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Peace Phuket

Friday morning I awoke on the spare bed in Gaz’s room to the crowing of the devilish clucking beasts that inhabited the area in front of Gaz’s resort. After chasing them away, slinging pebbles and rocks in their direction in a worthless attempt to quell the savages, I rolled around from position to position for a short while before surrendering to the morning and waking up to greet what I believed would truly be my last night in Thailand. After another quick hunt with Gaz and another resort resident that chased the relentless rooster in and out of bushes; wielding a knife high above his head and screaming curse words at the feathered monster, we worked our way to Tony’s restaurant for a cheap breakfast, where I was frequently reminded that I would not be getting anymore goodbyes tonight; as I had milked my departure of all its friendly graces the night before.

                We decided to let the afternoon slip away from us at the beach, seeing as it was Sunday and there was no training today. After breakfast, the group changed into swim trunks and sped along the main road towards Rawi beach which sat just a few kilometers down the road from Tiger. Upon arriving, we found that the Rawi was more of a small strip of restaurants overlooking the gorgeous blue ocean than it was a beach, and changed directions to head to a more popular patch of sand where we could throw around a ball and swim in the cool Phuket water. The early afternoon was wasted away lying around in the sand and playing ball, sharing laughter and the scorching Phuket sun. After a while of absorbing a bit of sunburn and saturating ourselves in saltwater, we worked our way back to Tiger to grab some lunch, followed by watching a television series on Gaz’s laptop back in his air-conditioned room. We spent time sharing laughs and lazily letting the afternoon slip away, and grabbed a take-away pizza at a shop just down the road before I haled my bags out of Gaz’s room to catch a taxi that the MASSIVE ladyboy (Brian Urlacher would have marveled at its quads) that worked at Gaz’s resort had hailed for me. I said my goodbyes one last time, and stared at Gaz with a perplexed looked as he asked me ‘what do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back’, only to shake my head and laugh as John responded, “a stick”. I gave Mikkel, Gaz, and John one handshake and hug before hopping in the taxi to try my hand at leaving the country, one final time.

                Phuket to Bangkok. Bangkok to Shanghai. Shanghai to New York. New York to miss my bus. Missed bus to a later ride. Bus ride to Baltimore. I was met by the cold Maryland air and the melting snow that sat alongside patches of grass and small city sidewalks.

 This will be my last post summarizing the individual days of living in Thailand, but I hope to write one final and more elaborate entry about the trip as a whole, transcribing the lessons that I took away; something that I can look back on and browse from time to time, to remind myself of the important puzzle pieces that I had picked up along my experiences through Thailand and the various interactions that I shared with the most amazing people that I have ever been graced with. I may be nowhere near completion of the picture that everyone struggles to assemble, but what I am sure of is that my experiences served to fill in a few important gaps that had been missing in my picture, one’s that undoubtedly make life a little more beautiful, and a great deal more vivid.

Can’t get rid of me that easy

                Sorry about the delay in posting, as the last few days of my trip were busy beyond belief.

                Friday morning, Rocky, my Jiu Jitsu coach from back home, finally arrived at Tiger Muay Thai. It was nice to see a familiar face, and he spent the day touring around Tiger and diving into a few muay thai training sessions while I consumed myself with more jiu jitsu in the morning and afternoon.

                Mikkel had a friend arrive at the camp named Gareth, or Gaz as we called him, who Mikkel had met whilst travelling in Australia and was the inspiration for Mikkel’s trip to train at tiger. It wouldn’t take more than a heartbeat of listening to Gaz tear into one of his hilarious stories about experiences past to realize that he hails from England judging by his accent, and would only take a heartbeat more to have you rolling on the floor, wiping the tears from your eyes and catching your breath between fits of deep laughter. Gaz had been travelling Australia for the past year or so, and was planning on spending a few months in Thailand training at tiger before heading back home to England, a return that he was looking forward to after such an extended stay away from home. Friday afternoon was spent wasting away the day sharing stories with Mikkel and Gaz, grabbing some food to eat, and then spending on final Jiu Jitsu class with Wiktor before wrapping up an amazing three weeks of training and living in Thailand, capping the night off with one last quick trip down into Patong for dinner and a show.

