musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Dr. Seuss’

Shan School Session


While I was in Shan State last month, I had time to teach one day at the primary school in Tat Ein village, just a few kilometers east of Nyaungshwe. I was actually prepared to teach more than a single day, but for some reason the school was closed for two days during the middle of the week when I arrived. But when the schedule gets juggled like that, the kids make up the lost day later. In this case they had classes on Saturday and Sunday that week.



Once again, the children were a joy to teach. Their smiles and enthusiasm always make each lesson a fun experience. But damn, does it get loud in that room! They have four classes going on at once — even though they only have two teachers this term to handle all the grades — and there are no walls between the classrooms, so with the other teachers yelling and the students shouting back responses (it’s the typical “rote method” of learning so often found in Asian classrooms) I sometimes found myself drowned out by the wall of competing noise.




I employed my usual arsenal of goofy activities and games, getting the kids out of their seats and giving them some sort of reason to speak English language words. One activity prompted them to say “the same” or “not the same” when looking at two photos or drawings, some of which were similar but not actually the same. For one class (I taught one group in the morning and a different bunch in the afternoon) I also trotted out my trusty old animal game, one which forces the students to “act out” a certain animal without speaking the name of the critter. I show them a drawing of the animal and then they have to “be” that animal and let the other students guess what they are. Always a riot!




I also brought some children’s books, a combination of Disney cartoon classics and Dr. Seuss stuff, to read to the students. They enjoyed these books in the past and they were a hit this time too. I even noticed some novice monks at the monastery looking through one of the books one afternoon during a separate visit. They can’t read everything in the books yet, but they love the silly illustrations! And hopefully, that will motivate them to read more.










Expat Exodus = Book Avalanche

It’s that time of year in Thailand; the annual exodus of expats leaving the country. Even without a calendar I can always tell it’s the month of May because my bookshop is inundated with foreigners coming in to sell their books. It’s usually the same old refrain (“I’m moving back to my home country”), or a variation (“We’re moving to another house” … “My husband is relocating to Africa”) of such.


So why does this book avalanche happen in May, you ask? For many expats living and working in Bangkok, particularly those with school-age children, this month marks the end of the school year, at least for International schools (Thai public schools, however, usually end their school year in early March). And of course summer is almost here so many families or individuals are taking trips back to their home country. Whatever their reasons for leaving town, we are once again being bombarded with people selling books.

Not that I’m complaining. I like to have more books. I need to have more books. Sure it hurts having to shell out so much cash, but my inventory is important to me and I never want to turn down good titles because I’m on a budget. Late last year,  two hotels in the Phuket area made large book purchases for libraries they were stocking at their resorts, thus the stock at my own shop was starting to thin out. But now we’re back over 16,000 books again … and I still want more! As far as I’m concerned you can never have too many books (that holds true for personal collections as well as store stock) and I want my inventory to keep expanding, to become more diversified. I’m just as thrilled to have more Children’s books and Poetry volumes as much as stocking more Crime Fiction, Travel, and History. I want it all!

Some customers, as you might suspect, are sad to part with their books. But when they start to think about how much it’s going to cost in shipping fees or excess baggage charges to send all those heavy titles back home, well, it doesn’t feel quite so bad to sell them after all. It’s also interesting to compare people’s reactions when we total up the books and tell them how much we’ll pay for them. Some people are pleasantly surprised at how much cash we’ll pay; others are just grateful, if not thrilled to get anything for their books; and then there are the ones who act offended, as if they think we’re cheating them and not offering enough money. What can you do? I try to be fair, but you can’t please everyone and I’m not going to stand there and negotiate with some disgruntled cheapskate. Take it or leave it. You’re not happy with how much we’re offering you? Try another dealer in town … and good luck finding one that is willing to give you a fair price, much less pay any cash at all.


Meanwhile I sit at the computer and update our database of titles as more books arrive. Today was a fun day with several hundred new arrivals, a real mixed bag of titles that included Evelyn Waugh, Dr. Seuss, Jan Morris, Ross Macdonald, a slew of cool history books, nearly the entire “Magic Tree House” series for kids, some much needed Spanish and Italian novels, a few old Hemingway books, some old espionage paperbacks, the stray Harry Potter and Nancy Drew title … and on and on it went. Damn, I love these books!


Classroom Quandry


When I was in Shan State earlier this month I did a single day of English teaching at the primary school in Tat Ein village. This time around, however, the classroom setup was very different and as a result the lesson was much more difficult for me to teach.



Normally when I teach at this school, the class sizes are small, ranging from 6 to 15 students, and I only have to concern myself with teaching one group at a time. The school recently completed the semester (actually, the end of their school year) and final exams, so regular classes were finished by the time I arrived. But they’ve been holding “special” classes for the kids to give them something to do during their break, and just before I showed up, Ma Pu Su and our mutual friend Pascal (from France) also spent a couple of days at the school, teaching English and even giving art lessons. For my class, they combined all the students from the school, including ones that go to the middle school and high school in nearby Nyaungshwe. As a result, I had over 50 kids in class, ranging from first graders to high school students, and a few novice monks from the adjacent monastery. As you would expect, the English skills of this bunch ran from nearly non-existent to pretty impressive.




