Sunday, April 22, 2012

Finally - all the Princess Day vids packaged together!

Princess Day on YouTube 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Princess Diary: Part Three – The Great Day (27/012012) - The Aftermath

The Aftermath

Back in the staffroom, the jacket comes off, the heels get kicked somewhere under the desk, and feet go up on a chair. Gen is taking pictures on her mobile (most of the photos here are hers, thanks Gen). Duncan, Russell and I are going over the morning, and scrounging any of the cakes and nibbles left by the VIPs and the kids. Russell reckons he saw one teenager shovel several platefuls of cake into his schoolbag.

Noi (cleaner), Nuainee, Me, Duncan and Gift

Kids in Reception

Me, Noi and Gen

Me, Gift and my student Tonkok

Gift models the Goldilocks Mask

Russell, Gift and, err Guy maybe?

Duncan goes home. After a bit of desultory tidying up, I catch myself starting to nod off at my desk, and realize if I don’t leave now, I’ll never make it down to Siam Square to meet Steve and Louise (on holiday from HCMC) for lunch.

Quick pitstop at home to ditch the tights and heels in favour of jeans and flipflops is followed by a lovely afternoon catching up with all the Vietnam gossip. Thanks guys. Wish I could have spent longer with you at the Jim Thompson House. Then back up to CW with another Louise (a senior teacher from head office) for the evening do – a cheesy but entertaining affair of scripted interviews, games and quizzes.

Johnny and Russell Interviewed

Me and Louise at the evening do.
 I’ve missed the news by the time I get home, so it takes me until Sunday evening to find it on YouTube (there are actually about six reports from different channels, all slightly different, but only one on YouTube as far as I know).

I email Russell the link. A couple of hours later, I get a reply. ‘You TOTAL star!!!!’

The Princess Diary: Part Three – The Great Day (27/012012) - HRH & the Lesson

HRH and the Lesson

Finally, the epic tale reaches its thrilling climax… (see, told you I’d bore you rigid with it!)

At last, as I’m beginning to run out of things for the kids to draw, and my feet are starting to ache in the heels, nine o’clock ticks round. There’s no sign of the royal party, but it has gone quieter, so I assume Russell and co., have gone downstairs to greet her.

One girl decides she needs the toilet. A YLA ushers her out into the corridor to consult a woman in khaki uniform. Khaki woman is sympathetic, but no go. HRH will be arriving any moment. Pity. I’d quite like to go too. The YLA puts an encouraging arm round the girl’s shoulder and brings her back into the classroom to wait it out. (Much later, they make a rapid exit as soon as HRH has gone!)

‘Right,’ I say as breezily as I can muster, ‘Shall we start?’
The YLAs nod enthusiastically. The kids aren’t that fussed one way or the other.

We get through the first few minutes without a hitch – (re-) introducing the characters, and predicting what Goldilocks might find in the Bears’ cottage. It seems the kids aren’t quite as familiar with the story as they claim (or they’ve forgotten it), and some of the obvious stuff is omitted in favour of more creative suggestions, such as ‘Everything in the whole world!’ It’s a very big cottage.

Ken gets his wish and we click onto the next page of the flipchart, with the hyperlink to the video and story on the BC LearnEnglish Kids website.

We’ve barely got halfway through the first sentence, when the PA system out in the foyer starts belting out the National Anthem (though it doesn’t sound quite the same as when we have to stand up for it at the cinema) and drowns everything out. Clearly, HRH has arrived. I wonder briefly if I should perhaps stop everything, but the YLAs seem unperturbed so I press on.

The National Anthem finishes. So does the story.

‘Right,’ I say, even more breezily, ‘Shall we listen to the story again?’
‘Nooo!’ groans Ken.
I ignore him, and click on ‘Play the story again’.

I turn to find a man in white and gold-braided uniform from the royal household standing in the doorway, frowning slightly. Okay, maybe I should’ve stopped everything after all. Nope, that doesn’t seem to be the problem. What is the problem?! A YLA comes to my rescue.

‘He says, can you turn the volume down on the IWB, please?’

Whaat?!! Your National Anthem drowns everything out, and I’m making too much noise?!!!

Duncan tells me later that they asked him to keep the teenagers quiet too. And he was in one of the back rooms.

With the volume on the IWB turned down (just a touch – I’m not giving in that easily – it’s a kids’ class, after all), the lesson continues. A woman in pale purple walks past the window and stops outside. Russell, Boss Duncan (Deputy Country Director) and Chris (Country Director) line up behind her.

A short pause, and they disappear in through the door to look round the exhibition in reception. And at this point, something clicks over in my brain. I’m in the zone. I’m teaching. There is almost nothing and no-one except me and the kids. Nothing can throw me.

