Friday, December 13, 2013

Sports Day! The Odd Importance of Ceremony

“I don't understand the point of all this ceremony,” my fellow rookie teacher asked me as we stood at the gates of our school, watching the marching band leave campus with a lot of pre-fanfare (see, they have to leave the school before they can come marching back into it). Indeed, to the American eyes, there was an awful lot of plumage, costumes, banners and flags being furled about for what was not a national holiday, just something for our school alone. This seemed strange to him. Me, I got it. Ceremony is part of what brings us together as members of a community. It may not have a 'point' beyond that. It can be mildly entertaining, but so can a lot of things. Ceremony with all its trappings ensconces in individuals a feeling they are part of something bigger. This sense of community is good for the individual and good for the health of the group as a whole.

“C'mon, man! It's SPORTS!” I tried to convey my enthusiasm, hoping some might rub off. I went on to explain why I think ceremony is important as I stated above. To the more rational western mind, appealing to the sociological functionality of ceremony and sports might make it more understandable. A Thai person doesn't need this kind of rationalization. They embrace the ceremony simply because it's what they do. It doesn't need to have a 'point'.

Today was “Sports Day” at the high school where I teach. All classes were cancelled. This Friday was going to be all about playing sports and having fun. I had no idea what to expect from the actual events. I wasn't sure if I'd be asked to do anything or not. I got a stage-eye view of the opening ceremonies, to start. They were impressive. Like a mini-olympics or something.

There was supposed to be a futsal (a mini-soccer with only 5 on each side) between the foreign teachers (There's six of us: 3 Americans, an Ulsterman, one Filipino and a Chinese guy) and a select team from the Thai teachers (mind you, like most schools, the staff is mostly older women). Unfortunately, that match-up, what our longest-termed native English speaking teacher called our 'annual ritual humiliation', did not happen. Seems that this year, the thought was that Sports Day should be for the students. I did at least get in a few games of basketball, some ping pong and we put on a demonstration of hackey sack for the students. 

Definitely the highlight of the day was dance/cheerleading competition. I do work at an all-boys school, but even the straightest of students enjoyed watching or participating in the choreographed dance routines which make up the bulk of the video below. A couple teams had former students come back to help with choreography, and some of those were Thailand's infamous ladyboys. 

Anyhoots, the day accomplished what it was intended: it brought Patumkongka High School closer together. It gave the students and staff a feeling of being part of something bigger (although some of the foreign staff felt a bit miffed over the futsal match being cancelled). Ceremony is important, and we got a wonderful amount of it today.

Enjoy the video.

A couple production notes on the video:

Normally, I take a video like this and add background music, narration and fancy transitions to make it more interesting. This time, I decided not to because I think the best way to let you know what it was like to be there today was to present it in its raw form.

My regular video camera is in the shop.  The LCD screen broke.  The camera records, but I can't see what I'm recording.  They said when I brought it in (a week ago) that it will be 2 to 3 weekd for repair. All the somewhat crappy footage in this vid (and in the pics) were recorded on my new smartphone. 

Lastly, I am definitely getting my own ping pong paddle and will be back to battle the teenagers in the ping pong palace (which I didn't even know existed until today).


  1. I like the fact that you aren't trying to force our cultural ideas on them but learning to embrace their ways. I hate people coming to our country and saying - well that's not how we do it back home. If you don't like it - go home. The biggest joy of life is learning to accept and learn about others and their ways. Way to go.

  2. I'm glad I decided to send you your Christmas gift early. I hope you think of some of these things, like a new ping pong paddle, as from us. Basketball? Your back may be better, but basketball is not wise. Ask yourself if it is worth another month or so of extreme pain! Ping pong might be better because you have to move around, reach and stretch, but don't have to jump. love ...


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