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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…

I Skyped back home to my parents last week, and was at first a little confused when they told me they were just sat by the log fire, relaxing with some sherry, after finishing decorating the Christmas tree.

Although it’s gotten noticeably colder here, its’ still 17 °C; a lot warmer the Christmases I’ve experienced so far in the UK. That, along with it being a predominantly Buddhist country, I had almost forgotten all about it being “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.

Another little nudge and reminder, was a meeting that was called between all the English teachers of the school; to announce that we shall be celebrating the festive season, next Wednesday, with a school show, where each year group must perform something for the rest of the teachers and students.

So this week has certainly helped to make things feel a little more festive. My kids have teamed up with the class next door, to perform a rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” It’s so lovely to hear them shouting and screaming the words, whether or not they’re actually the right ones, and their little faces light up with glee. Obviously you get the kids that aren’t really too keen on singing, like you do everywhere, however, I find the vast majority of the Kindergarten children absolutely LOVE screaming songs at the top of their lungs whilst dancing along at their own tempo.

We will keep practising this every afternoon until the show on Christmas Eve, so hopefully I shall be able to get a nice video of them on the stage.

Back in the classroom, the topic this week is “Magnets”. The children are really enjoying this, as it’s science, which of course allows the students to become more involved, and be mind blown by lots of cool experiments.

I started off introducing magnets to them by giving examples of ones we may find around the house or classroom.   We then wrote a table of objects, and then proceeded to test these items to see if they would be attracted to a magnet.

I then went on to explain the north and south poles of the magnet, and how these can either attract or repel. The kids tried this themselves, loving being able to feel the push and pull of the magnetic force.

We then went on to play a game of fishing. I tied some string to a blunt pencil, and on the other end, tied a small hoop magnet. I then printed out lots of paper fish, and on each fish, placed a small paperclip. The children then got into teams, where they had to race, one student at a time, in a relay fashion, and each catch a fish. The first team to catch all their fish were the winners. The children loved this, and it was a nice little treat, at the end of a topic.

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As the week draws to a close, and magnets have been discussed in as much depth as possible with 5 year olds, it is time to start the Christmas festivities.

I’d been to the educational supply store earlier in the week, where I’d picked up some tinsel and things, to make the classroom look a little more festive.

We’d also previously made some elf masks, with paper glasses and hats, which the children loved, and looked incredibly cute in.

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We began today by going over “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” again. We are getting closer to not having “you’d better watch out” as EVERY LINE.

Even though being of a different religion, the children are more than familiar with the Christmas songs, and images of the big man in red, Rudolph, and the decorations that surround the holiday.

So therefore I thought it’d be a nice idea for the children to make their own stockings. I drew a rough template of a Christmas stocking, which I drew around on red craft paper, and cut out one for each of the children.

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I then asked them to draw a nice picture on their stocking, of anything that reminded them of Christmas. I got lovely results back, with the children drawing pictures of reindeers, snowmen, and writing sweet messages on them to parents. I then gave them all some cotton wool balls, with which they made a white trim at the top of the stocking. These were then hung on their personal cupboards at the back of the classroom.

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The children returned from their snack, and I had the second part of their Christmas crafts ready to go.

I’d been to the local shopping centre earlier in the week, and bought enough candy canes for them to have two each. I then gave each child one pipe cleaner, two goggley eyes, and one red ball.

Wrapping the pipe cleaner around the candy canes, which were turned away from each other, this bound them together, so that they looked like antlers. They then put a little PVA glue on each of the eyes and the nose, and then stuck these to the pipe cleaner to make a face.

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And ta-da: just like that the children had their own little Rudolphs to hang on their stockings. This was so simple, but the kids absolutely loved it, and couldn’t contain their excitement. Luckily I managed to grab a few quick snaps just before the pipe cleaners were hectically cast aside and the candy canes devoured like there was no tomorrow.

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All I can say is with that much sugar, I can only apologise to their parents, for how energetic those kids will at bedtime. Sorry.

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Trip to the zoo \ new experiences as not to become ostrich-cized

Last week I was in school, carrying on, business as usual with my Kindergarten class.

In the middle of teaching, another lady from the Kindergarten department politely knocked on my door, and asked me to sign a piece of paper, all in Thai.  This was nothing out of the ordinary, however I later released that I’d just agreed to being held partly responsible for helping to take all the kids to the zoo, and if any were lost or harmed, I’d be in a lot of trouble.

