Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Long Necks and Cobra Whiskey

I decided to take a well earned break from kicking a bag and being hit in the face. Doing so provided me with an ideal opportunity to explore further north. I booked myself on a tour up to the Golden Triangle to visit Laos, the Burmese border and the Karen Long neck mountain tribe.

First stop was a spectacularly crap hot spring! The less said about this tiny hot puddle the better. It was surrounded by shops and I started to surmise this tour would be of whatever shops the guides get commission from.

How wrong I was. An hour later we stopped by Wat Rong Kuhn near Chiang Rai. I hadn't really heard anything about it and was utterly amazed by the incredible beauty of and other worldliness of the place. It literally looks like a palace made of ice as if it should of been in Narnia.

If you get a chance to go try and get there as close to sun rise as possible and its east facing and apparently lights up like a diamond in the morning sun.



There is a large mural inside the temple which depicts all manner of distractions from the spiritual life and documents the violence of the material world. Naturally its symbolic but some of the memes used to illustrate these ideas are odd to say the least. The Predator is in there, Superman, Ultra man, September 11Th, The Matrix and a pair of converse. The point however is clear but the incongruousness of the imagery with the reverence of the Wat is jarring but kind of in line with the Thai identity and sense of humour. Anyway its amazing and one of the best things I've seen so far in Thailand.

The Golden Triangle and boat trip on the Mekong was next. Apart from the excitement of actually being on the Mekong and the rush of Vietnam movie cliches that rushed through my mind it was pretty average. We made a pit stop in Laos and checked out the legendary Whiskies. Laos whiskey is made with rice and has a number of interesting ingredients. That most famous being a Cobra. The purpose of the Cobra is to enhance male sexual potency. In essence, simple imitation magic.


I tried it and to be honest it wasn't that bad. I've had worse shots. Saying that my expectations were pretty low. Unfortunately for the ladies present the female version was even more unpleasant. This time the special added ingredient was a Tiger's penis. I guess it was more unpleasant for the poor Tiger who donated said pièce de résistance. Photo set

Tiger Penis Whiskey

Post that it was off to the tip top of Thailand to the boarder town of Mae sai that sat on the Thai - Burmese border. It was pretty much a market town with lots of knock off gear for sale. The most interesting thing about the town was the appearance of tribal face decoration on some woman working in the town. This varied from wide but light strokes of gold coloured make up on the cheeks and brow to a simple yet thicker stroke on each cheek.

From here it was south via the highlands and meeting the Long neck Karen tribe women. It was two hours before we got there. Eventually the road got smaller and smaller down to a track as we went deeper into the highlands. The brick building disappear and are replaced with bamboo thatched huts. Eventually we came to our stop. The village was at the end of a dusty path down into the saddle of two hills. The hills were thick with vegetation, the ubiquitous bamboo and banana trees and other flora. Myself and two Canadian girls I was with, followed a tiny man with an horrific ear abscess and after 10 minutes or so we met the first hill tribe women and their wears.


They had stalls along each side of the narrow path. The path itself covered with a thatched roof that was supported by the stalls. Pretty young long neck girls sat there working on their looms or making the thread for the scarfs they make.


Even at a young age the girls start to wear their neck rings. They are made of solid brass and an adult woman's will weigh in and around four kilos. Rather than stretch the neck the weight actually pushes the shoulders down and the more rings a women has the more beautiful she is within the tribe.

Without being naive to the fact that these things are obviously a major ball ache to wear. There was something quite regal and elegant about the women wearing the neck rings.
The great thing about being able to visit these people is that it preserves traditions that simply could not survive in the modernisation of Thailand. Basically if it wasn't for the small number of tourists visiting they'd be working in factories for 100 baht a day and village life would be over. Of course this is hardly an example of authentic village life for these people. But it allowed them to stay where they wanted to be, raise their kids and earn a living. It also really empowered the women of the village as without them there was nothing to see.

Anyway I got the number of the lady with the most neck rings and split. We jumped in the van and drove started the LONG drive back to Chiang Mai. But at least I got to see the sunset in the Thai highlands







Friday, January 23, 2009

Observations

In the hours between bouts of exercising to the point of vomiting. I've taken to hanging out around the town and have noticed some interesting things that Thai people like to do.

