Gerry-Rigged With Joel: Tortillas

Fact: Thai food is awesome.  It’s spicy, flavorful, plentiful, and more importantly, cheap.  So much cheaper than western foods here in Surat.  However, as someone who has grown up used to having a great variety of cuisines on my plate, eating only Thai food all the time can become a bit…. meh.  Sure, you could go to any number of the restaurants here in Surat and get western foods like pasta, pizza, or burgers.  The only issue with eating western out is that its so much more expensive than eating Thai out.

There is of course one super simple answer to this conundrum… cooking your own western foods.  Believe it or not, it’s easy, and if done right (large batches with plenty of left overs) it can easily be much cheaper than eating out!  This past week I had quite the hankering for some Mexican food.  Peppers/onions? Check.  Chicken? Check. Salsa supplies? Check.  Tortillas?  Ahhhhhh…

Sure I could have bought them at Tops, for something ridiculous like 80 baht for 12 (a complete guess!).  Or I could easily make them myself for cheaper.  So that’s what I decided to do.  Here’s the recipe!

Picture of us preparing tortillas for our recent fajita fiesta.

Picture of us preparing tortillas for our recent fajita fiesta.

The tortillas cooking in the wok.

The tortillas cooking in the wok.

Chewy Flour Tortillas
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup lukewarm milk (2% is fine)

Mix ingredients in a bowl. Let sit for 15 minutes covered with a wet cloth.  Flour a surface and roll out using a well floured rolling pin. Cook (no oil) in a hot skillet until it begins to brown and then flip over.

Fill them with anything your heart desires for a tasty and inexpensive feast!

Weekend Trip to Koh Mook

I recently traveled with a group of friends to Koh Mook (also transliterated as Ko Muk).  One thing Koh Mook is most well-known for is the Emerald Cave, which I didn’t make it to this time, but have heard that it’s well worth it.

Tips on Koh Mook:

This travel guide from Travelfish is helpful.

When to go: You can go any time of year, and you will find discounted rates on accommodation during low season (monsoon season).  However, sometimes boats may not go if the weather is bad, and of course there isn’t as much to do when it’s pouring rain.  The weather is best between December and May.

How to get there: From Surat you can take a bus or minibus to Trang for about 200 baht.  From Trang both minibuses can be arranged through the resort you choose to stay at, or you can just buy a ticket to the pier once you’re there.  There are some good minibus/longtail boat combo deals.  You can also drive yourself to the pier.

Also there is a passenger boat that leaves from Kuan Thung Ku Pier at 8 AM that is inexpensive, I read somewhere it is only around 40 baht, but we were there early and didn’t see it, so it might only run during high season.

You can also take an express boat from Pakmeng to Koh Mook that leaves once a day in high season.

Our trip:

After work friends and I headed to Trang Province in a rental car, about three hours southwest of Surat Thani.  Surat is near the Gulf of Thailand and Trang is the opposite side at the Andaman Sea.  It’s monsoon season in Surat right now,  but seemed to be even more rainy in Trang.  It’s definitely low season for a visit to Koh Mook, so many businesses were closed, but on the plus side nobody was there.

Driving to Trang during the night was interesting, because I saw so many multi-colored Christmas lights along the road.  I was not expecting that!

We had the best road trip snacks ever; French baguettes that are actually decent quality for Thailand and Edam cheese, along with some fresh fruit.

Our first night we stayed at a place called U Sabuy in Trang town, it was nice and was only 200 baht a night per person, or about $6 U.S. dollars.  From there we found an open-air place to eat and ate Thai-style with share portions.  An elderly gentleman in his 70s came and conversed with us for a while, he was the most adorable man.  His English was great and he told us he used to be a teacher.

After just 5 hours of sleep we woke up early to get to the Kuan Tung Ku Pier, which is not anywhere near glamorous, but I like traveling this way.  It feels more off-the-beaten path. The drive to there from Trang was about an hour and very scenic at the time that we went, with thick fog hovering over jungle mountains in the distance, and monks walking by receiving morning alms.  We also saw kids that looked about 10 driving motorbikes with younger passengers, a man walking by his cow in the road, and glimpses of local life.

We negotiated a longtail boat for 400 baht there and 600 baht when we came back, which seems to be the fair going rate; we asked around and found out from a group of locals that they were paying 600 baht.

