Thailandia: Episode 1, Put an Angry Bird on it. — by Joe

This post was spawned mostly because I was so proud of my Thailandia idea and the put an Angry Bird on it skit idea.

In case this is confusing, and I imagine it will be to many of you. This is an homage to Portlandia, a fantastic sketch comedy show from IFC starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. Find out more here. The skit I’m referencing is awesome and it’s from the first season. It was one of the first skits to go “viral.” It’s called Put a Bird on it.

in Thailand, and most certainly in Surat, THEY LOVE Angry Birds, the bird slingshotting game from the Finnish company Rovio.

They have Angry Birds school supplies including pencil cases, binders and bags. They have large Angry Birds plush toys as well as small ones. My classes have chosen the team names, Angry Birds, Angrier Birds, and Angry Birds in Space.  They have all kinds of Angry Birds clothing which people seem to wear un-ironically. I have no idea how many people actually play the game on their computer or phone but I do know that the paraphernalia is big business.

What really blows my mind is how Thailand has combined their love of snacking with their obsession with Angry Birds.

See below, Angry Birds meat sticks made of some mysterious substance and some Angry Birds Pig baked goods.

A Tribute to Sheryl Crow — by Joe

Reposted from our blog, written by Laura

This is the story of the little hose (and spray nozzle) that could.

Joe and I arrived in Thailand on May 2nd, 2012.  It was roughly a week after arrival and dinner with coworkers when Joe said, “hey, did you know they call that hose in the bathroom the bum gun,” it was about a week after that when I realized it was actually intended for your bum. Basically it involves spraying a hose to clean yourself, similar to a bidet but with more force, and not as French.  At first it was a novelty, now it is a necessity.

You see, here in Thailand the entire country has heeded the Sheryl Crow “two square of toilet paper” call, kind of.  I actually think most people do not use toilet paper at all, at least for using the toilet. (They use it to wipe their hands a meals instead of paper towels.)  Don’t be too worried, this is actually not an unhygienic practice.  By the time you do wipe with your two squares, there is next to nothing there.  It has all been sprayed away. As one of my friends pointed out, is it really very hygienic to wipe yourself with paper and smear around the germs?

Due to many factors, the plumbing here is not designed for transporting paper, so you must put your used papers in a trash can. The goal of the bum gun then is to make you as clean as possible so there is next to nothing to wipe away. As you can imagine, not knowing about the magical bum gun and having to throwing away your toilet paper without washing is not pleasant.  Really this is a brilliant invention.

So next time you find yourself sitting next to a hose that looks like it would be a great tool for cleaning the bathroom, as I thought for two weeks, give it a shot.

Mu Ko Ang Thong — by Blake

Ang Thong National Marine Park is one my favorite places out of all my travels. Just found this short video I put together after I went there for a weekend with Britt, John, and Janet. Check it out. (shot with my crappy digital camera. deal with it.)
check it out on youtube here…

Coffee in Thailand — by Joe

For some background on my coffee history, I’ve had an espresso machine in my house since my early childhood and brought lattes in a travel cup to high school starting when I was 15. In college I progressed from drinking lattes to cappuccinos to dry cappuccinos to espresso macchiattos and americanos. I was raised to feel guilty for putting anything flavored in my coffee, vanilla syrup was most definitely verboten.  My first job after college was a barista and I used that money to move to Scotland where I looked around for jobs for a while. The two jobs I found were both barista jobs, at Starbucks and at a golf course. Imagine that.

Later in my career, I worked for a couple fancy “third wave” Seattle coffee companies, Zoka and Fonte. I learned more about sourcing and buying from origin as well as roasting and the science behind extracting the ideal shot of espresso. Coffee is elevated to the position of high-end liquor or wine and I participated in cuppings every morning where you sniff and slurp coffee and describe the different flavors you taste; like that bit of blueberry in your Ethiopian Sidamo or those hints of chocolate in the fine Guatemala that just arrived.  I spent many moments educating my friends and family on why fresh roasted and freshly ground makes such a difference.

It’s all kinds of pretentious and fun but getting freshly roasted high-end coffee for free really spoils you and it’s hard to wean yourself from that addiction. At least in Seattle there are ways to step down gradually from your addiction going to slightly cheaper coffee like from Costco and Trader Joe’s. It hurts the taste buds a little but didn’t prepare me for my move to Thailand. When you arrive in Thailand and need your coffee fix, you are thrown straight into the Nescafe zone. It’s either flavorless, bitter, really sweet or some combination of those elements. You come to appreciate the couple tablespoon fulls of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom of your little cup that allow the caffeine to slide down the gullet, into the belly and straight into the bloodstream.

Some mediocre pre-ground coffee found at the Big C (The Walmart of Thailand) that I normally would have turned up my pretentious nose at was a big step up over the Nescafe and other instant coffee choices. We went with the Siam Blend and the Executive Blend.  Then my generous co-worker Shelby gave us a few packets of Starbucks Via and after the Nescafe it was a revelation. All it took was a few weeks of freeze-dried bitterness to turn me into a believer of the Starbucks product Via.  It tastes pretty much like a cup of Starbucks, which really hits the spot when you are surrounded by a sea of Nescafe, as far as the eye can see.  I have talked a whole mess of crap about how the Seattle area has so many better options than Starbucks but I can’t escape the pull of the Frappuccino Empire headed by the man that sold my Sonics. In short, thanks to my family for sending Via; it really hits the spot and keeps that connection to Seattle coffee alive.

