by Dylan Bird (May, 2008 – October, 2009)
This week I have just made the bold decision to stay here in Thailand and working as a teacher for Super English for another year. Bold only because it means being away from my friends and family for another year, and will miss dearly friends who are choosing not to stay another year (fools!), but otherwise a very easy decision to come to.
Over the past year of working here, I have fallen in love with Thailand. I love the people, the stunning natural beauty of the country, the amazing cheap food, the ease of getting around, the adventures, the Thai people and culture, the amazing friends that i have made here over the year, and mostly because i love what I’m doing here in my job everyday.
I came here as a teaching novice, very bright eyed and bushy tailed and more than a little petrified at the prospect of teaching Thai children!! I had been wanting to teach abroad for some time and probably as many of you are doing now, would sit idly trawling the Internet for jobs (probably whilst supposed to be doing something else on a works computer!!). As soon as I saw the advert that Super English had posted, my mind was made up. I hadn’t even really contemplated Thailand as the place I might end up, but without a doubt, this place was the place I wanted to be. I stopped applying elsewhere and even before I knew that the position was mine, I declined all other options. A little foolish perhaps, but it hasn’t let me down, not even for a second, in fact it has surpassed everything I had thought it might be!!
I have been touched by the incredible support of Super English and all its staff. As soon as I touched down in Thailand I was greeted off the plane by Peter and Victoria, smiling and pleased to see my weary sleepy eyed self off the plane. I was then taken to my new home and met a happy munch bunch of housemates all just back from a weekend on Koh Phagnan island together. And instantly I felt at home. The people that work at Super English are an incredibly special bunch. I have made some wonderful lifelong friends, and they have helped me through all kinds of crises- from finding where the nearest 7-11 is, to talking me through how to use a squat toilet, to nights sat up chatting to wild parties into the wee hours. And they have really really helped me as a teacher. They all bring to the mix something very different – some have more arty creative methods of teaching, some are very hands-on and physical, picking the kids up, spinning them round, some are very energetic, racing around the room, and others have a more gentle calm approach. Seeing them all teach, and having them all offer their own advice and help has been the most beneficial thing for me as a teacher, I have been able to combine all kinds of different methods and suggestions and add my own take on things to make them my own and feel comfortable with them. They are an inspirational lot, and I have a lot to thank them for. (thankyou) They have helped me no end with my teaching. And now I feel that I have gone from someone who was in Thailand to see Thailand and explore another country and culture, whilst having a go at teaching, to being a real teacher- someone with a genuine care and love for my students and with a real passion for what i am doing. And I think that is where I can credit Super English the greatest, there is that genuine passion for teaching English, and to do it in the most fun, interactive and stimulating way possible. And I still have so much more to learn. I feel I am only just getting into the swing of everything, realising what works and what doesn’t work, and how what works may suddenly not work, and what didn’t work before suddenly will. I am only just learning more about the kids and really getting to know them all as individuals, and only just getting to know myself as a teacher. Its a great learning curve, but every new lesson is one learned in fun!
And aside from the teaching? Well I remember when I first arrived and was told that above everything “Thailand is what you make it.” At first I didn’t really appreciate what that meant, but a year on, that is really the perfect sentiment to sum up my experiences here. It really is whatever you want it to be. And that is its beauty. If you want the beaches, and the islands and parties on the beach and jungle raves and Sangsom whiskey buckets and nights of dancing and fire twirling and music, then its all here, both in Surat with its bars and beers and clubs and on the islands just a stones throw away!! And if you want adventures and nature and the great outdoors with all its mountains and rafting and climbing and mountain biking and kayaking and scuba diving and trekking and snorkeling and camping and national parks, well then, you can have that too!! If you want the cultural stuff then just look around your town – the monks collecting alms, or the weddings in the streets that go on for days (tasty eats and lady boy dancers- they rock!), and festivals (including the bizarre ‘vegetarian’ festival where hundreds of Thai men stick swords, tridents, poles and even a fire extinguisher through their faces) and the more day-to-day Thai stuff – cooking with lovely Thai mamas, and eating and drinking with Thai neighbours and friends. And if you want to find yourself and some inner peace (especially after all the adventures and jungle raves) well then, that can be yours too- meditation retreats, yoga, Reiki courses, massage, alternative therapies, monks and temples. I think no matter what your interests, your hobbies, your preferences, loves, and likes, then it can be found here in Thailand!! If anything, you will be finding yourself with too much to do and see and experience whilst here, that you just wont fit it all into a year, and will have to stay just to make sure you didn’t miss a single thing (like me!!).
And Surat Thani? Well apart from the very obvious fantastic location- great for island hopping at weekends, for beach bumming, snorkeling, diving, partying, and all manner of wonderful courses in alternative hippy nonsense (I am racking up a few), and anything else you can think of doing right on your doorstep and only a night boat away! And the peaceful and serene and sssh spot of Khanom beach only a short drive away. And the breathtaking views of the Khao Sok national park with its mighty rainforest and lakes, again just a short trip-trap away from Surat. But this geography stuff is all for the guide books to inform you of!
