The Calm Before The Storm

Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I would say that it’s because I’ve been a bit busy with school etc… but my colleagues would give me all sorts of abuse because that is definitely NOT the case. In fact, I’ve barely taught at all since I last posted, due to exams and extra-curricular trips which I’m not involved with. Basically, I’ve just been a bit lazy.

Nakhon Si Thammarat City Wall. I didn’t take this.

Although I suggested in my last post that I probably wouldn’t go on any trips during January, I did actually manage to spend a few days in Nakhon Si Thammarat (about 3 hours north of Hat Yai) and spent a weekend on Koh Lanta after it turned out the high school was going on a huge scout trip, which meant I didn’t have to be in school. The trip to Nakhon was really good – I saw one of my best friends from my time studying in Holland, and given we quite reasonably thought we would never see each other again (being from other sides of the world) it was really cool to hang out,. I managed to make it to a waterfall (with a rope jump and everything!), and the general vibe was a lot different to Hat Yai, and it certainly made me think about my plans for the next semester and what I want from the remainder of my time in Thailand. Unfortunately I lost my camera on the way back, so I don’t have any photos (I do now have a new camera, but only got in on Saturday and haven’t taken a photo with it yet).

Koh Lanta. I didn’t take this.

As for my trip to Koh Lanta, I was basically told late in the week that I would have the next Monday, Tuesday and Weds off. So on Saturday afternoon I packed my bag and went to the bus station, and got the first bus to one of the jump off points for the Islands (Krabi, Satun or Chumpon) – the first bus was going to Krabi, so I spent the night in a hostel there and then got the mini-van over to the island. As the Lonely Planet guide mentions, it is incredibly beautiful. But it is also pretty fucking boring (there’s only so much time I can spend reading a book on a beach) and is very much a family/couples resort, so not a great destination for a backpacker, and I probably won’t go back any time soon.

Although I may not have had many adventures recently, there have been some gradual developments as far as my teaching and interactions with the Thai populations are concerned. The biggest development is undoubtedly in my grasp of the Thai language, which I’m quite proud to say is coming along quite quickly. I can have brief and basic conversations in Thai, and as a result I no longer have to drink sweet coffee, which has drastically improved my quality of life. I can also understand some things that are said, although this is not necessarily a good thing. I really wasn’t expecting to be so disappointed and hurt when I heard a kid calling me a retard – I mean that’s just what kids say about their teachers, especially if they think the teacher doesn’t understand – and I have been told by others that while Thais do smile at you quite a lot, what they say doesn’t always correspond to their friendly facial expression (although this is probably no different to anywhere in the world). But generally, picking up some of the language has been a huge positive, and it has improved my relationship with most of my students. I can now joke with them and tell them a bit more about myself, as well as make it clear that I don’t actually hate them (even if I do hate teaching them). Unfortunately, I am fairly sure that as a result, most of the students have completely stopped listening to me when I speak English, and I have noticed that students do seem to think that the students don’t really speak any English to me any more.

Also, I do think that the novelty factor of me teaching and living in a foreign country has pretty much disappeared (both for me and my colleagues/students). There are aspects of living in Thailand that didn’t used to bother me that I now find incredibly frustrating (mainly the need for outrageous amounts of sugar in EVERYTHING) – and I think that for many of the students, I am no longer the exciting, new ‘farang’ teacher. Now, I’m just another teacher trying to get them to learn a subject that they have no interest in and can see little or no use for. I would like to go into this in a bit more detail (and will do at a later date), but for obvious reasons I will just say that I am not hearing ‘teacher handsome’ as much as I was, and I have had some pretty awful classes (although I still have some really good ones too).

Finally, this week my colleague Lana finished teaching at the school – in between lecturing me on the superior bone density of the cave men compared to today’s human beings, she also taught me most of the my Thai and helped me find my bearings in Hat Yai. So I’d like to thank her for all her help and wish her the best of luck with everything in the future.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this post – sorry if it seems like a bit of ‘filler’, but to be honest right now there is not a lot going on, as most people seem to just be counting down to the end of the semester and saving money. Also, sorry about the lack of photos.

Horsinho xx

Visa run/New year’s

Well it’s been a long time since I last posted, but that’s mainly cos I’ve been pretty busy with my visa run and a New Year’s holiday, which is a pretty good reason I guess.

