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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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?