Living in Surat and Housing

  • An Article on Safety in Surat Thani, Thailand by Becky Kavoussi 2011


    So I am a pretty good candidate to write this thing considering I am a big fan of going out often, and I tend to test all limits. I am extremely hesitant to judge, so if I say something is unsafe, odds are it actually is. This is in no way meant to scare anyone. In reality, Surat is actually a pretty darn safe city. Still, I want to warn y’all (especially those who like to explore) that you have to be careful. “Take care of yourself” is what a lot of Thais tell me. I think it is just a common English expression they all know; but sometimes, I wonder if they know something I don’t.

    When I first agreed to write the “safety in Surat article”, I still had on my rose colored lenses. To me, this city seemed completely innocent, and I was untouchable. While it is in fact a very safe town, stuff happens.

    Since I have been here, someone broke into my friend’s home, my motorbike was stolen, and a teacher in the area experienced a late night assault. I have lived in the outskirts of both Washington D.C. and New York so to me, Surat is relatively really safe. For the most part, people around here are extremely friendly and helpful. Regardless, it is important to constantly be aware of your surroundings.
    Background of Surat:

    Surat Thani is a port city due to its proximity to destination islands such as Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Tao. It is small with an authentic Thai feel; yet has Western comforts such as shopping malls, KFC, 7/11, and even a San Franciscan based Ice Cream parlor. Restaurants and bars close relatively early;
    however there are some vendors who will serve hot food and beer until 3am. Many who live here are educated, and seemingly living comfortably. Surat is sleepy enough that safety issues here are more benign than they are in a big city. While this may be true, there is a relative amount of petty crime here. Not only that, but it is important to realize that Thailand in general does not have the same safety regulations that one from the West might be used to. Exhibit A: Thais have no qualms packing 4 on a motorbike, helmetless, with the infant in the driver’s lap. Below find a few items of safety I thought best to touch on.

    The following are some things than teachers in the area have had stolen:
    • Cash
    • Motorbikes
    • Helmets
    • Cameras
    • Laptops

    Unfortunately, teachers tend to be a target for theft here; and I theorize that there is an explanation for this. While Surat is not a tourist hub itself; on any given night, one can find travelers down by the pier waiting to catch boats to the exquisite islands near by. Most locals are seemingly fond of the “farang” (foreigners); however, there exists some exceptions. After all, how would you feel if year after year, thousands of tourists used your country as a playground with no regard to your cultural norms?

    Additionally, Thai people don’t realize that the exchange rate here is so intensely good for foreigners. Whether you are dirt poor or rich where you come from, like it or not, you are extremely wealthy to the Thais when you are living and working here. Unfortunately, This makes us an easy target for theft. I have a decent number of Thai friends and I am absolutely in no way saying that the majority of Thais steal from foreigners. I am just saying the few and far between bad ones very well may.

    About a month after I purchased a motorbike, it was stolen. I stupidly left my bike out in the street over night (with the wheel unlocked) and poof, it was gone. This was totally my fault. We have a padlock gate at our house, and there was not reason for me to leave it out.

    I have also heard of two break-ins that have occurred when the individuals were home! The John and Janet Phelps were home minding their business one day and walked into their living room to find their very nice camera gone. A friend of mine who teaches at another school was in her bathroom recently and she came out to find her cash and laptop gone. It is hard to stomach, but you should lock your door even if you are home because you just never know.

    The reality is theft happens everywhere in the world. It seems to happen a lot here to “farang” (foreigners) because we allude to having wealth. Pick pocketing seems to be a non-issue in Surat, although I have heard of it happening on the islands. Either way, lock up, and be mindful of your belongings.

    Potential for Assault:
    Although rare, evidently there is a potential for assault in Surat. Recently a teacher (from a different language school) was assaulted while bicycling home from a club one evening. Several teenagers knocked him off of his bicycle using a helmet. Poor guy ended up with stitches and a fat hospital bill. This sort of thing is pretty uncommon here. Even Peter, who has lived in Surat for many years, was surprised to hear of this. It is likely that this incident was a product of the “yaba” issue that Thailand faces. “Yaba” is a street drug similar to methamphetamine and has become a huge problem throughout Thailand in the last few decades. It literally translates to “crazy medicine”, and causes its abusers to do violent and unpredictable things (i.e. knock a stranger off their bike via helmet for no apparent reason). I occasionally walk home after dark, and the only threat I have felt was being followed by some of themore rogue stray dogs. Getting “jumped” just does not happen in Surat like it does elsewhere. Sadly, the guy getting knocked off his bike was a rare stroke of bad, bad luck. There is way more of a chance you will fall victim of a motorbike accident. Or step on a rusty nail. Or get spit at by a cobra (kidding…sort of. See Amber McCarthy’s article on animals in Thailand). So keep your wits about you. While it is safe here, it is not exactly always Pleasantville.

    Personal Health:
    NOTHING heals here like it does at home. People seem to get hurt often in Thailand. Have a minor scab? You may well have to take antibiotics because it will be weeks before it closes up. Take advantage of the first aid kits at school, and don’t hesitate to pop into a pharmacy to get some antibiotics before you get an infection! I recently had a bacterial infection in my finger and it was only about 40USD to have the abscess drained and to have it cleaned up. (**See Evan DuPree’s “Healthcare in Surat" article for adequate information on hospitals here**)

    While not the only thing to do in Surat, drinking is certainly popular amongst teachers here as a means to relax. Like at home, many safety issues here stem from alcohol. Here it seems even more so. When you drink, the risk for injury goes up. Man, Thais love their Whiskey. There is actually a government-mandated law in Thailand preventing vendors to sell booze between the hours of 2-6pm; but really, is that going to stop some drunks from speeding around in the middle of the day? Likely not.