This may or may not be (it probably isn’t) Koh Pha-Ngan

But before I start talking about my trips away from Hat Yai, there have been a couple of things which have happened at school which are probably worth a mention. The first of these has to be the school football tournament, in which I was asked to play for Team Teacher (or team Man Toilet as we were apparently called.) I couldn’t work out what the point of it was, or if it was a knock-out or group stage competition, or what the prize was. But obviously I jumped at the chance to play, and cancelled any classes that might get in the way of my participation. And I have to say parts of it were brilliant. The cheer I got when I walked on to the pitch was easily the loudest of the day, and I was asked to show my non-existent six pack ……. by two thirteen year-old boys. One of the guys I work with, who unlike me has actually experienced the world of generic office jobs and living in Slough says that he will never get tired of the celebrity status that you enjoy here as a ‘farang’ teacher, and I definitely agree. Sometimes it might get a bit annoying, and constantly hearing ‘teacher you are handsome’ can somewhat diminish its power as a compliment, but as a general rule I think it’s better to hear these things than not to.

Man Toilet take on the school’s football stars

However, not everything about this tournament was so positive, and parts of it were pretty frustrating. One of the reasons that the cheer was so loud (besides my good looks, athletic physique and previously established footballing prowess of course) was that I was actually a bit late, and all the other players were warming up waiting for me. I’d been told the game started at 4:00, so I got to the pitch (a patch of concrete with some markings and goals) at 3:45. But somewhere down the line, the kick-off time had been changed, and no one had seen any reason to tell me. The next day, our game started at 3. So I got changed into my kit at 2:45 and headed down to the pitch … only to find actually it kicked off at 4. This left me looking like a bit of an idiot in my kit a full hour before the kick off of a 20 min game/glorified kick around. These misunderstandings were probably a result of my very poor Thai and the marginally better level of English among my teammates, but the Thai teachers all seemed to get the message.

Man Toilet concede with yours truly off the pitch

This frustration continued when we started playing. Once we kicked-off, it quickly became apparent that the Thai teachers really had no intention of passing me the ball. As far as they were concerned, asking me to play was a nice gesture, and the kids go to cheer their farang teacher, but now that was all out the way, it’d be much appreciated if I’d just sub myself off and let them get on with the business of playing. When I first got subbed-off, I didn’t want to cause offence by telling anyone else to come off so I could come back on, so I actually played less than half of the game. The second game (against the star players of the school, who I think I’ve already mentioned are pretty good) was a bit better, although there was one moment when I had to point out that I’d already been off once, and had only been back on the pitch for 2 mins, so wasn’t about to go off again. (I feel like I should point out that though we lost the game something like 4-2, in my time on the pitch it was 1-1). For our third game we were missing a couple of our main players so I actually played nearly the whole game – we won 5-1 and I finally got on the score sheet (twice), but by this point the tournament had lost whatever buzz it had, and had there been any more games I wouldn’t have bothered to play – sometimes I even ended up staying in school past 4:00, which my colleagues will know is something I rarely do willingly.

Man Toilet finally pull one back

This tournament took place in the run up to Christmas, which unfortunately at my school isn’t a very big deal. While most other teachers got at least some days off, we were required to work right through to the 28th. But I did manage to spy an opportunity to do a bit less work, and so I held Christmas parties with every class that could be trusted not to turn an hour of non-structured festive celebrations into a Lord of the Flies type scenario – so of my 19 classes, 5 were treated to some food and drink (which they brought in themselves on top of my contributions) and my ipod’s collection of Christmas music. I even managed to use up another lesson by getting the kids to write Christmas cards to each other via secret santa – I got involved too, and found myself making (not just buying) Christmas cards for certain kids. In the middle of all this, I was also told that on Christmas day, I’d have to be in school by 6:30 to dress up as Santa and give presents to the kids. Well this I did, and you wouldn’t believe what a Thai kid will do to another just to get a single tiny chocolate football. But this was not the end of my duties. I also had to, along with one of my colleagues, tell a Christmas story and sing Christmas songs in front of a few hundred children. Well my colleague is South African, and they don’t really have Christmas songs or stories like we do in England, so in the end I had to sing Jingle Bells and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer in their entirety. I was actually surprised by how many of the words I remembered, considering I haven’t sung either since I was about 13, but the again, it’s hardly like reciting the Qu’ran is it? After about 30 mins, we were both drenched in sweat (we might have been dressed in Santa outfits, but the weather was certainly not North Pole-like), and desperate for it to finish. Eventually it did, and all I can say is that is maybe my most ridiculous teaching experience in Thailand yet, and I will never ever work out what point it served, beyond my school showing off their farang teachers (unless this was the actual point, which is more than likely).

