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  • The good, the bad, the ugly, and the wonderful interviews 2011

    Name: Amber McCarthy
    Length of time in Surat: 2.5 months
    What are three good things about teaching young Thai kids:

    1. They are hilarious without trying to be! You want to see something funny? Play Pictionary and tell a 6 year old Thai kid to draw an elephant. You’ll get some sort of cross between an M16 and a 2-headed anteater.

    2.  You will feel like a celebrity. You can’t walk anywhere in the school without a horde of kids gathering to follow you while shouting “Hello! Teacher!” and jumping up and down. They yell to their friends “Teacher Amber! Teacher Amber,” while pointing at you and running around in circles. They sit as close to you as possible while eating red popsicles next to your white shirt, all the while just staring at you and not speaking.. They pat your butt and are an endless source of sticky/wet high fives.

    3. They are absolutely adorable. It doesn’t get any cuter than 300 4-7 year old kids singing along to the King’s song while several beats ahead of the song playing on the speakers. OK, I lied. It does get cuter, but you just have to see them for yourselves.

    What are three bad things about living in Thailand:

    1. The noise. Try going to sleep with 5 roosters (possibly with mental issues), gravel quarry with bulldozers, a nightclub and a machine shop all going at 11pm on a weekday. Or even better, at 7am on a Saturday. Earplugs are a necessity.

    2. The smells. Sure, you might smell some fruit or delicious noodles cooking, but odds are that the bad smells overwhelm the good. Sewage, burning trash, mysterious meats (I think out neighbor was cooking canned dog food in a 10-gallon vat last week), and who knows what other sorts of disgusting aromas meet your nose while driving through town.

    3. The trash. Surat Thani would be so much nicer if they paid someone to pick up trash. It’s really disgusting and sad. They use plastic bags for everything, even drinking soda, and then those bags get thrown on the sidewalk because there are no trashcans ANYWHERE. Then the bags (and every other piece of trash) get blown into the river and eaten by fish. Then you eat the fish and everyone dies. All right, that’s a little dramatic. But seriously, the trash thing is out of control.

    What are three ugly things about restrooms with only squat toilets:

    1. There is usually pee and/or water all over the floor, so your shoes and the bottoms of your pants will surely get wet.

    2. No toilet paper unless you brought it yourself. If you did bring it, you can’t flush it. Why? Because you can’t flush squat pots and Thai plumbing is bad. You can’t flush it, so you need to throw it away. You can’t throw it away because there usually aren’t trashcans. Now you get to carry your pee covered toilet paper around with you.

    3. If you’re lucky and there’s a sink, it probably won’t have soap. Moral of the story: always carry toilet paper and hand sanitizer. What you do with the used TP is up to you and I don’t want to know about it.

    What are three wonderful things about my co-workers at Super English:

    1. Everyone gets along. I love that you can put 13 people from different backgrounds with different interests together, and we’ll all want to hang out together. It’s great being able to all go out and do stuff on a regular basis.

    2. They are all supportive and awesome in their own ways. Whether you need a ride, help planning lessons, or someone to talk to about California, someone can help you out.

    3. They are really attractive. I don’t need to explain that. Look at the pictures. The good, the bad, the ugly, and the wonderful interviews

    Name: Peter C. Meltzer
    Length of time in Surat: A decade.  Unbelieveable.
    What are three good things about Surat:

    1. It’s not Phuket, Chiang Mai, Samui, Pattaya or Bangkok.  All of those places have a strong, steady in-flux of expats.  Surat, because of its proximity to Samui and Phuket, has stayed off the radar of most foreigners who are looking to settle in Thailand.  As such, Surat is still very much the town it was 10 years ago and the local people haven’t become accustomed to foreign residents.  I still get the same friendly, welcoming smiles and shouts of “Hello!” from random strangers today that I did back in 2001.

    2. The town is constantly improving.  There are always new restaurants opening and new things being added and discovered.  This year we got a movie theater which shows movies in English.  I didn’t think that would ever happen.  

    3. Everything is easy.  If you want good, inexpensive food it is readily available.  If you want your laundry done for you it can be washed and pressed for a low price.  If you want to go some place in the town it is within a 15 minute drive.  If you want to go away for a weekend or long holiday you’ve got multiple world-class beaches within a few hours reach.  

    What are three bad things about Surat:

    1. It is rarely quiet.  When I go back to the States I go for walks with my wife and we marvel and the peacefulness of the neighborhoods.  In Surat you’ve got street dogs, house dogs, street cats fighting, people cooking outside, daily aerobics being boomed out over a p.a., houses with their own karaoke systems, pet roosters, etc.  Surat isn’t unique in being noisy, however.  It is a country-wide phenomenon.  

