A taste of training

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Here’s a montage of a typical day at Tiger Muay Thai.

And below is Saohin, one of my favorite trainers, doing his famous warm-up. He tries to get me all excited so I’ll jump in and join him, but I mostly just cower in the corner, watching him and complaining about my back.

 

It’s so funny that these guys are constantly walking around with giant bruises and black eyes and skinned knees, or just bashed up arms from wiping out on their moped, etc. I’m so not used to my body being hurt in any way. One of the trainers was wrapping my hands and I told him to wrap it high on the knuckles because I had a “boo boo” (Look it just came out. He didn’t speak much English. It’s a universal word.)

As if my fighter street cred wasn’t tenuous enough.

Today as I was dodging coconuts on the way to Mama’s, a huge coconut branch fell out of the tree and landed next to me. Like god was saying “Think you can escape my coconut bombs? Try surviving THIS!”

Then I looked down at the ground just as my foot was stepping directly onto a 3-foot snake. Now granted the snake was dead, but let’s just say I’m not exactly proud of my reaction, and just thank Christ no one had that on video. Because if they did, I’m pretty sure “Screaming jumping snake guy” would be an internet sensation by now.

Patong carnival

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Patong is sort of already a non-stop carnaval, but there has also been a few special celebrations where they actually close off the main street to traffic and set up booths of food and drink all along the beach, along with entertainment, fireworks, and floating beach lanterns. In the video you can get a sense of the endless variety of Thai food available everywhere – the street food is the best. And it’s the reason I’m not quite yet at my goal weight (did I mention my big bones?).

The lanterns were one of my favorite things in Thailand — they were so unexpected. Dan and I were walking along in the center of Patong, and looked up to see a sky full of glowing orange lights. We had NO idea what they were, so we made our way over to the beach to explore. The lanterns are large paper domes, and you can light a hunk of wax in the middle to make them light and begin to float upwards like a hot air balloon. Locals sell the lanterns for 100-200 baht all along the beach. It’s beautiful to watch the lighting up close, but even more amazing as one by one, hundreds of glowing balloons are set from from the beach and float up into the stars.

After a few minutes of watching in awe at the beauty of the site, the American in me kicked into gear. Where do they land? Isn’t it a fire hazard? Can the locals find them when they fall and recoup their investment? What about lawsuits?

I really need to spend more time away from America.

It’s hard to capture the magic of these lanterns on film without a great camera.

You can also hear me yelling “shit!” every 3 minutes, because fireworks kept going off around me. I swear it was like they gave the fireworks to a bunch of blind kids with matches. No one is in charge, it’s just random giant fireworks exploding all around you — directly over your head, under you, behind you. We were literally jumping out of the way to not die a fiery death.

I was impressed to see hundreds of these lanterns floating at one time, but even more impressive is what happens during the major Thai festivals and celebrations in Thailand.

Below is a picture of a Tsunami remembrance celebration, with literally thousands of lanterns. The belief is that misfortune is carried away with the lanterns.

Tsunami victims remembered

Can you imagine what this looks like from a passing plane?

Lost in Burma

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When you arrive in Thailand you can receive a Tourist Visa upon entry that’s good for a month. Unfortunately, if you’re here for longer than a month, you must physically leave the country first, even if you immediately come back in. You can do this up to two times, for a total Tourist Visa stay of 3 months, and then you have to leave the country for 6 months. So there are a lot of companies here who orchestrate “Visa runs” to Malaysia, Singapore, and the most common route, Burma. You hop in a van, drive for 6 hours to the Burma border, go through Immigration, and then get right back in the van for the drive back.

