January 2021 Was Just More of 2020

Oh, January 2021. How we looked forward to you. How we hoped that the New Year would bring new beginnings and, finally, hope for the future following the Year that Would Not End. But 2020 still has a firm grasp on us all. It’s not over yet and the terrible events of last year linger. In many cases, the start of 2021 has been worse than the worst that came before. Is anybody looking forward to 2022 yet?

Here in Thailand, schools were shuttered just before Christmas so that we had some semblance of a “real” New Year holiday rather than the three-day break that has been the norm. We returned to teaching our classes on the 4th of January and I spent the next three days having conversations with students about what they did on their “COVID Holidays”.

Alas, there continued to be ever-worsening outbreaks elsewhere in Thailand and late that Wednesday afternoon, all Phuket schools were ordered to close until 25 January; Bangkok and other locations closed until 1 February.

Our school was closed only to students. Teachers were required to make their ways to the campus on Thursday and Friday to prepare for what became 10 days of ill-thought-out online teaching. The school demanded hour-by-hour lesson plans, PowerPoint presentations and video content uploaded to our shared Google Drive by Friday afternoon (later extended to Sunday evening); many of our teachers were wholly unprepared for the learning curve needed to do these on such short notice.

We were given our revised class schedules just at quitting time that Friday afternoon but were given completely revised schedules on Monday morning, less than an hour prior to our first classes. Many of my individual classes were combined into huge “super-classes” of 90 and more students, a few of those in two-hour blocks and none of which matched the lesson plans, presentations, and videos I’d spent the weekend laboring over.

The first version of my schedule was quite nice. I created my lesson plans during the weekend based on this one, and was quite happy that I didn’t have any Monday classes.
Revised schedule given to me after the Morning Assembly on Monday. Note the M2/1 through M2/3 classes in green. I do not usually teach M2/2 and M2/3 in the regular schedule but had to do so online, without having a list of those students so I could not record any marks for them (and there were 95 of them which threw the platform into conniptions).

We were required to do our online teaching inside of the school which overwhelmed the wi-fi and maxed-out our own mobile plans as the online platform we were required to use increased data transfer with each additional person (student) who joined. My “super-classes” failed as the platform shut off the presenter’s (teacher’s) microphone when more than 49 people were on the call and the audio from my videos and PowerPoints could not be shared online. There were so many technical issues that many of the Thai teachers stopped doing their classes after the first couple of days; unfortunately, the foreign teachers did not have that option.

Many of the students used the platform to chat with their friends as they were all stuck in their homes. We could not mute their microphones so several classes simply talked to each other in Thai; other classes used the chat boxes to type either in Thai or use profanity in English. During the entire process, school administrators (and a few visiting VIP’s) would stop by in our classrooms and film us “teaching”; I was happy once I found a pair of headphones that worked so the visitors could not hear the students — they just heard me “teaching” unless they tuned-in to my broadcasts. Fortunately, not many did.

Attendance dwindled by the start of the second week — one of my classes went from 87 the week before to just 12 on the last day, all of whom logged-in and then went to go eat or sleep as they were completely silent and nobody responded to anything at all (including the “goodbye class” at the end). A dismal failure in all respects.

The students were allowed to return to school on Thursday and, if anything, they were even more ill-behaved than before. We also went to six-day weeks with the Saturday schedules simply repeating our line-ups for Monday. Although attendance is presumably mandatory, I’m lucky if half of the rostered students show up to the Saturday lessons. Those that are there are, for the most part, totally uninterested in doing anything related to learning or studying.

All of this has left me with very little time for any non-school endeavors but I try. Most of my daily reading has been between classes while sitting in the foreign teachers’ office and I managed to finish three books (two novels and one WWII historical work) in January. I wrote just over twenty articles for Philatelic Pursuits and one for this blog (the half-finished “Phuket Walkabout”); I did create a few stamp schedule pages for the stamp site as well.

My chief “free time” activity has revolved around stamps as I begin a new focus in my collections. It is actually a return to the very beginning of my philatelic pursuits as a youngster of 9 or 10 years old living in north-central Tennessee. I’d been given my mother’s childhood stamp album as a gift — a Scott Modern which was a very basic worldwide album. From it, I learned a lot about geography and history as portrayed on stamps up to the Second World War and those are the stamps that I most appreciate up to the present day.

I lost the majority of my earlier stamp collections when I moved to Thailand in 2005 but have since obtained quite a few stamps, a mix of classics and modern issues with a focus on Siam/Thailand. My purchases have been housed in a variety of cheap stock books (most of which I can buy locally for around USD $3 apiece) but I longed for a proper album. Over the years, I have dabbled in creating my own album pages (which recently got a totally unexpected mention (complete with images) in The American Philatelist). These are housed in locally-purchased binders (and it is difficult to find one with three rings or more — most are awful two-post varieties).

My dream album for many years has been the Scott International album, specifically Part I covering the first century of philately (1840-1940). Almost every week for about five or six years, I spent time on eBay looking for the “perfect” Part I. Price of the album was, of course, a major factor as was shipping and import charges (which often came to much more than the album cost itself). I did not care if there were already stamps in the album or not as long as the pages were clean and in good condition. By the way, the current cost of a two-volume Part I directly from the publisher, including all the pages, binders and (I believe) slipcases is around USD $750 which is way above my budget on a teacher’s salary.

Well, I finally found the perfect combination I was seeking just after Christmas — a one-volume 1947 edition of the Part I album, bound rather than loose leaf, with the binder in nearly immaculate condition (one small ding on the front cover at the top) and pages in pristine condition other than the stray thin from removed stamps. It came populated with “several hundred” stamps (I am still inventorying those) and the total price including shipping and import fees was less than USD $200. Not long after I paid for that, I found a Part II (covering 1941-1949) for even less so I ordered that as well along with a pair of historical albums for France (covering 1947 through 1962). I just love how my bookshelves look with these albums on them (all of which arrived quite quickly).

A fair amount of my downtime each evening and on my Sundays has been spent inventorying the stamps that were already in the albums and adding ones I had in my collection of stock books. I am going to need to order more hinges and plastic mounts pretty soon. Since the Part I album is bound, I cannot remove the pages to scan them (something I have done with every stamp in my collection over the past decade) so I am on the lookout for a hand-held scanner that I can pass over the pages or individual stamps. It is my desire to create PDF’s of these albums that I can annotate with values and catalogue numbers, for example, as I do not like to write on my album pages. Perhaps, someday, I will put these album pages online similar to the collections of Antonius Ra or Dr. Cheng Chang.

All in all, there isn’t really much more to report on for January. I did just receive a mini-projector which I intend to use in my classrooms and the quality of the video it outputs is really quite amazing (using DLP rather than LCD in its projections up to 4K). It arrived just in time for the Super Bowl as well so (hopefully!) we can watch the game next Monday morning in the teachers’ office (my hometown Kansas City Chiefs are in it for the second year in a row after a 50-year drought, going against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

I really hope that February proves to be a better month than January. The only real high-points of this first month of 2021 for me were receiving my new stamp albums and a bit of electronics. Oh, and hearing Amanda Gorman’s wonderful and inspirational speech. What a talented young woman!

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