Making More Money with Super English

By Peter C. Meltzer

One of the most frequent concerns I hear during the interview phase is that the money in Thailand is quite low. Yes, compared to other countries, the salary in Thailand is quite low. Thailand still qualifies as third world country. If you want more money, go to China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, even Vietnam. Basically anywhere except Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos. You come to Thailand for the experience, not the money.

Other applicants go as far as to worry about the salary itself at Super English. Converted into dollars, I suppose this concern makes sense. Just as an aside, though, it’s not really a good idea to bring up concerns about salary when you are already interviewing for a position. If coming to Thailand is something you are serious about, you would have already done the research which told you that foreigners in Thailand make a fine living. But to reassure those who are doing their research, please know that in Thailand, especially in Surat, you’ll be living off the baht, not the dollar. Everything here luckily costs baht too, not dollars. The cost of living is looooowww. So while the average Thai person is making 6000-8000 baht per month, most SE teachers are making between 25000-35000 per month. And SE teachers don’t have to pay rent.

Do most teachers go through almost all of this in one month? Yup. Do they go off to islands and have tons of fun? Yup. Do they go out and have fun frequently during the week? Yup. Is alcohol cheap anywhere in the world? Nope. So yes, while SE teachers do get paid 300-450% more than the average Thai person, they also live a much more interesting lifestyle. There are lots of things to spend money on in Thailand, and the more glamorous vacation destinations, such as Phuket or Samui, are huge money pits.

To solve these financial dilemmas, SE offers something that no other school does: additional money making opportunities. You can earn extra money in a plethora of ways, including:

  • writing articles for the SE website (teachers make 250 baht per article)
  • financial journals (teachers usually make 500 baht per entry, but this depends on their levels of itemization)
  • photo-articles (teachers make 250 baht per article)
  • travel articles (teachers make 250 baht per article)
  • recording audio files for our second website,
  • creating materials for either SE or D&S

If you have an idea, such as an online first year teacher’s journal, then we discuss it and agree on a monthly salary for it. I am 150% for originality, creativity and giving things a try.

What this really means is that there is no limit on how much money you can earn per month with SE. It all depends on how hard you want to work and how much you want to do. You can be an SE teacher and make as much money as you want to. So there really isn’t that much to worry about.

Tribute to Mrs. Janet Phelps

By Brittney Johnson

I have had the great honor of knowing, working and traveling with, and being friends with Janet Phelps, Super English’s Manager. I’d like to take this time to highlight some experiences I have shared with Janet as well as point out some of her unique qualities that make her an outstanding manager and friend.

First of all, Janet is one of the most upbeat, positive people I know. You will rarely find her sitting absolutely still. She always seems to be moving about doing something productive. I fortunately live three houses down from her, so I have the benefit of being able to see how Janet lives on a day to day basis, not just from a working point of view. Janet’s house always seems to be open to people. It is “the place” people go to; to meet up, eat a shared meal, watch a movie, plan things for school functions, eat weekend breakfasts, porch hang outs, drink a cup of coffee, have a beer, or just drop by to say hi. I truly admire that about Janet. Even after a long days work, she is still available to everyone at Super English. People feel comfortable to come to Janet, however small or big the issue is, whether its work related or a personal matter.

It must be difficult to be a boss and friend at the same time. Janet does an amazing job of balancing the two. She is able to kick back and have fun with everyone. She is the one to usually plan a social event and to get people excited about it. But on the other hand, she is also able to get serious when it’s necessary. Even though she is a young boss, but that doesn’t stop her from being professional and everyone respects her for that. She does a brilliant job of stepping in when she is needed, but also giving teachers space to be creative and to figure certain things out on their own. She is a very approachable person. I’ve always felt comfortable going to Janet for advice about lesson plan ideas, traveling, teaching, housing, and personal issues.

On a personal note, Janet is so much fun to be around! I’ve laughed with her more than anyone else in Surat Thani. She has a unique, witty, bubbly and cheerful personality. She always has a way of turning something that may be negative into something that is positive. She is truly encouraging and affirming. I would say she is an optimist. She always has a way of looking at things from a “glass is half full” perspective. And that is contagious. She can turn a sour atmosphere into a light-hearted, cheery environment. And that is so important in a foreign country. People that move to a foreign country to teach English are surrounded by all kinds of unfamiliar things. People can feel uncomfortable not only as first time teachers in the classroom, but also being around new people, not speaking the language, being in a new city, etc. Janet has done an amazing job of making new teachers feel at ease and comfortable in their new homes and in Surat Thani.

