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January, February and our exit from Thailand: Getting Fit!

These past months have been excellent and routine oriented. I know I promised to blog monthly, but the circle of our days and how tired we were after running/boxing/swimming and yoga made blogging somewhat un-attractive. The good news is now I have loads to share.

In my last blog I talked about daily life at Muay Thai camp, but I didn’t mention the nature of human turn over. People are constantly coming and going. This is great in the sense that we have meant many interesting people from many places, but challenging in that you are constantly saying goodbye to friends. Both our original roommates moved on. Lindsey back to England and Marcella moved into a local apartment with Mao when he arrived. This created space for us to live with Barbara, Marcella’s sister (a law student), Lindsey, from Canada (boxer), Teresa from Norway, and at the very end Monique, Marcella’s friend from Costa Rica. Each was wonderful in their own way. Along with great roommates, we meant so many interesting people: Julian(AU), interior decorator; David(AU), auctioneer; Jo(AU), student; Giles(UK), day trader; Christina(DM), budding photographer; Andrea(USA), English teacher in Korea; Nykki(USA), traveler, healer, yoga teacher; Kate(AU), singer; and her dad, Paul, car dealer and race horse owner, and the list goes on and on.

Teaching Yoga to such a moving, mixed group of students was a wonderful experience. It facilitated both of us getting to know many people well. Plus it was really amazing to see how much people grow and transform when they are working out and eating better every day. People would show up pudgy and tired, then 6-8 weeks later leave revived and fit. Kailin and I were unable to ever work up to 6 hours/day training, like the pro-boxers, but none the less our bodies are so much stronger and fitter than when we began. We both have biceps, triceps and abs! I’ve lost 10Kilo (20lbs) since leaving the UK.  It will be interesting to see how this translates over to our Tai chi/Wushu practice. We were not able to keep practicing our Tai chi very well, just too much else happening, but we are confident that a week of review will bring us back up to speed. We have continued to work on our jumping kicks and they are much better.

It is amazing to watch the change in our boxing skills. Initially we were uncoordinated and sore, but now we can both hold our own in the ring and on the bags. Though neither of us is ready for combat. Kailin’s kicks are particularly good. She is deadly at close range and she can throw a punch too. We both have mean elbows. Also, our yoga poses have improved. I almost have backbends again and Kailin has her splits all around…including on the wall. Plus Danny taught us to run. Who knew running needs to be taught! We are not good yet, but improving and we can run without getting side cramps, and I am running without back pain…which is fantastic. We are both free of knee pain, which bodes well for our return to Wudang.

Initially, Muay Thai really just seems like brute force and ignorance, but as you do it and watch it, the art in it begins to appear. The pro-boxers are beautiful in their own way. They are surprisingly calm. I believe all the fighting burns off the normal aggression often seen in people and leaves behind a sort of calm presence….or maybe it is just fatigue! The training is very rigorous.

Along with working out and teaching, we have been helping out and learning other things at camp. I have been treating people according to need, doing private yoga lessons and have even taken on a new client or two that I hope to have long standing relationships with. Kailin has done several cooking classes and can now make most of the classic Thai dishes.

Donna (Scotland) and her husband arrived in February and we all became friends. They own a deli in Edinburg. We have all been sharing recipes with Gong for the restaurant. Plus Kailin completely re-vamped the menu and ordering system at the restaurant. (What that child can do on a computer with little to no training is amazing…she definitely gets that from her dad.) I re-worked the smoothie menu and flushed out simple detox programs that can be offered to students. We even had a smoothie tasting night to introduce the new line. We also learned a lot about how the Thai’s work with food. The whole place is family run, so Gong’s mom, husband, son, niece and many other family/friends are around often. They are constantly processing the foods that the family eats, so we saw how to dry fish, fruit, and peppers. We learned new ways to cut up fruits/vegetables, how to make cooking coconut milk and soya milk and we have many new foods in our diet…like rose apples and green mangos.

