Living in Surat and Housing

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  • The First 72 Hours by Amber McCarthy 2012

    When we were first hired by Super English we could not find very much about the town of Surat Thani in any guidebooks or online. We saw a few photos, but everything else that we imagined was based off of articles we read on the SE website. Based on that, we imagined a very small town on a river with maybe one or 2 main roads. We thought that everything would be a 5-minute walk to get to and that the ferry to the islands left from the town, not from a dock 45 minutes away.

    When we landed at the Surat airport, we were so excited to feel the humidity and see all the foliage surrounding the airport. Wen picked us up and was very friendly (although the 40 minute drive to town was a bit teeth clenching). We told her we needed to get pillows and she brought us to her brother’s shop so we could get some. As she drove us through town, we realized that Surat was more of a small city with buildings everywhere and hardly any open spaces in the central part of town. This wasn’t at all what we had expected, but no big deal.

    Then she brought us to our new home. From the outside, we were thinking we didn’t know what we’d gotten ourselves into. It was down an alley and next to a machine shop where people were outside welding. It didn’t look like a place that anyone would live. Wen dropped us off and we went in and met our new roommate Brian.

    The living room was nice and open and the floor had just been cleaned. Fine so far. Then we saw our bedroom. It had not been cleaned at all and the person before us had left a lot of his junk for us to deal with/throw out. The mattress was discolored with holes in it and you could see places where springs were sticking out and where the stuffing had sunken in. There was mold around the doorframe and on the ceiling and at least 30 small holes that had been patched all over the walls. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Especially after seeing Brian’s nice, white mold-free walls. Then there was the bathroom situation. Downstairs there is a squat pot and the shower. Upstairs, attached to our room, is a weird, semi-outdoor Western toilet that you can’t put toilet paper in (which, we learned, is the case everywhere in Thailand. Bad plumbing). To us newcomers, neither of these options was very appealing. Either attempt the Thai squat and risk peeing all over yourself, or use the Western toilet but sweat your butt off outside in the heat.

    After we dumped our belongings, Brian took us around town and to Big C where we got some necessities and then out to dinner. This helped ease our worries quite a bit because he knew all the places to go. We were just so overwhelmed with everything that without Brian, we probably would have starved the first few days.

    That night, we both had minor breakdowns thinking, “What did we get ourselves into?” It wasn’t at all what we expected, but we calmed down and told each other we just needed to settle in. The next day Brian took us to Super English to check email and Wen took us to get our new favorite dish, a spicy green papaya salad. We explored a little more around town and slowly started to adjust to our new lives. We visited the Saturday night market and drank beers and painted Doremons, tried Thai coffee at several different places, and ate lots of new food. After 2 days of that, we decided to head out to Koh Samui for a few days to relax.

    Koh Samui was beautiful, but expensive. We enjoyed our 3 nights there and I would recommend going there to any new arrivals. When we returned, we had fresh eyes and were able to appreciate what we did have in Surat (cheap food for one thing!). We are lucky to have hot running water whenever we want it, as a lot of other teachers have to take cold bucket showers every day. We also learned that some of the other new teacher housing was much worse (but has since been remedied). We spent a few hours cleaning mold and throwing away the previous person’s junk, and that made quite an improvement.

    This didn’t technically happen until our second week here, but the one major thing that made us really realize we were in the right place was visiting the schools we would be working at. The kids were all so excited to see us and the little ones were the cutest things we’ve ever seen. In general, the people here are amazing and just being in Thailand is a dream come true. The best advice I can give to someone coming here is this: lower your initial expectations of the town (you will come to appreciate it very soon) and be ready for some serious change. If you can stick it out for the first few weeks and get out around the town, meet people and get to know the area, you will be just fine.