Riding your motorbike in the rain — by Catherine

Yesterday evening I had to drive my motorbike in a torrential downpour. I was in the jungle at the bungalows when I heard thunder. Trying to beat the rain, I decided to leave so I could go grab some dinner. Well, my timing was WAAAAAYYY off. On the way back over the bridge, I had to pull over in order to put on my poncho. Because of the strong gusts of wind, I ended up putting it on backwards. This kind of thing can happen quite often during the rainy season.

One of the best investments I made when coming out here was my 25baht poncho. Yes, my mother bought me a very nice rain jacket before I came out here (thanks mom), but it’s the poncho that really works. My poncho comes all the way down past my knees. It’s very good at covering my backpack and myself from these downpours. Also, my bike seat tends to stay wet for days, so it’s nice to have the poncho to sit on.

Some Thai people will drive around on their motorbikes holding an umbrella. I’m not really sure how they are able to do so with the wind, but it seems like they’ve got it down. If it were me, I bet the umbrella would turn inside out immediately. Yesterday during my ride in the rain, I saw a guy coming out of a sunroof in a pickup truck holding an umbrella. I’m guessing they had about eleventy people shoved in the cab so he had to stand out the roof. I guess it’s a good thing he had an umbrella.

My advice to new riders and old is to drive slow. Th rain can be scary and can come down hard, making the road slippery. driving slow or even pulling over is your best bet. Additionally, make sure you can see through your visor, if it is super scratched, it makes visibility even worse when it’s raining. Finally, sometimes it’s best to just wait it out…as I’m doing now…typing this blogpost.

Christmas at Thida, pt. 2 — by Catherine

The last couple of days at Thidamaepra school proved to be nothing less than a grand ole time. On Thursday, we were required to teach our regularly scheduled classes, but this proved to be quite the challenge with the carnival that was happening in the courtyard. Full of bounce houses and carnival games, I was surprised to see any of my students when I showed up for class. Knowing this was going to happen, I was prepared to play games in all of my classes, which is what we did, adding to the fun.

On Friday, classes were cancelled, but Friday night was the Thida Christmas party for the teachers. I had heard about this party way before it happened, as this is where the infamous performances happen. The teachers perform for each other at this party, including ourselves. I volunteered to coordinate our performance and choreographed a dance to a dubstep version of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, complete with me hula-hooping. Luckily, there were nine of us performing, so each of us could be a reindeer. The performance went very well, especially when Amanda’s shoe came flying off into the audience. I think the liquid courage (whiskey) they put on all of the tables really helped.

The party was also a dinner party, and we were fed some very delicious and interesting food. The first dish was a tray of what appeared to be dim sum, complete with fish balls and fish tofu (fishfu). Then, came out the dish of the night: fish stomach soup. Yes I tried it, and yes it was weird, but at least I tried it! They also brought us cashew chicken (I ate the cashews), some kind of stuffed duck thing, noodles with huge prawns complete with their heads still attached, and I’m pretty sure there was some sort of rice dish as well. For desert, they brought us a Thai fruit that was floating in sugar water, it reminded me of peaches.

I wasn’t expecting to have so much fun at the Thida Christmas party, I thought it was going to be a boring work function. Instead, I was delightfully surprised with all of the great performances. Plus, it’s always nice to get free food! I’m so glad that I’m getting so much Christmas energy from Thailand, I honestly didn’t expect it. Being away from my family on Christmas will be difficult, but at least there’s still the Christmas spirit here!

It's (finally) beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

For the past few weeks, there were very few signs of Christmas here in Surat. No cold weather, no Christmas lights, no Christmas songs blaring in the stores. Back home, you are bombarded by all these things immediately after Thanksgiving, but that is not the case here. Last week, Eric & I finally figured it was time to create a little Christmas spirit, so we went were there was bound to be some Christmas cheer – Central Plaza.

Even though it was rainy, we decided to throw on our ponchos and make the trek to the mall. Central definitely did not disappoint. After passing by the beautiful snowflake lights lining the street, we went inside, and were greeted by air-conditioning blowing full blast. This combined with our wetness from driving in the rain made us really cold (which rarely happens here), the perfect start to a “winter” Christmas night. Next, Starbucks added a little more Christmas cheer to our night by serving us up a steamy peppermint mocha. I was excited to find the Starbucks Christmas cups even made their way to Thailand! We then decided to take a stroll through the mall, where we found the huge tree and lots of cute decorations. We had a great time at the mall and definitely stirred up some Christmas cheer!