I had the opportunity to travel with Janet to beaches, cities and islands with Thailand with Janet. I also went to Indonesia with her during the Christmas break. She is a wonderful travel partner! You get to see a different side of someone when traveling with them. I would travel with Janet again in a heartbeat! I’m thankful to have made some memories with her outside of Thailand.

Janet is truly an inspiration to me in so many ways. I admire her ambition, thoughtfulness, selflessness, and honesty. If there were more Janet Phelps’ in the world, it would be a better place.

The Healing Cup

by Amy McIntyre

Being a teacher in Thailand is amazing. There are many opportunities for new things. You can learn so much that you never thought you could, and being in Surat it all seems to be at your doorstep.

Aside from teaching with Super English, I also wanted to come to Thailand to learn more about Eastern spirituality. I am a Reiki practioner and I wanted to go to a country that would foster my spiritual growth. Thailand’s strong Buddhist influence attracted me and Surat in particular because it is not a tourist destination; it is more of a Thai experience.

When I first arrived I found it a little difficult to achieve my goal of learning more about Eastern spirituality. Many locals do not speak English and no one else seemed to be seriously interested, so I was a little a disappointed. However, during one trip to Khanom, a beach an hour away from Surat, I met a man named Jet Lie. He is an ex-monk in the Burmese Buddhist tradition. He has been a healer for 17 years and has been all over the world. He is originally Chinese and grew up in Hong Kong, but he lived in New York for 8 years. His latest project is Harmony House Healing Centre, where he offers Chinese cupping massage, reflexology, Reiki and Seichim treatments and teaches the techniques as well! Cha ching!!! My life had already gotten 100 times better for making the move to Thailand, but since meeting Jet my life has just doubled with happiness. I went to his healing centre where I discovered the many courses he offered in massage and spiritual healing. I got a message from him just to scope him out and he was amaing! As soon as I got a long weekend holiday I booked my first healing course with him.

This is the Harmony house. There are two medium priced rooms at the top and a dorm room at the bottom.

Harmony house is a 100 meters from the beach! So you can learn and sun bathe!

I decided I wanted to take advantage of Jet while I am here, as his prices are so cheap compared to anywhere else in the world. He is not out to make money. I have done my Seichim level one and two, both of which really complement the reiki. I have also just completed a Chinese cupping course. So if I ever wanted to make money from this I could go anywhere in the world and do so. For a one hour session in London it is £70 a pop! Chinese cupping is a method of applying acupressure. To apply a cup, the air inside it is heated, the cup is applied to the skin forming an air-tight seal, the air inside the cup cools and contracts forming a partial vacuum, enabling the cup to suck the skin, pulling in soft tissue, and drawing blood to that area.

Chinese cupping. Yep I can do this!!

These are the 300 Baht shacks. So cute! The bathrooms are the white building behind.

These are the more luxurious rooms.

If you sign up for a course with him he gives you discounts on the rooms. When he is busy teaching, his girlfriend, who is also very good and very sweet, can give you any of the treatments. They will always welcome you with some tea from Taiwan and local fresh fruit.

Even if you don’t want to do a course it is a fantastic place to chill out by the beach. There are rooms from 150 Baht up to 8oo Baht. All brand new and all really nice. The dorm room has four beds, so it’s perfect if there is a group of you. There are also little huts for 300 baht which are very nice. Or if you want to splurge there are various other options.

All the teachers in Surat have been very supportive and open about my study of healing techniques. I have been able to get lots of practice in on many of them. I have also discovered you can do many retreats at temples. I am doing my first 10 day mediation retreat in Bangkok in March, although there is also 10 day retreat every month just 45 minutes outside of Surat at Wat Suan Mohkh.

Here is Jet Lie’s website to see other treatment and courses he offers. If you are interested in learning mediation he is about to start a FREE workshop every Sunday afternoons which will include experience introductions to Massage, Body Balancing & Energy Healing Treatments, free Life Coaching consultation and you will get the chance to meet like minded people.

