Janet's Testimonial

by Janet Phelps

Today is a perfect time for me to write a testimonial. I just signed up for an additional year at Super English. Ten months down, fourteen more to go. And I’m sincerely excited. When I find something good, I like to stick with it.

But, let me go back a little.

My first few months of teaching were hard. Thai kids love to laugh and have fun, but it’s hard to not get upset when trying to speak over than 55 rambunctious kids. Being in a different country and not speaking the language can be a frustrating and overwhelming experience at times. It took me about four months of teaching to learn the most valuable lesson you need to thrive in teaching a Thai school: Laugh. Laugh at your students, laugh at yourself and laugh just to make things easier. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

I especially struggled that first semester with a couple of fifth-grade classes who were very undisciplined. They were loud, unruly, rude and crazy. I dreaded going to those classes

OK. So enter Super English. SE owner Peter M. worked with me a lot to get those classes under control. He gave me advice, encouragement and support. SE director Victoria was great— sitting in on those classes to give me feedback and listening to my frustrations.

And that’s not even all. The other teachers at SE made me feel welcome here. They showed me around, took me out to eat, helped me figure the Surat world out. That’s the kind of welcome you don’t forget.

On the last day of class of my first semester, my fifth-year students got together and bought me a huge fruit basket. Several kids recited poems of appreciation in English, and they sang me a song. The students made me cards and hugged me good-bye.

That sealed the deal for me. At the end of the semester, Peter kindly gave me the option of dropping those difficult classes, but I chose to keep them this semester. I don’t regret it at all. I am happy to see my students every day. They love me— even though we often don’t understand each other.

Teaching can be tough, so it’s really important to be at a school you like with people who care about you. I can’t imagine a better place for a new teacher than Super English.

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My Testimonial

by John Phelps

It is certainly foolish to leave a good-paying job, a loyal set of friends, and a comfortable home to move across the world to a place you may very well dislike. It is like intentionally derailing the train that you are riding. I highly recommend it. I had most things that people consider to be important in life, back in Texas. (No, I did not have a horse. So just stop thinking that.) It was good to have a little niche carved out. I had progressively increased my responsibilities at my job over three and a half years. I knew how to entertain myself, run my errands, and look the right direction when crossing the street. It took over a year and a half for my wife and I to make up our minds about teaching abroad. The inertia had a strong grip. We were used to what we had… but eventually the growing curiosity and need for adventure got to us.

We picked Super English because the website looked great and we felt good about how Peter answered our questions. It was a little nerve-wracking to buy a plane ticket when we couldn’t even touch the school to see if it existed. But after we got to sewing soccer balls and shoes in the factory, everything was okay. Sorry, bad joke. We got to Surat Thani and were initially unimpressed. It is dirty here, and there are a lot of strange smells. In just a few blocks’ walk from our house, you will smell incense, feces, curry, trash, frying bananas, and charcoal fires. Your senses get confused. Our first day here, we made a trip to Big C (Thai version of Wal-Mart) with one of the very friendly Thai staff from Super English. Children began to follow us around the store, laughing when we turned around to look at them. “Teacher, teacher” they called us from behind shopping carts. That was when I began to like Surat.

The first few weeks of the job, I began to feel I could get a grip on the fifty-five chattering little heads and uniformed bodies in the classroom. I didn’t feel completely at ease until much later, when I had found my own style as more or less Bugs Bunny meets Sergeant Pain. Victoria, our supervisor, gave me some good tips from observing my class. Other teachers shared ideas for games during chats over lunch or in the break room. Peter gave me some advice on how to get a crazy prathom 6 class in line, and things really began to work for me. A new state of being light-hearted and relaxed became the norm. I am pretty sure that is not due to switching from Starbucks to Nescafe. I ruled that out once I found a few good espresso spots in town.

The ability to throw myself into the class was really helped by other two factors. One, that the kids respond to your energy and giving you some soul income with their laughs and participation. Two, that I recently had a vacation and have another coming quickly. In the fall semester (October- February), the amount of time to relax and/or travel ensures you are well tanned and adventured. I have been here less than a year and have already had more trips to amazing places and do-nothing beach days than in the whole three and a half years in my last job.