4 random books to check out… — by Blake

Here are four random books I recently read that I’d recommend checking out…

1. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
I really enjoyed this novel about a young guy that finds out that there is another world below the streets of London. To explain the plot beyond that would be difficult and do it no justice. Part dark comedy, part fantasy/adventure, part creepy-as-hell, the author’s style reminds me a lot of Tim Burton.

2. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Mike recommended this one to me. If you’ve ever read Bryson before, you know that he’s pretty hilarious. This book is the true story of how he and a friend attempted to walk the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. 44-years old and vastly overweight, it proved to be more of a challenge than expected. The book gives tons of information about the trail and what it’s like to hike it, while at the same time telling the comical misadventure of the two friends.

3. Emergency by Neil Strauss
Good old Neil Strauss from The Game fame once again dives in head first with a journalistic approach to investigate the somewhat unknown world of “preppers” that are preparing in every way possible for when the s#*% hits the fan/ end of the world type scenarios. The book covers several years as he does everything from taking survival courses in the woods to building the perfect survival pack to figuring out how to acquire a second passport. It’s actually all pretty ridiculous, but pretty informative and entertaining to say the least.

4. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly
I’m actually still reading this one by I thought I’d throw it on the list. This is a great read for anybody with the slightest interest in history. While this is no doubt a well-researched factual account of Lincoln assassination and the historical events surrounding it, it’s not your usual boring report about what happened. It’s written more like a thriller, starting with the last battles of the Civil War and the conspiracy led by John Wilkes Booth to take out the President.

Five resources for learning Thai — by Brittany

Now that we’re settled in to the new semester, you might be interested in learning or brushing up on your Thai language skills.  Here are a few resources:

Learn Thai Language blog

I’m a big fan of blogs (duh) and Thai Language Hut’s Learn Thai Language blog updates frequently with useful topical information, like this recent post about how the word  /lɔɔng/ ลอง can be used in a few different ways (it means to test or try out).

Curious about what they’re singing about every day when school starts? Here’s their translation of the Thai national anthem so you can sing along!

Thai For Beginners

Thai for Beginners has more or less been my manual for learning Thai.  I think it’s one of the best publications out there because its method for transliterating Thai to English is clear and easy to remember.  I’ve got the audio and a copy to share with you when you want it.

Another reason I like this book is because Benjawan Becker also does a great job of encouraging you to learn how to read Thai! Plain and simple, if you learn how to read, it’s going to vastly improve your pronunciation and comprehension.  It’s not easy, but it’s certainly possible to do within a month or two.

http://www.thaiforbeginners.com/

I’d recommend pairing this book with a communicative book like Instant Thai, which I found helpful for cross-referencing words and concepts.

Thai Alphabet Flashcards

Speaking of learning how to read Thai, Slice-of-Thai has consonant and vowel flashcards that you can print yourself, for free!  These are great because they show you the things you’d expect from a flashcard (a picture, a translation of what the consonant represents, and the consonant class), but my favorite feature is the examples of different Thai fonts.  I was baffled by the different fonts I saw on signs and in menus until I got these flashcards.

Memrise.com

I really like memrise.com because it encourages you to learn via mnemonic devices (for example, if you can remember that lumberjacks LIKE to CHOP then you can learn that ‘chɔɔp’ means “to like”).  Besides, who doesn’t like feeling like learning is a game? Memrise gives you points and you can compete against your friends if you login using Facebook.

I’m in the process of adding my own Thai “course” to it, using the transliteration and vocabulary from Thai for Beginners.  Here’s a quick peek at Lesson #2.  Let me know if you’re using it and I’ll keep adding more!

Everything around you

There’s no better way to learn Thai than to get out there and practice constantly with the people you see everyday.  Most Thai people are eager to teach and laugh with you as you try out those tricky tones and that impossible “ng” sound.  It’s scary, but making mistakes is how we learn! Most importantly, it’ll give you a chance to experience what your students go through every day – which is something we all need reminding of every once in a while, don’t we?

***

I never expected to learn Thai, but it’s been incredibly helpful for everything from my night market meals to not getting ripped off in a scam.  Plus, you never know when it’ll will lead you to interesting situations – like when I surprised a group of Thai people gossiping about us near Mount Everest Base Camp (the next day, they returned me the beanie I accidentally left behind). Just remember the phrase “Rak muang Tai” – “I love Thailand!”

If this isn’t enough to satiate your curiosity, Women Learning Thai also has a ginormous list of free online resources.

Happy learning!

How to Transfer Money — by Michael

Is your Thai Bank Account overflowing with hard earned baht? Do you need to send it all back to America (or one of those other English speaking countries)? Here’s what you need:

1. Wen
2. Thai bank account book
3. Passport
4. Work Permit
5. SWIFT code
6. Account Number of the receiving account
7. Physical address of your bank
8. A deep calming breath

Let Wen know that you need to transfer money and which bank you use. She will give you a ride. Her car will be hot so be prepared for that.