The First Annual Super English Poker Tournament

By Jessica “want another one?” Gallant

Saturday, January 22, 2011 was the First Annual Super English Poker Tournament. Luckily for us teachers at Super English, Peter likes to take it upon himself to throw the occasional party in our honor and provide the entertainment, drinks, and snacks. It was decided that this party in particular should be a poker tournament. Brian is quite the poker aficionado so he was put in charge of organizing the event and making sure the cards and poker chips showed up, along with all of the players. The buy-in was one hundred baht per person, and wouldn’t you know that Brian won the entire tournament and made off with 1,200 baht… coincidence of talent, coincidence of luck, or coincidence of management; I’ll let you decide.

Brian was really great about the entire thing and he gave us all poker names. Present at this event were: myself (“Jess-tified Homicide” Gallant), Mitch “Mr. Folds” Burbick, Janet “Your turn!!!” Phelps, John “The Punisher” Phelps, Chris “Flimsy” Ansell, Brittney “Whittles” Johnson, Tristan “2wo Times” Rentos, Anneliese “Cold Coffee” Charek, Blake “The Rake” Schlaich, Amy “All In” McIntyre, Mike “The Kid” Rogers, Peter “Teddy KGB” Meltzer, and Brian “The Needler” Steinbach.

There were two tables, and players were eliminated as the night progressed until finally The Needler beat everyone. I do not play poker, so I was the bartender. As such, I should take full responsibility for the incredibly spirited fun that everyone had. But not for the consequences suffered the next day, because I just did as I was told.

In addition to this being a really fun poker party, it was also an appreciation party for Tristan. Tristan is now finishing his second full year with Super English and will soon be moving to Vietnam. Many co-workers gave little speeches about how great Tristan is, and we all pitched in to create a Vietnam Survival Kit for him. This kit included some essential things from Thailand to help him remember his roots, and also some useful tools for surviving in Vietnam. There were quite a few things in this kit that were really cool. One of them was a video that Mike made. He recorded the bike ride from Tristan’s house to Thida and then to Super English so that Tristan will never forget his daily routine here. His students all made cards for him, and Janet made him a really awesome Commie-Detector. Overall, the Poker Tournament was both a really fun party and a really great appreciation event for Tristan. Just watch out for Brian, because he’ll take you for all the baht you’ve got.

Traveling in Southern Thailand

by Tristan Rentos

Let’s call a spade a spade here – we’ve all come to Thailand to do a bit of traveling (when we’re not doing our very best teaching English, that is). What’s the best way to go about this? In my two years of living here I’ve picked up more than a few tips, here’s what I’ve learnt.

Note: If you are interested in train travel, have a read of Chris’s article. I will be focusing on buses and boats.

OK, firstly the basics. Surat has two main bus stations, they are called Talad Kaset 1 and 2. They are located on Talad Mai Rd, which is the road that Suratpittaya and Thidamaepra schools are on. Talad Kaset 1 is for local travel around Surat only, so you won’t be catching the bus from there. Talad Kaset 2 is where to get the bus to the main tourist haunts, namely Krabi, Khanom, Khao Sok National Park, Phi Phi and Koh Lanta, *Phuket (more on Phuket later), Hat Yai etc. You have two choices – the public bus (big bus) or a minibus. I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH – DO NOT TAKE A PUBLIC BUS UNLESS YOU HAVE TO! Public buses stop every 5 minutes to pick up or drop off a local, they are always dirty, overcrowded and the air con/ventilation system is always inadequate. Also, because they go through the towns they never take the most direct route! I have calculated that a public bus is almost always 2 hours behind a minibus. Yes, a minibus is around 100 – 150 baht more expensive but unless you have a car then this is the best option. When you do get in the minibus, sit in the seat next to the door as it has the most legroom. Yes, you will have to get out when a person gets off but it’s worth it, trust me.

If you do get travel sickness, buy some Dimin tablets from 7/11. They are in a small blue packet, and cost 10 baht for two tablets. Only take one tablet 30 minutes before you travel, don’t take both unless you want to end up like Jessica on the boat to Samui. Tickets for minibuses can be bought at any of the tourist outlets at Talad Kaset 2, the more Thai you can speak the better because they have made more than a few mistakes on my tickets over the years (e.g. wrong time or date).

