The biggest urban Chinese community outside China itself is in Bangkok, Thailand. The country's links with China go back hundreds of years and when you visit this city's bustling Chinatown, it is as if you have somehow been transported far away from Thailand to Shanghai or Guangzhou
It is perhaps no surprise then that the Chinese New Year is widely celebrated in Thailand and today the primary school children all turned out in silky Chinese costumes. There was Chinese drumming and a dragon dance and a woman dressed in a giant panda costume startled me on the corridor next to my classroom. I think she hoped I mght have a bamboo shoot for her.
At the Chinese caligraphy activity table, I held a special paint brush upright and did my best to copy the Mandarin symbol for "sky" - see above. I would have loved to scan my own attempt but alas I can't find a scanner. It was the first Chinese symbol I have ever written though I have had many Chinese meals - the symbols for which are often cunningly applied to the sunburnt shoulders of numbskull holidaymakers by mischievous tattoo artists.
In the room opposite my classroom, Miss Lynn teaches Mandarin Chinese. Thais are well aware of the increasing importance of Chinese in economic terms but they have a special affnity for Britain and I see many union jacks on clothing, handbags, purses etc.. You see hardly any American icnography. At the recent parents' evening a wealthy mother laughed with disdain when I suggested her son might attend a summer school in Australia, Canada or America. "No. We like England. That where English come from!" And four of the boys who were in my previous form group are now at boarding schools in England.
By the way, Chinese New Year is on Sunday Februuary 10th and we are about to enter the year of the snake. Should be a good year for Tony Blair, Jeremy Kyle and Richard Hammond methinks.