Currently showing posts tagged Thailand
One of the most frequent questions I get asked is “How and why did you start Super English?” Here is
I first visited Thailand in the summer of 1999. I had gone to visit my uncle, who was working in Hong
Kong at the time, and he and I took a quick weekend trip to Bangkok. Even though I don’t really like
big cities, I immediately felt right at home. I clearly remember the taxi ride from the airport into town,
driving at breakneck speed while my uncle talked about Thai culture. “Thai people are much more
relaxed about things than westerners,” he explained. “Thais like to try things out. Maybe mix a bit of
purple with some orange, add a spot of pink, and see what it looks like? Looks bad? Oh well, never
mind. Looks good? Great!” It’s a basic approach I have tried to carry over to Super English.
The rest of the weekend in Bangkok only cemented my initial response to Thailand. The food, the
weather, the people, the scenery, the prices, everything felt very comfortable. The pad thai I had by
the side of the main river in Bangkok still stands out in my mind as the best pad thai I have ever had,
and there is some wicked good pad thai in Surat. I left Thailand with a sense of knowing where I
I graduated a semester early from the University of Virginia and spent those six months volunteer
teaching for the International Rescue Committee. I taught a family of Bosnian refugees. I worked
primarily with the mother and father in the family, while another teacher worked with the teenage
sons. We sometimes combined the groups and did a joint lesson. It was a truly educational experience.
The IRC doesn’t have a lot of (or any) resources so there was no training, minimal orientation, and no
support. They handed me a binder with about 150 random pages and the address of the family. I would
go to this family’s sparsely furnished apartment once or twice per week and sit at the kitchen table with
mom and dad, who could speak almost no English. No whiteboards, no photocopies, no get-up-and-
run-around activities. I used whatever useful pages I could find in the binder provided and improvised
the rest. I learned a lot about teaching. I also learned that teaching was something I was reasonably
good at. I already knew what I wasn’t good at (calculus, micro-economics, almost all sciences, etc.) so it
felt good to discover a fun, rewarding skill that could also help others.
I had also done a fair amount of coaching during my time at UVA. I worked as the assistant track and
field coach at Western Albemarle High School, which sits about 20 miles outside Charlottesville, VA.
This was also an activity I found fun and rewarding. I had some success in coaching and enjoyed
working with kids.
I decided to combine my various skills and teach ESL abroad. My first choice was, of course, Thailand.
However, it was very hard to find any position outside of Bangkok at the time. After a long search, and
almost ending up in Japan, I found one position available at a language school in Surat. I applied for it,
never heard back, then tried again, and got hired. I arrived in Thailand on July 27th, 2001.
The position started out great. I loved it. The paperwork was somewhat reasonable, the classes were
somewhat fluid, but the kids were sensational. I loved every minute with those kids. They were fun,
creative, intelligent, affectionate, compassionate and motivated. I was able to see almost daily how I
was improving their English. I threw myself into their education with great enthusiasm and energy.
When I wasn’t actually teaching, I was thinking about teaching. What types of fun, interactive
activities could I do with the kids to help their English improve? What was the next step in their
English language development? How could I make the lessons challenging, rewarding and
productive? I thought about the students’ likes and dislikes and incorporated them into presenting
lessons, dialogues, games, etc. It was a great time.
The town of Surat also really welcomed me, as it does so many teachers. The people were so warm and
friendly. There were always invitations and activities. Thanks to their efforts, I felt very much at
home. I studied muay thai at one of the local gyms and the owner, Ajarn Somboon Tapina, has become
like a family member.
After about seven months on the job, things started to take a turn for the worse. The paperwork began
getting out of hand. They originally required some, but now they seemed to be adding new things
every other week. The school wanted typed student evaluations (at least one page per student), typed
class procedures (a 10+ page document updated monthly), typed lesson plans (one entire week
submitted in advance), typed students profiles (at least one page typed per student and updated
monthly), plus an enormous amount of additional paperwork required for an off-site class at a
government school. Over the last few months of my contract I was spending substantially more time
in front of the computer than in the classroom (I was teaching 24 hours per week). I felt completely
burnt out. When I got in front of the kids, I wasn’t thinking about the class. I was thinking about
how I would be at the school until 9:30 pm typing. It wasn’t fun. I felt stifled, both intellectually and
creatively. A few months before my contract was up I let the school know that I planned on leaving
when my one year commitment was through. I stayed until the end of my contract, finished strong,
and knew I needed a break from teaching.
I moved to Phuket and worked with hotels. I worked as a consultant, primarily assisting Thai hotel
management in marketing and customer relations. I also worked hands-on with the various
departments in improving customer service and guest relations. Eventually, one hotel hired me as their
in-house marketing manager. I was the only foreigner. It was a very educational experience. I won’t
go into too much detail, except to say that all the managers would meet every morning. The meeting
would last 2-3 hours. Every morning. Each day the managers would debate the decisions they had
made the previous day and then change their minds from those earlier decisions. Even worse (or
perhaps better), the decisions they made in these lengthy meetings had pretty much no effect on how
the hotel was run because once the managers left the meeting those decisions weren’t discussed or
promulgated amongst the general staff. So a few hours every morning were simply burned away. I
lasted six months before I couldn’t take it any more. The straw that broke the camels back was when I
prepared a meticulous (they wanted exact height measurements of beds and things like that) 30 page
report for an online reservation system called VIP and the hotel management came back and
complained that I had to redo the entire report. Why? Because the commission rate they had given
me was incorrect and their “other marketing manager”, who resided in Bangkok and rarely had any
communication with the hotel, had already independently offered a different commission rate to VIP.
Moreover, they said the mistake was my fault. Brilliant.
After my foray into working directly for Thai people, I went back to teaching. I hopped around various
language schools in Phuket as a part-time or substitute teacher. I worked with three or four different
schools over the span of a year. I saw how they operated, how they treated their teachers, how they
set up their educational programs, and more. It was uniformly unimpressive. There was no
commitment to the teachers because there was such a high turnover. But one could also argue that
there was a high turnover because there was no commitment to the teachers. Apparently, this never
occurred to the schools. The lack of commitment was apparent on all fronts. The schools were very
hesitant to provide any visas, resources, support or assistance. They simply assigned you a class, usually
at a Thai school and you showed up. Once again, I learned a lot about teaching. Before going into one
second grade class, they handed me a paper with the lyrics to “row row row your boat” on it. I asked
them if this was supposed to be the lesson. They just shrugged. I showed up at the Thai school and
was escorted by a Thai teacher into the storage room, which was a long, rectangular shape. The back
half was stacked with chairs, drums, outfits, tables, etc. The front half was moderately clear and had a
small, A4 size whiteboard on rollers. There were no chairs or desks set up for the students. They
wouldn’t have fit in the room anyway. I was somewhat perplexed and was about to ask the Thai
teacher what was going on when 55 eight year olds came storming in and sat down in two long lines
down the length of the room. The Thai teacher smiled and left without another word. I looked at the
sheet of lyrics in my hand as the kids were jabbering away in Thai. I tapped the board a few times to
get their attention and said, “Hello!” They immediately burst into laughter. I folded up the song lyrics
and did my own teaching. How did I teach 55 eight year olds for a full hour with no book, no
resources, and no clue as to what their English ability already was? Without them destroying the
room? I’ll tell you when you get here.
I could go on and on about many similar teaching experiences such as the one described above. Suffice
to say that the lack of commitment from the schools towards teachers was, in my opinion, translating
into a lack of commitment from the teachers towards the students, which isn’t really surprising. How
is a teacher supposed to do their job without any direction, guidance, advice or support from those in
charge? It can’t really be done, at least not with any continuity.
After 1.5 years I realized that Phuket was a great place to visit but definitely not a great place to live
and work. I had learned a lot but hadn’t achieved much personally or professionally. Surat was where I
still felt most comfortable and knew I could make the most difference. So in May, 2004, my wife and I
decided to move back to Surat, which is her hometown.
I started looking at the other language schools in town and what they were offering. At the time,
there were three major language schools in town and smaller ones were opening and closing
sporadically. The final impetus to open Super English came from two main realizations:
1) The larger schools were good schools, but to me they seemed stagnant, both in terms of academic
development for the students and the type of professional development they were offering teachers. In
other words, none of them were trying to be the best they could possibly be.
2) Some of the newer, smaller schools were opening for all the wrong reasons and were, in my opinion,
doing more harm than good.
I wanted to create a school that tried to be the very best it could be. Not the biggest, just the best.
Whether we achieved the goal of maximizing our potential or not was secondary. The main thing was
at least to strive for it. I truly felt that the students, Surat Thani, and the teachers who come all the
way over here, deserved a school like that. In my, and many others opinion, this is really one of the
very best places in Thailand. I felt like the town had done so much for me during my first year that this
was a way I could try to show some reciprocity. I also believed that if you let teachers teach with as
few impediments as possible that they will achieve much better results.
I took everything I have learned, seen, experienced and thought about and rolled it into Super English.
I actually often did the opposite of what I had seen and experienced. Instead of checking teachers
through six tons of weekly paperwork, I tried to completely do away with it. Instead of promoting
solely based on seniority, I promote based on ability. Instead of either giving a teacher no materials at
all or very strictly regulating what page has to be taught in class on which day, I tried to find a middle
ground that allowed the teacher as much creative autonomy as possible. Instead of shooting down
every idea anyone had, I tried them whenever possible. Instead of thinking of
management/administration as a controlling body, I thought of it as a supportive entity. Instead of
calling everyone in for lengthy, weekly meetings, SE generally has just one meeting at the beginning
of each semester. Instead of requiring office hours, we give teachers the freedom and flexibility to
think about their classes whenever they choose.
I believe that over the past six years we have achieved great success. I am proud of what Super English
is. As far as I know, we are the only language school that:
- offers a unique, multi-structured support system for teachers
- has students that study for free based on financial need
- allows teachers to choose what to teach
- requires no office hours
- hasn’t raised the price of classes in over three years (we are the least expensive language school by
more than 30%)
- consistently tries out new ideas and approaches to educating the students
- offers teachers additional money making opportunities, such as writing online articles, taking
photos, or recording audio files
- has monthly out-of-class contests for the students to help them improve their English
- has monthly cultural events, such as a muay thai lesson, a Thai cooking lessons, a beach party, a
riverboat trip, and more
As much as possible, we are a school built by teachers and for teachers. Whatever minimal paperwork
we do ask for is either required by the Thai schools we work with or the Thai government.
As far as I can tell, our teachers enjoy their work immensely and feel that they are really helping the
students. Our teachers operate relatively independently and, I believe, as a result the students learn
faster, better and have more fun doing it.
Our aim is to live up to our slogan, “The Best School for Teachers and Students”. While we may or may
not have achieved that goal, we will continue to strive for it. And if we are someday recognized as the
best then we will still continue to strive to provide the best possible education for our students and the
best possible work experience for our teachers. Without either of those two, there would be no Super
I finished school in May of 2008 and after a few finance and bank internships, couldn’t stand the
idea of going into an entry level corporate job. I got some seasonal work in northern California, made
a bunch of money and spent half a year
notworking and living with friends, all the while telling myself I was simply adjusting to real life. After this, while I was still living in San Diego, I worked with a wealth management company putting together 401k packages for small businesses and monitoring wealthier client’s investment portfolios. It was interesting for about a month and then deathly boring for the last 4. I figured I’d try something different and moved up to San Francisco to live with some friends. Again I found myself unemployed and spending most days and nights drinking and wandering around the city. After a few months I realized I was going nowhere and secured an internship writing for a magazine in Seattle, Washington in the summer of 2009.
Having grown up in Seattle, living and working there close to family and friends was nice. I wrote for the magazine half the week and worked at an organic farm the other half. My thinking was that if I enjoyed writing in a journalistic environment, then
graduateschool could be my next move. I learned a lot about the industry and the business, but mostly, I learned I wasn’t ready to go back to school.
I spent a year in Spain while in university and had always told myself that I’d teach English sometime. Somewhere. Twenty three years old, two years out of school with no real job prospects or inclinations seemed as good a time as any to go ahead and jump on the boat. With the decision made to get out and teach, really, the only other thing to decide was where? The world is a big place, and when you put out a map and look at all the places you could possibly move to and live in, it’s almost overwhelming. First, I wanted to go back to Europe. But abysmal pay, few job opportunities, and the almost universal need for a TEFL certificate changed my mind quickly. Second, I thought South America. I mean, why not? I speak Spanish, it’s close enough, I’ve always wanted to go… Not. Jobs seemed to be solely advertising positions for volunteers paying their own way or for certified teachers with years of experience. What to do?
Asia! Who would have thought? In the end, the decision to come to Thailand specifically was very random. I had a couple good friends in school who had done a semester abroad living outside of Bangkok and had loved it. I remember listening to their stories when they got home and thinking I have to see this place, it sounds otherworldly. I began to look into jobs and grew more and more excited about moving to Thailand. I booked a ticket for the end of January 2010 and began to look for jobs a few weeks before leaving. I figured I’d either find a job before leaving, or I’d arrive and head north to Chiang Mai, taking my chances with applying in person and getting work somewhere. Probably like most Super English teachers, I stumbled across a job advertisement on eslcafe.com and applied immediately. At first
glanceit sounded like an ideal place to work. In the south, close to tropical islands and beaches, a small and authentic Thai town? Yesplease.
