Extra Clothes word of warning. — by Joe

In the most recent Big House transition of teachers we ended up with a few bags of extra clothes. Most are in good shape but don’t fit me or anyone else sticking around here. We chose a couple favorite items and let the rest sit there for a while just in case guests to our house wanted a party favor. However, it was now time for these clothes to go but we didn’t want to just throw them in the trash or leave them on the street in the rain. There is a big used clothes store on Amphur right next to Bali Bar and we’d been kicking around the idea of trying to sell the clothes there. Today was the day for that mission.
I was hoping the woman who ran the store would be excited about these clothes and we could maybe get 200 baht or so with these 25-30 items of clothing.
We pulled out our bags of clothes and used our basic Thai, “ao mai??” song roy baht??
She looked at me with a confused look and for a brief moment I thought my estimate was too cheap.
Nope, she didn’t want to pay for the clothes, ok, plan b; do you want them for free. nods all around, we headed for the bike.
She comes out of the store talking rapidly at us in Thai, we gave our best farang shrug and smile and said we don’t understand.
After some gesturing back and forth it was clear she did not want Michael’s awesome clothes. MAI AO! she said. I was sad because she didn’t even look at them and I really wanted to contribute to the local Thai economy.
I also didn’t want to take the clothes back to the house so we tried to ascertain where we should take the clothes. A temple (wat)? They gestured to the big garbage truck driving by.
We tried to explain that we were trying to be nice and give you free clothes for you to sell but our Thai wasn’t even close to go enough to get that across. End of the story is that they let us leave and kept the clothes. Maybe destined for the trash, and maybe for sale soon.
So word to the wise, that used clothes store, has some fun stuff that they sell (we bought our full moon outfits there), but they will take donations and might get angry about free clothes.
Apparently I’ve found the snag in the free wheeling entrepreneurial Thai economy. They don’t trust farang bearing gifts. Or at least me.

Ginger — by Shelby

No, this blog isn’t about that ginger. It’s about the root. Not the gross ginger they give you on the side of sushi (oh how I miss, you), or a flavor to often be avoided.

Some of the newbies are probably packing up now and wondering just what all they might need. There is one thing that I grabbed based on a rumor, and I am very glad to have done so. Ginger. That’s right, I brought it with me from Texas, and you didn’t even know.

Studies have been done to see the exact effects of ginger. It has been found to help with motion sickness, those ill from chemotherapy, nausea, and just a general upset stomach. Moving to a new place can be attached with tons of nerves. Eating Thai food when your stomach is used to mildly spicy previous to this venture, results in some pretty fun stomach flops.

I for one, get pre-school jitters. The first day before classes start, even when returning, makes me a bundle of nerves. I don’t know why. You know what helped me sleep and calmed my nerves that began in my stomach and grew all the way to my mind? Ginger.

When the Thai food finally got to me, ginger saved the day as well. There’s a plethora of pharmacies in Thailand. You can’t drive anywhere without seeing at least one. However, ginger is a nice “natural” remedy, and it can be bought for super cheap almost anywhere. I believe I got mine near the vitamins in good ol’ Wally world.

Peter’s Practical Guide to Teaching

by Peter C. Meltzer

People often ask me if they need a TEFL certificate or which TEFL certificate I think is a good one. The simple answer is you don’t need one to work with Super English. While some teachers have said better things about some programs than others (once), in my opinion they are all relatively ineffective. This also happens to be the opinion of nearly everyone who has done one. Some are even counterproductive, not necessarily to all types of teaching, just perhaps only to the particular style of teaching which we do at Super English.

This isn’t necessarily the fault of the TEFL programs. They simply can’t simulate a real classroom environment on a day to day basis, which is the only way to learn how to teach. As a result, the TEFL programs, as well as other approaches to teaching education, resort to theoretical approaches and practices. These are not useful in the type of classroom you will most likely be facing. In fact, they may confuse you. You won’t have time to discover whether this child is an auditory learner or that child is a visual learner. Most likely you’ll end up covering both anyway without thinking too much about it.  There are a lot of kids, a lot of things going on, and you’ve got a lot of material to cover.

