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Beautiful Patterns, Common Threads

THAILAND


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(Diary Entry: December 23, 1998)

Interview with Attan Pong, Headmaster, Prince Royal College, Chiang Mai

Q: Who are most of the students who go to your school?

A: You may apply to get into Prince Royal at several different levels. We take students from all over Chiang Mai city, but the key ingredient is that all students are academically advanced. The school used to be all-boys, but we began admitting girls a few years ago at the early grades and for what you would call "high school." At this point, the lower grades and the higher grades are mixed boy and girl, while the middle grades are all boys. Once the lower classes advance, all the grades will be mixed. Most of the students are middle class, and most are Thai, with a few hill tribe students as well. About 27% of our students from grades ten to twelve go on to college, a high percentage for Thailand.

Q: What classes do students take?

A: A usual schedule would start at 8:00 AM and go on until 3:30 PM, with an hour's break for lunch, which the school provides. Students would take classes in Thai, English, math, science, art, computers, social sciences, physical education, music, and Boy Scouts.

Q: What's "Boy Scouts"? Do girls take it, too?

A: Yes, girls do take the class. It's a class that teaches self-discipline and respect for the community.

Q: What are students' family lives like?

A: Most students still live with their extended family on a sort of "compound" of houses. This provides, I believe, excellent support. However, more and more families are living on their own. It used to be that when a girl got married, she'd move into her husband's family's compound, and they would either live in a room in the compound or, if they had money, the family would build a new building for them. But now, as Chiang Mai gets to be big like Bangkok, the new couples usually move out and live on their own, in an apartment. What that means for my students is that they don't have as much support, especially if both of their parents are working.

Q: If you don't mind my asking, what does a teacher make as a salary here?

A: An average salary would be about 1800 baht per month. (That's about $50, or $600 a year!) Yes, it doesn't sound like much. But, for most who live with their families, housing is free, and you can get by on thirty to forty baht (about $1) a day if you eat modestly at the local food stands for lunch and at home for dinner and ride by motorbike instead of by car.

Q: I'm interested in how the Thai people deal with the cultural diversity here, especially with more and more hill tribe people coming into the city. In the U.S., where diversity is great, there's much talk of how to take advantage of that diversity.

A: Yes, I know of the great melting pot of the United States.

Q: Well, actually, it's interesting that many people don't like that symbol anymore, because it suggests that individual peoples lose their identify to the majority. Many now talk of a "salad bowl" or something like that, where each piece maintains its identify yet contributes to the ultimate result.

A: Hmmm...that is interesting...What do you like better, a good soup or a good salad? I personally prefer soup. Of course, in a really good soup, you must be able to discern each taste that contributes to the soup's flavor. And with the salad, remember that you can just throw out the parts you don't like!

Q: What would you say are some common misperceptions of Thailand that you'd alter?

A: I think that most people say first about Thailand that it's a Buddhist country. Well, saying that as the very first comment is like saying first, when someone asks you to tell them about the United States, that it's a Christian country. It's important, but not the most important thing to think about! Most people here are like they are in the U.S.: they go to temple two or three times a year, for special events or holidays, and that's the extent of their practice.

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