So the next day, in I came to school in my trousers, and best mind frame, to help take several mini bus loads of 5 year olds to Chiang Rai Zoo.

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Only my 5 year olds come with this much swag.

So all the kids were lined up with military precision, bar the odd finger up nose and kicking each other in between the legs; and I was assigned 17 little people, who speak no English, and told not to lose them, and to meet at “The Zoo”.

Onto a mini bus we climbed, whilst the driver lowered the television so we could all view some child friendly cartoons, as I’m sure you would imagine.  However; no.  Instead he decided to play a series of incredibly sexualised music videos, full of scantily clad girls, making very awkward suggestive dance moves, whilst all the five year olds on the bus sang along to every word perfectly.

After a 15 minute journey of both disbelief and actual travelling, we arrived at “The Zoo”.  We all offloaded from our separate mini buses and made our way to the front entrance, where there was a big sign in Thai, which one can only assume said something along the lines of “Welcome to the Zoo’.  Or perhaps no one even really knows.

We continued to get the children into some kind of order, with the head of Kindergarten bringing with her a microphone, attached to a mini amp, held in her handbag.  I thought that was a great touch (!)  Again, the children got orders screamed and shouted at them, which saw them stomp their feet in unison and scream things back in Thai.  I looked on in bemusement, trying to help with whatever I could, which generally speaking is trying to get them to stop eating whatever they find up each other’s noses.

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The chaos of organising Kindergarten

Thailand wouldn’t be Thailand without around a half an hour interval for photo taking, with an array of different poses, from the one finger in the air (bringing back thoughts of The Fugees singing “Killing Me Softly” from the 90’s) to a very enthusiastic thumbs up from all involved.

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After this, one of the staff from “The Zoo” took the microphone and handbag amp, and took us over to an open shed, where lots of cages lay.  From these cages, he proceeded to pull a series of reptiles.  Showing these to the children, they were all amazed, some a little scared, however it was good fun and a few of us enjoyed holding them.  And then he brought out two tarantulas,  at which point I made a fierce jump to the furthest possible point.  Still holding some form of lizard, too petrified to go near the staff / tarantulas, I spent a good 15 minutes watching from under a far tree, as the guy proceeded to shove these massive spiders in the faces of screaming 5 year olds, even placing one on top of a child’s hat, and laughing as the child had no clue.

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Once I’d been fully assured by a fellow teacher that these spiders were back in their boxes, I approached the staff, to remind them that I was still holding one of their reptiles.  With great thanks, (as he’d certainly not realised) he took the lizard and replaced it in its cage.

From there we moved on to these angry looking “Alligator Snapping Turtles”.  I’ll tell you this much.  They were not crocodiles; which is what this guy informed the children they were.  However, I chuckled and we moved on to the goats.

The ever famous "crocodile".

The ever famous “crocodile”.

Or the goats moved on to us.  We were all stood around the water tank when a herd suddenly charged, and joyfully jolted around these 5 year olds. The same height as the goats.   Which was beautiful to watch.  I don’t know who was bleating / screaming in each other’s faces more.

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After some goat feeding we moved on to the giant tortoises, and then some snakes kept in Tupperware (I didn’t agree with this place at all, and did have continued sympathy for these creatures), finishing with the salamanders kept in a tank roughly the same size as them.  It wasn’t nice, and it was far from a zoo, and I did point this out many times, however this is the norm for them, and they’ve never seen a zoo, or an animal rehabilitation centre like we have in the West, and I guess I just felt obliged to go along with it, even though this did result in me feeling somewhat guilty.  However, I still found myself taking a selfie with a giant tortoise.

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We then made our way about ten minutes back towards town, to Wana Ostrich and Horse Farm.

Here, we sat on mats that we had brought with us, and unloaded the packed lunches whilst the children fed themselves on rice and juices.  Meanwhile, the Kindergarten department had seemed to have paid for quite the spread for the teachers; as we tucked into piping hot roasted chicken, crunchy pork, and steaming rice with coconut milk.

After this, THE WHOLE group of children queued up to take it in turns to ride on a horse and carriage.  The horse and carriage took about 8 children at once.  There was one horse and carriage.  So I spent an hour and a half entertaining the rest of the waiting kids, by pretending they were aeroplanes and flying them over my shoulders.  Who needs the gym when you teach Kindy, hey?