Christmas Party

I didn’t actually have to work the whole of Christmas week, because on boxing day I had to head down to Malaysia to get a new visa, as my tourist one was due to expire on the 27th. I had wanted to go down much earlier, but my agency didn’t get round to arranging a substitute teacher (and still only managed one for 1 of the 3 days I was away) until the last minute. They also gave me some not very clear information about how long it could take, and while I won’t go into it, I’ll just say that I can’t work out if they were just lying or incompetent. Anyway, getting down to Penang was fairly simple, and I quite enjoyed my stay there really. I can see why people who have been on a few visa runs get bored of it pretty quickly, but the food was incredible, there a few other English teachers from Hat Yai on their visa runs as well and there were some nice things to see – it is a UNESCO world heritage site after all. And I even managed to find a used book shop, which I was pretty excited about. After an initial scare, I did manage to get my Non-immigrant B Visa, which means that I can now get a work permit if I choose to do so, although it’s maybe not worth it at this point. While I was in Penang I also got a message that there were still tickets for the night bus to Koh Samui/Pha-Ngan on the Friday, making spending the weekend and New Year’s Eve on one or the islands an option. So after picking up my visa, I got the bus back to Hat Yai. Within about 1 hour I got home, showered, packed and got back to the bus station.

One of the many,many shrines at Kek Lok Si

We ended up going all the way to Koh Pha-Ngan, and despite being told otherwise, we found (good) accommodation quite quickly, for the first night at least. We rented a couple of bikes and hung out at a couple of beaches. We then had something for dinner and then went got some beers and took a walk along the beach, To avoid this post becoming too long, I’ll just quickly go over what we got up to over the rest of the weekend – to be honest it was pretty standard ‘weekend on an island’ fare (#bigtime), and there’s not really a stand-out moment to dwell on. On the Saturday we went on a cruise, went snorkeling and did a bit of hiking and I had 4 donuts and about a million slices of watermelon and pineapple for breakfast. We also managed to find accommodation for the night. On a quick side note, if you ever go to Koh Pha-Ngan for a New Year’s full moon party, you will no doubt be told that you won’t be able to find accommodation unless you book in advance, Well unless you’re dead set on staying in Hat Rin (where the party actually takes place), it’s not too hard to find decent accommodation as long as you’re prepared to ask around a bit. The next day (the day of the full moon party) I went off to find some friends in Hat Rin which wasn’t the easiest thing to do armed with only a Thai phone, but eventually I bumped into them. It was pretty cool to see some friends from Hereford/Exeter, and it gave me and my travel partners a break from each other. After dinner I went to find the guys I’d traveled from Hat Yai with for the main event – the New Year’s Full Moon party.

A lagoon on an island off Koh Pha-Ngan

Apparently, there were 30,000 people at this party, although I think the ridiculously terrible weather of that day perhaps meant there weren’t quite as many. But there were still enough people like myself decked out in fluorescent clothes and face paint to make it easily the biggest party I’ve ever been to (after Queen’s Day in Amsterdam of course). The buckets were cheap, a lot of skin was on show, and yes, someone got shot. All in all, it was ok. I really can’t say it was brilliant or the best party I’ve ever been to. I think in that sort of situation you really just have to go all out to have a good time, but I guess having no place to stay meant that I had to be quite careful about how much I drank among other things, and probably hampered my enjoyment slightly. But probably more significant was the fact that I didn’t really come to Thailand to hang out on a dirty beach resort with a bunch of juiced up Aussies and sunburned British girls, and I don’t think anyone, least of all myself, would ever mistake that for my ‘scene’. Now I’m not gonna start accusing these people of ‘ruining’ the island – quite frankly if you sell buckets including 1 bottle of spirits, energy drink and coca-cola for only 150 baht (like £3) you’ve only got yourself to blame – but I think that when you’re on the other side of the world, there are many more rewarding experiences that can be had. My favourite parts of my time in Thailand so far have been when I’ve managed to engage with the native population on a level beyond tourist/native. I’m not talking about discovering that we are ‘one’ or ‘the same’, just that when I’ve managed to get past the barriers that exist (language, culture etc…), Thailand has felt more like ‘home’, which personally I find quite important. But still, I had fun, and while I wouldn’t go out out of my way to do so, I would definitely go to another Full Moon Party if I was around for it.

A very blurry Hat Yao Beach at night

Anyway, that’s all for now – I might have another trip planned for this coming weekend, but after that I really have to turn my attentions to saving money for the summer holidays and working out what I’m gonna do during and after them, so I might not have so much to talk about for a while!

Laterz, Horsinho xx

A Weekend Away…

As I mentioned in my last post, this Monday was a public holiday in Thailand, so I had a three-day weekend. And because the children at my school were on holiday this week (although I still had to come in) I took the Friday off, and on Thursday night I took a bus to Krabi, the nearest backpacker place I could think of. My original plans fell apart at the beginning of the week, and I was left with the option of being a not completely welcome guest on other people’s trips or going it alone – I backed myself and chose the latter.

