Thursday, July 14, 2011
Where Do The Children Play Pt. 2
What is it about sand? Like looking into a fire, an unexplainable, mesmerizing attraction. This photo was taken last fall in a leftover pile from a big cafeteria tiling project. For days on end it attracted and served kids of all grades, clawing, piling, tunneling, putting in roads, wiping roads out. The play was quiet and focused for the most part. Something about these tiny grains which soothes. Is it because it is so malleable, drawing some inner ant in us to dig our way back to some hive refuge? What could be more dull, really. If I proposed dumping a big pile of sand in an empty city lot instead of building the next hyper-designed, pressure treated playground, probably only cats would back my plan. But there it is. That little bit of dampness underneath, holding just enough to get a little something of a shape going. A nice little track for my broken plastic truck. It has to be the texture and touch. The way it soaks up the sun's warmth, the way it can and can't be held and filters through the fingertips. Look at Jek above, staring at it in his hands. Beholding with his nerves and eyes. For me it is watching them at work there. I can feel myself unclench. Must be seeing kids both safe and engaged. I can stop fretting that a child needs attending. I wonder what the other Thai teachers think of all the staring I do at the kids. They tell funny stories now and then about them, but they certainly don't dote on them except in the very first few years. I am going to ask my fellow teachers in the coming days why they became teachers. I know if it were elementary schools in the US, 9 out of 10 would be female, just as it is here, and the automatic response would be that they love kids and loved school. If you went into the homes of US elementary teachers you would likely find too many cats and a shitload of craft supplies.
The sand pile seems to be gender neutral and beautifully balanced between an individual and group dynamic. Everyone just kinda' doin' stuff. That's a little technical, I know. This is perhaps play in its purest form. When I go back to the States I want to see if Falang children do the squat or if this is the Thai version. Awesome.
Most of us tend to get touchy about our generation's touchstones. I remember my dad telling me how the Beach Boys (and all the records I liked) were shiite and Beethoven was the man. At least that's how I remember it. I remember thinking he hated everything about my generation and this denigrated me somehow. It was probably much less than that. He was wrong about the BB. Some of their songs still sound pretty good 35 years later. Of course, now that I have a few more miles on me, I get how almost nothing humanly created compares to, say, Ludwig B's late quartets. No matter the number of hearts deeply moved and lives affected, Harry Potter isn't King Lear. Wow, way off track here. Somehow I think I have gotten to a place where I am claiming that sand is the King Lear of playing. I didn't mean to. You know how we old people get confused, especially the angry, bitter ones. What I am trying to get around to saying is that watching Thai children play I am convinced of the necessity of freewheeling, unsupervised play. Of cracking boredom and suffering without an electronic fix, and later in life without self-medication. Of not providing for children and ignoring them more.
I just finished a long piece in the NYT about summer camps in the USA trying to survive the recession. Their most formidable challenge comes not from the hard times however, it comes from the ramped up expectations of American parents who want something to "show" for the thousands of dollars it costs to attend- improved SAT scores, a better backhand, a resume bullet point. And even the old fashioned woodsy ones have to keep adding more "wow" factor activities like climbing walls, big gymnastic facilities, and individually tailored meal plans.
Today, Isan village kids kind of do it backwards. They do "camp", circa 1920 in Maine, 350 days of the year and then for 10 days they get all hyped up for so-called Sports Week. At least in the primary schools, this was the only time I saw anything remotely resembling our sports obsessed nation. The kids had "practice" in volleyball, soccer, tagkaw, racing, and tug of war. Teachers blew whistles and kids put on uniforms. There was marching practice.
Then we met with about 8 other schools for all sorts of refereed round robins, kids were dressed up and paraded, winners were declared, and enormous trophies were handed out. As the kids competed I wandered around, occasionally having a shot of whiskey with the teachers from other primary schools.
Uh oh. Sounds like my angry bitter old man is loose again...
Sports Week in Isan even included Bocce and a boardgame- which was the one event my schools won- hooray!
Or Bocce with formal rules, which here is called bpentan which is the French version of Bocce. I loved playing this in the fall and you see lots of old timers playing it in the shade in NKP.
Or maybe it is just a free-for-all soccer game out on the dirt patch with the goals. Like pick up pond hockey, this is one of my favorites. Usually ends in a big tangled scrum.
Sometimes a kid gets pretty chewed up in one of these games, in which case they might go over and get the first aid kit and if it is really nasty get a teacher to unfussily bind it. It took me a long time to refrain from thinking I had to tell them to be careful or hover over them in case any 'problems' came up. There are a few popular sit down games I will show in the next post. In the video they are not really playing the game, just showing how they jump for the camera.
NYS Jumping Game