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Cellular Celebration

July 12, 2009

Science, along with moderation, have always been obstacles for me.  I come from a country which has Nobel Laureates in Medicine, Science and Literature.  I now live in a country with no such a history of Nobel Laureates. I am not sure if I can even name an Asian rececipient.  But that is just my ignorance, nothing more.

I had a classical education.  There was Latin, Greek, French and of course English Literature. When it came to math, I defer to the American terminolgy, and science I was  sadly deficient.  History was my strenght, but of course we only studied Modern or European, Asian studies came late to Australia, despite our proximity to the continent.  In fact travel from Australia in the 1950’s always began in the United Kingdom.  It is where people fled for some intellectual stimulation and those like Clive James and Germaine Greer still remain.  It was also where artists chose to travel.  Earls Court became famous for the numbers of ex-pat Aussies who lived their.

I was middle class and privileged.   Both my parents never completed any secondary education and like many of their generation, insisted that their own children be given a greater chance.  Mine was a Catholic education both at primary and secondary level and later in both a Minor and Major Seminary for the priesthood. It was a heady time.  Oliver Goldsmith, Dickens, Hardy, the poetry of the Latins and the Greeks.  Wonderful stuff!  In the minor Seminary there was a Library.  This became a refuge.  Far preferable than a playing field.  But I did attempt Rugby, Soccer and Football.  But being a ‘sissy’ boy, these pursuits did not sit well with me.  I made a half-hearted attempt but never excelled.  In fact I was an average student academically.

Just how privileged I was became very clear to me after a few years in Asia.  Very few pupils went beyond primary school.  And the constraints were financial.  Poor, rural, kids had no expectations of completing secondary school.  They became factory fodder in the factories of Bangkok.  Their conditions and pay were appalling, and in many cases, nothing much has changed.  Without the rural poor, cities like Bangkok, would shut down.  All the menial tasks are still performed by country folk, both boys and girls.  Even now the average daily wage is not in excess of 10 AUD per day, and overtime around 30 cents Australian.

Sam, my partner, told me of his life as a machinist in a factory.  From the age of 14 till I met him at 27, he laboured, in the true sense of the word, for little money, and some of that was always sent home to the family who are rice growers in the North East.  This is a familiar story.  Economic refugees.  These gentle people travel across the country to where they can find unskilled work.  Their living conditions are primitive.  Shared small rooms.  The floor is the bed.  Air conditioning seldom.  But there is little complaint.  There is an acceptance of their lot in life.

These people have never had the opportunities to improve their lives.  It is trite to say that without education there is no future, but as we know, it is accurate.  When I met Sam I had retired for the second time from a career in teaching.  I had spent 4 years in the North of Thailand teaching at a Buddhist University.  This was the only way that poor, rural boys, not girls, could pursue tertiary studies.  They complete a Bachelor’s Degree, remain a monk for a further year and mostly they disrobe and enter the workforce.  Sam did not have that opportunity.  His stories of going to primary school barefoot, and this was in the 1980’s, saddened me.  But he is an old soul.  Not filled with curiosity, but with a good heart.  Age, class and financial differences have not excluded us from the language of the heart.  I have learnt a lot and hopefully I have reciprocated at some level.

We moved from a beach side resort on the West Coast of the Gulf of Thailand to Bangkok.  The government does provide some training for the rural poor in a city the size of Bangkok.  Sam was interested in hairdressing so he was able to enrol in a class.  It would give him some qualification without a huge expense.  But sadly it did not work out for him.  I spent a lot of time worrying what would he do with his life when I had passed on.  He could have gone back to the factory about an hours bus ride from the centre of Bangkok where we lived.  But it was impractical.

Then we discovered that the government had set up a bridging course.  This was for young men and women who had only completed their primary education.  It involved Saturday morning classes for a period of two years but would provide him with a level of secondary education approximate to three years of high school.  Eureka!  There was some light, some optimism, some hope.

I encourage him to follow this path.  I was, after all, a teacher.  I could be of some assistance in his studies.  He now goes off to school each Saturday morning, clean white shirt and black trousers, a 32 year old secondary student.  He is doing well, he is enjoying the studies.  His is doing well.

Tonight when he came home I asked how was school, like a dutiful parent would do, in this case, his friend, his life partner.  And when he uttered these words tears came to my tired, old eyes, “Today we studied cells in the human body”  What a gigantic leap from sitting for 15 hours at a sewing machine, on a factory floor with no airconditioning, and a few baht a day for his efforts.

Indeed a cause for celebration.  In a few months he will have complete three years of high school and then go on to study anothe two years to complete his secondary schooling.  What after that?  He is a talented man, a simple man, a man with a big heart.  I only hope that he is able to follow some career which gives him as much joy as my years of teaching the monks of his own culture.

As I constantly say, my years in my adopted country have been the best years of my life.  If a teacher is able to make an impression on at least one student in a year then I think something remarkable has been achieved.

I hope we can continue to celebrate Sam’s journey for many more years.  It is the lack of opportunity for the poor that is the obstacle, not the person.  And how removed from Ovid and Catullus is this story.  But the study of cellular structure is OK by me….Sam we wish you well!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Emperor Ming permalink
    July 12, 2009 7:48 pm

    Wonderful thoughtful Thailand post. Its not easy to get under the skin here but you did

  2. dyoll09 permalink*
    July 13, 2009 8:44 pm

    Oh Esteemed Emperor Ming….I am both humbled and overwhelmed your comments.
    I am glad that you responded in such a positive way and I feel that after all my years here maybe I have been able to contribute a little….agan many thanks and if you read my very first post you will have noticed that the object of the blog was a two way street, not just for me to bang on in Bangers…regards Lloyd.

  3. West of Kevin permalink
    October 16, 2009 1:01 pm

    Refreshing is a word that comes to me. We all have our journeys (I know, an obvious point), but mine now includes you dear refreshing Ajarn. I’ve never thought wisdom to be singularly age related, as maybe we’ve met a few old souls in the young. Sam? But the wisdom here is inspiring and thoughtful. No matter your age, your history, your education, your country, it comes in many forms. I’m touched. Cellularly.

    • February 15, 2010 11:01 am

      Dear Kevin, so much has happened since October 16th
      Now I sit in Melbourne, Australia, my home town from 146-2000.
      I returned to have bowel cancer removed and now am faced with 6 months of chemotherapy, apprehension grips my head and heart.
      Sadly my beloved Sam is still in Bangkok, this is the longest separation in our 5 years. His english is not adequate to fully understand my condition but we ring one another and send emails, even though they are simple yet from the heart. Dear friends are assisting him to apply for a Medical Emergency Visa, but I am not filled with over flowing optimism…am trying to draw on all my buddhist resources, and of course Impermanance, suffering etc come to mind…have only just written my first blog after a long absence from the key board, was close to death and now staying with loving friends temporarily till I can find private rental, a huge problem in Melbourne..suffering severe culture shock but was comforted to read your october 16th comments, loving kindness springs to mind my friend
      Stay at ease

  4. dyoll09 permalink*
    May 29, 2010 6:21 am

    You have lifted me higher as the writing is intrinsic to my therapy… have bought tears to my eyes with your kindness…much love Lloyd and Sam

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