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.

 

Fun Way to Learn Science in Singapore

SFAIS_Cover_Front Many of us will agree that maths and sciences are not given proper attention in school.  They are seen as something only for the geeky students.  Certainly, girls do not receive enough encouragement to learn about, and pursue careers in, those fields.

Otto Fong, former science teacher at the Raffles Institute in Singapore, finally left his teaching post last year to follow his dream to be a full time cartoonist. 

His cartooning is firmly rooted in his teaching, though: his first two books, Sir Fong and Sir Fong 2: Fur-O-Cious, are both about his experiences as a teacher and science figures prominently in the humor.

Otto’s latest release is Sir Fong’s Adventures in Science, Book 1.  It marks the first in a series of 100% Singaporean science comic books.  Using humor and an engaging story line to talk about science topics – particularly those covered in the local school curriculum – he encourages students to find the fun side of science.

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“Children love the cute bunny students and parents love the lively science coverage.” Otto explains.

Meet Sir Fong Sir Fong Adventures in Science Book 1 was launched at the Toy & Book Convention in Singapore this June, receiving rave reviews from parents and children alike. 

Currently, the book is just for sale in Singapore although I personally hope that it will find wider distribution.  Anything that will help children enjoy and engage in science is a good thing.

If you have friends or family in Singapore who want a fun way to learn science or are interesting in a great science coming book for their primary or secondary school children, please let them know that there is an event this Saturday, August 30th at the Kinokuniya Main Store at the Crossroads.

From 4:30 to 5:30 pm, Sir Fong’s creator, Otto Fong, will be there signing books, answering questions, and helping people gain a life-long passion for science and learning.

Please pass along the news and, if you are in Singapore this weekend, consider stopping by.