The Malaysians are in the house (or why I now hate Barry Manilow).

It can be said of many Thai schools that appearances prevail over actual reality. And so, with an important visit from a Malaysian school and the signing of a Memorandom of Cooperation (whatever that it) imminent, my school went into overload in preparation. Lessons were cancelled to give way for all important ceremonial rehearsals. It is evidently more important to look like a good school than to actually be one. Much more preferable to skip on teaching students but have a beautiful ceremony instead.

Earlier this term myself and a Filipino teacher were asked to create a choir who will be taught English language songs to perform at school events. We got excited with visions of an auditions process and being able to select the best singers from across the school… until we were told that it would only be selected students who are on special English programmes – not necessarily students that can sing, or want to.

We chose a simple, easy song to teach them first off – Can’t Smile Withou You by Barry Manilow. We even tried our luck introducing a 2 part section in the final chorus. They were OK. Not amazing, but not awful. We then discovered that these students would be performing at the all-important visit from the Malaysian school. Rehearsals were arranged (without asking us first…. grrrr) for before and after school. Strict instructions were given that they must be perfect – ironically these instuctions came from the same mouth that wouldn’t let us freely choose students based on their skills and willingness to participate. Suddenly our little weekly sing song club rocketed into twice daily rehearsals, with massive pressure on the poor kids. I became conductress (although I had no control over anything as a certain someone would continue to give orders from beind me – grrrr again). I can now say I am 100% sick of Can’t Smile Without You, and of Barry Manilow. Had we known we would be singing it 10+ times a day maybe we would have picked something a bit better.

I know I am moaning about it all but actually I was happy to be asked to do something outside of the Foreign Teacher’s Department. This time my involvement in a whole school activity was actually because they wanted me and not just through sympathy…!

Anyway, yesterday the coveted visit took place. We were issued with special blazers to wear and had flowers pinned to our lapels. The performance actually went really well – OK, they weren’t prefect but all things considered I couldn’t be prouder of our little choir. We weren’t able to see much of the day’s events as we were instructed to siply wait for our cue, file in, perform and file back out again – heaven forbid we hang around and make the place look messy!

Wai Kru day; sympathy seat for the farang, please.

Wai Kru day is an annual event across Thailand where students pay respect to their teachers to show appreciation.

My experience of Wei Kru day served as nothing less than confirmation that farang teachers are considered to be second rate teachers.

Classes had been cancelled to make room for the respect-paying ceremony, where students pray and present teachers with flowers as a form of appreciation

“Ok, so where do we need to be for the ceremony?” I asked, excited to experience a piece of Thai culture, and to be included in a whole school activity for once.

“Oh no, the ceremony is just for the other teachers…. you know, the rest of the teachers…”

So, everyone but the farang teachers then.  The proper teachers.  Great.

Well I was livid.  I’ve been at this school for half a school year already, I’ve taken part in work outside of my usual duties, at times I’ve stressed myself out and made myself overtired and ill for this school.  I was being looked at like I was completely insane, assuming that we would be included in the Wai Kru day.  Completely insane thinking I was actually considered to be a real teacher at this school.

I’m not going down to look like a fool, I thought to myself, steaming in the corner at my desk.  And so, the Thai teachers went off to take part in the ceremony and I refused to follow.  Well, my annoyance lasted about 5 minutes and then I buried my pride and headed down to watch the ceremony and take some pictures.  When some of the Thai teachers spotted me hanging around the sidelines taking pictures I could see that they felt a bit awkward.  Whispers were being exchanged and eyes were on me.   One of them approached me and took me to an empty seat.  Someone’s name was pinned to it but it transpired that she is Muslim and probably wouldn’t be taking part as the ceremony is Buddhist.

So, I got to take part in the ceremony, albeit given a sympathetic seat in the place of an absent Muslim woman.  It was pretty much a non-event; all the teachers were sitting in a loooooong row, students filed along on their knees and I was handed some flowers by some that I didn’t know (and who were probably really confused as to why there was a white girl sitting in their teacher’s place).  Those flowers were then whipped away by another pair of students who were lying in wait behind me.  And that was it.  I’m not sure what I got so worked up about.