Sure, there are probably schools where your TEFL certification would be crucially helpful. Maybe very quiet, very serene international schools with 7-10 kids per classroom whom you stay with all day. Let me know when you come across one. Based on my experience, the only way teachers learn is from practice, support, class specific advice and continued training. Trust me, once you get in front of your first classroom pretty much everything in your mind goes blank. When that happens (and later), theoretical approaches to teaching won’t be much help. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. Only practical methods and advice will be of any help to you. With that in mind, here is:

Peter’s Practical Guide to Teaching

  1. Lego Language
  2. Excellence of Execution
  3. Everything is Actionable
  4. Make ‘Em Laugh
  5. Three F’s
  6. Starting Strong
  7. Finishing Strong

I have been teaching for nearly a decade in Thailand and these are the things I have found work well. I don’t claim to be an expert but I have been reasonably successful in the field of teaching. These articles are maybe (hopefully) helpful to some. They are not authoritative statements or general treatises on Teaching. They are merely offered as possible help in learning more about teaching ESL. If you have any questions or comments after reading, please feel free to contact me via the email address above.

Advice to New Teachers

by Mitch Burbick

So, you’re coming to Thailand. Good on you. It’s nice here. Rest assured, you will figure it all out pretty quickly once you get here but these are a couple things that might be worth wrapping your mind around before heading to this side of the globe.

First off, it’s hot here. Like, really hot here. I know people come from all different parts of the world but coming from America’s west coast, the only thing I’d experienced that was slightly even maybe kind of close to this type of heat and humidity was the one summer I spent when I was 10 in rural Wisconsin chasing fireflies around with my Midwestern cousins. I’ve read books that describe hot and humid climates like being wrapped in a blanket, and that’s really what it is. It’s hot, it’s wet, and it’s more than a little bit sweaty almost all the time.

However, this is merely a fact and the advice that I’d try to impart to you is to not bring heavy clothes over. I brought a few pairs of slacks over here to teach in that were wool and they are a no go. I seriously wore them the first week I was here and never again. (Full Disclosure: There may or may not have been a slightly embarrassing amount of trouser-dampening sweat involved.) Traditional button up shirts work fine if you have anything to cover up (tattoos or the like), but polo shirts are probably the better option because you still look good when they’re not tucked in and short sleeves are better vents than long sleeves rolled up. A rather unique fact of life is that I am not a girl, so my advice in this realm for women is a little less helpful, but seeing the way that other women teachers here dress, it’s probably advisable to either bring or procure here skirts of a flow-ish nature. This makes it much easier to ride a bicycle or a motorbike to work as well. A certain someone I know bought a selection of really good looking high quality skirts before coming over and never wore them past the first day. Write this equation down and commit it to memory: tight = impractical. Girls are welcome to wear polo shirts as well but can get away with a little bit more as far as tops go seeing that the neckline isn’t too low. The kids like to stare. They like to stare a lot.

(Anecdote: I half lifted my shirt and scratched my stomach absent mindedly in front of my fifth graders the second or third week I was teaching and I still hear about it from them. A typical thing one of them might say while coming up to me scratching his/her/its stomach is: “Teacher scratch stomach,” while three of them roll on the ground laughing. They think this is hilarious.)

The second bit of advice I’d dole out is to try packing lightly. I know, I know, you’re leaving for a year. I came here with an individual who is one of those people who will pack a full on suitcase for an overnight trip. Not pretty. Half of the things brought over haven’t been touched since that first week. You can find pretty much everything here. Really, you can. Clothes-wise, bring what you need to teach in and wear around town for a week or two. Really, you’ll need a much smaller variety of clothes than you think. I’d say pick a few things that are really important to you, your luxuries, and bring them on over to make sure you’ll have them. For me it was a French press for coffee, a couple of beer cozies, and a few – even by my standards – oversized books of poetry.