My Visa run was a total disaster. First we had to leave at 6:30am, which means I had to get up at 6, which if you know me, is not a pretty thing. On my first attempt I was a bit too leisurely about my arrival (15 minutes late at the MOST), so the van left without me. The next day (on the day my Visa expired and I was about to become an illegal alien) I made it, and was stuffed into an older van that seated 11. Thankfully there were only 11 of us, so everyone could really stretch out and get comfortable. I was seated in the middle seat, with no arm rests, for 6 hours. I couldn’t really see anything out the windows, and the driver drove like a maniac, so the whole time I had to hold onto the seat in front of me for dear life. My traveling partners were not exactly talkative — in fact, I don’t think anyone said one word the whole trip. SIX HOURS. And no one was willing to trade seats for even PART of the trip, even though I stupidly let some random girl take the front seat even though she was behind me, because I didn’t want to be a dick. See mom? It never pays to be chivalrous.

When we got to the border, we went through immigration to leave Thailand, got our passports stamped, and got back on the van. Then some totally random guy came around, collected our passports, and disappeared. I probably should have asked him if he was at all affiliated with immigration, this trip, or the government in any way. The van took us to a nearby dock, where we boarded a motor boat and set off into the sea. After a half hour we arrived at another dock by a sign that said Myanmar, Burma. How did I know that name? Oh that’s right, that’s where all the violence in Asia has been focused on in the news. Excellent! Now I’m trapped in the most violent part of a country I’ve never heard of without a passport, and don’t know any of the apparently deaf mutes I’m traveling with. Who wants to have unprotected sex? Is it ok if I smoke a joint here? Whose gun is this?

Another walk through another immigration office for more stamps. Again, no English anywhere — just pointing, signing papers, and stamping. I took pictures every once in a while so some day they could hopefully follow the trail of pictures to where I was buried and return my remains to my mother. Along with a box of porn.

On the boat trip back two guys burst onto the boat wearing ski masks, which is a GREAT way to make the American tourists feel welcome. It turns out this is how they deal with the heat… with ski masks. It seems counter-intuitive, but I guess it keeps the sun off their faces, with the added bonus of terrifying the westerners. The passport guy thankfully returned and gave us our stamped passports on the boat, and then proceeded to offer me tabs of Cialis at a highly discounted rate. When I declined this great offer, he assumed I must not know what Cialis was for, and since he didn’t speak English it made sense to actually ACT OUT AN ERECTION with his finger on the fly of his pants. I thanked him for the impromptu sex show but politely declined.

After the boat ride and another quick van trip we were back at the first immigration office getting stamped back into Thailand. And at this point I realized that no one was planning on giving up their seats for the return ride, as purses, shirts, and bottles of water had all been carefully staged in the car. There was no way I was doing another 6 hours without windows, so I asked the driver of the new, spiffy van parked next to us if he had room for me on the ride back to Phuket. For another 400 baht, we had a deal. I made sure the original driver knew of the plan, and like a parking lot drug deal, the exchange was made.

The ride back was much nicer — people on the new happy van were friendly and talkative, the A/C was strong, and I had a big window seat. We arrived in Patong at 7pm, and rather than take a cab back to Chalong where I live, I stayed in Patong for a massage and some dinner to decompress from the 12-hour nightmare. As I sat at dinner leisurely reading the email on my iPhone I saw a frantic email from Cori asking where I was. The driver of my car had been waiting for me in Burma for an hour, and finally had to leave without me. Apparently someone saw me get on the back of a moped driven by a monk, and we had taken off in Burma.

Ummm… what the fuck?

I emailed back saying that I was actually back at home, massaged and well-fed. And while the idea of a monk-driven road trip on the back of a moped through the streets of Myanmar sounds compelling, it’s probably not something I would have done.

Unless the monk was Wentworth Miller.

Rainy days with Wentworth Miller

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Now that I’ve been here a month, I’ve kind of gone through the eye of the vagabonding needle and now I just feel like I’m living here. Which is actually a great place to be. Usually when we travel we’re so busy running around and seeing everything and doing everything that we just don’t have time to *be* in the place. In order to *be* in a place you have to reach that point where you have no impulse to do anything. My expectations of what I needed Thailand to be have fallen away now, and I’m able to appreciate and really experience the place, especially when I’m doing nothing.

Wentworth Miller, thinking of a way to escape and be with me.

