Peace Corps
Thai 27
Chesley Prince

Lessons Unplanned
            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.

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 blame them.
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


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. CHP

(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
Tel: 2259-4717)



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 to anybody.


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 girls camp.

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