Peter got back to me quickly and after a few e-mail exchanges with both him, other teachers and a Skype interview, I felt extremely comfortable, welcome, and assured about the job. I was offered training and assistance which for someone like me with minimal experience coming into this type o work, was a huge deal maker. Lots of schools I’ve since seen will simply throw new teachers into a classroom and kind of tell them to sink or swim, something that usually works, but not without a few weeks or even months of considerable distress on the side of the teacher. My transition into teaching wasn’t without its nervous moments, but Super English, Peter, and the other teachers did everything they could to make sure I felt as comfortable as I could in those first integral weeks.
All in all, I chose to teach abroad because I’d tasted a different part of the world while I was in school and living in Spain. I’d seen how big and different place it could be, and wanted to see more. What other opportunities are there widely available to people our age who are looking to find gainful employment for a long period of time in a different country? Sure, you can backpack around and see a hundred countries in the course of a lifetime, but there’s something huge to be gained by spending a significant period of time in one culture, in one place. Thailand’s wide open to people new to the ESL profession and gives you an authentic experience to really sink your teeth into and get you going. There are opportunities to do this type of work everywhere in the world, but I’ve never for a second regretted starting this type of work here with Super English in Thailand.
Every day for the last three weeks complete strangers have been treating me to a bald faced lie. I walk down the street, and stores lie to me, I go to work and the school, and the students lie to me. There is
conspiracy, there has to be, because there is no way that it is actually Christmas, it just can’t be. Where is my evergreen Christmas tree? Where are the gimmicky sales in stores? Where is the Hot cocowith whip cream and ground up candy canes? Where are the carolers? Where, in the name of all that is holy, is the snow? Sure, decorations have been put up, but it feels like someone described Christmas to a mischievous conspirator and they put up their own second handinterpretations. Perhaps it is because I am from the cold north that I am having trouble accepting this as Christmas, perhaps a southerner might feel more at home with Christmas T-shirts and beach trips, but I think not. Christmas is so pervasive in America, beginning with Black Friday, an engine to our economy, it is involved in our life every day. Every single person,regardless of religious denomination is swept up in the seasonal feeling; Christmas in the states is no longer a religious holiday, but a national one. That, I believe, is really the big difference; here Christmas felt like Passover might back home. You know itsgoing on, you probably know some people who are celebrating it, but in the endits just another day, or stretch of days.
This is not to say that Christmas is not enjoyable in Thailand, it just means you have to reset what you are expecting from it. I woke up early Christmas morning, opened the package from my parents (they sent coffee beans and a French press, it made me giddy) and then went to an internet café to Skype with them on their Christmas Eve. It was a pleasant
morning,and a nice way to feel connected to the festivities back home. I suppose that, right there, was I my western Christmas. When I got back home my Christmas in Thailand started. I was sitting on the stoop outside of my apartment debating the merits of actually riding my bike somewhere to get food,when the problem solved itself. A rolling som tom (papaya salad) cart drove up, essentially a tiny little kitchen attached to a motor bike, and stopped just a couple doors down. I walked over, ordered my food and watched as the chef made the meal, throwing me glances with an expression I couldn’t read. He held up an uncooked crab, I considered it,
nodded, and he threw it in. I knew something was strange when, after I had sat down at the table of the store next door, the maker of my food moseyed over and began speaking to the owners of the shop. I began to eat. T he first
bitewas good and had the flavor and kick that all good som tom should have. The second bite was very hot, and I made the ill advisedmove of drinking water to quench the fire, a mistake that no matter how many times people warn me about I continue making. The chef was sitting there expectantly, trying to be nonchalant; I pointed at the food, and gave thumbs up, “good, thank-you”. He fanned his mouth, making the universal sign for, “your mouth is burning with an intensity and passion that you didn’t think was possible isn’t it?” to which I shrugged, nodded, waved at my mouth and took another bite. Now, I have an appreciation for hot food; I love hot wings in the states, and I
have never been stingy with my stars at restaurants, but the burning in my mouth was not decreasing, or even plateauing as one might expect. No, it was increasing in intensity, and suddenly it was not doing so at such a relaxed pace. In four bites the meal had gone from tasty, if a little hot, to unbearably spicy. I had to get up, walk around, frantically purchase some milk from the store, anything to make the fire stop. I couldn’t believe it, it just kept getting worse. The chef was laughing heartily and going back to his stand. I was ashamed. I could not believe how totally and completely the standard dish in the Thai diet had kicked my butt. One of the owners of the small shop I am sitting outside of comes over and looks at my bowl, gestures to herself, than the
bowl,than holds up one finger. I am confused, and it
shows. She gestures again at the bowl, but this time I see she is not pointing at the bowl, but rather one of the many peppers in the bowl. When she gets this dish, there is only one pepper, when I got it, there
were at leastfive. She goes over to the man with the cart, briefly berates him and brings back some sticky rice suggesting it might help with the inferno, and disappears into herestore. I tried it with the rice, but in retrospectthis was like hoping my squirt gun could end a wild fire. A moment later the owner emerges from the store with a small bowl of mushroom soup that his wife, the nice woman who alerted me to the problem with my dish and got the rice, had made, telling me, “My wife make this, it's not so hot, good for you!” It was good for me, delicious and only hot temperature wise, a welcome change.
After that experience I wandered back to my room trying to wrap my head around this Christmas, and how very different it was from any previous Christmas. I decided that I would make a cup of my fresh from the States coffee in my brand new French press for my helpful neighbors that evening. When I showed up they were gathered around the same table I had nearly killed myself at earlier, having a beer or two and socializing. After pouring the coffee for them, and appreciating the taste of real coffee for the first time since arriving in Thailand we fell into very enjoyable, dare I say merry, discussion about my Thai experience up to this point. The owner of the shop brought me beer, filling up my cup enough times that I lost track and stopped trying to count. He offered me and my roommate a small berry and told us to eat it, which, without question, we did. When we asked what it was he told us it was “miracle fruit” and proceeded to cut up and offer us a lime. The lime ended up tasting more like candy than
the sour fruit we expected. In fact, everything tasted a good bit like candy after eating the berry, including our beer and dinner later that night. It was funny and enjoyable at first but eventually became monotonous.
This wasn’t Christmas, it lacked everything I had come to expect from the holiday over the years, but it was still a special and festive day. Being in Thailand provided me with opportunities to have some fun and adventurous times that simply would not have been available if I were enjoying my traditional “White Christmas”. Really this sort of day could have happened on any day in Thailand, with a few less merry Christmases thrown in, but that it was Christmas gave me the bump, or push I needed to enjoy the day fully. Even if the feeling of Christmas was not so thick in the air as I’m sure it was elsewhere in the world, I had a Christmas that was memorable and thoroughly enjoyable.
No Tourists is a Good Thing
Surat Thani, Thailand. According to
lonely planetthere is really no reason to visit Surat Thani. Actuallymost travel sites seem to agree that the best thing in Surat arethe ferries going to Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, and Koh Tao. Not to discredit these helpful travel tools, but they seem to have gotten it wrong. With Surat, like many places worth visiting, you have to delve a little deeper than kitsch tourist stops.
up sideto sour reviews is that Surat has survived the tourismovercrowding and ultimate destruction of all things Thai. Yes, this statement may be a little dramatic but it stems from a realization all too true. The unfortunate aspect of a popular tourist destination is exactly that. Most often the top destinations end up being extremely crowded, expensive and full of trash from the previous night of parties and tour groups. There are several beaches that escape this fate, thanks to their remote locations or lack of publicity.
True Surat is certainly not a beach destination, but it is a pleasant town to visit and live in. This is a case of low tourism making for a low-key and pleasant city. Here are the reasons why Surat has been a wonderful city to work and live in. One little disclaimer before hand. This is not to say that Surat does not have its own issues like any other city, but more to show the hidden excellence it has to offer.
Cheap. The first thing that stands out about Surat is the cost. While in Phuket it would be unheard of to easily find a good Pad Thai for under thirty baht, such a thing is an easy find at Surat's night market. The price of anything from
motor bikegasoline to a large Leo is immensely cheaper.
Setting aside the lower cost of life, Surat houses some amazing Thai cuisine without the added western
flare. If you are looking for some excellent curry or noodle dish you will certainly not be lacking. Of courseif a sit down is not what you are hoping for, the several night markets and large day market in town offer such a large variety that you will always find something tasty. Though you will be hard pressed to find western food including good cheese and real chocolate, the Thai food available makes up for it with every bite. In additionto the food and costSurat boasts a town lacking in women running around set on selling their goods to you no matter how many times you say no. The beauty of the many shops, public pools, restaurants and rice shops is the uncrowded small town feel they offer. The markets and streets can at times be crowded, but it is a different crowded than Phi Phifor instance. In Suratthe crowds consist of Thai families and friends. The friendly aspect of Thai culture can never be seen in a place so westernized that no one even speaks Thai. It is true that while delving so deep into a culture you will experience some negative attitudes, yet they are outnumbered by the positive feedback you get for simply trying. It is amazing the satisfaction a simple smile gives you when you attempt to speak Thai.
The best times to visit Surat would have to be during a festival. It is during proper Thai holidays that the city comes to
life. The best was Loi Krathong, the Festival of Lights. Loi Krathong is more or less the Thai version of Valentines Day,and is a beautiful event. It does take more effort on the side of those visiting or living in Surat,but is beyond worth it in the end. Surat may not be the westernized tourist destination of the century but it has been a welcoming home to many teachers and a peaceful haven to those seeking a more true to Thai experience. Surat may not attract many tourists to its streets but if it had it would without a doubt lose so much of itsauthentic and original feel missing from so many others.
Thai food is universally known as delicious, healthy, and usually spicy. Beyond that, Southern Thai food is much better and also spicier than anywhere else in Thailand, with perhaps the exception of Northeastern Thailand. If you don’t like spicy food, your options will be somewhat limited. If you like food then you are coming to the right place. Having said that, I don’t eat very spicy food and I do just fine. In fact, the best food I have had in Thailand has consistently been here in Surat. At most restaurants, spiciness can be altered to suit your taste. I eat mildly spicy food and have never felt limited. We have had people show up, though, having never tried Thai food and did not like spicy for to begin with. These people did not get the to experience the large variety of food here in Surat and missed out on a major part of the cultural experience.
Surat Thani is known as the seafood center of the South. The very best seafood can be gotten here There is also lots of chicken, pork, vegetables and tofu. There is not a lot of beef or western cuisine available. There are a few places where standard western food is served, such as burgers, pizza, and sandwiches. Very few places, if any, serve quality beef in Surat. Fortunately we are only a few hours drive away from vestiges of western culture, like Phuket or Samui, where you can get almost any kind of food you want. However, for Tuesday night dinner you’ll probably be eating Thai food.
People who are strict vegetarians (no meat of any kind) have a tougher time than others finding variety, but people who eat fish have no problems. We have serval teachers whose only meat is fish. We also have one vegetarian.
Surat has fantastic food. The city is famous among Thais for just that reason. Those who come with a willingness to try new things with an open mind and pallet always enjoy themselves.
house,is a very very very fine house
With two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy, ‘cause of you.
If you get that song stuck in your head don’t blame me, blame Graham Nash. Besides it had to be done: our house really is a very very very fine house. When the semester began I was living in the house that shall not be named. It was across the street from the Big House. I could see the scaffolding, I could smell the paint, I could practically feel the soft spring of the new mattresses. I was on the outside looking in and I really wanted to get in.
I am in now and it is glorious. The Big House has three stories, six residents, six-bedrooms, and two bathrooms. It has hot water, I repeat HOT water. (Trust me in a country where “shower” often means a bucket of cold water dumped on your head this is a very big deal). It has a kitchen, a good sized back patio, a common area with a sleek, brand-spanking new 32’ flat-screen TV, and WIFI! Outside the walls of The Big
Houseit is still unmistakably Thailand, but inside it feels closer to a place a 20-hour flight away…home sweet home.
The front of The Big House opens into a large, safely locked courtyard big enough to hold three scooters, three bicycles and a growing platoon of shoes. The front door opens into the common area which has recently been improved by the addition of 32’ of HD awesomeness. We meet in the common area for “How was school” chats, movie sessions and general lazing about. In a house with six residents the common area is used less than you might expect but used well.
To the right of the common area
isthe downstairs bathroom and kitchen area. The kitchen consists of a new stainless steel sink, an old green refrigerator, an electric kettle, a toaster and a blender that doesn’t crush ice. The kitchen doesn’t have a stove. Most kitchens in Thailand don’t. We may pick one up eventually (they are cheap enough) but when you are surrounded by great food for under $1 it’s not a big priority.
The kitchen door opens onto the back patio. The patio is a work in progress. Its concrete floor and cyclone walls weren’t designed with beauty in mind but we have big plans! Christmas lights, flowers, a hammock and decent patio furniture have all been discussed at length. For the time
beingwe have a small moldy table and a rainbow assortment of plastic chairs. Baby steps. The important thing is that socially we are taking full advantage of our outdoor area; coffee in the mornings, Friday night BBQ’s, beers in plastic chairs, roommates being friends in the outdoor air.
The remainder of the first floor is taken up by two bedrooms each with high ceilings and enough space for a queen-size bed, a dresser and a desk. At the very end of the hall is a roll-up metal door that is locked at all times and it will remain that way unless we can convince Super English to let us sell water, soda and assorted snacks from our front stoop Thai style.
