Monday, June 30, 2008

The Outer and Inner walls of Wat Phra That Phanom Temple

The inside wall of the outer wall of the temple, is lined with large golden Buddha statues, all of which are facing toward the enormous sacred pagoda, housing the collar bone of the Buddha.... which makes this temple the spiritual center of NE Thailand.

The third, or inner wall of the temple complex, opens directly to the gigantic five story high stone pagoda. The inner courtyard that surrounds the pagoda is relatively narrow and simple. A metal gold colored stairway leads directly to the single wood doors, located some ten feet or more up from the base of the pagoda, that when opened would give access into the actual pagoda.

Beyond the very outer wall of the temple, are located many colorful shrines, many of which have statues of the Buddha located within them. Directly behind this large golden Buddha, is a large Boddhi tree... which was planted near the temple in the 1950s. A branch of the Boddhi tree in India, was taken from there and planted here in That Phanom. Now some 50 plus years later, the Boddhi tree is huge!

Students of the famous meditation master...Ajaan Mun

While I was in Nongkhai, the Director of a primary school gave me this very old photograph of ten Thai monks.... There is no date anywhere on the photo, but a good guess would have it to be at least 50 to 60 years old.

The photo is of ten young Thai monks, who studied under the famous meditation master, Ajahn Mun. Ajahn Mun became a monk in the late 1800 and was known for his strict and solitary meditation practice. He died in the 1949.

Luang Ta Maha Boowa, the monk in the far right of this close up section of the larger photo, was a student of Ajahn Mun. Luang Ta Maha Boowa is still alive and has a large temple called Wat Pa Bahm Tahd in Udon Thani Province in NE Thailand. Two years ago, I was able to visit Luang Ta Maha Boowa's temple, where on the day of my visit, he spoke to a crowd of several thousand people.

Ajahn Tate, seated on the far left side of this photo, was also a student of Ajahn Mun. Wat Hin Maak Peng, on the banks of the Mekong River in Nongkhai Province is perhaps the most famous temple established by the late, Ajahan Tate. I was fortunate to be able to stay and meditate at Wat Hin Maak Peng for a week, two years ago when I visited Thailand. Following in the Forest Monk tradition, these monks eat only one meal a day, spending the remainder of their time in solitude and meditation.

Ajahn Mun became famous throughout Thailand, Lao and the then Burma for his meditation practice. Many students came to study under Ajahn Mun and learn from him. Other than Luang Ta Maha Boowa and Ajahn Tate, I have not been able to find someone here in Thailand who can identify the remaining eight students in this photo. However, I will continue my research.....

One-on-one English tutoring

One of the assignments given to the 4th year English major students at the University here in That Phanom, was to read and understand what makes a good public relations plan, based on an internet report from a Midwest Dairy Counsel in the USA.

Today, Phra Samphone asked me to help him understand this document... both for vocabulary as well as concepts. So we had fun talking about "stakeholders" and "snowmobiling" and "dairy farms" and "waste disposal plans!" He caught onto these terms quickly, but let me tell you, explaining to someone from Lao, who has never seen snow, about "snowmobiling" was a real challenge!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sunset view of Wat Phra That Phanom Temple

Entering the Spiritual Center of NE Thailand and Lao at sunset is very special, since in addition to being in awe of the massive stupa that dominates the whole complex, the monks at Wat Phra That Temple are conducting their evening chanting.

Three walls surround the sacred pagoda at Wat Phra That Phanom. Upon entering the second wall, everyone takes off their shoes. People enter the second wall, bow down and show their respect to the Buddha. Frequently people will then do a walking meditation of circling the stupa three times.... first to show their respect to the Buddha, second to the Dhamma or the Buddha's teachings and third, to the sanga, or the community.

The third or last wall can not be entered. Walking up to the brightly painted red door in the third wall is as close as one can get to the actual pagoda.

Entering the spectacular Wat Phra That Phanom Temple at sunrise

The massive, elaborately painted five story tall stupa at Wat Phra That Phamom is an artistically and architecturally impressive structure that is not only beautiful to look at, fantastic to do walking meditation around..... but it also the the scacrid site in which the collar bone of the Buddha is enshrined.

Friday, June 27, 2008

My surprise "Lecture" at Sakonnakhon Rajabhat University!

