The other half of it

It occurred to me a day or two ago that I’ve done a bunch of yakking about training on this blog, and not a lot of talking about much else. So now it’s time to get into the bits and pieces of everyday life here. It’s leg kicks AND culture shock, after all. It’s not all sunshine, happiness, and lumpy bruises. I’m not writing this one to mope, just sort of getting my thoughts out and down on something instead of having them chase each other around my head.

I can already hear a bunch of you going “Oh no, poor Eric, has to suffer through a completely new experience that we’d kill to have, poor guy.” And to an extent, that’s right. But it’s not quite that simple most of the time. Some of you know that I’ve been in therapy and on anti-depressants for the last few months(and if you didn’t before, now you do). It’s not something I’m ashamed of, it just generally doesn’t come up in casual conversation. As you might imagine, the kind of wholesale pulling up stakes that we did on our way out of Rochester didn’t do me a lot of favors, which is somewhat continuing while we’re here. That’s not to say I hate it here, because that’s not true. But it’s an accumulation of little, and not so little, things that can drop on me sometimes to make me feel at least a little alienated and alone. For instance, I went out with Tryn to her department’s party for welcoming new teachers last night. Her coworkers are all pretty cool and seem like a lot of fun, so that wasn’t a problem. When we left, a bunch of you had asked me what I was going to do about food in Thailand, considering how much of it here is fish and other seafood. That turned out to be the question of the night, and EVERYthing had some kind of fish in it. Ordinarily, my first reflex in this kind of situation is to shrug and go “I’ll just hit a drive-through on the way home”, and it isn’t a big deal. Well, that’s not quite how it works here- there’s no drive-through, and even if there was, I have no car to get to it with.

That’s another big factor in my occasional bursts of angst. Getting a car was a big deal for me. It meant my schedule was under my control, not tied to whenever somebody else was headed to the bank, or the store, or wherever. It was, in a big way, representative of my freedom as an adult. If I wanted to go to Wegman’s at 3AM, get a container of ice cream and a frozen pizza and eat them, I could do it. My stomach would be really unhappy the next day, but the option was always on the table. Not only do I not have a car here, I don’t even have a stove, so I’m pretty severely limited in what I can eat in the apartment, by what will actually fit in the fridge, is microwaveable, and can be transported home on my bike. Again, I hear a lot of you going “Oh no, you don’t have to cook, how awful for you.” The problem is, I LIKE cooking. And there’s a string of un-poisoned people who have been in my dining room who can tell you that I’ve never killed anyone(to my knowledge) with my food. Cooking was relaxing, in a task-focused “Okay, let’s get X ready in time to go on the table when Y comes out of the oven, and Z got put on to simmer half an hour ago, so that should be all set whenever everything else is done” kind of way. You lose your focus on what you’re doing, and all of a sudden there’s smoke and burned smells, and now you’re just ordering a pizza instead.

That’s not even getting into the language barrier, both written and spoken. But I think that’s probably self-evident anyway. But I think that’s enough for now. Don’t worry, there won’t be too many of these, I know most of you read this to have a laugh at my expense when 13-year olds make me look dumb in the gym. We’ll be back to our regularly-scheduled goofiness soon enough, but every now and again I need to put this all down in writing someplace.

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Pint-sized killers

Having been in Thailand for more than a few days, it was high time we got out to see some fights, which our trainer hooked us up with last night. Once we managed to all get on the same page about what time we were supposed to meet back at the camp, anyway. See earlier entries about communication troubles.  The fights themselves were an interesting experience, especially in contrast to the way we do things at home. They had a ring set up outside in the middle of a festival at a temple, which was nice since I’m pretty sure we would have died of heat stroke if they held them inside. “We” meaning the three white people there, because Thais don’t seem to sweat from heat.

Anyway, I’m used to seeing a bunch of douchey-looking guys walking around and doing their best to look tougher than everyone else in the room and eyeballing anyone who they think might be looking vaguely in their direction. That, and heavily forced “sportsmanship” when it’s done, involving a perfunctory teeth-gritted handshake and then going off to brag for the rest of the night about how you badly you beat that other asshole. Here, I saw almost all of the fighters hanging out and joking after the fact, and I’m pretty sure I saw a few of them comparing bruises. Also, Tryn pointed out there wasn’t any of the usual ceremony when announcing the winner. The ref held one fighter’s hand up, everyone left the ring, and the next two hopped in. Completely different culture, which took me a few fights to notice.