The second and third floors of The Big House are bedroom areas. The second floor boasts both the biggest and smallest rooms in the house. The biggest room has dimensions that are well…big. And it has a private balcony. It’s a sweet deal if you have the Super English seniority required to claim it. The smallest room is close to both the toilet and the stairs so that’s nice. The third floor has been ventilated to keep the heat out and renovated to keep the Zen in. Separated on either side by a yoga studio/chill space it has two good sized bedrooms and is probably the quietest place in The Big House.
Life in the Big House isn’t all about the house. It’s about location, location, location as they say. The Big House is nicely situated to give you quick access to all the important things Surat.
Food: The Big House is surrounded by good eats. Vendors drive down the street selling papaya salad and grilled chicken. A noodle soup shop the next Soi over is renowned as one of the best in Surat. And Teacher favorites Earth Zone, Kampon, Good Health, Corner Guy, Rice Lady, and the often closed but excellent
Rice Soup and Thai Donuts place are all walking distance from the house.
Motobikes(a.k.a. scooters) are highly recommended. As a general ruleSurat is too big to walk, too small to drive and just right to motobike. Thida (elementary/middle school) is the closest. Even on heavy traffic days Thidacan be reached in under five-minutes on a motobike. Suratpittaya (high school) is a ten-
minute ride (maybe less depending on how much of a weaving daredevil you are). And Super English is just a minute or two further down along the river. Tuk Tuk’s can be taken anywhere in town for 15-20 baht. They are a good way to get around but lack the ease of personal transportation. For those of you thinking, “I’ll save money and ride a bike!” No you won’t. Bikes are great, but not when it is blazing hot and you’re
dressed in khakis and a button down shirt. The Thai people are big on appearance, they prefer not see Farang disguised as sweat stains.
Exercise: The Stadium is just around the corner for all your exercise needs. Well, not ALL your exercise needs, but it’s not bad. The stadium has a track and soccer field, basketball courts, tennis courts, badminton courts, a swimming pool, free nightly aerobics classes and a nice park area. It even has a small beat-up
weight room you can use for 10 baht. If you are not interested in joining a gym The Stadium is a good alternative. If you are interested in joining a gym there are several options in town including a small gym a few blocks down from The Big House that will cost you around 1000 baht a month.
Big C: Big C is the Walmart of Asia and the closest one is only a couple of kilometers from The Big House. This is good because you can get sheets, a tent, an external hard drive, clothes, a new MP3 player, a new cell phone, shoes, a
toasterand shelves in one stop. This is bad because you can put all of those things on a credit card and pretend like it never happened. I’m not saying I know anyone who has done that ( cough)
cough). I’m just saying.
Sounds amazing right? It is. I have lived in several different school provided houses during my time in Surat and The Big House is by far the best. If you were to poll my roommates they would tell you the same. The Big House isn’t perfect. It is situated on
a mainroad and can get noisy at times. A scooter passing at night can sound like a diesel truck driving through your bedroom when you’re trying to fall asleep. A very large powerfully strong strain of ants occasionally tries to claim a corner of the back patio as their own never seeming to remember that we fight dirty. But, these things are small things. The Big House rocks and we all feel lucky to have snagged a spot.
I am worried though. The Big House is in harmony now. We are all friends. We all love our Big House. But, I fear the harmony cannot withstand the progeny. There is a small impossibly cute cat named Juice Box living just around the corner. Juice Box is preggers. Some of the roommates adore cats, others not so much. The kittens of Juice Box promise to be the kind of cute that elicits high-pitched “Ohhhs” and clapping and jumping up-and-down and coos of “I want one!” Will the progeny of Juice Box be the Yoko Ono of the Big House?
Super English/Landlord mandated House Rule #1 – No Pets
Ha! Take that Juice Box babies.
“That every day I am forced to challenge myself in some way or see a bizarre, hilarious site that makes me question if normal actually exists anywhere in the world.” Erica Ambrose
“That after every day I still see something new and interesting – even after 11 months.” Ryan Johnson
“The friendliness of the people. I have been here for 7 years and the people are still are friendly as when I first got here.” Peter Meltzer
“The kids, hands down.” Scott Saier
“Everyday adventures. My bicycle. My friends. My smelly, smelly street dog. Getting “Hello Teacher” on the street. The big smiles. My students.” Victoria Biggs
“The people that live here – Thais and foreigners. The exercise I am getting with normal life – biking, swimming, teaching, running away from dogs. The food. The leisurely pace of life. Access to the beach and other great places to go. Cheap taxis.” Caleb and Codie Kostechka
“The people!” Clair McCalla
“The motorbike exhaust when I ride my bicycle. How difficult it can be to accomplish a simple task due to language barriers and shops keeping odd hours.” Erica Ambrose
“Lack of ethnic cuisines. Don’t get me wrong, the Thai food here is amazing. Probably the best anywhere. But it would be great to also have some American Chinese food, maybe some real steak, maybe some tasty Middle Eastern food, perhaps some Mexican, the list goes on.” Peter Meltzer
“The stinky smells” Clair McCalla
“The bubble effect; in other words the feeling of being truly cut-off from the outside world outside of an internet café, however, some people thrive on that kind of experience.” Scott Saier
“Pollution, car exhaust, foul smells, dogs that chase me.” Caleb and Codie Kostechka
“The noise. It is really loud (motorbikes, music, chickens, dogs, everything!) Lack of dance floors; lots of dancing but no designated area.” Victoria Biggs
Ma Hey - it's really big club and great for dancing. They have a live band and a DJ so music varies. The drinks are quite pricey. Teachers’ Houses – Great for hanging out in to watch movies, play games or cards. Bigg’s Bar – It’s like a living room with good music, a library and great burgers.” Erica Ambrose
“Slower, more relaxed bars with live music. If you want to sit and talk, dance, drink a little, drink a lot, the big places with lots of tables have something for everyone.” Ryan Johnson
“There are a few different places I enjoy visiting at night: the night market, with its variety of foods and Thai merchandise; the new restaurant Casa, run by the incredibly hospitable Neung, who was born in New York and is always up for a good conversation, and there’s free Wi-Fi as well; Big’s Bar, with its ping-pong table, dart-board, good music, open-air atmosphere, and fully-stocked shelves of used books available to check out.” Scott Saier
“Downtown night market – great salads, fruit shakes, sushi, along with many other things. The river – nice place to get a beer, some som tam salad and some bbq chicken. Big’s Bar – very laid back bar with ping pong and darts. Ma Hey – good club where you can put your dance moves to the test. Donnok Soi 9 night market – great boiled beans and noodles. Soi Farang – street with a bunch of foreigner teachers, reminiscent of college life.” Clair McCalla
“My favorite places are other teachers’ houses. As far as drinking: wine at Milano’s or Big’s Bar. Ambiance: back yard of Casa’s. Food: curry at Popeye’s, Earth Zone, night markets, Luckey’s and the Vietnamese restaurant across from where we teach.” Caleb and Codie Kostechka
“Cowboy Bar – live music and dancing. The first time we walked in they were so happy to se foreigners that they played an English song for us. It was a medley of happy birthday and jingle bells. Priceless. Ma hey – formerly a hot spot but not so ‘cool’ anymore. Plenty of room to dance. I can’t stop dancing like a Thai man. Teacher house parties – when you feel like having an English night. P’roons Restaurant – hit it after the bars. Great food, hilarious staff and beer until 4 in the morning.” Victoria Biggs
I don't remember much from the introductory meeting John, Janet, Chris and I had when we first arrived last October, but one thing Peter mentioned stood out.
Just say “yes”.
Back then I was a nervous Chris. I was nervous about the job. I was nervous about meeting new people. I was even nervous about simply going out for food having a lonely “Sa wat dee Kup” in my Thai repertoire.
By saying “yes” to a variety of things however, my time in Surat has been the most exciting and memorable of my life so far.
The most valuable part of saying “yes” is the friends you will make through it and the authentic Thai experience you will experience through them. You will undoubtedly make some close friends amongst the Super English teachers as well as those teachers working for other language schools. I feel my experience has been completed though, through my Thai friends. Most of the Thai I can speak is thanks to them and knowing a little Thai can get you a long way as a farang.
Pooey and PeeSak are unquestionably my best Thai friends. They are owners of my favourite restaurant in town, Earth Zone. Pooey is a great chef and is always excited for me to try new recipes and various Thai delicacies that you can't get in the UK. Lately it has been the pink eggs you see everywhere which are actually black in the middle and should be eaten with onion and garlic, as well as Pigs stomach. I have learnt to say “yes” to anything Pooey puts in front of me. I'm waiting for her to put one of the waitresses on a plate but am losing hope of this ;-)
A month or two ago Moss and I were the last customers in the restaurant and were sitting at the bar having just paid the bill. It was getting late and I sensed Moss wanting to leave. We were momentarily halted however when we noticed Peesak holding a big jar of what looked like a coiled up snake in brown earthy water. My fear of snakes automatically made me reel back from the bar but having been reassured it was actually a root of some kind of tree or plant I hesitantly returned to my seat. Apparently this concoction was a traditional Thai whiskey that had been developing in the jar for over 5 years. According to Pooey, and Pooey's mother, and Pooey's mother's mother and well yeah you get the point, this powerful drink can cure pains in your back. After a good 5 minutes of giggling and gesticulating Pooey also revealed it is good for a man's member and offered Moss and I a shot. We could have said “no, sorry, it's late and we're pretty tired” and I thought this would be Moss' response but we chose the other response, the response I would recommend you saying however unsure, nervous or apprehensive you may be about anything. An hour later Moss and I stumbled out of Earth Zone with big smiles on our faces and big, well ,err,yes.
I have had some fantastic days out with Pooey, Peesak and their two adorable children Kaofan and Gong. We spent a morning painting on Ko Lampoo and playing in the park as well as a day at a Chinese temple and market. Through my friendship with them I have made friends with some of their friends, one of whom is a talented artist and another whom owns a number of Surat's crazy nightclubs. Last night we had VIP treatment at Bar Code, drinking the best whiskey in the house and dancing the night away. All of this because I said yes when they invited me to their table at Earth Zone a while ago.
I am glad that what Peter said when I first arrived stuck in my head and would urge you to have a similar mindset throughout your time here.
When we first started looking into teaching abroad, one of my concerns was whether or not I would be able to cook. At home, I cook almost every single day. I love cooking and I love not following recipes. When I learned that Thai homes rarely have kitchens, I was sad, but I guessed I could live for a year without cooking. When we first arrived, our house was equipped with one burner (runs on propane tanks) that a previous teacher had bought, but there was not a single sink in the whole house, so clean up was a bit of a pain. Where we live now has an outside kitchen with the same burner, but we have more space and a sink. It's a much easier space to work in, but you can make any of the dishes below with just a single burner, a pot, and a pan if you’re willing to work in a small area and deal with the clean up.
Once you get here and have been here for a few months, you will start to tire of Thai food. Sure, you can eat it
everydayand be fine, but sometimes you just want some food from home without spending a ton of money on one of the western restaurants in town. We have shopped around town and found where to get some great ingredients to make some delicious food from home. Some of the ingredients are a bit on the pricey side, but well worth it.
The easiest, and probably our favorite thing to make, is grilled cheese. You can get bread anywhere (we usually just pick it up at 7-11). The cheese is the trick. Sure, you can use that nasty processed crap, but what's the point of even eating? Tops, Big C, Makro, and Tesco Lotus all sell real cheese. Tops
isthe most convenient place to get a chunk of Australian cheese in either Tasty or Bitey flavors (both are a bit like a white cheddar). However, if you can get out to Tesco, they have some delicious aged cheddar from New Zealand for the same price. If you’re willing to drop 800 baht, you can also find blue cheese, goat cheese, and all kinds of other weird cheeses that are expensive back home, and way more expensive here. Now here's the trick to making an awesome grilled cheese: mayo. Instead of putting butter on the outside of the bread, use mayo. It's a restaurant trick. It's way easier to spread and it adds some zing to your sandwich.
The main thing we miss from home is breakfast. I am a potato fiend and we were used to eating eggs all the time. Eggs you can find anywhere here (don’t buy the pink ones), but the potatoes you see around town are some sort of yellow/Yukon potato that are not even close to as starchy as a good
ol' russet potato. Luckily, we stumbled across really cheap baking potatoes at Makro. Makro is just like Costco and most things are in bulk. If you need baking soda or baking powder, do not buy it here! I now have a pound of baking powder and afterward saw that they have tiny packs at Tops. Oops. Also like Costco, as we realized at check-out, they require a membership card. Since you are a farang, just look confused (shouldn't be too hard) and they'll just scan another person's card for you. Well worth it for the potatoes.
Another item that you can find at 7-11 is canned tuna. You can also find pasta noodles, tomato sauce, and Campbell’s tomato and cream of mushroom soup at Big C. These items come in handy if you want to pair your grilled cheese with tomato soup, for making simple pasta, homemade mac and cheese, or for making a sorta tuna casserole.
Moving on to other vegetables, I recently found amazingly delicious (ripe smelling and tasting) hydroponic tomatoes at Tesco. 50 baht for 6 tomatoes. That has been my favorite find. We also just saw hydroponic lettuce at the Sunday night market. Another great find as salad as we know it is rare in Thailand. Salad dressing is a bit of an issue unless you like the idea of pouring flavored mayonnaise on your salad in the form of “salad cream”. I saw sesame dressing at Tops, but if you really like salad,
you should bring some packets of dry Italian dressing mix (or ranch, but mayo is a bit pricey). I would also recommend bringing a few packets of dehydrated refried beans. A company called World Market makes them.
