Wrapping Up September

Wrapping Up September

September is usually the time of year where students head back to school, the days start getting shorter, and the weather starts getting cooler. Here in Thailand, we are finishing first semester of school, which started in May, it’s the rainy season, but still warm, and due to the proximity to the equator, the change of day length is hardly noticeable. I’ve managed to work hard, and balance that with a lot of laughs.

Still love the view from my porch in the rainy season, euphemistically known as ‘the green season’. You can see why here.

Getting final projects done at school, with portfolios, and report cards is always a substantial amount of work, but we also had a final presentation for the students to show their parents what they’ve learned over past semester.

One of the topics my students learned about was the environmental impact that humans have caused on Earth. They chose a topic that they felt passionate about, and presented their findings through art work and an informative poster. The students used mainly recycled materials to make their art and posters. They not only stated the problem, but researched and gave suggestions for potential solutions. We turned our classroom into an art gallery and invited parents and guests to come see their art opening, have Q and A with the artists, and enjoy some homemade refreshments.

Dolphin slaughter in Japan

Oil spills

Air pollution – note the different sources of pollution, the acid rain, and the dead flower

polluted beaches

polluted oceans

Kru Goy and I are very proud of them

This was only part of the subject matter they taught our adult guests, they also had PE, art, math, and music. Each class got 15 minutes for the students to teach the activity. It was like ‘speed teaching’.

In maths class, the students challenged the adults to see who could make the perimeter of a shape the quickest using wooden pegs, string, and measuring tape. Um… the students won, but our string was all tangled – unfair! It was good fun anyway.

In music class the students played a song, then taught the adults to play the same song on a variety of instruments.

I was too involved having fun doing the PE and art activities to take any photos.

At the end of the day it was time for cleaning the classroom Gangnam Style.

Cleaning Gangnam Style

Sadly, we are saying goodbye to two wonderful teachers. We sure will miss you Kru Claire and Kru Yuzu.

Kru Claire as the princess looking for her lost friend.

Kru Yuzu, playing the lost friend

Outside of school, yoga, ceramics, and Thai classes, I’ve managed to find time to have fun with friends in lovely Chiang Mai.

Getting coffee and croissants for 25 baht with Claire, Yuzu, and Jessica at ‘the farang farm’.

farang farm foliage

Enveloped in verdant hues – more evidence of the green season

As long as it’s not raining, Chiang Mai looks about the same at night all year long. Here are some pictures taken from the sweetest sidecar in the city – Christophe’s Aum Mobile. Their blurriness gives them an ethereal sense of movement that I feel represents Chiang Mai nighttime.

Songthaew driving around the moat

Christophe shopping late night at the flower market

Rose in the Aum Mobile. Seriously, look how beautiful that vehicle is! (Obviously, look how beautiful Rose is too:) While Christophe drives with Rose and me in the sidecar, both Thai people and foreigners smile.

Tuk tuk drivers and passengers giving us the thumbs up.

Christophe and Rose in the sweet side car near the moat.

laughing in the sidecar…

…as we drive the wrong way down one way street. Mai bpen rai it’s Thailand.

After a night of laughing and sidecar adventures, I love that the gardenias (ketawa) still smell so good the next morning.

Now September is done, we’ve had a full moon in Aries and it’s the beginning of a new month – new beginnings abound. Unlike teachers in other places, it’s now our holiday here. I have the majority of October off and tomorrow I am heading to a place I have wanted to go for about 15 years and that is Burma (or Myanmar). When I was here in 2000 I thought I’d visit there, but the political situation left much to be desired, so I didn’t. Burma still has a lot of restrictions on travel and modern conveniences: no ATMs, limited and slow internet, and I won’t have a cell phone.

I’m signing off for about 3 weeks, but will return with photos and stories-o-plenty. Enjoy October in all its autumnal glory.


Projects and Beliefs

Projects and Beliefs

One of the reasons I like working at my school as much as I do is because students get to do work where they can design, create, and express themselves.

Starting in June students suggested long-term projects they’d like to work on. For practicality sake (we weren’t going to be able to hatch dinosaur eggs like one student had hoped), we arrived at seven projects: building a house, making clothes, building a boat, making cars, writing a magazine, painting a mural, and building a bridge. What these projects would look like was anyone’s guess. The results were even better than I’d imagined.

WIth guidance from teachers, and a lot of hard work by students, here is a sampling of the final products:

Skirts and dresses sewn by hand

balloon powered cars

A bamboo bridge

The view from across the bridge

part of the mural

happy house – a new play structure

And the hit of the day was the boat. It was made out of recycled plastic bottles, and as you can see, it floats!