The boat ride to Koh Mook was scenic.  We had overcast skies, but it was still beautiful and it had it a subtle dreamy aura.  Arriving to the island it had fog around it, similar to scenes on our drive there.  We arrived at a long dock and were greeted by motorcycle taxis, who charge 50 baht per person to go anywhere on the island.  We drove on some sketchy roads and through a school to check out Sivilai Beach Resort. Accommodation there is about $100 a night for a bungalow, but since it’s off season and there were five of us they were going to give us a deal, I think 2 bungalows for around $35 per person a night, but we are all on tight budgets this month, so we opted to pay only about $6 US a night, or 200 baht a person to stay in two bungalows at Had Farang Bungalows.  It was a great place for the price, but the location wasn’t the best, because you have to arrange a motorcycle taxi to go nearly anywhere, of which the people at Had Farang sometimes charge extra for commission to arrange.  However, there is an easily accessible beach that is close to the bungalows.

Being on Koh Mook was refreshing.  Cool, rainy weather, and a plethora of flora.  It reminded me most of Australia’s Daintree Rainforest and of Costa Rica sans jungle crabs and monkeys. I recognized many plants and flowers, such as white plumerias and birds of paradise.  Had Farang had a big elevated deck with views of the jungle.  The architectural styles are so organic in many of these places in Thailand; open, wood, high ceilings, and unique styles.

We ate at a restaurant I’d highly recommend and spent a great deal of time chatting with the owner Song.  She was extremely friendly, and we found out she grows a lot of the food she cooks.  She says if you order a papaya salad her daughter goes and picks it then.  This restaurant was called Hilltop Restaurant and had the slogan “Cheap cheap and different.”  Her food was stellar, especially a dish that I think was stir-fried curry paste.  The Banana, rice, and coconut milk dessert I ordered was probably the most amazing thing in the world.  Simple, but I loved it.  Her kids all helped out at the restaurant and she arranged for her 12-year-old son to drive us a back in a motorcycle taxi!

We spent some time on the beach, relaxed, and in the early morning on Sunday I read a book for a couple hours in the open-air seating near the lobby area and enjoyed some black hot coffee.  We then headed back on the boat and watched heavy rainstorms in this distance, then took a scenic (and quite stormy) drive along the coast in Trang before heading back to Surat Thani.

I’m hoping to go back here and visit the Emerald Cave, and see some other islands in the area.

Sports Day!

Well, it’s right around the corner!  Rumor has it the famous Sports Day at Thida will take place in about a month, July 16-17th.  This time around I know exactly what to prepare for!  Last year was quite the experience, as the few weeks leading up to the event, each day a cry of, “You’re got to cheer!  You’ve got to cheer all day, all night!” with drums pounding.  This was happening while the little Anubans were napping and I always wondered how they got their shut eye!

I’ve been told we won’t be going to the Stadium gym this year.  I think I lost 5 lbs sweating inside there last year playing volleyball, football (soccer if you will) and the relay race thing I can’t quite put a name to.  This year, I believe the teachers from Old Thida will be playing the teachers from New Thida/MEP in some sort of competition.  Better make a run to Big C for a headband and wristbands.

We haven’t been called out to the assembly area as of yet for a bit of cheeky afternoon chairball, but I think it’s only a matter of time.  It was tough last year to not have the competitive spirt take over, even playing with the kiddos!

The only elephant in the room at this point is……who will be told to dress up in the clown outfit for the parade like Teacher Dave did last year.  On probably the hottest day of the year, he could be seen strutting down the streets of Surat in full gear, makeup unblemished, pumping the MEP sign.  Classic stuff.

It was adorable to see all the little students marching in traditional Thai dress in the parade with their batons!  I still remember my old student, Pun Pun, dressed like a Green Day rocker, bright purple hair and all.

We’ll find out next month what Sports Day 2015 is all about….but whatever it is, surely it will be something to write and post pictures of here!

Project-Based Learning and How to Incorporate it Into Your Classroom

We are lucky at Thida to have room for creativity with our teaching. One of the things my students have enjoyed is project-based learning, a more hands on, student-centered approach to teaching as opposed to direct teaching (lectures, etc).  Project-based learning, or PBL, promote student collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills.

Project-based learning, especially for EFL/ESL students, tends to work better with upper grades, I think maybe 3rd and up, and the variability of how well it will work also depends on the level of the students’ English-speaking ability.

With project-based learning there is a criteria that students have to fulfill. Usually I present and go over a rubric with this criteria beforehand. Students can be graded on how well they work together, how well they present, creativity, and and/or other criteria, usually on a scale of 1-4 or something similar. I like to have the students peer critique each other when presenting projects.

