One day my students and I were working on comparatives and superlatives. Quite foolishly and thinking I knew the answer, I asked “Who is the prettiest girl in the class?” From the look on her face, the student I expected to be picked thought she knew the answer as well.
The other members of the class had minds of their own as, with almost one voice, they named another student! The assumed favorite was stunned: her eyes popped open and her jaw dropped. I was stunned myself and ashamed at the embarrassment I had caused her. Thankfully, the class ended at about that time.
The other students had been the real teachers and I hope that their lesson in humility bore fruit. Of course, I never asked that question or a similar question again.
On another occasion I told one class that as they were soon to be teachers they would have to practice by standing in front of everybody and writing something on the blackboard. To be sure that all went well the first time, I called on one of the better students. She strode confidently to the blackboard and, to the gasps of all, wrote smoothly, using her left and obviously dominant hand! Fortunately, she was one of the strongest, most intelligent and most popular members of her class. She proved to be a more effective teacher than anybody could have imagined with her lesson that one could use the left hand in public.
On arriving at my school for the first time, I learned that the students had been divided into classes according to their ability in English. I was assigned to teach the top three classes, which must have been extremely annoying to the Thai English teachers. While it made my job easier it also made it much less exciting as I didn’t have the opportunity of trying to teach students who were having real difficulty.
By my third year the system was breaking down and I had some students for whom English was a challenge. On one occasion I was able to help a struggling student respond to a question that I had posed to him. When I asked a similar question a few minutes later, I was lucky enough to see him perched on the edge of his seat, eager to speak. I called on him and he gave me the correct answer, much to his joy and mine. The next day when he stepped aside so that I could walk out of the door to the building, he gave me a deep bow rather than the perfunctory bow that they generally gave the teachers. Earning his respect remains one of my most gratifying memories.
|Bill Walker (Thai 30-TEFL), Chesley Prince (Thai 27-TEFL, T) and
Cleo Tasanapong (seated with sunglasses) and his wife.
Ajaan Cleo Tasanapong taught math at the local high school, was
a professional photographer and ran a camera store with his father.
We knew each other well as I often dropped by to buy film and then
have that film developed and printed. Just before I left in 1972
he gave me a farewell dinner at his store/house/garage.
Ajaan Cleo had a master’s degree from the U.S. Once I sat
in his shop and worked to keep a straight face while some of the
local G.I.’s spoke to him in slow, pidgin English with lots
of hand gestures and he feigned a slightly puzzled look.
His car is in the background of the picture. At the end of the
day they would put out their ramp and drive it to the back of the
shop before locking up. I will try to look him up when I get back
to Sakon Nakhon.
The Surfer’s Knot -- (February to April 1972)
I was a TEFL instructor for Thai 40, a group that
came in country for training in 1972.
One of the trainees was a tall, handsome but rather forbidding guy
who, at least during training, was one of the best teachers we had.
When he arrived he was wearing the latest U.S. fashion, shoes that
looked like they were meant for bowling. He also had a fairly substantial
and intricate bracelet made of thin string braided around his wrist.
The time and skill needed to make it must have been staggering.
It was too small to slide over his hand and had to be cut to be
removed. I believe it was called a “surfer’s knot.”
The American training staff “tut-tutted” that the surfer’s
knot would not be approved by the Thais and would hurt the new volunteer
in his work as he would not blend in with his peers. (I don’t
think we actually asked the Thai training staff.) The head of the
TEFL instructors spoke with him about it and, while not telling
him that he should remove it, made clear the consequences as we
saw them. Before training ended he cut it off. What a shame.
In trying to make the trainees act in what we saw as the Thai manner,
we at least veiled a portion of their true character. It was as
if we viewed the Thais as some exotic tribe with a fragile social
structure that would not tolerate change or difference as opposed
to being members of a modern society that had seen a great deal
of changes and differences and had taken both in stride. Perhaps
it was our arrogance and ignorance as Americans that caused us to
underestimate the Thai ability to evaluate the man and appreciate
him for his true character despite the surfer’s knot..
Instead of presenting a young American man as he really was, we
tried to apply a coating of “Thainess,” with a loss
to him and to the Thais with whom he came in contact. There’s
no telling what would have happened if he had not removed the surfer’s
knot until after he had arrived at his assignment. He may have kept
it on for his entire stay or, after being at his school for a time,
taken it off. Because of his obvious talent for teaching, I’m
sure that he would have earned the respect of the people with whom
he worked with or without the string bracelet. The Thais got a man
who, I am confident, was a great teacher, but in a sense they also
got “American Lite.” CHP
|Preparing skewers for the Northeast Teacher Training
College Liang, 1971.
|Every year a teacher training college in northeastern
Thailand would hold a big liang for the other colleges in the region.
It was our turn in the year that this picture was taken, probably
1971. The English staff, charged with making skewers for satay, went
to a local farmer and bought a stalk of large-diameter bamboo. The
stalk was peeled and then sawed across the grain into tubular pieces.
Those pieces then were split into progressively smaller pieces until
we had the skewers, with the joints in the bamboo forming the hilts.
We may have had some chang (elephant) to help us in our efforts. Chang
was the nickname of a rice brew that came in a clay jug which was
filled, at least on the top, with rice kernels, and the brew underneath.
I believe that we started by pouring in water until it came to the
top of the kernels. We then pushed a long, thin bamboo straw to the
bottom of the jar and, as they said in Hawaii, “suck ‘em
up.” There was always rivalry to see who could drink the most
at one time, which we would determine by seeing how much more water
we had to add to bring the water back to the top. After a few “draws”
and lots of water the drink became quite palatable. It seemed that
we finished the skewers just as we were finished ourselves, as you
can tell from the expressions on our faces.
