of Pete. The children took the microphone and introduced themselves one by one — even shy Mongkao. The three-minute routine went by in a blur; I video-recorded it while feeling self-conscious that I was in the way. The kids did well. They weren’t exactly in sync but I think the ripple-effect looks like it was done on purpose. At least in my mind’s eye.
After their performance, one of the VIP’s gave them each a toy set. I thought that was notable as every other dance group I saw were only given certificates. Did they win the grand prize? I have no idea but we were all very glad it was finally over.
The rest of the morning was spent just enjoying eating and playing with the interactive exhibits in the Open House. One student in particular — Botun from K2/3 — kept following me around wherever I went. She will be in my dance group starting next week. We will start rehearsing on Monday (I will be doing a medley of “Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees and “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang).
By 11:00, the stage had been dismantled and we began taking apart the Open House booths as the parents and children had mostly left by then. I think the staff and Thai teachers were amazed (and thankful) for all the hard work I put in helping take tables and other heavy equipment back upstairs. I also baby-sat one of the teacher’s sons while she was relaxing. The Chinese teacher never joined us outside, preferring to sit and wait in the empty hall before she left around noon.
I hung out with the Thai teachers and staff for a while before heading home myself. Once there, I noticed that I had left my eyeglasses in my office so went back to the school to retrieve them. Luckily, a couple of the other teachers were still there. I left again only to realize that I had also left my mobile phone charger. I wasn’t about to go back again for fear they will think I am absent-minded so I conserved my battery by shutting off my phone for most of the evening (taking a blogging break in the process). I did do quite a bit of reading.
Saturday, 18 March 2023
I spent most of the day at home — doing a bit of reading and doing some offline prep for future blog articles. I will get back on-track with the Stamps of 2023 series tomorrow — probably starting with a set of fish stamps from Cocos (Keeling) Islands before tackling either the United States or Germany. I also had an idea for an article about stamp-related songs (most of which are about love letters or broken-heart letters!). I spent some time seeking out songs to mention in my article (I wanted to embed an audio playlist but I think I will make one on YouTube instead). I also made some progress on a Part 3 to my “Philatelic Favorites” series.
In the afternoon, I headed out and had an early dinner at Madame Steak which is just outside of the school. I tried their beef burger for the first time and found it extremely good which was a shock considering it was only 99 baht. It was huge with lots of veggies and a huge beef patty. It was hard to taste the meat with all the condiments and it was very messy to eat. It filled me up, nonetheless. My only real complaint is they didn’t provide a knife or spoon so I could eat more of the stuff that fell out of the burger than I managed to pick up with my fingers. I think I will try their pizza next time (a 6-inch for 129 or a 10-inch for 189 baht).
After dinner, I walked to the 20-Baht Shop and found a charging cable for USB-C priced at only 35 baht. It works for charging but I cannot use it for transferring data from the phone to my laptop. Still, I was happy that I would be able to have internet for the night.
Sunday, 19 March 2023
And here we are!
I have yet to leave my apartment today. I did some laundry, read for a while, worked on my Postal Playlist article for Philatelic Pursuits (so many P’s), and chatted with Kan. Her foot is feeling better but she is depressed from not working for so long again. She also has been having problems with her “friends” there who just want to party and get drunk all the time (and turn violent when they do). It’s definitely not her scene and she just wants to get away. Her visit to her home village and spending time with her mother reminded her just how much she enjoys the quiet life. I have been encouraging her to just move back to Buriram and not worry about me down here so much but she really hopes to return to Phuket in time for her birthday in mid-April. We will see what happens once her foot heals. I have stopped asking her what happened; I think she will tell me when she is ready.
Yes, the chronological approach was faster to put together. I think I will keep this format for a while. The only thing I didn’t include was the music I listened to and that was mostly the first couple of EP’s and albums by Los Lobos and a few bootlegs recorded during the same time frame. And, of course, a fair amount of stamp-themed songs (my favorite is still “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes).
Since it is still relatively early, I think I will take a walk once I finish this article. Maybe get something to eat (I had toast with butter earlier) or perhaps walk all the way to the beach. Either way, it will be nice to get some fresh air.
I hope you enjoyed my Sunday Summary for March 12-19, 2023, and that the week to come is just how you want it to be. Cheers!