Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Can you teach me English?

The one question I hear the most this time of year is, "Can you teach me English?" You see, the school year has just started after the long summer holidays, which means the students don't have much of a study load yet, there's not a lot of extra school activities yet, and the students are feeling enthusiastic. Teachers, too, are looking at the new school year and thinking about how they can meet their English language goals for their students.

This year there is a greater emphasis on learning English. Recently the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to open their borders to each other in 2015. This will allow people from one ASEAN country work or study in another ASEAN country without the need of special visa or work permit. In order to facilitate this arrangement, English was chosen to be the universal language of ASEAN.

This agreement leaves Thailand at a disadvantage. Having never been colonised by a Western country (a point of pride in Thailand), Thailand's overall English language ability lags behind that of many of its neighbours. Malaysians, Singaporeans, Filipinos and the people of Myanmar all speak much better English than the Thai.

Hence the big push to improve the level of English proficiency across the country. Unfortunately, language study is not always easy. Like anything worth doing, it takes effort and perseverance - something that many of the kids in my neighbourhood are unwilling to invest. Often they study for a month, feel they are not making progress, then give up.

I sometimes ask prospective English students whether they would prefer an English language "vaccination". One quick jab and they are able to speak, read and write in English. They look at me and wonder if what I'm talking about is true. I then inform them that, sadly, it's not.

Wouldn't it be nice, though! Thai language fluency without the four years of struggle and effort. No embarrassment, no feeling stupid, no misunderstandings and no need for endless memorisation of vocab. But then the language leaner would be able to communicate without ever really entering into the world of the people whose language they are studying. And without entering into the other people's world, there still wouldn't be true understanding. So maybe the slow language learning process is better after all.

"Can you teach me English?"

"Sure", I reply, "as long as you're willing to work hard and put the effort in. "

Saturday, 12 May 2012

My Most Favourite Road in South Thailand

Yesterday I had to drive over to Ban Nam Khem in Phangna to visit a couple of ladies who work in the same organisation as me. From where I live in Pak Phanang, I travel west to Nakhon Si Thammarat city, then further west to Thung Song, then north to Phun Phin, which is close to Suratthani. From there I turn left and head west over the mountainous road to Takuapa and the west coast of peninsula Thailand.

In my opinion, this is the most spectacular road in South Thailand. The road winds on through over 100 kms of beautiful green tropical forests and spectacular limestone mountains that just seem to pop up out of the ground. This is the route to get to Khao Sok National Park, an amazing place that centres around the enormous Ratchaprapa Lake. (Look it up in Google.) What the good Lord did in creating this highly attractive area, the Thai authorities improved on by flooding the vally with their 716 m long dam and creating the lake. Some people say this lake rivals the Three Gorges area in China, but I think that might be slightly exaggerated. Some people think the valley looked better without water.

The road itself is such a pleasure to drive. It has all the things that a good road requires - curves (and lots of them), climbs and descents and best of all, stunning scenery (plus good food and coffee places along the way). I get a sore neck just trying to take in all the peaks and cliffs as I drive by. After going through Takhun and Panom towns the road slowly weaves its way through the best area of all, before climbing up the Si Phangna Range. The other side drops down quickly and heads through another 30 kms of gently meandering way before finally arriving a Takuapa. One day I won't be on my way to meet someone, and I'll be able to take all day to drive and stop wherever I want to to enjoy the sights. Even better, I'll borrow someone's (hopefully largish) motorcycle and really make a splash of it.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Malaria in Thailand?

I've always told visitors that that don't need to take medicine to prevent malaria while in Thailand. I've never met someone who even knows someone who's actually had malaria here. Sure, for those going close to the Burmese border, maybe there's a bit of a risk, but not in the lowland parts if the country.

Well all that may have changed. The daughter of one of the Christians here is in hospital with extremely high peaky fevers, interspersed with lower temperatures. The doctor thinks it might be malaria but is not sure yet. They're doing the usual blood tests to make sure.

How is this possible? It turns out that this lady has been worker in a rubber plantation in Krabi alongside lots of Burmese workers. Some of then are new to the country. It is quite possible that someone brought malaria with him/her and passed it on to this woman.

We'll have to see what the final blood test results turn out to be. In the meantime, I think I might go and put on some mosquito repellent! :)

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Pak Phanang

Pak Phanang is a sleeping little town in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, South Thailand. It's on the east coast, just below the "knee-bend" which is the kick-off point for Samui Is. Nakhon Si Thammarat city (or "Nakhon" for short) has quite a few foriegn teachers and "farang" men who have married Thai women, but mostly it is off the usual tourist track. Where we are living in Pak Phanang is even further off the tourist track. In fact, if we see tourists here we think they must be lost!

Pak Phanang used to be a very important rice growing and trading area. One hundred years ago (and earlier), ships would come from Indonesia and China to buy rice. As transport methods have changed, so has the status of Pak Phanang - in a downhill manner. There is still a large population here, but many folks in surrounding districts say that Pak Phanang is in a dead-end. That is, the road going through Pak Phanang doesn't head anywhere else.

Pak Phanang is quite a major centre for primary and secondary education, but I'll write about that in another blog. It's also a major centre in the bird-nest industry, but that's the subject of another blog too. And there's the King's project - the water gate - but I'll leave that for another day also.