Day 112: Breathing magic into Thai school
The students, most of them, watch as Isaac performs at the school in Nan. Photo: Aly
LAST night, I had gone ahead and sifted through my piles of magic tricks, compiling a list of feasible ones for a Thai class room full of 12-year-old kids, which of course means that the red foam penis is not coming along.
The dice, which have been dead set against dedicating a whole week to magic, threw me into the deep end with this one. They demanded that I offer to do a show for Aly's students at Bandon Srisermkasikorn School in Nan.
Given the short notice of the proposition, I'd hoped that the bureaucracy of the school would shoot the idea down.
Instead, I got a thumbs up message from Aly, confirming the time for 12:30pm.
By booking the magic show, my entire schedule is thrown.
I was planning on leaving today, but there's no chance I'd be able to do the show and get out of town in the same day. Given the delay, there's now no point of me skipping town right before the Nan long boat races get underway.
So, here I am, stuck in Nan because the die wanted me to a do a magic show for which it refused to dedicate the necessary time.
Somewhere near the bottom of my bag, after pulling everything out – inadvertently adding chaos to the already messing room – I find my dress shoes. I'm traveling with a lot of shoes: dress shoes, running shoes, motorcycle boots, climbing shoes and flip flops. There are men of many hats, but I think a man of many shoes is more versatile.
Deep breath in, I don't think about magic or run through any of the tricks ahead of time, though I'm bound to be very rusty with most of them. Instead, I take a long, hot shower, careful to shampoo and condition my hair. I shave. I dig out my hair gel and style my bleach-blonde hair. I unfold a white dress shirt, slacks and beat the wrinkles out of my dinner jacket.
Step one is looking the part. Crouching down to see my head in the mirror, I run a comb through my hair one more time to make sure everything is in good order.
I'm meeting Kara, one of the foreign teachers, in the parking lot of the school in about 30 minutes.
Where the hell is the empty water bottle? I just drained it for the coin through the bottle trick. Slowly I pull everything off the bed, trying not to break a sweat. The fan is off to prevent if from creating a twister out of the decks of cards. Once I find the water bottle, something else disappear into the startling mess. How is it possible for one person to travel with so much shit?
Jamming the last few items into my laptop case, I scramble out the door. Though Kara says there is no rush, it feels like I'm running late.
Kara wanders into the parking lot, waving as she approaches me and Rocinante. Short with thick curly hair and a long, heavy skirt she looks a bit like a hobbit.
“Perfect timing! Are you ready?” Aly asks, beaming out from her classroom on the third floor of the large education complex. Inside the classroom, Thai students, perhaps 34 in total, sit at their small, well-organized desks, watching me. The girls are wearing blue uniform tops with matching blue skirts. The boys, wearing their brown scout uniforms, have pink scarfs tied around their necks.
“I need a couple minutes to prepare,” I say.
In the open-air hallway outside the room, I'm introduced to teacher Wandee, who is the Thai teacher in charge of the classes. She's very welcoming, and almost certain that I've come to do magic at the school before. However, I confirm to her that if there was magic in Nan before this, it wasn't me.
Kara then takes me into a nearby office, where I'm able to make few last minute preparations, reviewing my notes for the show.
In general, the type of magic I like to practice is simply card manipulations. I've been so caught up in the technical side of it all that I've failed to practice the performance side, which, at the end of the day, is everything. Most of the magic is in the performance itself. That aside, the magic is supposed to be close-up bar and street magic – I've thought of very few of the tricks in the context of performing them as stage magic.
As I did with Aly, I down talk the show to Kara, setting the expectation bar as low as possible, much lower than I think I'll hit – even if I bomb.
Deep breath in. Here we go.
“Good Morning, teacher Isaac,” the class calls out in one unified voice, each student smiling and standing at attention as I walk into the room in a navy blue blazer.
“How are you?” the voices say, the most confident of the students leading the charge.
“Good. How are you?” I ask, which unleashes a torrent of disorganized replies.
“Sit down, sit down. Listen,” Aly calls out to the class, bringing order.
“Okay, take one cookie and pass it down,” I say pulling a few rolls of Oreo from my bag – best to bribe them with sugar at the beginning.
Worried their might not be enough cookies, Aly scrambles back to the office. However, be the time she's back with some more snacks, I'm collecting the extra cookies.
One boy, starts eating his cookie, which gets a laugh from everyone.
“Mi gin (don't eat),” I say, attempting to interlace what Thai I know with English.
Following my lead the children hold the cookie out in front of them and then take one big bite. However, after chewing the cookie and swallowing it, I'm able to spit the bitten piece right back to where it was – returning the cookie to one piece.
A young boy in the front row, quick on his feet, blows at his cookie and flips it so it looks like it's also been restored.
With the intro trick done and everyone comfortable, I check the cheat sheet to see what's next.
Dressed in his best, Isaac prepares to pull a golden necklace out of thin air. Photo: Aly
Out of thin air, a golden necklace appears for one girl. Other students are handed playing cards, but don't have the magical touch to make them fly like mine. There is some laughing and pointing as my thumb nail clears the spider string from my flying card and scrapes it onto my belt.
“I need a volunteer,” I say.
“Classroom dojo,” Aly says. Using some system on her phone to select a student for me.
We crush a can of Pepsi and then slowly restore the can to new and even re-seal it.
A scrawny kid in the front row, wearing his scout uniform like the rest of the boys, knows the foam ball trick as soon as the bright red balls appear. Pacing to the back of the room, I pray he keeps it to himself.
At the end of the show, the boy comes up and wants to show me the trick. With his tiny hands, he makes the balls disappear and reappear in my big hands while a crowd of his fellow students push in to watch.
I consider giving him one of my magic rings. It seems like a perfect memento to leave behind. But I'm worried about doing it in front of all the other students. I wait for the classroom to clear out, then after a lot of waiting, realize they are waiting for me to leave. I roll the die, giving him a 50 per cent chance of getting my magic ring. The die thinks it's a bad idea, which is a shame.
The kids are now coming up to trade in their queens and other playing cards for kings – everybody in Thailand loves the king. I allow the first student to trade the cards. Realizing my mistake, put an end to the trade-in scheme.
“Thanks for bringing them all the treats,” Aly says, eager to shuffle off to the next class she has to teach, which she's running later for.
“I've got to run. Probably never see you again,” she says with big dramatic arms and a smile.
Not a “let me thank you by getting you a drink” or “thanks for doing this, come out to dinner with us”? Nope. Jut a “I'm too busy to deal with you right now”.
A bit deflated, I wander back to the chaos of my room at S.P. Guesthouse. Here I've gone about reorganizing my next few days of travel for a charitable magic show (spending a few hundred baht on cookies and the such) and then just get kind of shoveled out with a perfunctory thank you.
However, the kids enjoyed the show, though I'm not sure it had the essence of magic that I love and love to see enrapture others. Bottom line, something different happened in class and they got cookies and a little gift – of course they loved the show. Then again, perhaps I just didn't see the magic; it was a roughly thrown together string of tricks that left me constantly checking what would happen next, rather than basking in the smiles, laughs and questioning faces of the students.
Later I receive a Facebook message from Aly, presumable after she's had a chance to catch her breath after a full day of teaching: Thank you so so much for coming to my class! They absolutely loved it!! The looks on their faces were priceless.
Smiling, I realize that was all I needed. I didn't need an invite out for a thank you dinner or even a drink, just a genuine thank you.