The fights themselves were also kind of an eye-opener. It was like going to a steakhouse after eating McDonald’s your whole life(which is, coincidentally, an experience I’ve actually had). Even the lower-level fights here make the amateur scene at home look sloppy and awful, which it is, for the most part. The least-technical fights never degenerated into a brawl, and I think I saw one fighter all night gas out, after which he was promptly KO’ed. My first thought after seeing a few was “Wow, I guess this is what happens when everyone involved takes this stuff seriously.” My second thought was “Wow, I’m hilariously out of my league.” I mean, really, I have a LOT of work to do before I think about getting in the ring in this country. Tryn did point out that I have no idea of how many fights most of these guys had, but it’s still hard not to be a little overwhelmed when you see it in person.

One other thing- some of you who are unfamiliar with how the fight culture in Thailand works may be mistaking me when I talk about the fighters, in terms of age. I’m pretty sure the oldest one of them there last night was 17, and most were younger. Some people I’ve mentioned this to have been horrified, and think it’s terrible that kids should be doing this. It isn’t really that simple. Muay thai here is a little like boxing at home. A lot of the time, it’s a way for poor kids to get out of the ghetto. Although in this case, more often than not I think it’s that kids frequently get adopted by the training camps for one reason or another. Fighting for a living sure as hell isn’t easy, but it’s better than starving on the street. Something to consider before getting outraged.

Anyway, overall it was a good time, except for the fifty million bug bites I got. I wasn’t too crazy about riding in the back of a pickup truck to get there either, but when in Rome, I guess.

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Goodbye, shins

After a week of asking every single person who spoke even a little bit of English, I’ve managed to find a place to train, which everyone at Tryn’s school seems amazed by. I guess a lot of them have been asking and couldn’t find anywhere. More likely is that they weren’t willing to bother enough people, which has obviously never been a problem for me. The owner of one of the local bars told me that his mom knew the coach, so we met him on Tuesday and started training yesterday.

First thing that’s different is the jump ropes. I’m used to the little skinny ones from home, which look like this- Tough if you jump for long enough, but nothing awful. What we have over here, is this- I smacked myself in the foot with that thing and was worried for a second that I’d broken something. And my shoulders were burning something awful after about 30 seconds. That might take a bit of getting used to. As will the whole “checking with bare shins” thing. My right leg is currently purple and mutated, and I’ve pretty much been bathing in tiger balm since yesterday morning. I don’t know if the trainer has been noticing me wincing after about ten kicks or so, but I’m working on it. It’s been a pretty good time so far, though. The biggest difference from home is that they REALLY like elbows here. To a ridiculous degree. Guess I’ll have to keep that in mind when I get around to fighting here.

The trainer barely speaks any English, but after so many years trying to figure out absurdly heavy eastern European accents in fencing, I’m not too bad at picking up from context. I’ve been pulling translation duty for Tryn, which was appreciated. I got on the pads with him this morning, which was an experience, to say the least. Refer to the previous entry on my feelings about passing out in your own vomit. I’ve also been learning the ram muay, which is pretty cool. That would be the “dance with the weird headband” before fighting.

Right now I think I need to get some more sleep before tonight’s training, if I don’t want to fall over dead. That would make a bad impression, I think.

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No boom! Too much boom, no beauty.

My first experience training in Thailand was, in parts, enlightening, hilarious, humiliating, and nauseating. Let’s start with the heat, why don’t we? I was pretty sure I was going to wither and die within the first 20 minutes. I knew it was going to be hot, but holy crap, nothing can prepare you for the difference in temperature and humidity. And apparently it’s now just the rainy season, not actual summer. Good god. Thankfully, I got honest cabbies and didn’t get messed around on the fare or them getting mysteriously lost. Which is something I can’t say for a lot of the cabs I got back at home. So at least I was able to get there easily, so I could go nearly be sick without a problem.

After shadowboxing in front of the head trainer for all of about 30 seconds, he stopped me and immediately put me back on moving forward and back, and throwing jabs and crosses. We moved over to a heavy bag, where I was eventually allowed to do some elbows and knees as well. After three breaks in ten minutes because I’m a big wuss, I was eventually given the bit of advice found in the title of this entry. It took me a second to get it, but Primo was right about fighting being a universal language. That, and I’m sure my experience in attempting to understand eastern European fencers, coaches, and refs for several years has given me a leg up on the process. We moved over to pads after a bit, which was fun and educational in a “is it okay if I puke or pass out or pass out in my puke” kind of way. This also marks my first time checking kicks with no shin guards, which wasn’t really as bad as I thought it would be. At the time, anyway. The entire thing was blown up like a softball the day afterwards.