                After a shower following Jiu Jitsu; Gaz, Rocky, Mikkel, John and I hopped on our scooters, me on the back of Mikkel’s, and raced down to Patong to dive into any kind of food, as we were starving after a long day and desperately wanted to sit down at one of the restaurants of the outdoor mall and fill ourselves. We settled on a restaurant called ‘Urban Food’, or something to that effect, and tore through enormous skewers laced with beef, chicken, lamb, pork, and peppers. Vara, Angelique, and three Swedish gentlemen from the camp who the girls had invited joined us for dinner; and followed our group into Patong once more, weaving through the slightly smaller Friday night crowd until we stumbled upon Diane from the weekend before, chatting with her for a short while before letting her know that we would not be staying around to drink with her this evening as we had planned to head back to Tiger for a relatively early night. While she was disappointed, she did help us to negotiate a special price on our holy grail for the night: a ping pong show. Seeing as it was my last official night in Thailand, the group had decided that the trip would not be complete until we had ventured into the deep, dark corner of the Patong nightlife and experienced firsthand the mythical ping pong show.

                I will not delve into the intricacies of the spectacle that is the infamous Ping Pong *poppop* Show, but believe me when I say that our group became heavily involved in the acts of the show, and years of psychotherapy would be a waste of time and money in a vain attempt to pull a haze over the vivid physical and emotional damage that these poor eyes have experienced. While Post Traumatic Stress disorder is a serious and horrifying medical condition; Post Traumatic Ping-Pong disorder is an entirely different animal in itself, and it will take me years of intense conditioning before I bite into an apple, shave with a razor, smell a cigarette, or see a balloon without breaking into cold and shivering sweats and having flashbacks of a small stage lit with bright lights and pulsing music; centered with a confident Thai women who’s ability to work a crowd was rivaled only by her accuracy with darts.

                We left the show sometime around 1pm, and hopped on our scooters just as the southern Thailand rain decided to unleash itself from the dark and cloudy sky above. Our tiny scooter gang trudged onward through the damp and chilly night, hammered by thick and heavy raindrops as we bounded along the winding and hilly roads until we finally reached the camp after quite a sketchy and slippery drive. We all said our goodbyes, and shared one last laugh before retiring for the night.

                Saturday morning I was awoken by Gaz, and jumped on the back of his scooter to meet Mikkel for breakfast, recounting the festivities of the night past before heading back to Tiger so that I could spend some time on the mat with Mikkel, going over techniques with him and allowing him to transcribe each technique, step by step, in his newly purchased Jiu Jitsu notebook. After close to an hour of drilling technique, the three of us headed towards the shelter of the weight room during another torrential downpour to finish out a quick but intense weight lifting circuit. The session was rapid and upbeat, and we capped the routine by heading to Mama’s to grab a protein shake and talk away an hour or so, howling like a pack of hyenas at Gaz’s intricate and elaborate stories. We still had time to waste away before my taxi arrived at 8pm to take me away from Thailand, so the three of us showered up and headed towards the mall so that I could buy a massive bag of dried and sugared fruit to snack on throughout the haul that awaited me that evening and the following day.

                The three of us grabbed a quick lunch at the mall, and stopped by the night market that was now quite prepared for the afternoon buzz that would soon infest its makeshift ceiling in the coming hours. We wandered around the labyrinth that is the Phuket night market, sucking down smoothies made from real coconuts and lemons, where I bought a few gifts for my brother back home. After departing the night market, the group decided to spend the rest of the evening in Gaz’s air conditioned room, which was more of a mansion to me after spending three weeks in a cheap dorm room; watching movies on his laptop and sharing a few more laughs before the time had come to head back to my room and retrieve my suitcase so that I could depart from the home that I had grown so fond of in the past few weeks.

                We all said our goodbyes, sharing hugs and laughs, and I hopped into the taxi that raced towards the Phuket airport; arriving well ahead of my flight and feeling confident that I would have no trouble catching my plane from Phuket to Bangkok. After standing in line to check in for about 30 minutes, I handed my check-in sheet and passport to the Thai gentleman behind the counter, who greeted me with a smile and a few clicks on his keyboard before his enlightened grin dissolved away into an uncomfortable look of unease. He stared across the counter at me with a look of genuine concern, and told me that my flight was not today, but tomorrow, and asked if I had a transfer to catch in Bangkok. I responded that indeed I did, and was headed across the globe to New York; producing my pamphlet of my transfer schedule from my bag that I had kept pressed firmly to my hip. Luckily enough, he said that he could make a change for me and get me to Bangkok tonight, drawling my heart up from the bottom of my stomach like it had been attached to a bungee cord, causing me to thank him more times I could remember before we both looked at the dates on the sheet and realized that it was not a mismatch of bookings that was the issue, but my inability to count or comprehend days of the week that was the issue. My flight did not leave on Saturday, but Sunday.