    Housing Safety:
    One of the many perks of Super English is that we are provided with great housing accommodations. I live at the big house, where there is a padlock gate, as well as a front door that locks. Like I said, the only reason my motorbike was stolen was because I left it outside the padlock gate overnight. Sigh. I live on the first floor, so I choose to lock my bedroom door as a precaution just in case the padlock gate gets left open (honestly, my roommates are so good about locking it always). We are all provided with a gate key, a front door key, and a key to our individual room. I have some valuables in my room, so I always lock my door just in case.

    It is so nice to have place to come back to that truly feel like home. As long as everyone remembers to TURN OFF THEIR FANS while not home (electric sockets are live), and be mindful of locking the front gate, our house is incredibly safe. Another thing to keep in mind regarding house safety is that sewage in Thailand embodies why it is not exactly the “first world” here. You CANNOT flush toilet paper down any toilet in Thailand. This especially important in Super housing because if a toilet get’s backed up, you will have a really stinky situation…Additionally, sometimes our water goes out if the toilet is accidentally left running so be mindful of that.

    Transportation Safety:
    Drivers here are animals. Seriously. That, and there are no real rules of the road here. Red lights seem to be optional, and people zip out on their motorbikes out of completely nowhere. The most fearful I have been here thus far is bicycling during “rush hour”. Drivers here are unpredictable, speedy, aggressive, and extremely comfortable on their motorbikes (they have been riding on them since they were infants, so it is second nature to them). I have had a few friends end up in the hospital due to motorbike related incidents and have witnessed a handful of major motorbike accidents firsthand. In myopinion, transportation in Surat is the most dangerous part of the city.

    Wear a helmet, drive carefully, and you will be totally fine. Remember you don’t need to buy a motorbike the moment you get here. Your peers will give you rides. Since my motorbike was stolen I’ve found it quite easy to commute to work on a bicycle (albeit scary at times). I recommend waiting until you are comfortable with Surat before getting a set of wheels. Just remember the potential to be injured in an auto accident is fairly common here. Motorbike accidents is not just a Surat thing, it is a Thailand things. I have to check my stats on this one BUT, evidently in 2011, Thailand had the second highest auto- accident rate in the world. So drive safe!

    In Conclusion: When in Rome, remember the rules DO apply to you:
    Just because you are a superstar from the West, does not mean you are exempted from the laws here. OK, so from a cultural standpoint you are. As a foreigner, everything you do here will be considered weird, and the locals chalk it up to you being a silly “farang” who does not know better. What I mean is, we are in no way above the legal law. I have known several teachers in the area to get DUIs. Exists a lot of books and documentaries on foreigners locked up abroad in Thai prison; likely people who felt they were above the law here.

    It is important to become at least somewhat familiar with Thai cultural norms before you move here. It will curtail some of the culture shock you will experience. Also, knowing the local norms will make you less likely to offend someone, and more likely to stay out of trouble. An example would be if you drop a coin here, never EVER step on it to pick it up. It features the king’s face and this would be the ultimate sign of disrespect to a Thai. If you know anything about Thailand, you know how well respected and important the king is here.

    As long as you become culturally sensitive to the societal norms here, you should be fine! Thai people have helped me on so many occasions for no reason. I encourage you to make Thai friends. This way you can learn more about the culture, have a protective social network, and gain a sense of solidarity with your new home. Thai culture is one of the most respectful and classy way of life I have ever encountered. So remember, the best way to stay safe in Surat is to lock up your stuff! Turn off your fan when you are not home! Befriend the locals! Oh, and ALWAYS wear a helmet! Seriously. Chok dee ka! (good luck!)

  • First Impressions: Corn Sundaes by Anneliese Charak 2011

    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
    wants that?

  • The First 72 Hours by Joe McCarthy 2011

    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.

  • My First 24 hours by Ryan Day 2011

    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 point I 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. Generally you 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 phones in 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 least a 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 Chalokrat Rd. 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 possible though, 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.

  • Night Market by Brian Steinbach 2010

    Stepping out of Super English onto the sidewalk I glance left towards the river and a small shop I’ve privately named “the Super English Corner Sweet Shop.”  This instinctive look left occurs because I’ m hungry, and at some point over the last month my stomach has internalized the fact that the “Super English Corner Sweet Shop” is not known for their fine motorbike repair services. But my destination is the Sanjou Night Market just a couple streets over.  So I turn right instead and locate my shoes among a couple dozen children’s shoes and a handful of teachers’ shoes.  

    Continuing on down the street, I take the first left and look for a break in traffic to avoid walking by the mesmerizing allure of a pastry shop whose well-lit display window demands the kind of rubber necking typically reserved for absurd spectacles and horrible roadside wrecks.