Now this next piece of advice strikes particularly close to home because, by nature (I blame my Dad), I’m not a patient person. Thai people take their times with things. Thailand takes it’s time with things. Don’t ever expect your bus or train to be on time. Planes, you’re alright with, but bus and train, seriously, give yourself a few hours leeway. When you need them to be on time they’ll be only an hour late, and when you need them to be only an hour late, they’ll be six hours late. If you’re one of those people that needs everything planned out to the moment, someone who needs hotel reservations before stepping foot out of the door and a detailed sight filled action packed plan for every minute of the day, try relaxing a little bit. Things move at a different (slower) pace over here. It really does turn out to be quite fantastic, so just take it easy.

The last thing I’d advise, and something that I’m sure Peter has mentioned, is to drink as much delicious beer as you possibly can before you leave home. This country has absolute garbage for beer. If this sounds impassioned, it is because about this subject, I am impassioned. Beer here does the trick, but it’s kind of like an eerie reliving of my high school drinking experience, pushing through the taste to get the effect. I’m not saying that it’s always terrible. There are certainly some days I come home from work or have been out in the sun and find a cold Thai brewed lager to be quite the refreshing drink. I’m just saying that it’s usually pretty terrible. As far as other non-Thai beer options go, there are a few. Heineken is the only import available everywhere (for a pretty ridiculous price) but if you’re like me, you’ve always viewed Heineken as Europe’s Coor’s Light so take that for what it is. In Bangkok and Phuket you can find a wider variety, but they’re invariably expensive and seeing as how we’re hours from either of those towns, you won’t be finding them on a weekly basis. So stock up my happy and full beer drinking friends. Stock up and enjoy the sweet taste of delicious beer.

PS – If you bring me an IPA I’ll be your best friend forever. Forever ever.

Just Say Yes

by Chris Ansell

I don’t remember much from the introductory meeting John, Janet, Chris and I had when we first arrived last October, but one thing Peter mentioned stood out.

Just say “yes”.

Back then I was a nervous Chris. I was nervous about the job. I was nervous about meeting new people. I was even nervous about simply going out for food having a lonely “Sa wat dee Kup” in my Thai repertoire.

By saying “yes” to a variety of things however, my time in Surat has been the most exciting and memorable of my life so far.

The most valuable part of saying “yes” is the friends you will make through it and the authentic Thai experience you will experience through them. You will undoubtedly make some close friends amongst the Super English teachers as well as those teachers working for other language schools. I feel my experience has been completed though, through my Thai friends. Most of the Thai I can speak is thanks to them and knowing a little Thai can get you a long way as a farang.

Pooey and PeeSak are unquestionably my best Thai friends. They are owners of my favourite restaurant in town, Earth Zone. Pooey is a great chef and is always excited for me to try new recipes and various Thai delicacies that you can’t get in the UK. Lately it has been the pink eggs you see everywhere which are actually black in the middle and should be eaten with onion and garlic, as well as Pigs stomach. I have learnt to say “yes” to anything Pooey puts in front of me. I’m waiting for her to put one of the waitresses on a plate but am losing hope of this 😉

A month or two ago Moss and I were the last customers in the restaurant and were sitting at the bar having just paid the bill. It was getting late and I sensed Moss wanting to leave. We were momentarily halted however when we noticed Peesak holding a big jar of what looked like a coiled up snake in brown earthy water. My fear of snakes automatically made me reel back from the bar but having been reassured it was actually a root of some kind of tree or plant I hesitantly returned to my seat. Apparently this concoction was a traditional Thai whiskey that had been developing in the jar for over 5 years. According to Pooey, and Pooey’s mother, and Pooey’s mother’s mother and well yeah you get the point, this powerful drink can cure pains in your back. After a good 5 minutes of giggling and gesticulating Pooey also revealed it is good for a man’s member and offered Moss and I a shot. We could have said “no, sorry, it’s late and we’re pretty tired” and I thought this would be Moss’ response but we chose the other response, the response I would recommend you saying however unsure, nervous or apprehensive you may be about anything. An hour later Moss and I stumbled out of Earth Zone with big smiles on our faces and big, well, err, yes.

