28 December 2008

Three days in hell - Part 1

At the end of last term my school arranged to have a Bi-lingual camp. This would involve three days staying at a beach resort in a beautiful part of Thailand - as soon as the idea was suggested I began to dread it. Not that I dislike beach resorts. Far from it. The idea though of spending three days entertaining almost three hundred students is what was getting me down. I approached the up coming camp with a sense of gloom.

As usual our head of department, in a fit of optimism, had provided a schedule. It was like she had forgotten for a while that she was Thai and that this was Thailand. If you want to make the gods of Thailand laugh then show them a schedule. Still, respecting authority is an important part of Thai culture so I arrived at the school at four o’clock in the morning with my back-pack and in my hand a piece of paper which I knew was practically useless.

It felt strange arriving at the school at such an early hour to find the place so busy. The sleepy-faced students were all hanging onto their bags as if they were life-rafts. They looked completely shell-shocked by the experience of needing to leave their beds in the middle of the night. I cynically asked a couple of them if they were having fun yet? They didn’t reply but gave me the ‘how could you be so cruel’ look.

The school had arranged for four double-decker busses to take us the 300 km journey to Rayong. Each of the foreign teachers were assigned to a bus; each bus with their own particular version of hell. I looked at the students around me on the bus for signs of which particular torture they would inflict on me. Would it be full-volume Thai pop? Would it be five hours of Thai comedy? Would it be just students running around the coach screaming? It was far too early to tell.

The first part of the journey started off well. It was still dark outside and the students still seemed drowsy. I could see many were asleep or fighting to stay awake. I had ensured that all the bad travellers had access to travel-sickness tablets; this medicine also has wonderful sedative effects. I slipped on my iPod and just relaxed knowing that this would likely be the last bit of time to my self there would be on this trip.

We made our first pit-stop outside of Sariburi at a large petrol station. It was now six in the morning and all signs of sleepiness was absent from the student’s faces. They mobbed the 7eleven, and returned on the bus with bags full of soft-drinks and sweets. They were ready for fun. I looked across at one of our other busses which was parked next to us and could see that the students there had found the karaoke machine. Please no. I earned a reprieve when my students decided that they wanted to watch a film. They had brought their own. My sense of reprieve disappeared though when the title ‘Transformers: The Movie’ came up on the screen. The bus was soon on its way again.

The next pit-stop was at the service-area on the motorway between Bangkok and Pattaya. This place seems to have every type of fast-food outlet and reminds me of a little town. I made my way to Starbucks and let the students pack into the KFC and McDonalds. I needed a coffee. When I returned to the bus it was stinking of fast-foods.

As the bus pulled out of the service area the party went into full swing with loud dance music. The students began pumping the air with their fists while swinging out of their seats. It was hard not to get caught up in their enthusiasm. A loud cheer went up as the students spotted the sea and like them for a few seconds I also felt excited. It would be good to spend time by the sea again.

This sense of excitement left when one of my colleagues, a teacher from India, pointed out that all the other busses had disappeared. He was right. All the journey so far we had travelled as part of a convoy with the other busses. This convoy was headed by a police car which our school had paid a lot of money to procure. Why were we now on our own? Surely the bus driver wouldn’t keep driving if he was lost. We continued our journey for another half an hour before the driver finally admitted that he was indeed lost. He would need to swallow his pride and ask for directions. He turned the bus around and headed back the way we had just come.

Eventually we found a sign with the name of our resort. As we were heading in I noticed another coach full of students leaving. I saw a smiling western female teacher inside. I really envied her. It was all behind her now. I knew that in a few days I too would be equally relieved to be leaving this resort.

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