I'm sorry a zombie bit you

Two Fridays ago I was sick because the little kids are full of germs and because I rarely heed the advice to not high-five their crusty little hands (I’ve since learned my lesson and changed to the fist-bump and hand sanitizer policy like everyone recommended).

Not only did John Phelps bring me back some medicine and a juice box after running an errand, he also offered to cover my Prathom 5 class after lunch.

What a relief! I used that period to rest up and then I exerted the rest of my energy on teaching my final two Mattayom classes of the day.

After class, I returned to the teacher’s room, exhausted.  I was grumpy and prepared to head straight home, but when I got back to my desk, I found a stack of papers scattered across it.

More papers?! What?! I almost cried.

But then I looked more closely.

Turns out John had those germy little monsters make “get well soon” cards for me! So awesome.

For the inside of the card, he had them do a mad-lib style fill-in-the-blank, so most of them went like this:

“Dear Teacher Brittany,

I am sad that you are sick.

I’m sorry that a zombie/a dog/a gorilla bit you.

I love you my teacher.

Get well soon/this weekend/in 100 years!”

55 cards made with love.

Some of them really put a lot of effort into their cards!

But of course, there’s always the kid who has no idea what’s going on, so this one made me laugh the hardest:

All it’s got is a picture of me…. and all it says is “I am Pear.”  Classic

Thanks, Pear, for making me laugh when I was sick, and thanks John Phelps for covering my class and being so thoughtful! You rock.

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Kids say the darndest things

As teachers we “talk shop” from time-to-time. This usually consists of telling stories about the wild, wacky and often impossibly cute things Thai kids say. Many of these gems are too good to keep to ourselves so we have decided to share. We will post the best of the kid-isms as we hear them. Check this post any time you need a laugh. 🙂

Teacher Michael: “Does anyone know what giggle means?”
Cin: (Cin is a ridiculously cute 10 year old girl with braided pigtails) “Teacher! I know Google. I don’t know giggle.”

-Teacher Michael

Surat Thani Profile

Surat Thani Profile

The city of Surat Thani (which literally means “city of the good people”) is located in the province of Surat Thani in Southern Thailand. This province also includes popular locations such as Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. If you do a Google search for images of Surat Thani, it will mostly come up with photos of these resort and beach areas. When I last checked, the first image that comes up is of a very small island off the coast of Koh Tao, which is about a 5-7 hour trip by boat and bus. This profile will show you what the city of Surat Thani looks like and has to offer to give you a realistic idea of what you’re getting yourself into! I recommend you view the videos I have taken to give you some perspective about the feel of this city.

Surat Thani was only recently upgraded to city status in 2007. While many of the main roads are quite busy and city-like, it is easy to escape to quieter areas by just driving a few minutes to the outskirts of town. Surat Thani is mainly Buddhist. However, since 1969 it has been the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of the province of Surat Thani. There are about 6000 Catholics in southern Thailand. You may be working at one of the Catholic schools located here in Surat (see more about schools below).

Statistics

Population of City: 128,179
Population of Province: 907,612

Area of City: 68.97 square kilometers
Median Age: 27.9

Around Town

Most travelers in Surat Thani are just stopping through on their way to the islands, so there is almost nothing online or in travel books about what to do in the city of Surat Thani. Surat is about an hour to the nearest beach. It can also be a challenge with eating and shopping. Because it isn’t a tourist destination, there aren’t as many English speaking people as you might find in larger cities like Bangkok, so until you learn how to order your favorite foods in Thai, you will likely be going to places with English menus. Below I have compiled a list of some teacher favorites, but once you get here and explore you will find your own favorites.

The Tapi/Tapee River (spelling dependent on which sign you see) runs through Surat Thani and out to sea. Here you can catch a night boat from town to go out to the islands, watch the sunset and amazing clouds over the water, or take a firefly tour in the evening. The Saturday and Sunday night markets both set up alongside the river and offer waterside dining. If you are up early enough in the morning, you will see people selling their fresh seafood along Talad Lang, the street that runs along the river.

Surat Thani also has 2 hospitals (photo of Thaksin hospital which I have been told is the nicer and less busy one) as well as many banks. Siam Commercial Bank is who you will set an account up with once you get your work permit.

