Sam Thompson

Christmas and mid-terms at school

A relatively carefree couple of weeks at school

I realize I'm a bit behind, but hey... ‘tis been the holidays.

The past few weeks at my government school have been quite interesting, to say the least. I can't have had more than a handful of actual classes between the Christmas festivities (believe it or not), the week-long midterm tests, and the short break for New Years.

The Foreign Language Department which, surprisingly, does not include my department, put on a nice 2-hour long show for the entire school the Thursday before Christmas. I'm not sure why this date was chosen instead of Friday, but I do know that during Christmas itself, midterms were in session. It was quite nice, and I think the kids generally enjoyed it. But then again, who doesn't enjoy getting to miss two hours of class first thing in the morning?

Granted, the ceremony was held in the outside basketball court/assembly area, so it wasn't exactly cool... but that doesn't seem to bother anyone except for the foreign teachers. The ceremony itself was conducted [almost] entirely in English, which was impressive, especially given that the vast majority of the speaking was done by students. It's quite heartwarming to see so many students speak English so fluently, especially in a school far enough away from the BTS and MRT public transit lines that Westerners are quite rare in the area.

The Mathayom 1 class presented twelve girls to sing the 12 Days of Christmas, which was cute. I actually helped direct the a few times; they're part of one of my Mini English Program classes, which again, for some reason, is not part of the proper Foreign Language Department. The foreign teachers for MEP versus the regular Foreign Language Department are even employed by different agencies. Another few classes performed Jingle Bells in English, Thai, Chinese, and (I think) Japanese. That was quite neat to hear the same song in multiple languages!

The foreign teachers were also introduced on stage a few times, although I avoided much of that by designating myself as photographer. I can take far better pictures than I can sing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," I can assure you. And I did: about 400 shots worth.

All in all, it was a neat experience. First, it wasn't actually ON Christmas due to the lovely midterms. Second, it emphasized the purpose of Christmas as being a time of giving, not as a Christian holiday. I liked that. Third, it was the typical Thai school extravaganza of loosely organized chaos. I liked it!

The next week was less fun. Midterms. Luckily, I only had to "invigilate" (monitor) exams three out of five days; they ran basically all day, every day. It really wasn't too bad, but if I hadn't had a computer to keep me occupied playing an old computer game (Empire Earth back from like 2001... remember that one?), I'd probably have lost my mind in boredom.

Our (the foreign teachers') purpose was to make sure no one cheated, but really I think we were there more for show. That's fine, but even if I could have understood half of what was going on in the random classroom I was assigned, I don't feel it would be my place as a foreigner to accuse a student of cheating.
Instead, as I would make my rounds, I would give stern faces with a slight smile to students I saw peeking around. Even without speaking the same language, people understand the "I know what you're up to" face.

My schedule was Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so I was actually free on Christmas proper. We were allowed to leave after we came in on days that we had no testing, so after Skyping with my family (which I hadn't done since... August), I headed somewhere I'd been itching to go: Lumpini Park.

What a surprise! I just took a book, my camera, and a bottle of wine, and I had a lovely day from around noon until the sun went down. It's hard to believe that such a beautiful and serene park exists slap-dab in the middle of bustling Bangkok, but it does! And it's big enough to be covered by two MRT stops, so it's got quite a nice size about it, yet not so big (such as Central Park in New York) so as to get lost. Been there, done that. It actually reminded me a lot of Madrid's largest park, whose name escapes me at the moment. Not sure why... perhaps the multiple statues, lovely mini-lakes with paddle boats, and walking/running paths all about.

One thing Madrid doesn't have, though, are the impressive komodo dragons I saw. I was reading my Jeremy Clarkson book, giggling to myself, when all of the sudden I looked up and boom: a meter-long lizard was right in front of me. It then proceeded to eat a turtle, which everyone seemed to get a kick out of.
I won't lie, I took a few pictures myself. Sorry, PETA.

The weather was probably the coolest we've had in Bangkok all year, so all in all I'd say it was a great Christmas Day, finishing off a relatively easy couple of weeks at school. I think I may try to move closer to Lumpini Park, actually... I liked its vibes.


I should have been more clear on the Christmas front.

No, I have absolutely no problem with Christmas, but I feel like it's a better use of time for a nation that doesn't really have an understanding of the holiday itself to focus on the kindness aspect rather than the original ideas behind it. Even in the USA, in my humble opinion, half of the people who "celebrate" Christmas only do so for the commercialism. At least here, they're up front about it.

Call me The Grinch, but I think it's better to embrace a holiday (no matter what religion) for its goodness will rather than pretend to celebrate its purpose... especially considering it is widely believed that the holiday itself is a transformation and derivation of pagan festivals.

I have no problem with Christmas or Christians. Or Buddhists, for that matter. I'm of the opinion that whatever makes you happy, makes me happy. Just trying to look on the bright side. :)

By Sam, Bangkok (8th January 2013)

Sam, what are the first 6 letters of Christmas? Without those 6 letters, the holiday wouldn't exist. If that bothers you, then maybe you should do your gift giving on Halloween or Arbor Day. Do you have a chip on your shoulder about being made to go church as a kid? Do you get the same hump about Buddhist holidays being celebrated ("Man, I wish they could just focus on the flashy temples and not any of this Buddha stuff")?

By Bob, buriram (7th January 2013)

I realize you are brand spanking new, and that's fine. However, the idea that Thai students don't cheat in exams is quite naive, and saying the foreign teachers are there just for show, and that it is not a foreigner's place to accuse a Thai of cheating, is doing at least a little bit of damage. If you assert yourself, you can be taken seriously- you don't have to just be "fun".

Finally, why do you like the idea of Christmas not being a Christian holiday? I am not Christian, but what would you you say if a Buddhist festival was hijacked by another religion and performed without having anything to do with Buddhism? Or do you think that only Christianity deserves this because it is "bad", and that Buddhism is more "authentic"?

By jbkk, bkk (6th January 2013)

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