The gondoliers got a workout that day

After the students had their turn, some teachers were ready to go for a boat ride.

All these projects took a lot of effort and perseverance (wiriya), but in the end, it was all worth it.

In my own class we have been searching inside ourselves to discover our own beliefs. Prompted by ‘This I Believe’ essays, I had the students write their own. They ended up the school’s blog. Here’s my students believe:


Well-rounded, fun, mindful education – the way it should be, gives me hope for the future.

How Green Can Education Be?

How Green Can Education Be?

In short, very green. Panyaden, the school where I work, is a truly green school. I am fortunate to be able to teach in a school with a curriculum that allows the students lots of hands-on activities. Also, it’s a beautiful place to be.

The school buildings are gorgeously designed rammed earth and bamboo. There is no air conditioning, and although it’s in the high 90s F (mid-to-high 30s C) throughout the day, the buildings stay cool due to their intelligent design.

Panyaden canteen

detail of a bathroom ceiling at Panyaden

sala and Buddha

roof detail

window detail

I feel like I work in an art installation sometimes. Even though these pictures are lovely, it is so much more impressive in person. Come visit!

Besides the green architecture, I have gotten to do environmental activities with my students. They learned how to plant crops that would thrive in Thailand. The seeds were locally harvested for their food crops by a staff member from her garden.

planting papaya

planting lettuce

straw cover protects the seedlings from too much sun while holding in moisture

planting tomatoes

mature tomatoes

Students were responsible for watering their own plants and monitoring and measuring their growth.

Asking for advice from the Thai gardeners

Since it’s a bit hot down here in Chiang Mai, we took a field trip to an organic strawberry farm up in the Samoeng district. After the windy mountainous road up, tasting the delicious strawberries made it worth the long journey.

pink strawberry flower

looking for ripe strawberries

picking strawberries

strawberry farm

Back at school my students were learning about sustainable energy. At Panyaden, we throw our food scraps into a bin. This food waste gets ground up and put in a pressurized tank where it ferments. This somehow turns the food waste into biogas. This was explained in Thai and then my students explained it to me, so some details might be missing.

grinding up the food waste for biogas

Food waste is pretty stinky. The students were making vomit jokes.

The food waste is fermented in a big tank, and the gas is collected in these smaller tanks...

...and finally it is biogas that the kitchen staff uses for cooking.

Learning more about plants, students observed transpiration.


We took another field trip to see a village on a river that uses hydropower for energy.

spirit trees

Throughout Thailand you can see trees wrapped in colorful cloths. Spirits are believed to live in certain trees. Monks wrap the trees in cloth and because of this, according to my students, they can’t be cut down .

Although, all these activities have been fun and interesting, the following one seemed to be a favorite: making a solar oven and cooking in it.

After we researched different designs, we used recycled materials on hand, and the students started designing their own solar oven.

measuring and cutting black felt for the inside of the solar oven

solar cookies

Our solar oven baking cookies in the sun! We also baked bananas and cinnamon apples, but they wanted to make cookies first, and I don't blame them.

With kids learning and practicing these ways to care for the environment, by growing food and creating alternative energy, it gives me a lot of hope for the future.

new building in the making.

Cotton from Plant to Cloth

Cotton from Plant to Cloth

At Panyaden School students learn some remarkable ways to connect with the natural world around them. Today with some local craftspeople they learned the whole process of cotton from plant to cloth.

There is cotton growing in the schoolyard garden. Northern Thailand has several cotton growing regions.

Cotton growing at Panyaden

Cotton plants at school

harvested cotton

The first step was to fluff the cotton

Next, remove the seeds from the cotton

cotton de-seeded

Then the cotton gets rolled. After that it is spun and pulled into thread. This is a lot more difficult than it looks, it takes technique.

Then it is made into skeins. This student said it looked like noodles.

The craftswomen showed us how to make natural dyes from plants.

turmeric dye

This plant based dye made a pinkish color

natural colored dyeing

indigo dye

hanging the dyed cotton thread to dry

dyed cotton thread and Buddha

Then it was weaving time

My students came to the conclusion that food, clothing, air, and shelter all come from plants. It’s so important in this digital age to reconnect and realize where our things actually come from.

I found the whole process fascinating. If the best way to learn is by doing, I’d say the students learned a ton and thoroughly enjoyed the process. I would love to go stay in a local crafts village and learn more and hopefully I will. First I’ll need to learn some more Thai.

