Halfway home

It’s pretty hard to believe that July is almost over and done with. We’re at 2 months and change until we’re back in the states at this point, and I’ve been following my jokingly-laid out original plan pretty much to the day. I was figuring on taking about a month to a month and a half to stop freaking out over being away from everything and everyone, at which point I would start to settle down into a routine, and by the time it came time to go, I’d probably wonder where the time went. So far, I seem to be right on track. August is probably going to roll right on by too, considering all the stuff we’ve already got lined up. Tryn has two long weekends, at least one of which we’ll spend hanging out on an island, and we also have some kind of giant, world-famous rave that’s in Asia for the first time ever.

On the getting-my-head-knocked-off front, Watcharachai Gym looks like it’s a winner, so hopefully I can stick around there for the rest of my time in Thailand. The head trainer spent all of my pad rounds with him doing some serious technical nitpicking, which as Tryn pointed out, is what I came here for to begin with. Of course, the other guy I worked with was a crotchety old Thai man who smoked between rounds, who represented the other half of what I came here for. I must not have been hitting hard enough for his liking, considering after the first two punches I threw he smacked me in the head with the pad and yelled “COME ON! POWAAA!” Followed immediately by me trying to keep my glee to myself, because he probably would have socked me again if I started laughing. Technical correction is great, and definitely something I need, but there’s something to be said for just going balls-out the whole time, too. Reminds me of a fencing coach or two that I’ve had. I also got to spar and clinch with some of the Thais, one of whom is a champion in his weightclass, and the other who has over 150 fights. I didn’t know either of these things before I started working with them, which is really probably for the best. I got completely ragdolled in the clinch by the first guy, who’s about 20kgs lighter than me. That’s 40-ish pounds, and I’m looking pretty good in the low 140s right now. Deflated ego Eric’s ego has been deflated. So all in all, it was a pretty great experience, although I may have overdone it a bit. I only intended to stay from Wednesday to Friday, but Tryn decided she wanted to come down after work and train too, so I ended up going through Sunday. Oops.

This weekend, we actually get to cook again! Which is a stupid thing to get excited about, but I really do miss it. We’re visiting one of Tryn’s friends from orientation, and for some reason, her house has a stove in it. I’ll have to hope that I haven’t slipped so much that I don’t burn the house down. They probably wouldn’t appreciate that much.

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Cough cough hack die

I’ve learned something that I suspect all of my teacher friends already know- children are walking little bags of disease and contagion. Tryn got bronchitis two weeks ago from one of her kids, which jumped ship over to me and switched it up into a sinus infection. Thankfully we’re both in the clear at this point, except for some residual coughing. She swears her kids are adorable, but I don’t see them on a daily basis, so I really only know them as living plague vectors. I guess it’s a small glimpse into the future once we start spawning.

It hasn’t really been an overly-exciting couple of weeks since I last wrote, I don’t think. The visa thing is still not taken care of, due to nobody being all that certain of what papers I need. We think we have it nailed down at this point, so now Tryn just has to corner her boss about it and actually get the damn things. This hasn’t been particularly easy, considering nobody in the school seems overly interested in helping me out with immigration. It’ll get done one way or the other, even if I have to drag her boss by the hair to the immigration office with me. It’s just aggravating in the meantime.

Most of the last few weeks has been doing some gym recon. There wasn’t anything wrong with the one I’d been training at, but it hit me that I’m not really going to have this chance again, so I want to swing around to as many as I can while I’m here. Although, at the same time, I’d kind of like to find a home base and make some friends while I’m at it. Next up on the list is a place called Watcharachai Gym, which is run by a former fighter of the year award winner, who went 13-0 in that year . He’s also one of the trainers/fighters from Kaewsamrit, which you might recall I mentioned a few entries ago is Primo’s gym while he’s over here. Obviously I’m pretty psyched to go get some work in there this week. If it works out, I’ll hang around there for a while and see if I can get a fight once I get my weight down to where it needs to be for that. Although I’ve already lost 15 pounds since I got here, so Jaa-ification is proceeding well.

That’s about it for now. I’ve hit the sort of weekly routine where I haven’t got as much to say as often, just because I don’t think anyone really gives a crap about “Went to training, ate rice, almost got run over trying to cross the street” updates. Settling in is good, but I’m still looking forward to coming home. And steak.

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Immigrant punk

I’ve reached a point where I occasionally have problems thinking of what to write here. There’s really only so many times I can tell everyone about training, or how hot it is, or eating parts of animals that I’m probably happier not knowing. So I’ll move onto a new topic- bureaucracy!

Last Monday, I went with Tryn to Ayutthaya(former capital of Thailand when it was still Siam) to do our visa extension paperwork. She had no problem, because she was also picking up her work permit, which allows her to stay through May of 2013, if we so chose to(we’re not). I figured mine should be easy enough, since my visa is a type O, which is sort of the catch-all for anything that’s not working, students, visiting family, or getting married. You know, O, for “other”. Shouldn’t be too tough, just fill out the form, tell them “My wife is a teacher who’s going to be here for another 3 months, so stamp me and I’ll get out of your hair, but you don’t have any left because you’re a government employee, so just give me the okay.” This should be simple.