When you get to the bank Wen will say stuff in Thai, the teller will nod, possibly wai her and run off to get all the paperwork. Have your passport, work permit, and bank account book ready. (Do not forget the account book, they will not let you do ANYTHING without it, its like a DNA sample to the bankers.)

At this point you will need to fill out the basic paperwork. It’s all pretty straightforward. The only possible glitch is that sometimes they don’t want you list yourself as the recipient. I got around this by sending the transfer from Michael Bartolomei to Mike Bartolomei. Smoke and mirrors, baby!

By the time you’ve finished with the paperwork twenty-minutes or so will have passed. Give Wen a snack, she will be running low on energy.

Make sure you get your banks SWIFT code ahead of time. The SWIFT code should include the banks physical address but ask for it anyway just in case.

Also, be aware that the Thai bank is going to charge you 1350 baht ($40) to move your own money. I know, for that kind of cash you could hire some dude whacked out on yaba to deliver it via minivan–thus the reason for #8 on the list above.

The banker will enter the SWIFT code and populate the rest of the fields. You will have a few things to add your signature to. A manager will come by to approve the final paperwork and you’re set leau (finished already).

Find Wen, she will have wandered off to take a phone call.

Go home, log on and look at all that sweet money that magically appeared in your old account. (Minus $40 of course).

Wai Kru Day — by Blake

Thursday was Wai Kru Day (Teacher’s Day) at SRP.  It’s about time I got some daggon’ respect around here!  No, but really, Wai Kru Day is awesome.  We got the first three periods of class off from teaching.  Instead, we got to take part in a ceremony in front of the entire school.  We were brought on to stage and the students gave us a pahn (“flower-thing”) and gave each teacher a big wai (Thai “bow-thing”).  It was pretty cool.  After that the ceremony continued for a bit and if I spoke decent Thai, I might be able to tell you what they were talking about for the next half hour.  The best part is after the ceremony when all the teachers get to gather around for free cakes and instant coffee.  Not a bad start to a Thursday if you ask me!

A Weekend at the Westin — by Blake

I’ve done a lot of traveling over the past couple of years and I’m almost always on a tight budget.  The longer you can make your money last, the longer you can travel for.  When it comes to accommodation, the cheapest option is usually the best when you’re trying to stretch your money as far as possible.  I’ve stayed in $5 guest houses, $1 hostels, and when I was trekking in Nepal a few places even let us stay for free if we bought our breakfast and dinner there.  After a while, stains and filth become the norm and things like hot showers become a luxury.

After spending two weeks back in the States visiting family and friends, I got spoiled.  I immediately got used to air conditioning, hot running water, and cable TV.  While my house in Surat Thani is actually a decent place to live, I still wasn’t looking forward to the weekend I’d have to spend in a cheap Bankok hostel after my arrival.  I guess my dad could somehow sense my pain and, as a gift, he gave me 200 bucks to get a nice hotel in Bangkok.  Ecstatic, I booked two nights (the two-hundo almost covered it) at the Westin Grande a plush hotel right in the middle of Sukhumvit.

My girlfriend met me in Bangkok for the weekend and the hotel was great!  Bell boys greeted us and carried our bags; there was a gym and a spa; the room was decked out and top-notch; and the best part of the whole thing was (aside from the heavenly bed) the rooftop swimming pool.  We enjoyed the wine from the stocked bar in our room and made sure we raided the place for all the free coffee, tea, soap, and shampoo before we left.  After two days and nights living in luxury it almost hurt to leave, but sometimes it’s good to treat yourself!

Suratburger? — by Blake

Mark, one of the new teachers at Super recently asked me the million-baht question… where can one get a decent burger in Surat? I had to think long and hard. While there are a few places in town where you can get burgers, it’s hard to call them “decent”. My go-to burger joint used to be Baan Satek near the pier (the Spicy Basil Burger = bomb diggity), but it seems that of late they’ve closed their doors for good. After living and eating in Surat for almost two years, you’d think I’d be able to answer a simple question like Mark’s, but I couldn’t. It’s hard to find a properly cooked piece of beef anywhere in Thailand, let alone Surat Thani. Scholars actually maintain that the name “Surat Thani” translates to something along the lines of “No Have Hamburgaaa”. So… I decided to put up a poll in the Surat Teachers group on Fb to see if there was a general consensus on where to go when your’re craving a good ol’ meat sandwich. Here are the results after 24 hours…

5 people voted Big’s Bar

3 pepole voted for Ciao Italia

2 people voted for their own houses

1 person voted for Sweet Kitchen

1 person voted for Gun Et Te

0 votes for Milano’s

0 votes for By Chef

This may not be the most definitive poll ever (only 11 people voted out of a group with 172 members).  But maybe that’s a sign that there just isn’t a “decent” burger in Surat.  I guess the burger quest shall continue!  If you have a better option feel free to comment below!  What ever you do, stay away from the rice burgers!!!

RICEBURGER!!!!!