Krabi

On the Friday morning I headed out to the Tiger Temple Cave complex just outside of Krabi, where I walked around the caves and climbed the 1300 steps up to the Buddhist shrine. Unfortunately I forgot to charge my camera so there are no pictures. But it was pretty cool and the view from the shrine was incredible, I also saw some horrendous etiquette from some Russian tourists (guys taking their tops off and girls in tiny shorts at a Buddhist temple) and I met two Californians who I hung out with for the rest of the day. It turned out they were volunteering as English teachers in Indonesia and were on in Thailand for a conference. We grabbed a taxi back to Krabi together and I met them for a beer in the evening where we chatted about Blink 182, politics and the constricting binary of gender, among other things, which those who know me will know is about as close to perfect as a night can get.

The next day I planned to get up early and go to Railay, an island just off Krabi world-famous for the climbs offered by its cliffs. However, when drawing money out for the day, I forgot that in Thailand the ATM gives out the money first before the card, unlike in England, and I left my card in the machine. This resulted in a trip to my nearest bank branch (a 15 min bus ride, and it didn’t open till 11am) to cancel my card. Luckily no or very little money was stolen by whoever took it from the ATM (I’m not too sure what my exact balance was before I lost my card), and the cute bank clerk asked for my email address, but it meant that I ended up on the island a few hours later than I planned to.

Railay

I got back to Krabi at about 12 and jumped on a boat to Railay with two British guys and a Swedish girl shortly after. After exploring the island, I took a look in my Lonely Planet guide and decided to go and climb to the viewpoint over the two main beaches on the island, and Sa Phra Nang (the Holy Princess Pool) on Railay. This was probably both my best and worst decision so far in Thailand. The climb to the lagoon is described in the Lonely Planet Guide as “a strenuous hike with some serious vertigo-inducing parts.” This is perhaps a fair description of the climb to the viewpoint – of the subsequent climb down to the lagoon, it is a ridiculous understatement.

Just chilling out

Having reached the viewpoint fairly easily, I spoke to two guys who were climbing up behind me. I don’t know if they were French or Italian, but they were wearing speedos, and I’ll put it this way: one of my friends, she knows who she is, would have definitely gone to bed with either of them. Anyway, they told me that apparently the climb down to the lagoon was “more difficult”, but given the simplicity of the first climb, I decided that it would still probably be pretty doable – the Lonely Planet Guide had said the steps at the Temple complex were hard, but they’d been pretty easy. However, I quickly began to see some pretty strong warning signs that this leg of the climb might be more difficult and dangerous than first thought. I even saw the odd Havaiana flip-flop abandoned along the way, the traveler’s equivalent of the corpses of previous explorers used to show how difficult our hero’s journey is in any film about lost treasure – think that Simpsons episode when Homer climbs the mountain and rides down on Abe’s old climbing partners dead body.

Railay East from the viewpoint

I was just about to turn back, when I heard someone coming up behind me. This guy was dressed in nothing but his swimming shorts. He was bare foot and didn’t seem to have any money or anything with him. Forgive me if this all gets a bit Fifty Shades of Grey but this guy had longish sun-bleached hair, was in outrageous shape, and basically every girl I know would go to bed with him in a heartbeat. Turns out he was called Jason, and was in Railay for its world-famous climbing. And he is my biggest hero so far in Thailand.

We did the rest of the climb down together, and although it was quite hard it was certainly not impossible, although Jason did give some help for the more difficult bits, telling me where to put my feet etc… The lagoon was beautiful, and it was definitely worth the struggle. However, the climb up was a completely different matter.

View from the lagoon

By this point, my trainers were covered in clay, and were so slippy they more hindrance than help, so I decided to follow Jason’s lead and climb barefoot. I can’t really remember much of the climb up, and to be honest I probably remember it as being harder than it actually was. But when I say climb I do mean climb – the cliffs I had been able to lower myself on to and them jump down to the next ledge became small free climbs that were not particularly easy. And without an experienced climber telling me where to put my feet and hands (and taking my bag off me when he got tired of waiting) I’m pretty sure I would have been down there a LOT longer, and probably would have had a couple of very painful falls, rather than the one cut I got on my foot, so you can understand how incredibly thankful I was for Jason’s help. I am also really grateful for all the pull-ups that several gym partners have made me do over the years.

The lagoon

The lagoon

I decided to stay in Railay Saturday night and do a climbing course the next day. Everything cost about 3 times what it does in Hat Yai (the accommodation was pretty cheap though), which meant I was faced with a bit of a dilemma – drink, or do stuff the next day. It hurt quite a bit to walk with my cut, so I went for the latter and spent the evening chatting with some people in my hostel and watching a Muay Thai exhibition fight. The next morning I did a beginners climbing course, which was a lot of fun – I made it up the first 3 climbs without falling, but on the final one I could feel my bad shoulder getting tired, and it got to the point where I just couldn’t hold on or lift myself up anymore, and I had to call it a day (it still feels like my shoulder is basically just hanging off my body).When the climbing instructor (who was impressed I’d managed the lagoon climb) saw the cut on my foot basically told me to keep it covered and not to go in the sea, which apparently is not that clean close to the island. So rather than just spend the afternoon lying on the beach, which isn’t really my sort of thing, I took my now battered and bruised body back to Krabi, where I had a nap and the guys I’d caught the boat to Railay with for some beers and the football before taking the bus back to Hat Yai on Monday morning..

