Joe Moore completed his course five years ago. He tells us what he has been up to.
My name is Joe Moore. I graduated from Samui TEFL five years ago, on November 19, 2011. Ever since that day my life has been full of new experiences. My first involvement with teaching came a few months later in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai where I volunteered at a language school that assists Burmese refugees and indigenous Thai people with English conversation skills. The center of Chiang Mai activity is old city which is easily walked. Chiang Mai has a large town feel rather than a city. There are no real sky scrapers or metro systems and the cost of living is much lower than Bangkok.
After six months in Chiang Mai I was offered an ESL position at a Thai government high school in Samut Sakon province about 45 minutes south of the Thai capital. The town of Mahachai is a fishing village next to the Bangkok bight which houses many of Thailand’s frozen seafood factories. Fresh seafood is available at the markets at wholesale prices. Although, only a short ride from Bangkok, very few westerners live in this part of the kingdom.
From Mahachai I moved to the southern province of Surat Thani where I worked at two Thai government high schools over an 18 month period. Both schools were located in the countryside. This area of the mainland is mostly rural surrounded by rubber tree and palm oil plantations. Surat Thani city is a travel hub which includes Thai Rail, long distances buses, an airport and ferries. It’s a jumping off point the Thailand’s southern islands. Samui can be reached by a bus then a ferry in about two hours.
After my time in Surat Thani I was offered a position in Xuzhou, China, Jiangsu Province to teach seventh grade ESL. The main city of Xuzhou has a population of 2 million people. Beijing and Shanghai are both a four hour high speed train ride away. The city of Nanjing is only one hour away. I lived and worked in the new city of Xuzhou which was a 30 minute taxi ride from the main city. The new city was somewhat of a ghost town. Very few people actually lived there. Most of my students were bused from the main town. Altogether, I spent 14 quiet months in Xuzhou. The Chinese people were friendly and very eager to learn English.
In February 2016 I moved to Dubai, United Arab Emirates to work as a History/Social Studies teacher. I also teach ESL reading and writing. Dubai is a great city and an excellent location from which to travel. Two thirds of the world’s population and cities are within an 8hr flight. New malls, beaches, clubs, and five star hotels are the norm here. Alcohol which is heavily taxed is available at bars or clubs that are attached to hotels. The actual native populations of Emirati’s are a minority in their own country. Dubai is a melting pot of Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, every gulf state country, and westerners thrown into the mix. Many different cultures can be experienced just by walking out the door. Of course the UAE is a desert country and during the summer it can reach 50C or 120F degrees. The UAE is a Muslim nation which does practice sharia law, but with that said its moderate compared to bordering countries and has freedom of religion.
Joe has made the most of his TEFL course, and used it to teach in three different countries so far. Let him be an inspiration -- teaching English as a foreign language is a great way to experience different countries on a deeper level than being a tourist.
Our first in a series on 'what it's like after the course'. Samui TEFL graduates tell us what it's like teaching, all about their school, the area where they are and other useful insights. This chapter is about Matt, who completed the course in May 2015, and has been working with the same company ever since. These are Matt's words.
I graduated from the Samui Tefl course in May 2015. I'd made some amazing memories during the four week course and was sad to leave behind some great friendships I'd made. The course taught me a lot about how to conduct a lesson, the planning required for a week of teaching and how to control a potentially rowdy group of students. I left the course feeling nervous but extremely excited and prepared for what lay ahead.
I had an interview with Fun Language while still on the course and was accepted for a job with them to start a few days after leaving Samui. I headed to Bangkok and went to the Big Training event the company laid on. It was a daunting few days learning the Fun Language style of lessons, a plethora of songs for kindergarten kids and a catalogue of games to play in the lessons which could range from simple games for Kindergarten children up to more complicated Prathom or Mattayhom level students. I then took the minivan to Ban Pong in Ratchaburi province where I met my coworkers and fellow teachers. This is where it all started to feel very real. Arriving into a town where only a minority could speak English and where a lot of the locals would stare at you as you walked down the street (any new foreigner or "farang" gets this experience upon arrival in Ban Pong where the locals are sussing out the new arrival).
I have been working for Fun Language for almost two years now and love every second of it. They provide you with lesson plans, a Thai teacher in every class, flashcards, pencils, crayons, workbooks and a basket full of items you'll use for games or activities during the lesson. The children are hilarious and even if you're ever depleted of energy, seeing their smiling faces soon perks you up. You're fully equipped and given more training but I still use the knowledge I learnt on the Tefl course every day!