I have had some fantastic days out with Pooey, Peesak and their two adorable children Kaofan and Gong. We pent a morning painting on Ko Lampoo and playing in the park as well as a day at a Chinese temple and market. Through my friendship with them I have made friends with some of their friends, one of whom is a talented artist and another whom owns a number of Surat’s crazy nightclubs. Last night we had VIP treatment at Bar Code, drinking the best whiskey in the house and dancing the night away. All of this because I said yes when they invited me to their table at Earth Zone a while ago.

I am glad that what Peter said when I first arrived stuck in my head and would urge you to have a similar mindset throughout your time here.

Learning the local language

by Tristan Rentos

At Super English, we receive many questions from incoming teachers and potential applicants regarding Thai language. How much Thai do I have to learn to get by? What’s the best way to learn Thai? Is it difficult? Does Super English have Thai language teachers? I am not an expert in speaking Thai, but seeing as though I have been living in Surat for over a year now, I thought I’d have a go at trying to bring a simple explanation to this potentially complex problem.

How much Thai do I have to learn?

This is somewhat of a “how long is a piece of string” question, there is no simple answer. Let me put it this way: Surat Thani is not a tourist area, 99% of tourists here are just passing through on their way to Koh Samui. Therefore, with no tourists to look after there is no need for most of the locals, even the shopkeepers or restaurateurs, to learn English. Even at a global MNC (like 7/11 or Pizza Hut – we have both here) the staff will only speak Thai.

To avoid any awkward situations, such as getting ripped off or receiving the wrong meal, you will need to learn the following:

  1. Numbers (most important).
  2. General greetings and pleasantries (How are you, excuse me etc.).
  3. Ordering food and drinks.
  4. “Take me to _____” for Tuk Tuk drivers.
  5. How to bargain (not imperative, but a good skill to have in Thailand)

These are just the basics, however if you are prepared to learn above and beyond the aforementioned then your Thai experience will be richer. The locals will appreciate any effort you make to speak Thai, even if you make a right mess of it (they will also laugh at you, but they don’t mean anything bad by it).

What’s the best way to learn Thai?

To learn properly, you need to have a native speaker assist you. You cannot learn Thai solely from a book, the tones are too complex and you will mispronounce many words! The Thai staff at Super English will be happy to assist you, we also have many Thai friends who have been helping teachers for many years and will be prepared to give you a hand. It does help to have a good Thai book to build your vocabulary, I can recommend Thai for Beginners (orange cover) by Benjawan Poomsan Becker. It’s easy to follow and the transliterations actually come close to the Thai script when pronounced.

Regarding the method, I found that the best way to start conversing in Thai is to find a native speaker who will be patient enough to sit with you, teach you new words, fix your mistakes and have a conversation (this is where the aforementioned book comes in handy). This might sound a bit far fetched but Thai people are very sociable, they really like foreigners and are always up for a drink and a chat after work.

Is it difficult?

Yes and no. Thai language does not have many of the complexities that English has, such as tenses and articles. There are also less words to learn, and some words have more than one meaning depending on the context. Thai people also commonly omit pronouns if the context is made clear. The difficulty in learning Thai comes with the tones. There are 5 tones in all, which means that any word could potentially have 5 different meanings depending on how it’s pronounced. For example, maa could mean horse, dog or come depending on the tone. If you get the tone wrong, then you have changed the word and changed the context of the sentence; this is usually when confusion and misunderstanding comes in.

