Sports day at my secondary school was nothing more than the opportunity to have a day off from normal lessons, to sit in the field and sunbathe, and watch the school heart throbs strut their stuff during the 100m sprint. The highlights of the day were the arrival of the ice cream van and the challenge of escaping school grounds before 3pm. Now, I wasn’t (and still am not) sporty in any way, shape or form, so my experience of sports day was probably very different from those of my peers who were more athletically blessed, but on the whole it was a relaxed day in the sunshine, loosely supporting some house group that we had no affiliation to at any other point in the year. Sports day always came at the end of the school year, as part of the ‘winding down’ period in preparation for the summer holidays (that also saw us watching movies or completing word searches/other menial time wasting activities) and, for most teachers and students was seen as a bit of fun. Well, sports day in Thailand couldn’t be more different!
As I mentioned in my previous post, all lessons have been reduced to 40 minutes to create spare time at the end of each day to practice and prepare for the annual sports event (that, despite being referred to as sports day, consists of 2 days of sports and another day beforehand for a full dress rehearsal). For 2 hours a day over 4 weeks, students have been relentlessly practicing and perfecting; but not sports skills – no, time has been set aside to prepare for cheerleading and opening ceremonies, marching and creating beautifully over the top costumes.
Myself and 2 other farang teachers were asked if we would like to take part in the sports day parade and opening ceremony. When it was mentioned that we would be wearing traditional Thai dress, we jumped at the chance. Over the past 6 months I’ve seen photos cropping up of people that I did my TEFL training with, dressed up in Thai outfits and taking part in parades and ceremonies. I had always been quietly envious of their amazing outfits – I mean, who wouldn’t want to send a picture like that home to the grandparents?
Our sports day experience would start on the night previous, where, after a practice march around the campus, we slept in the medical room ready for our 4am wake up call. Students and other teachers were bedded down around the various school buildings, all in preparation for the opening ceremony and parade. Make up started to be layered on at around 5am; concealer, foundation, various powders, blusher, about 5 shades of eye shadow, various eye liners, false eyelashes and lipstick (that I reluctantly applied as I know it always makes my mouth look tiny). It was akin to the pre-show ritual of a drag queen with similar results. Hair was wonderfully and impressively coiffed and flowers were pinned in place. My hair style was actually really nice – a 1920’s wave that I wouldn’t mind learning to do myself. Once hair and make up was in place it was time to dress up! Traditional Thai dress consists of two pieces of material wrapped, gathered and pinned at assorted points, tied in place with the tightest knot around your waist that makes sitting and bending extremely difficult and eating more than a nibble out of the question. Oh, and if you ever find yourself dressed in such a way, don’t bother trying to use the toilet; I can remember when I worked at weddings you would see the bride go to the bathroom with a team of bridesmaids to assist her – now I know why.
We looked wonderful. A true Thai experience! Let the photo shoot commence! Something I have learned in Thailand is if you are going to take one photograph why not take 20, and while you’re there, cock your head this way, then that way, then throw in a peace sign, then put your hand on your hip, then hands to the front… oh, and then replicate said photographs on phones and tablets. And upload as soon as humanly possible, applying a filter to make your skin look as white as it can.
Once photographs were captured we piled into a car and made our way to the city. We were running late so we joined the parade about 1/3 of the way through (which was fine by me – less distance to walk in the heat). There were marching bands and majorettes and girls in beautiful outfits carrying banners celebrating the school and of course, the King. We only walked for around 20 minutes but it was hot, thankfully there was a student to hand whose sole responsibility was handing out tissues for dabbing faces with and water for sipping through straws (so as not to damage the make up). On arrival at the stadium there was a little down time (more photographs) and then it was time for the opening ceremony. We had no idea what we had to do, so we just followed the people in front of us, smiled and waved. We didn’t realise that we would then have to stand in the open field (which was water logged from a morning rain storm – not fun in high heels) in the increasingly hot morning sun, while each of the six house teams paraded in followed by the 2 marching bands, various dancing troops and cheerleaders. Then came the speeches. At least when a speech is being made in a language you understand you have something to listen to and focus on, but instead we just stood, and waited. All I could think of by that point was that I really needed food, water and a pee. At some point some unexpected fireworks were set off metres from some poor unsuspecting students, and then the climax of the ceremony; the pièce de résistance – an Olympics-style torch was lit, paraded around the stadium (awkwardly blowing out immediately after the boy started running) and then taken to light a huge fire pit at the highest point in the stands. Like I have said, sports day really is a big deal! This marked the end of the opening ceremony and we filed off the pitch, all happy to have been involved but glad that it was over and we could now attempt to eat, drink, sit and pee.
Here are a few pictures from the day.