This made me laugh

All in all, it was a pretty eventful weekend, which even involved me negotiating prices and ordering food in Thai. It was my first trip to a tourist spot in Thailand, and I have to admit that I got pretty frustrated with people trying to rip me off all the time. It made me appreciate Hat Yai, where most white people are English teachers, so taxi drivers etc barely even bother to charge you double what they should. But I did meet some cool and interesting people, and I’ve even got a very recognisable wife-beater tan now. I haven’t done my visa run yet, but I’m hoping to in the next couple of weeks. and basically I’m just planning Christmas parties with all my classes for the rest of the month. I guess I’ll post again after that.

As usual, sorry it’s so long, but thanks for reading.

Horsinho xx

ps I found out today that I got 73 for my Master’s thesis, which gives me a distinction overall. As you can probably imagine, I am incredibly happy about this, and thank you to everyone who has already congratulated me.

The Sun, The Sand, The Sea…

It’s been a while since my last post, but I’ve been a bit busy these last couple of weeks. The last one was pretty long though, so I figured I’d wait a bit till I asked you all to read another. 

Children in traditional costumes of respective ASEAN countries

So unfortunately I didn’t make it to the beach at Songkhla a few weeks ago – the camp was pretty intense, and in the end it turned out that there just wasn’t time. We had to wake up at about 6am, and worked till about 9. While parts of it were undoubtedly fun, most of the kids were great to teach (their English being better than your average Thai student), and the ASEAN cultural show at the end was truly amazing, the song and dance that accompanied every new activity started to grate pretty fast. And I don’t just mean that there was a lot of hassle involved. I mean there was a literal song and dance, sometimes two or three, that occurred before we could move onto whatever else was planned next. There is, somewhere, video evidence of me taking part in this, which I sincerely hope never sees the light of day. We were also expected to come up with 3 hours of activities and lessons within about 15 mins, which was a bit outrageous to say the least. But in my short time in Thailand I’ve already learned not to expect any prior warning of things like lesson cancellations or room changes, so I can’t say this really surprised me or phased me too much.

The Seven Dwarves practicing their lines

For the most part I am actually enjoying teaching. The boys in the school love the fact that I play football (I have been likened to both Messi AND Ronaldo, and I’ve even started bringing kit to school on Mondays and Thursdays), and I’ll never get tired of being told I’m “perfect” by the girls. At the ASEAN camp I actually played guitar while a couple of the Thai girls, but when we started trying to find English songs, it became quickly apparent that we had wildly differing tastes. The songs they wanted to sing were truly terrible ballads – think Robbie Williams album filler – and even when I offered to compromise on ‘Better Together’ by Jack Johnson or ‘I’m Yours’ by Jason Mraz, they would not agree to anything else. So I have begun a campaign to introduce some not horrendous songs into the repertoire at my school. First up was ‘You Are My Sunshine’, which actually went pretty well, even if it did take ages to get Thai students to start counting in 4 and not in 3. Next up are ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘If I were a Boy’ – I’ll probably have to sing one of these myself at some point, god help us, so I’m definitely going to need to find somewhere to practice.

‘You Are My Sunshine’ as pictures!

While these ‘extra curricular’ activities are going well and are a lot of fun, I also think I’m definitely becoming a better teacher. Or at least I’m better at thinking up lesson plans that actually work in the class. I have started to prepare worksheets and to include activities that I can easily monitor, and do not allow half the class to zone-out, which happened with a couple of my overly-ambitious lesson plans in the first couple of weeks. I have to admit that I would probably fail any PGCE/TEFL/CELTA qualification if I performed one of my lessons for assessment, but then the techniques encouraged by those courses is not designed for classes of 40+ teenage Thai kids who barely speak a word of English. While I’m well aware that I could do better, I do think I’m doing OK so far, and according to another teacher, the kids do actually remember what I teach them!

Nearly all the children I teach are actually quite nice, and while their level of English can be frustrating, there are very few unpleasant children in the school. However, I am unfortunate in that I do teach one class recognised throughout the staff body as a horrible one to teach. My first lesson with this class was the only time that anyone has deliberately tried to make me uncomfortable or physically intimidate me in Thailand. But given the boys in question are in a low set in a school that is not particularly good even by Thai standards, I find it hard to get worked up about what they think of me. And although it’s early days just yet, they do seem to have realised that I’m not particularly bothered by their attempts to weird me out, and they’ve started to get on quietly with their business of sitting in the back of the class not doing anything. As long as they don’t interrupt me or the rest of the class I don’t mind, and they are welcome to get involved in the lesson whenever they want. It’s an arrangement which I guess works for all of us.