I spoke with Danny (AU) and Gong extensively regarding ideas and possibilities for taking the whole place to the next level. I set Danny up ordering really good electrolytes for everyone to use. The amount one sweats working out in Thailand makes a sauna look like a cool day in England, strolling in the park. Some of the students even run in hot suits! That would kill me! This makes electrolytes critical. Even the coconut water is not enough to keep up, but a coconut a day will help keep dehydration away.

Gong and Danny are both great and I believe that Promthep will one day be the top boxing gym in Phuket. That said, the yoga room still wasn’t finished when I turned our class over to the next teacher. “Thai time” is a real issue. Only projects with serious money and western ownership/oversight tend to get done and maintained properly. I hope Danny and Gong can pull this off long-term. It is a great place and away from all the craziness of the Patong Beach area. Plus they have created a gym that includes everyone; children, teenagers, women, men, amateurs and pro boxers. None of the other gyms are doing this. They also promote a healthy life style, though not all the people choose to make good choices. Overall Promthep is a great place for a fitness holiday.

Kailin and I were so happy to have good, healthy food available, even if it was somewhat repetitive….and some things never get boring…like coconut water. The whole kitchen is run by one little Thai grandma. It is amazing what that woman can do in a ridiculously small space. Gong will have to expand the kitchen and staff if she hopes to continue to grow. I think she will get to this given a bit more time. Danny also needs more good English speaking help over in the gym and the whole place needs more consistent cleaning and maintenance…Hopefully he and Gong will work this out…as he is a great gym manager and his brother is a great ring manager.

The Thai people are wonderful: Very relaxed and sweet, yet hard workers. Even the stray dogs are chilled out here, and there are lots of stray dogs. The lady that did our laundry, also runs 2 taxis, is a full time Mom and often watches her sister’s kids. That said the country is being built and cared for by the Burmese. Burma has so many issues that the people are leaving in droves. They are willing to work hard for nothing, while often living on the street. Gong takes good care of her workers, but still they make very little. In spite of this they are happy and upbeat most of the time, though they often lack skills that would make them more effective workers. They are good learners, so with a bit of time and training anything is possible. Also they are all learning to speak Thai and English. Language is a huge issue, as most Thai’s speak Thai and a bit of English and most Burmese speak Burmese and a bit of English and a bit of Thai….at no time is there actual good communication happening….makes thing interesting. This said, it is much easier to function as a tourist in Thailand than in China, as everyone does speak some English.

There are good things happening in Thailand. There is real consciousness taking hold around conservation. Gong’s husband works as a conservationist police that makes sure companies, farmers, etc. are behaving responsibly toward the environment, but enforcement is an issue. Some say Thailand only has 20 more years of fishing and the waters will be empty, but there is little slowing down of taking from the waters. Drag nets are still used which kill everything their path. Thing is fishing is the only livelihood of many people.

Most hotels have key based auto switch off systems in place to conserve electricity, but the concept of maintenance of anything is very new, so extra resources constantly go to rebuilding things that should be lasting much longer.

Cock fighting has been given up for the most part, in favor of songbird tweeting competitions. Loudest bird wins! (One of the funniest things ever, is seeing a grown man riding down the road on his scooter, with a bird cage containing his favorite song bird.) The actual competitions are boring. Just a bunch of guys sitting round waiting on the whim of a small bird, but loads of money changes hand none-the-less. Thailand has also jumped on the band wagon for resolving the stray pet issue. They have an initiative to neuter/spay all stray dogs and cats, and getting you own pet fixed is free to everyone.

The good news is the environmentalist ideas are taking hold and the children are being taught to honor nature again. Also, since Thailand was never colonized and has missed being the center of a major war, the culture is still very intact with the generations working together, and overall they love their King and government. Plus, their government in general is working for the people. It has developed a lot and in positive ways since I was here in the 80’s. They are way ahead of their neighboring countries, despite the occasional political conflict.