What I thought would be my first day of teaching English to the monks at the University in That Phanom, turned into a trip to another University to discuss Special Education! Phramaha Wanachi, the Director of the Buddhist University in That Phanom, is a good friend with an Assistant Professor at a university in Sakonnakhom (about an hour's drive away from That Phanom) who has just begun a new program to train Thai teachers in Special Education. That afternoon, I met with five faculty members for over three hours discussing everything from IEPs, classroom management, assessment to mainstreaming special education students.

Following this Monday afternoon meeting with the University Special Education faculty, I was invited back the following Friday to meet with, what I thought would be, the 15 Thai teachers who are in their second year of a five year program to be trained in Special Education.

When Phramaha Wanachi and I arrived at the Sakonnakhon Rajabhat University for what I thought was going to be my little "chat" with a few students.... I found the University's 100 seat amphitheatre was set up for me to give a lecture!

Walking into the large lecture amphitheatre, I was overwhelmed as I looked out, not just at a few Special Education university students..... but also at sophomore students in the math and science teacher training program. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 pairs of eyes looking at me .... about five minutes before I was to begin... my lecture!

Most spoke little or no English so my whole talk needed to be translated. The just of my talk centered on helping the university students understand the need for for them as teachers, to assess their students' skill levels, and then using this information to construct "power lessons" with multiple activities each class period .... activities that actively engaged the students and where the teacher and students could interact and learn together. I shared with these young teachers in training, some possible student grouping strategies they could use in their classroom.

Thank you from New Sp.Ed. Teachers at Rajabhat SakonnakonUniversity following my presentation to them.

Following my "lecture" to the math and science students in the teacher training progrma, I then spent another hour or so talking with the university students in the Special Education teacher training program. At the end of our talk, one of the students gave me a "thank you" talk in English.

Can't waite until I can wear this yellow shirt back in California! The bright yellow is in honnor of Thailand's King's birthday. I was given this shirt as a gift from the faculty staff at the Sakonnakon University.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

English 5 paragraph essay writing lesson

The senior class of English majors is relatively small at the University. I teach this class twice a week. Earlier in the week, I began showing them how to use a Graphic Organizer, using the Four Square Writing Technique, to organize their thoughts around three major religions in the world... Buddhism, Christianity and Island.

Today, I showed the students how to use the Graphic Organizer they'd used to brainstorm their thoughts and ideas on about each religion and how to take these ideas and draft a five paragraph essay. First I modeled for them how to begin.

After modeling for the students how to write the Introduction and first paragraph (I gave them the basic structure to follow), students worked together in a guided practice activity to draft the third and fourth paragraphs.

Each student then copied from the white board the five paragraph essay we developed together to use as their own model for future essay writings.

Here's my room at the Buddhist University

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What to do... what to do!

Decision time! I really like teaching the monks here at the University. My tentative plans are to teach this week and all of next..... and then I'm scheduled to attend the 19 day silent "Mental Development" retreat on the island of Koh Phangan. Decisions, decisions, decisions.... should I keep teaching at the University until I return to California...? Or..... should I attend the retreat?

I'm still searching......

Teaching to the Orange Robes

This week, June 23rd, I started teaching the monks and novices at the Nakornphanom Branch of Machachulalongkornrajaviddhalaya Buddhist University. I'm teaching about four hours each day, from freshmen to seniors.

This freshmen class has 58 students, all with very different levels of English. I feel as though I'm looking out at an ocean of orange robes as I try to differentiate the instruction as much as I can. With a two hour block to teach basic English... even my bag of instructional strategies is often not deep enough to get me through the whole period! Using the computer, which then projects onto a screen, I type a conversation between a foreigner and a monk.

All the monks want to learn conversational English, so this lesson responds specifically to their need. I tailor the lesson to a foreigner asking about a monk's daily life, so that even those with limited English soon understand the basic lesson. With the sentences projected on the screen, the monks write the conversational script in their notebook. With so many students, I teach the whole class how to pronounce the words in each sentence and help them understand the meaning as well.

Once the whole class has learned the basic sentences, I then move around the classroom, checking for understand and pronunciation, by calling on individual monks to respond to one of the questions they've just learned when the foreigner, in the script, asks them a question.

