by Shelly Schutte
In July of 2012, I visited Thailand for the first time with my family. It was a magical trip – two weeks of sense captivating adventure and relaxation. I discovered, to my delight, that sea water can exist above 21 degrees, a whole coconut can be a relaxing dinner time drink and prices are not always printed on neat little labels attached to barcodes!
On my final day, I was whiling away the last few hours before we had to leave for the airport, confidently hailing tuk tuks and bargaining for mementoes. I remember suddenly being hit with an unusual barrage of happiness, a feeling of being ‘at home’ even though I wasn’t. As a 23 year old almost science graduate who had barely left South Africa, this was rather unusual. Yet I left, distinctly feeling, “I could live here.” Fast forward three years and I got the opportunity to do exactly that. I seized the chance and took the leap- and so my Thai adventure began.
Even for a South African, the first few weeks in Thailand were overwhelming. Bargaining for everything is all very well when you’re a tourist. When you’re trying to find a home, work clothes and all the things to set up an actual life, it is somewhat more stressful! Barely a day would go by without me discovering another obscure fact about life here in this beautiful but baffling country. For example:
Thailand motorists have two speeds: Agonisingly slow… and Tasmanian Devil. If, like me, you fall somewhere in the middle, you are guaranteed to experience some road rage.
Don’t even think of requesting a knife to eat your meal at anywhere other than a hotel. A spoon and fork is far more standard.
It is illegal to put one’s trash bags out during daylight hours so one is forced to do it stealthily in the night…. which looks far more illegal if you ask me!
Loose gravel is a totally acceptable thing to fill potholes with – motorbikes and loose gravel, however, are not the best of friends.
The word CompuTER is completely different from the word ComPUter. The first one people may understand. The 2nd version will get you nothing but blank stares. Same goes for CoPY, PrinTER…. In Thailand, the stress is always on the final syllable of any English word. And so on…
In spite of, or perhaps because of these quirks, Krabi quickly captured my heart. It is a region strewn with spectacular limestone karsts and an array of beaches so if isn’t raining, one is always spoilt for choice with regards to outdoor fun. I made some wonderful friends, settled into spending weekends on the islands, got a tattoo and learned how to bargain in Thai- Here I must stop to say thanks to my local 7-11 and Makro cashiers who helped me endlessly with boosting my vocabulary.
I also started settling into my role as an educator, frequently teaching students for whom English is not a first language. Krabi is a rapidly growing region and as the community grows, the desire for quality education grows with it. Individuals within Krabi are working hard to meet this desire and there are now several reputable school with fully qualified teachers. Among them are 2 International Schools (Krabi International School and the British International School of Krabi) as well as several Montessori Pre-Schools. Krabi International School is a Cambridge International School and accept students from Year 1 to IGCSE level.
Traveling Thailand and beyond
Taking the time to travel and keep visiting local tourist attractions is so important as an expat. Not every week, obviously, as you’ll be out of money before you can say mai pen rai -but frequently nonetheless. Otherwise, too soon, the spectacular becomes normalised.
As a teacher, one lives a strange dichotomy. Hours are long and weekends can be non-existent during the term. But we are also blessed with one or two week holidays every 6 weeks. Thailand is a fantastic base for travel. Even on a modest salary, one is able to traverse nearby countries relatively easily. In my 16 months here, I have holidayed and backpacked my way through most of Thailand, Bali, Singapore and Malaysia and I’m on my to Cambodia soon.
Some of these trips I made with friends and some of them I ventured forth on alone – something I could never have imagined myself doing when I first came to Asia. But it is something I would now highly recommend. When you travel without the comfort of people you know, you strike up conversations with random people; try things that you might not usually be drawn to. Some of these new friends I made were just fleeting while others I remain in contact with. Each person and region just added to my experience and made me yearn for more.
How to sum up the people of Krabi… Suffice to say I have never walked more than 200m with shopping bags without a smiling person on a scooter pulling over to insist on giving me a lift. If I get a flat tyre, my bike is often quite literally taken out of my hands to be pushed to the nearest bike shop. This took me a while to get used to… In South Africa, someone trying to take away my vehicle would get a shot of pepper spray in the face while I called the police! South Africa is a beautiful and special place but it is also deeply divided by poverty and crime, with too many people having to live in circumstances that are not of their choosing. This can make for a suspicious society.
Despite the differences, South Africa and Thailand have a key thing in common: Ubuntu. Ubuntu loosely translates to ‘the spirit of togetherness’ but its more than that. It’s the idea that society is one and compassion for others should be non-negotiable. I feel Ubuntu in Thailand and I think that is what helped me feel at home here so quickly.
There is a lady who owns a small restaurant near where I live and I feel she epitomises this perfectly. Her name is Tham and, apart from being an amazing cook, she always goes the extra mile to make sure I feel welcomed. In broken Thai and English, we swap smiles, enquire about other’s lives and, despite knowing very little about each other, try to brighten each other’s days. I think she is simply wonderful and highly recommend her restaurant for good quality, home cooked Thai food.
My time in Thailand has taught me so much about myself, not least that I can carry anything and everything I could ever want to transport on a scooter! But my most treasured memories will always be of when people have allowed me into their worlds. Above all, I will treasure my multilingual, multicultural students who inspire me daily and have taught me far more than I could ever teach them.
If you are ever for a moment thinking ‘why should I travel?’, do it. Even if it’s just for this one reason: Once you live, eat, worship and dance alongside people of different colours and cultures, it is truly impossible to pretend that they are any different from you.