                To say that my face was glowing as red as Rudolph’s nose after a cocaine bender would be a vigorous understatement of my embarrassment, and the gentleman asked if I would like to go to Bangkok tonight and spend a day there, or to stay in Phuket for another night and proceed with my booking as originally planned. After a brief moment of thought, I chose to embrace one last day with the friends that I had grown so fond of, and hauled my bags to the street corner to hail a taxi to return me to Phuket, arriving back at Gaz’s room only hours after I had seemingly left to flee towards the opposite side of the world. My deep banging at the door was greeted with a look of shock and confusion that will never slip from my mind for as long as I live, and when the moment of panic and bewilderment slipped away, the group of lifelong friends welcomed me back and demanded an explanation for my return. I recited my story, standing in the middle of Gaz’s room and reading a list of one-liners that I had prepared for the group during my awkward cab ride back to the camp as if I had been reciting a humorous apology after being scolded for stealing cookies from a classmate; laughing over my stupidity and slipping like a Tetris piece into the couch that John, Mikkel and Gaz had been sharing to watch the laptop that sat on the bed opposite of them, catching me up on the movie that the group had been immersed in before my surprise return. I felt as if I was exactly where I was meant to be, comfortable between the greatest people I have ever encountered, and wasted away the night with friends; finally slipping into sleep on the extra bed in Gaz’s room, excited for one last day to spend with spectacular people in a spectacular place.

Random Thursday Information

The past few days have been consumed with training, running errands, and napping to restore energy for more jiu jitsu classes. Wednesday I virtually free of sickness, and while I did not have as much energy as I usually do from a day consumed with an unsettled stomach, I was able to wake up early for yoga, and push through two sessions of Jiu Jitsu. Despite living at a muay thai camp, I’ve been drawn to the jiu jitsu mats for almost the entire vacation, and can’t seem to pull myself away from them.

                There are two Jiu Jitsu instructors here at Tiger. The co-owner of Tiger and head instructor for Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts is an American black belt and professional fighter named “Magical” Ray Elbe. Ray is the type of person that you can’t help but be drawn to like a moth to a flame, as he is constantly firing jokes at his friends and students, highlighting the fiery and addictively abrasive attitude that makes classes so interesting. While Ray pushes each and every one of his students, it is apparent that he cares for every single guest that enters his camp and wishes the best for everyone. I can honestly say I’ve never laughed, sweat, or learned as much as I have while spending time on these slippery blue mats watching Ray demonstrate technique; highlighting important aspects of each step with a hilarious metaphor and reasoning for why each individual movement is essential.

                The evening Jiu Jitsu classes are run by another tall gentleman name Wiktor (pronounced Victor). Wiktor is one of the kindest people I have met while here at Tiger, and his gentle personality seems to be a perfect balance to Ray’s aggressive but hilarious persona. While Wiktor’s jiu jitsu classes are late in the evening (7-8:30) just as the night should be winding down, the chance to immerse yourself with his knowledge of jiu jitsu is too tempting to pass up in favor of rest or an early dinner.

Some random notes about Phuket, or the camp in general that I haven’t spoken much about:

                The traffic here is bizarre. Scooters don’t seem to have any need to mesh with the regular rules of the road, and undoubtedly, the first time you put rubber to the road here you will see mopeds zipping in and out of traffic, shooting between cars to get a better position at a stoplight (that counts down to alert you when it is changing) or gunning along the bike paths to the left of cars. Traffic here does flow on the left side of the road, but takes virtually zero time to get used to in the sink-or-swim environment. At night, many of the cars are illuminated with shining neon under glow that paints the street below, or tiny neon highlights along different aspects of the cars. Large freight trucks and little red Tuk Tuks frequently are illuminated with gorgeous glowing lights, and many of the sportier Mazdas and Hondas can be seen with a beautiful blue, red, or green highlighting the street beneath them or decorating their headlights. Scooter crashes are frequent here, and I have seen a few people at the camp with road rashes and war stories about getting their wheels nipped by a taxi or scooter foe, only to have the driver dash off without a second look.

