Early Saturday morning we made our way over to the school, about a 20-minute drive from Colin’s seaside house. It was a two-car convoy, or I should say, one car and one truck. Colin’s diminutive Honda Brio, tinier than any Honda sold stateside, would accommodate only four, and we were five. Also, don’t forget the aforementioned containerload of toys, games and snacks. The kids, dressed in their Sunday-go-to-meeting best, applauded as we arrived. I wanted to do a rock-star fist-pump and yell “Hello, Lang Suan” (cue the applause…), but discretion won the day. The little girls were all made up with rouge and pink lipstick, and the whole place had the look of the dressing room of an amateur production of “The King and I.” A dozen charming Tuptims smiled shyly and waied, a kind of quick curtsy combined with a palms-together praying hands gesture. It’s an incredibly charming effect.
It didn’t take long for us to be absorbed into the group. Although the kids don’t speak much Thai, and virtually no English, they were quickly whipped into shape by Koi, who was apparently channeling a drill-sergeant previous incarnation, this despite the fact that Koi speaks not a word of Burmese. In short order, she had the kids singing “Hello hello, how are you? You are my friend and I love you…” What it may have lacked in melody and harmony was more than made up for with exuberance and volume.
I recognized some of the kids from last year, and clearly at least some of them recognized me as well. One of the older boys, a stout fellow of about 12 or 13 named So, quickly demonstrated leadership potential, so he was drafted to provide Burmese explanations of the rules of the various games on offer. Since last year, the kids had become quite a bit more adept at gamesmanship. As an example, during last year’s game of musical chairs, quite a number of the kids proved most willing to share their chairs with their competitors when the music stopped, an unanticipated display of team spirit in a distinctly non-team sport. No such largesse this year, however; it was every man (or woman) for himself (or herself), and woe to anyone, participant of bystander who got in the way.