    2. Water problems.  There are pockets of the town where lack of water is an issue.  As far as I can tell, there isn’t any distinguishable pattern to it.  At one teacher house we have installed two water tanks and a pump to ensure a more or less steady flow of water.  At my own house, which is far away, I have one water tank and a pump.  If these aren’t turned on there is no water.   Meanwhile, at another teacher house close to the first one they don’t have any water problems.  Go figure.   

    3. Morning and evening rush hour traffic.  This won’t really affect you if you’re riding a bicycle or motorbike, though.  You’ll zip right through.  I couldn’t think of anything else that is negative and particular to Surat.  It’s a great place.

    What are three ugly things about Surat:

    1. The roads right now are a complete disaster.  Some brilliant pencil pusher decided that Surat has to look more western and that the miles of electric and telephone wires currently spanning the city have to be buried underground.  So far, main roads all over town have been ripped up so that these wires can some day be moved out of sight.  The road ripping started last January or February.  It’s mid-July and none of the roads have been put back and none of the wires have been moved.  Yet additional roads are being destroyed daily.   Worse still is that the plan to bury these wires involves shoving them into a narrow tube and the putting that tube in the ground.  Guess what happens every time something has to be fixed?

    2. The driving.  Bangkok drivers are pretty bad, but they are constrained by the limits of the roads
    they drive on, as well as severe congestion.  Phuket remains the only place where I have seen a dead
    person lying by his motorcycle after a traffic accident, but even on Phuket the bad driving is contained to certain sections of the island so you know when to anticipate it.  In Surat, anything can happen at any time.  Yesterday, for example, I saw a truck come to a complete stop in the middle of traffic then sit and hold everything up so they could perform a u-turn across two lanes into a parallel parking spot.    

    3. The dogs.  I used to like dogs.  Now I wouldn’t mind sending them all to Vietnam so they could be served up at a specialty restaurant.  The street dogs are loud, dirty, aggressive and annoying.  The dogs people keep are loud, dirty, aggressive and annoying.  

    What are three wonderful things about teaching:

    1. You get to work with fun-loving, happy, enthusiastic, intelligent, affectionate and wonderful kids. You get to play a major part in their life and they in yours.  Together you learn, change and grow.     

    2. Inspirational, surprising and transcendental moments.  They can’t really be described, only experienced.  

    3. You’re teaching in Thailand.  You’re not in cubicle, you don’t have to worry about your 401k, you don’t have to worry about your mortgage, unless you’re British you have very good job security, you have minimal paperwork, you are encouraged to have fun every single day, and, by Thai standards, you’re very well paid.  Life is good.

    Name:  Blake Schlaich
    Length of time in Surat:  9 ½ months…
    What are three good things about Surat Thani?

    Contrary to what Lonely Planet may say, Surat Thani is a great town.  While it may seem lacking to the common backpacker passing through for a night to catch the next night boat to the islands, Surat has many good things to offer.  I may be biased after living here for a while, but Surat Thani is a great town in which to get the full “Thailand experience” that you won’t find in Bangkok or without leaving the islands.

    The biggest advantage to Surat is being in a “real” Thai town where you can really experience the culture and the people.  While Surat is decent in size, it is not the metropolis of Bangkok.  Nor is it a major tourist vacuum like Koh Samui where most people speak at least some English and their job is to cater to western tourists.  In Surat, you get to witness a Thai town where people live and work and have built a real community.  Within a short time of being in Surat you will have unknowingly picked up the basics of speaking the Thai language (ordering food, giving directions, greetings, etc.) because you have to.  You are engulfed in the local ways, may be it by language, menu, and or customs.  Being in Surat allows you to experience real Thai culture.  

    With that said, a perk of living in Surat that cannot be overlooked is that while you can get the full Thai experience, Surat’s location allows you to be at several of the world’s most beautiful islands and beaches in less than a few hours.  There is no doubt that most people want to be emerged in the cultural experience while in Thailand.  But what would living in Thailand be if you didn’t get to experience the unmatched magnificence of Thailand’s beaches.  There’s a reason why all the tourists go there!  Any weekend of the year there is the opportunity to visit the destinations that tourists travel from all over the world to reach.  Location, location, location!Another benefit of Surat being the town that it is, where it is… the prices.  Since Surat is not place that most people do more than merely pass through, as locals we get to enjoy local prices.  A plate of delicious Thai food for $1 U.S.?  A 32-ounce beer for $1.50 U.S.?  A two hour Thai massage for $6 U.S.?  YES. YES. And YES.

