27 May 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

I wrote this article to post on the Super English website. It should be posted there soon. In the meantime I thought it made sense to post here as well since it is about my return to Surat Thani. Enjoy.

My first 48 hours in Surat Thani, Thailand ended more than seven months ago. I know how to get around town. I own a beat-up scooter. I know where to eat and where not to. Surat is my home, but for the past few days it has felt brand new.

Last semester I was a teacher at a different language school in town. When an opportunity came up to work for Super English I jumped at the chance because I knew through friends that they offered the most flexibility and the least amount of administrative work. I knew going in that moving to a different school meant a bombardment of new; new students, new teaching philosophies, new co-workers, new housing, new roommates, new, new, new. I wasn’t apprehensive about the change, I was excited. My home was being renovated and plans looked amazing.

For all of April and most of May I traveled around Southeast Asia burning through the previous semester bonus. I went to Northern Thailand for the Thai New Year, took a slow boat down the Mekong River into Laos, went over land into Vietnam, rode halfway down the peninsula on a broken down Russian motorcycle and eventually ended up in Saigon two days before New Teacher Training at Super English was scheduled to begin. Teaching abroad gives you the time and means to see the world. That is why we take the leap others are afraid to. But, all that globe trekking can be exhausting. By the time I hit Saigon I was pooped, spent, knackered. I was ready to see my renovated home and start my renovated life.

After a seemingly endless stream of slow boats and sleeper buses flying home was an absolute joy. I flew Air Asia which is cheap and no frills but I half expected to be handed a glass of champagne because I felt just that spoiled. After two months of traveling I couldn’t wait to eat Thai food again, so when I landed at the Bangkok airport I did the only logical thing, I headed straight to McDonalds and ordered a Big Mac. Logical? Well, yes, the food in Surat is phenomenal and cheap. The Bangkok airport has cheap imitations at exorbitant prices. A Big Mac is a Big Mac.

When my connecting flight landed in Surat I was greeted by Wen, the true Super Star of Super English. Wen is Thai and the head administrator at Super. She does it all and if you decide to move here you’ll love her. Wen dropped me off at Super English where I met the other new teachers. I was dirty and disheveled and tired enough to sleep standing up, but everyone seemed nice. I could see future friends even through blurry sleep deprived eyes. An hour or so later I got dropped off at my place of residence, a house affectionately known as the RAT House. I took the only room left, a room not so affectionately known at The Dungeon. The Dungeon-Rat combo was a temporary thing. Right down the street surrounded by scaffolding and painters was our pretty new house almost ready to occupy. The prospect of sleeping off my travels on a funk nasty mattress that felt like a sheet pulled over springs was daunting, but to borrow a word from a former Super English teacher I was nonplussed. It was a “This is Thailand” moment. “This is Thailand” is a favorite Farang phrase. Its official translation is, “You Sir/Madam sought out an adventure and every adventure comes with its trials. Forget the 1st world. Embrace the challenge!” The condensed translation is of course, “Deal.”

The New House!

My trusty scooter was stranded on Koh Samui so I had to take a Tuk Tuk to pick up my belongings from a friend’s house. I am not a pack rat, but I have a thing about getting rid of books…I can’t do it. I wish I could because my backpack weighed about 80 pounds. (No I don’t know how many kilo or stone that is but trust me it’s really heavy.) I should have paid the Tuk Tuk driver for a round-trip ride. Unfortunately, that bit of brilliance didn’t hit me until I had walked for 20 minutes laden with an 80-pound backpack and a giant green fan. By the time I snagged a Tuk Tuk I was a sweaty, bagging eyed, stanky mess of a Farang. Those poor kids sharing a ride with me, little did they know that the monster before them was an Ajarn. I trudged through the entrance of the Rat House, dropped my things on the floor of The Dungeon, plugged in my giant green fan and slept on springs for 10 hours straight.

At 7:45 the next morning Peter Meltzer, the head man at Super English picked-up all the new teachers for a Welcome Breakfast. The food was traditional and fantastic; rice porridge soup with shrimp, dim sum and because I can’t abandon all Western ways, hot black coffee. Afterwards we took a tour of Thida, the school where I will be teaching this year. The tour was all I needed to get my head around a return to teaching. The kids had started their Thai classes already and were really excited to see us. There is no such thing as a Thai kid without personality. They are turned up to 10 at all times and you are an irresistible toy. You will never get closer to famous than teaching at a Thai school. Calls of “Teacher Teacher” will follow you everywhere. You can’t blend or meld or cling to anonymity. As a Farang teacher you are the show and the Thai kids love it.

Over the next day and a half I got a chance to learn more about Super English, my new co-workers, and the exact brevity of my time in the Dungeon-Rat combo. In that time I got all of my laundry done for 60 baht, ate at a few of my favorite places and drank a few Singha beers with friends I hadn’t seen. Many things were new new. Many things were same same. Surat is a great place to live and it felt great to be home.

I start teaching classes tomorrow. I move into my new house a few days later. The scaffolding is coming down. The dust is being swept away. The renovations on my life in Surat are nearly complete and I cannot wait to settle in.

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