This week, Christmas is really upon us. Catherine and I have been watching Christmas movies, I’ve been jammin’ to some Christmas tunes, and as you can see from Catherine’s previous blog post, the festivities are in full swing at Thida. Today there was dancing, a carnival, and even more decorations. Thida is really going all out on the festivities and decorations!

Christmas was slow in arriving, but now it’s here for sure! I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week brings. Merry Christmas to all!

Riding on your motorbike, Thai style. — by Catherine

Before coming to Thailand, I read a good number of the articles on the Super English website telling me what to expect. Many of them reported the overwhelming humidity when coming off the plane, the many bugs you will find in your room when getting to your new house, and the amazing amount of people Thais can fit on a motorbike. All of these things were seen on my first day here.

As time goes on, I have seen Thai people jam more than enough people on their motorbikes. So much so that I created a drinking game inspired by such sights. The game is called motorbike (creative, I know), and the rules are as follows. When you see 3 people on a motorbike, you drink. For 4 people, you drink twice. 5 or more people means you must finish whatever you are drinking. Yes, I said 5 or more, because I have witnessed this act. Most of the time if there are this many people on a motorbike, most of them are children. I have seen 2 parents with 2 children sitting one in front and one in between, with a baby being carried in the arms of the nondriver. In regards to this, when you see a baby on a motorbike, everyone switches drinks.

People are not things being shoved onto these tiny vehicles, Thai people have figured out how to carry all kinds of things. For example, there is a woman who lives near me who rides with her little pomeranian dog on the front of her bike every morning. I can always tell when they are coming because the dog barks the entire time its front paws are on the front of the bike, sturdying itself. Last night, I saw what appeared to be 2 girls on a motorbike, but low and behold, there was a little dog’s head sticking out from where the dog was riding in between the driver’s feet. Another instance of dog riding, was when I saw 2 guys on a motorbike with a small dog balancing on the back. I don’t know how those dogs stay on there, and it scares me every time I see it. Perhaps I should drink then too!

Dogs aside, a lot of Thai people use motorbikes as their main means of transportation. This means, if they go to the store and buy a bunch of stuff, or have other things they need to carry, they must do this on their motorbike. It’s never surprising to see 2 people on a motorbike, one driving and the other holding a huge box, or basket of laundry. You might also see people carrying multiple bags coming home from the store, or bags full of produce because those people might be food vendors. There are even motorbikes that have attachments on them so that they have 4 wheels and somewhat of a sidecar. These motorbikes can hold all kinds of things like dogs, bags and bags of food and/or other wares, and multitudes of people. Some of these motorbikes are even converted to be food vendors who sell anything from coffee to papaya salad.

Last night was my first venture in driving “Thai style.” Wanting to practice hula hooping for our upcoming Christmas performance, I brought my hula hoop to the gym. Usually, I coil my hoop up and tie it with a scarf so that I am able to put in my my basket on my motorbike. But, when I left the gym, I decided I didn’t want to do this not only because it’s difficult for me to coil up my hoop by myself, but it’s also not good for it. Thus, I decided to see if I could ride my motorbike caring my hoop over my shoulder in its full, 37in in diameter form. Leaving the gym, I swung my hoop over my shoulder and was delightfully surprised to figure out that it hook onto the back of my bike nicely without touching anything hot that would melt it. Okay, so this was test 1, getting from the gym to Super. Done. Test 2: My father sent me a package that arrived for me yesterday, meaning I would have to drive home with the package, my hoop, my gym bag, and my backpack. Challenge accepted. Putting my gym bag in my basket, and strapping my backpack to myself, I then tied down my package to the back of my bike with the handy-dandy net I have. Next came the hoop. Swinging it over my shoulder and hooking it on the bike like the ride to Super, I was now ready to go home. With my backpack resting on my package, I was off on what turned out to be a pretty smooth ride. Tests 1 and 2 proved to me that I can ride Thai style and take my hoop more places without having to coil it up. Perhaps my next challenge will be to see how many people I can fit on my bike!

Christmas at Old Thida — by Catherine

So it’s not even the day of the main Christmas event, but it sure did feel like it today! Pretty much the whole month of December has been filled with practices for the famous Thida Christmas performance. Before I even starting teaching at Old Thida, I had heard about how the Christmas show was a huge deal. Previous teachers told me that students would be pulled out of my class left and right, or you might get to class and half of them would be gone, or you might get to class, and no one is there. Well, all of this has definitely happened, especially in these past couple of weeks.

Last week I integrated Christmas songs into my lessons for my Mattayom 2 students as we were learning about holidays and traditions. In my Mattayom 1 and 3 classes, I would let them practice their songs as a reward or during testing while I sat in the hall quizzing students. This week, however, has been like Christmas on steroids.