Surat Thani has a lot going on and it will be hard to see it all. Among the many things you will see, about 75% of it will be street dog (that is an estimated percentage and not based on any sort of fact). Some of them are domestic and have some kind of owner that takes care of them, but most of them are just wanderers. I have heard stories about vicious dogs, but so far I have yet to see one. Every street dog I have gone up to has either allowed me to pet it or has barked and run away. However, I am not encouraging this kind of behavior as I am a bit of a dog whisperer. Don’t go and get rabies just because I said that most street dogs are nice. Here are a few of my favorite dogs:

Fido, Janet and John’s dog

An obese Golden Retriever I saw on Don Nok.

My adopted street dog, Dang.

Señor Whiny Buns (aka Retardo-buns) is our neighbor’s dog. I don’t know his real name, but the 2 I gave him sum it up. He makes the most ridiculous noises I’ve ever heard come out of a dog. Then he pushes his face into your leg and just stands there garbling. I think he was dropped on his head as a puppy. He also likes to eat coconut husks and roll around on them in the middle of the road.

Not only are there plenty of dogs (and cats) in Surat, but there are also tons of roosters. They are my least favorite thing about Surat, and the world in general. These cocky sons-of-guns strut around like they own the place and then wake you up at all hours of the night. Many people keep them as pets and cock fighting is not uncommon.

5 of my precious friends next to our house

There are several main roads that go through Surat Thani. Below are photos of the major roads that bisect town. You can also view my video of a motorcycle ride down Talad Lang (link coming soon), which runs along the river and will take you to Super English.

Eating

Surat has an insane about of places to get food, many that are open at all hours (perfect for late night snacking or drunken munchies). There are fancy restaurants on the river, hole in the wall shops run by families, markets, cafes, stands, carts, and convenience stores. You will never be hard-pressed to find food.

If you are vegetarian, don’t fret! There are plenty of options. The first few weeks might be tough until you learn a few key phrases and what to avoid at the night markets. Often times there are large pots with mystery stews and unrecognizable chunks. It could be a baby eggplant, or it could be a liver. Once you learn to say what you want and don’t want, you’ll be fine.

Below I have included photos and a brief description of some farang frequented eateries. This is only a sampling, as it would be impossible to include a fraction of the options available. Luckily, one of the amazing Super English people will take you to many of these places in your first few weeks before you start discovering your own favorites. As mentioned above, many places don’t have English menus. Once you learn the names of your favorite dishes, your dining options will multiple; unless you’re one of those people that will just eat anything, then your dining options are endless! Of course you could just eat out of 7-11 everyday if your palate is sensitive, but where’s the fun in that?

Earth Zone

The woman that owns this place speaks pretty good English and 2 of her kids go to Thidamaepra, so she loves to chat with us teachers. They have an extensive menu, all in English, and free Wi-Fi. They’re a little on the pricey side for every day dining and food usually comes out one plate at a time, but it’s nice place to go if you’re not in a rush and need to check email while you eat. Don’t plug your Mac into any outlets in the back though. I’ve shorted out the whole building twice now.

My favorite dish: Fried mushrooms in red garlic sauce with a fried egg
Price: 80 baht; 120 with the egg

Good Health

As the name suggests, they offer “healthier” Thai food. They still have fried items and many other things that aren’t necessarily “healthy”, but they don’t use MSG and they have a ton of tofu dishes and lots of fruit smoothies. They have awesome vegetable tempura and Som Tam (spicy papaya salad) as well as a wide array of other delicious dishes. Moderately priced with really cold air con in the evenings.
My favorite dish: Som Tom
Price: 40 Baht

Noodle Guy

This hole in the wall is right next to Coffee Zone and just a street over from Super English and the night market. I’ve only eaten one thing here, but it’s delicious so I keep going back. Egg noodles, all kinds of random sauces and liquids, sautéed onions (hard to find), carrots, and shrimp all cooked together in a wok. Then I douse it with the vinegary hot sauce they keep on the tables. The guy that makes it looks a bit like a Thai Bob Dylan and he’s super friendly. However, if his mom is working, I’d avoid it. She’s a bit of a grouch and her noodles aren’t as good.

My favorite dish: The only thing I get there (see above)
Price: 40 baht

Ciao Italia

Oh, Ciao Italia, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: calzones, homemade gnocchi, fresh baked bread, wine, salad, olive oil and that delicious fried chunk of bread stuffed with mozzarella. Even if you’ve only been in Thailand for a few days and aren’t missing food from home, this place is amazing. It’s good and often times better than Italian food from back home. The owner and his wife are awesome and your meal is free on your birthday if you bring lots of people with you, as we recently learned. It’s pricey, so don’t plan on going here on a regular basis, but if you budget well maybe you can go a few times a month.

