TEFL Certification Course Day 1: Arrival to Ban Phe

Ban Phe pronounced: Ban Pay, small fishing village on the Gulf coast of Thailand in the Rayong province.

After nearly 2 weeks enjoying myself in Pattaya it was time to say goodbye. I had a great time there and became a regular at one of the bars. The weather was bad during the entire stay so any island hopping was off limits as the waters were too rough for ferries. Pattaya was my last vacation stop before coming here and I did it proper, often finding myself awake at sunrise and asleep most of the day. There might have been a romance in there somewhere too. Hey, I deserved a few weeks of this right? I spent the better part of 4 years keeping myself pretty disciplined and now I got to let loose. But, it’s back to school now.

I booked a taxi to Ban Phe to head straight to TEFL International/Siam English Language School. Students are allowed to check into their rooms the Saturday prior so I wanted to make sure I was there so I could get acquainted. I was the first to arrive, which was good because there are only a few select rooms with a window and a balcony. The room for the month was included in my payment for the course. There are 7 students in this course which is great. So far, I’ve only met 4 others; two young British guys, who have already become study mates, an older British gentleman and a woman from New Zealand. There are two other guys that we haven’t seen yet.

The town of Ban Phe is just a small fishing village and a spot where tourists take the ferry across to the island of Ko Samet. There are very few tourists around the beaches here and it is real quiet. There are plenty or bars and restaurants so there will be no lack of spots to let off a bit of steam after a long day in the classroom. A couple of us went out to a few bars last night as a last night of letting loose before the course begins. There is an orientation tonight (Sunday) and then the class begins tomorrow morning at 8:30am. Staying at the school is great because there is no need to wake up early to commute. We can just roll out of bed 15 minutes before class and start learning. There is a midmorning break, a 1.5 hour lunch and then an afternoon break. The day ends between 3:45-4pm depending whether or not we’re out at a Thai school.

There are a few students from last month’s class still hanging around and they said it is very intensive but also a lot of fun. The week will be busy with lots of lesson planning and homework but they did say that it’s possible to have free weekends if we get our work done in the class and in the evenings during the week. This is good news because the Thai New Year is right in the middle of the course and is a huge celebration of water fights in the street. We may even head out to Ko Samet or back to Pattaya if time and workload permits. (By the way, two elephants just walked by while I write this)

So far I’m still not sure what to expect. You can only take what others say with a grain of salt because each experience is different. I do know I’m really excited to get it started and end all the speculation on what this is going to be like. I’m home here in Ban Phe for the rest of the month. My room is simple and the shower doesn’t work in my room so I have to use the cold water one in the hallway. The toilet leaks and doesn’t flush very well. There is no TV and no desk, but at least I have a window.

I’ll update as often as possible with a day by day description of what is going on. If it gets too much to write I’ll just clump days together and give an overview.

Thailand, you’re losing and Indonesia is winning

In the, Where Will Joey End Up Sweepstakes, Thailand is starting to fall precariously behind.

I arrived to the island of Penang off the west coast of Malaysia earlier this week in an attempt to secure a 90 day education visa for my stay in Thailand. I was told Penang is the most lenient Thai consulate so I felt pretty good. I think I’m realizing very quickly that visas are never a given and often a real pain. (see: Syria)

I’ve been staying in Georgetown, the second largest city in peninsular Malaysia. I was here four years ago and it is the same as it was then. Cockroaches roaming around the streets, open sewers with disgusting odors creeping out, transvestite prostitutes relieving themselves in back alleys, rickshaw drivers asking me if I want an array of different types of sexual adventures with my choice of girls both young and old, the smell of rotten food coming from stalls, and the glorious squeaking and chirping sounds of buildings infested with rats. Oh, but it’s been deemed a cultural heritage site by UNESCO. Add to this my cold and you could forgive me for being ready to leave.

So, day three in Georgetown and I finally have my verdict. I went to the Royal Thai Consulate the morning after I arrived. The owner of the guest house helped me prepare my documents and for a small fee drove me to the consulate. The visa office is only open from 9am-12pm so we got there just as it opened. It was a pretty quick process. They took my money (about $73) and my passport with all my documents. They said I needed a letter from the Ministry of Education in Thailand and that they would start the process but before they would grant it they need the fax from my school.

Sample

The elusive document!