I catch sight of Johnny (my immediate boss after Russell) standing just outside the door of the classroom, giving me the thumbs up. I must be doing something right.

I turn away to help some of the kids with the worksheet I’ve just handed out. (Fab YLAs just stay quietly in the background until needed to help hand out materials or shepherd the kids into position). I turn back round and… a tidal wave of photographers and cameramen wash into the room. Er, right, okay…

There must be more of them than there are kids. I can’t see the kids and the kids can’t see the IWB. Not that the kids seem bothered.

Still unfazed I carry on, burrowing my way through this wall of suits, uniforms and cameras (some of you have seen the photo!) to reach the kids, and gesturing to the paparazzi to move out of the way.

‘Erm.. sorry gentlemen, but the children need to see the board for this next part.’ Very English. Very polite. Fairly ineffective.

And they’re taking pictures of everything. Me, the kids, the kids’ worksheets, the IWB, the materials piled on my desk, the BC logo I stuck on each page of the flipchart…

The YLAs manage to persuade some of them to shift a bit. One very nice, smiley, middle-aged female photographer in that white and gold royal household uniform sits down next to a little girl and chats to her. She can come again.

And then there She is. Just behind me. Just behind her, Russell and Boss Duncan are grinning from ear to ear.

First thought: She’s early. Twenty minutes early. This is the boring bit with worksheets. She’s not supposed to come in until they’re singing or acting out the story.

Second thought: Mmm. Yes. She does look just like her pictures.

Third thought: Better acknowledge her.

Russell had already told us that, as a university teacher herself, she wouldn’t want to interrupt. And I figured if she did want to talk to us, she’d ask him to call us over.

I do some kind of nod-bob, and carry on with what I’m doing.

Which, to judge from all the photos that have come to light since, involved flinging my arms out wide, in ‘Big… small… tiny…’ demo-ing fashion. Aside from looking ridiculous, these pictures worry me slightly. I know which bit of the lesson that was. I just have no memory whatsoever of HRH being in the room at the time. Like I said – in the zone.

And, no, before you ask, they are definitely not for publication.

Anyway, in the zone or not, the adrenaline is definitely pumping now and I’m having a ball. And the kids are amazing. They appear even more unfazed than me. I had wondered beforehand how they would react when HRH came in, respect for the Royal Family being what it is here in Thailand. But no, nothing, not a flicker. They hardly seem to notice, but then maybe that’s still the wall of cameramen blocking their view.

In my memory HRH is only in the room for a few minutes. In the photos, it seems like she lingered for hours.

She leaves, the cameramen trail after her, the room clears a little and the lesson continues. Finally, we reach the ‘interesting’ bit with the song and the play.

Ken is momentarily distracted from his opposition to any form of performance art by the slow reveal game that precedes the song on the website. Even so, when Russell tells me later how thrilled he was to hear the kids singing as HRH left, what he doesn’t realize is the sound is four parts video, three parts Pippa and the YLAs, and only one part eight year olds, participating in a resigned ‘suppose we better humour the grown-ups’ kind of way.

And it’s over. HRH has left the building. I am buzzing. The kids go wild over a board race, and there’s a stream of senior management thanking and congratulating me and Duncan. For a second I feel quite emotional, and think I’m going to well up. But there’s a much stronger euphoria underneath. When Boss Duncan asks me, ‘So, do you feel good, right now?’, I manage to breathe something like, ‘Yes, very.’ The response that’s actually whirling round my brain is more like, ‘Good?!!! I feel %$*&)@ invincible!!!’

The Princess Diary: Part Three – The Great Day (27/012012) - The Kids

The Kids
Duncan still hadn’t appeared when, as Russell, Guy and I were shifting desks out of my room, Del arrived with the kids from Satit Chula.

‘Where do you want them?’ he beamed.
‘Umm, well, the teenagers in room nine with Duncan,’ I said, gesturing over my shoulder and thinking that they were actually bloody early, and I didn’t really want them anywhere just yet, ‘And the younger ones in here with me’.
‘Okay’, he grinned, and disappeared back out to fetch them.
The next thing I know, he’s shepherding some very, very large children into my room.
‘Shit,’ I think. ‘They’re not going to go for Goldilocks and the Three Bears.’ Then I realise he’s got the rooms mixed up and they’re actually Duncan’s high school students.

Mix-up sorted out, Russell appears at my side and goes all soppy over the little ones (who still aren’t actually quite as little as I’d anticipated).
‘Aw, Pippa, look at them. They’re so small. They’re adorable. Oh Pippa, you’re so lucky!’
Yes, Russell. I’ll remind you of these words the next time you mutter about having to do a placement test with a chronically shy six-year old, you big softie.

