Once I was ensconced in the Cotterill Compound, the first folks I met were Gogo, Beia, Psycho, and Sticky Rice. These were not, as you might otherwise surmise, members of a rogue biker club, but rather four largish and mostly affable canines, each with his or her own peccadilloes. They also appear as characters in his latest book, Killed at the Whim of a Hat, by the way. Later I would meet the two newest additions, a pair of athletic and ever-so-full-of-themselves puppies named Venus and Serena, who had not been accepted as full-fledged members of the pack, and thus were sequestered in protective custody until such time as they were accorded provisional constituency.
The next day promised some additional human companionship, in the form of Colin’s “daughter” Nok, and her friends Daw, Khae, Noon, and Pyo. The five motored down from Bangkok in Daw’s nifty new Chevrolet SUV (a model I haven’t seen before but liked a lot, quite an admission from a confirmed Japanese car geek), to help out with a Chinese New Year Celebration at the nearby Burmese school. A lot of Burmese refugees reside in Thailand, in varying degrees of legality, providing a cheap labor pool for fishing, construction, farming, and so on. (Does this all sound a bit too familiar?) There is really no provision for schooling their children, many or most of whom don’t speak Thai, so a handful of concerned teachers, parents and benefactors, with Colin deeply involved, have gotten together to provide a schoolroom, some supplies, and a lot of compassion. The situation is not the best, of course; kids of all ages share the same classroom, and like kids everywhere, the cooler older ones are not all that keen to share space with the dorkier younger ones. Also, the kids are routinely pulled out of school as their parents follow the work wherever it may lead. Thus, the teachers find themselves rehashing the same lessons again and again. That said, I have rarely if ever seen such a group of engaged kids in one place at one time. A couple of them had a few words of English, which they tried out on me again and again: “Hi, how you?” “What you name?” “My name ____” These phrases occasioned raucous laughter from their friends, but not as much as my replies, particularly when I had answered the same questions forty-three times.
There were games and activities galore, not unlike those you might see at a stateside school: musical chairs (but somehow, although the number of chairs got smaller each round, the number of players seemed to stay constant, perhaps even grow, and the kids very obligingly shared space on the chairs with one or two other kids so nobody would be left out); painting (no surprise here, but more of the paint got on the kids than on the paper, and they even managed to get a fair bit of blue paint on the my otherwise peaches and cream countenance, courtesy of a balloon that they “kissed” me with, failing to mention that the face painted thereon had been added scant seconds before); and a Pamplona-esque romp in which a balloon was tied to the right ankle of each child, and then the kids were set loose in a circle, each trying to stomp the balloon of every other child into oblivion. Colin was a master at this game; clearly he had been practicing. However, being one of only two Westerners on hand, he was a prime target, and he got he got his comeuppance, triple-teamed by a phalanx of future soccer players who took great delight in having stomped his balloon into oblivion.