It started with the Christmas decorations. Slowly Old Thida has become engulfed in a sea of red and green, where each day adds something new. Monday it was red and green fabric draped on the balcony. Today (Tuesday) it was the beautiful stars made by students hung down throughout the courtyard. Last week was the building of the stage, which included painting over the Angry Birds mural on the background pieces with a delightful depiction of Christmas cheer. Added to this performance area was a real live Christmas tree dripping with garland and ornaments.

Trying to teach today was a very difficult task as today was the day for all of the classes to perform on the gleefully decorated stage. Each class was judged by a group of four judges, including one nun, and were vying for a precious spot for Friday’s performance. My Mattayom 2/1 students tried to get me to go up on stage to perform with them, but I was busy with other work as I thought I had to teach at 11:15am, 4th period.

Deciding to use the ladies room before class, I realized I was followed in by my Thai teacher who would be in my next class. I knew this was going to be a conversation about performing. She asked me if class was cancelled, and I told her that I had not heard as much. Then, she proceeded to tell me that out students were finished performing, but were watching. After taking care of business, I walked out of the bathroom to join my class in watching some of the performances. After watching my 2 Mattayom 1 classes perform, my Thai teacher and I decided to cancel class so the students could watch the rest of the performances. Well, there’s another class to make up! It’s worth it though because it was fun to see my students perform what they have been working on for so long. I even got to see some of my Thai teachers performing with them!

I’m not sure what the rest of this week will bring, but I am looking forward to the Christmas celebration on Friday. I’m even looking forward to our very own Super English foreign teacher performance for the Thai teachers Friday evening. Teaching the rest of this week will be a challenge, but that’s all in how you work it!

I stole this picture from Fiona. She was pulled on stage with her class today. Thanks for the pic!

2012's over (almost): "Bucket List" UPDATE! — by Blake

Back in January of 2012, I, along with several other SE teachers at the time, made a sort of “bucket list” for the new year.  I stumbled upon it today and got a kick out of what I have and haven’t accomplished, being that the end of the year is all but upon us.  I thought for all of you out there interested (hi, mom) in what I checked off the list, I’d do a little bucket list update to wrap up the year.  This is the original list and the “update comments” are in bold:

  • Trek to Mt. Everest base camp- EPIC CHECK.
  • Sparkle my werewolf to a whole new level (I want veins protruding. everywhere.)-   I’m stacked. CHECK.
  • Get Advanced Open Water certified in diving… to help me accomplish the next item on my list…
  • find either buried or sunken treasure-  FAIL.  I’m definitely regretting not getting certified (and not finding treasure).
  • Learn a new language (or at least make a serious effort to)-  1/2 CHECK.  My Thai has greatly improved.
  • take a Thai cooking class (epic meal time TH edition)-  CHECK.  Baan Thai Cookery School in Chiang Mai.
  • Read more- CHECK.  Finishing up what will be book #30 for the year. A personal best.
  • figure out a second stream of income, somehow someway (Blake’s Jenky Motorbike Rentals??)- FAIL.  I’m lazy.
  • Before leaving Thailand, I’d have to visit a few places that I haven’t been to yet (Phuket, Koh Chang, An Thong, Samui, and a few places up north)- 1/2 CHECK.  Didn’t make it to Phuket (can’t say that I’m disappointed), Koh Chang is still on the list, but I conquered Ang Thong, and have now seen just about all there’s to see in the north as well.
  • Start Muay Thai-  FAIL.  Dropping a motorcycle on your foot makes it hard to kick things.
  • Be more flexible (at least be able to touch my toes… yes, I’m serious.)-  FAIL.  Lower shins, baby.
  • learn magic- Working on it, Job!
Well, looking back I’d say that I did a pretty good job at checking things off the list.  2012 was a hell of a year and I can’t wait to see 2013.  I miss Surat Thani every day and that is the truth, but I’m also stoked for insane adventures the future holds.  Chok Dee, have a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!  HAPPY HOLLADAYS!

Railay, Oh Railay. How I love thee… — by Catherine

Last weekend a group of us from Super English decided to go away for our long weekend because most of us didn’t have to work on Monday for Constitution Day. Jade suggested we go to Railay Beach as he had been there a previous weekend with a different group of friends. I’m so grateful he made this suggestion as Railay Beach has to have been one of the most incredibly beautiful places I have ever been in my entire life.

Savannah, Levi, and I left Saturday morning because we missed the last Friday bus, and arrived in Railay around 11am or so. We were joined shortly thereafter by the rest of the group from SE, who had picked up some friends along the way. Wanting to do this trip on a budget, we decided to stay at the Rapala Rockwood bungalows atop a mountain of stairs, but only costing 500-600 baht. They have 300baht rooms with outside bathrooms, but those were all taken. The bungalows were decent, the little pool was great as were the common areas/restaurant, but the people who worked there were not the friendliest bunch. However, the price was right, so we stayed there both nights, and I would go back there again.