Phuket deserves a paragraph of its own, because this place is another world compared to Surat. Firstly, never take the public bus to Phuket unless you have an iron stomach, because it goes over the mountains near Khao Sok and it gets a bit twisty in the corners. When you get there you will be swamped with offers from tourist touts. All I can say is do your research before you go because unless you have a Thai person with you these touts will try every trick in the book to rid you of your hard earned cash. Most prices in Thailand can be negotiated in half, even in Bangkok, but in Phuket these guys are steadfast and expensive. Even tuk tuk drivers will charge you a flat rate and stop at their cousin’s jewelery shop to ‘say hello’ and try to make a few baht commission along the way. If you want to make them go away, here’s what to say:

  • Pom/chan mai nak tong tiao kap/ka (I am not a tourist)
  • Pom/chan mai son jai kap/ka (I’m not interested/don’t care)
  • Mee rong raaam layo kap/ka (I already have a hotel)
  • Mai ow kap/ka (no thank you)

If you go any stronger than the above then you are being very rude and I wouldn’t recommend it. Most tourist touts and tuk tuk drivers are honest people just trying to feed the family, but it’s the bad apples you have to worry about.

Now, what about the islands? You have a few options here. The night boat goes to Koh Samui/Phangan/Tao, you can catch it from the pier opposite Milano’s Pizza (about 2 mins walk from SE). This is the cheapest option, but true to its name the night boat takes all night, so if you don’t like boats you will need a better option.

In my opinion, the best option to get to Samui is on the Seatran Ferry. This is a huge boat that leaves from Don Sak pier, which is around one hour out of Surat. You can buy tickets from the PC Service Station, which is 2 doors down from Suratpittaya school. The ticket costs 230 baht and includes a bus ticket to Don Sak and the boat to Samui. When you get to Samui, you will land in Nathon. Walk to the end of the pier and catch a tuk tuk to wherever you want to go (probably Chaweng if you’re a bit of a tourist) – it should cost you around 60 baht. If you want to go on Phangan (where the full moon party is held) or Koh Tao then you can catch the Lomprayah Ferry from a pier near Big Budda on Samui, it’s easy to find.

Final comment – if you want to escape the tourist touts and the crowds that come with them (as well as the ridiculous prices), go to these places: Khanom, Railay (in Krabi), Khao Sok National Park, Songkla, Koh Lanta Noi, PhangNa and Chumpon.

Enjoy your holiday!

How I Got Here

By Peter C. Meltzer

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is “How and why did you start Super English?” Here is the answer:

I first visited Thailand in the summer of 1999. I had gone to visit my uncle, who was working in Hong Kong at the time, and he and I took a quick weekend trip to Bangkok. Even though I don’t really like big cities, I immediately felt right at home. I clearly remember the taxi ride from the airport into town, driving at breakneck speed while my uncle talked about Thai culture. “Thai people are much more relaxed about things than westerners,” he explained. “Thais like to try things out. Maybe mix a bit of purple with some orange, add a spot of pink, and see what it looks like? Looks bad? Oh well, never mind. Looks good? Great!” It’s a basic approach I have tried to carry over to Super English.

The rest of the weekend in Bangkok only cemented my initial response to Thailand. The food, the weather, the people, the scenery, the prices, everything felt very comfortable. The pad thai I had by the side of the main river in Bangkok still stands out in my mind as the best pad thai I have ever had, and there is some wicked good pad thai in Surat. I left Thailand with a sense of knowing where I belonged.

I graduated a semester early from the University of Virginia and spent those six months volunteer teaching for the International Rescue Committee. I taught a family of Bosnian refugees. I worked primarily with the mother and father in the family, while another teacher worked with the teenage sons. We sometimes combined the groups and did a joint lesson. It was a truly educational experience. The IRC doesn’t have a lot of (or any) resources so there was no training, minimal orientation, and no support. They handed me a binder with about 150 random pages and the address of the family. I would go to this family’s sparsely furnished apartment once or twice per week and sit at the kitchen table with mom and dad, who could speak almost no English. No whiteboards, no photocopies, no get-up-and- run-around activities. I used whatever useful pages I could find in the binder provided and improvised the rest. I learned a lot about teaching. I also learned that teaching was something I was reasonably good at. I already knew what I wasn’t good at (calculus, micro-economics, almost all sciences, etc.) so it felt good to discover a fun, rewarding skill that could also help others.