For example, this weekend I holed up in my room to watch two seasons of Prison Break, and discover my new definition of “a can of frosting” in Wentworth Miller. Turns out each season has 24 hour-long episodes, so that was 48 hours of TV over a 4-day period. And if my thesis is correct, this helped me to really *be* in Thailand.

The mind-blowing vegetarian festival

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Quick warning about this video – you won’t believe what you’re seeing, and it can be tough to watch.

I had heard the Phuket Vegetarian Festival was a big celebration here, but I was in no way prepared for what was to come… Of course I assumed there would just be lots of good food, innovative ways to use tofu, vegetarian versions of traditional Thai dishes, etc. Then I was invited by a TMT staffer to actually join in and walk in the procession through the streets, rather than watch from the sidelines, so I was all about it. We were going to follow and “support” Noon, who was a staff friend and actual participant. Again, a bit nebulous, but whatever.

Because it was apparently a religious ceremony and we needed to be “purified,” we were told we had to prepare for the week before by abstaining from meat (done!), sex (done!), and alcohol (doh!). So it turns out the thing has nothing to do with promoting a vegan lifestyle – it’s just called the Vegetarian Festival because giving up meat is one of the things people do to participate. And what do the participants do? Prepare yourself — this one was tough to film and even tougher to edit.

It starts off with an early visit to a Buddhist temple, where devotees known as “Ma Song” begin praying until they go into a serious trance. We’re talking hooting, shaking, jumping, and muttering — what to Westerners might seem like speaking in tongues. The trance means they’ve got the spirit in them, and that allows them to do seemingly impossible feats like walking over hot coals, ascending ladders of bladed rungs, or some impossibly frightening body piercings. We’re not talking about the regrettable earring you got in high school, or even the no longer hip eyebrow, lip, or nose piercing. We’re talking about putting giant needles, blades, chains, and anything else you can find through your cheeks. How about a large serrated knife through your tongue? Noon put a knife and a gun through his cheeks. A KNIFE AND A GUN THROUGH HIS CHEEKS. Kind of calls out the whole self-flagellation thing for Jesus. I mean flagellation is ok, but if you’re seriously devoted, put A GUN AND A KNIFE THROUGH YOUR FACE and get back to me.

There were also giant swords, umbrellas, poles with pineapples or mirror balls on the end, even musical instruments. Through their faces! It was horrifying at first, but somehow we got used to it, and it was so fascinating watching them actually do it that we couldn’t turn away (although I will tell you I had to turn away while editing the footage — it can be pretty shocking).

We also had to wear all white in the procession, and with a sexless, meatless, wineless week under my belt, Buddha was totally my homeboy on this day. After everyone was all pierced up, the giant white crowd spilled out of the shrine and began a long, LONG walk through Phuket town. Thousands and thousands of people lined the streets to watch the parade, and it’s hard to express the feeling of a 4 hour walk with thousands of people bowing at you and taking pictures and just treating you with total reverence as you pass. The pierced ones walking among us were clearly “touched by the spirit” so they were able to bless the crowd as they passed. There were thousands of small personal shrines set up in front of homes and offices offering blessings of incense and fruit and tea. Every once in a while Noon would stop to bless a child or accept an offering or bless a shrine. The air was thick with incense and firecrackers were thrown at our feet for all four hours. It was really loud but after a while I could tune out the deafening sound of firecrackers and just take in all the blessings and reverence from the crowd. It’s really the way I want to be treated when I go anywhere now.

After 4 hours I was drenched in sweat and thought the parade would never end, but finally we arrived at a sort of lake/reservoir that signified the final stop. The firecrackers went absolutely crazy there (and not be racist but with a 30% Muslim population let’s just say the sound of constant gunfire and explosives isn’t the most relaxing sound to my American ears…).

The whole thing was just extraordinary – definitely one of the most memorable days of my life.