After checking for understand and reteaching, I pair up the monks to practice the conversation. One monk plays the part of the foreigner and the other, the monk. After they've practiced the conversation this way for 5 to 10 minutes, I have them reverse their positions and practice the conversation again.

House hunting in Nongkhai

I am not sure what I said to Mr. Elvis one day that made him think I was ready to buy either land in Thailand to build a house, or to buy an already constructed house. But either way.... house hunting we went!

This house in Mr. Elvis' neighborhood (a small sub-division of about 25 houses in Nongkhai) might sell for about $40,000. House and land!

This house in the same sub-division could go for about $25,000 to $30,000. A steal by California standards!

Just as in the USA, bank repos in Thailand have become common place. Mr. Elvis' wife, Lad, showed me the bank repo listing book and together, based on the description, thought this house close to the Mekong River could be ideal for me. A three bedroom, two bath home for under $20,000. Mr. Elvis and I went off one afternoon to find the house. In the process, we got lost... had to ask for directions. When he asked about the house, the people commented... "That house has ghosts!" The whole house was lost in the jungle of over grown trees! After looking around the sub-division and seeing all the empty houses, I told Mr. Elvis that I thought the whole area was haunted!

Right next to Mr. Elvis' house was a plot of land which both he and his wife thought would be ideal on which I could build a house. The land was only about $8,000 and would have provided enough space for a very large house as well as a huge lawn, or garden or orchard. Only draw back for me.... a foreigner can not own land in Thailand. The title deed must be held by a Thai. Bottom line to this house hunting story..... I did not buy.... yet anyway!

Teacher Training in Nongkhai

One day while visiting the Education Office (equivalent of our District Office in California) in Nongkhai with Mr. Elvis, I met Mr. Ampone, the Director of the English Language Teacher Training Program. His department is responsible for training and providing follow-up to Thai English teachers in some 180 schools. And I thought working with 30 teachers at ten schools last year was a lot!

A couple days later, I met with Mr. Ampone and his Project Coordinator to discuss potential student grouping instructional strategies they could incorporate into their training activities.

Just prior to my meeting with Mr. Ampone, I had an opportunity to hold a "mini" training activity with the Thai English teachers at the large Pathumthep High School in Nongkhai. This high school has close to 4000 students and includes a special English Program where student take all of their classes in English (the parents pay extra for this program) as well as English within the normal Thai curriculum. During this training, we discussed classroom management techniques as well as instructional strategies. Part of my training included the "Pair-Share" concept where the teacher does a short visual and auditory lesson, followed by the two students in turn teaching each other the same lesson. This is a powerful technique which has the teacher teaching (talking) one third of the time and the students teaching (talking to) each other two thirds of the time.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mr. Elvis School hosts English Camp!

Following the "Wai Kroo" ceremony where Thai students showed their appreciation to their teachers, Mr. Elvis' primary school held English camp. This is a time for the Thai students to sing songs in English, to play games and to learn new English words.

As I gave the directions in English and modeled each step for the students, each one drew their own picture which included two houses, a palm tree, a river with five fish and three ducks, an elephant, etc., etc., etc. This also turned into a Thai lesson for me, since as I drew an animal on the white board, the students would guess the animal and give me the Thai name. English camp at Mr. Elvis' school was very multi-cultural, or at least bi-lingual.

Students proudly showed off the picture they had drawn, all the while learning new English words and demonstrating their artistic abilities.

No English activity is complete for me, unless we sing a few rounds of "Head and shoulders, knees and toes!"

Wai Kroo Day at Mr. Elvis' School

At the beginning of the school year, students throughout Thailand show respect to their teachers on "Wai Kroo Day."

Each student brings to their teacher either an elaborately hand crafted bouquet of flowers.....

Or a few flowers, picked from their family garden wrapped in leaves...

Walking on their knees, the students present the flowers to their teachers.

While the students lay down on the flower in front of their teachers, the teacher touches the student's head and passes on a blessing to them.

"Beautiful" temple in Loei Provence

One can travel most anywhere in Thailand and find beautiful temples.... in fact, in some cities it would seem one can find a temple located on every block! Most are in the traditional Thai style with the steep pitched roofs and highly colorful exterior walls .... multi-colored small pieces of glass .... red, green, yellow, blue... which sparkle when the sun hits it...

Then there are other temples which simply are outstanding, as this one in Loei... Wat Phra That Si Song Rak .

