Last night on the back porch, as Jess and I shared our Chang in a glass, we were remarking about how it's such a relief that the school (Piti Suksa Montessori School) is so good. This is the place that supplies our income, our visas, my wife's work day, our children's education and the main attractor that brought us to Chiang Rai out of all the other cities in Thailand. So we are grateful that the kids are happy there, it's a beautiful and safe environment, and everyone is so friendly. Just imagine if this vital part of our existence here were a nightmare. Our whole life would become a nightmare as well. But it's not, so I guess we shouldn't dwell, hmm?
Now, since the school is such a fine place, I thought I would write about what it's like, how it's similar or different to American schools, and just give a general description of the space. Honestly, it really deserves some recognition.
Like most houses in Chiang Rai, and Thailand in general, the whole property is surrounded by a larger concrete wall. Now, observing these walls from an outsider's perspective, I thought they were for safety, to keep bad people from getting into the house (or school.) But it was explained to me that this is not the case. Thailand is an extremely safe country, relative to the United States, for example. The purpose of the walls and gates are less for safety and more just to define one's home. I was told that Asians in general like to have a feeling of personal space where they can choose to let people in or not. Upon reflection, I think Westerners like to do this as well, though we tend to construct our fences out of cedar and we stop at the driveway. Thais go all the way around the house, including the driveway, to really give you a sense of privacy, solitude, and yes - even safety. But I digress...
At the front of the property, there are two gates, in and out, and a little guard shack, where Uncle Sue sits at drop off and pick up time. He's not really a guard. In fact, he's more of a jack of all trades. But when he's positioned at the entrance, his job is to direct traffic in and out of the school, since it's a narrow road, the school is situated on a bend in said road, and it's almost impossible to see if traffic is coming in either direction when pulling out of the property. Are you wondering about his name? You are, aren't you? Ok, Uncle Sue is the English translation of his Thai name, which I can't spell. But suffice it to say that Sue is not a female name in Thailand, and "Uncle" is an affectionate term. He's an extremely kind, gentle, older man who lives at the back of the property with his wife. Though we can't communicate well due to our total lack of a mutual language, I love this man. He has the kindest nature you can imagine. He's always smiling and is very playful. His is a great face to see when you pull into school first thing in the morning!
And when you do pull into the school gate, you are pulling into a mid-sized parking lot dotted with large shade trees. At the end of the parking lot is the drop off area where a member of the faculty is always stationed to greet parents and students with a bow, a smile, and a "sawat dee ka!" Another great way to start the school day.
Walk past the teacher down a long, covered walkway to the school entrance, between the office and library and you see the huge playground. And though this playground doesn't have a $150,000 boutique jungle gym with shredded tires for safety, it is every bit a child's paradise. There are more large shade trees with colorfully painted tires hanging at various heights, ropes stretched between trees for climbing and hanging and general monkey business, swings, bamboo climbing structures, and a covered gym with foam padded floor for when it's raining or just too hot to be in the sun.
Situated in a U shape around the playground are the classrooms, which belong to a low, flat-roofed, concrete building whose class doors open out toward the playground. In the middle of the U is the "canteen" where the kids eat at several small tables. The food, by the way, is delicious and the kids can eat as much as they want. I ate there yesterday, as I was volunteering in Jess' class, and I ate a soup, not unlike a Vietnamese Pho. It was a bone broth with rice noodles, chicken, green onions, cilantro and a mix of spicy tomato sauce and ground meat. I had two bowls as the kids laughed at my running nose and watery eyes. Spicy heaven!
The classrooms themselves are classic Montessori with well organized lessons lining the shelves and a common area for Circle Time. They all have wall and ceiling mounted fans, and Jess' classroom even has an air conditioner. Besides the one in the office, I think it's the only one in the school.