2009/01/13: Saithongwattana: 94 km
After eating dried bananas in our room, we left the resort at dawn and headed roughly north on small roads. Leaving the intersection where we’d eaten our second breakfast of delicious omlettes with tomato, we made a small navigation error. We didn’t rush, though, and we had a comfortable afternoon rest behind a copse of bananas trees, till we were forced to get moving as the smoke from burning a nearby cane field nearly engulfed us. Unfortunately, this is the season for farmers to burn areas of both cane and scrub, and the lungs and eyes of passing cyclists can suffer.
We were fading in the late afternoon, and our map showed no major towns within striking distance. We stopped to ask a traffic policeman at his small outpost office about possible accommodation ahead. We’ve found these local policemen to be very helpful, and able to walk around language barriers by drawing maps. Our fellow made a call ahead on our behalves, and directed us to proceed 4 km along a side road not marked on our maps. We did as instructed, not sure how we’d know when we’d arrived at the accommodation we’d been sent to.
I don’t think our arrival in Saithongwattana went according to the policeman’s plan, but it worked out beautifully for us. No sooner had we slowed down and looked hesitant, when a smartly dressed woman on a motor scooter inquired in near perfect English whether we needed help. We soon learned our rescuer was Mrs. Atchaya Thipsook, known as Goong, the head of the English department at Thongsaiwattaya Secondary School. She led us to the school’s spacious grounds, showed us where we could camp, and was happy to introduce us to several other teachers from the English department, all more than eager to interact with native speakers of English.
Chris and I were whisked to the market on the backs of Goong and Rin’s scooters, where we helped shop for supper ingredients. Rin prepared supper for us and served it in her room.
2009/01/14: Khampag Phet 71 km
The school of over 1,000 students was having exams in the morning, so it was not a normal school day routine. Some students arrived on campus as we were getting up, and music came on over the loudspeakers. The students all stood to attention for a rousing piece that we realized was the national anthem.
Over coffee, we met with Goong, various teachers, and students in the administration building. At Goong’s request, I wrote a short story about the series of coincidences that brought us to the school. We looked at the excellent Oxford series texts they use to teach English, and checked test questions with a native speakers’ eyes. They clearly have good abilities for English grammar and writing, but they struggle to improve their oral fluency and pronunciation. This is a challenge, because they have been unable to get a native speaker of English to stay at the school for long .
We chatted about about our intended journey, and Chris’s academic credentials were brought to the fore as he explained the nature of particle physics and the ATLAS experiment to a keen group of students. This slip from English to science began because one bright lad, when asked about his plans for his future, had responded that he wanted to be an engineer. Translation was challenging as Chris came to the concept of the Big Bang, but the students had strong backgrounds, and with the help of the ATLAS outreach web page, not much was lost in translation.
We were escorted out of town by Rin and another teacher on their scooters, stopping to see a local glass artisan’s workshop. This was part of the late Thai Queen Mother’s OTOP development program: One Tambon One Product. As we pedalled on toward Khampang Phet, Chris mused that there might have been difficulties in some U.S. schools with him explaining that the universe is 13 billion years old. There were no such difficulties in gentle and enlightened Thailand in a Buddhist State school.