Holiday Project!

There is another class that I have found difficult to teach, but not because of any malice on behalf of the students (in fact I quite enjoy teaching this lot). Thai boys are very affectionate towards each other, and will quite happily spend an afternoon with their arms round each other or lying with their head in another’s lap – Thailand’s attitude towards sexuality and gender is pretty well documented elsewhere, so I don’t really need to go into any great depth – and I really have no problem with it. If anything, I think it’s pretty cool that boys in Thailand can express their affection for each other in such a way without it necessarily being ‘gay’ to do so. But I have to admit that when the boys will not do any work or sit still because they are too busy stroking each other, I do come close to asking my Thai assistant to ‘tell the boys to keep their hands to themselves for just half an hour’, something I never thought I’d have to say in the class room.

Outside of work, I am gradually settling into life in Hat Yai. Slowly, I am accumulating a circle of friends, although at times it can still be pretty lonely and a bit boring. But the same was true of my first couple of months in Holland, and my exchange year ended up being the best year of my life so far, so I’m not too worried about this just yet – I know from experience not to expect everything to be perfect straight away when you move away from your friends and family. While I don’t particularly like being the ‘new guy’, (who does?) it’s just something I’ll have to deal with. But I do now have a gym to go to, I get the odd game of football, and I have even started to take advantage of the 50m swimming pool just down the road. And there is always the opportunity to go out every Friday or Saturday if I want to take it – at the moment I’m on one night a week, but as I get used to waking up at 6 o’clock every morning I might graduate to two.

Buddha statue overlooking Hat Yai

Anyway, that’s all for now. I guess I’ll try and make my next post after the three day weekend or the 8-10 December, by which time I should have done a ‘visa run’ to Malaysia and actually made it to a beach.

Hope you’re all well, and thanks for the kind messages saying you actually enjoy reading this thing!

Horsinho xxx

Cheer Up Sleepy Lean…

Hat Yai

I wanted to wait till I sorted out a job and apartment etc before I posted again, and about 10 days into my trip, I finally have done so. I am living in Hat Yai and working just outside of it – the taxi driver who gave me a lift from the airport told me it only gets bombed 3 or 4 times a year…

Although I feel that I now know my way around a bit, I feel like I should admit just how laughably out of my depth I was at first. I really didn’t have a clue what was going on. I didn’t know what the food was, I didn’t know where anything was, I didn’t know how the transport system worked and most importantly, I didn’t know anyone. For a couple of days I didn’t eat a lot, and a lot of time was spent in hotel/hostel rooms waiting for interviews. And when I didn’t have much to do, it was far too hot in the middle of the day to do anything (it still is, and probably will be all year in the South), so I would quite often spend that in my room and then go out in the evening.

Luckily, there isn’t much to the centre of Hat Yai, and on my second night I met two other English teachers in a pub , and within about an hour I had an offer of a game of football and was told where to be for a Saturday night. When I went to grab some food a couple of nights later I walked past the bars where I was told other English teachers would hang out – I saw the two I had met before and they introduced me to their friends. Meeting people has been fairly easy so far, and in the apartment complex I live in there are a number of other expats, so in terms of settling in the social side seems to be going ok.

Hat Yai Floating Market – I haven’t actually been to this yet.

As far as living goes, I am staying about a ten-minute motorcycle ride outside of the centre of Hat Yai. My ‘apartment’ is pretty much the standard room you might get in University halls, although it does have aircon and a fridge. It also has a bathroom, and although the water in the shower does not get very hot, I don’t really want too many hot showers over here, so that’s not really a problem. At the moment I am sleeping on a mattress cover and using my very thin sleeping bag as a blanket – I still need to find bed sheets, but that sort of thing will sort itself out in time. And it’s not as if I need proper covers to keep me warm here anyway.

As I mentioned in the first bit of this post, I have also managed to find a job! Avid readers of my first post will remember that I came over with two interviews lined up – well, I ended up having three. Two with schools just outside of Hat Yai, and one with an agency inside Hat Yai to teach at a Technological University in the centre. Of the three interviews I had, I was successful with two – I lost out on the other job to a girl with blonde hair, blue eyes, a PHD and experience as a supply teacher, which is hardly a surprise. Of the other two jobs, one was at a school that I really liked the look of, and I was told by someone who worked there that it was a nice place to work. After seeing this school, the next day I went to look at the Technological University. I had already received an offer from the Technological University of Rayong, and when I researched it I found that it had similar resources you might expect from an English University – a large, well-equipped campus, with a well organised curriculum and staff body. It had an impressive list of awards and the students had many well recognised accomplishments. I cannot say the same for Hat Yai – the guy recruiting me made constant references to the student’s low level of English and how hard they could be to control. When I looked in on some of the classes, that certainly seemed to be the case, and I figured that having sold out once already, this time I should go for the option that seemed the most fun, and not the one that paid the most.