As soon as I saw the classroom setup — with partitions gone and desks moved into new positions — the problem become apparent; how was I going to teach this bunch? I had prepared various lessons and activities, but I quickly realized that most of it was going to be useless in a class this big, especially one that had students with such a wide gap in language skills. If I dumbed the lessons down for the beginners, the experienced students were going to be bored, and if I taught them something with any degree of complexity, the younger students would be totally bewildered by it all. And even if I had an activity appropriate for te whole bunch, how was I going to keep them all involved? A definite quandary.




I ended up doing some tried and tested language activities that combined English vocabulary with silly games. In one activity, I blindfolded students (one at a time!) and instructed them to walk in various directions around the classroom in a quest to find a hidden object. Of course I had to familiarize them with the various English phrases first (walk right, left, go straight, turn around, stop!), but even with that short lesson, some of the kids couldn’t get their directions straight and walked into walls or bumped  into their classmates. All of which only added to the fun and giggle factor.




I also brought along some small jigsaw puzzles and a few Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bears books. I ended up not using them in a lesson but during the midday two-hour lunch break I dug them out of my backpack and let some of the kids have fun with them. Those jigsaws are always a hit, but I was pleasantly surprised at how engrossed they were in the books too. It was a challenging day in the classroom, but a very enjoyable one. These kids are all really sweet, very polite, and a joy to teach.









Book Bonanza in Kuala Lumpur


There is still time; one week left for the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale being held at the Malaysia International Exhibition and Convention Centre (MIECC) in the Seri Kembangan area of Kuala Lumpur. I realize that hopping over to KL won’t be possible for most readers, but if you ARE in Malaysia, or passing through the region, you might to think about hitting this sale. It’s a pretty mammoth event.


This sale is being touted as the biggest in the world; over three million books, all with discounts of 75-95 percent off the publisher’s list price. The sale will end on December 23. Last weekend the book sale never stopped, staying open from 9 am on Friday until 6 pm on Saturday. Imagine shopping for books at three in the morning and enjoying free food and drinks in the process. Both mind boggling and eyesight tiring. The MIECC is located in the MINES Resort City, Selangor Darul Ehsan. Seri Kembangan. One fellow book lover in KL suggested that I should “take a box” if I was planning on attending. If nothing else, anyone planning to go there should bring several sturdy bags or a dependable set of luggage. You’ll be tempted by the bargains.


I was in Kuala Lumpur about two weeks ago, too soon to take advantage of this sale, but I did make my usual stop at the BookXcess outlet at the Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya. They had an outstanding selection of affordable remainder titles as usual, everything from trade size paperback novels to hardcover titles, and books in a wide array of categories, including travel, sports, photography, biography, science, business, music, history, cooking, and romance. I bought a few books for myself, a couple of big bags full of assorted titles for my shop in Bangkok, and several children’s books, flashcards, and puzzles to use for teaching the next time I’m Shan State. They also had a pretty cool selection of Dr. Seuss jigsaw puzzles. Tempting, but at that point I was pushing the weight limit of my baggage allowance, so I didn’t get any.

BookXcess only has this one branch in town, but it makes for a very worthwhile visit if you are a book fiend. And it’s easy to get to from anywhere in the KL area. Just hop on the LRT train and take it to the Tama Jaya station. From there, it’s a short walk across the parking lot (just past the vintage A&W drive-through restaurant) to the mall. BookXcess is located on the third floor. They are open daily from 10:30 am till 9:30 pm.


Go, Dog. Go! in Shan State

When I was in Nyaungshwe I did a three-day teaching stint at the primary school in Shan State’s Tat Ein village. I taught English to the third, fourth, and fifth grade classes during morning and afternoon sessions,. I’ll write more about that incredible experience in an additional post in the next week or so. But today I just wanted to highlight one of the books that I used during the lessons; Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman. It’s very much in the style of Dr. Seuss, and some people assume it actually is Dr. Seuss due to the similar colorful illustrations and zany characters.


I wasn’t sure how this book would connect with the kids at Tat Ein. They all have English lessons during their regular classes, but their language skills are very, very basic and they can’t read very well. They can count to ten and spell d-o-g and c-a-t, but not much more than that. Anyway, I’m pleased to report that Go, Dog. Go! was a hit, a huge hit. The kids really loved it, marveling at the wild characters and cracking up at the funny bits. Clearly, the children enjoyed the story, thanks mainly to those colorful illustrations.


It helped that the vocabulary in the book was easy, and also easy enough for me to translate most parts in Burmese. It didn’t matter which class I read it to, they all huddled around me and urged me to turn the pages faster. They wanted to know what was going on at the top of that tree! I’d also ask them questions about what was happening on each page. How many dogs are there? What color is his hat? What color is the car? What game are they playing? Really, reading this book was one of the highlights of the lessons. I didn’t have the heart to take the book back with me when I was finished, so I left it with one of the other teachers, hoping she can get some mileage out of it too.


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