Now, with only a receipt to pick up my passport the next day during a small window of time, I headed back to my guest house to start calling TEFL International. I spoke with one of the visa issue handlers on Skype but the connection was poor or she didn’t understand my request. She said to email her instead. I hung up the phone and immediately emailed her. Fast forward 24 hours, no reply. I sent several follow up messages advising them that this was time sensitive and I was to pick up my passport in an hour. They said they provided me with all the paperwork I should need and that if they don’t grant me the visa there is nothing they can do.

I went back to the consulate at 2pm that day and was given back my money and told that I was still missing the necessary letter. I got a sample from the consulate and took it back to my guest house where I took a photo of it and showed it to TEFL International. They emailed me back a few hours later to tell me that they called the Ministry of Education and that letter could be provided but it would be a minimum 5 days. They sent a follow up email asking me to explain my need for 90 days if my course is only 30 days long. I advised her that my plan was to enter Thailand as a tourist first visiting Bangkok seeing as though I have a friend there who is a teacher. I wanted to get acquainted more and start looking at accommodation in case I live/work in Bangkok.

I received a reply from TEFL International stating that my purposes are not acceptable and that they won’t be submitting the request to the Ministry of Education because they have had problems with foreigners using the 90 day education visa for strictly pleasure purposes. So, now I’m forced to go the dishonest route of doing “visa runs.” This requires heading to the border before your allowed time runs out, crossing into either Cambodia, Laos or Myanmar and then literally turning right back around and going through immigration. This is expensive, a real hassle and in my opinion dishonest. TEFL International said I would have to make a visa run in the middle of my intensive course with them in Ban Phe, Thailand.

So, needless to say, I’m a bit frustrated with Thailand right now. Not so much at the school itself but how strict immigration has become. This isn’t exactly a reflection on the country either but rather what the country has become since so many people find it to be such an alluring destination to find pleasure or business.

Thailand is slowly becoming less and less appealing to me as I am reminded in Penang of how many foreigners actually live there. There are bus loads of tourists doing visa runs in and out of Penang. When I was in Indonesia things felt so much different. Yes, there are tourists but due to its geographical position and being an island nation, it doesn’t get the same influx of people that Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and the rest of mainland SE Asia gets.

What this all means is that I’ve already emailed TEFL International’s school in Surabaya on the island of Java in Indonesia. They’ve advised me that I can transfer my course from Ban Phe with out paying another deposit and that my final payment must be paid in Indonesia. My growing intention has already been to head back to Indonesia to work after getting my certificate so I figure why not just take my course there too so I specifically learn how to teach Indonesian students.

I miss Indonesia intensely. Almost the moment I left I felt deflated a bit. It’s hard to explain but I really fell for Sumatra. I can only hope that Java is just as good. I’ve heard nothing but good things about all of Indonesia. (outside of Bali) So, maybe this will be a start to a life in a country that wasn’t exactly the front runner for where I was going to end up but at the same time makes so much sense now. I remember receiving postcards from a girl I met online who lived in Jakarta when I was 17 yrs old and how I dreamed about going to Indonesia someday. This isn’t to say I don’t still like Thailand, but maybe it just isn’t meant to be. I’m waiting to hear what the process for a transferring to Surabaya is and whether or not a visa is easy to get. I may have to make a return trip to Singapore to the Indonesian embassy.

UPDATE: Since writing this I found another possible way to obtain a 60 day tourist visa for Thailand. This requires me to be dishonest and say that my trip is solely for tourism. This statement about sums up the process.

[joseph] I appreciate your desire to be honest,but please understand that your
not dealing with a straight-forward system or process here

So, I’m paying the owner of my guest house $10 to take care of it tomorrow. She has my passport and two photos plus my tourist visa application. She will drop it off at the consulate and then pick up my passport with the 60 day tourist visa inside. The fee is waived until May this year so it will save me nearly $40. I am not getting too excited. I have a feeling that since I already tried to get an education visa and failed, they’ll have me in their system and deny my tourist visa. If this happens, the office in Indonesia has already advised me I can enter on a 2 month cultural study visa as long as I have an Indonesian citizen sponsor me. I have someone in mind who could help me so we’ll see. Either way, I seem to have a glimmer of hope here.

I know this sounds like a lot of headache for Thailand but in reality citizens of most countries, including the U.S., can just arrive at any airport and receive a stamp on their passport good for 30 days. I’ve complicated matters myself by arriving via land as a tourist and by needing extended time to take the course.