    Finding a break, I cross the busy evening traffic and continue up the street right into one of the four mouths that funnel into to the Sanjou Night Market.   Nearly three months into my stay in Surat, the atmosphere that wholly envelops me when I walk into the night market has only slightly diminished.  Cart after cart of Thai vegetables and fruits still widen my eyes in curiosity.  Tables and racks holding affordable and neat (sometimes just hilarious) clothes and other trinkets have me constantly contemplating whether or not to pull out my wallet.  Rolling-kitchens line the small streets in every direction, effectively playing a giant and dizzying game of tug of war where my nose is the rope.  And while all my senses are being weighed and tested, the heart of the market itself- the people- propels me along.  

    Thinking back on my first trip to the Sanjou Night Market, I must have gone from one end of the market to the other and back again without managing to stop for more than a few moments.  

    Between sensory overload and the ever-constant bustle and flow of the market’s patrons, I was just struggling to find my footing.  

    That’s not the case tonight.  Tonight I know what I want, and I know where to put my feet to get there.  Passing all of the increasingly familiar carts and shops along the way, I contemplate how little I think about all the conversations I can’t understand.  They make up the ambiance of a living and breathing entity.  I catch a Thai word here and there I know, but almost everything is tuned out.  How strange would it seem, almost three months later, to be able to understand a table conversation adjacent to my own?

    Still making my way through the crowded market aisle, I see my stop ahead.  The small cart standing at the edge of the market path has a small yellow sign dangling perpendicular to the market traffic.  Directly under the sign, the table holds brown cooked eggs and various prepared greens whose names still remain a mystery to me.  I call them delicious, and that’s enough.  To the left of these greens are a couple of chickens and other prepared meats resting inside a vertical display case.  Behind the cart are containers of steamed rice, and a vat of soup with steam rising out.  Nearly there, I hear young voices shout “TEACHER BRIAN!”  Sure enough, passing me on the right is a group of matthyom students who - I should note - I never would have recognized as three of my one thousand Suratpittaya students had they not called out in excitement.  But it’s just a moment.  I wave; say “hello” and we pass each other.  They are happy to have been noticed, and that’s enough.

    Finally reaching the cart, I’m greeted by a familiar smile and greeting (in English), “hello teacher.” I return with “sa-wat dee krap”, and his smile widens to the mutual amusement of our inverted greeting.  He nods for me to go inside the three-walled building that might resemble a garage if it weren’t for the bustling night market parked at its doorstep.  I sit at an empty table facing back out at the night market traffic, and wait for one of the three servers to bring my food out.  This particular night market stop is typically busy, and tonight is no different.  With about a dozen tables in this particular market stall, only one other table is empty, most holding four to six people at each table.  The ceiling is high, so the otherwise small quarters of the room don’t seem quite as tiny as they might otherwise feel.  

    My view of the passing night market patrons through the opening at the far end of the building is a bit mesmerizing.  Watching people passing by, looking at tables and peering into shops inquisitively, they quickly disappear past the opposite wall’s line of sight.  Occasionally I’ll catch sight of one pointing into the shop at me (the “farang”).  I’m still wearing my work clothes, so I like to think that I’m not often taken for a tourist, but it’s pretty much impossible to achieve any sort of invisibility in Surat Thani.  Some compare it to being a celebrity.  I compare it to being a “HELLO” and pointer finger magnet.  

    Watching the people in the market pass by in search of their own fancies, I almost don’t notice when a very stern looking Thai woman brings my food on a tray.  She sets it down, placing my plate of steamed chicken over rice and greens in front of me, lifting the three small accompanying bowls with soup, a brown dressing sauce, and a yet smaller bowl of pepper sauce.  I say “kob koon crop” and her otherwise stern face sneaks a quick half-smile as she returns to serving.  

    Sparing you the details of the actual consumption, I should note the urge to eat with a fork over the traditional Thai spoon is still an instinct that’s been hard to damage.  I know that whereas many westerners think of a spoon as a kind of food shovel, Thai people see using a spoon as a more delicate and preferable over the barbaric fork (stabbing I guess?).  Still, I’m constantly fumbling with my fork and spoon, trading hands instinctively until I get it “right.”  

    It’s not long before my soup bowl and plate are empty.  I don’t sit long, partially because I worry that I could be taking up a new customer’s seat, and partially because part of me wants to go hop back into the heart of the market.  I go up to the cart and pay my forty-one baht, and say “kob koon crop” again, and look out at the passing flow of the market. It could take me left to contemplate dessert venders and potential future dining opportunities.  Or it might take me rightt to even more foods, desserts, and clothing stalls.  Ultimately, I’m pushed right, which leads me past two doughnut shops, one of which I stop at, and my final destination- my pedal bike, and then home.  

  • Surat's social Scene by Blake Schlaich 2010

    Of course one of the best parts of living in Surat Thani is that we are just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Thailand’s beautiful islands and some of the best beaches in the world. Bank account permitting, you can get out of town every weekend if you want to. But what about the nightlife right here in Surat? As a backpacker just passing through, it would be hard to tell that a social scene exists at all. I’m here to tell you different.

    I’ve lived in Surat Thani for almost a year now and I’ve built a pretty extensive knowledge of the city when it comes to nightlife. Whether you’re looking to socialize with other teachers or local Thais, listen to live music, sing karaoke, get into a dance-off (yep…), or just find a quiet place to grab a beer… Surat has something for everybody just about every night of the week.

    “Poppin’ Bottles…”

    If live music, dancing to a DJ, and bottle service is your style, then you have nothing to worry about. Surat Thani’s three main clubs offer it all. CN Blue, Star Bar, and Pool Bar all offer a great club scene.