1) Play massive multi player online games.
And who could blame them. Seriously though the desktop on the machine I've writing from is just covered with exe files for games. The place is full of students playing shoot em ups or World of Warcraft.

2) Watch violent TV.
Don't get me wrong, whenever a gun is put to someones body its blurred out but some of the shit I've seen on TV beggars believe. There is a kind of Crimewatch show here. It has exactly the same format except it shows security footage of crimes being committed and I don't mean a bike theft or a drunken wee in a post box. This is proper horrifying, brutal crime. I watched footage centred around a woman, a security guard and a young man seemingly arguing about a moped. The guy then whips out a handgun and shoots both people dead. The gun was blurred as were the bodies and blood splattered ground. But I literally could not believe what I'd just seen.

There is also a soap centred around two divas from an Xfactor type show. The tension mounts between them and their teams until it explodes in an orgy of violence featuring hand guns, machetes, M16's etc. Its quite entertaining and I've gotten into it. It certainly beats Eastenders.

I watch all this in the roadside food court I go to for breakfast and dinner. Each cafe (there are about ten) has a TV for its patrons and everyone sits there chatting and looks up if something dramatic (see gross act of violence) happens on tv. And they love it, when someone gets shot or brutalisd in someway, its applauded with peals of laughter.
Loving the soaps

On a dramatically lighter note they have Bear Grylls show here too, but its dubbed. The best thing about the dubbing is the Thai actor also does Bear's gagging and retching as he eats a hedgehogs pancreas. Its brilliant, I was in bits laughing. I mean watching Gryll's yam down frogs sphincters is enough to give me a stitch anyways but like this its fecking priceless.

3) Dogs wearing t-shirts.
I don't know why but despite the sun beating down, not mention having a coat of fur some dogs are required to wear an old t-shirt or sweater.
Dog in a T-Shirt

4) Deep fried anything.
Whole fish, small Crabs, Chicken's feet, Crickets, weird bugs, all kinds of shizzle... if it can be eaten it'll get battered, fried and going by everything else I've eaten, probably delicious.

5) Man United.
In particular Wayne Rooney, but overall Man U have a semi religious status here. Example...
"Where you from?"
"Ireland"
"Ahh Roy Keane!"


Everyday I go to the T loa Su Steak cafe which is one of about ten cafes in a row I mentioned earlier, and everyday the owner whose name I still have not learned teaches me some Thai and I teach him some English. Today he brought me into the kitchen which is essentially a wok over a gas ring and taught me how to make a Panang Curry which was great fun. Soon they are showing me how to make the curry pastes soon which is where the real magic is.



Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wat U Mong - The Buddha cemetery

Wat U mong is a tunnelled Wat just outside of Chiang Mai in the Jungle. Its pretty cool but the thing I really loved about it wasn't the actual Wat which was beautiful but the Buddha Cemetery and the Mural room. The Mural room was very moving, it was covered in simple paintings depicting the teachings of Buddha and putting it in a modern context. Interestingly there was a mixture of Bible quotes and Hindu deities. I guess in Buddism a good message is just a good message no matter by whom or how it is told.

The videos are here




Monday, January 19, 2009

Bulls testicles and Sheep brains

Bulls testicles and Sheep brains




Jungle runs, a massage and the Tuk Tuk rabbit

Howdy Peeps. I had my first run in the jungle last week and judging by the amount of bites I have, I made a substantial contribution to the local food chain. That early in the morning there is always a hazy mist over the lake surface and over the paddy fields. The run lasted about an hour and was mostly uphill, needless to say halfway through, I would of happily smothered a baby Panda to be in bed again. But there was a gem at the end in the form of a beautiful waterfall.



Unfortunately I could not find a baby Panda and had to run the return leg.

I went for my first traditional Thai massage. Most of it was pleasant and relaxing apart from when my masseuse turned me into a human compact bow. I could actually hear the hiss of pressure coming from my stressed vertebrae as their imprint became visible on my stomach. I hobbled out of the parlor, relieved and thankful to be going back to the gym. I think that's what shocked me the most. The complete polarity in sensation during the massage. At one end "Ahhhh" at the other "AHHH JESUS".
I was chatting to a couple of other guys at the gym and they all said the same. One guys had his masseuse put her knee on the inside of his thigh then put all her weight on it, and proceeded to do this up and down his leg. He was in a total jocker. Maybe its just one lady who loves to kick the ass off of Whitey and tell them its a "Traditional" massage. Bizzarly I've since been back for another. This time just for a foot massage but it did involve the point of an elbow grinding out the knots in my back. Perhaps that's the charm of it, never really knowing what you are going to get.

