For the week of Chinese New year, I was lucky enough to retire to Nakhon Sawan for a few days where the celebrations are immense due to a large Chinese population. What I should really say here is that I was lucky enough to have a best friend in Nakhon Sawan named Ronah who was kind enough to organise an English camp that week so I could bunk off school without looking like I was simply skiving to attend a week of festivities (which in fact was exactly the case).
Soon after arriving in Nakhon Sawan after a long, overnight bus journey we set out to explore. In an afternoon I fell head over heels for the charming, quirky and thoroughly Thai city. We made our way first through the beautiful (national) park in the centre which was thriving with people playing basketball, volleyball, running, skateboarding, dancing, cycling, rollerblading, tai chi-ing; you name it-ing and they were doing it! We stopped for lunch on the other side of the park at a place called April’s Brasserie. This seemingly quaint but in fact rather giant independent establishment was flawlessly decorated and had a decidedly modern yet cosy feel and contained furnishings straight out of a Laura Ashley catalogue. They serve Thai and western food but are famous for their cakes, pies and deserts and after trying some I can see why. After lunch I went to set up for the English camp the next day at Kiriwon temple school. Residing at the base of the hill which Kiriwon Temple sits atop, the school was a haven of calm away from the bustling streets of Nakhon Sawan. The novice monks greeted us and although we didn’t stay for long, it got me looking forward to teaching them the next day.
That night we went to China Town to begin our Chinese celebrations. Although I had been made aware that Nakhon Sawan was the home of Chinese New Year celebrations in Thailand, and that it was a basically week long party, I didn’t quite expect what we found on that Tuesday night. The streets were lined with people selling all kinds of goods from Chinese dragon masks to steamed dumplings and above, your path was lit by hundreds of authentic lanterns creating the idyllic Chinese ambiance.
The next day we woke early, keen to get to school and get the camp started; being my first English Camp I was pretty excited. To begin with, there was certainly a feeling of anxiety as to how we should approach tasks such as teaching monks the cha cha slide without seeming disrespectful but soon that worry faded and we could all see that underneath the orange robes and bald heads this was just a group of kids wanting some banter and some fun. Hopping from activity to activity with Ronah checking all was running smoothly gave me a pretty could perspective from which I can conclude my favourite activity was definitely ‘drip drip drop’. This is a variation of ‘duck duck goose’ which had to be adapted because touching another person’s head is so frowned upon in Thailand; let alone a monks head. The game consists of ‘drip drip dripping’ water on each person in the circle until you select your victim who you’ll then ‘drop’ the bowl of water on. You then chase one another round the circle until the ‘dropper’ has either been caught (meaning the ‘dropee’ may get ‘revenge’ on said ‘dropper’ by throwing water on them) or has managed to make it back to the ‘dropee’s’ space in the circle. Now, this game is fun enough with my students at home in Muang; words cannot explain how much infinitely funnier it is watching monks run around in their damp robes doing the same thing. The day was a roaring success (nice work Ronah). My three highlights of the camp were doing the Cha Cha slide with 100 monks, being called one of the boy’s ‘hero’ in his thank you speech during the closing ceremony and being taken up the hill after the camp to Kiriwon Temple to see the panoramic views of the ‘heavenly city’.
That night we headed back out to China town to see what was instore for us. Without really knowing where we were going or what was happening (you can’t get any information about the celebrations in English) we wondered around for long enough to eventually find the crossroads where ‘the show’ was taking place. This turned out to be absolutely incredible and most certainly reinforced my love for the lack of health and safety in Thailand. A team of acrobatics began the street show by piling six sets of five men on top of one another one by one. Never did I think I would witness five men stood on each other’s shoulders twilling around the streets of Nakhon Sawan. Next, there was the lion show where 4 men dressed in their elaborate lion costumes (one man was the head and one man was the bottom) and danced from pole to pole in perfect sync creating the impression of two lions dancing in mid-air. Describing how awesome this was in words is near impossible. After an incredible day and unexpectedly incredible night I really didn’t think the week could get much better but I was wrong.
The next day we went back out to China town as the Thursday is the main day to watch the parade which begins at 6am. Finding the parade was the first task but with the help of Ronah’s Thai mum and her posy spread out around town we eventually found it. The parade’s main aim is to herd the ‘head’ Chinese Dragon around town. The Dragon snakes from street to street and shop to shop, entering all the local businesses it can find which gives them good luck for the New Year. To say thank you, the streets are lined with tables full of offerings to the Dragon and after the Dragon has left their premises, shops light fire crackers to ward off any evil spirts. After following the Dragon for a while we walked ahead to find ‘the show’; all this may sound a bit vague but with no translators around we just had to go with it. The greatest thing happened next. Just as we reached the intersection where ‘the show; would take place we looked up to a balcony looking down at the setup and saw our country rep Nici stood ready and waiting for the dragon to appear. It turns out she knew the owners of the gold shop below who had invited her to watch the show from their balcony and this kindness was then extended to us and we were lucky enough to watch the whole thing from the comfort of their apartment’s balcony. The show was even more unexpected that the one the night before with the dragon being the main attraction.
The next day I went to Ronah’s other school where she teaches anuban (kindergarten) up to M3 (year 10). This being a normal school was something I am more used to however I still had the pleasure of teaching anuban for the first time as I only teach secondary which is M1-M6 (year 8 to year 13). I absolutely loved seeing Ronah’s classes and seeing how other schools work in Thailand. The day was topped off with a perfect Friday night in; cheese, pasta and red wine.