July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.
I’ve only been here two days, but it seems like weeks. To recap Day 1: I arrived after a long flight on Singapore Airlines, which was not a good start to my Thailand trip. The seats are not meant to accommodate persons of large physical proportions… I was somewhat worn out by the flight and the layover in Singapore, where I discovered the optional ‘squatting pan‘ adjacent to the western-style toiled I had come to know and love throughout my many years of waste-elimination.
I had heard rumors of its existence, but seeing it up close and personal was a more memorable introduction. Squatting is used only as a metaphor in Western culture, but it is rumored to be a healthier way to get the job done, promoting more complete elimination. I gave it a go, and the unscientific results of my test seem to confirm this theory.
My deeds in the squatter were somewhat of a comment on the leg-room on the airplane, and also perhaps meant to be a symbolic elimination of my resentments and discomfort in that regard. However, the nuisance of travel was not yet at an end. Unbeknownst to me, the last leg of the trek was on a local carrier, which meant the Star-Alliance lounge was unavailable. Passengers are also subject to different regulations with regard to items such as aerosol containers. To cut to the chase: my deodorant spray was confiscated. It was not such a great loss though, because I had another one stashed in my checked luggage. On a happier note, the seats were much roomier and more comfortable on what was, alas, the shortest flight in my journey to Thailand.
I arrived in Phuket eager to get the business of sitting on airplanes over with, and ready to embark upon more interesting adventures. I obtained two of life’s necessities, both at very affordable rates. First: a room, for the obvious reason of getting some well deserved rest. Second: a scooter.
Scooters are the primary mode of transportation. I have seen families of 4 – 5 people riding a single scooter. This may be hard to believe to the uninitiated, but if riding a scooter were an Olympic sport, I think Thailand would have more medals than any other nation. Baskets on the handlebar are for carrying groceries or babies, as the case may be. 2 – 3 adults sitting in a row behind one another, carrying one or more babies, is not an unusual sight. I have also encountered children no older than 9 operating these vehicles, with stacks of other children of various age riding the same.
The rules of traffic, as pretty much all other rules from what I’ve heard, are only loosely observed. It is somewhat of a free-for-all, laissez-faire attitude that saturates the roads. Motorbikes zoom around cars, in and out of traffic, occasionally riding on the places where the sidewalk is, or mostly just should be. The roundabouts are especially exciting to get through, and I still have yet to learn what the official rules are. I find it is best to simply use a car as cover, and get through behind it operating as a shield.
Aside from the excitement of the daily commute, the scenery is sometimes breathtakingly beautiful. From the lush green hilltops overlooking the ocean and the sandy beaches below, views of the city while sipping on coconut water from a freshly cut coconut, it is easy to forget modern concerns. I hesitate to describe things that tend to preoccupy the mind of an average smart-phone-wielding American as modern, especially knowing that Thailand operates on the Buddhist calendar, which is 546 years AHEAD of the calendar we use.
The frequent encounters with signage printed in Russian clued me in to the fact that many other nationalities are also drawn to this part of the world. There appears to be a large Russian expat community in Thailand. The wonders of nature, the cozy weather, and the cheap prices lure tourists, business people, and would-be fighters from around the glove.
Thailand, of course, is the home of Muay Thai. This is in fact the national sport; a combat-sport very similar to kickboxing with deep roots in the traditions of the country. With the MMA craze sweeping the globe, many fighters come to train in Thailand learning the art of stand-up fighting utilizing fists, feet, elbows, and knees, to improve their game in competition back home. Numerous kickboxing gyms cater to this eager crowd.
Mike Swick is a fighter from the United States, who has done exactly that. But now, he is working on building his own gym in Phuket. A labor of love and a project that has been ongoing for several years now, Mike has partnered with local businessmen and obtained land on which to build his dream training facility in the hillside. I had occasion to visit the site, where construction of several buildings is in various states of completion. A large, open-air hangar-like structure will serve as the Muay-Thai training area, with punching bags all around the edges and several large boxing rings inside. A separate building will be the MMA gym, with plans for other outdoor and indoor training areas, locker rooms, offices, dining facilities, and accommodations. Overlooking it all is a resort tucked away on the hilltop directly behind the gym. From the infinity-edge pool there, one can look down at the rooftop of the existing structures and imagine what the fully completed training facility known as “AKA Thailand” will look like soon. The name originated from the world-renowned American Kickboxing Academy, a pioneering MMA camp where Mike and other world-class fighters rose to prominence in the sport. Abbreviated as ‘AKA’ it has become a brand recognized in fighting circles for the many champions it has produced.
Mike’s enthusiasm is contagious when he describes all that he has planned for AKA Thailand. In the past few months, much progress has been made, although there is much left to do. But finally, one can see what the completed vision will look like. The basic structures are there, and Mike hopes to open the doors to the public soon. It will be amazing to follow the development of the gym, and the story of AKA Thailand as it grows from just a dream to a dream facility in actual operation.
After getting my scooter, and my tour of the construction site, meeting people, as well as going sight-seeing and enjoying fresh coconut water, I had some well-deserved rest. Day two followed, with even more interesting adventures.
In the morning, I made an attempt at running to the hilltop where Big Buddha sits perched overlooking the city below. I made good progress up a road apparently leading toward Buddha, but looks can be deceiving. Apparently, it is not that easy to find Buddha. I was lost on foot, but I did see some amazing sights and discovered that there is a shooting range, a German restaurant, and several interesting oddities nearby along the way. All was not lost on my failed trek; I did get some sun, a little exercise, and some additional information about this strange new place.
Later on, following my friends on my trusty scooter, we did arrive at the foot of Big Buddha. On the way up, we stopped by to take pictures with elephants. Yes, it is a tourist trap like any other, but how often do you get up close and personal with a several ton creature (I don’t exactly know the weight of the female, and you are not supposed to ask ladies such questions).
The Buddha is under construction, but open to the public. There is an open space below, where some paintings and artifacts are stored, with no apparent security. Again, this is reflective of the general attitude around here, I think. In any case, one more notable thing happened on the way down the hill.
I crashed my scooter.
Yes, I was told it would happen. It was inevitable. Good thing I paid for the insurance. I did not do anything reckless, but it was dark and I must have hit a slippery spot. The bike just slid out from underneath me, and I flew off and rolled, scratching up my arms and legs pretty good. After some minor repairs in the dark to fix a stuck brake, I managed to ride down the hill to a restaurant. The waitress there was very kind and fixed me up with some iodine and bandages. She showed me her own bandages, as she had just crashed recently as well. Perhaps the trip to Buddha was difficult at first, but showed me great kindness in the end.
Much more adventure was had, but I only have so much time to write. Stay tuned for updates, and visit the Facebook page of the Chronicles for pictures!