So I am now an English teacher to high school children at Patongwittayamulnithi School just outside of Hat Yai. It is quite a large school (I think, although all Thai schools seem to be huge), with three other native English speaking teachers (well, two South Africans and one Swede). I also have my own Thai assistant, June, who yells at the children and hits them if they don’t listen to me, as well as some times translating things if the students really don’t get it. So far I have really enjoyed it – the children seem to quite like me, and the Thai staff are really nice. I am regularly told by both boys and girls that I am handsome, and that they love me. My hair is also a beautiful colour apparently. I am also in demand as a guitarist and singer. I’ve so far refused to sing – but Thais love singing ballads – I have seen a group of fifteen year old boys sit around a guitar all singing (badly) with each other in a class room, which does NOT happen in England – and I personally find it hilarious when they sing songs in English and have little idea what the words are, and even less what they are about (see post title). I guess I’m going to have to give in at some point though, so suggestions are welcome.

Glaid (Swedish guy) and some kids from our school

However, there are a couple of difficulties. One is the commute – it is not that far outside of Hat Yai, but in the morning and afternoon traffic it takes about 45 minutes to get there in the morning and to get back home in the afternoon. I guess if I got a bike I could take some time off that journey, but at the moment I’m still terrified of doing that (as far as I can tell, there are no rules when it comes to driving in Thailand, and some guy laughed at me when I put on my seatbelt. But #yolo. Also, teaching teenagers is quite difficult. Just like coaching football, teaching is most fun when you teach complete beginners and advanced students. In the first case, you can just teach five words or one skill, and then play silly games for the rest of the lesson. With the latter, you can start to do some really interesting stuff, like explaining different tactics or discussing songs and poetry. But when it comes to teaching/coaching most teenagers, they are too old/good for the simple exercises and games, but not good enough for particularly interesting lessons. As a result, there is a lot of repetition involved, practicing essential vocabulary and skills that are required in order to improve. This means that it is quite a challenge to come up with exercises and topics that will maintain their interest, but are also at a level that they can understand. I could go on about this, but I’ll probably do a post about teaching in Thailand in general at some point, so I’ll talk about this in greater depth at some point.

Trousers for PE, shorts and skirts for the classroom…

 Also, because of the way the school system in Thailand works and the student body at my school, I am the only dedicated native English teacher in the high school (we have both a primary and high school). My contact hours are basically the same, but because I teach a greater variety of levels, I have far more lesson planning to do. To try and put this into perspective, It is quite common for English teachers to take on private students in the evenings, but if I want to do my job to an at least satisfactory standard, then the amount of planning I have to do coupled with the commute to work makes it very unlikely that I will be able to do this until next semester (April), especially if I want to do things like play football and go to the gym or have any kind of social life.

I have no idea what time this starts, but thank fuck I don’t have to be there for all of it!

 Anyway, tomorrow I’m off to some ASEAN sponsored school camp in Songkhla (the neighbouring city and provincial capital) with 25 kids from the school and the other English teachers – I’m not really too sure what I have to do at this thing, but it should be interesting, and Songkhla has a beach, which can’t be said for Hat Yai. And my tan is still quite disappointing – one girl found it absolutely hilarious how pale I was compared to her.

Also, to answer the questions I asked at the end of my last post – I can’t teach in a vest and shorts, I have to wear a trousers and shirt. While I appreciate that a short sleeved t-shirt is never really acceptable, there is just no way I could manage wearing one in this heat. I have to stay clean-shaven (I have been told my appearance is my strongest asset in Thailand – apparently it’s what has got me hired). And no I won’t get fat – I hardly eat here because it’s so hot, and I will start going to the gym next week :)

#swag

Anyway, that’s all for now. Sorry it’s such a long one, but quite a lot has happened!

Also, props to Bente Zwankhuizen for coming up with the name ThaiALAN, which really should have been the name for this blog…

x

Gap Yah


At the age of 24, having just completed my master’s degree and gained a job at one of the Big 4 in a completely unrelated field, I find myself with approximately 1 year to kill – a gap year, I guess, although like any sensible young(ish) British person these days, I am understandably reluctant to use the phrase.