                Don’t be surprised to see as many as four people piled onto a moped, stacked haphazardly like a game of Jenga just about to topple. Many times, children will be placed just at the front of the scooter while the parents or siblings sit behind them, steering the moped; or sandwiched between a mass of larger individuals. The Thais seem used to driving like this, and don’t even share passing glances between parked masses of up to 30 scooters sitting at a red light; only to rev a head start into the intersection as the countdown timer strikes 3, playing a wild game of Thailand roulette and betting that the sporty Mazda planning to zip through the intersection just as his yellow light counts down to red has a passive change of heart. At night, when the women wear dresses for a classy evening, they sit sideways on the scooters with both legs hanging off to one side; typically not holding onto anything at all and riding with a balance and poise that is developed from years of practice.  I’m not sure of the driving age here, but I know for a fact I have seen children that couldn’t be older than 13 or 14 zipping mopeds through the left (slow/moped) lane.

                On a much darker and more serious note, I have made a mortal enemy while staying here at Tiger Muay Thai: the evil and hellish beast known as the Rooster. I’ve done quite a bit of firsthand investigation about this malicious creature, so allow me to educate you from what has transformed from a bedroom window into an observation and possibly shooting window. The Rooster, also known as the cockerel, cock, chanticleer; or its scientific name, Gallus gallus, is the creation of Satan himself. He waltz’s along throughout the early morning, deep into the night, crowing and cawing, cock-a-doodle-doo-dling through all hours of his torturous and miserable existence. The prevalence of roosters here at Tiger Muay Thai rivals that of the population of stray dogs around the camp and Phuket itself, and the sight of these nasty miniature feathered dinosaurs is enough to make a person gag and have a deep and burning hatred ignited at the same time. To my misfortune, a handful of these little monsters that have taken kindly to the little patch of raised land just outside my back window, and their CAWWWing has become a source of an instant headache, causing me to lose sleep because of the way that nasty high-pitched squawk bounces around in the space between my ears and the reflex of my body beginning to cringe and tighten in anticipation of the inevitable follow-up cries. I’ve spent countless moments staring out of my tiny window, with the shades pulled aside, salivating at the thought of diving through the tiny metal barred apparatus and strangling those little beasts with my bare hands, or punting one like an oddly shaped and feathered football. The ability to repress these burning urges has only been stifled by the knowledge that I will soon be leaving my ‘cage of CAWs’ that has become my bedroom. Rest assured that if I called this room home, I would chase these disgusting pests into the middle of the Chalong highway, giving answer to the question of why the chicken crossed the road and got smeared by a scooter on the way through. When I get back home, I am starting a campaign to eat nothing but eggs and chicken for a month just to spite the Rooster. I may open up an arts and crafts store that only offers feathered earrings and gizzard necklaces.

                I will post again soon with updates about more eventful Thailand adventures hopefully, but have to get back to daydreaming about smothering these evil creatures.

To hell, Virgil

I should have wasted away my Sunday morning in a blissful sleep, letting my body rest from another high-energy night with friends. Instead, I was awoken sometime around 6am with an uncomfortable feeling pulsing through my body, and instinctively jumped into a pair of flip flops and raced outside to the bathroom door only meters away. The discomfort of what I knew was food poisoning was relentless, and paced around the bathroom in a half-sleep haze, sharing time between getting sick and internally debating whether or not I was alright to make my way back to bed and strive for a few more hours of sleep before dealing with the illness that had overtaken me. Eventually, I made my way back to bed, and squirmed from shoulder to shoulder with knees hiked high into my chest until I found my way into a shivering but sweaty sleep. I was awoken again sometime around 9am, only to dart back towards the bathroom to rid my stomach of the rest of the sushi that had, unknowingly to me, tortured my body throughout the night until my stomach had given up its battle and called in for backup.