Should be is the key phrase. Eventually, we found out that I can only get my extension once my first 90-day visa is within a month of expiring. That takes me through August 2nd, which means today is the first day I’d be eligible to get an extension. This is something we found out once we’d already driven to another province to get there, and we only found out because Tryn’s co-teacher who came with us to translate told me while I was doing my form. And then, we only found out from her because Tryn had to tell her “You know, if Eric gets deported, I’m leaving too.” Because there were zero shits given about helping me out up until that point. THEN we were told that I was a week too early, which could have saved us the wasted trip if her dumbass co-teacher had bothered to let Tryn know before we went. So instead, I’m headed back down by myself at some point this week to hopefully navigate Thai bureaucracy and not get punted out of the country. Sounds like it’s going to be a great time!

It’s not all bad, though. I finally got my birthday burger, and it was totally worth it.

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The frogurt is also cursed

This past week has been a study in peaks and valleys. I can run without shin splints! Hooray! I have a day-long anxiety attack the day after. Boo. The burger place in Bangkok has a chili cheeseburger! Hooray! I have a horrific stomach ache all day. Boo. It’s time to go to the camp in Bangkok and do some training! Hooray! My wallet got stolen within 5 seconds of stepping off the bus. Boo. My trainer thinks my technique is solid enough to fight! Hooray! I have to lose another ten pounds before I get in the ring. Boo.

Despite that, this weekend will still be awesome. Sunday is my birthday, which I periodically forget about. After my 21st, I pretty much stopped giving too much of a crap about celebrating. Actually, I barely celebrated that one anyway. I don’t know, I’m just not much of a birthday person. I just want to hang out with people and eat something horrendously out of line for my fight diet. Tryn has informed me that I might just have to man up this year and give our friends an excuse to get drunk on a Sunday. I like to think I’m the kind of person who helps out other people when they’re in serious need, so I guess I’ll just have to grin and bear it.

Two days later, we have the two-year celebration of Tryn’s spectacularly bad judgement of character, also known as our anniversary. We haven’t got the faintest of what we’re going to do this year, but then, it took us a few minutes to remember what we did last year anyway. Which was mostly due to our celebration. Some of you might remember that our priest gave us a bottle of mead to take home, which we opened on our anniversary and drank throughout the day, and I feel like that kicks the crap out of stale wedding cake. So we spent the day buzzed and then went to the restaurant we went to after I proposed, so it was a good time all around.

These are generally the times of year I’ll sit down and take stock of where my life’s been and where it’s going, as opposed to new year’s. Mostly because new year’s is an arbitrary number on a calendar that doesn’t mean squat to me in any kind of practical or religious sense. Birthdays are birthdays(hooray, I exist!) and our anniversary marks the time me and Tryn officially joined our lives together(legally, anyway). Both of those seem a little more important to me than January starting. You know what the beginning of January means in Rochester? Another three months of winter, that’s what. Although in fairness, being snowed in IS an excellent time for the kind of navel-contemplating I’m doing here. Still, screw January anyway.

So let’s contemplate! I’ve sort of picked this up as a habit after once grumbling to Tryn on a birthday a few years back that it was another year of nothing getting done. She told me I’d gotten a job, an apartment, was paying my own bills for the first time, and had gotten engaged, so she was curious to know what DID count as getting anything done. I like to keep things a little more in perspective since then. So, what have I been up to this year? The big one is obvious- I’m in Thailand after three years of saving, planning, being excited, freaking out, packing, and throwing out. I mean, seriously, as major life goals go, this is a pretty hefty check off the list. We also have making the fight team back home at Vision Quest, which was something I was pretty sure I was never going to be able to do when I first started. Dealing with my depression-anxiety stew after years of not even knowing it was there, definitely significant. That was kind of like trying to fight a cloud of smoke, and as anyone I’ve sparred with knows, I really prefer to be able to punch back if I’m getting my ass kicked.

This year? Well, it’s time to fight here in Thailand, obviously. When we get home, picking up and moving and finding new jobs is the big goal, and both of us going back to school for something useful is right up there too. So I guess we’ll see how that all works out. As for the rest of this month, fuck the guy who stole my wallet, and let’s get on with the partying.

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Add another thing to the list of stuff that Bangkok wildly outclasses NY in- trains. We spent pretty much all of yesterday hustling around the city on the BTS, checking out gyms and going to the gear store I’d heard about. It all went remarkably well, in large part to how easy the train made it. They have a route marker indicating where you are and where you’re going, which the subway at home had just gotten round to installing recently. The TVs also show a little subtitle for what the next stop is, which is handy for when the railings block the wall displays. And the computerized train voice speaks better English than the ones at home do. Go figure that one out.

Anyway, we had a successful jaunt around Bangkok. I picked up new gloves and a pair of shorts, and Tryn got her own pair of shinguards, all for what amounted to 60 dollars. For those of you unfamiliar with gear prices and why that’s awesome, if I’d ordered this stuff at home, the gloves or shinguards by themselves would have cost more than 70 dollars just on their own. So you might be able to guess that this isn’t the last shopping trip that’s going to happen.