When you first hear a Thai person pronounce the 5 tones, they all sound similar and you can’t help but wonder how they manage to hit the right tones when they speak so quickly! I started off by practicing each word with the different tones and took it from there.

Does Super English have Thai Teachers?

Yes – our Thai staff will conduct lessons 3 times a week for any Super Teacher interested in learning the basics.

If you have any more questions, feel free to email me at trentos_81@hotmail.com

Testimonial – Observations and Lessons

by Chris MacInnes

SE Teacher, November 2009 – October 2010

I’ve found that whenever I start talking about anything from here, I’ve stumbled and overworded it, and made it more complicated than it really has to be. I’m therefore going to take a page out of the Surat Thani book of life, and break it down. Simplify. Here now are the observations and lessons I’ve learned during my year in Super English, each in 50 words or less.

  • The spiders here will not kill you, and very rarely do you see one big enough to make you question your decision of coming here.
  • Getting hired by Super English makes me feel less like an employee, and more like an Island Getaway winner.
  • It won’t rain for long, but it will RAIN. That still doesn’t guarantee you’ll have water in your taps tomorrow though. Conserve!
  • The term “farang” is usually used not endearingly, not racially, but more in a sense of astonishment that we actually leave our houses at night.
  • Unless you have prior experience, 95% of you will just barely eke by with the Thai language. 99.9% of you will not learn their alphabet.
  • Just because that bug fritter stand in the night market is gross doesn’t mean that you’ll never buy any.
  • I was here with a culinary connoisseur, and she couldn’t identify most of the ingredients in the food. Just sayin’.
  • It’s surprisingly easy to carry a guitar while driving a motorbike. A bag of unfolded laundry? Not so easy. A basket is a sound investment.
  • The children whose classes you’ll walk into will grab your heart from the very first word out of their mouths. Make sure that you leave them with many more English words coming from their mouths.
  • About classes, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When in doubt, dance.
  • There are only a few Surat Thani locals that speak really good English. There is a good chance that you will meet and befriend most of them.
  • The majority of residents of this city don’t speak any English whatsoever. Their personalities are sometimes enough to befriend them anyways.
  • Kindness may be a universal language, but it took the Thais to truly become fluent in it. Remember this when you struggle to get your point across: They’re already bilingual.
  • If you hear the King’s Song, stop, stand, and pay respects.
  • Read a little bit about the King before you get here. You’ll be surprised at how interesting a guy he is. He really is amazing.
  • Make sure you don’t tell everyone here anything otherwise.
  • Do you like sports! Great! By the way, do you define sports as “snooker, takraw and English football?” Ooh, I’ve got bad news for you then.
  • Things worth their weight in gold: English movies and books, cheese, real coffee, beef.
  • Food oddities: Sugar goes in your dinner, salt in your dessert. Corn is an ice cream topping, and tomatoes are in fruit salad. Sandwiches are bitesize. Durian is loved by some, which is the biggest oddity of all.
  • Try everything at least once. You’ll fall in love with many foods you’ll never expect, and if not, then at least you can brag back home that you’ve eaten congealed pig’s blood.
  • Foreigners are not designed for squat toilets, so don’t feel too embarrassed the first time you attempt it.
  • There are only about 100 English speaking foreigners living in this city. You’ll run into them all eventually.
  • If people tell you that a place is worth checking out, that means it’s probably crawling with either culture or foreigners. But it’s usually good for a reason.
  • If you have a question about anything related to this job or country, read the website. If you can’t make it to a computer, your co-workers are usually good for it.
  • The best places in town get whittled down to [food type][gender] because they don’t have names. For example, I ate at the Muslim rice lady and soup lady today. From that, everyone here knows where I’ve been.
  • The school systems in Thailand are chaotic. The only thing orderly in that school will be you, and probably Sister Principal.