                I spent the rest of the morning changing positions on my tiny twin bed, sweating from the lack of air conditioning or Tiger Muay Thai breeze that was rarely kind enough to slip between my windows. Around 10am, after having another quick journey into the bathroom to rid the last of the potent street side sushi that had infested my intestines, I felt bold enough to make the trek to Vara’s room, and walked along the street with a large bottle of water in hand, forcing myself to take sips from it along my way. When I arrived at Vara’s room, I opened the door to find Mikkel, Vara, Angelique, and Simone inside of the air conditioned room, and I flopped down on the floor, begging for motherly love. We talked for a little while, and decided to meet up later after Mikkel took Simone to Patong; while I ventured back to my room to attempt to sleep away my sickness.

                The next few hours were consumed in a blur of sleep, ejecting an entire coconut’s worth of liquid into the grass opposite my room, followed by more sleep; up until Mikkel dropped by and hung around my room for a short while before heading to Mama’s restaurant to get some lunch with the others. I decided that I was well enough to stomach some kind of food or liquid, and knew that I needed to get some sodium and carbohydrate along with the water that I would be sipping on for the next few hours to properly rehydrate myself. I sipped on some diluted Gatorade and salty soup while sitting at Mama’s and talking to the group, wasting away some of the scorching afternoon. While talking, Mikkel reminded me that he had to return to Patong again later that night to attempt to hunt down the Tuk Tuk driver who drove the group home the night before; as he had lost his cell phone and was planning on taking what would be a miniscule chance of finding it. I agreed to go with him, as I was measured for a suit a few nights before, and would be ready to get fitted for it that afternoon anyway. I was not ready to make the journey back to Patong that early in the day, so we agreed to head back to our rooms and sleep the afternoon away before making the quest back to the party capital of south Thailand.

                I attacked my phone as it shrieked in my bed, jolting me out of a deep and wonderful sleep. I looked at the time, disoriented, and thought deeply to make sense of the numbers that stared back at me. 9pm. I couldn’t understand why I had set my alarm for 9pm, or why I was asleep this early in the night in the first place; that is until I remembered that Mikkel and I had a bizarre quest to complete. I argued with myself about heading to Patong this late on a Sunday night, and found it all too easy to slip back into my sweet dream state that I was just rocked out of. I wasn’t planning to let Mikkel travel down to Patong alone, and I threw on a pair of shorts and a sweatshirt for the journey westward before heading to Mikkel’s room to wake him up and start our adventure. As our scooters jumped back to life in front of Mikkel’s room, I couldn’t help but laugh at how different the dynamic of our Sunday scooter ride was compared to nights before. I joked to Mikkel that it seemed like we were re-creating our own eastern Asia version of Dante’s Inferno; the Danish Virgil and I diving down into Patong, a noble quest into our own temporary hell.

                Off we went, wrapped up in hooded garments, cutting into Hades through the first circle of hell; battling against the chilling Phuket breeze that tore against our uncovered shins and swirled around the insides of our sweatshirts. We dodged through the nighttime traffic into Patong, and braved the winding mountainside, climbing higher and higher until we again reached the peak that usually made us giddy with excitement, only to greet the crest with a deep breath and understanding that we had only begun our journey. We headed deeper into Patong, a place crawling with circles of Sunday night sin; coated with greed and gluttony, sex and lust, drugs and alcohol. When we arrived at the main strip of Patong, Mikkel spoke hopelessly with the nightlife Charon; the Thai man who orchestrated the hundreds of Tuk Tuks that lined the roads of Patong and took drunk and weary passengers to their places of rest. The man assured Mikkel that unless he knew the Tuk Tuk number, his phone was long-gone. With that, we trudged onward through the offerings of VIP entrances and Ping-Pong shows towards the tailor to get fitted for my suit.

                After the fitting, we walked back through the mall to our scooters, stopping once to sit down to a quick dinner, garnering enough energy for the trip back towards tiger and the morning classes to come. Despite my Sunday sickness, I was able to grind through another 7 hours of training the following day, only to be rewarded with another day of sickness on Tuesday, leaving me to sleep away most of the day in my bedroom-turned-sauna. I was able to wake up for a short while to quickly lift weights and go on a run, and spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out with Mikkel, who had injured his foot the day before and could not train today either. Tomorrow will hopefully be a full day of training, and I’m sure that things are already starting to turn around.

                No reason to be discouraged while in a beautiful place, surrounded by wonderful people.

Until next time

Pat

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