So, if you love to cook, you can still make it happen as long as you have a burner, some space, and some creativity. Also, if you're good at cooking while camping, you'll be good at cooking in Thailand. I have included a few recipe ideas below, but you have many more options. Michael made the best curried potato salad for 4th of July and Janet makes some killer biscuits (but she does have a small oven), so there is a lot of room for modification. None of the below recipes are necessarily healthy, but the whole point of this is for comfort, so comfort food it is. Bon apetit!
One Pan Breakfast Scramble for 2
2-3 baking potatoes from Makro
1 medium onion (if desired)
5 eggs, beaten
a handful of cheese, grated or cut
oil, butter or margarine
salt and pepper
Shred the potatoes. I couldn't find a
grater, so I had to buy a papaya peeler. Whatever works.
Heat oil/margarine/butter in a pan over medium heat and add chopped onions. Cook until opaque and then add shredded potatoes. Salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes and then flip potatoes to brown on the other side. Salt and pepper again.
Meanwhile, beat the eggs and shred/cut the cheese. However much you like. When the potatoes are nice and crispy, turn the heat down a bit and let the pan cool down. Pour in the eggs and mix around until almost cooked. Last, add the cheese, continuing to cook until eggs are done. It won’t be pretty, but it will be delicious. Serve with ketchup packets from the Pizza Company. **If you have a tight fitting lid for your pan, you can just pour the eggs in and cover and let it cook that way. It will be more like a frittata instead of the horrible looking mess that the above recipe makes.**
Huevos Rancheros (requires that you brought dehydrated beans and preferably salsa)
Salsa or chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers
Sour Cream (you can buy small cups at Makro)
In a pan, heat the beans (re-hydrate first if necessary). Stir in the tomatoes, onions and peppers. You want the beans to be a bit wet. Next, make little dents in the beans and crack an egg into each dent. Cover and let cook until your eggs are how you like them. To serve, just scoop out an egg, careful not to break it, with the beans. Top with cheese, sour cream and green onions. Serve with potatoes if you have an extra pan and burner (or you can cook them ahead and reheat).
When French Toast and Pancakes Met and Fell in Love (You can use the below recipe, or you can buy pancake mix. You can get syrup at Tops)
Bread (the thicker the better. Try a bakery, Big C, or Tesco)
1 cup of flour
1 cup of milk.
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp oil
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
vanilla and cinnamon, if you can find either. You can get cinnamon sticks for sure and grind them,
but I haven’t seen vanilla yet.
Beat the eggs until fluffy. Beat in everything else except the bread. Heat pan to medium/high. Dip bread in batter and make sure it's coated. Put bread into pan and cook until the edges look like they're crisping, then flip and do the same. Eat!
I have been told that
these freezewell, so if you have a freezer, there you go. They sell Ziplock bags at Tops.
Mac and Cheese, Amber and Joseph style
My college roommate and I made this concoction up and Joseph and I made this back home when we forgot to go grocery shopping and had to use up canned stuff. Some slight modifications here and it’s almost the same! It sounds weird, but just try it. If you don’t like tuna, you can always omit it.
Macaroni noodles (from Big C)
Cheese (you can use a combo of the good stuff and the crappy stuff if you want)
1 or 2 cans of tuna
2 chopped tomatoes
2 chopped shallots
sliced mushrooms (If they look good. Try Tops and Tesco.)
a few cloves chopped garlic
In a pot, heat your oil/butter/margarine. Add
inthe tomatoes, shallots, mushrooms and garlic. Cook until it looks good to you and then dump it all onto a plate. Fill the pot with water, boil, and then cook the noodles (DON’T OVERCOOK THE NOODLES! They keep cooking after you drain them). Drain all but a teeny, tiny bit of the water just to keep the noodles wet and return to the burner over low heat. Add about 1/2 cup of milk, some butter/oil/margarine, and as much cheese as you like. Stir until melted and it is a desired consistency. You may need to add more milk. Add in the tomato mixture and the tuna (drained). Mix. Add the chili flake and pepper to taste.
Sort of Tuna Casserole
Here we go with the tuna again, but it’s such an easy, cheap staple to work with! This is pretty easy and you can doctor it up
anywayyou like. You can also substitute the tuna for chicken if you want.
Noodles (any shape)
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
1 onion, chopped
several garlic cloves, chopped
Haitai Saltine crackers
Heat oil in a pot and cook onions and garlic. Empty onto a plate and fill pot with water. Boil. Cook noodles. Drain. Add mushroom soup, onion mix, and cheese. Heat through. Serve with broken saltine crackers on top and a big glass of water. It’s a bit salty.
No Oven Biscuits
Janet makes some amazing biscuits, as previously mentioned, but she has an oven. I haven’t tried this particular recipe yet, but I intend to soon. You can also use this batter to make dumplings by dropping the dough into boiling water or soup.
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup grated cheese (optional)
Mix dry ingredients. Slowly add the water while mixing until you have a firm and sticky dough. You can also put everything in a plastic bag and knead it that way.
Heat the oil in a pan. Drop spoonfuls of dough into the oil and cook until golden, turning after a few minutes.
TIP: Cream of mushroom soup (watered down with some milk) makes decent gravy if you want biscuits and gravy. Just add the meat of your choice if desired. Back home we made this occasionallywith veggie sausage links.
A few final tips:
If you eat at the Pizza Company, save the package they give you that has a bunch of ketchup packets in it (I doubt you’ll actually want to use this on your pizza, so you should have plenty). It also has chili powder and oregano that comes in handy later.
White pepper is delicious! I
dousemy eggs and potatoes in this back home, so I was stoked to find it here. Back home it’s like 12 bucks for a tiny container. Here it’s about a dollar. I’m stocking up before we go home. Give it a try. Joseph thinks it smells like horse manure, but I think it’s amazing. It also makes your coffee have a bit of a zing if you eat something with it and then take a sip of coffee.
Don’t buy “bagels” or “baguettes” from Big C. It’s just regular bread dough that they shaped into a bagel shape and then baked until it became incredibly dry. However, do buy their croissants. Throw in a hot pan for a few minutes and you have a tasty, buttery treat.
Spiritual community is often hard to come by, wherever you may be. Faith is deeply personal, so to open up to another person about it involves a strong measure of trust. Finding a place where you can relax and have that kind of trust can be more than just a comfort, but a place of motivation and empowerment. A lot of Christians look for a place that sings the songs they know, does a familiar routine, and makes them feel at home. Other Christians are looking for relationships with people, and the ceremonies and rituals are less important. Still other Christians are looking for something I don't have words to describe. At times, I am all three of these Christians. Whatever type you may be, if you are willing to take a small venture out of your comfort zone, you won't have trouble finding a connection.
One of the Super teachers told my wife and
Iabout the Hope of Surat Thani Church the first month we arrived here. When we went for a visit, we aimlessly walked into the building looking for the 12:30 p.m. international service. A stout little a woman approached us. I could not see her face, just a giant white hat that blotted out most of my field of vision. I half expected the Easter bunny to pop out from underneath, but instead found a kind face in parade-style make-up. She escorted us to a classroom, where we sat in folding chairs with eight to ten singing Thai people. When one translates songs written in Thai into English, then sings them over the same chord progression and rhythm, funny things happen. These funny things fit the pattern of the sound waves created by a cat. Being drowned in a sack. Then hit with a stick. Then drowned again. I only hoped that my laughterforced into a smile was perceived as the joy of having found a church. “Dang it, should have brought my own Easter bunny hat,” I thought to myself. We felt out of place. We both felt that the small group leader was too overbearing. We felt like the expectations were on us to share about spiritual lives when we had just been introduced to a room full of people. Also, we didn't have hats. Did I mention that?
A few months later, I gave it another shot. Some new teachers came to town, and I agreed to take them out to see the church. This time, we were greeted by a group of twenty-somethings that spoke amazing English. They were interested in us, genuinely. Singing together was still a polyphonic explosion, but it was fun. We felt accepted and I met some people I really wanted to hang out with later. I realized our first bad experience had probably been a combination of the lost in translation funk from one of the small group leaders (I later discovered there are several) and my own attempt at adjusting to a church environment after a long time outside of such a place.
My next visit to the church, everyone I had spoken with remembered my name. They brought me water, coffee, and snacks while we hung out after the service. They openly talked about what was going on in their lives without trying to look like model Christians. A few weeks ago, two church people came over to my home.
PiChaiis a veterinarian, so he came to look at the street dog we've been feeding. He brought PiMam with him to translate, and we spoke about the “ labies” for ten minutes before I knew what we were talking about. It was very spiritual, the “ labies.” Even though I joke, I was impressed by their choice to come hang out on my porch for an afternoon to examine and pick fleas off a smelly dog with me. Many church friends I had in Texas only got together when there was some sort of church-ything to do. You can't really have a genuine friendship based on that. So on my porch, each flea picked was the beginning of some real community between us. Hope of Surat Thani Church has become a group of people I could trust anything with. This after spending just a few hours over a few months with them.
If you are wondering how you will be able to find a church and be connected, there are plenty of opportunities here. Yes, it can be awkward. Actually, it will certainly be awkward at first. You will be breaking out of the foreigner bubble and getting into a distinct Thai subculture (less than 1% of Thai people are Christians). But if you push through the awkward beginning, you can make some good friends who identify with the faith you have carried across the sea. What is more, you may really learn something from those who approach following Jesus from a different background.
There are two
nondenominationalchurches in Surat; Hope of Surat Thani and Bandon Road Church. There is only one Catholic Church, and it is in situated between Thidamaepra and Theprmitrsuksa School. You can attend mass there, but I don't know the schedule. Hope of Surat Thani resembles a parading circus on Sunday mornings, and is all in Thai. However, they will provide you with a translator who will sit next to you and become an instant friend. It is a lot of fun to be completely immersed in a crowd of Thai people and feel you are all sharing something together. Also, they have international church on Sunday afternoons. You can wear whatever you want, except shorts and tank tops. I usually wear “teacher clothes” on Sunday mornings, or jeans and a t-shirt if I go in the afternoon. They feed you breakfast and lunch on Sunday, if you go around 9 AM and stay until noon. Bandon Road Church is less strange and has a much larger crop of twenty-somethings who speak English well. They are very engaging, and a friend of mine learned a lot of Thai when she went on a weekend retreat with them. I still haven't gone yet. I am still having fun strangling cats church karaoke style.
This is an article about a young idealist man who travels around southern
thailandfomenting rebellion and wearing silly facial hair. Ohwait, nope... that's the other article. This one is about all the amazing places you can see from Surat for super cheap via the most celebrated method of Thai transportation: the motorbike. The sights include two of the tourist circuit must-sees (the Khao Sok National Rainforest and Ko Samui) and two lesser known gems (Khanom and the Monkey Training School).
If you worried about motorcycle travel, you should be, at least enough to keep you from being an idiot. It is the easiest and freest way to travel in Thailand, as you don't have to worry about where and when to catch a bus or being
harrassedby tuk-tuk drivers once you get there. For short trips, you can cram the most amount of leisure into the least amount of holiday time. Why being a little worried is beneficial to your health: it will make you wear a helmet at all times and drive slowly on the shoulder of the highway.
Destination #1: Ko Samui
This is the “Island Paradise” everyone says that you should visit. I certainly don't think it is the best island in Thailand. However, it is a very large island with anything you could possibly want to do
onit. The water is beautiful, and the sand is especially great at Chaweng Beach. Chaweng is a great place to people watch, as it is an especially huge strip of clean (really, it isactuallyperfectly clean) mean beach-walking machine. You can rent sailboats, catamarans, jet-skis, and beach chairs there, depending on your style. You can even kite surf (unless your name is Piglet). You can stay for cheap and nice (500 baht/night) on Bo Phut (Big Buddha) Beach, and ride to the other beaches for fun. There is a great fruit market near the golden Big Buddha where you can buy super cheap food and stock up if you are on a tight budget. Also, a great rotee(pancake) stall that will stuff you silly for less than 50 baht, depending on what you choose to throw in it. If you want a quiet, rock boundbeach with lots of opportunityto reflect, there is Ton Sai Beach. From the Big Buddha (the west side of the NE finger of the island), you just take your first left and then follow the arrows downhill until you get to Ton Sai Resort. You can park your bike here and enjoy the crags and the pristine resort-less view. The resort has a nice staff and a good iced coffee, with cheap beer on offer as well.
How do you get to this “Island Paradise”? Easy. The main street that runs through Surat is called Talad Mai. You just head North East on that road, and it becomes Route 401. You take this for about an hour until you come to the “Don Sak Intersection” where you take a left to head for the ferry at Don Sak. You ride about thirty more minutes and arrive at the Sea Tran office. They charge you 140 baht to take you and your motorcycle two hours across the ocean to Ko Samui. When you arrive at Ko Samui, you will be at the uninteresting West Side (Ao Makham). This is where having a bike saves you a ton, as any tuk-tuk will charge you around 500 baht to get to any other beach. (Plus you would have had to pay the ferry on top of that) Motorbike gas, round trip, should be no more than 200 baht (automatics will use more gas).