BIE ( is an excellent resource for teachers, and has many printables, project ideas, and rubrics available to download and use.

The project usually revolves around a driving question or multiple questions that students answer on their own. Students can even come up with the questions themselves. This method also applies inquiry-based learning.

For our project our questions were:

  • What does it mean to make healthy choices? What are ways people can make healthy choices?
  • What is a healthy lifestyle vs and unhealthy lifestyle?
  • What are healthy vs. unhealthy foods, habits, and activities?

Students were given articles for research and come up with answers to these questions on the topics of water and other drinks, sugar/food, and sleep.  I was amazed by the self-motivated approach from the students.

We will keep it up with future projects!

First Month at Thida

It feels like we’ve only been back at school for 2 weeks, but here we are pushing into July!  With a new school year bring many new changes, faces, and ideas.  It’s been great to see all of the new teachers take charge of their classrooms, bond with their students, and put their unique stamp at Thidamaepra!

I’ve never been the creative one, but one of our new teachers, Brady, really enjoys doing layouts/media formatting (not sure if that’s the correct word, but I’ll run with it).  He created a really cool format for the MEP newsletter that looks awesome–something I don’t think I could’ve ever done!  I’m hoping the students, administration, and parents enjoy the first edition.  We’ve incorporated a few teacher spotlights, some fun English tidbits, and a nice welcome back recap featuring a group shot from Sister Nara’s birthday assembly last week.

It’s been very pleasing to see all the teachers put in the hard work to make their classes (and MEP as a whole) a great success!  Coming back for my second year, some of my ideas and things I did in the classroom last year grew a bit stale–I’ve definitely taken a few ideas from other teachers and applied them in my room!

One of the best parts as a head teacher has been seeing how well all the new teachers and staff interact and support one another.  There’s always a nice back and forth exchange of ideas and support when we’re stuck for ideas or need a way to implement an idea for one of our lessons.

As we push into July, it means that midterms are right around the corner (already!).  As quickly as the first 6 weeks have come and gone means it’s that much more crucial to accomplish as much as we can before our October break!


Monkey Business

Since moving to Thailand I have seen many things that make me take a second glance.  This happened the first time I witnessed some of the expert motorbike maneuvers in Bangkok, when I saw deep fried scorpions for the first time, and the first time I saw a massive monitor lizard on the way to my bungalow.  More recently I have been seeing a man with a large monkey walking beside him–right past my little balcony over to coconut trees nearby.  I have also seen the same man and monkey both on a motorbike.  I saw more monkeys on a walk just down my street the other day, having no idea they were even there for a couple of weeks.  Come to find out this monkey business has to do with the nearby Monkey Training School–and it really is a business, the monkeys collect coconuts from the coconut trees for coconut oil and other products.

I went with my friends/co-workers/neighbors Torie and Calum to visit the Monkey Training School here in Surat Thani.

To be more specific they train Pigtail Macaques, who can pick somewhere around 600 coconuts a day or more, according to the owner of the training school.  The owner is originally from the Netherlands and his wife trains the Macaques, a trade she learned from her father.  At the school they do everything humanely, there are no punishments besides ignoring bad monkey behavior.  They train the monkeys over the course of about six months.

At the school they showed us all the phases of training, starting with a young Macaque who had just began, and ending with a well-trained Macaque who climbed up the tree and twisted off the coconut, which we subsequently opened and ate.  Beforehand they also shared with us some of the most delicious pineapple I’ve ever had, which they grow right there on their property.

We were fortunate that as a small group we were able to drive a motorbike with the Macaque of the school’s owners named Chloe.  This was something I was not expecting at all and it was a blast!  It’s an unusual feeling to have a monkey as a passenger.

I highly recommend a visit to this school to anyone, it was 500 baht for all three of us.  The owners recommend calling and arranging a time to come by beforehand.

Wai Kru Day

Last week at school we celebrated Wai Kru day, also know as ‘Teacher’s Day!’ Wai Kru day is a ceremony celebrated amongst schools in Thailand where the students pay respect to their teachers to express appreciation and love.

No classes took place periods 2 or 3 at Thida on Teacher’s day, instead all students and teachers proceeded to the domed area where ceremonies took place. The Sisters, teachers and students sang numerous songs and read several prayers to commemorate the special day in the Thai school year calendar. It was a joyful and heartwarming morning where representatives of each class showed admiration for their particular teacher by acknowledging them with a flowering plant.

The students at Thida are amongst some of the most kind and loveable children I have ever met. Days like these really make teaching in Thailand a unique experience.