I had also done a fair amount of coaching during my time at UVA. I worked as the assistant track and field coach at Western Albemarle High School, which sits about 20 miles outside Charlottesville, VA. This was also an activity I found fun and rewarding. I had some success in coaching and enjoyed working with kids.

I decided to combine my various skills and teach ESL abroad. My first choice was, of course, Thailand. However, it was very hard to find any position outside of Bangkok at the time. After a long search, and almost ending up in Japan, I found one position available at a language school in Surat. I applied for it, never heard back, then tried again, and got hired. I arrived in Thailand on July 27th, 2001. The position started out great. I loved it. The paperwork was somewhat reasonable, the classes were somewhat fluid, but the kids were sensational. I loved every minute with those kids. They were fun, creative, intelligent, affectionate, compassionate and motivated. I was able to see almost daily how I was improving their English. I threw myself into their education with great enthusiasm and energy. When I wasn’t actually teaching, I was thinking about teaching. What types of fun, interactive activities could I do with the kids to help their English improve? What was the next step in their English language development? How could I make the lessons challenging, rewarding and productive? I thought about the students’ likes and dislikes and incorporated them into presenting lessons, dialogues, games, etc. It was a great time.

The town of Surat also really welcomed me, as it does so many teachers. The people were so warm and friendly. There were always invitations and activities. Thanks to their efforts, I felt very much at home. I studied muay thai at one of the local gyms and the owner, Ajarn Somboon Tapina, has become like a family member.

After about seven months on the job, things started to take a turn for the worse. The paperwork began getting out of hand. They originally required some, but now they seemed to be adding new things every other week. The school wanted typed student evaluations (at least one page per student), typed class procedures (a 10+ page document updated monthly), typed lesson plans (one entire week submitted in advance), typed students profiles (at least one page typed per student and updated monthly), plus an enormous amount of additional paperwork required for an off-site class at a government school. Over the last few months of my contract I was spending substantially more time in front of the computer than in the classroom (I was teaching 24 hours per week). I felt completely burnt out. When I got in front of the kids, I wasn’t thinking about the class. I was thinking about how I would be at the school until 9:30 pm typing. It wasn’t fun. I felt stifled, both intellectually and creatively. A few months before my contract was up I let the school know that I planned on leaving when my one year commitment was through. I stayed until the end of my contract, finished strong, and knew I needed a break from teaching.

I moved to Phuket and worked with hotels. I worked as a consultant, primarily assisting Thai hotel management in marketing and customer relations. I also worked hands-on with the various departments in improving customer service and guest relations. Eventually, one hotel hired me as their in-house marketing manager. I was the only foreigner. It was a very educational experience. I won’t go into too much detail, except to say that all the managers would meet every morning. The meeting would last 2-3 hours. Every morning. Each day the managers would debate the decisions they had made the previous day and then change their minds from those earlier decisions. Even worse (or perhaps better), the decisions they made in these lengthy meetings had pretty much no effect on how the hotel was run because once the managers left the meeting those decisions weren’t discussed or promulgated amongst the general staff. So a few hours every morning were simply burned away. I lasted six months before I couldn’t take it any more. The straw that broke the camels back was when I prepared a meticulous (they wanted exact height measurements of beds and things like that) 30 page report for an online reservation system called VIP and the hotel management came back and complained that I had to redo the entire report. Why? Because the commission rate they had given me was incorrect and their “other marketing manager”, who resided in Bangkok and rarely had any communication with the hotel, had already independently offered a different commission rate to VIP. Moreover, they said the mistake was my fault. Brilliant.