Destination #2: Khanom
I LOVE KHANOM! Shh... don't tell anybody. Then they might go there, and then it will be a place people go to! No! As a Surat teacher, you are a member of the select few foreigners that get to experience this amazing place. The beaches are empty, almost always. The water is clear and aquamarine, filled with luminescent creatures at night. This is the most consistent place I have seen the night luminescence, where you can actually make floating light angels by just moving your arms and legs in the water. The sand is great, waves are slight, and there are seashells everywhere. You can eat fancy at a new brick oven pizza place on the beach, or you can go for the best cheeseburger at Thai-Fi (a Thai Finnish place). Khanom town has a good night market and plenty of restaurants as well. You can stay on the beach for 500-800 baht for a fan room here (Old Rabiangsai and Khanom Hill are
favourites). Or you can camp on the beach in front of Cece Bar, they will let you use their shower and restroom if you buy something now and then. If you ride your bike out to the point, past the Ratchakiri Resort, to the end of the road, there is a greatcamping place run by some friendly Thais. Gas, round trip, should be no more than 200 baht, 250 if you go back and forth a few times from town to beach.
How do you get to this place-that-you-will-tell-no-one-about? Take the same route down Talad Mai, as if you were going to Don Sak. At the Don Sak Intersection, keep going straight on Route 401, for about another 45 minutes. You will see signs for Khanom, and after you go downhill for awhile, you will turn left onto 4014 (passing some jumping dolphins, don't worry, just a statue). You are now on the main road that takes you into Khanom Town. Once there, you can stop and get food (turn right to get to the night market if it is afternoon) or just go straight to get to the beach. After about a kilometer, the main road dead ends onto 4232. Take a right, and you are
on the beach access road, which takes you to Cece Bar (on your left), Old Rabiangsai (2nd sign, cheaper and more quaint), but keep going and take a left at the top of the hill to get to Khanom
Hillorto go out to the point.
Destination #3: The Monkey Training School
Why would anyone train monkeys? They become excellent English teachers! We will all be out of jobs in about 5 years because of this school. Actually, they use exclusively positive reinforcement to train monkeys to harvest coconuts. They can climb, shake the trees, rotate the coconuts, and even dive two meters to save dropped equipment, coconuts, or Timmy (who is still waiting on that stupid Lassie to figure out how to dive and get him out). This place is amazing, I won't tell you much because I don't want to spoil it. If you go alone, a tour is 300 baht. That means they put on a whole educational monkey show and tour just for you. The monkeys don't do the tour unless they get to educate you. It is cheaper if you go with a few friends. Motorbike gas, round trip, less than 90 baht.
How do you get there? Again, go North East on Talad Mai. Look for the giant sign, and take a left on 2001. 2001 dead ends at the
KradaeChae Monkey Training Center. No more than a twenty minuteride from Surat Thani.
Destination #4: Khao Sok National Rainforest
The oldest rainforest in the world. You can not not see it. The glaciers never came here, and this forest has never burned down or been completely turned into furniture. You can swing on vines into crystalline waters. You can swim through caves to visit roaring waterfalls. You can see wild elephants and monkeys. All without a guide. (You might want one if you are going elephant-watching, though).
If you want to stay in a treehouse, you will have to pay around 1,000 baht (sleeps 3-4 people) at Our Jungle House. Or you can camp, always a cheap option, on the National Park. You can find a bungalow at Nung House for 400 baht, best deal for what you get (thanks to our friend Tristan). Looking around, budget places will give you a 400 baht rate for a nice fan room. All the guesthouses will arrange excursions for you, or you can walk down the main path, through Art's Bungalows, to get to the Monkey Swimming Hole. You will probably walk through a huge troop of monkeys on the way. (Watch out! They are sneaky, and they will take your camera!) You can use the rope swing, and have a blast for free! Or, walk the other way, pass Nung House and take a right on the main road to go to the Park. A ticket is good for 24 hrs, so you can do an evening hike and the whole next day on the same ticket. Bring your passport with worker permit, and you get a discount price of 50 baht (the tourist price is 200 baht).
How do you get to this amazing wonderland? No, no, don't tell me.... Talad Mai. Well, I'll be danged. But, go South West, to the Tha Kup Intersection. Take a right here on 4213, then take a left on route 401. Stay on this road for 2 hours, until you lose your mind from karst mountains jumping out of the earth. After the mountains start, the first bus stop with an office you see on your right is your stop. This is the main street through the town that serves the Park. You've got Italian food and great Thai food, but pass over the river and take a right to get to the guesthouses.
There and back, gas is between 250 and 300 baht.
Che or not, you can see some great stuff from Surat on a motorcycle. You will have flats, all that, but it will be fun!
*Please note prices reflect year the article was written please account for inflation
On Sunday afternoon a group of good friends convened outside the Chalokrat abode, a little hungover, but excited about what the coming hours held in store. We were joined by Joy and her beautiful daughter Best. The Super teachers were about to be given a super lesson in Thai cuisine...
We strolled to a friend of Joy's restaurant just down the road which offered a slightly larger and thus more convenient kitchen. Each of us were given various little tasks to do. We chopped crispy carrots, we peeled plump potatoes and we stirred sauce in a saucepan (it was actually a wok but that doesn't aid the appetizing alliteration). Just as we super teachers always demonstrate something ourselves in the classroom before encouraging the students to have a go so Joy taught us techniques and tricks and then observed our best efforts to imitate. These new skills will be useful in any kitchen around the world.
Joy rarely had to discipline us and didn't even resort to a points system to keep us in check. One student who shall remain anonymous even put some ice down her back whilst she was chopping with a rather large and sharp looking knife. Joy only momentarily showed (controlled) aggression and this was enough to stop further similar incidents. Alcohol was consumed in moderation in the form of Leo Beer but with the strict rule that it must be drunk through a straw. No one abused this. Mitch and Best were our photographers in the kitchen expertly capturing the super students in action. Best even drew some pencil impressions in her notebook.
After an hour and a half our four dishes were complete and we all sat down to enjoy what had been a group effort. Silence reigned for the next ten minutes as everyone kept their mouths busy chewing. As Vic pointed out, a sure sign of good grub!
The four dishes we cooked were Massaman Curry, Tom Kar Gai (soup), Spring Rolls and Chicken Fried Rice. When our stomachs had been satiated we all wrote down on a piece of paper what our favourite dish had been and these are the results:
So yes, fairly conclusive results. The bowls and plates were all empty rather quickly which owes to the deliciousness of the food. We were all extremely grateful to Joy who enjoyed the whole event herself. A big thank you is also due Peter for paying for all the ingredients and Vic for organizing the whole thing.
Some clever clogs who shall not remain nameless in this instance, for it was myself, thought it a good idea to take notes of the recipes so we can all go and impress our loved ones sometime. So here is the recipe for the winning dish...Enjoy!
1: “Massaman, I feel like a woman” (John)
•Coconut Milk (Joy used a little of the concentrated stuff too)
•Massaman Curry Paste
•Mushroom (Mickey Mouse Ear Type if possible)
Chop the vegetables up and keep them to one side. The taramid paste should be added to a bowl of water and kneaded. This should also be put to one side ready to be added a little later. Finally mix the shrimp paste and massaman curry paste together and also crush the peanuts ideally using a pestle and mortar.
Get a large saucepan and chuck the coconut milk into it bringing it to the boil and then allowing it to simmer for a while. Add the massaman curry / shrimp paste mix and boil for about 5 minutes stirring regularly. Add the chicken and simmer for a further 15 minutes. Next add the potato and onion and stir for another few minutes. Now take two fairly large spatula helpings of the taramid/water mix, making sure just to add the sauce and none of the actual thick paste. In addition add a few pinches of salt and approximately 2 ½ table spoons of white sugar. Simmer for another 15/20 minutes before finally adding the peanuts. A further 5 minutes on the hob will finish the curry off perfectly.
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 ofarticles 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 minutedrive 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
doorframeand 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 usnewcomers, 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.
are journalentries from when I first came to Thailand. When Peter asked for volunteers to write about our first 72 hours in Thailand, I went back to those first days for the first time since we got here more than a year and 1/2 ago.
Oct. 17, 2009: To wai or not to wai, that is the question. Actually, I believe the question is when to wai and why?...We got to Bangkok around midnight last night. I felt my stomach churning with anticipation as we landed, nervous dryness in my mouth. As soon as we got off the plane, I was hit by a
wave of hot, tropical air. Different smelling, feeling and being than where we were just a few hours ago. "We're not in Texas anymore," I thought as I saw workers scrub the floors by throwing buckets of soapy water across it as huge demon-guardian statues stood guard in the hallways. We hadn't decided whether to sleep at the airport or find a place to stay, but by the time we made it through security and got our bags, it seemed unthinkable to spend another 12 hours in the airport waiting for our flight to Surat the following morning. Just as this thought was sinking in, a smiling Thai man approached us offering us accommodation, food, massage.
"No. Sorry that's too expensive."
"Ok. Can 1,200 baht?"
That was our first glimpse into the flexibility of pricing in Thailand. We refused-- too skeptical to accept the first offer we got. We arrived on a small budget already after traveling for 3 months between quitting our stable jobs in Texas and moving to Thailand. We wandered out of the terminal with all of
our bags and shared a cigarette in the oppressive nighttime heat. We finally hailed a taxi and asked him to a guesthouse that our guidebook had recommended. The taxi driver, who was surreptitiously paid by another concierge told us the hotel we wanted was closed down/too far from the airport/too expensive
and many other things. Ultimately he took us to a hotel where we paid 1,200 baht (aaaaaaaaaaannoying!) anyways for a night in a painfully clean white tiled hotel room somewhere along the highway.
Despite all of this frustration, driving around in the middle of the night, staying up until 5 a.m. listening to the sounds of traffic and doors slamming in the hallway, I feel so excited to finally be in Thailand, I don't mind.
Oct. 21: (Today is Wednesday, and we got here on Saturday so let me go back and catch up.) Surat Thani has a tiny airport with a single terminal. We walked across the tarmac under a giant picture of the King to the baggage check where Wen, Super's head Thai staffer, waited with our names written on a piece of paper. She took us out to lunch at a tiny outdoor shack with giant pots of food shining in the hot sun.
Wen bought us lunch and then took us to our house.
At firstI didn't realize we had arrived. Instead of a front door, there was a sliding gate like shops have. The bottom floor door opened into a gloomy, windowless room with some raggidy furniture and a few kitchen appliances on a table. I wasn't let down at all, though. Strange--I guess I was more overwhelmed with the newness of everything. Our room was the biggest at the top of the three-story building with two large windows overlooking trees and rooftops. Wen took us to Big C, which was great, although no one told us we needed to buy our own sheets and towels and pillows so we went without all of those things for our first 4 or 5 days. Afterwards
I can't describe the happiness I felt the first the few days we were here. We met our roommate Emily (one of 3) after we came home from Big C. She stood on our roof with us smoking and teaching us the Thai numbers under
an umbrellasas the rain poured down. Then she organized a welcome dinner for us. We went out with some of the other teachers in town on our first night. We stayed up late drinking, talking and eating incredible food.
The next day, everyone left on vacation for the last week before school started. We had to be around for training on Monday so John and I cleaned our filthy, filthy bedroom and bathroom. Then we tried to find some street food, watched
movieby ourselves on our computers and stayed up all night with jetlag again.
At some point the next morning, we called Peter to let him know we were in town and planning to go to the beach. He said, let me help! And picked us up and took us to the bus station and helped us buy tickets to Khanom, a beach town about 45 minutes from here. So great because we would have otherwise been completely lost. I felt like a pain in the ass and slightly babied (I am so used to being completely independent) but still very glad for his help. The beach was beautiful and relaxing.
Today, this tiredness has hit me and I've slipped into a sudden depression. I'm exhausted and homesick. I know this is normal, at least for me--I know it is. Coming home from the beach today we met our new roommates. There are five of us all together. Four new teachers and one old-timer (relatively, because most people stay no longer than a year here). We sat up on our roof and watched the traffic go by together, talking and getting to know each other late last night. At some point, an elephant wandered by with a taillight blinking red on his tail. We all just looked at each other as the reality that we now live in Thailand sunk in for the first time again.
The flight from JFK to Bangkok was surprisingly far easier than I expected. I had heard horror stories of the general US to Asia flight, but it honestly was not bad. It was even enjoyable. I believe I owe this in part to the fact that I flew Cathay Pacific, which is unlike any American airline I have ever
been on. Not only did they not try to charge me extra for everything, they gave me about 12 different meal choices, 300 different movie choices, and an unbelievably comfortable seat with plenty of legroom. I landed in Bangkok and spent the night at the Novotel at the airport. For some reason unknown to me, they upgraded me to a junior suite free of charge. From my departure out of New York to that next morning when I woke up in a deluxe hotel king-sized bed, my first Asian experience
up to that point was nothing short of luxurious.
The first real shock I had
wasupon my plane landing at the “Surat Thani International Airport”. I am still unsure why it is called this,because it is certainly not international. In fact, the Thai Air, Air Asia, and Nok Air flights that service the airport come from and go to one place only; Bangkok. So really, it’s a National Surat-Bangkok Airport. I’m not sure if this alone brings you the image of how small the place is. I have been on many airplanes, and in many airports, and this is by far the smallest. When my plane landed, we were literally the one and only plane on the runway. I could see the entire terminal building from my tiny square window. I was in a weird state of being fascinated and worried. I got off of the plane, and Peter was waiting for me. It wasn’t hard to spot him, as he was the only white guy and I had ‘seen’ him on Skype for my interview. He was immediately really nice and I felt comfortable with him, which is always a plus when you’re (a) meeting your boss for the first time and (b) trusting someone in a place where you are otherwise helpless, ignorant, and illiterate.