My favorite dish (so far): Cheese Calzone
Price: 180 baht, 220 if I get green and black olives in it.

Under the Bridge

Nobody knows what this place is actually called, but it’s right next to the bridge you take to cross the river, hence what the teachers call it. They do Isan food (from Northern Thailand) and the seafood is amazing. You can sit at a table, but I prefer sitting on the floor with a short table right next to the water. This is a great place to go with a big group because you can order a ton of dishes and still only pay a little more than you would at any other restaurant.

My favorite dish: Pla Seba (Japanese fish – cooked whole and served with delicious sauce).
Price: I don’t know the actual price. We always order about 10-15 plates for 10 people and pay about 200 baht each.

Night Market

There are several night markets in town, including a Saturday and Sunday market. However, the most popular for teachers is the one by Super English. They have food, clothing, make-up, knick-knacks, magazines, jewelry, watches, toys and shoes. This is probably the cheapest way to eat. You can spend 50 baht here on 3 different items and be stuffed. They have Pad Thai, curries, donuts, corn on the cob, fruit, whole fish, Pho, fried quail eggs, salads, breads, a plethora of strange jellied things and meat sticks galore. Vendors either work out of their shops or bring in carts. It’s not only good for food, but also for people watching.

My favorite dish: Roti
Price: 10-20 baht depending on what you get on it (plain, egg, or banana)

Carts and stands

Food carts and fruit stands are everywhere in Surat Thani, and Thailand for that matter. Food carts set up at markets and in front of 7-11s, drive around with carts and kitchens attached to motorbikes, or push them around side streets. Some are set-up at the same place everyday while others drive around town ringing bells. I find that these are good places to grab snacks, but many people also get their breakfast, lunch or dinner here as well. You can get all sorts of fried things (usually with a hotdog inside), roti, meat sticks, fruit smoothies, papaya salad, ice cream and so much more. With all the restaurants in town and on top of that the overabundance of carts, there is no way you will ever have to go far to find some grub. However, be warned that this is the most likely way you will get sick from food. The standards of cleanliness with these carts aren’t the same that you would find at restaurants and the night market. You will see the vendors cleaning the carts with soapy water, but it’s still a risk, particularly if you’re eating meat that may not be fully cooked.

Entertainment

Entertainment is subjective. There are bars and nightclubs, karaoke rooms, a movie theater, places with Wi-Fi and trivia nights. You can also paint Doraemons by the river or hike up Khao Tapet for a view of the city and on a clear day, the ocean. I won’t include bar nightlife here. Please see Blake’s very informative article about the drinking scene in Surat for all of that craziness.

Doremon painting

This is one of my favorite things to do for an hour in the evening, and unfortunately I’ve only gotten around to doing it twice. The Saturday night market (and quite often Koh Lampu) have people that set up a bunch of mats with little midget tables. They sell plaster figures of cartoon characters, flowers, and sea creatures for 10-100 baht depending on the size. You pick your piece, get a little tray to pour different paints in and then have a seat on the ground at one of the little tables. It’s even better if you bring a beer with you. I enjoy this at the Saturday market because it’s warm outside, you’re sitting by the river, there is often either a live band or a DJ playing music and it’s a lively atmosphere. You have to try it. It might sound ridiculous, but it’s a great way to relax.

Khao Tapet

This mountain is located just outside of the city. You can drive almost to the top, but then you have to park, sign in at the information booth and walk the rest of the way. If you go on a clear day, the view is amazing and you can see all of Surat Thani, the river, the jungle, and last time I went we could even see the ocean. They also have a small temple and several cages with monkeys in them. It’s a bit sad to see all the monkeys confined, but according to a friend, the conditions have improved. They used to be in much smaller cages. The monkeys are very friendly and will reach out and hold your hand. If you’re not into the monkey business, it’s definitely worth it for the view. WEAR BUG SPRAY. The mosquitoes up there are ruthless.

Coliseum

The Coliseum is a shopping mall/center in Surat Thani. There is a Tops market on the bottom and then there is a KFC, Pizza Hut, Mister Donut, and a few other eateries. Throughout the entire 3 floors are clothing racks (set up similarly to a department store), side shops and make-up and cell phone stands. On the third floor is Surat’s movie theater. When we first arrived in May 2011, all of the teachers were excited because a movie was playing in English (they are usually dubbed). It hadn’t been a common thing for the theater to play movies with the original soundtrack, but now they do it with almost every big movie that comes out. They even had Transformers and Harry Potter in 3D!