  • The Super English classes are difficult. They will sap the day’s last ounce of energy out of you. But when you see your class succeed so well within and outside Super English, you’ll feel like you can lift a car.
  • Collared shirts are a necessity. However, you should see what the other ESL schools have to wear.
  • Sweatshirts? No. I know, you think “Maybe…” But no. And don’t get me started on flannel PJ pants.
  • Three sheets. Fold thrice. Apply. Fold in half. Apply once more. Fold and put in the bin. Toilet hose optional, but awkwardly worth it.
  • Riding motorbikes are only scary if you drive like you do back home. Conversely, driving back home will be horrible if you pick up habits from here.
  • One motorbike can fit five children along with the driver, if properly Tetris-ed in there.
  • You can brag that back home you rode around on a motorbike for your entire stay here. Just don’t mention that back home you’d be ridiculed for riding a scooter.
  • Put it in perspective when you get ripped off by a Tuk-Tuk driver. I mean, he probably needs that forty-five cents more than you do.
  • If cars honk at you, it’s their way to politely let you know they’re coming up in your blind spot. If you honk at them, you’re probably angry.
  • The people who work ESL here are here not for money or fame, but for experience and adventure. They bring that attitude to class. They make damn good teachers.
  • Even over the scenery, the culture, the experience and the adventure, the best thing about Super English are the people that you share all these things with. The best people in the world work for Super English.
  • Thai music sucks. It’s like Nickelback, N*Sync and a second-string house DJ had a lovechild.
  • Thai TV lesson: The Thai word for “Punchline” is actually a cartoony ‘boing’ sound. Also, Thai TV is funny in that “home movies” kind of way.
  • They’re not laughing at you… Actually, yeah, they’re laughing at you, but it’s in a nice way.
  • I came to Thailand for three reasons: To gain experience as a teacher, to accelerate my class’ English abilities, and to watch someone get kicked in the face. Lucky for me, Mui Thai kickboxing has me covered.
  • The beach is less than an hour away. A day trip to the ocean is commonly acceptable. A weekend trip is much more enjoyable though. That month-long trip between semesters though? Flawless.
  • Scorpions, upon further analysis, scare the living snot out of me. But not as much as groups of stray dogs.
  • In schools, your kids will cheat at every game possible. Don’t let it drive you insane when kids from other teams whisper answers, even though it defeats their own team. Watch out: it goes for tests and notebooks too.
  • Creativity isn’t really promoted here, so when every kid uses the same answer you do, don’t sweat it. Just give more examples next time.
  • Super Students don’t have that problem as much, because with only 15 per class, WE CAN CATCH THEM.
  • My favourite locations out of town are worth seeing multiple times, but many times, the ride there is even better.
  • Bring your camera EVERYWHERE. You’ll see.
  • I may never see another gecko in my life after I leave here, and I’m actually very depressed about it.
  • If you’re not picky with your alcohol, you’ll do fine.
  • Never ever drink Sec and Pui’s magic elixir they keep in a giant mason jar in the kitchen at Earth Zone. It’s good for joints, bowels, and tear-welling headaches the next morning.
  • One day, in the box of a pick-up truck with my co-workers, eating a full roasted chicken and sipping whiskey, looking out at the scenery whizzing by, feeling the wind in my hair, I had my first ever true moment of peace. You’ll have one too.
  • When you read your class list, try not to laugh too hard at the kids named Pee, Fuk, Model, Fluke and Nut. It’s either call them that, or learn their real names.
  • My last moment at Super English involved me hugging a student named Gun on the way out the door, and weeping openly that this would be my last time seeing any of them.
  • I will never have a job as good as this in my life ever again.
  • I can’t believe it’s been a year.
  • This isn’t the most glamorous job in the world, and the pay may look bad from where you are now, but this is the best job you’ll ever work.

And that’s all I can think of. Thanks for the year. I’ll never forget it, and I’ll always wish I was still here.

Not really goodbye, because I’m leaving so much of myself behind.

-Christopher “Moss” MacInnes