Cutting the boss some slack, I head back into the staffroom to call Duncan, but he has finally turned up looking somewhat flustered, to say the least. It had taken him half an hour just to get a cab. The taxi drivers in his soi, being unused to anyone wanting their services at such an ungodly hour, hadn't been sitting there waiting for a fare as they might have been later. The news that twenty-odd teenagers were already in the classroom waiting for him to start entertaining them, wasn’t exactly the greeting he needed.

I go back into room 1 and start getting acquainted with the kids. Confidence in Goldilocks takes another small knock. These guys are good. Really good. Eight-year olds you can have a conversation with. ‘Most of us are eight. Some of us are seven, but most are eight.’ Ken, 8, who has enough confidence for all of us, takes charge, and spends much of the next couple of hours advising me on when to turn the page on the flipchart (usually long before we’d finished the activities connected with the current page). Thanks Ken.

Still, I’m undeterred. It’s a special occasion, after all, and no-one is going to mind very much, if, just this once, a class of eight-year olds spend an hour doing something that’s a bit too easy for them. It’ll just make us all look even more amazing than we really are!! And, there’s the play at the end of the lesson…

Besides, it doesn’t matter. Russell’s right. They’re lovely. The moment I start talking to them, what few nerves I have accumulated just evaporate, and I know we’re going to have fun.

Meanwhile, there’s still over an hour before the ceremony kicks off. I do a couple of rounds of ‘Guess The Drawing’ – how come they always get ‘elephant’ so quickly? – before getting them up and drawing for themselves in ‘Please Draw’.

One little girl leaves the entire class (and particularly me) on our knees with laughter.
‘Please draw seven bananas.’
She draws one banana.
She draws a second banana.
She pauses, glances around, grins and whips a real banana out from god knows where.

Action Shot with Banana Girl!

The Princess Diary: Part Three – The Great Day 27/01/2012 - Early

The day dawned bright and sunny – or at least, I think it did. To be honest, by the time it was properly light I was already in the back of a taxi, halfway to Chaengwattana. I do remember thinking it seemed to stay darker later than usual, but maybe that was just my skewed perception, having been awake since quarter past four. I’d set the alarm for 5 o’clock, but my brain decided to wake up that extra bit early just to be on the safe side.

Why so early? Well, we were all under strict instructions to be there by seven thirty at the very latest to get through the security checks. Being located inside a huge shopping centre, it does make sense logistically and security-wise to hold the ceremony before the centre opens to the public at eleven. Which still doesn’t really explain why we needed to be there at least an hour and a half before the princess was due to arrive at nine. Further instructions included wearing BC and Central ID at all times (us) and to have your passport/ID ready for inspection on the door (everybody). Nuainee also reckoned my plan to leave the heels at work overnight and change into them when I got there was a non-starter – ‘Maybe they’ll be checking dress code at security’, she whispered.

Though I did reason that if they threw me out for dress code violations, my lesson plan would be walking out with me – literally, in fact, as I don’t think I ever actually wrote it down.

Anyway, heaving myself out of bed and slamming the air-con on to max to ensure the tights went on with a minimum of stickiness, I have to admit to being quietly pleased with the overall ensemble. I was even more relieved when the heels successfully carried me out of the flat, into the lift and down the drive onto Ladprao Road. Nevertheless, the slingbacks were in my bag ready to change into afterwards.

Arriving outside Central Chaengwattana, the security seemed to be gathering in the form of (amongst others) a whole troop of uniformed police listening to their instructions. They took no notice of me as I tottered past and round to the side entrance in the loading bay. Neither did the Central security staff sitting there. And a little while later, Russell walked straight in through the main entrance at the front without anyone batting an eyelid either. Hmmm…

Up on the seventh floor there was plenty of activity already (6.45am) – albeit most of it involving head office staff sitting around the staffroom, chatting, drinking coffee, and in one inexplicable case, suddenly pulling out the spare chair from the side of my desk (where Duncan and I had thrust it in a fit of pique a few days earlier to stop it getting in our way), pushing and pulling it, fiddling with the arm a bit, and then just abandoning it there in the middle of the room.

By the by, the chair arms are a constant irritant for the male Chaengwattana staff, being allegedly impossible to fix in position for more than an hour or so – our days are punctuated by the sound of Russell trying to adjust his. Mine, on the other hand, have stayed solidly in place ever since I first fixed them there back before Christmas; even once, just to prove my point when the other two were complaining again, taking my entire weight without a flicker of movement!

Duncan, Russell, Nuainee and the girls hadn’t arrived yet, so not really having anything better to do I wandered into Classroom 1 to start setting up. (I’d pulled the short straw and was getting to do my demo lesson in the Goldfish Bowl, though that also meant I did get to see some of the ceremony.) The security guard, who had probably been in there all night, smiled sheepishly at me, moved his stuff off the desk and wandered out.

