Raise our flag high, sky high. Embrace the pride in our hearts. -Paiyom Valaiphatchra
Note: I cover a lot in this post. The pictures, though space out, are all from the first event, ASEAN Day
In August, 1967 representatives of five nations assembled to sign the Bangkok Declaration. By signing the declaration these nations (Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Phillipines) became the first five members of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. This alliance, motivated by a desire for economic growth and fear of the spread of communism, has since grown to include Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos among its member states. There are also several levels of ASEAN-Plus. ASEAN-Plus nations are candidates for ASEAN membership, or observers of ASEAN proceedings. Among the various ASEAN-Plus nations are India, China, Japan, Russia, and believe it or not, the United States of America.
One unifying force among ASEAN nations is the English language. Because no two ASEAN nations speak the same language ‘at home,’ the working language for all ASEAN business is English. This is one reason why Southeast Asian nations are always eager to have English teachers.
Every Tuesday in the English Integrated Studies (EIS) classes we rehearse “The Asean Way,” the anthem for the ASEAN alliance. Though there is a Thai version, we always listen to it in English.
On August 11th we celebrated ASEAN Day at Bunditnoi. For a week beforehand I’d been hearing about the celebration. The children prepared songs and dances. We practiced “The Asean Way” during the daily pre-school assembly. I was told that all the teachers, myself included, would be dressing in the traditional garb of an ASEAN nation. I selected Vietnam at random.
The day before ASEAN Day I got two little shocks: I was told that I, with Hannah, would be singing “The Asean Way” in front of all the students (no problem) and their parents (wait, what?)
Oh, yes. Because August 13th is Thai Mother’s Day and a public holiday (no school), we were also celebrating Mother’s Day on the twelfth. So we’d have quite an audience.
My second shock, and this one didn’t really matter, was that the rental shop where the teachers went to get our clothing didn’t have Vietnamese clothing large enough for me. So Poh, the teacher who picked up the clothes, decided I would dress Indonesian.
On Tuesday morning we arrived to a colorful display of gorgeous clothing. Not only teachers, but most of the students and all of the Anuban children (preschool and kindergarteners) were dressed up. Food carts were set up in our parking lot, selling Thai crepes (like thin pancakes filled with a variety of things, usually hot dogs) and other treats such as green goop fried in oil into a sweet green disk. Not sure what that one’s called yet.
A few of the teachers gave speeches, and Verut, one of the school’s directors, handed gifts to a few students. Then several mothers came onto the stage and were presented with Best Mom awards! It was great! Like Teacher’s Day, appreciation on Mother’s Day here seems more…well, more than in America. I’ve never seen Best Mom awards given in American schools. A group of Anuban kids sang a Mother’s Day song, too. There are many Mother’s Day songs. Teacher Lheaw has shown me quite a few of them over the past couple of weeks. They’re all very sad, designed to make mothers and children alike cry. My mom would love it.
The Mother’s Day songs progressed into ASEAN music. As I said, the students had prepared several songs and dances.
This is a perfect opportunity to talk about conservatism in Thailand. In general, Thais are very conservative people. I should know. I once tried to hug a female friend who was in a funk and I was told very clearly, that is not allowed. When you go to a bar in Thailand and the music’s rocking, nobody dances. They just sit at their tables and listen.
But when you do get them to dance, it is quite a spectacle. There are some dances that are graceful and dignified.
Other dances are not. Thais, even Thai children can be very sexual in their dancing. For instance, a group of boys (mostly fifth and sixth graders) did a dance that was mostly pelvic thrusting mixed with a bit of pretending to spank someone. A group of girls (all preteens) did a dance in costumes that suggested they were grown, busty women. All the teachers seemed to love it, laughing and cheering and egging the students on.
The assembled mothers were more silent. I couldn’t help but wonder how they felt.
Eventually the teachers did their own song and dance. One by one the Thai teachers got on stage, each flanked by two students dressed in clothes of a matching country. Then we farangs went up, waving and pretending we were an important part of ASEAN Day (We really weren’t, we were just there to watch and celebrate. I loved it). The Thai teachers sang “The ASEAN Way” in Thai. Then Hannah and I sang it in English. Then we were done.
To round out the celebration the cooks at Bunditnoi made heaping piles of food of noticeably better quality than the daily fare.
Things wound down before noon and the administration let us go early. But my day wasn’t done. An hour later, Teacher Pen (nickname: pakka, the Thai word for pen) showed up at my house to take me to the Department of Labor. The day had come to finally get my work permit!
However, this also came with a little surprise. The Department of Labor wasn’t the only stop we made that day. We also picked up Pen’s mother (who makes silk in Pak Thong Chai, the ‘silk capital’ of Thailand) and drove to the hospital in Korat to visit Pen’s father.
I’ve known about Pen’s father for a while. A month ago she and I sat in Verut’s office waiting for Kenny, Bunditnoi’s ex-conversation teacher, to show up. We were there as witnesses when he signed his agreement of termination (blog post on that to come, I promise). While we waited Pen told me her dad was in the hospital about to get his foot amputated. I asked why and she kindly showed me a picture of the skin infection on his left foot, a picture that still haunts me. As luck would have it the foot didn’t need to be amputated, but the doctors had to replace the skin on the foot with healthy skin from other parts of the body.
Anyways after finally getting my work permit we went to the hospital.
Before that day I had never bothered to realize: in the few times I’d ever been to a hospital, I’d only ever been in private or semi-private rooms. If I’ve ever been in a hospital ward before, I don’t remember it. But Pen’s dad was in a ward. Granted, his bed was at the end of the line and the bed next to his was empty, so in a way it was semi-private. Still, there were ten other men recovering (or, for all I knew, suffering) from various illnesses and surgeries within the immediate vicinity.
During the whole time we were there half of me wanted to leave. The other half wanted to sit with each of the men who didn’t have visitors and sing to them. I was either not dareful enough or not kind enough to do the latter. And when I asked Pen if I should find a waiting room to give her and her mom some measure of privacy, she asked me to stay. Then she asked me to sit by his bed while she and her mom took care of him.
He was asleep when we arrived. I could swear he was a skeleton. The man had no muscle tone at all. His knee was a large bulb, from which emitted bones covered in skin. I could see his ribs, his jaw. All the bones in his hand. And the immense bandage covering the healing wound on his left foot.
I watched in some kind of weird awe while Pen and her mother emptied his containers of urine, undressed and bathed him, rubbed him with baby powder to help his sweating. He woke up during the course of all this treatment and chatted with his family. Apart from the location and the language barrier it was just like watching a normal family. They bickered a little bit but mostly they talked and made each other laugh. They talked with a nurse for a long time.
When a woman came around and delivered Pen’s father a tray of gray-white slop full of bits of rice, Pen and her mother gave him some real food we’d picked up at 7-eleven on the way.
Then it was time to leave. I’d certainly been the odd one out for the whole experience but I was proud to be a part of it. Pen will go back to the hospital this weekend, and her father should be out of the hospital next week.
More on everything to come!