What to do with this year? Well originally, my plan was to spend it in my home town of Hereford, working some shitty office job, playing football on the weekends and probably going out every so often with my friends that are still around, in an attempt to save a bit of money before I moved to London. However, one day of job searching in Hereford indicated that even finding a basic admin job would be difficult, and I found myself caring less and less about playing football. Living at home, claiming job seeker’s support and not even making Bartestree FC’s first team was not doing much for my chances of getting laid either (and I need all the help I can get), so if we’re being totally honest, there was very little reason for me to stay in Hereford, and just about every reason to get out. I could have just worked in London or something for a year, but I wouldn’t have saved much money, and it seemed like a shame to waste this year just ‘surviving’ when I could use it to do something exciting, live somewhere warm and maybe even learn a new language. And, well, #yolo.

So my attention turned to teaching abroad. Having no money for travelling, I needed to find a way of supporting myself, and this appeared to be the easiest/best way – my uncle has done it and so have some of my friends, and they have all be successful at it and loved doing it. I myself have done a little bit of teaching, and spent last summer coaching football in the USA, and while there are obvious differences, I nonetheless know that I am fairly confident working with children and presenting in front of a large group of people.

Initially, I wanted to go to South America, but it seemed to be too expensive and too hard to make a decent living as a teacher, especially with only limited experience in the classroom. It also emerged that in many places, they are very keen on a 1 year contract, a commitment I am unable to make. It made sense to turn my attention to a place where working arrangements are a little more ‘informal’, so I started to research teaching in Thailand, where my uncle taught for years. It seemed that as long as I got myself an English teaching qualification, then combined with my master’s degree and experience as a football coach, I would have no problem finding work (something which has only been reinforced by the feedback I have received to my somewhat speculative online applications). Sure, I probably wouldn’t learn much of the language, but the pay was enough that I could live a reasonable quality of life, and judging from friend’s pictures, all I’d be doing was attending the odd flag raising ceremony and hanging out on the beach. Sounds pretty decent.

With regards to where in Thailand I want to live, I’ve been told to steer clear of teaching in Bangkok and Chang Mai, or any of the other major tourist areas, as the cost of living is far more expensive. However, I am going on my own, so I don’t want to be the only English speaker in the middle of nowhere. As such it seems that the south of Thailand, with cities such as Hat Yai and Songkhla, would be ideal. It has some of the biggest cities in Thailand (according to Wikipedia), but the general cost of living is (apparently) cheaper than in many other areas. This may be a reflection of some of the Muslim separatist terrorist attacks that have occurred in the region in the last decade or so, but online testimonies of people who live in the region suggest that this only becomes serious risk further south, so I’m not too worried about it.

Whilst deciding on where I wanted to go, I set about arming myself with a 120-hour TEFL certificate. It was pretty simple, and I must have completed it in close to record time (just over two weeks), having spent nowhere near 120 hours working for it. I also began applying for jobs advertised online. So far, I have nearly been hired as a full-time sports coach and English teacher at East Thailand’s top technological university. I have an offer to work in a school in the south in Phatthalung (the lonely planet guide doesn’t even have an index reference for this place, so I’m a bit apprehensive to say the least), and I got a fairly random email from an agency I don’t really remember applying to asking me what sort of teaching position I wanted in Thailand. If none of these work out, I’ll just try to find work once I get to Thailand.

This has all happened very quickly, which is reflected in the fact that I only got my visa sorted this morning, and will need to get my last hep B jab in Thailand. On Monday, I fly to Bangkok. I then have a flight booked straight on down to Hat Yai, arriving Tuesday evening. Everything seems pretty positive at the moment, especially in terms of finding work. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit to having some nerves. While I have lived in another country before (The Netherlands), and have worked in the USA, in each case I was in a country where the level of English was much better than it will be in Thailand (insert lazy joke about US intelligence here). I was also given a great deal of support by the universities I was studying at and the company I was working for. In this case, I have never been to Asia before, let alone Thailand. The general level of English will be quite low, and I will have to adjust to the food/culture/and environment as I also try to earn a living. As things stand, I have no job or accommodation sorted. There might not be too many people who can help me should things go wrong. Basically, I am on my own – everyone I know who has done this before has gone with friends/a partner, or has at least saved up quite a bit of money before hand. But I guess that is what makes this a bit of an adventure – I am just packing my bags and going. And is it true that I can’t teach in a vest, shorts, and flip flops? Will I really have to be clean shaven all the time? Most importantly, will I be able to go to the gym?

I guess I’ll be able to start to answer these questions next time I post. But I think it’s worth making one last point, to answer a question I’m sure someone will ask. One of the benefits of selling out is that I will be able to repay the money people lend to me, so I have had my flights and TEFL etc paid by my parents – there’s no point denying this, and if I think it’s important that before I start complaining about living and adjusting to life in another continent, I acknowledge that not everyone has this opportunity.

Horsinho xx