Then I walked out of the airport and was hit by the Surat heat for the first time. That is definitely
something I will never forget. I knew it was going to be hot, but there was no preparing me for how hot it actually was. Next came the car ride from the airport to town, which shocked me more than landing at the world’s smallest airport. The biggest jolt I got was from seeing the motorbikes—so many motorbikes. Or what I used to call mopeds, but quickly learned to call motorbikes instead. There were (literally) families of four on one bike—not one of them wearing a helmet. A husband,
wife, and two kids, sometimes the younger one being under the age of three. The American mom in me wanted to roll down my window and yell “Put on a helmet!” Somehow I restrained myself. Aside from
thatthe landscape really surprised me. The massive acres of palm trees reminded me of a movie about Viet Nam. I feel pretty stupid now about being surprised by this—what did I think it might look like?
After about a
45 minutecar ride, we pulled up at what was to be my house. The first thing that stood out was how it was essentially a row home. I remember thinking; I came 9,000 miles away just to end up in another row home? My imagination had fabricated this very ancient styledThai house, but reality produced a modern, concrete, 3-story building with a pull-down business gate in front. I went inside to find out that the water was not working and that the boys leaving the premises seemed to know little about cleanliness. Upstairs to my room; a nice enough space, inhabited primarily by geckos, their excrement, some very large spiders, and the webs they had weaved in large, intricate canopies all along the crease between the walls and the ceiling. At some point that day I got a broom from somewhere and tried to reclaim my room from the creepy creatures.
After having an initial look at the house, I was introduced to the other new teachers who were to be my roommates; Anneliese and Mike. Peter took the three of us, and the fourth new teacher Lee, out to eat at this great restaurant called Good Health. I cannot remember for the life of me what I might have ordered to eat, but I am sure that I was not very adventurous in that first culinary experience. I can recall with distinct clarity, however, my first time in a Thai bathroom. I didn’t really know what to do. In retrospect, it’s not a bad bathroom. But to my unaccustomed Western toilet
sensibilitiesit was a nightmare. There was water everywhere, a butt hose, no soap. It was dirty and it smelled awful. I came out and commented on it and someone said something along the lines of “Isn’t it weird how you can’t flush toilet paper here?” Well, now, how the heck was I supposed to know that? Of courseI just flushed my toilet paper. What was I supposed to do instead? What do you meanthrow it in the waste basketnext to the toilet, even when you do a number two? Clearly this was something that took some getting used to for me. I swore I would never get used to it, but now I think I am going to have to relearn how to flush paper when I go back home.
That night was a Saturday night (October 16th, 2010), and Saturday is a great day to get to Surat. There’s (relatively) all kinds of stuff going on. The first thing that happened was really special. We got our first
downtown, and for some tuk tuk reasonthe driver letus hold his adorable puppy the
entire way. We were in love. We got dropped off near the Coliseum, now one of the easiest landmarks there is but at the time we may as well have landed on the moon. We were kind of lost, which is sometimes great because with no real direction you can go anywhere. We walked by a Chinese temple, the one downtown with the huge (and I’m not exaggerating—the
thing’s at leasttwo stories tall) statue of the Goddess whose name I can never for the life of me remember. She’s really beautifulthough, I promise. I had never seen a statue so big, or a temple so alive with ceremony. I think we were all pretty enchanted when an older woman invited us in. We were shown how to properly offer incense at each station, where to kneel, and in what direction to proceed. I would have felt hugely out of place if it weren’t for the eager help of all of the elders there. When we were finished with our respects, we were invited to eat—turned out this was the yearly Vegetarian Festival—and we were lucky enough to be fed all of the vegetarian curry and rice we could handle. We sat with this old woman who did not speakany English, and we of course at the time spoke no Thai, but it didn’t even matter. It was unreal. It is still one of my favorite moments in Thailand.
thatwe went to the Saturday night market. This is always a good time. I bought sheets for my bed and we saw the Tapee River for the first time. We were instantly amazed by how cheap everything was. After this pointI don’t remember much. I know that somehow we got home that night,and that at some point the next day I woke up. I know that I went to Big-C and got some necessities for my room,and that Monday was our first day of training. I know that I harassed Peter incessantly until he brought me to buy both a lap topand a phone so that I could feel connected to my friends and family in America. And somehow it’s now almost 8 months later.
Before arriving in Surat Thani, I tried to mentally prepare myself for this new life. I had never been to Thailand before, or anywhere in Asia. I made a feeble attempt to gain control over the massive change that was about to happen. I eventually realized that trying to make predictions about my upcoming experience was both impossible and unnecessary. I had to just jump in, feet first, and see what happened. So that I did.
Upon arriving in Thailand, I soon began to think about one word a lot ‘adapt’. Things are different here, as you would expect, and as I wanted them to be. There are a few obstacles present in everyday life, such as- how to get around town? where can I find food? where can I get vegetarian food? how do I even ask for vegetarian food? how do I do anything, go anywhere, or ask for anything when I haven’t yet even mastered how to say ‘hello’? And most importantly how do I gain access to the tripod of happiness : coffee, films and the internet? The faster I would be able to adjust to my surroundings and this way of life- the better off I would be.
So I arrived, met the new roommates, saw the new house, and devised a game plan to make the house a home. Next came training, which was great. I had time to focus on the task at hand-teaching Thai kiddies, all the while being given time to adjust. The time came or my first day, and although I had spent the past year teaching, I was nervous. Totally and completely. I had been living in Prague, and teaching adults. Our classes consisted of conversation, about politics/business/culture/travel and grammar, copious amounts of fun fun grammar. Note the sarcasm. I was (extremely) happy to be trying out a new method of teaching with Super English.
My classes usually involved exercises from books, very dry, painfully boring exercises that I was required to assign. I mean grammar is great and all, of course important, but who wants to sit in a class where all you talk about is the first conditional and gerunds, and when and why and what the rules are, and then why the rules are always broken at some point. I am glad that I can focus on having a fun class that engages the students, thus easing the learning process-for both parties.
Although I was anxious about the first day, it went great. My kids are ridiculously awesome. I came into class the first day and they were cheering. Seriously. They all wanted to shake my hand and give me high-fives. Nothing will boost your ego like a room full of excitable 3rd graders. I love em’! And you would think a classroom of 50 some odd tiny human beings would be too much to handle-but it’s really not so bad. It doesn’t hurt that they are also the cutest little tiny human
So now I find myself three weeks into my Thai adventure and so many vital things are good so far. The roommates, the other Super teachers, the kids, the school, and the community as a whole. I have also located coffee, internet and films. To my delight, I have found that the Thai’s and I both have a massive sweet tooth. How would you like your coffee? With two cups of sugar? Why yes please. There are a number of places to pick up the internet, some are adorable coffee shops, and one is a road side restaurant and unlikely place to find wireless. It’s actually the quickest connection I’ve found-who knew? And the films are plentiful. Peter is nice enough to bring in a flash drive full of stuff for us to get our American TV and film fix.
I now spend my time enjoying my surroundings and observing the fun differences in my new home. Some differences: corn sundaes (ice cream’s unlikely companion seems to be a big hit here), three people to a motorbike, using a spoon in instances where instinct tells you to use a fork, fish
sauce in unlikely places, seaweed flavored Pringles, pork floss (?), sugar in everything(awesome), deodorant with skin whitening agents (not as awesome). A short list of the things that are now important to me that I would never think would be important to me: 7 Eleven (aka my new grocery store), hand sanitizer, baby wipes (the poor man’s shower), flip flops, tuk-tuks. And how about some things that stay the same no matter where you are in the world: KFC, Hannah Montana and super stores. Just little reminders of the homeland.
So I guess my first impression of Surat Thani so far is: a good place/a different place/the place I hoped it would be, with some extra fun surprises. It seems that Thailand, specifically Surat Thani will continue to surprise me, will be fun, and maybe sometimes have some minor obstacles (still learning how to order vegetarian and explain where I live to tuk-tuk drivers). So, everyday life is not always filled with everyday comforts, but comfortable is easy and easy is boring, and really who
I came into this experience knowing that I had to give everything I was going to encounter a fair chance. I knew I had to have an open mind, and never forget that although the Thai way of life may be foreign to me, I am the foreigner here. I am the weird, different, unusual one, and it is I who has to adapt. I am so happy that I fully embraced this
mindset,because I think that it has made my acclimation a lot easier. So far it may sound as though this wonderful frame of mind is the sole thing that has caused my first couple of weeks to be a success. This is far from the truth. I would not be where I am in this adventure if it were not for the kindness, friendship, and help of many people from Super English and people of Surat.
I have only been in Surat Thani for 38 days now, so I am still slowly reforming and shedding first impressions. I can’t believe it has only been 38 days! It feels like a lot longer than that. I don’t mean that to sound negative at all, because it is not. It’s just that going through so much change in such a short period of time can really make you feel like you’ve lived a lifetime. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s okay to run a range of emotions, being that in the past few weeks I have moved to a new country, got new roommates, and started a new job. It’s a lot to process.
When I first got off the plane I was surprised. My plane was the only one on the runway; the only one in the entire Surat Thani airport. That was a first for me. I got off of the plane and Peter was waiting for me. I was so relieved; not only was he an American who spoke English, but he was as cool and nice in person as he was via the internet. We walked out of the airport and the heat hit me. I had read about, had been told about it, but you don’t really have any idea until you’ve been in it. It reminded me of a heat wave in Philly, but it was just a normal day. Then we got in a car with the steering wheel on the wrong side, and everyone was driving on the left side of the road. The ride from the airport to Surat Thani was unreal. I saw what looked like the jungle in every movie ever made about the Vietnam War. I saw countless motorbikes with little kids squished in the front not wearing helmets. I saw ramshackle stands by the side of the road selling everything you could ever want. Peter then brought me to my new house, and he brought me and my new roommates out to eat. The first impression that I love the most was that of the town itself. That night my roommates and I decided to take a
into town and see what it was like. We flagged one down and the driver had the cutest puppy in the tuk tuk with him! He let us hold the puppy for the entire tuk tuk ride,and dropped us off near Coliseum. I had no idea what Coliseum was at the time, but this quasi-mall has become an important landmark in my navigation of Surat. We wandered around looking for the night market and happened upon a huge Buddhist temple observing the Vegetarian Festival. We looked in and were immediately invited inside by the elders. They showed us how to properly light and place incense around the monument and tables, and then invited us to eat for free! They gave us many delicious curries and other vegetable dishes, and plenty of rice. One of the elder women sat down at the table with us and ate. We could not speak the same language, but there was a beautiful understanding that made me feel really welcome. It was the perfect first night here in Surat Thani.
When we first got to Super English for our training, my immediate thought was just, wow! It is a beautiful building. It is very nice on the inside, and it is huge! I was a little surprised, actually, at how nice it really is. I was also really happy to find that it is fully air-conditioned and has internet access. I was in heaven. The classrooms were all well
equipped,ofcomfortable size, and my room for the little kids is just adorable. The training was really very informative. Peter is an excellent teacher, and he was able to give us some tips on teaching in Thailand. He especially helped me in preparing for my level 3A class at Super English; a class made up of 3-6 year oldswho know very little English. This was an intimidating undertaking for me, as I had just come off teaching four years of high school in the United States. It took a little bit for me to get out of the history teacher to high school seniors mode and into the preschool mentality. Peter was really helpful in this,because he is really good at it. He had to tell me more than once to relax, to be goofy, and to just have fun. After I stopped worrying so much about being serious and producing perfect little speakers of English, things got a lot easier for me.
My first impression of the students at Super English was “Oh my goodness they are too adorable!” which they are. There is something about
3-6 year oldThai kids that is just too damn cute for words. They are generally really happy, excited, and easily entertained. Classes are fun, and the students seem to really enjoy themselves. As a teacherit is fun because they actually want to be there, which was not always my experience teaching high school in the United States. It is also really challenging,since a three year oldcan’t even understand mewhenI say “Please sit down”, but it makes it all that more rewarding in the end.
At firstI was totally overwhelmed, but luckily this impression has faded away. There is just so much energy in a room full of 3-6 year oldkids, and trying to channel that energy can be extra difficult when we cannot understand each other. But things have been much easier lately. After I built a rapport with my students, they began to really open up to me. Even if we cannot have a long, in-depth conversation, I feel as if I know them pretty well at this point. Every afternoon when I walk into the lobby to gather up my kids to go upstairs to class I have such a blast. They hug me and bring me donuts and run toy cars over my feet. Although fifteen students feels like a million at times, it is really such a wonderfully small number. I can actually have (limited) conversations with each of them individually, which is something that is an impossibility at the Thai schools. I can assess each of their strengths and weaknesses and really try to help them with what they need most, which is really every teacher’s dream.
I think that overall my first impressions hold true to the reputation that Thailand has as being the Land of Smiles. Almost every person I have encountered has been so genuinely kind to me. People are not only
nice,but really willing to help out in any circumstances that they are able to help out in. I have had Thai people take me to the beach, give me rides home, help clean up my yard, and invite me out for dinner. There is so much warmth and hospitality that it is not hard to feel comfortable right away. In addition to the kindness of the Thai people here, the expat community, and the Super English familyin particular, has made the adjustment period so much fun. Other teachers are really eager to show us new things, take us places, and just hang out in general. They are also incredibly helpful in helping us to develop as teachers. I have had no moments of despair as of yet, because there is always someone right there to catch me if I fall.