Next on the agenda(actually, the shopping came last, but whatever) was to do some scouting and see about some of the gyms in the area that were easily accessible by train. Obviously there are a lot more, but I want to start small so I can get used to getting around Bangkok first before I decide to go off a little further. The first one was a little place squirreled away in a corner on a residential street. It reminded me a little of the setup at Vision Quest, so naturally I liked the looks of it. I’d emailed the gym a few days before to get an idea of where it was and the price options. Most gyms here have a few rooms attached so you can stay there while you’re training, which is handy. Of course, the price I got online was a bit different than the one I got in person, while they gave me a free bottle of Pepsi, offered a motorbike ride back to wherever we needed, and showed me the private apartment rooms that were a bit down the street from the camp. In terms of price, it usually goes- shared room with a fan, shared with AC, private room with a fan, private with AC. And the Thai woman showing me the place is telling me I can only book a room for a week at a time, which is double the price I was given online. Now I liked the place, but I know an upsell when I see one. Or as Primo once said, born late, not born yesterday. So I told her I’d be in contact and moved along. That’s the nice thing about looking for a camp in Thailand- if you don’t like it, you can take your business to the guy down the street. Literally, in some cases. So I did.

The next place we checked out was a few stops down on the train and a 5 minute walk. It was behind a cemetery, which was odd in itself. Apparently, the preferred method of laying someone to rest here is cremation, which I’m pretty sure is a Buddhism thing. And considering this country is almost exclusively Buddhist, cemeteries are a pretty rare sight. The two exceptions are burials for the Chinese population, or world war 2 deaths. Going by the characters on the headstones, I’m pretty sure this was a Chinese one. That, and the sign that said “Chinese Memorial Cemetery” was a tipoff. Anyway, we wander through the graveyard to get to the camp, and are promptly greeted by a grizzly bear’s half-brother. The place is owned by a truly monstrous -looking Australian guy, who was at least a head taller than me, covered in tattoos, and most likely capable of smashing my head with his pecs. Despite that, he was actually a pretty chilled-out guy and had no problem giving me the lowdown on the place without any bullshit or hard sells. Also, he has a bulldog, and I seem to have good luck with gyms where the boss has a bulldog.

Given my two options, I’m headed back to Bangkok this coming week to train for a few days at the camp that’s run by Casey’s evil twin. If all goes well, I’m hoping to make it a weekly thing, and then start looking at getting a fight. So all in all, it was a pretty successful day trip!

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The process

Last time was a bit of a downer. So let’s talk about the awesome island vacation we all just got back from instead! Tryn had a long weekend, so her coworkers rounded us up and we headed to Koh Chang, which is a little ways off the coast near Bangkok. The bus ride to Bangkok wasn’t terrible, excepting the giant traffic snarl we got caught in right outside the city. Traffic in this place makes New York traffic look like tiny little hiccups. The city as a whole makes Manhattan look pretty shabby, so I guess you go big or go home on everything. The night bus to Trat wasn’t so hot, though. Especially when the rain started. When I say “rain”, some of you may be thinking of thunderstorms at home. It’s not quite like that. The weather also goes in for extremes here, and I’m pretty sure we drove through a monsoon to get to the ferry. Thankfully it was all done by the time we got on the water, but I was really pretty sure I was going to die a few times due to falling trees.

By the time we got there, we’d been traveling for something like 15 hours or so, and it felt like being jet-lagged again. Luckily, getting to chill on the beach for three days fixes that right up. Tryn’s got pictures that should be up soon. The island felt remarkably like being back in Belize, actually. Especially when we got to the Mexican restaurant, which was just completely ridiculous with how good it was. Not “good for here, but not like at home”, either. It was freaking amazing and I’m really sure I undid almost all of last month’s work this weekend eating there. And I’d do it again, too. We ended the trip with a 7 hour van drive from Trat to Suphanburi, at which point nobody wanted to go anywhere for dinner, so we ordered a pizza and ate it in the common area downstairs. Definitely had a few college flashbacks from that one.

The weekend mostly made me feel better about the whole “far from home and everyone I know” thing. I mean, I still have occasional spikes of wishing it was October, but they’ve been fewer lately. This coming week, I’m going to be going off in search of a camp in Bangkok. Obviously I’m going to check out Kaewsamrit, because that’s where Primo went, and there’s definitely a bit of “You will go to the Dagobah system, there you will find Yoda, the Jedi master who trained me” feel to that. Doing a few days at each of them should be a fun time, and maybe I’ll find one to stick with for the rest of the time here. This weekend we’re headed down to Bangkok so I can go and buy the entire gear shop I’ve been told about. Tryn is coming with me to make sure I don’t go too overboard, because I have a seriously bad new toy reflex with new training stuff. I mean, yeah, at the end of the day, they’re just shorts and gloves. They do the same thing as my old ones. But still, new stuff!

Overall I’m starting to feel more like an actual person with an actual life again instead of a human-shaped ball of anxiety and stress and homesickness. Not quite all the way there yet, but it’s going decently enough so far.

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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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