Koh Lampu

Koh Lampu, otherwise known as Exercise Island, is in the middle of the Tapi River. You have to cross the river and then take a bridge from that side to the island. There is a road and a trail that go around the circumference of the island where you will see people running or walking their dogs. There are also many exercise “stations” with things like stationary bikes, pull up bars, and other odd contraptions that I haven’t figured out the purpose of. There are also volleyball nets and a lot of grassy areas. It’s a great place to come and sit by the water or to get out of the main city and run around.

Muay Thai

In Surat you can take Muay Thai lessons, or just be a spectator. There is a Muay Thai boxing “stadium” in town where for 100-300 baht (depending on how much Thai you know) you can enjoy a beer and a noodle cup while watching people box and old guys betting on them. The fight night that this photo is from had mostly younger kids fighting. I would guess age 7-18. It sounds horrible that kids that age would be boxing, but if you took Tae Kwon Do when you were younger, you know how the sparring tournaments are. No bloodshed. There are fights with adults; you just have to check the posters and flyers for dates.

Coffee Zone

This place is great for a few reasons. It’s just around the corner from Super English and the night market, so it’s centrally located. They also have excellent Wi-Fi. Their coffee isn’t amazing (but it rarely is in Thailand), but they make some delicious frappes and this really good pineapple slushy thing. It’s usually pretty quiet, so you can sit in here for a few hours and get all your work done without feeling like you’re taking up a table. I like the outside patio for Skyping if it’s not too hot outside.

Impressions

The teachers of Thidamaepra frequent this coffee place because it is located between new Thida and old Thida (which themselves are only a block or 2 apart). There is free Wi-Fi and the owner, New, and his mother are very friendly. New speaks very good English and is always up for chatting. It’s almost always pretty quiet in there, but be warned if you are in there at 3:30 when school lets out. They make after school snacks so the place is flooded with kids buying plates of food, fruit shakes and ice cream. Last time I was there during that time a kid kept throwing pogs at me (yes, they have pogs). Otherwise it’s a great place to spend mid-day school breaks while checking email or reading. He does stamp cards, so once you buy 10 drinks, you get one free.

Schools

For more information about the schools, please see Janet’s excellent school profile.

Thidamaepra (old)

Thidamaepra (new)

Suratpittya

Shopping

Big C

Big C is like Thailand’s version of a Super K-mart. They sell clothing, bedding, shoes, electronics, toiletries, cleaning supplies and food. This is most likely where you’ll go to get yourself set up in your new place. They have almost everything you might need for your room and house. They have a bakery section, a meat, dairy and produce section, and all the packaged food and drink you could possibly want. This is more or less your one stop place for whatever you need. Attached to it is a 2-level shopping center (fairly small) where you can find more clothing and electronics. It’s a good place to get your first cell phone as they have several options to choose from. There is also a KFC and an MK here.

Tops

There are (as far as I know) 3 Tops in Surat Thani. Tops is like a combination of a grocery store and a 7-11. They’re small, but they have better stuff than 7-11. You can get Skippy peanut butter and real cheese from Australia. You can also buy a few produce items like tomatoes, onions and mushrooms, and other specialty items, but otherwise it has the same stuff you’ll find at most other convenience stores.

7-11 and Family Mart

Oddly enough, 7-11 rhymes in English and in Thai (jet-sip et). Same idea as any 7-11 back home except they have things like seaweed and crabstick sandwiches and pork floss. They also have many other basics such as drinks, noodle cups, chips, candy bars, yogurt, bread, toilet paper, travel sized toiletries, ice cream and cell phone minutes. You could eat all of your meals out of a 7-11 or Family Mart if you really wanted to. This is also where you come when you need to pay your water and electric bills. Just bring in your bill and they ring you up. No letters or stamps involved. This is also where you’ll go when you need to break 1000 baht bills because it’s rare that any little store, restaurant or stand will accept anything that big

People

I haven’t been here that long, so this profile would be incomplete without some other people’s opinions. I asked Thai people and other English teachers (mainly teachers that don’t work for Super English since you can see most of their views on the blog or on the main website) either how they feel about Surat or what they like and don’t like about Surat to give you an insider’s view.