After my foray into working directly for Thai people, I went back to teaching. I hopped around various language schools in Phuket as a part-time or substitute teacher. I worked with three or four different schools over the span of a year. I saw how they operated, how they treated their teachers, how they set up their educational programs, and more. It was uniformly unimpressive. There was no commitment to the teachers because there was such a high turnover. But one could also argue that there was a high turnover because there was no commitment to the teachers. Apparently, this never occurred to the schools. The lack of commitment was apparent on all fronts. The schools were very hesitant to provide any visas, resources, support or assistance. They simply assigned you a class, usually at a Thai school and you showed up. Once again, I learned a lot about teaching. Before going into one second grade class, they handed me a paper with the lyrics to “row row row your boat” on it. I asked them if this was supposed to be the lesson. They just shrugged. I showed up at the Thai school and was escorted by a Thai teacher into the storage room, which was a long, rectangular shape. The back half was stacked with chairs, drums, outfits, tables, etc. The front half was moderately clear and had a small, A4 size whiteboard on rollers. There were no chairs or desks set up for the students. They wouldn’t have fit in the room anyway. I was somewhat perplexed and was about to ask the Thai teacher what was going on when 55 eight year olds came storming in and sat down in two long lines down the length of the room. The Thai teacher smiled and left without another word. I looked at the sheet of lyrics in my hand as the kids were jabbering away in Thai. I tapped the board a few times to get their attention and said, “Hello!” They immediately burst into laughter. I folded up the song lyrics and did my own teaching. How did I teach 55 eight year olds for a full hour with no book, no resources, and no clue as to what their English ability already was? Without them destroying the room? I’ll tell you when you get here.

I could go on and on about many similar teaching experiences such as the one described above. Suffice to say that the lack of commitment from the schools towards teachers was, in my opinion, translating into a lack of commitment from the teachers towards the students, which isn’t really surprising. How is a teacher supposed to do their job without any direction, guidance, advice or support from those in charge? It can’t really be done, at least not with any continuity.

After 1.5 years I realized that Phuket was a great place to visit but definitely not a great place to live and work. I had learned a lot but hadn’t achieved much personally or professionally. Surat was where I still felt most comfortable and knew I could make the most difference. So in May, 2004, my wife and I decided to move back to Surat, which is her hometown.

I started looking at the other language schools in town and what they were offering. At the time, there were three major language schools in town and smaller ones were opening and closing sporadically. The final impetus to open Super English came from two main realizations: 1) The larger schools were good schools, but to me they seemed stagnant, both in terms of academic development for the students and the type of professional development they were offering teachers. In other words, none of them were trying to be the best they could possibly be. 2) Some of the newer, smaller schools were opening for all the wrong reasons and were, in my opinion, doing more harm than good.

I wanted to create a school that tried to be the very best it could be. Not the biggest, just the best. Whether we achieved the goal of maximizing our potential or not was secondary. The main thing was at least to strive for it. I truly felt that the students, Surat Thani, and the teachers who come all the way over here, deserved a school like that. In my, and many others opinion, this is really one of the very best places in Thailand. I felt like the town had done so much for me during my first year that this was a way I could try to show some reciprocity. I also believed that if you let teachers teach with as few impediments as possible that they will achieve much better results.

I took everything I have learned, seen, experienced and thought about and rolled it into Super English. I actually often did the opposite of what I had seen and experienced. Instead of checking teachers through six tons of weekly paperwork, I tried to completely do away with it. Instead of promoting solely based on seniority, I promote based on ability. Instead of either giving a teacher no materials at all or very strictly regulating what page has to be taught in class on which day, I tried to find a middle ground that allowed the teacher as much creative autonomy as possible. Instead of shooting down every idea anyone had, I tried them whenever possible. Instead of thinking of management/administration as a controlling body, I thought of it as a supportive entity. Instead of calling everyone in for lengthy, weekly meetings, SE generally has just one meeting at the beginning of each semester. Instead of requiring office hours, we give teachers the freedom and flexibility to think about their classes whenever they choose.

I believe that over the past six years we have achieved great success. I am proud of what Super English is. As far as I know, we are the only language school that:

  • offers a unique, multi-structured support system for teachers
  • has students that study for free based on financial need –
  • allows teachers to choose what to teach – requires no office hours
  • hasn’t raised the price of classes in over three years (we are the least expensive language school by more than 30%)
  • consistently tries out new ideas and approaches to educating the students
  • offers teachers additional money making opportunities, such as writing online articles, taking photos, or recording audio files
  • has monthly out-of-class contests for the students to help them improve their English
  • has monthly cultural events, such as a muay thai lesson, a Thai cooking lessons, a beach party, a riverboat trip, and more

As much as possible, we are a school built by teachers and for teachers. Whatever minimal paperwork we do ask for is either required by the Thai schools we work with or the Thai government.

As far as I can tell, our teachers enjoy their work immensely and feel that they are really helping the students. Our teachers operate relatively independently and, I believe, as a result the students learn faster, better and have more fun doing it.