I teach a range of courses from conversation to reading and phonics and also interactive white board lessons. It's a great way to learn a wide range of teaching styles and how to plan for a different type of lesson.
I teach from Pre-school (around 2-3 years old) up to Mattayhom 2 (13-14 years old) and being able to jump from a kindergarten lesson where you're getting them to name 4 different colours, rewarding them with stamps and stickers and then going to a Mattayhom lesson where the students are telling you their future aspirations or differentiating between crimes; it's something I never thought I'd be doing. This company really makes you adaptable to any class you come into contact with! We're based at one main school here and then could be teaching at potentially three different schools around the local area but due to always coming into our main school to lesson plan (and also because I teach three days a week there) I've gotten to know a lot of the students and it's been great seeing them grow from term to term. It's an extremely rewarding job!
The local town of Ban Pong where I live is full of helpful and kind people. As mentioned before, I initially thought there were very few English speakers but as time has progressed, I've become friends with a whole load of Thais in the town whose English is a lot better than my Thai (I'll trying practicing my Thai and they'll resort to correcting me or just speaking to me in English). We have a night market every Monday and Friday and as the majority of teachers all live in a small resort-type complex, we're very sociable with one another and the local community.
I've enjoyed every second of my life in Thailand since Samui Tefl and cannot thank Kathryn and Rosanne (and my other course mates) enough for their support and knowledge! If you're ever thinking of teaching abroad then definitely check out Samui Tefl and Fun Language! I don't regret a thing!
The Thai language is quite unique, as anyone who's ever tried to learn it has discovered.
Your intentions are good. You’ve decided that if you’re here awhile, the right thing to do is try your best to learn the local lingo. So you get a phrase book, and after practicing by yourself in the shower, you decide to try your hand at using your newfound knowledge of the Thai language. You proudly order your next meal in Thai – and receive a blank stare from the waiter. You change the tone a bit, and suddenly his eyes light up and with an “Aaah!” he runs off to get what you’ve ordered. You breath a sigh of relieve, and hope that you receive what you’ve asked for.
Learning a new language is hard enough at the best of times and Thai is so different from English and the European languages that originate from Latin, that for a Farang (Westerner) learning Thai can seem a little overwhelming. Anyone wanting to stay in the country for more than a few months would be wise to pick up a few words, as mime and gesture can only get you so far – try miming ‘popcorn kernels’, without looking as though you’re having a fit.
The best way to learn Thai is to practice it and use it whenever possible by chatting to new Thai friends and ordering in restaurants – you’ll know when the food arrives if you got it right. But, as the structure of Thai is so different to English, a beginners’ course from a reputable language school is also advised in order to understand how the grammar differs as well as master pronunciation. You’ll discover sounds in the Thai language that don’t exist in English, such as words starting with the ‘ng’ sound. Thai is also a tonal language with five tones: low, mid, high, rising and falling, and the same word said in different tones could have a completely different meaning. For instance: ‘Sowai’ said with a rising tone means ‘beautiful’; but say it with a low tone, and it means unlucky. ‘Ma’ has several different meanings including dog, horse and come.
But tones aside, here’s a quick guide on how Thai grammar differs from English grammar:
Tenses: In English the verb changes according to tense – eat, ate, eaten. In Thai the verb remains the same no matter the tense, but other words are added to imply when something occurred such as ‘lao’ meaning already. This is why you would hear a Thai person say, ‘I eat already.’
Be: The verb ‘to be’ (am, is, are, was, were) isn’t used with adjectives. In English we say, ‘She IS beautiful.’ In Thai, ‘She beautiful.’ In English, ‘I AM hungry.’ In Thai, ‘I hungry.’
Articles: The articles (a, an, the) don’t exist in Thai.
Adjectives: In English, the adjectives usually come before the noun – red car. In Thai, the adjective follows the noun – car red.
Nouns: In Thai, there is no plural form of a noun. So it would be one pen, two pen, three pen etc.
You can see by this grammar structure above, that Thai is far simpler from a grammar perspective, but nonetheless difficult for Westerners because of the tones and pronunciation, as well as the addition of classifiers that we don’t have in English. If this all seems a little intimidating, an introductory Thai language course will most certainly help.