Once we were done there, he decided we should spar. Which went as well as I figured it would. I’ve never had someone giggle so much while smacking me around, but I guess it was as fitting an end to my first day training here as I was going to find. That was all a few days ago in Bangkok, though. Now that we’re finally here in Suphanburi, Tryn’s boss has told me that he thinks there aren’t any camps here. I don’t think I quite agree with that. There’s almost a million people in this city and a freaking muay thai stadium, don’t tell me there’s no place to train. They’re probably just in the less-manicured parts of town, which we haven’t had a chance to go looking for trouble in yet. We seem to be living in the Thai version of Fairport or Pittsford, so I think I just haven’t found the right people to be asking yet. I’m imagining the blank looks I’d get if I asked around in Fairport if they knew where Vertex was, and I think it’s probably a pretty solid comparison.

But I do have a few places to start my search. First, I figure I’ll get over to the stadium itself and ask around there. Also, just down the road from us is a physical education college, and I definitely saw a room full of heavy bags on their first floor. Because it’s a school, they might not just let me walk in and train, but I’d bet anything they can tell me where I’d be able to go. And third, I can just have Tryn ask her students. She’s teaching a bunch of groups of teenagers, there’s got to be at least one of them who knows.

These are all activities for a little later, though. First thing we need to get done is laundry, since we’re officially completely out of clean clothes. I’ll go out seeking abuse after I can do it without being naked.

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Eric’s muay thai dealership

I should probably be off doing something orientation-related with Tryn, but dealing with jet lag is proving to be a pretty difficult task. I think I might be too many years removed from my last idiotic all-nighter to be able to grind through a day while 3/4ths asleep, and I keep ending up sleeping during the day and waking up at 2:30 in the morning. So most of my time here so far has consisted of eating, failing miserably at learning Thai, and creeping on the internet at odd hours of the day. I haven’t yet had time to go off to do any training.

However, word seems to have gotten around in Tryn’s teacher group that I’m the guy to talk to about finding places to train, which is new and strange for me. Mostly because my previous experience in gym recommendations have boiled down to “You should go to Vision Quest, we’re great and make you popular and successful with the ladies.” All of the above is true. Anyway, I’ve had 3 or 4 people come up to me and start with “You know, I really don’t mean to bother you or anything, but…” Bother me? This is why I came here, I think it’s awesome that other people want to give it a try while they’re over here. Besides, I don’t know what they think I get up to when I’m not with Tryn, but my ability to wander off on my own is currently pretty limited, so I really am just sitting on my butt in our room with nothing better to do. Yes, I can help you find a place to train! As long as you promise to wear goofy shorts when you do it.

Other than that, I’m mostly just looking forward to the end of the week and getting to set up shop in our apartment in Suphanburi. It’ll be easier to get into the swing of things when we have more control over how we spend our time, and the ability to eat whenever instead of waiting for orientation food time. We’ll probably also look into what our options for transportation are, maybe even learn how to ride a motorcycle while we’re here. I’ll try not to get stepped on by an elephant.

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Chugga chugga woo woo

We’ve successfully arrived in New York, where I will be eating pizza at every conceivable opportunity for the next few days. The train ride was extremely low-stress compared to the last time we drove down here, i.e., the blown tire. It’s generally my favorite method of travel anyway. You just sit down and someone else is responsible for getting you to where you’re going. All you have to do is entertain yourself, eat if the trip is long enough, and not make a mess all over the bathroom. Some people are better at that than others. The train has a lot going for it as transportation, though. You can stop for food without having to stop. There’s no traffic. It doesn’t leave the ground. Not all of the above can be said about the subway, which we had to hop on after we got to Penn Station, but you can’t have everything, I guess.

Mostly, I’m just happy that we have no more packing to do. If I see another plastic bin before we come back from Thailand, I can’t be held responsible for what happens to it. Most of our entire collected life is currently hanging out in the basement of my mother-in-law’s house, which is kind of an odd thought, that nearly everything we still own can be put away in one room. But we did sort of go through all our possessions with a chainsaw. Figuratively, not literally. Otherwise, packing would have been a lot more enjoyable.

And don’t worry, Rochester people. The weather down here is crap right now too.

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