Teaching Monks to “Cook Sandwiches”

In the third floor classroom of Chiang Mai’s Mahachulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya University, the eyes of thirteen students registered varying degrees of confusion as I taught the first part of the English lesson: we do not “cook” sandwiches in English, we “make” them.  Clad in the saffron robes of Theravada Buddhist monks, the students wrestled with this anomaly of English.  “Will we make sandwiches today?” asked one of them, trying the new verb on for size.

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One of the highlights of my recent trip to Chiang Mai was a morning spent helping my friends Ron and Kari teach English classes at the Chiang Mai campus of one of Thailand’s two monastic universities.  Ron and Kari are a Texan couple about my age, whom I first met nearly six years ago at Union Language School in Bangkok.  Most of the students at ULS are missionaries although other students are welcome.  My answer to the common question I received from fellow students – “What brought you to Thailand?” – was usually met by bewildered silence.

Ron and Kari were the exception.  They asked questions and were interested in meeting Tawn and over the years we have stayed in touch as their missionary work has taken them from Thailand to Kenya and back again.  Now they are in Chiang Mai and one of their duties is to teach English classes to monks and novices attending Buddhist university.  When they heard I was coming up, they invited me to be a guest teacher.

“The monks asked if we could cook sandwiches,” Kari explained.  “You would be good at teaching them that.”

On Thursday morning, after spending an hour practicing the intricacies of telling time, Kari pulled out two loaves of bread, a half-dozen tomatoes, a jar of mayonnaise, a container of lettuce, and a container of bologna.  First, we cleared up the confusion over which verb was appropriate.  Since we don’t use any heat, we “make” sandwiches, not “cook” them.  Next, we practiced the names of the ingredients.  “Bologna” seemed too difficult, so I called it “ham.” 

Finally, the fun began.  Working in groups of three, the monks, who range in age from 18-44, came to the front of the room, sliced tomatoes, and assembled sandwiches.  There were a few mishaps, such as the sandwiches which ended up with mayonnaise on the outside of the bread.  But all in all, everyone seemed to have a good time.

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An advantage of having me teach this segment was that I could work more closely with the monks than Kari can.  One of the restrictions for Buddhist monks is that they may not touch, or even accept things handed directly to them from, a woman.  Sometimes, like when a monk who has perhaps never sliced a tomato in his life is having problems, it is easier to get in there, grab the knife, and demonstrate.  This would be complicated if a certain physical distance had to be maintained.

At the end of the class, everyone ate their sandwiches along with a banana for dessert.  Who knows if they liked their food; monks are required to eat the food they are given without complaining or expressing like or dislike.  But several students asked when I would come back and teach again, so maybe they enjoyed the sandwiches well enough.  There were requests that we cook massaman curry next time, though. 

While the class lasted only two hours, and I didn’t have much time to talk individually with the students and learn more about them, it was a fun experience.  Several years ago, I volunteered as an English teacher in a small provincial primary school and teaching is something I enjoy.  Maybe I need to make another trip up to Chiang Mai as a guest lecturer.  At least I have the right hair style to relate to the students.

 

Got DSL?

 

The quest for a DSL line in our apartment nears its end, but is not over yet.  Monday morning a technician from TOT (Telephone of Thailand) came to the apartment complex and switched on our home phone line.  Then on Tuesday afternoon a maintenance man from the complex came to our unit and actually activated the telephone jack itself.  Then this afternoon I attached the DSL modem/router, used the enclosed CD-ROM to format the modem and get ready to actually use the DSL line.

Everything appears to be properly installed and ready to go.  The DSL and LAN lights are on full-strength.  The connection appears live.  And yet, when I open Internet Explorer, the request to go to a particular address times out.  I think the settings (“Obtain IP Address Automatically”) are not correct.  So I’ll ask Tawn to help me sort this out, which may involve a phone call to TOT – a daunting task in and of itself.

Halfway Quiz at ULS

Today was my tenth day of Thai language instruction at Union Language School, the halfway point in Module 1.  So today each of the thirteen students had an oral examination with the khruu, or teacher. 

I selected number ten in a random draw, which may have been somewhat beneficial as khruu Lakkanah realized that she was taking too long for each student and the exams became increasingly brief.  I was in the exam for about five minutes, maybe less.  As each question was asked, if I didn’t have the answer right now then she moved on to the next question.  Kind of like being on the speed round of the $64,000 Pyramid game show.

The general areas of knowledge that we were quizzed on:

  • Being able to name yourself, ask names, and ask for clarification about names
  • Being able to describe how you are doing and ask others the same
  • Being able to ask what things are called, and to respond to the same questions
  • Being able to identify common colors, classroom objects, eating objects (bowls, plates, utensils), fruits, vegetables, and meat products.
  • Being able to request basic food and beverage items, and to say how many of something you want, using the right classifiers (“glass of water”, “cup of coffee”, “bottle of orange juice”.)

The biggest challenge for me was to remember the fruits and vegetables.  The first challenge is that the fruits and vegetables common here in Thailand are not regularly available in the United States.  Mangosteen, rambutan, and wax apples (those are just the English names – I have to remember “mangkut”, “nhoc”, and “chompuu”) are all terribly commonplace here but I rarely see them at the local Safeway in the US!

Tawn spent quite a bit of time reviewing the foods with me last night.  I drew pictures in a notebook and he quizzed me on them until I had most of them down.  Tomato (“makhuatheet”), papaya (“malahkha”) and fruits in general (“pohlaymaay”) were three of the stumbling blocks.

All in all, I think I did fine with the quiz.  The purpose of the quiz was really to make sure that students are getting the basic concepts, constructions, and pronunciations before we get too far through the class.  The last day we do have a final – oral and written – and passing is mandatory to proceed to the next module.