    Star Bar: Even as the biggest of the three, Star Bar is guaranteed to be packed every night. They’ve got ok music (both a DJ and a house band) and if you can get a table it can be quite a show. Along the walls of the bar there’s raised seating, V.I.P. style, which is always preferred because the dance floor can get insanely crowded. Drinks are the standard price here. They’re also known for their hookahs and flavored tobacco.

    CN Blue: This is a favorite with the SE teachers because it’s walking distance from most of our houses and we’re treated like gold every time we go. They have got a pretty good house band that plays every weekend followed by a DJ. It’s a big place, which is nice because there’s always a crowd there but still plenty of room to dance or hang out with friends. Beers run about 100 baht, which isn’t cheap (for Surat). I recommend buying a bottle of liquor outside and bringing it in to the club. It’s allowed and there’s no charge aslong as you buy mixers and ice from the bar. If you slip your server 20 baht (about  65 cents), they’ll hover around your table all night and, believe me, your glass will never be empty. Around the side entrance of the club, they have several private rooms for karaoke that include a giant TV, two microphones, several hundred horrible songs in both English and Thai, and a server that will bring you ice and mixers as needed. Don’t act like you don’t want to go right now.

    Pool Bar: follows in the fashion of the aforementioned clubs with both a house band and a DJ. It’s a bit smaller than the other nightclubs, but it has an upstairs with a balcony overlooking the dance floor and it’s is almost never occupied for some reason. Also upstairs, there’s an additional balcony that goes outside, a pool table, and a full bar. Usually, Farang teachers overtake it and it immediately turns into our own V.I.P room… the ingredients for a good time.

    “Beer Me!”

    When you just feel like grabbing a couple cold ones and hanging out with friends in a place where you can actually hear each other talk, I’d recommend GM Bar, Big’s Bar, or Coolin’ Out.

    GM Bar: GM probably has the coolest setting of any bar in town. Some of it’s inside; some of it’s outside. There’s a giant tree in the middle of the bar that grows up and out of the open roof. It’s island style and motif makes you feel like you’re either in the middle of the jungle or around the corner from a beach. GM has live music sometimes but is usually pretty low key. The have great food and reasonable prices and it’s a perfect place to start the night out.

    Big’s Bar: With plenty of space and open walls, Big’s is a great place to relax. He has one of the best collections of music I’ve ever heard, even in the States. Its main draw for teachers is hosting the bi-weekly “Quiz Night” every other Thursday. Teams of four drink and compare useless knowledge and trivia for a chance to win bragging rights and a few baht.

    Coolin’ Out: My personal favorite of the three, Coolin’ Out is always a good time. The owners, Art and Joy, speak great English and are some of the friendliest Thai people I’ve ever met. They frequently throw parties (sometimes themed, sometimes not) and have specials. While they don’t serve food on a regular basis, a few times a month Joy wows everyone with her cooking skills and whips up an all-you-can-eat Thai dinner for 100 baht a person. Every month there’s a new drink special too (this month: buy 2, get one free).

    “Thai Style…”

    Another great part about Surat Thani is that while you have all (okay… most)of the comforts of a big city, it still has a small-town, local feel. Sometimes, its fun to break away from the group and go out to experience the local culture and party like the Thais do!

    Music Live: An island-style Thai bar and restaurant that has a house band play every night of the week and it’s a popular spot for the locals. You can pretty much bet that all the music will be Thai pop rock and that you’ll be the only non-Thai in the building, but that’s what makes it an experience. Did I mention that they have beer towers?

    Jenky Karaoke”: I actually don’t know the real name of this whole in the karaoke joint. No one does. That’s how it Thai it is. In fact they like to keep it fairly “Thai Only” and more than one occasion its been necessary to bribe the doorman with a whole 100 baht ($3 USD)! Unless someone who knows the way is leading you there, good luck finding this hidden gem. Beers are cheap and good luck trying to find a song in English, but once it’s always a blast and it literally never closes.


    *Do bring your own bottle of booze to the clubs… a 200 baht bottle of whiskey is a lot better than 2 small Heinekens for the same price.

    *Do get to know the staff… chances are they don’t meet many Farang and they’ll remember you. It’s not only a good way to meet some nice Thai people and get to know the culture a bit, but it can also help you get that table up front or a free drink.

    *Don’t get too cocky… just because as non-Thais we get special treatment sometimes, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get kicked out of an establishment socked in the nose for being rude or getting out of control.

    *Don’t drink and drive… just because you’re in Thailand, it doesn’t mean you're invincible.

    *Do tip you wait staff… even though tipping isn’t really the norm in Thailand, you should leave something. Especially as a frequent customer in the smaller bars/ pubs… it makes a big difference for the bartender and reflects in the service that he or she gives you.

    With that said, I hope you enjoyed the Party Animal’s Guide to Surat! CHEERS!

  • How I Got Here – Teaching English in Thailand by Mitch Burbick 2010

    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 not working 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 graduate school 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 and applied immediately. At first glance it sounded like an ideal place to work. In the south, close to tropical islands and beaches, a small and authentic Thai town? Yes please.

    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.

  • Baby’s First Christmas in Thailand by Mike Rogers 2010

    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 coco with 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 hand interpretations. 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 its going on, you probably know some people who are celebrating it, but in the end its 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 bite was 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 advised move 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 least five. 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 here store. I tried it with the rice, but in retrospect this 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.

  • Thai Food Notes 2010

    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.

