It is the middle of a nearly month-long school holiday, coinciding with the end of the rainy season and in most parts of the country, with the rice harvest. In Samut Songkhram there isn’t much rice being grown, but that’s when we take the mid-year break anyhow.
While the students have the time off, the teachers are still working. Ajarn Yai decided her “family” of teachers needed to go somewhere and do something fun, so she arranged a day trip to Hua Hin, a beach town about another hour south of Samut Songkhram. Considering us a part of her academic family, she invited Tod and I along.
A rental van and driver was arranged and we were told to be at the school at 7:00 – a good hour (and more) before we usually arrive to teach. Ajarn Yai called me the night before to make sure I’d be there. Then she tried calling Tod. Getting no answer (he was watching a film), she called me back to make sure he’d be there, too. Monday morning I picked Tod up at 5:30 and finding traffic very light – not a surprise for such an early hour – we made it there right on time.
So that we could appropriately use funds from the Ministry of Education, our first destination was the Wangklaikangwon Industrial and Community Education College. This vocational school is a special project of His Majesty the King and is in fact located on acerage that is part of the royal palace in Hua Hin. The King has a summer palace there where in his older age he spends much of his time.
Because of this status as a royal project, the school is provided resources they might not regularly have access to. The school also places a lot of emphasis on developing the morals and skills of its students, upholding rigorous disciplinary standards that might seem out of place in a college. In addition to the diploma and certificate programs, the college also offers short-term and special vocational education programs catering both to people who are looking at changing careers as well as at minority hills tribes that live along the Thai-Myanmar border.
The school’s pride, though, is their television production and satellite training programs. Linking up with other schools throughout the Kingdom along with schools in other countries, the school produces short courses in areas such as computing, welding, auto mechanics, food and catering, mathematics, and English, filming and editing them at the school and then broadcasting them by satellite uplink to other locations.
Left: the director of the college shows off one of the two television control rooms with a pair of editing suites in the background.
The director of the school provided us with an overview of the school and its programs and then a tour of its facilities. The range of television production equipment is impressive, with two master control rooms, a half-dozen editing suites, and two post-production rooms. Multiple classrooms are wired to serve as studios and cameras are operated in those classrooms, directed remotely from a control room. Having studied television production at Santa Clara University a dozen years ago, the facilities at Wangklaikangwon College exceed the tools I learned on, many times over.
We concluded the visit by presenting the director with a gift basket containing local treats from Samut Songkhram including palm sugar and other snacks made near the school. Along with that was a dozen or more coconuts, freshly harvested from trees adjacent to the school. Ajarn Yai (just for clarification, this is her title, not her name) seemed unsure of whether or not to smile. When I asked her later, in Thai, why she didn’t smile for the picture she responded in English, “forget, forgot, forgotten.”
After the visit to the school, we headed further into Hua Hin and stopped at a small open-air restaurant that sits across the street from Hua Hin’s new strip mall, home to the department store, supermarket, cinema, and the town’s second (and much larger) Starbucks. Ah, the quiet beach town is no more.
Now that our business was finished, we headed out to see some sights including a temple with an imposing status of a now-deceased monk who wrote extensive books on Buddhism; a mangrove forest; as well as a stop at the beach in the main town.
Left: Traditionally intricate detail on a modern glass window at a temple outside Hua Hin.
The mangrove forest south of Hua Hin is quite amazing. There is a very well-designed boardwalk that runs a 2-km loop through the forest, giving you an amazing look at the Tim Burton-esque root structure the trees develop. There is also a nice observation tower that takes you above the canopy.
Left: The thick above-ground (and above-water) roots of the mangrove forest. Right: Tod and I on the observation platform overlooking the forest. Just to the right of him you can see one of the severaly out-of-place condominium complexes that have been built around Hua Hin. No zoning makes for bad land management.
On the way back, we stopped in the town of Phetchaburi, famed for its sweets and desserts. Of course we stopped to shop – Thais love to buy khanom (snacks) when they go on a trip.
Driving back into Samut Songkhram, Ajarn Yai asked a rather philosophical question that it took a few minutes to understand the gist of when she tried asking it first in English and then in Thai. Tod unraveled the question as, “What would you attribute the circumstance of us meeting and becoming involved with the school at Bangkhonthiinai?” Fate? Chance? Destiny?
I decided that it was serendipity – the happy discovery of something I was not in search of. Tod and I had a very good conversation on the way home about this topic – fate, chance, serendipity, etc – pondering whether there really is an answer to the question “why?” that humans seem to ask incessantly, or is the act of trying to find an answer just a way of creating structure and order in our minds in order to comfort us?
Tod and I made it back quite late, going on 9:00. A long day, but a good opportunity to bond more with the team of teachers. After my outing two weeks ago, I was somewhat concerned about how they would act in the future. However, as Tod wisely pointed out, they are Thai so it is unlikely they’ll ever do or say anything to my face. What they say behind me back, however, is an entirely different matter.