So if it doesn’t have Western roots, where did the Thai language originate? Today it’s the national language of Thailand, spoken by around 80% of the more than 65 million residents. Linguists describe it as an ‘uninflected, primarily monosyllabic, tonal language’ in the ‘Tai-Kadai family’. The spoken language is believed to have originated in the area which is now the border between Vietnam and China. This thought provides clues to the origin of the Thai people, a heavily debated topic. Linguistically, the language is related to languages spoken in eastern Burma (Myanmar), northern Vietnam, Yunnan, and Laos.
Early Thai settlers in the late Dvaravati period (6th to 13th centuries) gradually enlarged their Chinese-influenced, tonal, monosyllabic language by borrowing certain Mon and Khmer words. Later, the language absorbed polysyllabic Sanskrit (the classical language of Hindu India) and Pali words, as Brahmanism and Theraveda Buddhism were infused. As with all languages, Thai is constantly evolving by influence, and foreign traders and Chinese immigrants made minor additions in later centuries.
The written Thai Language was introduced by the third Sukhothai period king, Ramkhamhaeng, during his reign from 1279 to 1298. This writing system has undergone little change since its introduction, meaning that inscriptions from the Sukhothai era can be read by modern Thai scholars. The writing was based on Pali, Sanskrit, and Indian concepts, and many Mon and Khmer words entered the language. The inscription is considered to be a pivotal source of Sukhothai history.
Centuries later, now within Thailand you’ll find four major dialects, corresponding to the southern, northern (Yuan), north-eastern (close to Lao language), and central regions of the country; the latter is called Central Thai or Bangkok Thai and is taught in all schools, is used for most television broadcasts, and is widely understood in all regions. Nowadays, English is also taught in all public schools, as the country prepares itself for the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) community in 2015, when English will be the language of communication. A few minor Thai dialects such as Phuan and Lue, are also spoken by small populations, and also within Thailand, small ethnic minority groups, including the so-called hill tribes, account for around sixty languages which are not considered related to Thai.
To add to the confusion, the four primary dialects of Thai should not be confused with four different ‘languages’ used by Thais in different social circumstances; for example, certain words are used only by Thai royalty, creating a royal language. You’ll also find languages used for religious figures, polite everyday interactions, as well as gruff or crude communications.
Because Thai doesn’t use our alphabet, it makes it difficult to transcribe the language into a script understood by the West. This is the reason that you’ll find the same word written differently should you compare phrase books, as there is no standardised conversion. One of the reasons for this is because of the sounds that don’t exist in English, such as the sound in Thai, which is halfway between a T and a D sound, so you’ll see it sometimes translated with a T and other times with a D, depending on the book you’re using as reference. So while the English alphabet as 26 letters, the Thai language uses phonemic alphabet of 44 consonants and 15 basic vowel graphemes. The latter are assembled into about 32 vowel combinations.
Just like in English, in Thai writing, characters are horizontally written, left to right… but with no intervening spaces, to separate sentences. Vowel graphemes are written ‘attached’ above, below, before, or after the consonant they modify, although the consonant always sounds first when the syllable is spoken. The vowel graphemes (and a few consonants) can be combined in various ways to produce numerous compound vowels (diphthongs and triphthongs). Each syllable is pronounced in one of five lexical tones: mid, high, low, rising, or falling; as a result, speaking correctly creates pleasing melodic patterns which has led the language to sometimes be called a sing-song language by foreigners.
Phew! It all sounds a little too hard to grasp. But before you throw the idea of learning Thai out the window, know that many foreigners that live here have indeed mastered the art – some only the spoken word, but others also the written word. Not only is it a great sense of achievement when you do get it right, but you’ll most certainly gain the respect of your Thai friends and colleagues.
© Rosanne Turner (as written for the Samui Holiday Magazine)
Coconuts play a big part of life on Samui. Find out how to enjoy them best.
What’s the first thing you think about when mentally picturing a tropical island? Most will answer with a beach scene complete with white sand and coconut palms. Well in that case, Samui fits the picture, particularly with the coconut palms.
Even though the palm tree has become synonymous as a symbol of Samui, it was only fairly recently that the coconut became the largest export from the island. Although there were always coconuts, over the years, Samui farmers gradually turned the island into a substantial coconut plantation.