The inside of the temple, with its massive brightly colored columns leading to the huge golden Buddha statue at one end, reminded me of one of the hieroglyphs painted massive stone temples of ancient Egypt.

The grounds, spectacular! Rather than a looking like a Buddhist temple in Thailand, these cement block building with there neatly manicured green grounds,some with bonsai type trees, could have been an Anglican Church nestled in the hills of the United Kingdom.

A visit to this temple could not be complete without visiting the tomb of the Abbott, whose dream it was to build this temple.

Like an Egyptian mummy of old.... the Abbott's body was enshrined in a gold covered casket made out of the trunk of a large tree.... the wax figure of the late Abbott sits in front of his mortal remains and stares out at the temple grounds...

A little bit English teacher and a little bit ham!

Just give me a stage, lots of eager students and I automatically turn into a ham! Whenever I teach English in Thailand, I like to do whatever it takes to get the students speaking English.

Here I "volunteered" a group of students at YangKlon Wittaya School in Phitsanuloke Provence, to stand in front of the whole student body and tell them.... "My favorite food is....." And of course each student had to repeat what the previous students had said was their favorite food before adding one of their own....... making for great fun!

My signature song.... "Head and shoulders, knees and toes." If the students don't already know this song.... they soon learn it .....

The students love this song and watching this white bearded foreign teacher "ham" it up with the movements sure helps too!

Me? ...... a Thai rice farmer?

The rainy season in Thailand can bring monsoon weather that lasts for several days. Lots and lots of rain is just what the rice farmers need to plant their crop.

My good friend, Phra Sanya took me to his mother's rice paddy to see how the crop is coming along. Little did I know that we'd be walking a half a mile or more, sometimes along the small raised paths separating the rice paddies and sometimes just walking knee deep in water or ankle deep in mud!

Since the water that irrigates the rice paddies come from a near by river, all sorts of little critters were swimming around in the muddy waters..... snails, fish, crabs, frogs .... all of which, if caught, were game for that night's dinner! In addition to these... who knows what else was in the water as well!

Farming in tough work.... just picking up this heavy hoe made me realize how back breaking the growing of rice can be. These farmers grow two crops per year. Given the world rice shortage, Thailand, as I understand, has decided to stop exporting rice in an effort to keep its own population fed.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Eating Extreme Thai Food!

Sunday morning.... my intense Thai language immersion as Mr. Elvis and his wife began trying to teach me the five tones of Thai as well as a whole bunch of new vocabulary! By lunch time I was hungry... really starved since I'd eaten almost nothing for breakfast

The appetizer,consisting of two plates of food were brought out and placed on the table. Thankfully... Mr. Elvis told me what was in each container.

The plate.... boiled cow kidney, cow stomach and cow small intestines, all nicely sliced into small bite sized pieces...

In the bowl...? This blew me out of the water and took me so far out of my comfort zone ..... freshly cooked green cow excrement! Yes... you read that correctly .... cow excrement, also known as...... cow poop! It was green, it was runny, it had chucks of stuff in it, it had long pieces of grass in it....

It was... cow poop. Cooked cow poop extracted from the colon of a newly slaughtered cow.

Could you .......

Would you........ eat it?

Have to tell you..... I indeed did try it and would you believe..... it tasted just like chicken!

Magical Mystical Mountain Temple

Situated high on a secluded forested mountain top sits a fascinating Buddhist complex of beautifully and ornately carved wooden temples and rustic monk huts ... all built on huge rock out cropping and connected by over 300 bridges made of bamboo, concrete and metal.

Throughout the mountain complex are various small temples, each with elaborately and beautifully carved statues.

The 30 year old Abbott of this temple is the artist who pains takingly uses his creative skills to carve some of the most exquisite and beautiful images of the Buddha I've ever seen.

The monk huts, with few if any amenities, are built on the lava like rock out cropping that provide the truly mystical setting for this temple. Individual bridges connect a hut to another rock out cropping which then in turn connects up with a whole series of other rocks and more bridges. When walking through this vast complex, one almost gets the feeling of walking through a labyrinth or maybe the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California!

The whole mountain appeared to have immense boulders shooting up from its base.... some with under ground springs providing fresh, clean water.

An ancient, massive tree with roots growing out of the boulders is home to a spirit that lives within it.