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  • Writer's pictureRogue Chemist

Getting my baht in gear

I've transitioned into city life after a week in the jungle (not quite long enough to emerge feral).

I now live in a hotel room and consume such luxurious goods as ice cream from the 7/11 and fancy coffee drinks from nearby cafés (my rationale is that a comfortable and "well-fed" or gluttonous version of me is the most productive while training).

I arrived in Chiang Mai the Wednesday before last; after a few days of searching for an apartment to no avail (most are typically rented for a three month period, minimum), I decided to book my hotel room at the monthly rate (I pay separately for electricity and water use). This is a little bit pricier than other types of accommodation, but it's also secure and I'm located right beside the gym. An added advantage of having a "home base" arrangement is that when I choose to travel from here, I can leave most of my belongings in my room or with my friend, Tony, a pro fighter from Toronto.

With Tony Manoharan, Canadian Muay Thai fighter and trainer

I'm happy to remain in the same city for another week or two. I enjoy passing by the familiar food vendors and stray dogs on my soi (lane) several times a day, delivering my dirty laundry to a lady around the corner, making spontaneous supply runs to one of the many 7/11s in the vicinity, and catching a songthaew (red taxi) to Thapae Gate (the city centre) for walking around, photographing whatever captures my attention (including beautiful shrines and temples), and browsing the unique shops. My four-year-old Canon PowerShot has failed me in producing good quality pictures a few times, unfortunately, but I've got the cameras on my iPad and cell phone for backup.

Wat Suan Dok

A segment of Thapae Gate

Students gathered in front of Three Kings Monument

A songthaew, my main mode of transport around the city

I've been engaging in the customary practice of bargaining with the songthaew drivers (tuk-tuks are more expensive as a solo passenger), and yes, I've been forced to quell my aggressive walking tendencies. As a lowly pedestrian, one is completely ignored by motorists and crossing four lanes of traffic requires a strategy: if you're lucky, you can sprint straight across a main road; otherwise, you cross one lane, wait, cross another (repeat), traffic weaving around you during this feat. I've seen one set of crosswalk lights on a main road, and the countdown is a stingy 10 seconds—fine for me, but I'm not quite sure how disabled people get along here.

Most of the drivers ride motorbikes, and the majority are without helmets. Thailand currently has the second highest traffic-related fatality rate in the world, apparently, which isn't surprising.

I've been a diligent market-goer. I've checked out the Night Bazaar (targeted towards tourists and is flashier/more expensive than others), Warorot Market (a huge, diverse market frequented by the locals), and the Saturday night market (a smaller one). I'd like to scope out the Sunday market next. Unlike the farmers markets I'm used to in Canada, all of these begin in the late afternoon or early evening. The array of beautiful handicrafts, jewelry, clothing, and accessories is overwhelming, and taking the time to fully wander around these venues is a sensory pleasure.

The food experience in this city is orgasmic (it really is the best word) and eating (over boxing) might be my favorite activity here! Mango sticky rice; panang and massaman curry; spicy papaya salad; vegetable omelettes; waffles wrapped around banana or topped with ice cream; fresh, exotic fruit and juices—I want to eat everything all at once. Luckily, I've remained unscathed thanks to boxing.

"Drunken noodles" and green curry from one of my favorite vendors on my soi:

Mango sticky rice from a Monday night market on my soi

I went to my first Thai fight the weekend after I arrived. A group of us met at the gym and jumped into the back of a pickup truck to drive to Thapae Stadium. Two fighters from Lanna participated: Tony, who has been kindly showing me the ropes of living here, and a local Thai boy (11 years old, I believe). There were six bouts in total; although both Lanna boys lost their bouts, they each fought extremely well—kudos to Tony for holding his ground against a much larger fighter!

Some of the Lanna crew

The gym has been so welcoming and a number of Westerners are training here, including a few Canadians. Some come here to train for a few months, while others are Muay Thai newbies who stop in for a day or two, just for the fun of it. I've enjoyed working with the Thai trainers. They're happy, goofy, and when they laugh at me, I have no idea why. One of my trainers, Nook (nicknamed "Iron Dynamite"), has apparently had 400 fights!

In contrast to the classes I'm used to back home, this method of training is quite independent; although there is a recommended routine, you're able to do your own thing during the scheduled training times. Because of the language barrier, techniques are demonstrated to me without a verbal explanation (not all the trainers are Thai, though, and other westerners will gladly offer advice). I now wrap my hands differently, box with 8 oz (not 16 oz) gloves, and skip with the rather brutal Thai-style ropes (they're heavy and short with a rigid piece of plastic and thick wooden handles—I've gotten pretty decent at wielding one!).

Oh, and my shins look like this.

The suggested routine consists of running at least a few kilometers, skipping (I will often just skip for up to 30 minutes, but I'm going to run more), shadow boxing, three or five rounds on the pads with a trainer, hitting the bags, followed by strength/conditioning exercises (I've been a bit neglectful of this part following the cardio—no one is demanding burpees of me!). It's tough to train in the heat, and I go from dry to drenched in sweat in less than five minutes. Adjusting from the jet lag, too, has been a gradual process.

Training sessions are scheduled twice a day (6:30 or 7 am and 4 pm). My attendance is good, but I'm not being too strict with myself: I've gone twice some days, once on others, and have taken days off entirely to do other things (including this weekend). We also train to pop music, not Thai music!

I'm sure most of you are aware of Thailand's political instability at the moment. The Royal Thai Army is in control of the country for the time being, and there are a few restrictions on the public, including a curfew lasting from 10 pm to 5 am each day. I accidentally walked into a demonstration yesterday near Thapae Gate.

It wasn't a huge gathering at the time I passed by, but the army was on hand and police blockades were in place to divert the heavy traffic. It took me a number of attempts to convince a songthaew driver to take me back to my hotel area, and I paid a decent amount for the ride.

Otherwise, everything is normal in my realm of existence.


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