Mooncake Festival in Phuket

SAM_9302Last weekend, I stumbled across Phuket Municipality’s celebration marking the Mid-Autumn Festival (in Thai, Wan Wai Phra Jan — เทศกาลไหว้พระจันทร์).  Also known as the Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival), it falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. This is the closest full moon to the autumnal equinox when the moon is said to be at its fullest and roundest – the so-called harvest moon. In traditional Chinese agrarian societies it marks the end of the harvest period when family and friends gather to celebrate a time of plenty.

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The Second Por Tor Parade 2013

SAM_8803The 2013 Por Tor Festival will end tomorrow, 4th September, with celebrations centered around Phuket Town’s main fresh market on Ranong Road and the Por Tor Kong Shrine near the intersection of Kra and Phuket Roads.

This past Friday, I once again joined a parade – marching in the procession that started from the Queen Sirikit Park and ended in the lane leading to Bangniaw School and abutting the Por Tor Kong Shrine.  At the end of the route, participants were given a plate of fried ang ku (the small red turtle cakes) and the crowds made food offerings of all sorts while listening to the mayor make a speech.  Indeed, I almost knocked over when the rain started and I tried to avoid the mass of people running to take cover!

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Por Tor Festival in Phuket: Day One’s Procession

SAM_8713Today is the first day of the seventh lunar month on the Chinese calendar.  It is the beginning of the annual fifteen-day period that Thai-Chinese people believe the spirits of their ancestors are released from heaven to visit their relatives.  In Thailand, it is popularly known as Ngan Por Tor or the “Hungry Ghost Festival” in English.

While similar festivals are held in Chinese communities elsewhere in the world, several aspects of Phuket‘s celebrations make this a not-to-be-missed event.

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Phuket’s Provincial Hall

SAM_8105Yesterday was a rather rainy holiday in Phuket – the 64th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit.   A mid-afternoon break in the rain gave me the chance to take a short walk up the tree-lined Narisorn Road in northeastern Phuket Town.  This is where most of the province’s government buildings are located and so is relatively free of development.

The most notable of these buildings is Sala Klang Changwat Phuket, or Phuket Provincial Hall in English.  Construction on this beautiful building, the first in Thailand to be made of reinforced concrete, was finished one hundred years ago during the Governorship of Phraya Rasadanupradit Mahitsaraphakdi (Kaw Simbi na Ranong).

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Postcrossing in Phuket

My mailbox on PostcrossingI recently rejoined Postcrossing, a project which allows users to request addresses in order to exchange postcards with other members.  Upon registering, you can request up to five addresses which are assigned randomly.  You write a unique identifying number on the postcards that you sent and when a user receives one of those cards, he/she registers that number on Postcrossing as “received”.  You do the same with any postcards that you receive. Each time one of your cards is received, you can request an additional address and you can increase the amount traveling as more of your cards are registered.

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Siam’s First Stamps

Siam's First Stamp - 1 solot blue - 4th August 1883The Thailand 2013 World Stamp Exhibition opened at Bangkok’s Siam Paragon this past Friday.  In part, it marks the 130th anniversary of the Kingdom of Siam’s first official postage stamps.  The 4th August 1883 release of those first five adhesives came some 43 years following the issuance of the world’s first prepaid stamps, Great Britain’s famed Penny Black.

However, there had been mail conveyance within the current boundaries of Thailand for even longer.  In fact, the earliest recorded mail from Bangkok was a stampless letter sent by an American missionary to his father back in 1836.

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To Cambodia, Part 1: Phuket to Bangkok

Thai Government second-class bus at a reststop somewhere outside of Chumpon, Thailand.As a teacher in the Thai government school system, I don’t have much of a salary during the long between-term breaks (March-May is summer vacation).  Thus, I have to plan any travel very carefully and take the cheaper option whenever possible.

There are easier ways to get to Cambodia from Phuket (there may even be a direct flight soon).  But if money is tight, my method is definitely the least expensive.

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Kru Mark

Getting ready to teach a P5-level class at Piboonsawadee School, Phuket TownThis is my second year teaching at Piboonsawasdee Municipal School in Phuket Town.  We are nearing the end of Term One and I would say that I’m generally well-liked by the majority of the students (with the possible exception of some trouble-making boys in P6 and one or two individuals in P3).

Yes, all the students STILL want to shake my hand whenever they see me despite my valiant efforts to get them to wai me in the hallways.  After all, they begin and end the lessons with this form of respect and would never think to wave and scream “Hello” to the Thai teachers.  I don’t think I’m asking for much!

But one significant change I’ve noticed just in the past two months or so is that I’m almost always referred to as “Kru Mark” (kon kru is Thai for “teacher”).  While the kids address me properly as “Kru” or “Kon Kru”, I do hear them saying “Kru Mark is here” when I walk by their classrooms or see them outside.

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On Substitutions

Students at Wat Kajonrangson School before my recent substitution gig.On Tuesday morning this week I am filling in for another teacher at a different school before returning to Piboonsawasdee in the afternoon.  This will be my first substitution this school year and I’m looking forward to it.  It might sound odd but over the years some of my best lessons have been (often last-minute) fill-ins with minimal preparation and, more times than not, without the benefit of a lesson plan or classroom notes left by the teacher I’m replacing.

You might say that I’ve become a “professional” substitute teacher as it’s something I’ve been called upon to do quite often throughout my teaching career in Thailand.  At Kajonkietsuksa School, my primary role for the first several years I worked there was as a Lower Primary Reading teacher.  The format of the Reading lessons meant that there were usually two teachers in the classroom at a time – I would work with the homeroom teacher.  Because of this, I could (and would) be asked to help out when other teachers fell ill or were called away (on visa runs, for example). 

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Writing Final Exams

Teacher Mark grading notebooks in P6/1.At my previous school – dare I say it’s name? (Kajonkietsuksa – one of the top three schools on Phuket in terms of popularity and success) – I became somewhat of an expert at creating exams.  For the mid-term and final exams we had a definite timeline for writing these, going through a rigorous approval process.  I almost always had my exams approved on the first or second submission; they wanted several different sections in several different formats (short answers, multiple choice, matching, etc.) which gave the students a real fighting chance at doing well.

My current school doesn’t bother with mid-term exams (at least for the English classes) and the final exams fall in September and February.  Last year, I created a term one exam based on those I’d written at Kajonkietsuksa but simplified as it was the first year they’d had a foreign-language teacher at Piboonsawasdee.  There were an average of ten to fifteen questions on the different grades’ exams and I had to handwrite each student’s long Thai name, student number, and nickname on each paper as the kids themselves couldn’t do this themselves!  Marking over five hundred exams were a real bitch and the majority of kids just didn’t try at all – if they wrote anything at all it was complete gibberish.

In addition to the exam score, I need to compute points based on behavior, attendance, participation, etc.  With more than thirty kids in each class – some approaching fifty – it was difficult trying to match the exam with the individual (I gave up long ago trying to keep the names straight; some classes have four or five kids all nicknamed “May”).  The result was that I had a huge pile of papers nobody seemed to care about and I eventually threw away.  The scores were dismal.

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