Sunday, September 28, 2008

261206 English class #1

The cat didn't have much of a plan for exploring Luang Prabang town, except to adopt the same 'strategy' as it used for exploring Kyoto - to visit a few of the guidebook-listed places at odd hours (e.g. at dawn or during meal times), when most tourists have yet to drag themselves out of bed or are ensconced in restaurants & cafes enjoying lunch or dinner, in order to avoid crowds. Stray cats that dig dustbins for food have highly flexible meal times anyway.

The rest of the time would be spent wandering around 'black holes' - those tempting empty blank spaces in guidebook maps, or areas totally left out of the maps - & just allowing the town to show itself to the cat...things will always happen if you just allow yourself to notice them, & one thing will always lead to another...& the cat ended up having too much to do & forgetting at least one meal per day!

After attending the evening chanting session, the cat was asked to join new friends at the nearby Pasarinda College for evening classes:

(Photo taken the next morning)

The cat isn't even sure if the class it ended up teaching that night was part of Pasarinda College, or merely using the premises - classroom space seems to be in tight supply, with Souphanouvong University being housed in an old rundown secondary school, & even Luang Prabang Primary School morphing into Manivanh College on weekends.

Outside the building, there was a guy sitting at a desk in the dark collecting money & issuing what seemed like receipts (or even tickets) to students - seemed like a pay-per-lesson operation, & a lot like the 'box office' of some outdoor movie screening event (think 'Starlight Cinema'). With the only lighting coming from within the classrooms, the backlit figures of students streaming in, parking their bicycles, crowding around to make payment & milling about in the darkness seemed rather surreal. The cat was asked for its receipt/ticket as it followed one of the friends past the desk, but got past after the friend had a quick word with Mr. Box Office.

A young girl made space for the cat to sit beside her, introduced herself thinking that she was welcoming a new classmate, & seeing that the cat had no textbook, offered to share hers :) This was the cat's first encounter with the New Interchange series of English textbooks. The cat had gone through a secondary school & junior college that didn't use any textbooks for English lessons. This was also the cat's first encounter with what seems like the Lao student's penchant for posing with dictionaries & textbooks:


Whenever students see the camera, they'll ask the cat to wait while they grab hold of the familiar green English-Lao dictionary (e.g. two guys in front plus guy in brown at back, above) or New Interchange textbook (girl in orange jacket, above) & pose with it, some even taking care to hold it open, as if asked to be a model for a photoshoot for some textbook advertisement. Perhaps not so surprising given that textbooks are still a luxury for many in this country.

Not all students appear in the above photos - there were others crowding around & leaning in through the windows & door to the left. To get your money's worth, you arrive early before your class for the chance to listen in on classes before yours, like what one of the friends had done.

The teacher was a rather interesting character, who absolutely loves preening & posing for the camera & teasing two of the prettiest girls in the class. Today's topic was 'Talk about the Lao National New Year':


The students were asked to speak about their plans for celebrating the public holiday on 1st January, termed the 'National New Year' to distinguish it from Pi Mai Lao (Lao New Year celebrated in mid-April). The typical answer from the guys - when they could actually be coaxed into speaking at all - was, 'I will stay home. & sleep. Because I don't have girlfriend.'

For one guy it was, 'because I don't have any friends'.

For Mr. Teacher, the students thought it was, 'because Teacher don't have boyfriend' (the class thinks he's gay because of his totally camp behaviour).

Mr. Teacher wrote all questions & answers on the whiteboard, & the students strained their eyes to make out his writing from the blue splotches on the whiteboard & religiously copied everything word for word into their notebooks, regardless of whether it was grammatically correct (Mr. Teacher was confused by things like the use of 'will' vs. 'would'), & even if 'I don't know what the teacher is talking'.

From time to time Mr. Teacher would ask the cat if what he wrote was correct, putting it in a spot - do you point out mistakes & risk making the teacher 'lose face' in front of all his students...or let the whole class parrot grammatically incorrect sentences (knowing how many of the students have scrimped & saved in order to attend English classes)? The cat ended up telling him, 'it's OK, but [corrected version] sounds better', & he would beam, make the necessary changes to his writing, & then stand back looking very pleased with himself - no one had said that he was wrong ;) Thirteen erasers & pens/pencils would then make similar changes to the writing in 13 notebooks. The friend who attended this class would later tell the cat that they knew that this teacher wasn't the best, but this was the most affordable class for them.

Out of the blue, Mr. Teacher then pounced on the cat & asked it to take over the class for conversation practice. This was when the girls finally started speaking up. By the end of the class, the students had offered the cat a whole list of suggestions for things to do & see in Luang Prabang, told the cat that climbing Phou Si hill was easy (one of them climbs it daily on his way to school as a form of exercise because he wants to 'look good', growing fat is 'not handsome'), & that the best way & place to buy Lao sinh (skirt) was to get them tailored at Talat Phousi.

Only after this class did the cat realise that it hadn't had lunch nor dinner yet. The friend who walked the cat (nope, not on a leash) back to the back entrance of Wat Mahathat was stunned that the cat had inadvertently 'observed the sixth precept' :P

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