Pah Leurat - Saturday, July 10

Every year I intend to have time to upload photos and post blog entries at least every few days. Most years I start off pretty well, as I did this year with daily messages from Bangkok and Chiang Mai. After we get busy here in Pah Leurat, some years I manage to follow through better than others, depending largely on how much time I end up spending with the group during their mornings of teaching and afternoons of lesson planning. The way it works out, sometimes I'm needed more than others and sometimes I simply enjoy watching.

This year there has been some of both, and the upshot is that while I've had little time for the blog I did get to see a lot of good teaching and now have quite a few photos to share. At this point I doubt I'll get the chance to edit and upload many, if any, until after the Inside Thailand kids are back home in America, but as soon as I can I will.

Today is Saturday and tonight, after two weeks of making friends in this community, there will be a huge thank you party in anticipation of our Monday night departure.

Today the American kids all slept in, and then after brunch helped their Thai peers blow up balloons for tonight's party. We're expecting a crowd of at least sixty or seventy, so Boosaba and her team have been cooking and setting up since 6:00 this morning. It's another very hot day and she looked like she wanted to join in the boys' water fight — but not before she's finished astounding us all with yet another glorious feast.


This afternoon Boosaba's brother and I took the kids across the "Indiana Jones" suspension bridge about five miles downstream from here. It's strong enough for a light motorcycle, but it's rickety and sways a lot which makes crossing the river feel like an adventure.

During Inside Thailand's early years this bridge was the only way to cross this river, other than a canoe or a three-hour road trip. Now we can drive our truck across a concrete bridge right here in Pah Leurat — a dramatic change which is slowly bringing the long-isolated communities across the river into the motorized and electrified modern era.

Pah Leurat - Friday, July 9

This morning the boys all got up early to give alms to the monks. "Early" is a relative term. Most people here start their days at 5:00, about a half-hour before dawn. The monks normally make their rounds between 6:00 and 6:30, concurrent with school bus departures and farmers heading out to their fields. Today the monks did not arrive until 6:45 because the abbot had tripped over a dog and broken its leg.

Thai temples serve as drop-off points for unwanted pets, and Buddhism teaches that attachments are the root of all suffering. Westerners sometimes get the notion that this means Asians do not value intimacy, but I can guarantee you that the abbot cares deeply about "his" dogs and was acutely feeling that pain of attachment today!

After breakfast (which Boosaba serves to our group every day at 7:00), Benyapa and I spent most of this morning, our next to last teaching in Pah Leurat, observing and photographing Willem and Bowen's outrageous lessons for grades 7 through 9, which included an imaginatively choreographed and vigorously animated presentation of American street slang. It was hilarious, and so over the top that the Thai students were not, at first, quite sure what to make of it. In the end they all knew it was a lesson they'd never forget, and perhaps the best time they'll ever have in a classroom. A new standard has been set!


After school, Aiden meditated with a monk while the others practiced bamboo basket weaving with Benyapa's grandmother and a few of her contemporaries. Bowen hung in there the longest and after four hours I think ended up with four or more finished baskets. These would sell for 1 baht (currently about 3 cents US) each, so Willem joked, "If college doesn't work out..."

I laughed because it was a good joke, but reflecting on it now I see the unimaginable differences in the options available to our young guests and their hosts. I believe very strongly in noblese oblige, passing the ladder back down, paying it forward, and all that, and I hope that their time here will have reenforced those instincts in each of our Inside Thailand alums.

Uttaradit - Thursday, July 8

Today we taught at Doi Ta Sao, a small elementary school of sixty-two students within the provincial capital of Uttaradit. The families whose children attend Doi Ta Sao are even poorer than the poorest in any of the rural villages we've seen. They are landless, nearly homeless, and often jobless. Some of their children have learning disabilities, a few are autistic, and some are so very bright that against all odds they graduate from sixth grade here to the finest secondary schools in the province.


We went there because one of my dearest friends, Ajarn Surapon, is the new headmaster. Seventeen years ago, when I taught full-time in Pah Leurat, Surapon was the assistant headmaster here. He is one of the most dedicated and most intellectually curious educators I've ever known anywhere and it was like coming home to work with him again, even if only for one day.

I told him about meeting Hatai, and while Surapon's cheeks remained dry his eyes were on the verge of brimming over. I had brought a few pictures and copies of The Cantaloupe Star, so we spent several happy moments remembering our years together and the wonderful kids who were our students then. Of course Hatai and I will invite Surapon to join us for our little reunion!

When we were done teaching, Surapon's teachers presented us with the feast they had prepared, which was probably the most wonderful meal we've had all summer. That's really saying something, as Boosaba is a world-class Thai cook and Inside Thailand never cuts corners on food, at home or in restaurants, but this lunch that Surapon treated us to was truly spectacular. It was humbling, too, given the desperate straits of his students, and because with my understanding of the school's budget I knew that Surapon had paid for it all from his own pocket.

Pah Leurat - Wednesday, July 7


Today the girls got up early to give alms to the monks. Then after breakfast we taught at Pah Tao Pattana, a wonderful small school across the river where I chanced to meet an old student. She's 31 now and has a two-year-old daughter, the same age Benyapa was when I taught Hatai. It was a wonderful and very emotional experience for both of us.

We hugged and hugged — very rare in Thai culture — and both shed tears of joy over and over as we reminisced about the good times we'd shared in the classroom, at English Club in the school library, working on our newspaper, going on excursions in the same old Isuzu pickup I still drive today, and just hanging out at our house or in the river.

Hatai was one of a dozen of my most dedicated English learners, and she says at least three others are now working nearby. She will round them all up for a reunion as soon as my family and I return from the island.

Very touching, and very rewarding, to realize that I had meant so much to those girls, and maybe equally touching for her to realize that she and her friends had meant so much to me.

For Benyapa it was a special moment to hear Hatai reminiscing about all the same stories she's heard me tell over and over. Hatai's recollections and even her words were nearly identical to mine. Sigh. My eyes moisten again just writing this. In a word, all sweet.

Sukhothai - Saturday July 3


Today we took seventy-four passengers — Inside Thailand 2010 plus one other adult and sixty-four Thai kids in grades 3 through 9 — on a three-hour bus trip to Sukhothai. We picnicked together, then rented bikes and explored the 700-year-old ruins of Thailand's original capital. More about that later, but for now I just want to point you to this summer's first few pictures.

Marina is the only American included in this first set, and this is because she has, by the un-luck of the draw, been underrepresented in the pix I've shot to date in the classrooms. I will work on correcting that this week, and also on posting pix of everyone from other days and other destinations.

Sukhothai is always a special day. Even though it's usually the hottest and always the longest of Inside Thailand's day trips, it's always the one I look forward to most. I've chosen to share these twelve pix first because several of them are of this year's 9th graders.

When we lived here from 1992 through 1994, I taught grades 7-9 full-time. 9th is the highest grade in our village school, and for village kids whose parents cannot afford to send them to high school it marks the end of their formal education and the beginning of their working lives. Our trip to Sukhothai is their one big outing, in many ways far more significant than a senior class trip in America, so I'm feeling somewhat emotional as I honor these wonderful kids by sharing their photos with you.

Rest assured that I have many exciting pix of your own kids too, and hope to get some of those posted as this week rolls along.