“I like getting to know people in all the quirky shops. They always remember you and the people are all really friendly. I love riding my bike around town because everyone waves to you. My first impression was that it was just another big city with too much traffic. My first week here, I walked to the night market by the river and saw all the people selling vegetables and sleeping in their stands. It was just so different. That’s when I realized I was in another country.” Holly, English Teacher

“The people, food and that the way of life is not busy. It’s a beautiful place and is close to the sea and beautiful beaches.”Sao, Head Teacher at Thidamaepra

“I like that it is close to many places to travel to or visit, such as the floating markets. There are many natural places to travel to. I don’t like the teenagers that ride motorcycles at night because they are very noisy.”Vikavee, Teacher at Thidamaepra

“The things that I like about Surat Thani weren’t apparent to me until I left and came back. After traveling to places with heavy tourist traffic, it feels so good to be back in Surat and to be around Thai people and regular Thai life. Labor is cheap, food is cheap and delicious, there are many things to do that are free, and there are a lot of great people. I don’t like the trash or the traffic. In general, people in Surat are naive regarding issues about littering and recycling and it’s not uncommon to see people throw trash on the ground. It would be better if there were more trashcans.” Joseph, English Teacher

“I like the islands; Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. I don’t like that it takes a long time to get to the nearest beach.”New, Owner of Impression Coffee

“Suratthani is a province with most areas of the south, 685 kilometers from Bangkok. In Suratthani have a lot of famous islands white sand beaches and clear water, such as Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan. Each island has a variety of different nature. This is a good thing and good places in Suratthani. However, good things will follow with the bad things. Because of Suratthani it have a lot of rain and also it hard to find or see a white sand beaches and clear water.”Gook, Thai friend

“I like that you can find very decent houses near town. The main thing I like is that it’s close to the islands and a quick drive to the country. The people are very friendly. Extra friendly. There are so many things about Surat Thani that I like that it’s hard to think of just a few things. I don’t like that it rains too much sometimes. It has rained too much in the last year. If it followed its climate perfectly, it would be OK. There also isn’t a beach close enough. It would be improved if you put a nice beach within a half an hour of it. A proper department store would also be nice.”Tigger, English Teacher

Monday

This post originally appeared on my Travel Blog: MB Abroad. I thought it would be a good fit for the super new, super awesome, Super English blog. Enjoy!

At 7am my cell phone alarm chimed and then chimed louder. It was Monday morning, time to get up. I rubbed my tired eyes. I had slept long but not slept well. My face felt puckered and punched. A couple of beers by the pier the night before had turned into Jenga and other drinking games at a Farang favorite dive bar. Not a wise decision on a school night. I cursed the balloon like bags under my eyes, showered, dressed, grabbed my helmet and rode my scooter to the Rice Soup Place.

The Rice Soup Place is a breakfast spot on my way to school and a ritual stop for my roommate and I. If it has a name I don’t know it. For 25 baht (75 cents) you get a bowl of delicious peppery rice soup, two Thai donuts and a cup of coffee. The RSP had been closed for almost two weeks so I was thrilled to see a line of scooters parked curbside. Sitting down at a sewing machine turned breakfast table I added a dash of crushed pepper and swirl of chili-sauce to my soup, ladled up a spoonful and felt my eyes roll back in peppery bliss. When the soup was finished I tore a Thai donut in half, dunked it into a small saucer of condensed milk and washed it down with sips of hot coffee. The return of the breakfast ritual was just what I needed. I got back on the scooter feeling satisfied, rejuvenated and ready to teach.

I weaved through the throngs of scooters loaded up with kids being dropped off and parked in the dirt lot behind the school. I teach at Thidamaepra. Thida is big. In the morning thousands of students fill the courtyard for assembly activities. As soon as I walked through the gate I was assailed by dozens of hands reaching for high-fives. The foreign teachers are high-five magnets. If you are one of those people who goes elbow deep in a tub of hand sanitizer every time you touch a door knob don’t teach in Thailand. You will high-five 400 students a day and at least 40 of those students will leave you wondering “Was that wet hand clean wet or…?” The post poop possibilities are chilling.

Holding a giant cup of instant coffee I walked as quickly as possible toward the Teachers Room. I was trying to make it inside before the King’s Song started. I didn’t make it. The music que’d and I hit the brakes. When the King’s Song plays Thailand stands still. It’s like a national game of freeze-tag. Imagine being in an American shopping mall and seeing the whole place stop like someone hit the pause button because the National Anthem started playing. It’s weird and it’s cool. I don’t like having my coffee intake interrupted but I like the national unity and pride that comes with the King’s diddy.