Our aim is to live up to our slogan, “The Best School for Teachers and Students.”  While we may or may not have achieved that goal, we will continue to strive for it. And if we are someday recognized as the best then we will still continue to strive to provide the best possible education for our students and the best possible work experience for our teachers. Without either of those two, there would be no Super English.

Vietnam: Not Just A War

by Tristan Rentos

Due to the generous amount of holiday time that all Super English teachers receive (the most of any language school in Surat) we have a wide selection of travel destinations to choose from. This year, Chris and I went to Vietnam. This wasn’t my first time in the ‘Nam, nor will it be my last. This country is truly something special. The sad fact is when most people think of Vietnam, the next word that pops into their head is ‘war’. These words seem to go hand in hand, such as ‘pint of beer’, and ‘hot and spicy’. For many people, especially the older generation, this is what Vietnam is – a war that was fought over 35 years ago and defined a part of their lives back in the day. For me, Vietnam is about two things – the atmosphere and the scenery.

Let’s get one thing out in the open: I have been to Vietnam twice, spent most of my time in the north and I have never been openly racially vilified or been a victim of any crime. I am not an American, but sometimes people jump to the wrong conclusions. OK, so we all get charged more than Vietnamese people when we’re out and about, but Vietnam is not alone in having a dual pricing system (Thailand does this as well). As for the inevitable comparison between Thailand and Vietnam, they are two totally different countries with different cultures and histories. Vietnamese food is less spicy than Thai food, and has more of a Chinese influence. I will say one thing though – thanks to French influence (they ‘managed’ the country for a few years as part of French Indochina) the Vietnamese bake excellent bread, brew very tasty coffee, and most importantly have really good domestic beers, in my opinion far superior to Chang, Singha and Leo that we have in Thailand. Saigon Export (black label) isn’t just a good Vietnamese beer, it’s a good beer full stop. Oh, and ladies, the chocolate is excellent!

If you are a Super teacher living in Thailand, I would suggest that you confine your traveling to the middle and north of Vietnam, simply because the south of Vietnam is too similar to the south of Thailand. The beaches are better in Thailand, there is better tourist infrastructure in place and Saigon is trying a bit too hard to be like Bangkok (you might as well just go to Bangkok and have the full ‘Sukumvit’ experience rather than the junior version in Saigon if that is what you’re after in a holiday). The middle of Vietnam, however, is not similar to Thailand and has some real gems. Even if you don’t get a suit made up, Hoi An is such a beautiful old town that you will find yourself walking around for hours looking in every nook and cranny for that one souvenir that you just have to take home with you. Hue is the old capital of Vietnam, and the old citadel is well worth a look if you’re an old building buff like me.

Now the north, in my opinion, is the highlight of Vietnam. I’ve been banging on about this for years, but Hanoi is the best capital city I have been to anywhere (yes, that includes Canberra, the capital city of Australia which is about as interesting as dry toast). The old quarter, famous for its shopping is literally a maze of lanes and side streets, with one particular product being sold by multiple vendors on one street (for example, on one of the streets north of Hoan Kiem lake every vendor sells shoes – just shoes – on the entire street). As with Hoi An, you will want to just walk around for hours on end, looking in every shop for that special find. The lake itself is a nice place to sit and relax, and the baguettes, coffee and tree lined boulevards make for a relaxing place to collect your thoughts, despite the crazy traffic.

I won’t go too much into Halong Bay, because both times I’ve been there it has been foggy and I haven’t seen much to write about (better luck next time I hope). Right up in the northern mountains on the Chinese border is a town called Sapa, and this is Vietnam at its best. You cannot go to Vietnam without going to Sapa, because these are the best views you will see outside of the Nepalese Himalayas (and yes, I’ve been there too). Basically you get the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, a town on the Chinese border, then get a connecting minibus to Sapa. You find a hotel, dump your bags, then venture out to a coffee shop and talk to the charming minority villagers who try to get you to buy souvenirs. In winter, several cafes have an open fire going, it’s like being in the Swiss Alps without the massive price tag or the skiing. You can hire a car/motorcycle and explore the local villages, which I highly recommend doing. I have never been to a place with better ambiance than Sapa; if someone told me that I had to spend the rest of my life there I would be very happy.

When it’s all said and done, Vietnam is far more than just a former cold war battleground. You couldn’t have a better holiday in your very best of dreams. Vietnam: Not just a war by Tristan Rentos