It’s Foreign Languages Day here at The Prince Royal’s College in Chiang Mai, Thailand–a gathering of five schools to compete in various English activities. There are debates, spelling bees, speech contests, storytelling contests, and singing contests. The last of these is really the focus of my story, but let me set the scene first.
I had just finished judging the debates, which had run late due to usual Thai chaos and lack of communication. I was exhausted, but relieved that my judging duties were finished.
But despite simultaneous public events all centered around the building next to mine–Foreign Languages Day, ASEAN Day, Harris Institute Open House, and Childrens’ Book Fair–I still had to hold my dreaded Normal Program English class. This was a class full of sweet students with obvious learning disabilities (if one wants to count apathy as a learning disability). Amid the noise of various speaker systems blaring music and the bedlam of students running around haphazardly, I was not looking forward to teaching a class that, on a normal, distraction-free day, couldn’t be bothered to pay attention.
I approached the classroom, opened the door, and groans of disapproval filled the air. It was as if I had just told them they were to clean up after all the festivities. They stared at me with that “Really?” kind of look, amazed that I was actually going to try to teach them.
Just then, thunder cracked. Without any buildup, a torrent fell upon Chiang Mai. To call it rain would be too mild. The downpour was so thick and heavy that visibility was limited to about 40 feet. The weight and size of each drop were so large that awnings abandoned their intended utility and left soaked their refugees underneath. Within minutes, small floods of water formed on a ground that couldn’t absorb the angry sky’s abuse fast enough.
“Class is cancelled today,” I announced.
Cheers filled the room. Many in the class, though, did not understand even that much English, and looked around bewildered as their sharper peers rejoiced. It didn’t take long for them to get the idea. As I walked out of the classroom, stepping carefully so as not to slip on a newly rain-soaked (yet covered) walkway, one girl burst out of the classroom yelling, “Tea-CHAAAA!”
I spun around.
“I love you!” she said, holding up the classic hand symbol with the thumb, index, and pinky fingers extended. I smiled and continued back to my office.
I wanted footage of nature’s power. So I started filming from the same walkway where my classrooms were. I walked up the walkway further, trying to capture every angle of the tempest from my relatively dry vantage point.
Just as I was finishing the video, I heard music coming from just down the stairs near me. It was very distinctly a recorded track with a student’s live vocals. Then I remembered the singing contest. But I also recognized the tune. Was this not-more-than-fifteen-year-old student singing, publicly, for a school contest, Bruno Mars’s “Versace on the Floor”?
I want down the stairs to see. Sure enough, a ninth grader from Dara Academy was timidly singing, “Let’s just kiss till we’re naked, baby.”
Stifling my laughter, I looked at the judges. As a rule, all judges have to be native speakers of English. I looked over and saw several colleagues of mine simultaneously looking very serious and official while also stealing glances at each other. I’d seen those glances before in my students just moments earlier: “Really?”
I had to keep watching. It’s warming up. “Can you feel it?” It’s warming up. “Can you FEEEEEL it?” It’s warming up. “CAN YOU FEEL IT BABY?”
I chuckled to myself and returned to my office. Nothing screams Thailand education better than an innocent Thai junior high schooler singing a very sexual song, the lyrics to which she probably didn’t entirely understand, belying the probable lack of supervision she received in preparing for the contest, while foreign judges look on in absolute wonder.