Super English is very different from most employers. You are able to experiment as a teacher or charades expert in class and find your own style. All of us sweat and work very hard, but not because of a demanding boss or strict set of quotas or policies. For my part, I think it is because I enjoy the work the harder I play at it. You can really do that here, as you have plenty of room to try new things and support when you ask for it.

Stepping out of my old life as a social worker was to leave a lot of comforts and pains behind. These have been replaced by a bright and shining new set of comforts and annoyances. However, cracking into a non-touristed town and becoming a part of it is quite a discovery. It is a strange moment when you realize that you are more yourself in a new place, than where and who you were before. You can say to yourself, “Why did I stay in that job/town/mullet haircut for so long?” Or, it may be best to celebrate. I believe it is a win over inertia.

Advice to New Teachers

by Mitch Burbick

So, you’re coming to Thailand. Good on you. It’s nice here. Rest assured, you will figure it all out pretty quickly once you get here but these are a couple things that might be worth wrapping your mind around before heading to this side of the globe.

First off, it’s hot here. Like, really hot here. I know people come from all different parts of the world but coming from America’s west coast, the only thing I’d experienced that was slightly even maybe kind of close to this type of heat and humidity was the one summer I spent when I was 10 in rural Wisconsin chasing fireflies around with my Midwestern cousins. I’ve read books that describe hot and humid climates like being wrapped in a blanket, and that’s really what it is. It’s hot, it’s wet, and it’s more than a little bit sweaty almost all the time.

However, this is merely a fact and the advice that I’d try to impart to you is to not bring heavy clothes over. I brought a few pairs of slacks over here to teach in that were wool and they are a no go. I seriously wore them the first week I was here and never again. (Full Disclosure: There may or may not have been a slightly embarrassing amount of trouser-dampening sweat involved.) Traditional button up shirts work fine if you have anything to cover up (tattoos or the like), but polo shirts are probably the better option because you still look good when they’re not tucked in and short sleeves are better vents than long sleeves rolled up. A rather unique fact of life is that I am not a girl, so my advice in this realm for women is a little less helpful, but seeing the way that other women teachers here dress, it’s probably advisable to either bring or procure here skirts of a flow-ish nature. This makes it much easier to ride a bicycle or a motorbike to work as well. A certain someone I know bought a selection of really good looking high quality skirts before coming over and never wore them past the first day. Write this equation down and commit it to memory: tight = impractical. Girls are welcome to wear polo shirts as well but can get away with a little bit more as far as tops go seeing that the neckline isn’t too low. The kids like to stare. They like to stare a lot.

(Anecdote: I half lifted my shirt and scratched my stomach absent mindedly in front of my fifth graders the second or third week I was teaching and I still hear about it from them. A typical thing one of them might say while coming up to me scratching his/her/its stomach is: “Teacher scratch stomach,” while three of them roll on the ground laughing. They think this is hilarious.)

The second bit of advice I’d dole out is to try packing lightly. I know, I know, you’re leaving for a year. I came here with an individual who is one of those people who will pack a full on suitcase for an overnight trip. Not pretty. Half of the things brought over haven’t been touched since that first week. You can find pretty much everything here. Really, you can. Clothes-wise, bring what you need to teach in and wear around town for a week or two. Really, you’ll need a much smaller variety of clothes than you think. I’d say pick a few things that are really important to you, your luxuries, and bring them on over to make sure you’ll have them. For me it was a French press for coffee, a couple of beer cozies, and a few – even by my standards – oversized books of poetry.

Now this next piece of advice strikes particularly close to home because, by nature (I blame my Dad), I’m not a patient person. Thai people take their times with things. Thailand takes it’s time with things. Don’t ever expect your bus or train to be on time. Planes, you’re alright with, but bus and train, seriously, give yourself a few hours leeway. When you need them to be on time they’ll be only an hour late, and when you need them to be only an hour late, they’ll be six hours late. If you’re one of those people that needs everything planned out to the moment, someone who needs hotel reservations before stepping foot out of the door and a detailed sight filled action packed plan for every minute of the day, try relaxing a little bit. Things move at a different (slower) pace over here. It really does turn out to be quite fantastic, so just take it easy.