The bar girls of Patong

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If you like whores (and who doesn’t?), then Phuket is Mecca. I had heard about this “sex tourism” thing in Thailand, but I wasn’t prepared for exactly what that meant. First of all, prostitution in Thailand is illegal. (I did my homework…) However, before my arrival I read the following “tip” on the official TMT website, alongside random travel tips about laundry, taxis, and Visa requirements:

Most bars and discos in Patong have Thai women working there as escorts that will talk and drink with you for the evening. If you like the girl, you can pay a bar fine (200-500 baht) to allow the girl to leave with you for the evening. Many Thai girls also work or visit the discos looking for foreign men to date while they are in Thailand. Unlike the beer and go-go bars, Thai bar girls at the discos do not require a bar fine and can go with you for free. Most Thai bar girls will stay with you for the entire night in your room for 1000-1500 baht. Many of our students end up with Thai girlfriends while they are in Phuket and negotiate a price for the girl to stay with them and take care of them and party while they are in Phuket. The Thai bar girls and escorts are great at negotiating discounts on gifts or items you buy and are very friendly…

1,000 baht is $30 for an overnight! I spend that much to go to a 90-minute movie in the states, and I’m almost always left unsatisfied.

Prostitution has been technically illegal in Thailand since 1960, however, the prohibition is just not enforced. The “Entertainment Places Act of 1966”, still in effect today, makes it possible for Thais to render “special services,” and it is left for the customer to decide what kind of special service he really wants. This act paved the way for brothels to be legalized under the guise of massage parlors, bars, night-clubs, and tea-houses. Thus, while technically illegal, a 2003 study placed the trade at US $4.3 billion or 3% of the Thai economy. Holy handjobs!

When I heard that these bar girls will cook and clean for you AND negotiate discounts in Thai while you’re staying at the camp, well, it seemed like a hard deal to pass up (as long as we didn’t have to do that whole sex thing..).

Of course, they do have boy versions as well, and while it’s extremely common to see farangs with much younger, pretty Thai girls (and boys), I didn’t want to be one of those guys. If you’re young and sexed up, it’s excusable, but if you’re just someone who has to pay for sex because you have no other offers, it’s kind of sad. And that’s where the women are ripe for exploitation. Any guy can come over and take advantage of the economic desperation that exists here. Frankly I almost prefer the skin trade in America, which is blanketed in shame and kept behind closed doors. Like the Bible says it should be.

So I decided to just do my own dishes, eat out, and forego the company of a live-in whore.

But my first night out on the town was an experience I’ll never forget. First of all, the “masseuses” are extremely aggressive as they spill out onto the street from the many massage parlors. They start with cat calls and greetings of welcome, and move quickly into “hey baby” and “handsome man!” Sometimes they will grab your arm, and a couple times I’ve had girls throw their arms around me completely and refuse to let go. It’s kind of hilarious and frightening. Every time I looked at Dan, who’s a hot strapping white guy, he was trying to apologize his way out of a massage.

Apologizing to hookers became Dan’s full time job.

We’ve also been attacked by a whole gaggle (murder?) of women who surround us and try to divide and conquer. Other times they spread out across an alley at equal distance so you literally have to rush forward and then dart quickly left and right to try and fake them out like a linebacker. I don’t know what a linebacker is or what he does, but I think it’s something football-related. I really shouldn’t try to use sports metaphors.

Anyway, I always imagined that Thailand was this quiet, lush, Buddhist getaway filled with the smell of incense, and I’d spend my time eating fruit and meditating and walking on the beach and giving offerings to the monks praying around me. This night was my wake up call.

It was such a fun night, and the girls are pretty great. They dance and play board games and do shots with you and dance some more. A lot of the guys take a girl home, but a lot of guys also just enjoy their company while drinking – I know I did! And the girls can still have fun and make lots of tips just hanging out.

A couple other crazy things at the bars (soi) in Patong. For 1,000 baht you can buy everyone at the bar you’re at a shot. They ring a bell and suddenly there are shots on trays all around. This usually leads to several other “thank you” shots from other people, and well, it can get pretty dangerous. Drinks and shots just kept coming and coming all night..

