With just two weeks to go in the school year, the Director of Nantawan announced that the either school would be taking a field trip into Bangkok. In the midst of intense reviews and tutoring sessions (in Thailand children aren't allowed to fail a grade, so those that slack off during the year receive intense help at the end), we were supposed to interrupt our classes YET AGAIN! The children were warned that anyone caught misbehaving would be sent to jail :-) and the teachers were given a strict dress-code to abide by. There was to no black clothing, ties were mandatory, women had to wear skirts, ect. Since the memo was written mostly in Thai, the foreign teachers were left in the dark as to what exactly we would be doing... we were just supposed to impress the importance of good behavior onto our students.
So the day of the field trip the students were lined up by grade and told to wait by the busses. Even though the school had hired three extra-large busses, they still didn't have enough seats, so my class (G1P) was told to ride in a school van. The prospect of spending ninety minutes in a small van with 20 six-year-olds was a bit daunting, but luckily I snagged a seat next to my favorite group of girls. Even as the bus neared Bangkok it seemed as if good fortune was on our side, as traffic was light and the students stayed occupied. Soon we had pulled off the highway and onto the city streets.
To my surprise the van began driving next to the same unwelcoming compound that I had passed a few months before. This time the guards parted at the gates, checked our passes, searched the exterior of the van and let us pass into the Royal Projects.
Now would be a good time to interject that it is very rare for foreigners to be allowed to see the Royal Projects. It was a great honor that the school managed to allow us to accompany our students, as we would bear witness to something to which most people are kept unaware.
I didn't quite know what to expect. Would I see some innovative technique of agriculture? Or perhaps a new type of industry that would revolutionize the Thai economy? Alas, our tour did not focus on anything of that sort, nor did it hint to its existence (although the guide may have mentioned it, the tours was dictated in Thai). Instead we were led first to a milk pasteurizing area, where regular, strawberry, chocolate and other flavored milk was being divided into bottles bearing the King's symbol.
The guide also explained the production of powered milk tablets, which are treated like candy (and tasted very good). Next we stopped by a water purifying station. After that we visited a rice production warehouse, where rice is stripped from its husk, sorted, bleached and packaged. Even the husks serve a purpose, as the building next store was used to compress the hulls into kindling logs similar to Duralogs.
From there the students were led to the Plant Germplasm Bank...although I was not able to gather any useful information from any of my students as to what that Bank was all about.
After a stop for some fresh pineapple juice we were led to a candle factory. From what I could gather from the children, the King has been developing a long-lasting smoke-less wax.
A decorative paper-making facility was our next stop.
The students were able to witness the intricate steps in making recycled papers. Then we stopped by an area dedicated to finding new ways to market spirulina, a very nutricious algae, to the masses.
Finally we walked to the mushroom farm, where rows upon rows of mushrooms were meticulously grown in a damp, dark room.
These mushrooms would eventually find their way into medicines, drinks (mushroom and chrysanthimum juice anyone?) and foodstuffs.
After the hours of walking in the sun, my sweaty students were then loaded into the van and given sack-lunches consisting of rice and hotdogs (yum). Luckily I had thought to pack a sack lunch for myself :-)
During my first stay in Bangkok I spent a day visiting the major tourist attractions near the Royal Palace and Keo San Road. What I saw amazed me, but there was also a passing image that made a huge impression on me. As the car travelled down a road it came upon a huge gated area. Around this area was a moat and between the moat and the fence were heavily armed guards. I had asked my host what was beyond the walls, and she told me that it was H.M. the King's Royal Chitralada Projects... a place where he developed new technologies and such to better the lives of the Thai people. This struck a deep chord within me. It was awesome to think that someone with so much power could really care about those that he reigned over.