The last thing I’d advise, and something that I’m sure Peter has mentioned, is to drink as much delicious beer as you possibly can before you leave home. This country has absolute garbage for beer. If this sounds impassioned, it is because about this subject, I am impassioned. Beer here does the trick, but it’s kind of like an eerie reliving of my high school drinking experience, pushing through the taste to get the effect. I’m not saying that it’s always terrible. There are certainly some days I come home from work or have been out in the sun and find a cold Thai brewed lager to be quite the refreshing drink. I’m just saying that it’s usually pretty terrible. As far as other non-Thai beer options go, there are a few. Heineken is the only import available everywhere (for a pretty ridiculous price) but if you’re like me, you’ve always viewed Heineken as Europe’s Coor’s Light so take that for what it is. In Bangkok and Phuket you can find a wider variety, but they’re invariably expensive and seeing as how we’re hours from either of those towns, you won’t be finding them on a weekly basis. So stock up my happy and full beer drinking friends. Stock up and enjoy the sweet taste of delicious beer.

PS – If you bring me an IPA I’ll be your best friend forever. Forever ever.

S. E. Thai Cultural Event 29/08/10: Cooking Class

by Chris Ansell

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!

“Massaman, I feel like a woman” (John)

Ingredients:

  • Tamarind Paste
  • Chicken
  • Onion
  • Coconut Milk (Joy used a little of the concentrated stuff too) •
  • Potato
  • Shrimp Paste
  • Massaman Curry Paste
  • Unsalted Peanuts
  • Carrot
  • Cabbage
  • Mini-corn
  • Mushroom (Mickey Mouse Ear Type if possible)

Preparation:

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.

Method:

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 tamarind/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.

Journal Entry 5

by Brittney Johnson

We are now in the month of September. Time is flying! I recently celebrated my 29th birthday. My dad put Victoria, Amy, Janet and me up in The Hilton in Phuket last weekend. It was a great birthday weekend. We somehow got upgraded to VIP status. Believe me, we took full advantage of it.

So we are in our final month of teaching before we let out for break all of October. I can really tell a difference in all areas of my teaching; my approach, attitude, and it’s starting to feel more natural.

I’m actually enjoying teaching these days. Now that it feels like I’m doing a better job, I can have fun with it. At Thida, my lessons are fun! The kids get into it and my teaching thrives off of that.

At Super English, I have a real bond with the students. I love how affectionate they are. My SL4 class has changed. The older, more advanced kids have moved to another class. This totally changed the dynamic of the class. We got a new student, Pay, who is 4 years old and absolutely adorable. She clings to my side. I’m still not sure if she is speaking Thai or English, she just kind of babbles. But she definitely knows her colors! She yells them out while jumping. So now that most of the students are on the same level, we can do more age appropriate activities with them. Before, we had a mix of older students and younger students so it was hard to make a lesson engaging for all students.

My SL7 class is still a lot better than before. But they have their good days and bad. We are talking and engaging in dialogue a lot more than before. We have been doing fun lessons as well. We’ve been acting out restaurant scenes. We have some really funny kids in that class so there has been a lot of laughing going on! The class has so much potential to be an amazing, fun, intelligent class. There are a few students that seem to keep the class from reaching that level. A few students have discipline issues and unfortunately that changes the whole dynamic of the class. There is a huge difference with the atmosphere and learning level when those few students are absent.

Life is good! I’m feeling really comfortable with my motorbike now. I feel more productive with it. I can get more things done. I’ve been spending my weekdays teaching and doing yoga. Yoga is becoming my refuge. I am able to release any tension that I have felt that day. I leave feeling refreshed and alive!

I’m looking forward to this weekend. We will be having an appreciation party/dinner for Victoria. She has been with Super English for 4 years. We are all dressing up in traditional Thai clothing. Then we only have 2 weeks of teaching and we are off for 1 month. I’m looking forward to exploring Thailand during the break!

Two weeks to go! I’m really going to push and give it everything I’ve got. I’m going to have a different schedule when I get back. It’s bitter sweet. I’m going to miss the kids that I won’t have when I get back dearly. But I’m excited for a change as well! More to come…

Churches in Surat Thani

by John Phelps

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.

Sanjou Night Market

By Brian Steinbach

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 vendors and potential future dining opportunities. Or it might take me right 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.