Later I gave a jar of chang to Mike Schmucker so that he and whoever
was around could enjoy the treat. I forgot to tell them that they
had to pour in water after each drink and later heard that it made
them ill. I also gave them naem (raw spiced pork
sausage), a northeastern Thailand treat, but I believe they took a
pass on that. It was really very tasty and worth a few trichineae.
|LOSING MY MOTORCYCLE -- Mid 1971
During my first two years in Thailand I lived on the campus of
the Sakonnakhon Teachers’ College, located about 10 km. outside
of town. During my third year, wanting a change and not getting
along particularly well with my Thai housemate, I decided to rent
a house in town. One place was rather large and the price was right,
so I took it. I can’t say that I got along with my new neighbors
any better than with my old housemate. I had little contact with
them, other than the morning when I decided to charge the battery
on my motorcycle by propping it up, starting it and letting it run.
They must have disliked me immensely for that stunt and I can’t
When the school term ended, I went traveling. Foolishly, I left
my motorcycle locked up in the house rather than entrusting it to
a friend. It was a Honda 150cc, small by today’s standards
but fairly fast. It was also probably the only motorcycle in the
region with a speedometer calibrated in miles per hour, much to
the surprise of Louis Stern, a fellow PCV who took it for a spin
and realized that he was going 60 mph rather than 60 kph.
On returning from my vacation, I discovered that the motorcycle
was gone. I asked the man in the house next to mine about it and
he said he knew nothing. During the course of the very brief conversation
he noted that we were not really neighbors (phuan baan) but that
we simply lived next to each other. That bit of information and
his demeanor made it clear to me that it was time to move again,
which I did.
A month or so later one of my students asked me if I had sold my
motorcycle. She had seen in it the village of Sawang Daeng Din,
a wide spot in the road about half way between Sakonnakhon and Udorn
and reputedly a very “sensitive area.” I told her that
in fact it had been stolen and not sold. Some time later she approached
me with the news that her brother, who was in the Thai army at the
base a short distance up the road to town, and some of his army
buddies would be willing to go with me to recover the bike. I thanked
her but declined. The idea of a PCV leading a squad of Thai infantry
into a sensitive area would not have set well with anybody. CHP
THAI EXCHANGE STUDENT -- August 2005
Flying home from the Thai 27 reunion in Goleta, CA, in August
2005, I found myself seated next to a young Thai girl. She was 15-year-old
AFS student on her way to join her host family in Chetek,WI.
When the plane stopped in Minneapolis, she bolted out of her seat
and headed up the aisle. Finally getting off the plane myself, I
tried to help her find the gate of her connecting flight. She had
her own agenda as when I spotted her she was a good 30 yards down
the terminal hallway and moving fast. The monitors, however, indicated
that her gate was in the opposite direction.
Worried about this unaccompanied minor roaming the airport, I went
to a gate counter for my airline and reported what had happened.
The two men there told me that passengers of her age were allowed
to fly on their own and assured me that she should be OK. I accepted
the judgment of the airline and stopped worrying.
This student surely found her way to her host family eventually.
She may have wandered about the terminal for a while, felt lost
and possibly even have missed her next flight. Recalling my own
experiences, I decided that those mishaps, if they occurred, would
just give her fodder for regaling her friends in Thailand with stories
of her stay in the U.S., possibly at a reunion of her own. CHP
Leaving for Home -- October 17, 1972
During my last few days in Bangkok I stayed with Terry Fredericksen,
a TEFL volunteer from a few groups before mine. One evening I suggested
that we go to a good western restaurant and have a steak as I thought
I wouldn’t be able to afford one when I got home. We went
to the President Hotel, although now I don’t know why we didn’t
go to Nick’s No. 1. (Does either place still exist?) I had
some sort of dish with chunks of meat, large flat noodles and a
European name. Terry had Chinese food and it was then that I realized
how much I truly liked rice.
A few nights later, it was time to go. Terry, Diana McConkey and
some others went with me to Don Muang Airport. (I cannot remember
who the others were and ask them to forgive me. Anybody who is gracious
enough to see me off is somebody I should remember.) As the plane
taxied down the runway I stared out the window, anxious for a long,
last view of Bangkok’s lights from the air. We lifted off
and after only a brief glimpse of the city, we were in the clouds.
I haven’t seen Thailand since. Sawatdii Muang Thai, khrap.
(Ernie: Yes. I think Nick's No. 1 is still there after all these
years. If you ever get back it would really be a trip to stop by)
Nick's No. 1
17 Sukhumvit Road, Soi 16
PIROMRAK KARNSAWAY -- 1971/PRESENT
Piromrak Karnsaway was one of my best English students. She was
somewhat shy and quiet and seemed to live in the shadow of her older
sister, a former AFS exchange student who was very outgoing. The
village ceremony in the picture above was the first time that I
had seen Piromrak dressed in something other than the school uniform
and not playing the role of the deferential student. Her true beauty
came through and I was stunned. I hope that she was in fact or has
become more lively than the girl that I taught and that those who
know her now also know her inner as well as her outer beauty. I
realized then that there was no reason for her to take a back seat
Recently on Google, I found that a person named Piromrak Karnsaway
Evans had written a dissertion entitled “Self Esteem of Young
Children in a Camp Situation” at Texas Women's University
in 1992. The purpose was to determine the effects of summer camp
attendance on children’s self-esteem. In this case the sample
included 40 girls, ages 7-10, (quantitative collection) and 5 girls,
ages 8 and 9, (qualitative collection). They were from an upper
middle class background and were attending an eight week residential
The dissertation may have answered some questions about children
but for me it raised a lot of questions about my former student.
Perhaps she will Google herself, find this site and contact me.
I'm hoping that there's more of this story to come. CHP