Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Seventh grade history and social studies

At the start of 1999 I took an English teaching job at “the best school in the north” of Thailand, and after a couple months was asked to teach Thai social studies. The school, however, failed to provide me with any “curriculum” but only paid me to study up during hot season (April) break. I enjoyed the challenge but did have to adhere to some absurdities, like teaching that father of King Ramkamhaeng was a fisherman. When spouting that nonsense caused my current pharmacist to fall out of his chair laughing and I realized the general hilarity was undermining any authority I might hope to retain, I started teaching more in accordance with truth as I had been able to discover it. My boss, who liked to explain to the bright 12 and 13 year old students selected for my classes that she and I were the equivalent of their mother and father, without telling me had the students come in an hour early, every day, to continue being lied to. Soon I was fired and she was forced into early retirement. After a month of depression, I started writing “Chiangrai, Lanna” and working with an independent teacher to put it into Thai. I had 1000 copies or the dual language book printed and gave several hundred to the school for the kids.
Last night, depressed at incoming 2020 US election results and reading homework of my first son, now 12 and in 7th grade, about Ho Chi Minh, and about independence for Vietnam and the Philippines. I started reading his text and was impressed. There was even a picture of the namesake of my 2nd son! A map of Lanna extended it to the Andaman Sea (more credible than claims that Ramkamhaeng conquered the whole Malay Peninsula, but still outrageous) but overall I was really quite impressed. Nationalistic assertions of a “Thai race” were at least put into context, making excusable reference to migration down to here from Mongolia (mention of aboriginal forbears from 700,000 years ago I found quite less excusable).
Soon I was having thoughts of light-eyed Uigers and Berbers, of Normans, ‘crusader’ Roger of Sicily, of the Spanish Netherlands, of South Africa and Northern Ireland, of Brahmans of Indian descent but Siamese residence leading ceremonies for people indistinguishable from many Indonesians, Malays, Filipinos and others. Of ethnic and cultural differences between Thailand’s south, central plains, Isaan northeast and north (where those in MaeHongSon differ from those of Nan); of Burmese taking prisoners from Siam back home to work and breed, and Siamese similarly taking prisoners from all neighboring countries, of Khom from Angkor starting a new polity at Ayudhaya with asking a royal from Lanna to come serve as king...
The text mentioned blood-work showing close relation between Thais and Indonesians, but I guess the Brahmans didn’t count in that, as also didn’t the many many migrations of various Chinese over the last quarter millennia (and others before). Of the Kha aboriginals, the Suay, the Mon, Karen, and ethnic Lao of whom Thailand has many times as many as does Laos. But nevermind, the text is a HUGE improvement, and Maybe (just maybe) my efforts actually have had positive impact.

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