The other hilarious thing is in the restrooms. There are 5-6 guys in there whose sole job is to massage you and crack your back. They do it QUICKLY, and they don’t ask your permission — it’s like an Indy 500 pit-stop. The second you zip up at the urinal or open the stall door you are literally picked up, lifted into the air, and they crack your back. Right, left, back, up and over, turn your neck (SNAP)… meanwhile one guy is massaging your shoulders, another is rubbing your arms, all in 10-15 seconds. You throw them 10-20 baht and stumble out and back onto the floor of the bar, feeling both refreshed and violated. The first time it happened I was completely terrified and I think I managed to get out the words

Where did you go to chiropractic schoo-HUUUUUUUUUH! OK, I guess you’re just gonna–HUUUUUUUH! Wow… is that – should I bend at the HUUUUUUUUH! OK boys… I think I’m just about HUUUUUUUUUH! Thanks.. here you… thanks..

But after the second time it just became fun and I could relax and enjoy it.

So yeah — the bar girls of Thailand. Highly recommended, whether you’re there to get laid, drink, party, play games, or just have a good time. And don’t forget that restroom pit stop.

Long live the king. Seriously.

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Not to be fucked with King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

When I went to see a 2:30p movie at the Central mall, they told me that particular movie was playing in the “First Class Theatre” next door. I had no idea what that meant, until the guy at the counter told me it was 500 baht for a ticket ($14.70), which is standard for the U.S. but exorbitant for Thailand. But then my first class experience began… My own little movie escort prepared a drink and buttered popcorn in a big wooden bowl, put it on a tray and asked me to follow him (apparently snacks were included in the price). I followed him into a lavish theatre with giant plush lazy boys spread out in groups of two. There was a new blanket wrapped in plastic on my seat, like I was on a First Class flight, and the seat actually reclined with a lever on the side.

OK I could go for this. For some reason we haven’t been able to pull off this kind of luxury movie experience in the states, although several theaters have tried.

I was sitting close to the front and there were already several couples seated behind me, but there were no seats on either side of my group of two. The screen was actually pretty big, so I settled in and wrapped up in my blankie to watch the previews.

After the previews, the screen filled with the words “Please take a moment to honor the King.” I assumed it was going to be an Elvis tribute, but then thought it would be so disappointing if it was a tribute to Michael Jackson. I’m sorry but if you’re a “self-proclaimed” King of anything, you’re not a King. But then some cheesy music started playing over images of…. the King of Thailand. Oh right, this country has an actual king! How could I forget… his likeness is plastered everywhere – in shops, on the signs outside resorts, in the airports, on TV… And he’s not just a self-proclaimed King – he’s the real thing. I’m living in the Kingdom of Thailand, formerly the Kingdom of Siam.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej “the Great.” His name literally means “Strength of the land, incomparable power.”

My name means “small.” Thanks, mom.

And I’ll just say this… you don’t joke about this guy with any Thai person. He’s not treated like the half-wit in the White House… they actually revere him here, and disrespecting him is extremely offensive and could even land you in jail. He was in the hospital last week and 700,000 people showed up to sleep on the sidewalk outside the hospital and pray for his recovery (When I was at Cedars for a week with a stomach infection I had a grand total of one friend show up to bring me magazines).

So anyway, 30 seconds into the montage I had this feeling that something wasn’t quite right, so I glanced behind me to discover a wall of glaring Thai faces. The entire audience had been standing during the tribute, except for the fat white farang in the front row with his feet up and butter dripping down his chin. Doh! I scrambled to get up, spilling half my popcorn on my lap, and stood awkwardly staring at the screen with my hands in my pockets. The images and music just kept coming, and I suddenly became extremely aware that it might be disrespectful to have my hands in my pockets… So I slowly pulled them out and dropped them at my side for a few seconds, which also felt wrong, so I gently pushed them forward to clasp in front. I could still feel the eyes burning into the back of my head and beads of sweat began to form on my brow as I imagined the exit door bursting open and an angry Thai popcorn girl screaming “There he is, officers!”

CUT TO: Paul racing down the street clutching his popcorn with an angry mob of theatre goers at his heels. For this scene, let’s give them torches.

