Rule Number 1: Get there early
‘Hold your breath!’ I yelled loudly.
Whizzing to school on our little orange bumblebee, Kristin and I took a deep breath as we shot past the rubbish dump. As usual, it smelled like a mixture of rotting feet and sewage. The only way to survive the stench is to hold your breath for at least 10 seconds when you pass by. It’s important to time it just right though, you make the mistake of breathing in a second too early and its almost guaranteed that your morning breakfast will make an unwelcome appearance.
‘Do you think we’ll make it?’ she asked, after we’d safely cleared the 10-second mark.
I glanced down at my watch, 7:50 am.
‘Its gonna be tight’.
Five minutes later we pulled off the busy highway, waving our good mornings to the friendly school guards. Bike parked, we flung the helmets over the mirrors and raced past the dinosaurs into the building. There was still time if we hurried. We paced swiftly down the wide empty corridor in our pointed black shoes and yellow polo shirts. Mondays are yellow days.
Reaching the sign-in point, it was a relief to see that only the three Chinese Teachers stood ahead of us. Long gone were the days of having the privilege of riding to school for free with them in the bright pink Winnie the Pooh school bus.
Finally it was our turn to sign in. 7.57 am. We really needed to be speedy about this or we’d get caught. I pressed my thumb against the machine and patiently waited…
‘Hoh um him naa haa’ the machine barks at me. (Or something along the lines of this)
Whilst I have no idea what this means, I have deduced from previous experience that it implies my fingerprint has not been recognised. ‘Damn it’ I mutter under my breath, alternating my thumb in a variety of angles in an attempt to get the stupid machine to recognise me.
‘Hoh um him naa haa…Hoh um him naa haa…Hoh um him naa haa.’
Finally the stupid machine understands I come in peace, and I move on to the paper sign-in. As I quickly scribbled down a signature next to my name, I dare a swift glance at my watch. 7.59 am. My heart sinks. There was no way we could make it all the way up the stairs to the staff room in under a minute. I knew it, Kristin knew it and even the Chinese Teachers only a few paces ahead of us knew it.
We were right.
Suddenly, a loud music blared out from all around us. A single tone-deaf child barked out the lyrics to the Thai National Anthem on a microphone as the spectators of the whole charade did their best to disguise the awkward grimace appearing across their faces. Teachers, parents and students who were hurriedly walking the corridors (presumably in an attempt to avoid this) come to an abrupt stop. Everyone froze like statues. Nobody swayed. Nobody blinked. Nobody even breathed. All focus was on just two children: the young girl with the terrible voice; and a young boy who solemly pulled on a rope, hanging from a pole at the front of the vast courtyard. The flag raising ceremony, in honour of the king. Every morning at 8am. If you don’t want to endure the gormless embarrassment of being stood halfway up the stairs not moving for 10 minutes then make sure you arrive early for school!