Happy Thanksgiving

Today, unsurprisingly, doesn’t feel anything like Thanksgiving here in Surat. There are no decorations, no parades, no turkey trots, no feasts, no football, no big family gatherings, and no days off from school. In fact, Thida served about the most farang-unfriendly meal possible today, with dried salted fish and a fishy fermented soup. Ugh.

But… in 46 hours and 36 minutes we’ll have our annual Super English Thanksgiving party at Sweet Kitchen! (who’s counting, though?…) This is our third Thanksgiving in Surat, and this has been one of my absolute favorite SE events throughout our time here. Each year that we’ve been here, Peter has bought us a massive Thanksgiving feast at a restaurant run by a chef who spent a long time in America. Stuffing, mac n’ cheese, and lots of other great food. It’s a taste of home and I can’t wait!

Only 46 hours and 34 minutes now!

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Old Thida Renovations

Thida is separated into 3 campuses – Old Thida (or Thida 1 as many Thai teachers call it), New Thida (Thida 2), and MEP. The MEP students in all grades go to class in the MEP building, adjacent to New Thida. The building is brand new, just now in its second year, and is well-designed and pleasant-looking.

Students in Anuban 1 (3 year olds) through Prathom 2 attend class at New Thida, the giant building that looks like a bit like a spaceship ready to launch a colony to a distant solar system. It was built less than 10 years ago and still looks nice and new.

Then there’s Old Thida, about a 3 minute walk down the road. It is, as the name would suggest, quite old. It looks it too. You walk in and feel like you’re in a typical schoolyard built in the 1940s with a bit of Thai style mixed in. It’s not exactly an eyesore, but it’s definitely not the building they show off to parents, either. But over the last month, Thida has decided to spruce it up a bit, maybe to catch the attention of people driving by on the street. They built a fancy new glass facade and have remodeled the entryway. Supposedly, Old Thida’s getting a full makeover throughout the rest of the year. Just another example of Surat looking more and more modern.

Old Thida Front Entrance

Gettin’ Educated

Every semester I’ve been in Thailand has been a little different. The ways I’ve spent my time, both professionally and personally, have changed throughout my stay here. Some semesters I’ve really been into inventing new games to play in class or creating engaging class projects for my MEP students. At times I’ve spent a lot of my free time playing soccer, swimming, brewing beer, or reading.

This semester I decided to take advantage of the abundant free time in the evenings this job affords and take an online class. I’ve always been fascinated by data and statistics (baseball stats were how I learned math as a kid) and have had a few math classes covering the basics over the years. This past year, I discovered the website fivethirtyeight, which uses data to tell stories about sports, politics, food, culture, etc.. I’ve read nearly every feature there for the past 6 months and it’s really sparked my interest again.

I recently came across an online course series in data science on Coursera. With my intrigue renewed and my time available, I decided to dive in this semester. I’m currently learning how to use an advanced statistical program, and soon I’ll be learning about regression models and finding trends in data. It’s fun and interesting, and should give me some useful skills. I’ve also started collecting data on Thida lunch for my first personal stats project. More on that in a coming post.

I love that working here is giving me so much freedom to pursue personal development in addition to teaching, and it’s something I’ll likely miss a lot once I’m gone.

(Already) Time for Another Great Vacation!

Kristin and I moved here almost a year and a half ago, and our first semester flew by so fast. Before we knew it, we were looking at 2+ months off in Southeast Asia. We took full advantage, seeing tons of Thailand, as well as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore. It was an amazing vacation. We came back to Thida, worked hard for a somewhat longer semester, then took off on another 3 week trip to Indonesia. Less than 2 months later, we were able to spend over a week in Cambodia at Christmas. And now it’s already time for our next big break.

Someone mentioned today at school how great teaching is because of the sense of completion. Not only do students finish a level, but there’s a nice chunk of time off for both teachers and kids to look forward to at the end. Friday is our last day of school for over 2 months. Some teachers are moving away (*tear). Most of us who are staying, though, are taking advantage of this time to adventure off to new places, visit family and friends, and recharge for next year. 

Kristin and I decided to split our break between visiting back home and traveling through China. First we’re spending a few days at beautiful Thai beaches, then it’s time to fly back to the states. We’re really excited to head home in about a week, see our families, eat tons of Mexican food, and get reverse culture-shocked by America. After about a month there, we’ll fly to China and… do who knows what. China things, I suppose. We’re pretty pumped about going there as well. It’s been near the top of my list of places I really want to see for a while, and while a month is nowhere near long enough to see that much of it, we’ll get a nice taste.

Two school days left, and then we’re on the road yet again!

