2 January 2009

Three days in hell - Part 2

A loud cheer greeted our arrival at the resort. The head of our department was there to welcome us and she was accompanied by some of the more eager students and teachers. Our leader appeared very tense; likely due to the fact that her well-made plans were already becoming unstuck. She herded us to the reception area of the hotel where everyone else was waiting.

The hotel reception looked like something from a disaster movie with students sitting or lying on their luggage in every available space. This group also gave a cheer for our arrival but without much enthusiasm and most students quickly returned to bored facial expressions.

We were now over an hour out of sync with our schedule. The plans had been very tightly time-tabled with no room for delays so activities would need to be removed from the programme. We had an impromptu meeting and by the time we had made some decisions another fifteen minutes of the day had been lost.

Our first task would be to put the students into teams. We had already decided the importance of mixing the teams up and not just allowing students to stay with their friends. Our Chinese maths teacher had devised a method which involved assigning students with numbers and asking them to stand in groups and then changing groups depending on a mathematical formula. This method had seemed clever and innovative when mentioned in staff meetings but now turned out to be chaotic and confusing. The students were tired and bored and this was making the whole process even more complicated, but after about half an hour the students did somehow magically end up in groups which seemed to resemble the image which we had planned.

Now that the students had been put in their groups they were given coloured headbands to identify them with their fellow members. Throughout the rest of their stay the teams would be awarded points for their behaviour and performance at different tasks. They were given the first task of creating their own team ‘boom’. Each group would need to demonstrate this chant later in the evening on stage, and the most unique one would get a prize.

Our leader decided that it would be fruitless to do any further activities until the students had a chance to freshen up. She gave us all an hour to check into our rooms and have a shower. Many of the students tried to go to the beach, but the Thai teachers had planned for this eventuality and were there to block their paths and send the students in the direction of their rooms.

I knew even before arriving at the resort that I would be sharing a room with two of the other foreign teachers. I also knew that I would be sharing a bed with one of these teachers. Sharing a bed with a man was not something that I was looking forward to one bit, and I sort of resented the fact that the school should expect it. When I mentioned my dislike of sharing a bed with a man, during our weekly staff meeting, I was told not to worry as there wouldn’t be much sleep anyway as we would be expected to patrol the resort regularly throughout the night and make sure our charges were behaving themselves.

We had been given a bungalow, and it turned out to be quite comfortable despite the fact that there were three of us. We took turns in the shower. I felt a whole lot better once I was clean and in fresh clothes. I still had a bit of time before we needed to reassemble so I decided to check out the resort and make sure that the other students were behaving themselves.

The youngsters were all excited with their rooms and showed signs of having livened up once again. Everyone seemed desperate to go look at the sea and most were already heading in that direction. I reminded as many as I could that they were expected back in reception in half an hour.

The next activity was pass the hula-hoop. The students had all arrived promptly and now stood with their groups in line holding hands. Two teams lined up at a time with the goal of passing a hula-hoop along the line without letting go of each other’s hands. The students soon got caught up with the excitement of this game, and when the teachers were forced into joining I too found myself enjoying the whole thing and feeling very competitive that our team should win.

We played another couple of activities before it was time for our evening meal. I felt starving and judging from all the complaints of ‘hew khao’ so did most of the students. The teachers were to be seated around the pool where we would be waited upon. The students had a buffet from which they could help themselves. Most of the dishes were seafood and while I normally avoid fishy-food I found most of it tasty.

After we had been fed it was time for the evening activities. The showpiece of this was to be the student’s booms. Each group had hastily arranged a small show which aimed to convince the audience why their team was the greatest in the world. Some of the groups put a lot of effort into their shows and it was impossible not to admire their originality. Thai students seem to always revel when they are given the chance of being creative.

At just after ten o’clock the official days activities ended and the students slowly made their way nearer to their rooms where they formed little groups in which to talk and sing. I joined the other foreign teachers for a chat, but we would frequently need to break up to check on what the students were up to. By midnight all the groups had dispersed and gone to bed.

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