I wake up abruptly at 5am and see pouring rain outside. Thunder rumbles overhead and lightning storms rage in the distance: a typical morning in Thailand during the monsoon.
Four years ago, I moved from teaching in a state primary in London to an international school in Bangkok. Now accustomed to the inevitable heavy traffic during a storm, I know to be quick getting ready if I am to avoid it. Panic sets in when I realise I can’t find my emergency poncho, but once I locate it, I rush down the hall to the elevator.
Before venturing outside, I remove my smart shoes to wade through the knee-deep puddles towards the flooded road and attempt to flag down a taxi. As usual during a storm, all the taxis are occupied – so I weave through three lanes of gridlocked traffic to the motorbike-taxi rank. I hold on tight as the driver speeds away, driving on the pavement… and then on the wrong side of the road.
I pay the driver and buy a bag of guai tiao moo (pork noodle soup) and a cup of Thai tea for breakfast from a street vendor. As I reach the school gates, the guard greets me with a wai (a slight bow, with hands placed in a prayer-like fashion). He holds an umbrella over me and escorts me into school.
Next it is time to prepare for the day with my Thai teaching assistant. The school bell rings at 7.55am, and the children begin to file into the atrium of the school and sit in lines, ready for a 10-minute assembly.
At 8am, the Thai national anthem is broadcast and the children stand and sing; they are very patriotic. After a few notices, we walk to class and I am greeted by a child who has just come back from Japan with some gifts for me: a Hello Kitty fridge magnet and a packet of KitKats – wasabi and green tea flavoured.
The children quietly sit down on the carpet as I take the register. Just about every Thai person has a nickname, which is given to them by their parents at birth. Thai nicknames come from an old belief that evil spirits are on the lookout for newborn children to take, but using a nickname instead of a normal Thai name confuses the spirits and helps to keep the child safe. They are often interesting: I have taught Milk, Book, Password and Guitar, to name a few.
The behaviour of the students is excellent. There is a culture of respect for teachers in Thailand; it is viewed as a very important profession. There is even a Wai Kru day which roughly translates as “respect the teacher”, where presents are brought and teachers are celebrated.
Breaktime in monsoon season means wet play. We all eat lunch together in the canteen; the school serves mainly Thai food – often quite spicy in a buffet style.
The day ends at 2.30pm. I stay another hour before returning to the condo to get ready for the evening activities. It’s a rather sharp contrast to getting home at 7pm when I worked in London.