A Lasting “Impression”

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Between Old Thida and New Thida sits one of the all-time favorites of SE teachers – Impression coffee shop. Run by “New”, a Thai guy who speaks great English, this place is a daily stop for many teachers. I myself visit about 3-4 times each week. Often after lunch, or during a long break in the afternoon, I’m in need of a little caffeine kick. I’ll head over and pick up a “Mocha Yen” (iced mocha coffee). Or perhaps I’m craving a tasty Thai tea or an Oreo shake. New will whip up whatever refreshing drink I want and chat away with me or the other teachers stopping through.

Two things set Impressions apart for me. The first is that the coffee is actually good. New grinds real coffee beans in the shop. None of that instant crap you’ll find in the carts on the street. And he spent a few years living in Portland, where coffee is a serious deal. So he knows what he’s doing. The drinks are fantastic.

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The second thing that makes Impression a great spot for a quick mid-day break is New himself. He’s one of the friendliest people I’ve met here, always asking us how we’re doing, how classes are going, if we enjoyed our vacations or weekend trips. Plenty of Thais are really friendly, but New is fluent in English, so it’s easier to chat with him than most others. He’ll talk about anything ranging from travel locations to Thai politics. I’ve learned a decent amount about Thailand from him, and he’s helped improve my Thai speaking. His shop is flooded with Thai kids after school, and he seems to genuinely enjoy having them all around hanging out at his place.

Sadly – nay – tragically, New is soon moving to Phetchabun, north of Bangkok. He’s passing the coffee shop off to some other guys who used to teach at Thida. They’re also really friendly, but… no more conversations with New. And while we’ll have to wait and see, I doubt the drinks will be as good either. Those of us staying for next year are all sad to see New go. We’ll have a tough adjustment when we come back from the break, but we’re always finding pleasant surprises around here, so we’ll cope.

Here’s to New, his fantastic drinks, his friendly spirit and great conversations! You’ll be missed. โชคดี / Chok dee (Good luck)!

Friday Frenzy

I think the best parts of my job would have to be playing games with students and the flexibility I have to be as creative as I’d like. My favorite thing is inventing new games to play with my students. They really enjoy new games and always like to help tweak old games or help set the rules for a new one. Of all the new games or variations I’ve come up with, the best has to be “Friday Frenzy,” which I play every Friday after quizzing my students.

“Frenzy” is a dice-based game using 2 dice. It’s similar to “Boom, Switch, Steal,” but more complicated and therefore better for older students. Each number from 2-12 is assigned a point value or an action. Some actions we’ve used: steal (take some or all of another team’s points), multiply (current points x 3), divide (current points / 2), digit shuffle (617 becomes 176 or 716), trade (switch points with another team), roll again, etc.

After a student answers a question correctly (or first, if doing face-off style questions) they get to roll the dice. Then the craziness begins. Sometimes kids get on rolling streaks where they are rolling a lot of doubles and keep rolling for 5-10 turns. Other times a team’s point total skyrockets, crashes back down, and then builds up again. It’s pure frenzy, hence the name.

After inventing “Frenzy” and realizing how crazy it could get, I permanently fixed it as the Friday game, knowing it would keep the class interested all week despite which teams were doing well or poorly. With “Friday Frenzy,” all of a team’s work for the whole week can be massively multiplied or completely wiped away, all in an instant. Scores have ranged from about 10 all the way up to around 80,000 points. The kids love this game and they go absolutely nuts by the end of the class on Friday! It’s an awesome way to end the week. “Friday Frenzy” always puts a smile on my face heading into the weekend.

Noisy Neighbors

A couple months ago, we moved out into “The Container” – a home constructed of two built-out shipping containers that’s been passed down through SE teachers for a few years now. It’s surrounded by jungle overtaking a coconut plantation. There’s all sorts of vegetation everywhere and it’s a peaceful place to sit and listen to the sounds of birds, insects, and the wind in the trees. It’s especially relaxing during a heavy storm when the rain pounds the tin roof and wall.

Our landlords and neighbors right next to us are all also very friendly and pretty quiet. However, once every couple of days, some other nearby neighbors crank up their car audio system to obscene levels. They blare random combinations of Thai and American pop music, with both throbbing bass and piercing tenors. It usually only lasts 5-10 minutes, but for those few minutes all the peace of the jungle is consumed by their sound system. Birds are replaced by Bird. And then suddenly, it stops. The sounds of the jungle start back up and all is at peace again.

Tonight, instead of blaring pop music, these neighbors decided 10:30 pm is the best time to start using a power saw. Fortunately, this doesn’t make the container thump, but it’s yet another one of those times you just have to smile, shake your head, and say “This is Thailand.”