Surat Thani itself, well Surat is a kinda small and very Thai town- there is nothing flashy or touristy about the place, and for that reason all guide books give it a bad rep. But for that reason, for me, I love it- it really is Thailand. Trying to order food in my baaad Thai, and going out listening to Thai rock bands (good, in a bad cheesy way) is all part of the wonderful Thai experience (except when you get fish head curry- which has happened!!!). I love Surat – the food is amazing (I could rant for hours about the assorted treats- even for the annoying veggie that I am!)
The Thai people are great, so lovely and will go out of their way to help you (even if you’d really like them to just leave you alone sometimes- their friendliness and helpfulness is overwhelming, and hearing the almost constant cheery voices shout hello after you as you peddle about really does make you feel special), the nights out spent drinking cheap cheap Thai whisky and listening to Thai reggae (Job to Do – I will never know or ever forget the words!!), or shaking my thang in Thai clubs. There are so many ace places to eat and drink, and I still find new ones everyday!! And of course the beautiful folk that reside here- a wonderful gaggle of Super English teachers from all over the globe and a great group of beautiful Thai friends who are making this place the fantastic place that it is!! Happy just isn’t a big enough word sometimes!!
There’s my little house, that I love, filled with all kinds of interesting creepy crawlies looking for a party, and water which comes on and off when it chooses (off when you smell the most and on when you can’t really be bothered to shower), and the electricity that trips out EVERY time you turn the stereo on, and the fan that electrocutes you, and the lights that burn, the lack of fridge (until last week-whoop whoop), and the ‘stove’ which is really a hole in the work surface with a metal dish that you must make and start your own fire to cook things on EVERY TIME you want to cook, then clear the ash up afterwards!!! It’s crazy, it’s Thai, it’s sometimes frustrating but ALL of the time fun, and I adore every single second of it!! And every water shortage (though smelly and annoying) is fun as you learn to wash your body, your hair, and your clothes aaaaand flush the toilet with the teensiest bit of water from a bucket!!) And furnishing your place with stuff you make or find on the beach, in the forests or in the bin. I love it, it’s the most fun house I’ve ever had!!!
Then there’s some real surreal Thai stuff that must be mentioned too , like hanging out at the monkey training school (train ‘em to climb trees for coconuts; the stories of this place are endless- furniture making, and playing with monkeys, and smoking out bee’s nests to eat the tiny bee larvae), or the crocodile farm, eating crickets and chicken feet at the night market, the factories that make birds nest soup by housing a million birds and stealing their nests to boil down to extract the saliva to make a nice broth- mmmm, the vegetarian festival where we witnessed maybe 30 men all sticking different things through their faces- swords, poles, tridents, a gas pump and my favourite, a fire extinguisher, and who beat their chests with axes, and cut their tongues with swords- crazy veggies!! or the very obvious lady boys, and the ‘special’ karaoke bars filled with girls in teeny hotpants and massive platform boots (good for a cheap beer and a game of cards).
And no, working and living in Thailand is not without its faults- as you would expect from living in any foreign country, the language barrier can be very tough, but a little more than that in Thailand is the cultural barriers at times- like the very Thai custom of smiling and nodding when they really don’t understand, of saying yes when they mean no (and you end up very lost in your taxi because they didn’t want to upset you by telling you they had no clue where you wanted to go in the first place), and their habit of changing things at the last minute! The importance of appearances was very tough for me to deal with at first – being a scruffy sort by nature, so having to spent a good 15 minutes of my day everyday trying to stretch and flatten my dreadlocks into a teeny tiny bun every morning and having to remember which colour shirt I have to wear on what day of the week to match the Kings colours was a little difficult, but really your appearance and your smile will go a long way out here. So frustrating as it can be sometimes, it will always work to your advantage – as some of the boys know all too well when they had to remove their much loved facial hair (r.i.p. the beards!!). Also, at first I found it difficult being stared at quite so much, but I have come to appreciate that it is done with a genuine curiosity for our funny looks and silly ways and that a smile and a hello will win you lots of friends! And while Thailand is a happy friendly and very fun place to be, of course it is not without its dark side. There have been robberies of foreign teachers, and bags taken. I have lost my own bag and camera to a full moon party, and have had money taken from my home. But in honesty, I can say that i am in part responsible for both those things, with my own stupidity. Being in Thailand can make you forget some of the very real practicalities that you would NEVER forget at home- like don’t put your bag down on the floor during an enormous beach party and expect it to still be there when you return (duh!!), and don’t go to bed with your house unlocked (no-brainer!!). It is very easy to become forgetful – generally the majority of people you meet will be wonderful, helpful, happy sorts, and Thailand is a fun exciting place with lots going off and lots of partying and beer, but you have to remember that Thailand is still the real world, with real people, with real problems, and you just have to be aware of that! Just don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home!! ‘Nuff said!
I wanted to write this thing to show as real a picture as I could of Thailand- with the good and the bad, and really, I have sat wracking my brains for the bad bits! As I said before, I have fallen in love with this country!!
I’m loving every crazy, surreal Thai second of it!!!