Ok, so today's my last day at school... well last day with the kiddies here at least but I need to stick around another fortnight although I have nothing to do (long story!) Anyways, I realised that in the five months since being here I've kept you all posted on my weekendly adventures and outings, so much so that some of you may well have forgotten I do infact go to work five days a week! Everyday life isn't as glam as swimming in waterfalls, lazing on beaches, playing with tigers, or shopping sprees, so I thought I'd take the time to give you a bit of an insight into my day-to-day living in Saraburi. So, a week in the life of me...
My town: Saraburi's quite a big and very much a working town, people either work at the hospitals, schools, hairdressers, or sell things. Most homes are also shops, and in windows you'll see people having their hair cut and see the kids watching telly and eating on the other side of the room. There's also a lot of poverty and people on the street and river banks, and a lot of vendors live at their stalls, so you sit eating next to their bed and rope with clothes hanging from them. Thailand seems such a city of contrasts in this sense, especially in Bangkok where you'll see huge skyscrapers and plush apartment blocks, and then directly around them corregated iron shacks. There's only a handful of 'ferang' in this town, and until the other week I was one of only two blondes, so attention is a given. Wherever I walk I'm always followed by cars hooting and a string of 'hey you', 'bpai mai (where you go)?', 'ferang ferang', and an assortment of the only words some of them know, so sometimes I just have numbers shouted at me. I've got used to it but sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming and I just wish people would stop talking about me or staring at me.
My job: I have to be in school 8-4 every day, including Wednesdays when I have no classes, which coincidentally is also the day we have to wear tracksuit bottoms, quite possibly my most hated item of clothing ever. I get up around 7ish, sometimes snoozing til 7.15 (on occasion even later, like today... 7.40, eek!) You'll be surprised to learn that I've cut my getting-ready time to about 15mins. Amazing, huh!? I discovered within a few days that it's better to shower and wash my hair at night. I don't have hot water and I'm convinced the chill's taken off come evening when the sun's had a chance to warm up the water tank a bit. It's also better to let my hair dry over night as sparks shoot out from the plug everytime I put my hairdryer in! So come the morning it's just a case of slapping some mascara on, so I don't scare the children, and getting dressed. The latter is a pretty easy task given our 'uniform' - Yellow on Monday, Pink on Tuesday, Sports on Wednesday (ugh!), anything on Thursday, and hideous bright blue Hawaiian-style shirt on Friday. And I wake up knowing it's going to be sunny every day, which makes it easier.
School's about a 15 minute walk along the smelly congested main road. I usually walk every day just to get a bit of exercise, but now and again (like this morning when I was running late) I hop on the rickety local bus for 10b, or one of the parents picks me up on the way if they spot me which is nice. When I do walk the little old traffic man (I suppose he's like the thai equivalent of a lollipop man) at the kindergarten/primary school across the road from me always tilts his cap and says good morning. He sounds so pleased with himself every time he does so, probably seen people do it on telly or something, hehe! I also pass the local technical college every morning just at the time they start playing their school anthem, which I swear is just like the 'I Love Clover' song!
Small aside: walking in Thailand's a bit of challenge, it's more of an hop-scotch-style assault course getting anywhere; the pavements are so uneven and random bits are missing, coupled with the fact there's always loads of patches of dirty water, not because it ever rains but because street vendors wash their plates and whatnot in front of their stall. It's also highly frustrating when stuck walking behind a Thai person as they walk slower than I thought was humanly possible, and always slap-bang in the middle of the pavement, plus you always need to dodge motorbikes as they tend to ride on the pavement more often than the road. All things combined, it's easier to just walk in the road most of the time. As if walking on the pavement isn't hard enough, crossing roads is equally as challenging. The roads around Saraburi are constantly teeming with cars, motorbikes, motorbikes with street vendor carts attatched to them, buses, vans, tuktuks, rickshaws and the like, none of whom pay the slightest bit of attention to traffic lights, when they're working. I learned early on that it's pretty much a case of walking out and them swerving around you, or crossing one lane and waiting in the middle of the traffic for the next lane to clear, wee bit risky perhaps but it's the only way of ever getting to the other side. Added to the general problems of traffic is, once more, the fact I'm a ferang; people actually slow their cars down to look at me as they turn a corner... not stopping altogether though or slow enough that I can hop infront of them and actually cross the road.
When I get to school I have to sign in at the Director's Office (it's all very formal) and if I'm ever there spot on 8am and not before I get watch-tapped by the receptionist, the cheek, but she does always ask 'you are happy?' I seek the coolness of my aircon classroom as soon as that's over with and eat my brekkie, generally strawberry yoghurt (which spits at me everytime I open the lid, without fail) or if I'm feeling super hungry I get fried chicken and sticky rice from the vendor outside our gate. The day varies depending on what classes I have. As you know I got lumbered with art and computing, quite possibly my worst two subjects, although I seem to have got on better than I expected, especially with computing. It sometimes takes me by surprise when I'm standing in front of a class of 30 kids teaching something I thought I knew b***** all about. I got told by my fave P5 the other day that I was 'Queen of Computing'. I blushed!
