Monk School- ’nuff said.
The last three days have been pretty great. We have spent our days at a Buddhist compound, providing English lessons to novice monks. The first time looking out over a class of orange clad monks is a bit intimidating. There all sorts of cultural expectations with monks, for example women can’t touch them or hand them anything and they warrant a special wai (bow), so as a naive farang, there are a lot of possible faux pas that may occur during the lesson. On top of that, it was hard committing to-tic-tac toe, hangman, or some other warmer (like four corners) with contemplative, enlightened ones. It seemed as odd as a college professor walking in the first day and having the class do the hokey pokey. Of course, this was all unnecessary worry. Kids are kids, whether or not they are becoming a religious figure. In fact, the warmer worked. Once we had them moving around, speaking a little, and laughing a lot, things got really comfortable. It was like being in any other classroom. The students were very shy about their English, so it could be tough to get them to speak up (or at all sometimes), but were very good students. Many took notes, put forth full effort during activities, or even sought out further help. During a lunch break, Cengiz was captured by 35 monks, all crowding around to trade English phrases with him. After class today, I spent 20 minutes just talking to my students who refused to leave. Some wanted specific words, others just wanted a chance to talk, experimenting with subjects as simple as food, or as complicated as where I am from and what my parents do. Appropriately, during breaks we weren’t grabbed by monks, we went searching for them. The interest went both ways and lunches were full of picture taking, playing with puppies, exploring the compound, and buying Popsicles for whoever was hovering around the mobile vendor.
Cengiz and I agreed, it would be a great place to teach permanently. Both of us provided great lessons and there were aspects of the place and culture that were fantastic. I particularly liked the inclusion of domestic animals as part of the school’s ambiance. During one lesson, a group of 3 kittens came tumbling out of the teacher’s desk. Apparently they had made the right cabinet their homes. While this seemed stop worthy to us, the novices hardly noticed. Except for periodically letting the cats sit on their laps, you wouldn’t have even known there were kittens walking around and nibbling on feet. At one point, one of the roaming puppies also came in the room, resulting in moma cat scratching his head open for getting to close. That was an unavoidable lesson stopper, as the pained screech was ear-splitting.
Perhaps the best moments of the week were noticing students gathering round your door as the lesson was being taught. Most would just stand, listening and watching. A couple came in and sat down. During a game, I gave extra materials to some of the onlookers, who proceeded to play with conviction. One late addition was one of my best “word police” in the class (I gave out texts and asked questions, provided false statements that had to be corrected, or posed fill in the blank questions). I was shocked to see how competitive these guys got. The ferocity started with the naming, each team clambering to secure their favorite futbal team’s name. As team 2 (aka Man U.) took a commanding lead (points were awarded for right answers), I noticed other groups physically getting closer and closer to the paper, determined to win the next point. Cengiz, in his best Paulie stance (right out of Sopranos), had the entire class greeting each other with excitement. As a result,”Hi my name is…” became a standard part of their repertoire and could be heard just walking around the halls. Perhaps the highlight for myself was a monk dance party that we got started with today. They mastered “the sprinkler,” my best disco moves, “the lawnmower,” and just loved a Chuck Berry worthy twist. Seeing monks dancing in a circle is a must add to the bucket list for any not yet fortunate enough to catch it.
As I write this, Cengiz and I are packing. Tonight, we once again embark, fully equipped with all our possessions, on a journey to seek out a home. Putham Thani, north of Bangkok and surrounded by beautiful Ayutthaya and Sukhothai will be home for the next 5 months. I look forward to passing out candy tomorrow to our young neighbors (and having a gin and tonic) and relaxing to mentally prepare for the first day of the semester on Monday. Though we have no furniture other than beds at the moment, knowing for sure that I wont have to move in the next couple of weeks is going to be a fantastic feeling.