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Thai Girl Tattle: Forked Fingers

...I’m now tempted to go off at a tangent about Thai education, my ignorance never inhibiting a good rant. But I’ll stick to saying that it doesn’t have a good reputation and that foreign teachers here seem to say that Thai schools generally fail to teach relevant transferable skills, problem solving, analysis or creative thinking, which is a serious failing in this changing world....

Andrew Hicks brings another insight into life in Thailand.

Do please visit Andrew's Web sites

Some things in Thailand I’ll never understand.

Like whenever you point a camera at a ‘Thai girl’ she’ll flash you a smile to live for, pose coquettishly and give you a diagonal vee-sign, palm out and fingers forked. I have no idea why and, I guess, neither do they.

Is it ‘V for victory’ or ‘Y’ for up-yours? Or even a saucy suggestion of the Bunny Club logo? I have no idea.

It’s just the fashion, says Cat, but sometimes if I ask them not to do it they just look offended, so I’ve given up trying to get a sensible photo.

All I know is that when Cat comes home from college with shots of her friends, local farmers’ daughters uniform in short black skirts and tight white blouses, displaying perfect teeth and the usual forked fingers in the photo, who am I to complain. And while I’m not admitting to the well known Thai obsession with school girls in uniforms, I certainly don’t object when they drop by to do their homework with Cat.

So yes, Cat’s been studying again.

When I first met her six years ago she was half way through a dismal external degree in Political Science at Ramkamhaeng University and it was I who disrupted her progress. She wasn’t enjoying the indigestible diet of rote learning but ever since has regretted not getting a handle to her name. Now the wrong side of thirty, poor thing, she recently looked around for a better opportunity and soon found a new two year course in Computer Graphics on offer at a local vocational college.

Unfortunately, having registered for the new term, the strict para-miltary regime came as a bit of a shock to her. Seven thirty in the morning you’re on parade for an assembly and roll call and if you’re late you have to run round the field or clean the toilets. Not fun!

You have to stay in school all day and take part in compulsory sports and sometimes Cat’s classes (when she’s lucky enough to get any) didn’t start until evening after a ten hour wait. What with a half hour ride on the Honda each way, our personal life has been suffering as she’s never at home. Then when she has to get up at four in the morning to do homework for one of her many subsidiary subjects, I’m not well pleased.

For accounting she has to grasp terms like ‘owner’s equity’ and for office management she has lists of office equipment to learn like ‘duplicator’ and ‘facsimile’ (but not ‘scanner’). At least she’s been a top scorer in her tests in English language which is encouraging.

I remember a Samui hotel advertising for a ‘beach boy’ which demanded only graduate applicants, so in contrast the idea of teaching vocational subjects rather than force feeding useless academic subjects at so called ‘degree’ level makes absolute sense. Cat’s college has an impressive range of vocational courses for jobs from electricians to banking and accounting and its garden campus is large and beautifully kept and the buildings are modern and impressive. With its students turning up on time, immaculately turned out in their smart uniforms, it all looks very good indeed. And of course in Thailand that’s what matters most.

Thai schools such as this one love to hold big public events like sports festivals which can last for days on end. They seem to define the corporate spirit of the school and also give a good excuse to get out of boring classes for a few days. Anyway, Cat told me her college was staging a big ‘English day’ and that all its thousands of students were to take part. I was invited and was sure to be dragged in somehow.

On the day we were politely asked to wait in a VIP board room and were eventually ushered into the vast assembly hall where the multitude were sitting on the floor, boys to the left and girls to the right. The Principal had been held up in Surin so, as hostage to fortune, I was called on to cut the ribbon and read an address in English. This I did, doing a quick edit as I read it.

Then came a programme of displays and events, segregated into male or female performers, including group songs in English and a learned oration on the subject of global warming. This I recognised as a brief homily that I’d knocked off on my laptop at Cat’s request just before she went off to school one morning on her motorbike.

It’s good to make oneself useful like this!

Then the third sex came on stage. It was the school’s ladyboys and they brought the house down. Cross-dressed in flouncy dresses and livid make-up, as they came prancing up the aisle they almost raised the roof. And of all the singing and dancing, theirs was by far the best.

Yes, it is good to be useful but, as I feared, much more was to be demanded of me. I’ve never sung in front of an audience of thousands before but I knew that karaoke can sometimes be compulsory. The Thais don’t have a clear word for ‘no’, so I had to fall back on singing ‘Get Back”, one of my favourite Beatles songs.

“Jojo was a man who thought he was a woman,
But she was another man.
Get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged.
Get back Jojo!”

It’s a catchy and repetitive song that goes down well with Thais, even though they don’t know it. Never mind that it’s about a rent boy who goes off to the bright light to make a fast buck. Ladyboys are tolerated around here!

So all in all it was an impressive event and good fun, never mind if only a little English was learned. It added to the lustre of the college and it justified an article in their quarterly glossy PR magazine, replete with a prestigious picture of a farang cutting the ribbon to open the event that Cat brought home a few weeks later.

That was some time ago now, since when Cat has been struggling with the strict ethos of the regime and with the fact that they don’t seem to have the money to pay for enough teachers of computer graphics.

Given the pressures on our personal life, you may well guess the outcome of this, Cat’s latest attempt to earn herself a certificate. I didn’t want to influence her in her decision, saying that if she was still learning useful stuff about computing she should persist, but no, she said, she only wanted the certificate.

I’m now tempted to go off at a tangent about Thai education, my ignorance never inhibiting a good rant. But I’ll stick to saying that it doesn’t have a good reputation and that foreign teachers here seem to say that Thai schools generally fail to teach relevant transferable skills, problem solving, analysis or creative thinking, which is a serious failing in this changing world.

For me it’s all encapsulated by the popularity of multiple choice question in Thai university tests. I’ve seen examples in English and they were nonsensical, many having more than one possible answer. Any test based on such questions would be a lottery, but then the Thais love lotteries!

A farang friend who’s in the teaching business here recently put to me the following multiple choice question, allegedly taken from a test on English idiom. It reads as follows.

“Choose the answer that correctly completes the following sentence.
‘One swallow doesn’t make…
1. a decent meal.
2. a summer, or
3. a porn star.”

I really don’t understand it and am still unsure which is the correct answer, so please let me know what you think, giving reasons.


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