Like a new house, it is Thai tradition to celebrate a new building of any kind. My Matteyum is opening to a further three year groups from May this year, the start of the new academic year, and as such has built a new block of classrooms. This weekend was the celebration and dedication of the new block, a huge event that encompassed two whole days.
Saturday was a bit of a strange day for me. I had to be there to help set up but there was nothing I could do to help, instead feeling that I was constantly getting in the way while older, more experienced helpers were busily working away.
I decided after lunch, and a morning of hanging around, that I would head over to the coffee shop opposite the school for the afternoon. It is a beautiful little place, a kind of haven of shade amongst hanging flowers and plants draping from wires suspended overhead. It was also the perfect opportunity to skype my sister and we had a good natter for over an hour.
Returning to school after lunch I was actually able to be helpful, carting tables and chairs around in anticipation of the nights event. I ate an early supper as the sun set with the other teachers before heading to Cru Aew’s house.
Here, my role was to help with make-up, and take lots of photos. The kids were excited, all performing in the evening, and beautifully made up in traditional dress. We finally headed to the main stage just before 7, in time for the start of the performance which was…(inevitably) delayed!
At 8pm the show began, with some hearty singing (bordering perhaps on Karaoke) from the Headmaster. After a few songs each year group from Pretom 1 up to Matteyum 3 took it in turns to perform. I was sitting with one of the teachers from Hoi Ku Pah school and her cheeky, 5 year old daughter.
It went on surprisingly late for Thailand, I could still hear the stage at 10.30pm when I was tucked up in bed, having left half an hour before.
I had a great evening but my favourite part of the weekend was the following morning.
At 8am we all gathered at the Pretom school, on the other side of Mae La Luang from Matteyum. The students were all dressed in traditional clothing. Four of the students were musicians. Four were birds. A few carried tree-like offerings of money.
Slowly we processed through the town, gathering offerings and people as we went, until we finally arrived at the school.
9 Buddhist monks dressed in orange robes and seated on makeshift thrones were waiting in one of the future classrooms. Many people crammed into the classroom, and spilled out onto the floor around. For over an hour they chanted blessings over the school and its future. It was a beautiful sound.
While they were blessing the school, I was helping the other teachers prepare the feast that would then be served to the monks afterwards. It was an impressive array of food. A gift of thanks from the school for the monks’ blessing upon it.
Everybody else, some 1,500 people, were fed in space beneath the new school building, which is built on stilts.
While the monks ate, I sat with the other women out of sight but not earshot of the monks. Two male teachers served them. But when one monk had finished, he poked his head over the table and teased us all for being so loud. He was a friendly man with kind eyes and a ready smile. He chatted away to me in Thai but I could barely understand a word! Thankfully Cru Aew was able to translate for me.
A hasty pack down was done after everybody had left, both students and teachers feeling tired. Cru Aew and I made a spontaneous visit to her daughter in nearby Mae La Noi. We visited the viewpoint and went for iced coffee. A lovely way to spend the afternoon.
The weekend was completed with a Thai style BBQ at Nuan’s. All of us sitting around the small stove in the outdoor kitchen, a ramshackle, but beautiful, old building of bamboo. It was perfect.