  • Fun Day in Surat by John Phelps 2010

    Where can you play with dolphins, spend hours in museums, and gorge yourself on a caviar buffet, all in the same day? Well, I don't know, but it's not Surat. And who eats caviar, anyway? There are much better things for you to do with your time. I will list a few things I have done around town, that make a Saturday in a SUPERFUNday. (SUPERFUN- patent pending, Super English)

    I like to start everyday with good coffee. In Surat, there are too many places to list that have good coffee and breakfast or pastries. Near my home, I might start the day at the dim sum restaurant. Dim Sum are Chinese-style dumplings or kabobs that are steam cooked to perfection. I get a couple pork rolls and shrimp kabobs with cup of hot coffee or Thai tea. After breakfast, if it is a cool morning, I might go for something active.

    Exercise Island ( Ko Lampu) is a great place for people watching, sports, and knick-knack painting. I take the motorbike or a tuk-tuk over the bridge to the middle of the Tapee River, about ten minutes from my home. I stop at a couple vendors before going over the last bridge. Sometimes I'll buy some beer and barbeque chicken (this stuff tastes like somebody marinated Madonna in the 1980s and slow-roasted her ever since). Other times I will get another dose of caffeine with an iced Thai tea or coffee. Across the bridge, you come to soccer courts, takra (a sport like hackey-sack for steroids fiends) fields, and hundreds of people painting Hello Kitty and Dragonball Z plaster knick-knacks. Go ahead and laugh, but it will show that you are simply uncultured. Okay, so I laughed really hard when I saw it the first time. But it is really great to sit by the river and paint a dewy eyed Hello Kitty every now and then. After creating the said kitsch, I go on to feed the fish in the pond at the center of the island. It's also fun to use some of the exercise equipment that is fixed all over the park. After that, I might use the free internet in an open-air hut before heading off for lunch.

    Air-conditioning is usually on my mind by this time, so I head over to either Maruay Cafe or My Cup. Both are equally charming with friendly staff. Because I have a massage on my mind, I get some honey lemon tea. I relax in the cushy couch, drink the hot tea, and eat up the AC like it's cotton candy. As a side note, Super teachers are constantly swapping books back and forth, and there's a ton in the Super office. Another option, if I feel like ice cream instead, is to go to Swensen's Ice Cream. It's a Western style sundae shop, where you can get strange Thai flavors or classic ice cream with hot fudge.

    Then for my favorite thing in Surat, the 260 baht ($8.34) two hour Thai massage. I head up Don Nok Street, park my bike, and walk through a small garden area. The staff greet me, then give me a warm footbath. I change into the issued pajamas and walk into the room that reminds me of kindergarten during nap time. After relaxing on the mat awhile, the masseuse bends me into yoga-like poses and pummels muscles I didn't know existed. Three words:

    Feeling as relaxed as a jello cup, I head to Coliseum shopping mall. In the middle of downtown, it is three floors of the West with a dash of Thai MSG flavor. Passing the Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Pizza Hut on the escalator ride up, I arrive at the cinema. Sometimes there are English language movies, but usually dubbed over action movies are just as good. I play a bit of House of the Dead in the arcade while I wait for the movie to start. Munching on the popcorn, I think about how many plastic bags full of soup and wontons I will consume in the night market after the movie. I'll buy an extra one and pour it out for all my friends back in Texas. For those who will never experience watching Sylvester Stallone say “sawa-dee-krap” while holding a grenade launcher.

    *Please note prices reflect year the article was written please account for inflation

  • Churches in Surat by John Phelps 2010

    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 I about 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 laughter forced 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. PiChai is 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-y thing 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 nondenominational churches 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.

  • Motorcycle Diaries Surat by John Phelps 2010

    This is an article about a young idealist man who travels around southern thailand fomenting rebellion and wearing silly facial hair. Oh wait, 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 harrassed by 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 on it. 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 isactually perfectly 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 bound beach with lots of opportunity to 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 Hillor to 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 Kradae Chae Monkey Training Center. No more than a twenty minute ride 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

  • S. E. Thai Cultural Event 29/08/10: Cooking Class by Chris Ansell 2010

    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:

    Amy-Massaman Curry
    Brian-Massaman Curry
    Britney-Massaman Curry
    Cass-Massaman Curry
    Janet-Spring Rolls
    John-Massaman Curry
    Mitch-Massaman Curry
    Vic-Spring Rolls

    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)


    •Tamarind Paste
    •Coconut Milk (Joy used a little of the concentrated stuff too)
    •Shrimp Paste
    •Massaman Curry Paste
    •Unsalted Peanuts
    •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.

  • My first 72 hours in Thailand by Janet Phelps 2010

    These are journal entries 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.

    "1,600 baht."

    "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 first I 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.

    Afterwards 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.

    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 umbrellas as 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 movie by 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.

  • My first 24 hours in Thailand by Jessica Gallant 2010

    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 was upon 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 that the 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 minute car 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 styled Thai 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 sensibilities it 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 course I just flushed my toilet paper. What was I supposed to do instead? What do you mean throw it in the waste basket next 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 tuk tuk downtown, and for some reason the driver let us 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 least two stories tall) statue of the Goddess whose name I can never for the life of me remember. She’s really beautiful though, 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 speak any 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.

    After that we 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 point I 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 top and a phone so that I could feel connected to my friends and family in America. And somehow it’s now almost 8 months later.

