Today marks the final bus journey to the Thanlyin monastery school. I am proud of the progress of my 11 students. I know I will miss these ladies after today. I have grown very fond of all of them and they are my first class in this new country; therefore, they will always be special to me.
I am wearing the government school teacher uniform of white blouse and green longyi. My longyi is in the traditional tuck style, or ‘ta-may’ as it is called in Myanmar. I cheated slightly as my blouse comes from Thailand and has not been made for my body by my tailor. It has buttons down the middle and not off to one side as is typical in Myanmar. My blouse is also a little looser than most ladies in Myanmar prefer, on account of the heat. I am still perplexed as to the local ability to stay cool. I am also jealous of their silky black hair whilst my locks frizz up immediately after showering! My longyi is authentic; it is a deep forest green with brighter grass green flowers embroidered at the base. I have seen this very pattern modeled by one of my students so I know that it is the real deal!
The first day that I wore a longyi to teach my Thanlyin students, I had to re-tuck it around six times in the course of the two-hour lesson. My experienced teachers giggled a little and said that they only re-tucked that many times over the whole day! By the final day, as I wear my green longyi, I have the hang of long term tucking. My students have improved their English and I have gotten to grips with the local clothing; we are all making good progress.
Today is not really a teaching day. I will award the completion certificates, make sure that I have phone numbers to keep in touch and exchange Facebook details. Facebook is huge here in Myanmar and people seem to use it as a primary method of communication. It is much more frequently used than e-mails for example. I have the assistance of an Arrakha Foundation member today who has graciously agreed to come and take photos of the certificate giving and more generally the end of the course. It can be hard to get footage of a teacher. I have taken some photos and videos of my students, but of course, if I take the images, I cannot be in those pictures.
I gave feedback forms to my students, and with some explanation they checked off what they did and didn’t like about the course. As with many Asian countries, feedback, or potential criticism of the teacher is unpopular. My students each did a short explanation of what they had enjoyed over the course before we concluded the course with the certificates and photos to remember the day.
For the photos, we moved into the assembly hall where there is much more room to take group pictures. We were joined by the librarian monk and another younger monk who is delightfully as tall as I am! There were many cameras from numerous directions. We posed for a number of group photographs, and fortunately I also asked the volunteer from Arrakha Foundation to take some candid shots. These turned out to be my favorites of the day.
Generally, Myanmar people seem to be a happy sort of people and they smile freely. As I built a deeper and stronger relationship with my 11 teachers, we shared jokes and often smiled and laughed in the classroom. When it comes to formal photographs, it is very rare for Myanmar people to smile. It is certainly a cultural difference. Thankfully, due to the candid images, I can remember my students in the happy and relaxed way rather than the somewhat sombre expressions used for photographs. I did actually encourage, some might say trick, the ladies into laughing for a couple of the posed photos, much to their chagrin.
The head monk awarded a prize to the four teachers who had perfect attendance. I have found that being ill is fairly common in Myanmar, and nearly all of the ladies had to visit the doctor at some time or other over the course of instruction. I am very grateful, and somewhat surprised that I have not gotten ill more often during my time here. The teachers often have to cover classes when someone is absent, and they swap their assembly rota accordingly. After the certificates were given out, it was time for my teachers to go to their normal classes. Two of the teachers had a free period, and with the encouragement and blessing of the head monk, they took me to visit two of the area’s pagodas, which I had neglected to see in my focus to get on and off the bus at the right location!
The first pagoda was a Mon building called Kyaik Hmaw Wun Ye Lai Pagoda. It is built on an island and looks spectacular from across the small river. Due to me being a foreigner, the three of us used a special big boat to make the two minute river crossing. The local transportation was a narrow wooden canoe. The boat for foreigners had a roof and life jackets. We saw Buddha images and the usual vivid paintings which depict some story from the life of the Buddha as well as a huge metal gong which people rub for luck. We had good weather for our outing and it was lovely to see the pagoda with my students.
We hopped back on the bus to visit the second pagoda: Sandawshin Kyaik Khauk. This pagoda had a small spinning stupa where people threw money. It was like a fairground attraction with LED lights and music playing to encourage generous donations through play. It also has a gorgeous view over the scenery. My students told me that this pagoda has it’s big festival in February and invited me to join them for the event. They placed me on the bus home and caught the bus back to the school to resume their teaching duties.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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