Speaking of the gym. I'm getting the hang of the striking now and am moving better during the pad work. Wonderfully I no longer skip like an eight year old girl. However my feet both have two massive brown bruises from kicking. So much so I'm starting to look like a recovering stigmatic. The kick bags vary hugely in density and give. Some are soft with plenty of give, obviously being equally soft these are the ones I like. Others seem to vary between a gallon drum filled gravel to a perfectly polished cylinder of solid mahogany. The latter are frequented by some of the kids in the gym who plow their shins like baseball bats into the bags a couple of hundred times a day. After two hours I can barely lift my leg let alone lash it into a kick bag.

The Tuk Tuk drivers are a good buzz and are always willing to charge you double the regular cost for a lift. I've found my natural tightness has given me a head start on your average farang in getting a reasonable deal from these chaps. Haggling seems to be a source of amusement and good criac with the Thai's, they love it. I enjoy it to but feel a bit uncool after arguing someone down from a price and then handing them a note four times the value of the original asking price. Wonderfully I got into a tuk tuk yesterday to go the cinema and after the obligatory haggle went to get in. The then driver stopped me and asked me if I had any objections to sharing the cab with a rabbit. Honestly it was like an NLP trance inducer. I asked him to repeat himself several times. And he had actually said what I originally thought. Naturally I thought it would be delightful to share my tuk tuk with the drivers rabbit and hopped in (sorry). There was a fat white fluffy rabbit sitting down and eating some leafy greens. It had a long fine gold chain from its collar to the back of the seat lest it make the ill informed decision to bail out of the vehicle in transit.

All in all Chiang Mai is fantastic, its really chilled and the people are lovely. There's loads of bars if you want to go on the lash and their is lots of culture if that's your bag. Oh yes and its extraordinarily beautiful in parts too...

Right I got training again in hour. Catch you later's.





Sunday, January 18, 2009

Addicted to Wats

I've always been a sucker for religious iconography but being here in Chiang Mai its really getting out of control. There are wonderful Wats (temples) everywhere. Below are some of the better pics I've taken.

Wooden lotus flowers and shadows



Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kawila Boxing Stadium

On Friday night my school fought at the main kickboxing stadium in Chiang Mai. It was pretty exciting stuff for the first couple of fights or so, then it kind of petered out a bit. If two fighters are well matched it can be quite repeditive. Don't get me wrong its really worth going to see. I was especially lucky as I was there as part of the school and was at ring side for most of the night.


The reason I say two well matched guys can be repeditive is that often at this level no one can get a clear advantage over the other and they can just go through the motions with neither making any headway. But when you know and train with the fighters its a different story.

Posing before the fight


One of our fighters Josh from Ireland via Canada was fighting and it turned out to be the best fight of the night and I started to see how exciting Muay Thai could be. He was fighting a Thai guy, a real mean son of bitch he was too. The second after they touched gloves BANG he shin-kicked Josh hard in the left side. For the first two rounds Josh was taking a lot of punishment and it looked to me like the Farang, yet again, was going to get a kicking. The Thai guy was overweight (I feel for you brother) and after two rounds was starting to gas. The reason he was going hell bent for leather was he knew he'd never make the five rounds so he tried to finish it in the first three.

It did finish in the third, Josh pushed him into the corner and administered a fantastic knock out elbow that got the crowd on its feet. The crack of bone on bone could be heard over the incessant drone of the Himalayan flute as the Thai fighter hit the ground.

Trainer shouting instructions


Unfortunately I was watching that fight and not filming it! So I have but one video for you of an earlier fight. Its a pretty full on knee exchange in the clinch.





Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lanna Muay Thai - First thoughts

I was pretty much sure I'd be brilliant at Muay Thai straight off the bat but surprisingly its very hard. Normally this is where I'd give up and do something which required less effort, like watch TV or play my Xbox, perhaps smoke some crack and explore the world wide web for interesting and stimulating home made erotica. Unfortunately this avenue is no longer available and must content myself life with at the camp.