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When the children had finished their turns on the horse and carriage, they were allowed to enter a paddock, which contained a few sheep, some goats and a couple of small donkeys.  Before this, the kids were encouraged to spend their 20Baht they’d each brought with them, on buying a bunch of grass, with which to feed the animals.  However, in this case, the animals had thought of a cunning plan, in which to outsmart these tiny people.  As soon as the children entered the paddock, the animals bombarded them.  All being the same height, whilst the kids were screaming with joy and excitement, the animals went straight for them, and grabbed the food right out of their hands.

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This, I have to say, is where most of this month’s wages went.  On me buying them all a fresh load of grass, and carrying it to the middle of the paddock for them, so that they could get further than two metres inside, without the whole lot being grabbed.

They ran around some more, playing arcade-like games, shooting targets, and throwing darts at balloons, before we all made our way over to the ostrich section.

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A very lovely Thai man took his time to explain to the children that ostriches are birds, and they lay huge eggs, and people like making handbags out of them, etc etc.  All this time there were two very angry looking ostriches behind him, running in circles sporadically around a pen, with a huge sign saying “Ostrich Riding…Once Time In Your Life”.  (Please note this was not MY typo for once).

At the end of the educational talk, I jokingly asked one of the Thai teachers if she’d take a ride on an ostrich.  Before I could do anything to stop this, she was excitedly telling the farm owner that the white chick wanted a go on the ostrich, whilst the entirety of Kindergarten erupted with “Chai Teacher Kate!  Chai!”.  You don’t have to be Thai to realise they wanted me to ride that massive bird.

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With severe apprehension, but wanting to do anything to make those little faces smile, I ducked under the fence, into the pen, and hesitantly towards the largest bird in the world.  They gave me a little step ladder, whilst one of the younger men pulled a blindfolded ostrich toward me.  Being rather famous for not being the brightest of creatures, not being able to see what was happening, made the ostrich very docile, and it just stood there as I slowly and shakily climbed up its back, hooking my feet underneath its wings.  There were no reins, and no saddle, so I was told to hold on by grabbing onto its wings, right by its armpits….or wing-pits if you will.  I leant back, and was asked if I was ready.  Not being able to speak through apprehension and sheer confusion, I grunted, and the bag was whipped of its head.  The children and staff cheered, as the bird suddenly realised it had a passenger.  I screamed as I suddenly realised I was on an ostrich.

Note the RIDICULOUS bag over its head

Note the RIDICULOUS bag over its head

It ran around the track wildly as I clung on for dear life, screaming and laughing, and thinking “my friends at home have actual jobs and I’m riding an ostrich”.  (Don’t take that the wrong way Dad, I still have a very serious job out here).

Here’s a series of photos to highlight the experience.  SO stupid:

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It lasted just a few minutes and was scarier than Space Mountain, however I loved it.  My only regret was not having my GoPro camera attached to my head to film it all.

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After

Maybe I’ll just have to go back.

And with that, and very sore back side, it was time to return to school.

I’d had a brilliant day, even though some parts went against what was right in my eyes, the kids were screaming with joy and delight, and when that’s how you finish your day; how can you  be sad?

Wat We Did at Wat Rong Khun.

Although, as I am fast discovering, there is an endless list of things to discover here in Chiang Rai, when researching the city before moving, there wasn’t a lot that came up on Google searches.  However, the one thing that did appear repeatedly, and I feel is the main pull for tourism to the area, is Wat Rong Khun, more commonly referred to as the White Temple.

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Wat Rong Khun differs hugely from the endless amount of temples you see in this country.  Apart from the main fact that it is white, with the majority of Thai temples being bright colours, mainly gold and red, Wat Rong Khun also has contemporary aspects to it, which makes it a more unconventional Buddhist Temple.

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The temple is the brain child of Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, and was built in 1997.  What makes the temple stand out as a symbol of the modern world is that it takes the beauty of traditional Thai art, however brings it a modern twist.  Upon first glance, the gardens surrounding the temple appear rather traditional and nothing out of the ordinary.  However, upon closer inspection, you see that the delicate architecture is made up from a pit of twisted hands, reaching up.

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Inside the main room, the art looks beautifully ornate, with images of Buddha everywhere.  However, peer a little closer, and you will find some Sneaky Prawns from the film District 9, or perhaps a minion from Despicable Me; and I think I’m right in remembering I saw Chewbacca from the Star Wars trilogy in there somewhere.  Unfortunately there were strictly no cameras within the main hall of the temple, so you will just have to take my word for it.