    What are three bad things about Thai beer?

    You can’t beat the price of Thai beer.  That’s the only plus side of the story.  I do my fare share of drinking it and I have sampled, as far as I know, all of the popular beers sold in Thailand.  The verdict… eggghhhhhhhhh.  Luckily, I have developed somewhat of an immunity to the pitfalls of drinking Thai beer.  For those of you who have not, I am truly sorry.

    First of all the selection is lacking.  Chang (the lower end) and Singha (the higher end) just don’t give you the variety that one is used to in a western country.  Even with Tiger and Leo, which I don’t believe are actually made in Thailand, there just isn’t much to choose from when you’re in the mood for a certain something.

    The selection wouldn’t really be that bad if the beers actually had a decent taste.  The first couple of Singhas aren’t too bad but after a long night, believe me it’s not something you desire to taste again anytime soon.  I can only describe the difference in quality of the beers here in Thailand as thedifference between Natural Light and Keystone (in the States).  Don’t even get me started on Chang.

    Ohhhh, Chang.  I once thought you were my friend and soon learned that you are one of my most formidable enemies.  Chang will draw you in with its cheap price and shiny green label.  The reason why its dirt cheap is because it tastes like dirt and makes you feel like something even worse.  Drink more than two or three, my friend, and you will get the regrettable experience of what I like to refer to as a “Changover”.  I know what hangovers feel like.  A Changover makes a normal hangover feel like a day at the spa.  My advice, pay a few baht more and drink a beer that tastes not quite as bad and that won’t make you feel like you’ve been kicked in the head the next morning.  Word.

    What are three ugly things about Bangkok?

        This was a tough one, because there are not many parts of Thailand that I can say fall into the “ugly” category.  One thing comes to mind.  I lived in Bangkok for a few months before moving south to Surat.  I think it’s a pretty cool city, but like most other metropolises, it has an ugly side to it.  The public transportation in BKK is actually quite good.  They have a plethora of options to choose from, be it tuk-tuk, motocy, public bus, subway, or sky train.  Howeverrrrrrr, the smog and pollution are incredible.   You can see it, you can taste, and you can smell it.  Every time I visit Bangkok, within a few hours my throat hurts and my eyes sting.  Many people you see walking down the streets wear what looks like a surgical mask to try and escape the toxic air.  In a city of more than 10 million people I am not surprised that there are cars in abundance, but I guess emissions checks aren’t a standard practice in Thailand, huh?     

    To go along with the aforementioned, littering and trash disposal is another source of major pollution in BKK.  With basically no public trash cans the streets become receptacles for rubbish.  Filth lines the gutters and no one seems to notice.  Public works, like trash pickup is lacking and huge piles of garbage sit out for days.  And people wonder how the rats get the size of small dog there!  If LA and NYC had a pollution baby its name would be BKK.  

    Lastly, I would say that an aspect of the city that makes it ugly are the amount of unfinished buildings and construction projects.  Everywhere you look there are incomplete developments and abandoned sky rises.  Someone told me that this is because of the economy.  A dozen years ago when it was booming, people started building, building, building.  Then when it took a nosedive, there was no money left to finish these massive projects and they were left as giant blots on the landscape.  

    What are three wonderful things about Thailand?
    I could write an entire article on this one.  “Wonderful” is probably one of the best adjectives one could use to describe Thailand.  I’ve traveled all over the world and I have never been anywhere that there are people like there are in Thailand.  Everyone is friendly and helpful and hospitable.  Of course,there will always be exceptions, but as a whole I have never met a kinder, friendlier population.    

    Quite possibly my favorite thing about Thailand is the food.  I don’t know how I haven’t gained 20 lbs. At first it may seem limited.  Rice or noodles?  Chicken or pork?  You would be amazed at how many awesome dishes can be made with these options and the addition of a few vegetables, herbs, and some Thai know-how.  It’s the perfect combination of spicy, salty, sour, and sweet.  I often think about what it will be like to eventually go home and not have real Thai cuisine whenever I want.

        Last but not least, the natural beauty of Thailand is a surely a wonder.  The waters of Koh Tao, the beaches of Kho Phi Phi, the mountains of the north.  I have never seen anything like them.  Being lucky enough to live in a place that these beautiful locations are so accessible still amazes me after being here almost a year.  Every time a spend a weekend a way, I look around and think to myself, “Wow.  My life is awesome”.