After checking in, we were all ready to go to the beach! We trekked our way past rock overhangs that made little caves and wild monkeys that hung out on the path. Our adventurous Alyssa really wanted to pet a monkey, but then I had to remind her of how a monkey tried to attack me in Malaysia so she backed down. When you are finally able to see the water in front of you, there are great rock climbing walls to the left, which you can climb for different prices. I think there are a some half day and day rental/excursion places for around 800baht or so. Railay Beach is very well-known for it’s rock climbing, which is something I want to investigate in the future.

After you pass the wooden phallic sculptures and small altar, you can start making your way down the beach where long boats are pulled up on the shore ready to serve you food and drinks galore. We parked ourselves in front of these boats (of course) and spent most of that first day swimming in the crystal clear waters and relaxing on the beach. There is a small rock island type structure that you can swim out to, which has more climbing and provides a nice shady spot. Be aware, the water has little sea lice which sting a bit. It’s nothing too irritating to make you not want to swim, but it is a bit unpleasant.

After we all decided we were sunburned enough for the day, we headed back to the bungalows. When everyone was showered and ready, we headed to Last Bar for dinner. Jade recommended this place saying it had the best Penang and Massaman curries he’s had in Thailand. We ended up eating there both nights we stayed. The first night I ordered Tom Kha Koong and the second night I ordered coconut curry seafood; they were the same thing, except the coconut curry had more seafood and baby corn in it. This is a lesson I learned in regards to Thai menus, there may be a lot of things listed, but most of them could be the same thing.

Non-variety aside, the food was delicious, especially the fried shrimp appetizers we ate both nights. That first night we had heard about a bar that was going to have cobra fights and fireworks, so we really wanted to catch the show. The bar was on Tonsai beach, which is a bit of a walk from Railay East where we were. Unfortunately, we were unable to find the beach, but we were able to watch some good entertainment on our side of Railay. Instead of cobra fighting, we saw real live people fighting Muay Thai, and then we were able to take in the amazing spectacle of fire spinning. I think the fire spinning was my favorite because the guys doing it were “gangsta” Thai dudes wearing flatbills and skate shoes, and were constantly drinking buckets of liquor ad smoking cigarettes while performing. It was great.

I called it a somewhat early night that night, as did most, because we were meeting in the morning for our next adventure. We had decided we wanted to go on one of the tour boats that would take us to 4 islands and go snorkeling. To our own fault, the boats filled up and sold out, but this actually worked out to our advantage. Instead of paying 450baht a person, we paid about 300-350baht to rent a private boat that took us snorkeling. We didn’t have to wear life jackets like the people on the tour boats, and we could skip the really crowded places we didn’t want to go to.

The driver of the boat took us to two snorkeling spots, the 1st before far superior to the 2nd. At the first spot, there were so many fish, you would go underwater and not be able to see anything but a school of colorfully striped fish swimming around you. It was quite surreal, however, because even though you were surrounded by fish, they would never touch you and you could never touch them. If your head was out of the water, you wouldn’t be able to tell they were around you. To add to the beauty, the ocean floor was covered in coral and sea urchin and some people in our group even saw a sea snake (I’m glad I missed that).

After coming back from the boat, we were going to try to hike to a lagoon, but ended up being distracted by the small pool at our bungalows. We stayed in the pool for pretty much the rest of the afternoon, having some cocktails or drinking delicious coffee shakes. As I said earlier, we ended up eating at the same restaurant and then played cards for most of the night. I ate myself into a coma that second night and went to bed extra early.

The next day, we all met downstairs from our bungalows at a place that served roti. We all wanted to try the savory rotis as most of the ones we have tried in Surat have been sweet. Roti is like a thin, crepe-like pastry that most Thai people call pancakes. I got one with egg, cheese, tomato, and onions and it was delicious and exactly what I wanted. Being so sunburnt from the past two days, I decided to stay at the bungalows and read in the common area until we had to leave to go back to Surat. Levi and Savannah decided to join me while Jade, Alicia, and Fiona wanted to go explore the lagoon. Savannah and I had been dying to try the Indian food at our bungalows the entire weekend and finally had our chance on this day. It was good, but not as good as at Last Bar where I friends had tried their more expensive Indian food the day before.