I teach fifth-grade or Pratam 5 as it is known here. Most of my classes are IEP (Intensive English Program). But, four times a week I teach general Pratam classes. The students in those classes only have English once a week. I get paid more for the IEP classes but I find the general classes more difficult because the student’s English comprehension level is much lower. My first class on Monday’s is a general class. Joy.

Monday marked the start of a new chapter in the textbook called “The Natural World” which I was looking forward to because that meant lessons based on plants and animals and things kids like. My first class was from 8:20 – 9:10, Pratam 5/5. The students were chatty as they always are on Monday mornings so in my best Teacher voice I said “Quiet in 5…4…3…2…1.” When I use the countdown I say the last three numbers silently like I am directing a TV show. I don’t think they understand the Hollywood reference but they do like the silent counting part. It usually works well. Because it was Monday I had to do it twice.

I started the class by reviewing what we had learned the previous week. I wrote sentences like, “To go swimming you need _______.” The students had to raise their hands and answer “goggles” or “a swim suit.” The class is split into teams and I give points for correct answers. The points system is a common TEFL technique and it works amazingly well. When classes aren’t behaving I start deducting points, you should see the look on their faces you would think I was plucking money out of their little pockets.

After the warm-up we read a section from the book on Giraffe’s. They are 10 years old so when I say “repeat after me” they hear “scream these words!” After ear splitting responses like “A geeerafe…is…five…point…five…meters tall” we moved onto listing animals. I assumed they would get into this part and they did. The majority of the class had their hands in the air and most were shouting “Teacher! Teacher!” They listed around thirty animals before I cut them off. The animal list was just prep for the real lesson which was comparatives, bigger, smaller, faster, taller, etc. I wrote several examples for each of the major comparatives, e.g. “A cheetah is faster than _______.” Once I was sure they had the hang of it we played “Two Animal Challenge.” I threw a ball to a student (usually one who wasn’t paying attention) and gave them animal combinations (panda/duck). They would have to tell me “A panda is bigger than a duck.” Finally we played a game where two students would draw their favorite animal on the board. The class had to guess the animals and come up with a comparative. At the end of each class the students stand and say “Thank you Teacher. See you again next time!” Since I only see the Pratam classes once a week I spice up the exit by making them sing “Na na na, na na na, hey hey hey, good-bye!”

I left 5/5 damp and dehydrated. I didn’t have time to stop for water, my next class was starting two doors down. IEP 5/2, 9:10 – 10:00. I have three IEP classes each with fifty-four students. I see my IEP students every day. Monday the lesson plan for IEP was essentially the same as the Pratam lesson only I asked more complicated questions and expected more complicated answers. Where the Pratam students added “Bird” to the animals list the IEP students tried “Phoenix” and settled for “Eagle” when I insisted on real animals. As the week progresses the IEP classes will get increasingly difficult focusing on things like superlatives, physical characteristics and behavioral characteristics. At the end of the week the IEP students will play my favorite game, Animal Fights! I pair off animals into brackets and the students have to tell me who would win in a fight using characteristics and comparatives. For ten year olds speaking a second language they can be really creative. Last semester I had my students decide who would win in a fight between a rhino and a butterfly. The girls thought the butterfly would tickle the rhino and make it run into a tree, the boys thought the rhino would wait for the butterfly to land on a flower then eat the flower. I still don’t know which argument I like better but I do know that boys will be boys and girls will be girls no matter where they were born.

At the end of 5/2 I had a break from 10:00 – 10:15. Thai schools are not big on punctuality so this break typically lasts until closer to 10:25. I got to my 5/1 classroom just as the students were putting their shoes on the rack outside and taking their seats inside. I taught the animals and comparatives lesson…again. All of this repetition may seem boring but it’s actually nice. It gives me the gift of hindsight. If a lesson runs too long or seems too difficult I can make the necessary adjustments. 5/1 was well behaved. They have to be their Thai teacher is very strict. Each of my classes has an assigned Thai teacher to help with discipline if needed. My other Thai teachers observe, laugh at my silly antics and “Shhhsh” the students when needed. The 5/1 Thai teacher is different. She watches with icy intensity from the back corner and corrals the students with a low decibel click-cluck. Seriously, that’s all it takes, a quick click-cluck of the tongue and the students sit ramrod straight and zip-up. The power of the click-cluck is awe inspiring. It’s rare, very rare, but once in awhile I get her to flash a brief amused smile. Every time it happens I have resist the urge to stop class and yell, “Boom! She smiled. Who else saw that!?” I wrapped up 5/1 at 11:10, it was time for lunch.