We have done many great things over the past months. We went island hopping to Raya, Coral and Budda. I love longtail boats, but our ride out was a bit too entertaining even for me. Lots of chop! Kailin was glued to me.  Going back was fine and the sunset was fantastic. Raya was the most beautiful. Coral had the best snorkeling. Budda is completely dedicated to Budda, so monks and dogs. Raya and Coral also both have Komodo dragons. It was amazing to see them in the wild. Though they weren’t “very wild”….more like the dogs of the lizard world…If you have food they are your instant friend.

We went to the Phuket Food Festival. Lots of good eats. We got a real education in Thai foods, esp. desserts. Coconut is a tremendous food. They make a crepe from it that is so good it doesn’t need filling. They had live music and all kinds of activities for kids. It was like being back a Waldorf. There were kids playing mancala on huge, beautiful wood boards, kids making curry paste from scratch in mortar and pestles, bamboo pea shooters, hand-turned ice lollies, little kids riding coconut palm fronds pulled by bigger kids, etc. It was great to interact with them. Overall a great night.

We also went to the beach regularly. Yanui was closest, but Nai Harn was the best. So beautiful, with warm calm water most of the time, and everything available: lounge chairs, massage, manicures, pedicures, shopping, and all kinds of food…most brought to you as you sun bathed. Nai Harn also had a nice mix of locals and tourist and was never too busy. It would be full of tourist in the day time, baking away and then in the evening the local Thai’s would arrive to beach picnic and watch the sunset. This is where we went to swim for fitness. I should mention coconut again. Nothing better for the skin/hair after the Thai sun. It was very intense and sunscreen was a must. Many people suffered the consequence of forgetting to use protection.

It was great to be back in a more modern and varied society. Knowing we were going back to Wudang, we took advantage of the mall, great restaurants, shopping, and a movie theater. I should mention here that the movie theater offered a VIP service. This meant you watched the movie from reclining lounge chairs and were waited on with an endless supply of treats, all for one low price. We have Giles to thank for this experience. The US/UK could take this idea on….trouble is some people, like Gary, would never ever actually see the movie. They would just be paying $8 to sleep! Giles also took us shooting. Kailin had never handled a gun, and as she wants to act, we all figured it would be a good experience for her to have. However, when she sat down and the guy put the gun in her hand she turned white and didn’t want to do it. So I had her stand behind me to watch, thinking this would help. When I turned around she was gone. Giles and I found her in the car crying. She said her feet just carried her away. We were all surprised, including her. Must be a past life thing! Anyway, Giles and I had fun, and we now know Kailin has something to work on. We will address this again in the UK.

I went to Koh Samui and Koh Phanga (scene of the famous full moon party – something to be avoided – crazy people under 30 shortening their lives) to meet up with my longtime friend Cort. He came in to attend the wedding of Paul and Nadine. Paul is his good friend, and brother to Mat, one of Cort’s best mates. Paul and another friend co-own a lovely house on Samui.

Kailin and I were both intending to go as Remy and the girls were suppose to come, but when they end up staying home, Kailin decided she didn’t want to go hang out with a bunch of adults…so she stayed at Promthep and taught yoga all by herself….really amazing. Only 14 years old. I got lots of wonderful feedback on how great she was. It was good for us to have a break from each other, and empowering for Kailin to be on her own.

Cort took me around to look at various spas, as the future might hold my working with or owning a spa/healing center. Samui does them really well, but we mainly hung out at Paul’s house. It was great to meet everyone and they all made me feel welcome, even though I was the stranger that crashed the wedding. We will be staying with Mat, Sue and their 2 kids when we visit Beijing. It is wonderful of them to invite us. The whole family is really nice. Victoria (Paul and Mat’s sister), and their mother were particularly great. Victoria runs a Montessori school in Montana…amazing women. Might had to go to Montana just hang with her more. I also meant, Scott, the owner of Element Fresh, the restaurant that we “lived at” in Shanghi. It is a brilliant asian/western fusion food place. He and his chefs cooked for the wedding. It was nice to get to know him and hear his success story.

