soon passaa ankit yuu Wat Taohai – teaching English at Wat Taohai

“Do you know a word with “I”?”, I asked my class a few months ago as we were going through the alphabet letter by letter. “i-phone”, mini-Mee, my cheeky naughty little novice yells out as the first.

At that moment I buried my head in my hands and only said out loud “thanks a lot, Mr. Jobs”. I was amused and startled at the same time that NO MATTER where you go, those damn “i-things” are known to everyone. Even to 12 year old novices in Laos. (They actually asked me right way if my phone as an iPhone when they saw it and I had to disappoint them that it wasn’t).

Teaching English at my temple is a challenge and a blessing every single day. A blessing as I love each one of the students and coming to class and being welcomed with a big warm smile and hearing them yell “good night teeeeeacher, see you tomoooooooroooow” when I leave the temple on my bicycle is a wonderful thing that doesn’t compare to anything and gives me more satisfaction than a million pair of shoes or a “Manager” printed on my business card.

A challenge as most of them are very lazy and don’t practice apart from class-so most of the things we do goes in in one ear and out the other, leading to endless repetitions of the same thing. And if I say endless I mean endless. After teaching 4 months at the temple now I am back to present tense and subject-verb-object. The difficulty is that the level of my students ranges from some of them not being able to read and write and some of them being able to have mini-conversations.

What still makes me laugh every single time is their perfection (or should I rather call it UNVERFROHRENHEiT?) in cheating. I remember when I was in school we used to write things on the inside of our hands or slide books under our table to have a peek into them every now and then. Here cheating goes differently: they keep their books open right in front of them and read out of them, the other students tell the right answer in Lao to the asked student (Hello, do you think I can’t hear and see you?) and we play games where one person has to make up or write a particular work the others “whisper” it out in a volume that you could hear the words even on other end of town.

The thing is, I can (hardly ever) be mad at them.

“How do you pronounce this word?”.

“Pisa”.

“No. Pisa is a town in Italy, Europe. You say Pizza.”

“Pisa”.

“no. PiZZa”. Say z.z.zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”.

“Pissa”.

“nooooooooooooooooooo. Piz-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-a”.

Another day I read a story and the words cheese and cherry appeared. After realizing that they didn’t know the words I had to come the realization that it was quite difficult to explain those 2 words if you have to stay within the most basic English. Making cow-sounds, trying to explain that those mooooh’s milk is used for making cheese was a bit tricky. But after asking them if they know what Pizza is and that this white colored stuff on top of a pizza is cheese made things easier. Showing them photos of whole cheese loafs didn’t get me very far as they basically don’t look much like food.

While I was back in Austria in Autumn Monk Phan mentioned several times in his emails that mini-Mee asked if I could bring snow with me from Austria. So I brought with me what came closest to snow: magic snow. That’s that powder in a can that you mix with water and through a chemical reaction something similar to snow forms. Unfortunately it isn’t cold and you also can’t really form snowballs but that didn’t keep the 15 novices to start the first and biggest Lao “snowball fight” ever after class when we did the experiment together in November. It was so much fun to see them throwing the white powder at each other like kids at home who go crazy on the first day of snow in winter.

Another nice thing is also the unexpected and very sweet charm of some of the novices. “Oh you look very beautiful today”, little novice Bee says with a big smile on his face as I ride my bike into the temple compounds. “I am very happy today”, novice Phet says with a bright face. “Why is that?”, I ask him. “Because I see you today”.

“Form the comparative and superlative for pretty.”

“Pretty, prettier, prettiest”.

“Good, and now make a sentence with those words”.

“The girl is pretty. My sister is prettier. The teacher is the prettiest”.

Well, I have to admit that some Western men could learn from those young boys here!:)

Last week I made them form a question and the novice sitting next to the one asking the question had to answer. One of the questions was “do you have a banana”, which mini-Mee answered with “ yesssss, I do”. “So where do you have the banana”, I asked Mee. After only a short while of reflexting he said “in the juuuuungle”. Everybody laughed so hard as this little guy has such a great sense of humor, paired with the most naughty smile and very distinct voice he cracks me up all the time. (His question to the next novicw was “do you love me?” which made all of us laugh even harder, with tears in my eyes I thought this is one of those undescribably happy moments in my life). I constantly want to cuddle him and many others to death-too bad that this is not allowed (not the to-death cuddling, but the cuddling in general). It is actually really very hard teaching in a temple where you often have the urge to give the students a rewarding tap on the back or squeeze the cheeks of the little ones or just hug them because they are so lovely but as a woman you can’t ever touch them.

I often wonder how (hard) it must be particularly for the young novices to grow up in a temple and never get the physical warmth that we all got as children. Never get hugged by your mother, your sister or a friend. Even their own mothers are not allowed to touch them once the boys enter the temple and become a novice. (to all the mothers of you-try to imagine THAT!).

I have had probably dozens of those moments over the past 4 months and I will try to find more time for teaching again as I simply don’t have enough time at the moment to appreciate this wonderful time I have with my wonderful boys.

2 responses »

  1. Kurt Stadler says:

    Brita, you should earn the Pullitzer prize for this blog post – moving, funny, impressive – I mean it …

  2. Brita Graser says:

    that is so sweet of you, Kurt, thank you, Kop jai lai lai!

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