We get free lunch at Thida. Goodness. Pure goodness. This ain’t no soggy chicken nuggets and box milk lunch, I’m talking about giant vats of rice and huge platters of tasty Thai food. AND…it’s all you can eat. 11:10 is early for lunch but on Monday it came just in time. If I was a video game character my life bars would have been getting dangerously low. I needed fuel. They were serving Massaman Gai. I almost wept. Massaman is freaking delicious. Imagine a stew with slow roasted chicken, big chunks of potato, carrots and onions, BUT instead of a typical stew broth it is bubbling and marinating in a spicy Indian curry sauce with peanuts and hint of cinnamon. It’s like Momma’s own got shipped around the world collecting herbs and spices and far flung flavors until it came back something familiar and something delectably new. I ate two bowls. I washed it down with a cup of Milo (Thai Ovaltine) and booked it to my 5/3 class, 12:10 – 1:00.

You already know what happened in 5/3, animals and comparatives. After that I had an hour break before my final class of the day. Typically I walk down the street to a coffee shop called Impressions during my free periods. Impressions has House Green Tea for 10 baht and WiFi. However, just before lunch I was handed a card with a Username and Password to the Thida network. Score. I went to the Teachers Room and logged onto http://www.stumbleupon.com. It led me to a site with free downloads of UCLA and UC Berkley lectures. (Nerd Alert!!). I was GEEKED about this find and immediately started downloading a Berkley lecture series on the Roman Empire. I launched the first lecture and thought of my sister Sarah, who after realizing that I had called her all excited about seeing Picasso’s, The Old Guitarist at the Chicago Institute of Art said, “God you are a dork.”

My final class of the day was Pratam 5/5, 1:55 – 2:40. Animals. Comparatives. You know the drill. At the end of class I grabbed my bag (a sweet authentic army rucksack I bought at a second hand store) and my helmet and called it a day. On the way home I picked up my laundry clean and folded for 30 baht. At home I changed clothes and slogged my way through an uninspired workout. I showered. I changed. I settled into my extremely comfortable satellite chair, cracked open Big Sur by Jack Keroauc and commenced chilling.

Monday: a day like any other day.

One Last Thing
My roommate Blake made up a board game for his high school students called Blake’s World. Before the game starts he has them sing “Blake’s World! Blake’s World! Party time. Excellent!” Because they are still learning what they say is “Brake’s World! Brake’s World! Potty time. Accident!”

Life in the Big House

Our house, is a very very very fine house
With two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy, ‘cause of you.

If you get that song stuck in your head don’t blame me, blame Graham Nash. Besides it had to be done: our house really is a very very very fine house. When the semester began I was living in the house that shall not be named. It was across the street from the Big House. I could see the scaffolding, I could smell the paint, I could practically feel the soft spring of the new mattresses. I was on the outside looking in and I really wanted to get in.

I am in now and it is glorious. The Big House has three stories, six residents, six-bedrooms, and two bathrooms. It has hot water, I repeat HOT water. (Trust me in a country where “shower” often means a bucket of cold water dumped on your head this is a very big deal). It has a kitchen, a good sized back patio, a common area with a sleek, brand-spanking new 32’ flat-screen TV, and WIFI! Outside the walls of The Big House it is still unmistakably Thailand, but inside it feels closer to a place a 20-hour flight away…home sweet home.

The front of The Big House opens into a large, safely locked courtyard big enough to hold three scooters, three bicycles and a growing platoon of shoes. The front door opens into the common area which has recently been improved by the addition of 32’ of HD awesomeness. We meet in the common area for “How was school” chats, movie sessions and general lazing about. In a house with six residents the common area is used less than you might expect but used well.

To the right of the common area is the downstairs bathroom and kitchen area. The kitchen consists of a new stainless steel sink, an old green refrigerator, an electric kettle, a toaster and a blender that doesn’t crush ice. The kitchen doesn’t have a stove. Most kitchens in Thailand don’t. We may pick one up eventually (they are cheap enough) but when you are surrounded by great food for under $1 it’s not a big priority.

