Saturday was Children’s Day here in Thailand, a holiday that we don’t particularly celebrate in the United States. My theory for this lack of celebrating is that we have Christmas, so children get plenty of spoiling at that holiday. No need for another one.
Unlike the schools in Khrungthep, the school in Bangkhonthiinai was celebrating the holiday, although a day early on Friday. Ajarn Yai had invited Tod and I to drive down and participate in the events and so we switched our normal teaching day from Wednesday to Friday so that we could see how the day is celebrated.
In preparation, Tod and I decided to buy presents for the children. Taking a taking to the most crowded shopping district in Bangkok, Sampheng Lane. This narrow soi stretches for about six blocks from Chinatown to Rattanokosin Island. Barely wide enough for two people to pass each other, Sampheng is the center of wholesale fabric trade along with the buying and selling of household goods and toys. In the midst of all of the packed confusion, motorbikes slowly weave through the crowd, large bolts of fabric strapped precariously behind the driver.
Along the way we purchased a few dozen stuffed animals along with four dozen additional, smaller toys. We thought we were going to “wow” the kids, and I had visions of being an ersatz Santa Claus. Of course we managed to start at the more expensive / less selection end of the market and after we had made most of our purchases we moved into the less expensive / wider selection end! Note to self: move from east to west when shopping in Sampheng.
Friday morning the car was loaded up with goodies and Tod and I made the ninety minute drive southwest of Khrungthep, crossing the Rama IX bridge under a gloriously hazy pink sunrise.
We arrived to find a flatbed truck parked in the school yard with a large stack of speakers already playing everybody’s favorite Thai country songs. A large tent was erected in front of the main classroom building with chairs set up underneath it. In the shade of a large tree, food tables had been set up with beverage and ice cream stations.
Along the main classroom were a half-dozen tables overflowing with gifts for the students, donated by the local community, parents, and the teachers. While I had had visions of our gifts being particularly overwhelming, I was outdone by the younger sister of one of the school board members, who donated a few dozen heart-shaped metal calculators as well as some laptop cases and very large stuffed animals. Competition getting the best of me, I made a mental note for what to buy next year: canvas tote bags from Lands End with each child’s name embroidered on it!
Left: Our sound system
One of the classrooms had been transformed into a dressing room and the children had changed into costumes for their grade level performances and were undergoing makeup application, courtesy of a small army of mothers, older sisters, and aunties.
Everyone got makeup, girls and boys alike. As there was no stage lighting I’m not sure why it was really needed, but Thais like their beauty pageants so maybe this is related to that phenomenon. Some of the girls looked a little to similar to Jon Bennet Ramsey in a cupie-doll sort of way. All in all, though, adorable children look even cuter with a little blush and eye shadow!
Some of the older boys didn’t seem too happy about the makeup (above), others didn’t seem too concerned and didn’t rush to wash it off after the performances, while at least one or two seemed pretty happy with it.
Costumes ranged from some Swiss Miss outfits with make blond hair pieces to just jeans and super hero t-shirts. Tod and I couldn’t figure out exactly why some of the girls had these particular outfits on as they didn’t really match the music they were performing to. But then sometimes in life you just have to stop looking for reasons and accept things as they are, right? Especially on Children’s Day.
While the making up happened, other children were entertained by games of musical chairs, first the older children then the younger ones.
The game was pretty competitive by the older students but the younger children didn’t pick up the concept as quickly.
In fact, the first few times they left extra chairs out to give them a chance to practice just running to a chair. Of course there were consolation prizes for those who were eliminated along the way.
The morning started with performances by each grade level, beginning with the pre-school/kindergarten group. Each class had selected a song and the students had learned a dance routine to go with it.
The pre-schoolers did something akin to the Bunny Hop song, wearing little rabbit years and hopping around and wiggling their “tail.” (right)
Audience members purchased chains of ribbons to use as garlands to put around the shoulders of their favorite performers.
The ribbons were very inexpensive, just enough to cover the cost of supplies, and were collected after each performance and used again for the next one. Especially for the younger children, the audience went out of their way to grace everyone with an overwhelming number of garlands, resulting in some little children who could barely see over the top of their accolades!
The combined first and second graders sang a fun children’s song. The third graders sang something in Thai reminiscent of a 1960’s girls group song. For a moment, I thought they were going to sing Summer Lovin’ from Grease but that didn’t turn out to be the case. The fourth graders, who are all girls with the exception of one boy, performed to a popular Thai pop love song, while the all-boy fifth graders did something a little more hip-hop in nature.
Above: First and second grades. Below: Third grade, a very large class.
Above: Fourth graders. Below: Fifth graders.
One really fun part of the events was the opportunity to see some of the parents and start figuring out who belonged to which students. Sometimes the relation was very easy to see, other times not so easy. Mostly there were mothers but a good number of fathers made an appearance. I would have really liked to take family portraits, but that will have to wait until another time.
Mid-morning the monks from the adjacent temple came over and chanted, offering blessings for the students and their parents. Ajarn Yai, a school board member, Tod and I sat in during the chanting. The ceremony was taking place in one of the small classrooms with very pink walls and a very green floors. Between that and the saffron robes, the room was quite Technicolor. And I didn’t even have my camera on the “chroma” setting!
After the service was over lunch was served to the monks, who must partake of their last meal of the day before 11:00.
After lunch, the children each received a scholarship from the monks, paid for out of the community fund.
Above: One of the student’s younger sisters enjoys her chocolate ice cream cone
The children continued their performances including a musical performance on angaloon – a bamboo instrument that sounds like a xylophone but is played differently, as well as a classical Issan (northeastern Thai) dance.
After these performances, while the give away of gifts was being organized, the children ran around and played. When I took out the camera, everyone wanted to be in the pictures. Then everyone wanted to take a picture. Then everyone wanted to have a picture just with their brother or sister or best friends.
Finally, it was time for the giveaway of gifts. Each child receives a large plastic bag in which to take their haul home. Through a combination of lucky draw and “here, you get this and you get that” we managed to get all of the gifts distributed in about twenty minutes.
Afterwards it felt just like Christmas morning after all the gifts have been opened and there are a few minutes when the moment is particularly anticlimactic. All in all, though, it was clear that despite the high level of poverty among the students in that district, there was a great deal of happiness that day.
Tawn playing a Taiko drum video game at Big C
Lego model of Suvarnabhumi International Airport, on display at the Emporium shopping center
Pim’s daughter Tara, 18 months, plays with Uncle Tawn and Legos.