For my last evening in Kyuak Phyu we had something of a feast with the business man and his family at the hotel in which we stayed.
We had enjoyed a final walk along the beach earlier in the day as the business man explained his electric company and jokingly offered to sell me shares as an investment. Judging by the cash that this man carries, it would certainly be worth thinking about if I possessed any real capital to invest.
My translator and I showered and packed in anticipation of the arrival of our monk. The banquet was laid on as a show of gracious hospitality from the hotel owner. The food was a lot of beautiful seafood; crab, muscles, fish and seaweed littered the table with more of each dish being brought out on request. I was seated very close to the head of the table with the business man in prime position. I was next to his wife with my translator to the left of me. Opposite were family members of the hotel owner I believe, although my translator neglected to formally introduce me. The two men sitting opposite me soon would have been quite incapable of formal introductions anyway, given that they had a 1.5 litre bottle of scotch that they were making light work of. After everyone had stuffed themselves to capacity, the monk arrived and it was time for our farewell to the table of 20. Our driver and a few other family members came out to greet the monk and wave us off, promising a reunion in Yangon later on.
The journey to Thandwe was made under the cover of darkness. I suppose there is precious little else to do in the night time which is around 13 hours at this time of year in Myanmar. The car took 8 hours to reach the Monastery in Thandwe, including a brief period where we got a little lost at the end. We arrived at 6 am and were shown to a long thin room where a pillow and a blanket were prepared for us to sleep. At a little after 1 pm, I got to meet three of the teachers. They all live at the monastery as they are from different cities and cannot commute. They discussed my teaching with my translator and promised to bring some of the other teaching staff for me to meet later in the day. As arranged, I later met 11 of the monastery’s 18 staff members; I met 3 male teachers and the rest were females ranging from around 20 up to 50.
It was at this point that we started to run into some real barriers to my proposed teaching arrangements. At lunch, I had been advised that Tuesday and Wednesday were days off of teaching for full moon. And that naturally I couldn’t teach on the weekend, because those are for rest. That only left me with a maximum of 4 teaching days which was not great in my book. Later, when I had all 11 with me I learned that it was only Thursday that was a day off, giving me 5 precious teaching days. However, this was coupled with me only being able to teach for 2 hours a day as the teachers have full schedules from 10 am until 4 pm each day.
I soon realized that the level of English which these teachers displayed made my Thanlyin ladies look fluent. This worried me because with a measly 8 hours of tuition in the week, what could I expect these teachers to learn? The aim of my being in Myanmar is that the teachers who I train can then train other teachers and run NEH courses in English to improve their local communities. It was evident to me that the 11 teachers I met would not be able to achieve this aim in 8 hours and while I am good at my job, I am no miracle worker.
I decided at this point to think of a plan B as 8 hours teaching to people with zero English in a 10 day time frame really didn’t seem like a smart use of my time. I am due to meet my ex-weekend students in Sittwe in December when I will travel with them to their village in the north of Rakhine state. They are currently in Sittwe awaiting their final university exams which started on the 23rd of November and carry on until the 30th. I contacted my student to see if he could arrange any other teaching for me in the week. To my delight, he said that this was no problem and that the 30 students have a good level of English. This is an important factor for me to consider because if I want these people to train others, I cannot expect them to do so with only a basic grasp of the language themselves.
It is possible that the teachers I met in Thandwe are simply shy and that they are closer to false beginners from whom I can elicit information, but in 8 hours it is unrealistic to be able to build the relationship in order to combat the shyness. Also, I suspect that their English just is very low even without the added complication of the shy nature.
So, I am traveling to Sittwe a little earlier than planned and I will teach in the Arts and Literature Center. This is a place which is well known to our Arakkha Foundation partners and I am hopeful that I can be more useful there than I would have been in the Thandwe monastery.
If I am 100% honest, I feel bad for not staying in Thandwe; I do not like to break arrangements. However, from a professional stance it is unproductive to stay here so I must summon my courage and face the potential upset that I may cause to the monk. I sincerely hope that this change in plan does not affect our future relationship with the monastery.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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