This is Where I Work

This is Where I Work

I knew Panyaden School was outside Chiang Mai, but I wasn’t sure how far. My friend Yaya had heard of the school, and was interested in seeing it after seeing pictures.  I could literally feel my blood pressure rise looking at the traffic on the way there and decided right then that there was no way that I would drive a motorbike. Yaya was driving her car. I knew that even though the steering wheel and the driving are on the other side, that I’d feel much safer with driving a car. Then I started to relax a bit…until I found out how expensive used cars are here.

When we got to Panyaden, it was still the October break, so no one was there but the security guards. They let us look at a few buildings, but no tour of the school. When I got out of the car, even though I’d seen pictures and videos, I couldn’t believe how beautiful the school was. There was also a serene energy there. I honestly got tears in my eyes thinking that I would be lucky enough to work at this amazing place.

Panyaden School

Parent Sala

Yaya in the Parent Sala

The Buddha



That night, Yaya and her friends, my friend Matthew and I met up and went out to Thai karaoke. Matthew was a great sport and sang before me. He and I both feel like we might have been Thai in a past life. He is also American, and he loves it here like I do. Certain outdated English language songs are very popular in the Thai karaoke circuit: ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain’, and ‘Country Roads’ top the chart. Eventually, I trilled out “On Top of the World” by The Carpenters, which is a song that always reminds me of being on the swing with my sister Dory when we were children. We would swing so high we felt we were on top of the world, so we’d sing that song.

The next day I went to look at houses with a cute lady named Jim. I hope I end up renting a house she shows me, because she is so nice. I spent the majority of that weekend looking for places to live more permanently. One of the last places I saw was a cute place called Grace Boutique Guesthouse, right in the center of the old city, with a swimming pool for 300 baht (less than $9) a night. Sold…at least temporarily.

Jim, my Thai realtor

I had a hilarious, and lengthy tuk tuk ride on my first day to school. It should take about 1/2 hour, but it took an hour and 40 minutes.  I was incredibly embarrassed to be an hour late on my first day at school, but people get that it’s Thailand and sometimes things are hard to find.

I have worked at many schools and been to an infinite number of staff meetings. I have never worked at a school with a Buddhist approach, but I think I’ll be glad I do.

Here are the Panyaden principles that we talked about on day one will continue to discuss throughout the year:

I. Buddhist Apporach

II.Green School – environmentally mindful

III. Academically Competitive – Bilingual School and International Primary Curriculum

Buddhist Approach:

5 Silas (moral thing to do – practical)

  1. I will not kill or cause harm
  2. I will not take what is not mine to take
  3. I will be responsible and loving in my relationships
  4. I will speak truthfully and avoid and hurtful speech
  5. I will only consume items that bring peace and good health to my body and mind

Panyaden 12 Wise Habits
1. Using the senses wisely (Indriyasamvara) การสำรวมระวังอินทรีย์ (อินทรีย์สังวร ระวังรักษา ตา หู จมูล ลิ้น กาย ใจ)

2. Knowing the right amount (“Mattannuta”) การเป็นผู้รู้จักประมาณ (มัตตัญญุตา)

3.Not  harming ( Avihimsa)
การไม่เบียดเบียน (อวิหิงสา)

4.Being patient and tolerant (“Khanti”)
ความยินดีในกิจที่ทำ (ฉันทะ)

5. Desiring truth, knowledge and goodness (“Chanda”) ความยินดีในกิจที่ทำ (ฉันทะ)

6.Being truthful (“Sacca” )
ความซื่อสัตย์ (สัจจะ)

7. Persevering (“Viriya Chakriyanuyok”)
ความเพียร (วิริยะ)

8.Being generous (Caga) การเสียสละ (จาคะ)

9.Being kind and compassionate (“Brahmavihara”)
ความเมตตากรุณา (พรหมวิหาร)

10.Being mindful and alert (“Sati”) การมีสติ

11. Being calm and focused (“Samadhi”)
การมีจิตแน่วแน่ (สมาธิ)

12. Applying the mind skilfully (“Yonisomanasikara”) การคิดเป็น (โยนิโสมนสิการ)

I can’t think of better things to teach kids.

Here’s the school website: http://www.panyaden.ac.th/


The Canteen

We are given free breakfast and lunch everyday, and if it’s anything like the delicious food we had today, I’ll be thrilled. Good manners, health, and nutrition, no shoes in the buildings, all very logical.

Based on what the school values, and the staff members, I think it’s safe to say that I know I will love it here. And this is even before I’ve met my students. By the way, as of now should have 4 students. Yes, 4.