As the island’s industry grew, so did the local farmers’ income, as they were able to negotiate a good price for their crops. Their increased wealth didn’t go unnoticed by people from the mainland and so Samui’s native farmers were joined by people from other areas of Thailand who also wanted to benefit from the island’s growing economy. The legacy of the islands early coconut farmers is still apparent today as Samui proudly boasts more varieties of coconuts than anywhere else in the world. A few years ago, the island’s coconut farmers suffered a knock as hundreds of trees started to lose their fronds and die off. After much research, it was discovered that a non-indigenous beetle was the culprit, brought in from South Africa accidentally when resort owners ordered plants from there. The only solution was to cut down the affected trees and kill the beetles. The agricultural department worked hard at reviving the industry that suffered a 20% drop in production from the beetle infection. They looked at how tourism could help, and visitors were invited to donate 300 baht to plant a new palm and have their name on a tree. You can still see patches of tall trunks with no frond heads attached, but the industry seems to have survived the setback.
Until recently, coconut production was Samui’s main industry, and is now second only to tourism. Every month, Samui supplies Bangkok with over two million coconuts. These are harvested from the approximately three million trees that grow on the island, each of which produces around 70 coconuts per year. That’s a lot of nuts!
The coconut tree and its products play a big part of island life and there’s more to this tree than just swinging in a hammock between two sturdy palms. And on that note, best to check that there are not coconuts directly above your head when stringing up your hammock. A blow from a falling nut can kill. Apparently, 150 people worldwide suffer this fate annually. Although Samui is one of Thailand’s tourist hot spots, what makes it different to the larger island of Phuket is the fact that there is a written rule that no building may be taller than the nearest coconut palm. Now while the palms can grow quite tall, this law still keeps the skyscrapers away. And although you may see four-storey hotels, most resorts remain the bungalow or villa type.
Coconut harvesting monkeys, specifically pig-tailed Macaques, are trained on the mainland, in a special school in Surat Thani. The school is family run, and has been in operation since 1957. Their training methods are humane and trainers develop a strong bond with their scholars. Farmers enroll their monkeys in a 3-5 month course, which includes training on how to twist and bite a coconut loose, how to tell a ripe from an unripe nut, as well as how to load a pickup. These monkeys are generally well looked after by their owners, as they generate a good income and are therefore a valuable asset. A well-trained monkey can harvest 1000 coconuts a day, whereas a human with a long stick and loop can probably only do about 100. These monkeys are smart, another reason why they are generally well cared for. In fact, local and international newspapers reported an incident in March 2009, when a coconut-picking monkey killed his owner by throwing a well-aimed coconut at his head, killing him instantly. Witnesses say the man didn’t treat the monkey well, and was not appreciative of his efforts to retrieve the prized fruit. Let that be a lesson learnt!
So how can you enjoy your freshly monkey-harvested young coconut, or maprao, as it is called in Thai? There’s nothing more refreshing, or no better hangover cure than an ice-cold maprao, lid cut open, and soft white flesh to scoop out after drinking the coconut water. A coconut is sterile on opening and is full of electrolytes. In fact, it is so pure that it was used in WW2 and the Vietnam War as emergency plasma replacement when none was available.
Coconut milk, made from crushing the flesh and juice, is used at the base for all Thai curries, as well as some soups, blending well with spices and the heat of chillies. And coconut is used for substance and flavour in most Thai sweets and desserts, including the strange gelatinous candy known as ‘garamear’ that is sold at Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks (sometimes known as the rude rocks) and at the ferry terminals. Rich, creamy, homemade coconut ice cream is available from a vendor at the viewpoint between Chaweng and Lamai as well as at the walking street markets. It’s served in half a coconut. Have it plain, or add a topping, including a few unusual varieties, all for an affordable 40 baht.
Many resorts use palm fronds to roof their salas, beach bars and even bungalows, and palms provide shade and relief from the tropical heat, but don’t forget those falling coconuts as you laze under a tree with a book! Most resorts de-fruit their trees to avoid such accidents, and thus keep the monkeys in business too. Coconut wood is hard and is often used in building. The fibres and husks are used for ropes, mattress stuffing and also as fire starters. The shells are used for ornaments and utensils, meaning that no part of a tree is ever wasted. Coconut-wood salad servers would usually be well-received as a gift or souvenir.
Cold-pressed virgin coconut oil is sold at Big Buddha, the rude rocks and markets, for around 100 baht for 100ml. Ever wondered why most Thai women have such beautiful skin and hair? Well, they use coconut oil as a hair mask as well as a skin moisturiser. It’s excellent for treating scar tissue and blemishes, and good for mosquito bites too. Try some on salads and in cooking. It’s good for the immune system, good for cancer prevention, and also heart disease and other degenerative conditions.
