Teaching English in Thailand, Traveling, Bone-Dry Humor, Other Stuff Too

Sports Day and My Santa Claus Fantasy

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So… This Happened…

 

So there I was, dressed in a rapidly disintegrating felt Santa costume with an old Arsenal jersey underneath to stick to the color theme, leading a few hundred students in red around a busy traffic roundabout for the Sports Day Parade, accompanied by some school faculty dressed as American cowboys. This is up there, I remember thinking. This is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever done. I also remember thinking, Damn, it’s hot today.

Two days earlier, I was pulled out of my office and told to wait with a Thai teacher on a bench outside of another office. I learned how to say “I drink coffee,”  in Thai, as I was enjoying a cup at the time. Then somebody came out of the office, looked me over, and said, “You…Santa Claus…Fantasy.”

No, I thought. I don’t know what you’re asking, but I do not have any such fantasy, nor will I have anything to do with one. After another fifteen minutes of me trying to speak Thai and the two female faculty members trying to speak English, we established that I was supposed to dress as Santa Claus from 8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. on Sports Day, then dress as a cowboy for the rest of the day. Santa Claus Fantasy.

For those of you who don’t celebrate Sports Day at public schools in Thailand, it is a big deal. Classes stop for a day; the whole school is divided into red, green, yellow, and blue a month ahead of time to practice sports and dance routines for the big day; everybody stands in the sun and listens to a really long assembly (I can occasionally make out some numbers or the names of my school and city); and the girls on each team dance for hours and hours. There is a costume theme to go with every team, so I changed into the cowboy deal after my Kris Kringle gig. There is tug-of-war, a few small groups from each team play volleyball, and otherwise no other sports are played at all on Sports Day. Besides the fact that it doesn’t take place at night, Sports Day is really a misnomer. But it is a huge event for the school, and the faculty gets really involved in everything. The costumes are beautifully ornate, there is live music, and it feels like a carnival for a day. I walked around messing with kids, throwing them in the air, and avoiding being forced into group pictures. And I was getting paid for it.

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Days like these make me question if I will ever have a teaching job that is anything like this. Despite being immersed in Thai culture for the last two months and learning about what life here can look like, I feel there is infinitely more that I don’t understand. And when I say  I don’t understand, I don’t mean flat out ” I just don’t get it,” or something somebody annoying could spin as an insensitive comment. I mean that the behaviors I witness, the attitudes towards school and work, what’s deemed important and what’s not, and seventy other things are all so different from what I’ve seen before that it’s hard to congeal all these differences into a coherent category of Thai-ness. In other words, I’m frequently confused and I always have this lingering feeling that I’m supposed to do something awesome and polite at any moment, and if I don’t do it, I am the worst. Thankfully, most people I interact with are friendly and genuine, especially if I can extend any small form of courtesy toward them–such as wai-ing (bowing with your palms pressed together), addressing people with polite forms of speech (in the situations where I can actually say something in Thai), or smiling when in doubt–then I find myself warmly welcomed and helped with whatever it is that I need. Some people regard me with suspicion and seem generally wary of my presence. Almost everybody I see stares at me, and most continue to do so after I return eye contact, but usually I know that no offense is intended; I’m just not what people here are used to seeing.

The other day I was reflecting on different pieces of advice I got before I came here, and I think the most applicable and helpful nugget I heard was:

“Weird things are going to happen to you. So just let them.”

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