My favorite local celebration is the Phuket Old Town Festival, now in it’s 16th year. Held annually immediately following Chinese New Year, it’s three days of blocked-off streets, massive crowds, all manner of performances – cultural and musical – booths selling many different souvenirs and articles of clothing, and an endless variety of delicious food. There is so much to see and do that I never fail to attend all three nights. This year was a bit odd as the festivities began (with a massive parade) on a Thursday so as not to disturb the popular Sunday-evening Walking Street.
I began working at Koh Sirae School – on the island just to the east of Phuket Town – as a fill-in teacher after our two previous instructors there quit. In the blink of an eye, I went from a relatively light weekly schedule of teaching Business English in-house for my agency’s language school to one that completely exhausts me. I do love this school – and it’s a quick 20-minute bus trip form my home – but I haven’t quite adjusted to the drastic decrease in my free time. I haven’t had as much time to concentrate on activities such as reading, stamp collecting or blogging.
No. This isn’t a photo-essay about the infamous lady-boys (AKA, katoeys) who inhabit this western Phuket version of “Sin City.” It is a rare occasion indeed when I will venture to the hedonistic tour mecca that is Patong, but the largest of the famed Cunard Line’s ocean liners making a rare port-of-call at my island home was reason enough this week.
Every year at this time, teachers suddenly quit right before the end of the school year. As a veteran teacher, I’m usually called upon to rearrange my business and private lesson schedules so that I can cover at the schools. Last year, I spent three weeks at Samkong School in the northern part of Phuket Town. This week, I started a six-week substitution at Koh Siray School – on the small island just to the east of Phuket Town. The day before I was due to start I went out to the school to check out the surroundings and ended up scaling the highest peak in the area.
Phuket Town is surrounded by hills and water. The two main hills to the north of downtown are Khao To Sae with the television towers (also nicknamed “Monkey Hill”) and Khao Rang (khao meaning “hill”) with its restaurants and viewpoint. This is the view of Rang Hill from my apartment’s balcony. I hadn’t been to the top in quite some time and decided that I would walk there on a recent day off.
Rang Hill was originally known as Khao Lang. Lang means “back” in the Thai language and this was considered the rear of Phuket Town; the “front” was a place known as “Stone Bridge”, I haven’t yet found its location but assume it was in the area of Suphan Hin. Rang was renovated as a public fitness park in the 1980’s and features a statue of Phraya Ratsadanupradit, the former governor of Phuket known for his roadworks and promotion of the Thai rubber industry. The statue was actually my main reason for wanting to reach the summit.
This has been a strange week. I had two days off in a row which is a huge rarity, even more so as they were mid-week. During this “free time” I managed to get caught up on a couple of long-term projects and get started on one or two others. Unfortunately, I wasn’t motivated to do the research needed for my originally-planned theme for this edition of “Friday Photos”. I decided on another which would require the bare minimum of commentary. That idea was to cover the occasionally-odd and often incomprehensible signs one encounters around Phuket but, in the end, I decided on something simpler – photos of ONE location that many local residents don’t even realize exists!
It’s been a tiring week as I’ve spent Monday through Thursday working at an English camp on Phuket’s rural Cape Panwa. Thus, the theme for this installment of Friday Photos. Conducting these camps is strenuous by itself but I’ve also been teaching my regular evening lessons all week as well.
What is an English camp? Well, the agency I work for – ECC Thailand – uses them primarily to introduce English language instruction to schools that we don’t yet have under contract. It’s basically an audition so is taken very seriously by my boss. We go into a school for several days and teach a bit of English – conversation, vocabulary, a bit of grammar – and play a lot of games.
I’m fascinated by the Sino-Portuguese architecture that dominates the Old Town area of Phuket. There are basically two types to these old homes – the ang mo lau, or “detached” houses of the extremely wealthy mining families – and the row houses – tiem chu – which had their origin in Malacca. The European-style row house was introduced by Portuguese traders and executed by Chinese workers who decorated them with frescoes representing their traditional beliefs. When these Baba, or Straits Chinese, migrated from Malacca to other cities (including Singapore, Penang, and Phuket), they took their unique architecture with them. Later, elements were added from Dutch and British colonial influences making the architecture of Phuket a fascinating area to study.
Welcome to the first installment of Friday Photos, a series in which I will highlight a selection of the week’s photos. I plan to build each segment around a particular theme and most will be in and around my neighborhood.
This week, while winding down from the New Year’s festivities, I took a stroll along the commercial center of Old Town – Thalang Road.
This is my tenth consecutive Christmas in Thailand and they keep getting better. While there were a few stray decorated trees to be seen during my first few holidays here, each year seems to bring more and more signs of Yuletide spirit. The shopping mall where I work has slowly been adding decorations ever since the giant tree went up outside just before Halloween. As I strolled through the mall following my Christmas Eve classes, I saw plenty of images of Santa Claus and Christmas trees with enough Buddhist symbols to remind one exactly where you are. My favorite Thai variation is that instead of Mrs. Clause, we have “Santy” who seems to be Santa’s mia noi (mistress).
There are two photo albums after the break – the first illustrates my school’s holiday party this past weekend while the second features photos shot around the mall last night.