I came to Surat Thani in late July, 2001. A lot has changed since then, but some things remain the same: very few teachers, if any, have a smooth arrival. It’s a long trip and once in Thailand you are greeted with a foreign language, culture, lifestyle, and climate. It can be unnerving, stressful and exhausting. It is not for the weak of heart, mind or spirit. You have to come with the right attitude of “relax – all will be well,” for while the bumpy arrival remains omnipresent for every newcomer so does the aftermath; give it some time and everything works out just fine.
The cultural portion of my journey to Thailand began when I was hired by a language school and told I had to be in Surat in two weeks. That wasn’t a big problem for me. I can move fast when I need to. I got all my tickets and everything squared away within a week. Then I waited for the visa documents to arrive. They came three days before I was going to get on the airplane. I sprinted through Washington, D.C., to the Thai Embassy where I filled out the visa application, got my photos in order, had my cash ready, handed everything in and was told “No.” I asked, “What do you mean, ‘No’?’ The grumpy Thai man behind the thick window would only repeat the word “No.” I showed him my one way ticket to Bangkok. I asked what the problem was. I asked if there was anyone else I could talk with. Every request was met with the same answer. This would be a bit worrisome to a regular westerner who is accustomed to having a wide array of information and options available. I’ll admit I felt some panic at knowing nothing and having no idea how to proceed.
I returned home without the visa and tried to get in touch with the school. I searched through all the email correspondence and found they had never given me any number to call in case something went wrong. I sent an email of course, but I was getting on a plane in a few days and thought it would be good to have something to tell the visa folks at the airport in Bangkok. Finally, I was able to track down a cell phone number by digging around the school’s website and, after about a dozen attempts, I finally got a hold of someone. She told me that I would get the visa once I had arrived in Thailand. Fair enough. I got on the plane two days later.
Concerning the flight I’ll only say: Never travel Northwestern. If you do, do not eat the beefcurry. Bad idea.
Like everyone else, I landed late at night in Bangkok. However, this was before the much-needed taxi line where you are assured of your requested destination. I had been advised by some teachers to stay at the Don Muang Mansion, which was apparently just across the highway from the airport. I never saw it. I exited the airport, hopped into a taxi, said “Don Muang Mansion”, the driver said “okay”, and he took off like he was vying for a spot on the Nascar circuit. About 10 seconds later he says, “Don Muang Mansion no good. Cannot, cannot.” I said, “Don Muang Mansion good good. Can can. Go to Don Muang Mansion, please.” We’re still speeding away from the airport at about 85 mph. The driver says, “Don Muang Mansion 1 week. No 1 night,”which I took to mean you can’t stay at the Don Muang Mansion just one night, you have to stay a whole week. I told him that wasn’t accurate, but he persisted. We went back and forth about it several times, all the while getting further and further away from where I wanted to be. Now, prior to coming to Thailand I had an extremely short fuse. I had read all the cultural tips about staying calm, so I was really having a hard time controlling my famously volcanic temper (Later I learned that taxi drivers are exempted from the “keep your heart calm” rule, basically because they are out to fleece you in any way they can). I hadn’t been expected to be tested so vigorously after only
being in the country for a few minutes. Nevertheless, I managed to not explode and finally said, “Whatever.”
About 20 minutes later the taxi driver pulled into an area of Bangkok I had never seen before nor seen since. There were bars all over the place, people were fighting in the streets, and there was a barrage of neon, colored lights. If I hadn’t been jetlagged this may have been fun, but I hadn’t slept in something like 30 hours and my energy was wearing thin. The driver dropped me off at the Washington Suites. The comedic irony of having travelled 24+ hours from Washington, D.C., only to be dropped off at the Washington Suites wasn’t lost on me. I got overcharged on the cab, checked in, got overcharged on the room, found the room to be an absolute dump with people pounding on the walls, sat down and thought for a moment, then picked up my bags, went back downstairs, checked out, hailed a cab and went right back to the airport. That was an expensive and exhausting lesson, but a good dose of reality. Welcome to Bangkok!
I spent the night in the airport. This is the old airport where they cranked up the air-conditioning as high as it could go and people were walking around wearing sweaters. This still is the case at good old Don Muang. All the chairs were metal and something you might find in a mental institution. I didn’t get any sleep.
The next morning I flew down to Surat. I picked up my bags and went outside to look for the person from the school who was supposed to pick me up. There was no one there. With no cell phone or any other means of contact, I sat down and waited. About 45 minutes later the school’s van pulled up. Contrary to Ryan’s tale, there had been no vehicle breakdown. The person picking me up was just plain late for no apparent reason. I got in and was taken directly to a 3 hour Saturday class. After class I was taken to the owner’s house, where I was told I would be staying temporarily because they didn’t have any other housing for me.
I was given a room with lots of closets, a bed, and a standing air-con unit. Not too bad, I thought. Then I found that all the closets were full of clothes already. No big deal. I lived out of my suitcase. Then I discovered that a standing a/c unit doesn’t do much good in a country as blistering hot as Thailand, as hot air rises and cold air falls. Since the a/c unit was already low to the ground, the cool air went right out under the door. A good lesson in Chemistry, or is it Physics? Then I found out that I was living across the hall from the very elderly grandfather, who looked either right through me or as if I was an intruder in his realm. Alright. I was quiet as a mouse and stayed in my room. Then I found out that I was also living right next to, and sharing a bathroom with, three Thai teenagers. Okay. I’d have to figure it out their moods and schedules. Then I discovered that the house was gated, so you could never get in or out unless the non-English speaking gardener was available/awake to unlock the gate. So much for late nights out.
The next morning I awoke early, excited to get out, explore the town, and maybe get some food. No one else was up yet, so I opened up the front door to go out. Right in front of me were two Thai cobra killer ridgeback dogs. These dogs actually managed to look much more intimidating and scary than their name suggests. They are vicious looking animals and they do mean business. Since they were looking at me as if to see if I was really stupid enough to step foot outside, I retreated behind a closed door. Then I remembered that even if I had made it past the cobra killers I would have had to scale a 12 foot gate. So much for my walkabout. I was completely trapped.
Back in the day I used to eat a lot. I mean I used to eat like Super Teacher Ryan Day. Scary amounts. It was early in the morning, I was jet-lagged and very hungry. Unfortunately, I had no way of getting out to find sustenance. I later learned that in order to get food in that house you had to ask the non-English speaking maid to make you something (which was always fired rice with some vegetables or ramen noodles). Even if I had known that at the time it wouldn’t have mattered as she was still asleep and to knock on her door you had to go outside, past the salivating dogs. So I had no choice but to wait for everyone to wake up, which eventually happened. I spent the rest of Sunday in my room. None of the other teachers came to say hi or ask if I needed help with anything. I didn’t know where they lived so I couldn’t go and bother them. Sunday night the owners of the school took me to dinner with them and their family. I was offered wasp larvae, but politely declined.
Early Monday morning I was told I had to go to Malaysia to get my work visa. I was taken to a minivan station and dropped off. I spent the rest of the day in minivans, first traveling to Hat Yai, and then onto Penang. I left Surat at 6 am and got to Penang at 5 pm. The visa process there was basically a repeat of DC, full of wonderful rejections followed by no explanations whatsoever. I kept emailing the school and asking them for help in trying to figure out what the hold-up was, but the only answers I got were “You’re in Penang. Enjoy yourself while things get sorted out.” I was in Penang for one week, on my own dime. At the end I didn’t even have enough money for a razor,and I looked grungy. There were times during that week when I thought I had been scammed by the visa guys and would have to remain in Penang, Malaysia, on a permanent basis. That was a fun thought.
After I finally got the visa, I headed back to Surat where I spent the next 3 weeks waiting for the teacher who had so urgently needed to depart when I was hired to actually do so. I lived in the owner’s house for two months. After that I moved into a house with no bed. I slept on 1/2 inch exercise mats for about six months. Then I got a bed frame and a bamboo husk mattress. The mattress, which could have won prizes as a floor impersonator, was about half a foot longer than the bed frame, so I slept on a reverse 30 degree incline for the remainder of my contract.
Through all of this I never complained or asked for anything. What for? I was in Thailand and working with the coolest and most fun kids I had ever met. I was having a great time, learning and growing. Sure, there were some things that weren’t perfect, but that’s Thailand. It’s called the third world for a reason. Just as my experience in the taxi cab, Thailand will test you. If you are an impatient person, you will have to learn to wait (I did). If you are scared of spiders, then, sure enough, you’ll see larger spiders than anyone else (this is exactly what happened to Chris M.). If you need everything neat, clean and organized you might lose your mind because that is not how things are in Thailand. Living in Thailand is all about adaptation and flexibility. You learn to deal with frustrations and disappointments as Thai people do, which is to say “never mind” and not let it affect you. Life isn't perfect. Toughen up, get over it, make the best of it, and move on. I am happy and thankful that I had the experiences I did because I learned a lot from them and they changed me for the better. At minimum, they made me more patient and accepting of the way things are. They also made me realize that it doesn’t benefit to stress and complain about how you would like things to be, rather than just appreciating whatever you have.
When I first arrived in Surat Thani I was pleasantly surprised at how humid and hot the air was. I remember it smelled like Hawaii, the clouds were starting to sprinkle, and there was a slight wind blowing the foliage that surrounded the airport.
My main bag was “lost” somewhere between Hong Kong and Bangkok. I put lost in quotations because when I got it back two days later it had obviously been opened and searched. Maybe because it was a backpackers pack that looked dirty and old or just the fact that I had coffee and other weird items like motorcycle protective gear and an arsenal of bike tools inside, it must have looked suspicious to someone. Everything that was neatly folded inside was crammed back in awkwardly. Also the strings that close my pack by looping over hooks were just tied in the most ferocious knots man has ever encountered. None the less I got it back and was happy.
Wen, Super English’s head Thai staff member came to pick us up and drove us the 45 mins in to the city of Surat Thani. I remember slowly realizing that we were not heading into a small rural village but a bustling city. I started seeing trash everywhere. It looked like there were small dumps on the side of the road next toabandoned cement fortresses. The smell of sewage was strong in the air and there were cars driving the wrong way passing slower traffic and basically running us off the road. Twenty something year old Thai kids, dressed like “hipsters” form NYC, were flying down the road without helmets, texting while driving a motorbike with two passengers on the back. Old ladies were driving scooters with one hand on the controls while the other hand was holding a chicken, all the while a teenager was on the back and a 5 year old was standing up on the seat between them, “surfing” like Michael J fox did on the top of the van in Teen Wolf.
The deeper we got into Surat the more my spirits dropped. There was no sign of vegetation without heaps of trash (dirty diapers, plastic bags and water bottles) covering it completely. As far as I could see, there were only buildings. Electric wires were hanging from poles into the street. Mangy street dogs covered with open sores limped down the street, their ribs and pelvic bones clearly visible due to starvation. The smell of rotting flesh and sewage was inescapable. I was losing my mind. I was under the impression that we would be on a river in a small town just a short trip from the beach. Nope.
Driving the motorbike in Surat was enough in and of itself to make me lose my marbles. The lanes are not but a mere suggestion. People drive the wrong way down the street, pass in the opposing lane’s traffic during rush hour, playing chicken with other vehicles. Trucks assert their size advantage by running motorbikes off the road even when they don’t have to. People cut you off while texting and riding helmetless on motorcycles. Taxi drivers block the narrow lanes that motorbikes fit through during traffic jams, just because they want to assert their social status and because they are frustrated that they are too big to fit through the narrow gaps. Cars will pull out in front of you causing you to slam on your brakes and skid your tires, only to decide that they want to stop in the middle of the road so their passenger can go and buy and ice cream at 7-11. I think that a lot of this has to do with the fact that this is a Buddhist country. It is taboo to lose your cool here. Someone cuts you off, it’s cool. Someone almost kills you, no prob. If someone runs you off the road you are supposed to just take it and smile. It is very ironic that in a Buddhist country people are so disrespectful towards others, and I finally figured out why. In America if you risk someone’s life in any way you will get followed home, pulled out of your car and beaten to a pulp in the middle of the street for everyone to witness. If you run a grandmother off the road who is bringing two young children home from school you will get confronted by someone and it probably will not end well. In a weird way, this seems to make people act more civil towards each other because there are consequences for acting like an idiot. This being said, you, as a foreigner, are held up to a standard of conduct that no Thai person is held to. So all your actions will be closely observed and scrutinized.
After being here for a month I realize that I was looking at Thailand from an American standpoint and perspective. Thailand is a completely different place than America and it doesn’t deserve to be judged from an American perspective.
Although the traffic is absolutely nuts here, I think that it is safer because everyone is looking for you to cut them off, not to mention almost everyone is on a motorbike or motorcycle so people are used to looking out for us small vehicles. Also people are not counting on the police to ticket every traffic violation thus keeping order on the road. They are expecting the crazy to happen and in return you get a lot of conscious drivers.