The night before the wedding we all meant up to watch a lady-boy show. The only time I interfaced with the 3rd sex on this trip. It was interesting. The lead guy/girl was perfect, you would never have guessed in a million years he/she was anything other than female. Amazing what western medicine gone wild can do!

After the wedding, Cort and I meant up with his childhood friend, Travis (teaches scuba diving in the area) in Koh Phanga. It was a real “trip”, in more ways than one. We stayed in cabins at Coral Beach. Stunningly beautiful, quiet, off the beaten track, with giant swings. The funniest thing, was the pig and 2 dogs that belonged to the owner. The pig had a huge tattoo on its side that said, “EAT MORE FISH”. Plus this pig believed itself to be a dog. Watching a tattooed pig playing Frisbee with a Rottweiler and Poodle on a beach is a once in a lifetime occurrence! We ate great food (repeatedly), snorkeled, and watched the squid boats at sunset. Very calming.

The trip was perfect, except for the tourist scam we got caught in when we returned the motorcycle we rented. Rule of thumb for the future: never rent from the first place when you get off the ferry. That guy knows someone to get the location and is probably a con-artist. Our guy was particularly gifted, for he even caught Cort and I who are both experienced travelers. Turns out when you rent a bike from him the agreement you sign has loads of unusual rules in very small print on both the front and back. Once you leave he has his family members/friends stationed all around town taking pictures of people breaking those rules and breaking small things on the bikes. Then when you return the bike he produce pictures or points out the obscure broken item and demands huge amounts money over the agreed upon amount. The police claim no power, as the agreement was “signed by you” and they offer to negotiate the amount down on your behave. I’m sure they get a kick back….so in the time we were there he made $150 extra on us, $80 on a couple of guys, and $100 on a girl. Not a bad hour for him. The amazing thing is he managed to stay angry the whole time….I am not even capable of remaining that upset for that duration, especially if I am only pretending hostility to run a scam. Anyway, there are lots of scams in Asia so getting caught in only one is probably something to celebrate. We both remained calm throughout, but found ourselves annoyed afterwards. OH! What was our crime? Riding very slowly on the bike triple for 2 blocks, taking Travis to the next shop to get his bike, as this first shop only had the one. Note: there is no law about how many people can be on a bike. The Thai’s ride with everyone!

Overall a great week and big shout out of Thanks to Cort and friends for looking after me, and Remy for allowing us all to borrow him for a just few days from their busy lives.

This brings me to a conversation about scooter/motorcycles in general. We were in Thailand 3 months and we saw at least one accident per week. There were constantly people at camp in some state of injury from scooter incidents. One particularly bad accident happened right in front of Promthep. An older European man and a younger Thai lady crashed straight into the concrete ditch. I was the first on the scene and spent the next hour doing my best to keep the old guy alive. Thankfully, they were both wearing helmets or they both would have been dead. As it was, he wasn’t breathing and she had a badly broken leg when I arrived. Of course she didn’t speak any English, so getting her to hold still was challenging. I had to partially ignore her to get him breathing. He had a bad head injury, but I had to turn him, because he was face down, bleeding like crazy and not breathing! Once I got his helmet off he started to breathe again.  I spent the next hour stabilizing his neck and head over my leg as others came to help. I will say the Thai’s are great in an emergency. People brought umbrellas to keep the sun off, someone turned up to translate and help the girl to understand she needed to relax and not move the leg, Kailin went to get homeopathics and ice to help me stop the bleeding/swelling, someone brought smelling salts to help with consciousness and thankfully a Canadian firefighter on holiday happen by. He was able to check vitals, look for internal injuries, and take control of the scene. Finally the ambulance arrived. If it hadn’t been for the firefighter and a couple of other big guys they never would have gotten this guy into the vehicle. The paramedics were itty bitty Thai guys. I’m sure the girl was fine, but I will always wonder if the old man made it. I kept asking him to look at me, what his name was, how old he was….anything to keep him conscious, but he was fading in and out and just kept repeating, “Are you an Angel?” I kept saying I was his angel for now. I never could get anything else coherent out of him and we never heard if he made it or not. I like to believe he did. Danny told us they reported 2 deaths in Phuket due to scooter accidents that day. I really hope he wasn’t one of them. I will always be thankful for the angel on my shoulder; hopefully we brought him some light in a scary, perhaps even transitional situation.

