Happy Days in Isan

1 March 2019

We have been busy with visitors so this post is only now being published although some of it was written on 1st March. I am catching up so expect more posts to come shortly.

This story covers my stepdaughter Peng who was part of a celebration with final year schoolmates involving the exchange of lots of selfies, small gifts and momentos between the 150 students graduating. I have also included a section on some of the aspects involved with sending someone to university that will be relevant for some locals. Also on the 1st March the annual Si Bun Ruang celebration happened based around the town’s shrine with 2,000 dancers from the local villages performing on the day and a small market that will be running for the next week. The dancing formal and informal is always a delight.

Peng’s end of school

On Tuesday we called into the local copy shop to order masses of Peng photos, a few larger ones and heaps of small selfie versions. I wasn’t sure how they were going to be used. The next day it all became clear. Guan and Peng sat down to put 150 photos of Peng into small plastic sleeves, adding small coloured balls to liven them up. The giving of these photo packets are part of the end of school year ceremony and they are handed out or pinned to the shirt of everyone graduating.

I was thinking about this concept and maybe it reflects the more inclusive nature of Thailand when compared to other countries, although I never had kids of my own so I don’t really know. What impressed me was that the act of giving wasn’t just confined to friends or direct classmates, although four of them got a large photo plus a frame. EVERYONE got a personal congratulations from Peng, which explains the 150 packets, and this was broadly reciprocated as you can tell from the photos below. Perhaps in western societies we have leaned too much towards individualism at the expense of a more inclusive approach to the people around us and family.   

What is totally the same is that mums get to do as much work as the kids in Thailand like anywhere else in the world. 

Yesterday Peng returned home with the results of other student’s contributions to the end of term.

Peng as she arrived home.

Pinned with other students offerings and more individual gifts from classmates.

From Peng’s Facebook – the action at school.

Who is this boy and what is he doing with my stepdaughter!!!!

Hmmmmmm. The things you see on Facebook 🙂

Just to keep those of you who follow my family news and take an interest here’s an update about Peng’s university applications. Move on if this sort of thing doesn’t interest you. Having written those words about peng I realised that when we meet readers for the first time, and we do get to see a lot, they fit straight in because many have often been part of our ‘virtual’ family for years. People like Greg, an Aussie we are meeting next month, who has been a reader and regular comment contributor for four or five (?) years. Brilliant.

My words on this subject are as I understand things to be. Getting clear information of what the actual process is can be a challenge so what I tell you now may change at any point 🙂 I will keep you advised because I know there are others out there who will have kids in the same situation at some time.

The process for getting into university isn’t just based on a final grading from whatever school your child has attended. They need to prepare a CV type document and send it with an application form to each university they are interested in attending. A fee (500 baht) is also payable and that covers a booking for an exam that each university seems to have over and above the ‘base’ grading.

Peng has applications lodged with five universities, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Loei, Mahasarakham and Ubon and so far has sat two exam weekends (two pretty full days each) with more to come. I would have thought that students could just sit the one entrance exam, which could then be used by all universities (is that the way the western world works?) and that would save everyone time, but not to be.

The other unknown aspect of Peng’s move from school to university was the cost involved. I have heard from farang who as part of their involvement with a new partner have paid off government debt involved with the obtaining of a degree. This concept is not new to us westerners as I know both Australia and the US saddle uni students with a huge debt to get them used to owing someone money for the rest of their lives in one form or another. Grrrrrrrr

Because I wanted to make sure I budgeted for the expected cost of a five year commitment (teacher’s degree) I (Gaun) arranged to talk to a neighbour who has put her daughter through a degree and currently has her son in his second year of a teacher’s degree in Loei.

I knew this was an expensive business because this lady called Jan sold a block of land she owned in the village to pay for her daughter’s degree. That was the land we bought to build our house in 2013!!!!

Based on my current knowledge after this conversation with Jan, this is how the degree expenses work. There are three main costs. Firstly, there is a term tuition charge (two terms per year), which varies between universities and the type of degree that is being studied. Secondly, live-in accommodation and thirdly other costs such as uniforms, food and general living expenses.

Jan’s daughter got an degree in administration at Mahasarakham university and tuition fees were 18,000 baht a term. A shared room was 8,500 baht per term.

A teacher’s degree (five years) in Loei is costing Jan 8,500 baht per term for her son and a further 1,900 a month accommodation for a single room. Gaun tells me a doctor’s degree is way more expensive and longer of course. Tuition books are included in the tuition fees but stationery is extra.

As long as you meet these costs then there is no debt involved at the end. Otherwise you have to borrow from the government for the degree costs and repay it when working after graduation. 

Although these costs don’t seem high, especially compared to similar expenses back ‘home’, just the combined tuition and room costs over five years is 265,000 baht plus all the general living expenses, buses fares etc etc. For someone earning 300 baht a day you can see why it might be necessary to sell land unless you wanted your child to start a working life with long term debt. Just for interest jan’s daughter has an office job 10:00am – 4:00 pm and is earning 15,000 baht a month, which will be more than her mum who is currently cutting sugar for 300 baht a day.

Dancing for the ghosts in Si Bun Ruang

On 1 March every year the town of Si Bun Ruang holds a festival to honour the town’s spirit shrine (not Buddhism) and each village that makes up the town and surrounding area contributes dancers for a morning spectacle. I had forgotten all about it but Gaun who keeps me focussed on the things she knows interest me got me up early so that I could keep you all updated!

This is inside the shrine area itself, which has a small fraction of the 2,000 dancers involved plus the official ceremonial table.

Heavy duty official guests turn up to pay their respects.

I was told that this is the boss of Nong Bua Lamphu. NBL is a province so this could be a governor or maybe a lower official of the town of NBL itself.

Pouring some Isan rice whisky for the spirits. You can tell this isn’t a Buddhist ceremony as a result.

Masses of incense was lit, which once again is not a big part of most Buddhist ceremonies.

Remember that you never blow out a candle or an incense stick. It’s disrespectful to the spirits. Wave it around to put out the flame. Also never smell flowers being given as an offering to Buddha. You are giving him 100% of the offering even the scent!

One of the beautifully turned out dancers waiting to get going.

The incense smoke wasn’t to everyone’s liking.

Ourside the road had been closed off and the main group was gathered to perform two formal dances. As with all official events, especially in Thailand, 90% is people on microphones and 10% is what you want to see 🙂

This is an hour after things got started!

Once the official dancing was over an Isan lum (instrumental) band started and the unofficial party started. Isan people need little incentive to dance and it shows in this video. I love the spontanaety of it, an aspect of life we sometimes have problems connection to in western situations.

Isan people including Gaun needed little excuse to dance and enjoy themselves.

This lady was in her official dance costume but then formed part of the lum band.

Lum/lam bands are always heavy on the percussion. Morlum/morlam is Isan music with a singer/s.

Markets and music are part of this event and carry on for a week in the Amphur (town offices) opposite the shrine. Avocadoes being sold at this stall, which is usual here as they aren’t part of everyday eating for Isan people.

Some of the villages (moo bans) setup stalls promoting their produce. It’s a competition and a winner is declared. Papaya salad being made with a smile here. 

Hand woven sarongs.

Yai (grandmothers) happy to get their photo taken.

Expensive by local standards but beautiful handmade unique items.