We have lunch at 12, and although I'm made to pay for school lunches I rarely eat them as they're usually pork (they even put pork in plain rice, pork crazy people!) I normally grab some instant rice or noodles, much better than the crappy pot-noodle stuff at home, or go to a lady down the road who makes good stuff, my regular order being her excellent chicken with chilli and basil with fried egg. As I eat so early I generally get a snack on the way back from school too from one of the many vendors who set up as the kids pile out. It takes so long to work my way through the mob of kids hoarding around the stalls it makes sense to stop and buy something too, that being my justification! Or I wait until I get home and eat something there, chocolate most recently since my latest rations were sent over my lovely bro and his girlfriend :). I went through a phase of having sweet condensed milk on everything after I was given some mulberry jam at New Year and discovered they tasted really good together on bread so that became a popular after-school snack. However, I have discovered that sweet condensed milk does not taste good with marmalade or canned lychees!
Panna my landlady is usually sweeping round the apartment block, wearing her rice-farmers hat with her face whitened with talcum powder, when I get in from school so we have a little English-Thai chat. She's a sweet old lady, and realised I didn't like the dozens of ants always in my room and always sprinkles ant-deterrent outside my door as my chalk stick was proving to be rubbish.
The evenings: Monday became my domestic night of laundry and cleaning after weekends away, so I lug my washing basket to a machine at the side of a nearby road. The machine's timer always says it'll take 40mins, and I go back exactly 40mins later and every time it says there's 12mins remaining... and 12 mins later it'll say 8 mins remaining. Baffling! On the way to and fro I always walk past the same old women sitting outside the front of their home-shop watching the world (or rather, the endless traffic) go by.
Tuesday and Wednesday, until recently, I went to the clinic of the family I lived with those first few days I was here. I wanted to thank them for their hospitality so said I'd teach English to Jang, their 11 year old daughter, for a few hours a week. After our lessons they'd take me for dinner at a restaurant about 50m down the road, which they would drive us to! They were pretty unreliable though to be honest and some evenings they'd phone up and cancel just as I was about to leave to get there, shame as I turned down paid tuition to teach her instead. I'm actually grateful I stopped teaching the other week so she could prepare for her final exams as it was getting unbearable in the stuffy room upstairs for two hours in mid-30'C heat with no fan/aircon/windows!!
On Thursdays I go to an orphanage about a 30min bus ride away, which I'm usually stood on with another 50 people in an aisle big enough for about 20. The girls there are lovely, like a breath of fresh-air. It's nice just being able to play and have fun and teach them little things. I'll miss them as much as my school kids. On the bus back I usually watch the TV which plays either very badly dubbed films or Thai music videos which I find hilarious, they are so so so bad! On a bus journey back a few weeks ago a little old man across the aisle turned and talked to me, asking in perfect English what I was doing and where I was from etc. I was really touched as when I told him I was a teacher he said he wanted to thank me very much for teaching the younger generation and giving them opportunities for their future they otherwise wouldn't have. Then he asked if I wanted to go to Bangkok with him. I declined. I usually get off the bus at Tesco Lotus as it's the other side of town from my apartment and I generally need something there which I can't buy at the local shops (i.e. eye make-up remover, as I have no idea what it's called in Thai and feel safer reading it in English on the bottle and knowing what I'm buying). It's very surreal in Tesco, just like home, except obviously the signs are in Thai too. There's also a Pizza Company there which I drool over on most visits and have been to once with Kat. It was a little slice of processed cheesy heaven :)!
Some evenings I'll pop to the internet cafe... I'm now on my third one. It's like when goldilocks was choosing porridge. The one I first started going to - 'Atomic' - I decided was smelly, too bright, and had too many noisy school boys playing games; the second one was cosy but a bit too small, although I stayed loyal to them all the time I was watching Hustle online; now I go to my third and most favourite, not too big, not too small, not too noisy, only 15b and hour and attached to a sweet little cafe which does amazing cassis smoothies for 30b. Other evenings I'll spend with Kat and we'll have dinner and go for massages/facials/foot massages. Ahhh Dee-Dee, my amazing masseuse. I know I say this about a lot of people but she is quite possibly the sweetest Thai lady I've ever met. We always have great chats and she's really funny! I enjoy going there just to chat with her as much as for the massage, although they are pretty great. Plus they serve incredible herbal tea afterwards. I'm not a fan of tea in general, but the fresh ginger tea they make is divine. We just sit there umming and saying 'aroi maaaaak' - veeeery delicious! I need to squeeze in lots more appointments with her before I go, not sure how I'm going to cope without weekly massages once I'm home. Something tells me I won't be finding them as cheap as 3 quid an hour!!
Food: I usually go grab dinner at a line of stalls near the railway station, about 10 mins from mine. I have a Phad Thai (Thai noodles) man and Phat Phak (fried veggies) lady who are my faves and always know what I'm going to order and start making it before I even get to their stall. I also hope and pray every night I go that the sticky rice carts are there. I buy a 10b pack of sweet sticky rice with coconut milk at every available opportunity, and have been known to have two helpings in one day. It's just sooooo good. When sticky rice isn't there for me to devour I go for the slightly more unhealthy option of chinese doughnuts from the old couple near my apartment. Which I have with sweet condensed milk, of course. Friday-Sunday the night maket fires up and there's loads more food stalls to choose from so I always wander around there and get noodles, corn, squid on a stick, or other delights. Obviously I can't write something about my everyday life without including a section on food, hehe!
The night market's also great for picking up bargainous clothes, shoes and jewellery. Whatever I've purchased there has frequently been put in a carrier bag with really random, often poorly translated, quotes on it, examples being: 'your words are my food, your breath is my wine', 'I love cookies', 'let's have a picnic', 'good meals and drink', and my personal fave being 'my benediction contains my best wishers from bottom of my heart and it expresses my strong feelings of missing you all the time', aww (I think)!!
Anyways, I hope my waffling has given a little taster of what day-to-day life has been like for me over the past five months...