Driving around Samui, particularly the less-developed south and west coasts, and you’ll see towering piles of coconuts ready for processing. If you pass a pickup piled high with nuts, look to see if there’s a monkey sitting on top of the pile. Leave the island on the car ferries, and many of the vehicles you’ll see waiting in the queues are pickups with coconuts ready to deliver to the mainland.
It is easy to see why the coconut is known as ‘the tree of life’ as it has so many uses, providing for the most basic needs of both food and shelter. And to top it, it’s not often that someone so healthy can be delicious too!
Have you ever wondered what Samui was like 100, 50 or even 20 years ago? You may have seen Samui’s five-star resorts and modern facilities and the quaint airport that resembles a hotel lobby. Imagine how your island visit would have been different before the airport was built, before the ring-road let you travel right around the island in an hour, and before the electricity cable from the mainland was built allowing us to wallow in air-conditioned rooms, and keep in touch with the world via WiFi.
Historians generally believe that Samui was first inhabited around 1,500 years ago by fishermen from the Malay Peninsula and traders from the southern coast of China. Ancient Chinese maps, dating back to 1687, show the co-ordinates we now know as Koh Samui, as 'Pulo Cornam'. There are two schools of thought as to where the name 'Samui' originated from. 'Samui' may be derived from the name of a native tree, Mui, or may have evolved from the Chinese word 'saboey' which means 'safe haven' – which it was to the Chinese traders who moored at its shores.
Little was known about the island until the first boat transportation service to Samui was launched in the mid 1800s. Back then, it took a full day of sailing to cover the 35km voyage from Surat Thani on the mainland – vastly different to the easy one-hour flight from the capital now.
So when did the Samui as we know it, evolve? A few decades ago, the island was an isolated community, with little contact to the mainland. But in 1967, Khun Dilok Suthiklom, leader of the island at that time, decided to ask the government for help in developing Samui's infrastructure.
Two main obstacles were the high hill between Nathon and Mae Nam, and the rocky and mountainous area between Chaweng and Lamai, which had to be blasted to in order to construct the road. Vegetation and rocks had to be cleared. Dynamite and heavy construction vehicles were needed, and these had to come from the mainland. The result was a narrow track around the island. Before concrete was laid along this track, it was not unusual to see passengers exiting the cars to help push the vehicles up steep inclines.
Construction of the ring-road was constantly interrupted by heavy downpours during the rainy season. Finally the concrete was poured in 1973 to complete the 52km stretch that made its way around the island. Initially, the road was only two metres in width, but over the years it was widened to accommodate more traffic, to form the tarred ring-road that we know today.
Nowadays, we can hardly imagine a time when the only way to go from one place to another on Samui was on foot or by boat. Prior to the ring-road being built, a journey from the east to west coast meant a 15 kilometre trek across the island's mountainous jungle. Watching sunrise in Lamai, and nipping across to watch sunset along Lipa Noi beach in a day, was just not a reality.
In the early 1970s, word started spreading among the hippie backpacking community of a beautiful unspoilt hideaway in the gulf of Thailand. This was the start of tourism to Samui. Back then, the only accommodation was in the form of a few wooden beach shacks with no electricity, and little more than a hammock to swing in for entertainment.
During the 1980s, on realising the island's true tourism potential, the Thai Government started pouring resources into Samui. Word of our tropical paradise continued to spread and more and more tourists flocked to the shores of Samui – at first only via ferry, but then in droves when the airport was built by Bangkok Airways in 1989. Unfortunately, as with most tourism booms, the infrastructure did not increase at the same pace as the visitors arriving to the island. Long-time locals say there was never a flooding problem before the island's busiest areas were so built up, even though Chaweng sits mostly on swampland. The water's natural runoff paths became blocked by large hotels, without adequate allowance for drainage being made.
There will always be those for and those against development. But, there is no arguing that progress cannot be halted – it can however be controlled. We are seeing better building regulations aimed at keeping Samui aesthetically pleasing. Now the law states that roofs must be pitched Thai-style, and height restrictions have been set in place (12 metres, not higher than the closest coconut palm, in fact). Huge budgets are being spent on improving the roads and drainage; all good news.
We may not see Samui as the hidden paradise it was four decades ago, privy only to a few travellers in on the secret. We can however still find quiet off-the-beaten-track villages, and isolated beaches perfect for a little solitude and exploration. So if you want a taste of the ‘old Samui’, ditch Chaweng and head south or west, and don’t be afraid to explore!
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