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We wandered around the grounds some more, dazed at how the sunlight reflects in the surrounding moat, and dances on the white walls of this incredibly individual building.  I fear that on a cloudy day, the impact would not be as wonderful.

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Some of the building is being reworked, due to damage caused by an earthquake, that struck the district on 5th May 2014.  At first, the damage was thought to be so severe that the temple would have to be demolished; however, upon closer inspection, only some parts need to be restored.

It is a simply breathtaking building, and I cannot stress enough, that if you ever find yourself in this beautiful city, certainly pay Wat Rong Khun a visit.  I don’t know why I waited so long until I did so myself.

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Elephants, Near Death Experiences and some VERY Small Swimming Trunks

Last weekend, I had to briefly pop into the school on the Sunday, to introduce myself to the Kindergarten children’s parents. This mainly involved smiling, having my photo taken on what seemed like a hundred mother’s smart phones, and listening to a massive presentation all in Thai. Needless to say, when I was finally released to enjoy my Sunday, I was more than a little over the moon.

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Meeting The Parents

I met up with my friends Johan and Conor, and a guy we’d met the previous night at the bar, called Jack. We decided to do something constructive with our day, so split between two mopeds; we all went on a mini adventure.

We drove out of the city, towards the direction of the prison, where slowly the buildings depleted until you could see no more, and instead it was just the luscious green hills of the forest and the dazzling blue sky.

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At one part in the road, we saw massive poops, and realised we were near an elephant camp. Unfortunately, I’d hoped that they would have been looked after and free, however they were chained and tourists were paying to ride on them. I found myself having a moral debate with each side of my brain, as I fundamentally do not agree with animals being treated in this way, however their trunks kept reaching out for the table full of food, so I decided to compromise with my two opposing opinions, and bought them some bamboo to chew on. This was until one elephant got a little too excited, and we couldn’t tell which end of the elephant was the trunk; we decided to swiftly leave the camp.

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Back on the mopeds we jumped, and across the River Kok again. We started to drive deeper into the forest and further up the hills, as the mountain roads started to bend more frequently and suddenly. We ascended a rather steep mountain in particular, where poor old John had to jump off the back of Johan’s moped and walk, as it was simply too steep for the weight of two grown men.

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When we finally reached the summit of this hill we descended straight down the other side; which still confuses me a little as to why we didn’t approach it from another way.

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Anyway, we drove through a very desolate and quiet village, and through a tea plantation, over some rather rocky terrain until we eventually heard the gush of Hauy Keaw Waterfall. From here we demounted the bikes, and started climbing the hill from which the waterfall was coming. We were looking for a kind of rock pool that would be situated half way between the top and the bottom of the waterfall, where we could have a swim.

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Tea Plantations

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After climbing quite steep and slippery surfaces, we eventually reached a rock pool. “Great” we thought. However upon closer inspection, we realised that we needed to cross a homemade bamboo bridge, over falling water and jagged rocks, in order to reach the access point to the rock pool. Adding to this, the bamboo was rotten.

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THE Bridge

Johan, who used to be in the military, jumped over this with seemingly no problems. I was right behind him, so naturally it was my turn to go next. I was hugely uncomfortable about this, however, in the presence of three men, and being the only girl, there was no way I would be a stereotype and chicken out. Oh no. Of course I was going to cross the rotten bamboo bridge that was definitely not safe at all. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as I was crossing, the rotten bamboo decided to give way under my weight, and snap. My leg went straight through, and fortunately I feel like my life was saved due to my bottom being big enough to not follow it through.

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The Aftermath 

Too much cheese and wine in my diet proved to me a very good thing after all.

I stayed here, in shock for a little bit, waiting for the rest of the bamboo to slowly give way, and for me to drop to the rocks beneath me; however it didn’t, and I shakily decided to make my way back to the safety of Conor and Jack.

After we all laughed about how I could have died and how much of a downer that would have been to everyone else’s trip; we decided to descend again, where we found the safety of a rock pool that was flat, and easy to enter, and offered no threat of amputation or death.

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The Swede with his VERY short swimmers

Here we met a family of locals who had come for a late afternoon swim; and although there was the ever-impending language barrier afoot, we had the best time just being big kids and all splashing each other with water.

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New Friends

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With that, we dragged our damp bodies back onto the bikes, and started the journey home, back to the city, before starting work the next day.

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This city may be small, but it’s surrounded by surprises.

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