Going to the camp was intimidating at first. It was as if John Goodman accidentally turned up on the set of 300 instead of the big Lebowski. So I ran through a mental checklist qualifying my being there.

1. Fight experience - CHECK
2. Skinhead and/or Facial hair combo - CHECK
3. Large tattoo - CHECK
4. Body of a greek God - Ermmm I'll get back to you on that.

Gappling

Short jab

Life at the camp is sweet. Its hard work we train for around seven hours a day. A 6.30am rise for a run then train through to 10 am. We then start again at 4 and work through to about 7.30. It breaks down like this.

1) Morning run
2) Skipping warm up
3) Shadow boxing
4) Bag work
5) Trainer work
6) Warm down

The morning run is fantastic, we always go out to some beautiful spot in the mountains with waterfalls or to a nearby lake. At dawn as the sun rises its just magical. I forgot my camera this morning but next time I'm out at the lake I'll take a few pics.

There are fighters from all over the world. Obviously Thais, but quite a few Canadians, Irish (Eire Abu!), ozzies, Americans and Scandanvians. Some of them have been here for up to two years and regularly fight. I'm going to my first fight at the main stadium in Chiang Mai tomorrow. An Irish dude from Cork is fighting so I'll be there to give him some rabid support.

Smiling victor

More even sparring
Clinch work

At the moment its getting used to the differences in stances and kicking styles. Andy the owner and main trainer here is really helpful and helping me work on my technique. The Thai kick is totally different to Tae Kwon do and Krav Maga. You throw your leg from the hip while rising up on the ball of the grounded foot to the point you turn 180 when practicing. Also the stance is much narrower than a boxing stance. Its easy to see why as when I drop into a traditional boxing stance I get a playful kick in the leg and ribs and cackles of laughter from one of the Thai trainers Nook. The reason being I can't defend in a wide stance.

For those of you that are still reading after that. Doing pad work with Nook is funny as hell, he just spends his time laughing at me while he twats about the head and face with focus mitts if I drop my guard.

"You wide load ha ha"
"thanks Nook"
"ha ha, In one month you loose 10 kilo"

If he keeps pushing me as he did today I've no doubt that's true. After three five minute rounds I was ready to keel over. I was literally giving off steam.

Apart from training I don't really do much. I have a restaurant I go to everyday for Lunch and dinner. I'm working my way through the menu and picking up some Thai phrases along the way. I still sound like a some kind of spastic cat when speaking Thai and have only finally cracked saying Hello properly.





Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'm actually here!

Oh Christ, that means I now have to Kick box for a month.

I landed in Bangkok at about 7 pm local time and got a cab to my guesthouse. After about five minutes in the cab it was clear that the driver hadn't a scoobie where the place was. To make matters worse he started asking me for my mobile number. As far as I could make out this was to call the guest house and get directions for him. Bear in mind I had directions in Thai for him. I tried explaining to him the complexities of 3G phone networks and how my sim could receive but not send texts. This seemed to excite him only further. The drive into Bangkok was amazing. The city skyline at night is very cool and the closest thing I've seen to Blade Runner. I believe Kuala Lumpur is quite impressive. I'll keep you posted on which one is superior for dorky film references.

Eventually he got me to my place it took about an hour over all. I had a real feeling of "Holy Shit" when we came off the motorway and into the chaos of the streets. After a small wave of fear passed I was grand and started to take in the sites of motorbikes, mopeds and Tuk Tuks milling about, roadside vendors selling food by the side of the road.

The room was grand, I packed up my gear and went out for a walk around. It was a pretty good feeling after planning this for so long to be finally here so being shot to shit and not having slept for 35 hours I decide just to get a bottle of beer and two tiny sambos for dinner. I handed over the 60 baht to pay for it and two of the 20's we're torn. This was of course change from my cab driver. The dude behind the counter gives me serious daggers and calls his mate over to look at it. I grabbed my change and exit sharpish. They love the King here and his image on the currency demands respect.

I hit the street vendors for breakie this morning and let me tell you chilli chicken with sticky rice is the only way to roll in the am. I got a cab then to the Airport and he got me there in about 30 minutes and it cost me less then half the doss.

Chiang Mai is awesome, really lush and green. I haven't really had a chance to look around. I've just get my gaff set up and joined the kick boxing school. Right, now I'm off to eat something I can't identify and catch up on some kip