The kitchen door opens onto the back patio. The patio is a work in progress. Its concrete floor and cyclone walls weren’t designed with beauty in mind but we have big plans! Christmas lights, flowers, a hammock and decent patio furniture have all been discussed at length. For the time being we have a small moldy table and a rainbow assortment of plastic chairs. Baby steps. The important thing is that socially we are taking full advantage of our outdoor area; coffee in the mornings, Friday night BBQ’s, beers in plastic chairs, roommates being friends in the outdoor air.

The remainder of the first floor is taken up by two bedrooms each with high ceilings and enough space for a queen-size bed, a dresser and a desk. At the very end of the hall is a roll-up metal door that is locked at all times and it will remain that way unless we can convince Super English to let us sell water, soda and assorted snacks from our front stoop Thai style.

The second and third floors of The Big House are bedroom areas. The second floor boasts both the biggest and smallest rooms in the house. The biggest room has dimensions that are well…big. And it has a private balcony. It’s a sweet deal if you have the Super English seniority required to claim it. The smallest room is close to both the toilet and the stairs so that’s nice. The third floor has been ventilated to keep the heat out and renovated to keep the Zen in. Separated on either side by a yoga studio/chill space it has two good sized bedrooms and is probably the quietest place in The Big House.

Life in the Big House isn’t all about the house. It’s about location, location, location as they say. The Big House is nicely situated to give you quick access to all the important things Surat.

Food: The Big House is surrounded by good eats. Vendors drive down the street selling papaya salad and grilled chicken. A noodle soup shop the next Soi over is renowned as one of the best in Surat. And Teacher favorites Earth Zone, Kampon, Good Health, Corner Guy, Rice Lady, and the often closed but excellent Rice Soup and Thai Donuts place are all walking distance from the house.

School: Motobikes (a.k.a. scooters) are highly recommended. As a general rule Surat is too big to walk, too small to drive and just right to motobike. Thida (elementary/middle school) is the closest. Even on heavy traffic days Thida can be reached in under five-minutes on a motobike. Suratpittaya (high school) is a ten-minute ride (maybe less depending on how much of a weaving daredevil you are). And Super English is just a minute or two further down along the river. Tuk Tuk’s can be taken anywhere in town for 15-20 baht. They are a good way to get around but lack the ease of personal transportation. For those of you thinking, “I’ll save money and ride a bike!” No you won’t. Bikes are great, but not when it is blazing hot and you’re dressed in khakis and a button down shirt. The Thai people are big on appearance, they prefer not see Farang disguised as sweat stains.

Exercise: The Stadium is just around the corner for all your exercise needs. Well, not ALL your exercise needs, but it’s not bad. The stadium has a track and soccer field, basketball courts, tennis courts, badminton courts, a swimming pool, free nightly aerobics classes and a nice park area. It even has a small beat-up weight room you can use for 10 baht. If you are not interested in joining a gym The Stadium is a good alternative. If you are interested in joining a gym there are several options in town including a small gym a few blocks down from The Big House that will cost you around 1000 baht a month.

Big C: Big C is the Walmart of Asia and the closest one is only a couple of kilometers from The Big House. This is good because you can get sheets, a tent, an external hard drive, clothes, a new MP3 player, a new cell phone, shoes, a toaster and shelves in one stop. This is bad because you can put all of those things on a credit card and pretend like it never happened. I’m not saying I know anyone who has done that (cough) me (cough). I’m just saying.

Sounds amazing right? It is. I have lived in several different school provided houses during my time in Surat and The Big House is by far the best. If you were to poll my roommates they would tell you the same. The Big House isn’t perfect. It is situated on a main road and can get noisy at times. A scooter passing at night can sound like a diesel truck driving through your bedroom when you’re trying to fall asleep. A very large powerfully strong strain of ants occasionally tries to claim a corner of the back patio as their own never seeming to remember that we fight dirty. But, these things are small things. The Big House rocks and we all feel lucky to have snagged a spot.

I am worried though. The Big House is in harmony now. We are all friends. We all love our Big House. But, I fear the harmony cannot withstand the progeny. There is a small impossibly cute cat named Juice Box living just around the corner. Juice Box is preggers. Some of the roommates adore cats, others not so much. The kittens of Juice Box promise to be the kind of cute that elicits high-pitched “Ohhhs” and clapping and jumping up-and-down and coos of “I want one!” Will the progeny of Juice Box be the Yoko Ono of the Big House?

No.

Why?

Super English/Landlord mandated House Rule #1 – No Pets

Ha! Take that Juice Box babies.