  • First Impressions by Jessica Gallant 2010

    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 tuk tuk 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 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,of comfortable 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 olds who 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 old Thai 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 teacher it 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 old can’t even understand mewhen I say “Please sit down”, but it makes it all that more rewarding in the end.

    At first I was totally overwhelmed, but luckily this impression has faded away. There is just so much energy in a room full of 3-6 year old kids, 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 family in 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.

  • Acclimation Proclamation: Two Weeks in Surat By Brian Steinbach 2010

    The Arrival:
        Upon arriving in Surat, you’ll probably be met at the airport by either Peter or Wen.  You’ll stand at the luggage carousel nervously hopeful that your luggage wasn’t lost somewhere along the way in the craziness of your long (LONG) journey to your new home.  From here you’ll probably be shuttled directly to your new house, where you will be able to meet your new roommate(s). In my case, I was dropped off around noon, and was able to check out my room a little before my roommate came home and took me down the road to buy lunch.

    The Overwhelming Euphoria:
    The feeling is hard to describe, and I’m sure it’s a bit different for everyone.  But whenever you catch that minute to yourself at your house, there is a weird euphoria that might accompany your new surroundings.  Your mind will be racing with a million excited thoughts and questions that will probably make relaxing for the first couple of days (reading, watching a show, etc) from being as easily accomplished as it should be.  And that’s all pretty much normal.  You’re in a foreign country, you’re about to start a new job, have no idea how to get from point A to point B without a guide, and you don’t speak the lingo.  More or less you will feel pretty lost for the first week or so. Thankfully, around the one-week mark you’ll squash a lot of the problems preventing you fromfunctioning independently.  In the first week and half that I’ve been here:

    -I’ve learned how to order food at local venders and the amazing Night Market (just outside of
    Super English).
    -I’ve learned how to get to work and other Super English teachers’ homes from my house (that may not seem like much of a feat, but there’s definitely an awesome on “terra firma” feeling when you get the point of being able to get from A to B un-escorted by helpful co-workers/roommates).
    -I’ve learned how to speak some simple Thai phrases that help me to get by for the time being.  
    -I’ve found several Internet coffee shops that are pretty convenient (and air conditioned to boot!)
    - My roommate has shown me a lot of the ropes around town, and helped me to purchase a number of smaller, harder to find items (SIM cards, groceries, kitchen/bathroom supplies,hangers, power strips, water bottles, etc).

    There are probably a lot of other things I can’t even think of to add to the list.  If anything, that’s a sign of how quickly we learn and start to take advantage of the things we take for granted, like being able to get from A to B.  

    When you’re immersed in a totally foreign experience, that extreme sense of being lost WILL be countered by an extreme sponge-like absorption of new knowledge.  That said, I still have a lot to learn about Surat, its people, and my job.  Thankfully, everyone at Super has been unbelievably helpful and friendly.

    In Good Company:
        Before coming to Surat, I had repeatedly heard about the friendliness of its citizens.  But I didn’t expect the Super English crew to be as helpful and outgoing as they have been over the past couple of weeks.  My co-teachers have gone out of his way to show me around a lot of the town between my house and Super (different routes, multiple cool cafes, food places, and bars).  People frequently contact each other to meet up for cards, drinks, or just to hang in general.  As an example; this past Sunday, I didn’t have any plans for the day, and certainly wasn’t expecting a call from another teacher asking me if I would like to go to Monkey College (who could refuse, right?).  I ended up having one of the best days since arriving, all because of a phone call leading to an impromptu Monkey college excursion.  And this upcoming weekend, I’ve been invited by some other teachers to go to Khao Sok National Park for the extended weekend.  

    In the way of advice, I’d say that your fellow teachers are your greatest assets to settling into
    Surat Thani.  Even if you’re the kind of person whose idea of relaxing is catching some quite time with a good book, try to take people up on offers to go out and about the town. That’s especially advised during your first few weeks.  It’s one of the best ways to acclimate yourself with the town and its many stops (and thus making your more comfortable in the town as a whole).  
    Everything is Cool:
        Keep an open and flexible mind while you’re adjusting to Thai life.  Always remember that that discombobulated feeling you have during your first week is only temporary.  Soon enough, between your own personal experiences and your joint expeditions with the other Super teachers around the town, you will feel a thousand times better and have a growing confidence about where you are and your many adventures to come. 

  • My five favourite memories from Thailand by Chris Ansell 2009

    I feel like my time in Thailand has brought me an abundance of fantastic experiences and memories
    that my past life could not and would not have ever been able to provide. So filled with them has this
    past year and a half been that I am positive and afraid that many have already been lost with only a
    slim chance of returning, perhaps, if something unknown to me at present, happens to trigger them.
    So working with the memories that are with me now, I am excited to present to you my five
    favourite memories from the land of smiles (which certainly had no problem living up to its name!)

    1. Walking onto Khanom beach for the first time.

    Halloween 2009. Everything and everyone still rather new to me. I had been here for just two weeks.
    I’d barely stepped foot in a classroom yet and definitely would have felt more comfortable on the
    other side of one sitting with all the kids! I had arrived via minibus and motorcycle taxi to the party
    hq which this year was at One More Beer resort. I was to be sharing a room with two of my new
    housemates, John and Janet, and after we had dumped our bags and donated generous gifts to the
    bathroom (it takes a couple of weeks to adjust to the food) we all had the same thought in mind:
    Beach! We left the room, walked through the bar where people were hanging pigs heads and
    decorating coffins, under some tall palm trees and then….”Wow! Oh man! Holy f#*k it’s beautiful”.
    We had arrived.

