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.
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.
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.