Super Teacher Fashion
By Chris Ansell
Thailand is hot, very hot. True, I speak as an Englishman. Like many Englishmen back home, I would consider 20ºC / 70F to be a hot day; worthy of whipping the shirt off in the hope of catching a few of those rare rays! But ask any of our teachers, including those who have left warmer climates than mine, and they will readily agree that Thailand has its own distinct “heat”. What we choose to wear in Surat (both in and out of the classroom) is largely governed by this. Light and breathable fabrics such as cotton will make your day that much more pleasant than spending the day teaching in polyester for example (which another school in town actually have their teachers wear!). Laundry is cheap, which is fortunate as you will be using the service regularly. This is due to the following simple equation:
Heat* + Teaching a lot of kids = Sweat
*the “Heat” can be attributed both to the proximity of Surat Thani to the equator and the vast quantity of chili that the Thais seem to take a sadistic pleasure in adding to most of their dishes!
But heat is not the only factor that determines what people wear in Surat. The Thais are an incredibly nationalistic people. They love the King as one loves their father. There is even a shirt, aptly and ingeniously named the King shirt (a polo shirt with the King's emblem on it), which is extremely popular amongst the locals and quite acceptable to teach in. These shirts can be purchased on just about every other street in Surat, for roughly the same price as a cheeseburger. Each day of the week has its own colour and so these shirts are available in various colours too (except black). On Mondays, for example, the colour is yellow, whilst on
Tuesdaysyou will see more people looking pretty in pink than any other colour. Wednesdays, like the sky, the sea, and part of the Thai flag, is blue. Thursdays, much like the weather I am used to waking up to back in Blighty, is grey. Fridays is a free choice. It is possible to wear one of these tops every working day of the week, in which case you wouldn't have to
worry about packing your “school uniform” at all!
Very importantly, in terms of clothing in the classroom, the more professional you appear the more respect you will get from both the students and the Thai teacher. This certainly helps discipline in the classroom, which is no bad thing. As far as
no no's are concerned one could consider the little song that you will no doubt use at some stage to teach the kids body parts. You know the one...heads, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes. Hats and caps are off limits, as is showing off shoulders, too much leg and tootsies. Jeans are not allowed and would be a rather unwise choice anyway given the heat in the day. You need not pack any teaching garments at all, for Surat can generally provide anything you will require, although the one item I would advise bringing is a pair of dress shoes for work. Thai people tend to have small feet and thus the shoes (as with much of the clothing) aren't manufactured with westerners in mind. If you have largish feet and do require shoes the best bet will be one of the large supermarkets in town. I managed to find some UK11's, but as far as women’s sizes are concerned, you will have to search high and low for anything above a number made in heaven...size 7. Hiking boots too would be useful to pack, as the beautiful Khao Sok national park is little more than a stones throw away and offers some great trails.
Clothing and accessories in Surat tend to be cheap. I managed to find a great deal on a set of Ray Bans. The price of 100 Baht (about £2) was so good that I felt it unnecessary to even enter into a bartering battle. There are deals to be found on every street. For the same price as the next can of coke and snickers that you buy, you can pick up a Ralph Lauren polo shirt here in Surat. Further...a bottle of booze = Converse shoes. Oh yes, you can find cheap Armani in Surat Thani. There is a snag. Can you guess? No? Okay, I'll break it to you gently. They're all fakes. Don't despair, however, if you have a penchant for the real article. These can be found as well. There is a new department store on Talad Mai (Talad Mai is to Surat what Oxford Street is to London and 5th Avenue is to New York) where you can buy all the labels you desire, but at a price not too dissimilar from those found in the west.
One of the cheapest places for clothing will be at the day and night markets. Here you can purchase an array of shirts, skirts and shorts for anywhere between 50 – 250 Baht (£1 - £5) and usually towards the lower end of this range. Much like Bangkok, the teens of Surat are a fashion conscious sort, and the designs on display reflect this. Their catwalk is the street. You will see flashes of bold colours and prints. If the wild colours and poorly (although very amusing!) translated tops don't appeal, then a wider selection of styles and sizes (for much of it has been donated by the farang of yesteryear) can be found at the many
second handstores scattered around.
Cowboys are rare in Surat at present, but their old shirts (especially the ones with those neat pearl buttons) frequent these little establishments. Smart clothing, suitable for strolling into a room of up to 55 students, can also be discovered, again, at very agreeable prices. What's more your Thai numerical skills may be practiced and polished should you wish to barter a little. Finally, if it’s a fancy dress outfit you require (and you will require one at some stage!), you shouldn't have to search much further than these used clothing outlets (especially if the party happens to have a country western theme).
One little pleasantry of the heat is the heightened pleasure that can be found in submerging oneself in the cool water of a swimming pool. Here it is acceptable to wear just a swimming costume, although the Thai people will usually wear a top as well, which is just not functional when you've got a tan to consider! For
girlsit would be advisable to be slightly more conservative at these pools than when at the beach for example, where sarongs, thongs and suchlike are de rigeur. While dress may be casual, this does not extend to undress: topless sunbathing, which, while it does occur, is frowned upon by Thais who are usually too polite to say anything.
Many of the classroom rules I mentioned earlier should be extended to when visiting Buddhist monasteries or other religious sites. Here
girls in particularshould cover their shoulders and knees. Revealing shoulders isconsidered very risqué, more so than revealing cleavage in the West. Girls should be aware of this, especially onanight out or at leasttraveling home, having painted the town proverbially red. Some of our current teachers take a small, light shirt in their handbag to put on when leaving, which seems a sensible option. As one of only fifty or so white people in a city of two hundred and fifty thousandyou will stick out where ever you are, whatever you are doing and whatever you are wearing. Around fellow farang there are no problems but, when it comes to what women wear some Thai men can be guilty of judging books by their covers. Revealing shoulders may be considered as an invitation of sorts so if you wish to remain more inconspicuous, it would be wise to cover up in
Size and shape depending, Surat can ultimately cater for all your clothing needs. A tidy-casual look is how I would describe most people’s choice of attire here. Regular teacher attire is clean, neat, and presentable. Think business casual wear for the summer. My advice would be not to try and pack as much of your current wardrobe into your suitcase/backpack as humanely possible but instead only select items you KNOW you will definitely wear and leave everything else. Bon Voyage!