    This was by far the most idyllic beach I’d ever stepped on and it took my breath away. I’d only seen
    beaches like this in travel brochures. Behind us and stretching for miles down to the left of us was a
    row of tall palm trees that we had just walked beneath. A little way behind them, the land rose up,
    creating an impressive landscape of dense woodland standing upon jagged hills and scattered here
    and there with waterfalls. In front of us was a wide expanse of different shades of blue. It was my
    favourite time of day when late afternoon slowly turns to early evening. We were soon in the sea,
    cooling our bodies and happy to be alive. We returned to the beach to sit and watch the sun slowly
    descend and seemingly embrace the far reaches of the ocean.

    This really was love at first sight for me and it has remained my favourite place in Thailand ever since.

    2. Anubans (kindies).

    These little things, most of whom are the height of my knee, are the most genuine and hilarious
    students on the face of this planet (although some of them look and act like they aren’t necessarily
    from this planet!)

    I love them. Sometimes, momentarily, I will believe that I don’t, but I do. With these students I have
    the license to be a kid/clown again and it is so much fun. My favourite game with them is when
    teaching them about feelings such as happy, sad, hot, cold, hungry and sleepy. I will draw some faces
    on the board and we will act them all out with a dance, song or chant. I will then take the eraser and
    hand it to one of them (they are all eager to be the chosen one) and say “I am…SLEEPY!”. They
    have to go and erase whichever face is the sleepy one. Problem is this. They have to be quick. They
    have a five second countdown before funny and goofy teacher Chris turns into a monster/zombie and
    begins to come after them. The look on their little faces and the high-pitched sounds coming from
    their mouths is priceless. I will usually come within a whisker of catching and eating them and so
    they will do the crazy anuban run with legs and arms going in all sorts of directions and angles back
    to their chair. And because Anubans are indestructible (scientific fact) they will sometimes be
    running away from monster Chris but with their eyes still looking right at him, run into a table or
    another student, bounce right off of them onto the floor, get up straight back up and keep going.

    These kids seem to have limitless bundles of energy but you then walk passed their classrooms on the
    way to lunch and see them all fast asleep in all kinds of weird and wonderful positions and realize that
    they don’t hold anything back when they are with you. They are exhausted. I love the fact that if
    you give them everything you have got, they will give you everything they have in return!

    3. VIP

    For a while I was a VIP. I used to go to Earth Zone restaurant about three times a week and after a
    time made some friends with the other ‘locals’. They enjoyed practicing their English and helping me
    out with any Thai I wanted to know. I think the alcohol definitely helped the conversation flow!

    I began joining them at their table and drinking with them. I soon learnt that one of them owned a
    couple of the nightclubs in town. We would often begin drinking at Earth Zone and then head to
    one of his clubs later on. We would go in through the back entrance and be shown to a private area
    of the room. We would have our own waitress the whole night and would have an unlimited amount
    of Johnnie Walker Black Label at our disposal. Pee Bert, who was the owner, would never let me pay
    for a drink or have my glass empty. We danced and talked away many a night, and I learnt how
    packed these clubs can be even on a weekday as well as at the weekend. I loved having these Thai
    friends as they helped open up a whole new part of my life in Thailand. I may have regretted it on
    one or two school-day mornings but all in all I had a ball!

    4. A visit from Tommy

    Last October when I thought my time in Thailand was approaching its end my brother Tommy
    came out for three weeks in the October break. This was meant to be a grand farewell for me and a
    grand holiday for Tommy. And it was. Except I didn’t really leave. What this trip did for me was to
    make me realize how much Thailand has to offer and how easily it can be taken for granted once in a
    while. On a number of separate occasions Tommy asked me in disbelief why I was even heading
    home. I didn’t really know. I obviously missed my friends and family but they weren’t going
    anywhere. In the three weeks Tommy was here we travelled to some of my favourite spots as well as
    some new places. It was both surreal and fantastic to reminisce and catch up with everything going
    on back home whilst on the other side of the world. We spent a week in Phuket with a group of
    people from Surat as well as two of Amy’s friends also on holiday from England. It was a really great
    time, with a lot of eating, a lot of drinking, a lot of chilling and ultimately a lot of laughter. Good

    5. My motorbike.

    Very few of us have ridden a motorbike before coming to Thailand, let alone owned one. It is far
    more expensive back home and there is a far longer process in being able to ride one in the first place.
    Having owned my 125cc Honda Sonic for more than a year now I can hardly envisage a life without
    it. The freedom it has given me, the time it has saved me (compared to riding a bicycle) and the
    wonderfulness it has achieved in helping me arrive everywhere without being soaked in sweat are
    things I certainly do not take for granted. Okay, it is not a big and burly Harley, it is not a bike that
    women turn their heads at the sight of and shriek “Please oh please let me ride with you!” but it
    works for me! I love the fact that I can cruise down the pleasant highway out to Khanom for the
    weekend and feel the air rushing through my hair. I love the fact that over here you can change the
    colour of the lights to any of your choosing and indeed that you can add bright flashing lights to just
    about any part of the bike. You can change the horn to sound like a high-pitched shriek of a bird and
    you can make your braking sound like you are riding upon a space ship. You can pimp your bike is
    essentially what I’m saying! And what mid-twenties guy from south London wouldn’t fancy doing
    that? Not me I tell you. Not me!