There are bad people everywhere but I can honestly say that the majority of Thai people are genuinely nice and if you smile at someone they will almost surely smile back. You have to take into context that most foreigners that come through Surat are just here to take a boat somewhere else where they can party and get wasted, so one can understand how the locals are skeptical about us. That being said, it isn’t hard to change their mind. By learning their customs and being respectful, especially to the elders, one can erase stereotypes formed by those who came before us.
If the reason you are coming here is to teach than you will be absolutely delighted. The kids are energetic,fun, cute and smart. They brighten up my day everyday and I am so happy that I get to be around them. They will give you hugs, high fives, candy, and will follow you around like you are one of the Beatles, screaming and laughing at the smallest little things you do. The schools are very beautiful and have a good positive energy that pulses through them. The kids truly look up to you and want to be like you. I guarantee that you will love teaching here.
The night markets by the river are so cool and the sunset is perfect every day. Your favorite food vendor will remember you and your order. You will get recognized by your students and there is a certain respect and special treatment that the locals give you once they realize you are not a partying tourist but a teacher dedicating your life to their child’s education.
Living in Surat was scary to me at first but I have come to genuinely love it.
5 hours from Dulles to LAX. 17.5 hours from LAX to Bangkok. 45 minutes from Bangkok to Surat Thani. The feeling of not showering for two days, feeling fat from Thai Airways waking me up every hour on the hour to feed me, and an intense version of jet lag as my days and nights switched places, and I’m in Thailand. I walked off the plane to a blazing sun. All the other articles weren’t lying. It is hot here. One minute off the plane and I sweat my way to baggage claim. Patiently I await my luggage coming around the tram, and everyone else grabs their things with smiles and move on. The conveyor belt stops and I’m still patiently awaiting my luggage. Well, not as patiently as I was previously. At this
pointI find the baggage desk, and luckily there is a very nice gentleman behind the counter who speaks enough English that I can stumble my way into figuring out what happened.
When you first enter Thailand, most people will tell you that you do not need to send your luggage through customs.
Generallyyou do this at your final destination as most airports have a customs area to check your luggage for anything you need to declare. What they don’t know, at least at Bangkok, is that Surat Thani Airport does not have a customs department. So if you try to fly from Bangkok to Surat Thani, and you haven’t sent your bag through customs, they will not send it with you. Sweet. Now compound my one change of clothes to not showering for two days, feeling fat from Thai Airways waking me up every hour on the hour to feed me, and intense version of jet lag as my days and nights switched places. Welcome to Thailand.
After squaring away my luggage situation, which means they know where my bag is and are going to get it to me…eventually, I step out of the terminal to enter the main airport. Before I boarded the plane, I double checked my email to see the arrangements to retrieve me from the airport and deliver me to either my house or Super English. To quote, “Wen will pick you up. She’ll be short, with glasses, and a big smile. Ryan arrives May 5th at 11:05.” My plane arrived early, around 10:00, and even with the baggage dilemma, it was about 10:20 by the time I walked out of the terminal. Time to get my patient face on
again,broke out my book and started reading. I started nodding off a bit, jet lag, doing the classic head bob. I luckily had head phonesin so that it looked like I was keeping a very strange beat. I looked at my clock, 12:07. Now compound the creeping feeling that I’m now stranded in a strange country, my one change of clothes, not showering for two days, feeling fat from Thai Airways waking me up every hour one the hour to feed me, and intense version of jet lag as my days and nights switched places. Welcome to Thailand.
I’m generally a very composed person, and losing my cool is most totally not cool. I was nearing the point of being most totally not cool. Then something I had been reading over and over, hearing from Peter during the interviewing process, and reading from all the articles of the other teachers popped into my head, “This is Thailand, it moves at Thailand speed.” I took a breath and relaxed. At this moment a man greeted me with the very common, “Hello!” that you will get from just about every person here in Thailand. I returned the greeting, but I guess he sensed that I was a bit uncomfortable. Luckily for me he put up with my rank stench and was my Thai angel. He helped me figure out where I was going, saying that there was a lot of traffic, that if I needed anything he would help, and even got me a coffee to help wake me up a bit. Welcome to Thailand.
He left me saying, “Anything you need, I’ll be right over here,” albeit in broken English. I sat down, looked at my clock and it was about 1:10. I started reading my book, fully reassured that I was in the right place, and Thailand was for me. At 1:15 I look up and see “Wen will pick you up. She’ll be short, with classes, and a big smile.” I returned that big smile, not with relief, but excitement. I was ready for this adventure. I loaded up into Wen’s car, and we blew the popsicle stand known as Surat Thani Airport. Apparently her car battery had died due to the massive amounts of rain. She is totally forgiven. (Peter’s note: Wen has picked
up at leasta dozen teachers and has never been late except this one time. Someone not being there when you come out of the baggage pickup has only happened to Ryan. Luckily, he is pretty darn cool about it.)
The scenery I cannot describe. Don’t even ask me. If I could sum it up in one word, I’d use awesome. It just is. Wen drove me into town, and I was just speechless which awe. This place is amazing, and it was worth every little bit of trouble that seemed to be coming my way. I moved into the “Rat” house, known not for its rat infestation, but for its location on
ChalokratRd. It was a bit daunting, but I know that we’re moving into a new house. I was just going to suck it up and deal for the week or two stuck in the “Rat” house. On a side note, don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet. It screws the house up for the people who move in after you. It *super* sucks. My aim was to spend as little time in the house as possiblethough, so only when I was sleeping did I stay in the house for a prolonged period of time. That night I met up with one of the old teachers, Brian, and he took my new roommate Brittany and I out, Good Health style. My first taste of authentic Thai food will forever give me goose bumps. I suggest Good Health to any and all who want to try it. Ask any current teacher and they’ll draw a map for you with the quickest route for your satisfaction.
I did arrive on the 5th of May, which many American teachers will recognize as Cinco de Mayo. You will learn that no one other than Americans celebrate this fantastically great holiday. So like anyone else who bleeds red, white, and blue, I went out to celebrate. Brian took Brittany and me out to a very “cool” bar called Coolin’ Out. There I stumbled, not literally…yet, into a situation that I couldn’t have even dreamed of. I met Joy and Art, the owners of the bar, and several other Thai people who were just the most hospitable and amazing. They brought me a Leo beer and a glass. I finished the beer and asked what the glass was for. These crazy people just poured me a glass of whiskey soda. I was very cool with that for one, it was free, and two, they didn’t even ask me if I wanted some. Oddly enough, these crazy people were also ninja enough that every single time I went to drink my beverage, it was full, to the brim. Every single time.
Fun was had by all, happy Cinco de Mayo and welcome to Thailand.
The next morning I woke up bright and early, got out of the rat house as soon as possible, and went to sit down for breakfast at a small corner shop. I looked out at the street of passing motorbikes, cars, people doing day to day things, and beautiful dogs (sometimes) thinking to myself, “Yup. Ya’ did good Ryan, ya’ did real good.” I enjoyed a super great omelette with rice, for 30 baht, and did a nice little walking tour of the area. The more I walked, the more I fell in love. All in
all, things in Thailand tend to go a bit askew, no matter how hard you plan. Just remember, “This is Thailand, things move at Thailand speed,” and it’ll somehow work its way out. As things go here, you never get exactly what you expect. It’s a big game of seeing how flexible you are. Pretty soon you are a reed in the river, not the stone on the mountain. I feel like some ancient philosopher said something to that nature.
I felt my stomach rising towards my throat as our plane approached Bangkok. The young Thai woman next to me grinned up at me disarmingly.
“You have been to Bangkok before?
,” she asked, showing a mouthful of braces.
“Only once,” I swallowed hard and tried to smile.
“You like it?”
“I'm not sure. I was really young.”
“Ah, yes, nobody likes Bangkok,” she said knowingly. She gazed lovingly out the window at the millions of glittering lights growing slowly larger as we approached. “But I love it here. This is my home.”
It's been almost two months since that night in October.
This timein Surat Thani has passed so quickly, as cliché as it may sound. It's like I blinked as we touched down in Bangkok and opened my eyes eightweekslater. Surat feels as comfortable as an old sweatshirt — although I cannot imagine a sweatshirt being anything near comfortable in this climate. I understand the woman on the plane's feeling now.
My husband John and I quit our stable, steady jobs in Texas two months before we arrived in Bangkok. My apprehension had been stewing for those months. I had no prior experiencing in teaching, although I lived abroad for most of my life. Will we like it in Surat Thani? Will I like teaching? Am I going to be able to hack it? How can I teach 50 Thai students in a single classroom?
It seems funny now, but as we arrived in Bangkok I thought: If I have a good window in my room I can handle any situation for a year. I pictured us cooking food over a gas stove in our tiny closet
room,writinglesson plans until the early hours of the morning in scorching tropical heat. (Not at all accurate, by the way.)
My fears began to ease as soon as I saw our names on a small sign at the airport in Surat Thani. Wen, a Thai staff member at Super English, met us with a warm smile at the baggage claim at Surat Thani's tiny airport on a blisteringly hot afternoon.
She took us to the grocery store, and out to lunch before dropping us off at home.
As she drove through Surat Thani, I stared at the window trying to absorb everything I saw. I didn't even notice when we pulled up to our house.
“This is it,” Wen said, opening her car door in front of a row of metal shuttered shops. This??
As we struggled with our bags, Wen unlocked one of the metal shutters and hoisted it open with a loud clattering noise. Our home on Chalok Rat Road, which houses five teachers, is really a converted store front. It's three stories with five bedrooms and has a balcony off the largest bedroom on the top floor. The house was
I felt a warm surge of joy when I saw our room. TWO windows. That night I watched the
sun setin vibrant purples and oranges behind our house — completely happy.
As soon as Wen drove away, we were lost. We didn't have any idea how to procure food for dinner or breakfast. We had no towels or soap and no transportation or any idea how to catch a tuk-tuk yet.
Wedidn'tspeak a single word of Thai other than 'hello.' John and I stared dumbly at each other.
That first night we watched movies on the laptop and drank the souvenir liquor we had brought with us from Spain, savoring the end of one life and the beginning of another. I was so thankful Peter had told us to bring a top sheet, it was comforting although we hadn't adjusted to the heat enough yet to really enjoy it.
We met the first of our three roommates the next afternoon. Most of the other teachers were on vacation during the October break, but Em was passing through town for a night on her way from one place to another.
She was wonderful. She spent hours filling us in on all of the tricks to the house (keeping the water working, keeping the water heater working, etc) and telling us about Thailand, Surat
Thaniand the people here. She filled us in on the school and the working environment. She took us out for dinner and drinks. She taught us to count to 10 in Thai and how to order food.
And then she left.
That feeling of lostness returned once we were alone in the house and continued until the other teachers came back from vacation. It persists still in certain situations, but for the most part, Surat is a very easy place to live. There are plenty of great places to eat, bars, restaurants and shops. And plenty of Thai people with patience to try to understand our charades of slurping noodles or changing a
The next week we started training with Peter at Super English. SE's founder picked John and I and our two fellow new teachers up in his car and took us out to breakfast on the first morning.
We spent four days training with Peter at Super, where there is air conditioning and free wireless. Peter walked us through lesson planning, classroom management and what to expect at our new jobs with an open-minded approach and lots of encouragement. I think everyone felt much more confident by the time we had our final training session with Victoria, the hands-on director.
Vic is an excellent boss. She's laid-back, accessible and full of good advice. She walked us through our first week of lessons and made us practice our introductions to make sure we were comfortable. Her help was readily available and immensely useful in our first month of teaching. (How do you keep from getting pee on your feet while using a squatty potty? “Lean back.”)
Excited and nervous at the same time, I barely slept at all the night before classes started at Thidamaepra School. I pictured the 200 fourth and fifth-graders that I would meet in my four classes on Monday jeering at me in Thai as I crept away from the room in shame.
On Monday morning, I rode my bike to Thidamaepra and arrived just in time to see hundreds and hundreds of Thai students frozen, lined up and singing the King's song in unison.
I went into my first class with a brick in my stomach but was immediately charmed by my students. They are adorable — even the rowdy ones. after two months of seeing me every day, they still bring me stickers, candy, toys, paper cranes and folded paper stars, little notes,
fruitand flowers. It's hard not to love them. Within the first ten minutes of my first class, I was hooked.
I teach four intensive English classes, which means I see them for an hour each day. It's difficult to engage 55 students in a classroom who don't understand anything you say. They like to have fun,
though,and enjoy playing games and any activity that lets them run around, draw pictures or show off how smart they are.
One of the best things about arriving in Surat was walking into an existing community of teachers at SE. The people we met — Peter, Vic, Em, Wen and others — were immediately kind, asking us how we liked Thailand and offering help.
As we learned our way around town a little better and picked up a few basic words in Thai, John and I began filling our bare house with furniture, rugs,
tablesand pictures. I would not trade our storefront home, our incredible Thai neighbors or our roommates for any other living situation here.
Surat seems like a small town although I know there are several hundred thousand people who live here — squeezed into in-between spaces all over the city. It's fairly easy to learn your way around, although dodging speeding motorbikes and careless tuk-tuks on a bike while navigating city streets takes some effort.
I am overwhelmed sometimes by how much I still have to learn. I am becoming a teacher every day with the help of Super English and feedback from my students. I can still only order basic things at restaurants (most of which have no English menu). My Thai is rudimentary at best.
It feels like home here now, but there are still moments when I see an elephant walking around town or six people squeezed onto a moped that it hits me: I live in Thailand. I love it here.