Anyway, the moral of the story is: fast, two wheeled vehicles are dangerous, so wear a helmet all the time, no matter what the law says. The Thai’s do absolutely everything on them. They haul everyone and everything: Including tiny babies, children, pets, plants, and pachyderms, usually without helmets. They weave in and out of traffic, where normal road rules are treated as “only suggestions” by everyone. Surprisingly, there are few fatalities considering the numbers, but there are loads of injuries, many of them life altering. When you look at those injuries a huge percentage belong to foreigners, as the locals are use to riding all the time. Most foreigners don’t ride scooters/motorcycles daily in their normal lives. This means they do not have the skills necessary to do it in a foreign country with crazy traffic and road conditions…..so if you travel abroad rent a car, or better yet stick to taxis driven by locals. It costs more but you will likely live to travel again.

As we neared the end of our time we did some practical things. We went to dentist, very cheap here and good service. Paid $150 to have both our teeth cleaned, fill 2 cavities and repair some resin work on Kailin’s teeth and have an on-lay fixed for me. We did last minute shopping. The Thai’s have comfortable clothing all figured out, plus a few other unique items. We shipped another package home. Plus our friend Kate, was gone for a few days so we slept in her air-conditioned room for our last 3 nights. What a gift that was.

We left on the 6th for Bangkok by overnight bus. I was a bit unsure about bus, as I took a 9 hour bus, then a 1 hour ferry to Koh Samui. It was fine, but was I ever ready to get off, and I had the comfortable seats. There were people sitting the entire time down the center isle on small plastic stools. Don’t know how they did it?!? Anyway we paid for the VIP seats ($30: way less than flying, but high for Thai’s) and they were fantastic. Like first class on an airplane without all the restrictions. We had to take the bus as it was the only way to get to Bangkok early enough to get our Chinese Visa’s renewed (cost a fortune…everywhere charges America’s loads more than any other country. Does our government know that their poor behavior cost us all money?) same day service. We got on the bus at 6:30 pm, ate the dinner we had packed, watched a movie, went to sleep and woke up in Bangkok 12 hours later….Nice!

I should mention the ferry to Koh Samui was great. Only ferry I’ve ever been on where you can get a 45 minute foot massage for $7 on your way. I had to take advantage of that.

We picked Bangkok because Gary wanted to meet us there. He has a new girlfriend, Katherine. She has a brother that lives in Bangkok and she was over to visit him, so Gary decided to meet up with all of us for a few days. We had a great Italian dinner Monday night and got to know Katherine. We really liked her; she is involved with charity work and is very sweet. We all spent the next day visiting Wat Pho and going for a night time boat tour along the canals. It was great to have a little time with Gary and to meet Katherine.

Wat Pho has been an important temple for ages. It is most famous as a place of education in medicine. Particularly, Thai massage. It is also the location of the famous Reclining Buddha. When I was in Thailand before I came to the temple for massage, but it was under major re-construction so tourist weren’t allowed in. Only the healing center was open then. It was great to get to visit it this trip. It is very beautiful. The mosaic work alone is worth going to see. We took lots of amazing pictures and did blessings at one of the shrines.

The next day we left early by train for Cambodia. I will pick up in my next blog about this adventure.

In the meantime here are some observations we both agree on from our travels thus far:

Food, no matter how wonderful, when it is repetitive becomes boring. We are true foodies! We are all spoiled for choice in modern society.

Scooters are dangerous. Always! This said, we in the “developed” nations live in way too much fear! Life requires risk to live fully.

Exercise is mandatory for vitality in life. Not an hour a few times a week, but loads daily.

Children are the same everywhere. They are living examples of presence and unconditional love, even in the face of severe adversity.

Coconut water is the nectar of the Gods!

Ponder away!