  • Super Surat by Emily Nass 2009

    No Tourists is a Good Thing

    Surat Thani, Thailand. According to lonely planet there is really no reason to visit Surat Thani. Actually most travel sites seem to agree that the best thing in Surat are the 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.

    The up side to sour reviews is that Surat has survived the tourism overcrowding 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 bike gasoline 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 course if 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 addition to the food and cost Surat 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 Phi for instance. In Surat the 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 its authentic and original feel missing from so many others.

  • Just Say "Yes" by Chris Ansell 2009

    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.

  • My first month in Thailand by Janet Phelps 2009

    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 time in 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 eightweeks later. 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,writing lesson 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 nice, but bare.

    I felt a warm surge of joy when I saw our room. TWO windows. That night I watched the sun set in 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't speak a single word of Thai other than 'hello.' John and I stared dumbly at each other.

    “Now what?”

    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 Thani and 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, fruit and 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, tables and 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.

  • Things teachers would have liked to know before coming to Surat 2009

    “That motivation is the most important part (along with dedication – lots of “tion” words) to being a good/effective teacher and to getting the most out of Thailand.  Things really don’t just happen, you need to get out there and discover them for yourself.”  Ryan Johnson

    “That it’s next to impossible to find good coffee or shoes to fit my giant feet!  That I would enjoy it so much and want to stay for way longer than a year.”  Erica Ambrose

    “How hard it would be to save money my first year.  You can do it but it isn’t easy.  It is good to have some money from home for your big vacation, especially if you want to leave Thailand.” Victoria Biggs

    “You can seriously find just about anything you need over here.  So pack light, but make sure to include some closed toe shoes and conservative teacher clothes just in case!  Also, the blind approach to learning how to teach is daunting but totally worth it!” Clair McCalla

  • Settling In by Tristan Rentos 2009

    Time really does fly when you’re having fun, doesn’t it? I have been living in Surat Thani now for 15 months, and in that time I have gone from having to struggle to get fed to almost being part of the furniture around here. It’s interesting to look back on how I made this place home; it’s taken a while to get everything the way I want it and here’s how I made it happen:

    My house – Super English houses are every bit as different as Super English teachers. My house, which I share with our new teacher Brian, has been a bit of a “project in development” since I moved in last July but it is finally starting to come to fruition. When we moved in, one of
    the old teachers and I started furnishing the house the way we wanted it, buying tables, chairs, shelving, a TV and utensils. Since Dave left in February, I have bought a new TV that I can connect to my notebook which has been great for watching movies. Next on the list is more
    shelving for the kitchen, a new couch and (eventually) a new fridge. I really feel that getting my house sorted has made my Surat Thani experience a lot better and more comfortable than I could have been.

    My job – When I started last year, it didn’t take very long for me to find my feet and get comfortable with the idea of fronting up to 55 kids at Thida School every day and putting on a show. Now that I am teaching P1 it’s even better, because instead of walking into work and
    getting inundated with emails and orders from the boss (like my old job back in Australia), I walk into work and have half a dozen kids run up to me and give me a hug. I still have my bad days and not every single thing that I try works the way I want, but those days are now very few and far between, especially during this current semester.

    I think that the best part so far of my teaching career has been my level 9 class at Super English. I still remember when I started with these kids in May 2009, my first lesson with them was “On my holidays, I ______”. Now I can have a class-wide conversation with them in English for 10
    minutes or more every lesson and they can write their own short stories without my assistance. Watching these kids grow has been the reason that I stayed for another year, and it has been well worth the effort.    

    My friends – I have had some great times so far with my colleagues here at Super English, both inside and outside the workplace. There always seems to be a trip to wherever going on (usually beach or national park) or a party going on at someone’s house or a pub. I don’t get out
    as much as I used to these days as it’s a case of ‘been there, done that’ for most of the tourist stuff around Southern Thailand, so I’m now  looking for a different, quieter adventure off the tourist trail to satisfy my travelling needs.

    The locals – Getting acquainted with the locals doesn’t require a massive amount of effort, all you really need to do is smile and be friendly. Thai people are great when it comes to accepting outsiders, especially the ‘farang kruu’ (foreign teachers) who are teaching their kids English.
    Most people in Surat cannot speak any English, including my girlfriend Kan. It has been almost surreal dating her, not because she’s Thai but because I have to converse in Thai with her, I don’t have a choice. When we met, my Thai was a lot better than her English (not that my Thai is that good, believe me) so we just went with it. Before I came here I couldn’t speak any other languages, so I’ve basically gone from zero to speaking a foreign language at home in 15 months. It’s been a steep learning curve for both of us but well worth it.

    The food – The food here is great, no question. When I started to learn Thai and learn how to order food in Thai it opened my eyes up to a whole new way to eating, which is basically constant snacking (the way the locals do it) instead of 3 larger meals a day. You can’t ride your
    bicycle/motorcycle 100 metres down the road without coming across a vendor selling something to eat, so I never go hungry.

    The bottom line – Great job, great food, great house, it’s hot every day and I wake up feeling relaxed every morning. Where’s the downside?

  • Teachers' Favorite Nighttime Places 2008

    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

  • What do teachers like most about Surat? 2007

    “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

  • What do teachers like least about Surat? 2007

    “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