The Classroom in Thailand


IMG_0415This morning I had a dream about being in the classroom again. I awoke to the grandfather clock that chimes every fifteen minutes throughout the house, feeling like I had seen them. In my dream, I’m standing at the head of a non-air-conditioned classroom. All ten ASEAN flags dangling from the walls. Five rows of five pairs of wooden desks are covered in whiteout and ink doodles. Each desk chair is filled with a light blue uniform top and navy skirt or shorts. Fifty pairs of shoeless white socks rest beneath them.

I can see their faces: Belle’s is round and whitened, framed by her dark bangs. Beam, with his thin-rimmed glasses smiles at me as if to challenge whether or not I remember his name, his face tilted like a question mark. I see Peam’s wide grin he’d photographed multiple times on my iPod on our last day of class together. In each photo, his smile grows wider and whiter, his eyes closing tighter as if in a flipbook. Their names and class assignments stitched in navy on their shirts scroll like film credits across my sleeping memory, the grandfather clock chiming its end-song.

I had fifty minutes every week with each class of 30 to 50 sixteen and seventeen-year-olds to practice their English-speaking skills, the end of each class marked with the school bell’s tune. We were assigned the top floor of the blue Foreign Language building with open-air hallways overlooking fields of short and tall crepe myrtles and muddy puddles. Green hills spread out in the distance like supermarket broccoli heads. It was a view that made us feel like we were in the depths of rural Thailand instead of the capital city of our metro-Bangkok district.

Our first weeks together, we practiced Show and Tell. Each student was to bring in one special object and tell the class why it is special. One minute, one person, one object. With just fifty minutes to use before the bell, we moved through each minute as if we were an orchestra. As I weaved through the desk rows, humidity clung to my skin as their eagerness to share their stories clung to my spirit.

The boys talked about the special things their girlfriends once gave them: crusted roses kept secret in shoeboxes, bracelets tied by hand, love notes with more cluttered doodles and neatly penned Thai script. In the special science-and-math-track class of 30, May, with frizzy, long black hair tied in a puffy ponytail and too-small glasses, got up in front of the class with a pair of once-shiny, white satin ballet shoes.

“Teacher, today I speak about my ballet shoes. I have no more time because of special classes in biology. I can’t go to dance class anymore.”
May pulled her glasses on top of her head, dabbed her eyes with the tissue she had crumpled into a ball in her hand.
“I love to dance, Teacher. But I must choose.”

Five months into my return home to the Metro Detroit suburbs, snow blanketing our lawn and the outside air bitter and biting, I begin to dream about the sweat that dripped from my hairline when I would teach on that top floor. The grandfather clock ticks at every second, a reminder that time is passing. That time has passed. I stare out at our wood-lined backyard as I wash the dishes, at the tiny deer tracks left behind in the snow around the maples. The water warm on my knuckles, I daydream of the sweeping views of the green hilltops as I scrub tomato sauce from white plates, thinking about the classroom when thunderstorms were on their way. Above the hills, the clouds shaped themselves into cotton balls soaking up black dye. The breeze would flow through the windows and doors, teasing us in a temporary, humid but nourishing coolness. Once, the clouds had distracted Jet from my new lesson on how to mean what you say when answering university interview questions. Jet sat in the back with his chin resting in his palm, picking at his chin-pimples with his nails. Briefly, I imagined what it was that he could be imagining himself before I slapped my hand-fan firmly on his desktop.

He jumped, shifted to sit up straight, and smiled. His grin inched toward his earlobes, sweet, apologetic, with a wisp of innocent defiance as the rest of the class giggled behind me.

“Pay attention,” I’d said as sternly as I could, trying not to smile back.

“Yes, Teacher. Sorry, Teacher,” Jet smiled again.

It’s okay, I thought, I would be, too.

About the Author:  Teresa Mupas is an amateur daydreamer and English instructor who likes beer, punctuation, and compact items that fit neatly and quietly in carry-ons. She practices yoga in her bedroom, folds love notes into origami lotus flowers, and occasionally writes about that which she dreams.

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