We all left Railay at 2:30pm that day, paying a travel agency 350baht to get us all the way to Surat. We took a longboat and then a minibus, in the rain, back to our home city. In a very Thai fashion, we were dropped off at a random bus station outside of town by Big C, a Walmart type store. Luckily we were able to find a tuk-tuk to take us to town for 200baht for everyone. This was the end to our amazing weekend. I am so glad I was able to go and spend time in such a beautiful place. It was very rejuvenating to go and relax in paradise. I can’t wait to go back.

"Culture Shock"

“Culture shock.” It’s a funny phrase. I picture foreigners who’ve come to a new land with ill-conceived expectations of a world identical to theirs. I imagine an upper-class American arriving unannounced at a jungle village, mouth agape at the half-naked tribal people with their spears pointed right at his head. Or the first person from said tribe to get lost in the labyrinth of a European city with crowds and vehicles rushing by, completely oblivious to her existence. That’s culture shock.

Moving to modern-day Thailand in the age of anthropology electives and internet research is by and large a much less “shocking” experience. Is it strange living in a new country?  Yes, of course. Is it difficult to communicate? Sure, and at times it can be a bit frustrating. Do I get tired of rice and curry for every meal? Not yet!

I hesitate to call our experience here so far “culture shock”. Knowing about Thai culture is not the same as actually living in it, but Kristin and I arrived with a pretty good idea of what we were getting ourselves into. There have been moments I’ve been astonished by the Thai way of life (mostly involving the terrifying driving experience here) but more often I’ve enjoyed and embraced it. Altogether, we’re adjusting nicely to the slower pace of life, the genuine friendliness of the people, the country plumbing, the stifling heat and lack of air conditioning, and the “sabai-sabai” (“relax-relax”) philosophy so ingrained in the Thai culture.

We miss some western conveniences and a few comforts of home (Mexican food!!) but after a month in Thailand, we’re not shocked. We’re enjoying the ride.

Stuff Thai People Like: Gangnam Style

I thought Gangnam style was popular in the U.S., and then I came to Thailand. It is an obsession here. I pull up on my motorbike to Noonoy school and what song are they blaring in the morning assembly? Gangnam style. The kids are picking team names in class. What team name does someone pick every day? Gangnam style. You walk into a restaurant and what song do you hear within 10 miuntes of sitting down? You guessed it, Gangnam style. I walk through the courtyard at Thida and a kid runs up to me yelling, “Teacha, teacha! Gangnam style! Gangnam Style!” I’ve even heard that the one year olds at Super English can do the dance. Seriously. Gangnam. Style. All. The. Time.

If your lesson ever runs short and you’re at a loss for what to do, you could probably just start singing and dancing Gangnam Style and win some major cool points with your class.

I get it — it’s catchy. The dance is funny. I like it. Well, I liked it the 1st time. I maybe even liked it the 50th time. By the 100th time, it was getting a little old. By the 14,953th time, I just had to laugh at how crazily obsessed Thai people are with the song. Who knows when the craze will end, but until then, Gangnam Style definitely hits the top of the charts for “Stuff Thai People Like”.

A Weekend in Samui

Last weekend, Kristin and I ventured out to Koh Samui for the first time. We’d heard a lot about the island, especially about how touristy it is, but wanted to check it out ourselves. We debated spending the weekend in Khanom, but we didn’t care to drive in the rain, so we decided to take a boat to Samui instead.

We left Friday around 11 pm on the night ferry, and arrived in Nathon just after sunrise. We had reserved a bungalow online at By Beach Resort near Bang Por on the northwest side of the island. After what proved to be a difficult task of finding a tuk-tuk so early in the morning, we got a ride and plopped down on the beach until the staff arrived. They let us check in very early and we spent all day lounging on the beach and at the restaurant, and waited out the brief rainstorm in our clean, comfortable bungalow. The beach was pretty empty, and our only constant company was the resort manager’s puppies, who followed us everywhere up and down the shore.
We enjoyed good food and incredible fresh fruit shakes at the restaurant, as well as back up along the main road. Saturday night we hung out at the bar and chatted with the manager about Thailand. Sunday’s weather was absolutely beautiful and the gulf was as calm as a lake. We took advantage of this and paddled one of the resort’s kayaks out along the coast for some fantastic views of the island. We made our way back Sunday afternoon via the Seatran ferry to Don Sak and a (terrible) one hour bus ride from Don Sak back into Surat.

By Beach Resort is pretty far from the busier parts of the island, and is isolated even in the Bang Por area. This keeps it quiet, but also means there aren’t a lot of bars and restaurants easily accessible. For all we’d heard about Koh Samui being overrun with tourists, we found this particular area quiet, pretty clean, and only slightly more westernized than Surat, perfect for a relaxed weekend retreat.