We’d had to have security in overnight because the alarm system had had to be disabled to allow the doors to be changed round so that they opened inwards rather than outwards – more respectful and polite, apparently.

I switched on the computer and started loading up the flipchart. And discovered that Internet Explorer was still the default web browser, and there was no sign of Google Chrome anywhere on the machine. Now, I’m sure there’s nothing inherently that bad about IE, but back in the staffroom the day before, I knew, everything worked just fine on Chrome, and today was not the day to trust to fate. Luckily, just then I heard Russell’s voice in the corridor, so I went out to catch him to do a little last minute installation (being only a mere teacher, I don’t have administrator’s rights on the classroom computers).

He saw me coming towards him, and … ‘Waaaay!’…  which I think meant The Princess Outfit had got the boss’s seal of approval. As it should. Hell, I was even wearing lipstick.

Dealing with technical hitches seems to have become a major part of his job description, so having sorted Chrome out for me, he did then look a little panicky when he noticed the projector was flashing up the message ‘No source found’ on the screen. ‘Is that a problem?’ he asked. ‘Nah, it always says that’, I said and jiggled the pen against the board to get rid of the screensaver. He sighed, grinned, and went off to fret about the fact that (a) there was still no sign of Duncan, and (b) the computer in Duncan’s room didn’t seem to be working at all.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Princess Diary Part Two – The Day Before

Preparations were already well under way when I arrived at work on Thursday. There was a man draping purple and silver cloth over the escalators and another two were apparently busy turning my classroom (naturally) into a throne room without bothering to remove the students’ work I’d left on the wall the night before. They just looked at me blankly as I clambered over the cluttered desks to retrieve the dictionaries I’d left next to the computer. Meanwhile, the main foyer outside was filling with white-draped chairs and a dais.

But really, planning for that night’s lesson was a minor consideration next to having had just a few days notice that Duncan and I would be teaching demo lessons during the ceremony, and that the princess would come in and watch for a few minutes each. And just to make it that little bit more challenging – they wouldn’t be our own students. They would bus kids in from Satit Chula, the BC’s partnership school in central Bangkok. The numbers, approximate ages and levels were only confirmed late Wednesday afternoon. At which life at Chaengwattana settled into its accustomed pattern – I do the kids, Duncan does the teenagers.

To be honest, I wasn’t ever really that nervous about it. Right until virtually the last minute, in my head it was just Russell and HRH coming into the class. No thought given to all the other hangers-on.

Russell and Del (the BC’s Senior Teacher at Satit Chula) suggested I do some kind of storytelling activity with the eight year olds. So, this really not being the moment to re-invent the wheel, from the depths of my hard drive, and with a little bit of help (well, ok, quite a lot) from the BC’s LearnEnglish Kids website, I reconstructed the ‘Goldilocks’ lesson I used with the Jumpies in Vietnam, making full use of the Interactive Whiteboard to cut and paste bits of the handouts, and hyperlink to the story and song on the website.

While Duncan and I were busy tweaking lesson plans and making up our flipcharts (like a PowerPoint presentation but specifically for IWBs), Russell announced that his role for the day was to help us with any additional preparation we needed. Thus, he was sent off into Classroom 1 (aka the Goldfish Bowl on account of the huge window passing shoppers can stop and gawp at your lesson through) to put up the pictures my (real) kids had done for the princess at the weekend. I’m particularly proud of the Kids Green class and their road signs using imperatives and ‘you must/mustn’t’ for royal etiquette.

And while Russell was doing that, Gift from reception and Noi, the cleaner, (we’re just one big happy family here!) were settled in a corner of the classroom sellotaping drinking straw handles to the Goldilocks and the Three Bears masks I’d printed out for the ‘play’ (anyone who remembers the fluttery butterflies I did with the Jumpies at ILA will know the effect I was going for).

And of course, in the midst of all this, a higher power declared it was the perfect time for Gen and I to make our more minor claim to fame, and record the Outgoing Message for the automated switchboard. Sitting in the middle of reception reading the ‘press one for English’ script in your best Radio Four announcer’s voice would be mildly embarrassing at the best of times. With a waiting area full of customers, florists trundling huge arrangements in and out on trolleys (before planting them slap bang in the middle of the corridor) and Russell bouncing around, loudly teasing the kids he was placement testing, it’s frankly a miracle it only took us three attempts.

Starting to feel swept up in the excitement, as you can see, I began wandering around with my camera phone - my real camera being poorly sick at the doctors :-(. Coming back from the loo, I was particularly taken with the ribbon HRH was to cut. ‘Must get a picture of that’, I thought, and came within a whisker of picking my scissors up off the desk, instead of my phone. Now that would have been embarrassing, wouldn’t it?!