There’s lots of building going on in my neighborhood of Khrungthep. From my balcony I can see six different condo complexes being built and there’s a seventh one that just started. Behind my building (to the north) there is a new condo complex that was finished and just opened a few months ago.
Condos are not the full extent of this building boom, as there are dozens of shops and smaller buildings nearby that are being renovated. An example of this is the four-story building just on the way to the foot massage parlor that used to have some restaurants in the ground floor and various unspecified businesses upstairs. About two months ago it all closed up and then a massive renovation began.
The tarps have now been removed and the construction fence dismantled, and behind it is a uniquely colorful building called the Asoke Bazaar. I’m unclear as to what, exactly, it will be. Some sort of a place to buy things, but not sure if it will house smaller vendors or what. Stay tuned for updates. At the very least, it adds some color to the neighborhood.
Also, the 7-11 on our corner (not the one across the street on the opposite corner, nor the two others within three blocks of our home) has recently been remodeled. The gutted it and re-did everything in the course of five days. Pretty fast. Next to the 7-11 there is a new copy store that has opened up. A much-needed addition to the neighborhood.
One aspect of Thai buildings that is unique is the spirit house located on the property. This is true for businesses, houses, and all sorts of properties. While Thailand is a largely Buddhist nation (95+% by latest count) there is a strong animist streak and Thais generally take a “if you can’t be sure, no reason to take a chance that you’re wrong” view on religion. The spirit houses can be traced to Brahmanist roots and generally contain an icon from Hinduism and are designed to house the spirit of the land that has been displaced by the building on it.
Tying into this is Buang Suang, the Brahmanist ceremonies that are done, in some cases annually and in others just when the time seems right, by individual businesses or entire buildings, to “feed the spirits”. Tuesday morning I had the sliding glass doors open to enjoy the cool temperatures and for more than an hour I was hearing traditional Thai music being played, wafting in the morning breeze and into my living room, punctuated by a lengthy series of exploding firecrackers that commenced just as I had answered an incoming call on Skype.
When I headed out to meet my tutor mid-morning I saw what the fuss was about: the entire entry way to the large office building across the street was filled with people standing around a stage. Thai dancers were dancing and a small musical ensemble was playing.
In the corner of the drive way next to a small coffee shop is the building’s spirit house. Tables were set up with food for the spirits and white-gloved attendants would take the lit incense from people paying respect and place it in front of the spirit house for them.
It was a very colorful morning and given the cool temperatures (overnight lows dipped to 21 C / 69 F) and pleasant breeze, I would have loved to stay and watch a while. But I had Thai studies to attend to.
Right: Food laid out for the spirits.
There’s been a lot going on at the school in Bangkhonthiinai. After bringing my family and friends there two weeks ago and causing quite an uproar, things have settled down a bit. Settled down, but not quiet!
Last week Markus joined me for the day, his first trip to the school and his only available Wednesday this year. In the afternoon, classes were concluded early so the students could prepare for the upcoming Field Day, a district-wide event in which students will compete in various track and field activities. Field Day is being held this Friday but I cannot make it, unfortunately.
But we had practice! First there was warming up and stretches. Then Khruu Somchai with his megaphone (always) instructed the children in the proper way to pass the baton in a relay race as well as the finer points of sprinting. Some listened attentively. Some listened less than attentively. Some didn’t listen.
Then we got down to business and did some running. The school doesn’t have a track. It has some grassy areas interspersed with some concrete pads, one the size of a basketball court and the other the size for badminton or volleyball but without a net. Needless to say, this made for an inconsistent running surface.
Above: Relay practice for both the girls and boys. Below left: Standing in line to prepare for marching. Below right: Deserters since on the bank of the khlong and watch it all.
Above: The pre-school class comes out to watch the big kids and then copies them, running their own races on the grass. This group includes a few stragglers, the younger siblings of some of the pre-school children who are dropped off as a sort of day care for parts of the day.
After running came marching. Just like a little uncoordinated army, the students marched in a row of pairs, tallest children to least tall, in time with the drummer to least in time. Ajarn Yai shook her head and said, “They still need work.”
Wednesday this week was not a marching day, although I suspect the students have had more practice on marching in advance of this Friday’s big event. Ken made a return appearance at the school and I was glad to have Tod back as well, after an absence last week.
When I picked Tod up at 6:30, I almost didn’t recognize his house. There has been construction going on across from it for at least a year and there has been a large construction gate in front of it, a tarp curtain that keeps the noise and dust down. The construction of the new apartment complex has finished and the gate was down. Since it looked just like a normal neighborhood again and I didn’t have the reference point of the construction gate, I drove right by Tod’s house before realizing it.
It was really cold in Bangkhonthiinai. When we arrived there was a breeze and it truly did feel a bit chilly. The children were bundled up in jackets and sweaters and, for once, we didn’t turn any fans on in the classroom.
In the afternoon as the sun came out and provided some warmth, we went outside with the younger children and did some activities, practicing words like “truck,” “airplane,” “train,” and “car.” Then when I said it was time to go back inside, the children pleaded to remain outside.
“Okay,” I said in Thai,”but what will we do?”
“Draw pictures!” was the overwhelming response.
So we completely demolished a 270 baht box of sidewalk chalk, some 36 sticks, which is a bit pricey for an hour’s fun. But everyone had a chance to get their creative talents on display and we practiced spelling the words. And now the entire basketball court is a rainbow of dusty colors.
Above: One of the smallest girls decides to draw the largest train, emulating one that I had already drawn as part of an earlier exercise. Below: Planes, trains and automobiles.
Another trend that seemed popular with the older children on Wednesday was drawing on your body. These pen tatoos were getting a bit out of hand (no pun intended) and I finally brought the principal in to admonish the children.
Left: Here’s a picture of one of the most elaborate designs, on the back of the left hand of one of the smaller boys.
Also popular was “L-O-V-E” written on the knuckles of one hand. Strangely absent was the corresponding “H-A-T-E” that is usually on the opposite hand. Drawings were on hands, arms, and legs. And one neck. What strange things children do.
That was two Wednesdays. Next week there will be a celebration for the new year including having the monks come over and instruct the children. Should be interesting. One of these days we’re going to have to get focused on our studies again but why do that when we could be having fun?