Anyway, the excruciating montage finally came to an end after a solid 120 seconds, and after carefully following the lead of the hostile audience members behind me, I collapsed back into my lavish velvet nest to watch, of all things, The Kingdom.

The movie was fantastic. The experience, not so much.

My first fight at Bangla

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Notice how the headline makes it sound like I was in the ring? LOL — that is hilarious. I was actually sipping a frosty beer and lounging ringside during this fight. Although I did have to work the camera, and sometimes my finger would cramp up. Nothing a week off from training and a ton of Vicodin couldn’t handle.

These fight posters are plastered all over Phuket each week. I thought it would be so cool to train hard, book a pro fight, and get my picture on a real Thai fight poster. But then I realized I could just photoshop my head onto one. It tells you a lot about who I am. And more importantly, who I’m not.

The video above was the first pro fight I’ve seen live, which was at Bangla Stadium in super touristy Patong Beach about 20 minutes from TMT. Every week Bangla holds pro fights for locals and tourists, with fighters from around the world including trainers and students from TMT. The adult winners get 40,000 baht ($1,000) — they also have kids and teens fighting, for a lesser purse. There are giant posters and flyers for the fights all over town, and open bed trucks with fighters in the bed drive around announcing the fight on loudspeakers. If you’re fighting, you’re a celebrity — at least for that week. 

Tonight’s fight was with Ngoo, one of my favorite trainers at TMT — he’s tiny and nimble like a little monkey, and he’s always laughing and joking, so we were excited to see him transform into a pro fighter in the ring. If you’ve never seen Muay Thai before, you’ll notice the fighters doing an elaborate ritual of movements called Wai Khru that both fighters must perform before every bout, according to official Muay Thai regulations. It’s a tradition in which fighters pay respect to their teachers and parents, and pray for their safety and victory. The ritual has been developed in different regions under different teachers and therefore no two fighters perform identical Wai Khru. In a practical sense, it functions as a final pre-fight warm-up and gives the fighter some time alone before the fight to collect his thoughts. In the following clip you can see the Wai Khru, highlights from Ngoo’s fight, and the live betting that goes on in the audience during the fight. Muay Thai has a reputation for being a vicious fighting style, as evidenced by the fighters circling the ring before the fight and dragging their gloves along the ropes. This isn’t strictly for show – they’re checking for needles, which can be hidden in the rope by unscrupulous fighters. If you accidentally get pushed into a needle it could distract you as your opponent goes for a knock-out. (That is so lame. Unless I ever get into a ring, in which case I’m totally bringing a needle.) It’s also the fighters’ way of symbolically “sealing” themselves into the ring.

Kid fighters are up first. At first you think “oh how cute…. look at the little kids pretending to fight…” But then you realize they’re trained, dead serious, and need the money. There is major controversy in the states about these kids fighting, because it’s basically a high stakes cock fight. For many poor Thai families, the parents are forced to rely on their kids’ fight winnings to survive, and the kids have little choice but to train and fight.

A recent 20/20 episode explored whether the tradition of kids fighting Muay Thai was exploitation or necessity. And there is a compelling new documentary called Raised in the Ring which follows the “careers” of two 8-year-old girls, both professional Muay Thai prizefighters. (8-year-old girls. Professional. Prizefighters. WTF?)

Also notice that the fighters always jump over the rope when entering the ring. The head is highly revered in Thai culture and is never lowered under the rope to enter a ring for a fight (although it’s ok for training). Incidentally, it is considered extremely rude to touch a Thai person’s head and if it happens, a sincere apology is required.

Notice how I interject little cultural footnotes into my banter? Who needs fancy book learnin when you’ve got the HorneBlower?

Let’s get ready to rumble!

PS: The “music” (Pi Muay) that plays during a Muay Thai fight is an important part of the experience. It sounds like a clarinet having angry sex with a bagpipe and it makes you want to hack your ears off of your head with a machete. Enjoy.

Groceries in Phuket

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There are tons of shopping opportunities in Phuket — everything from real Thai crafts (silk, fabrics, wooden carvings, etc.) to upscale malls and giant supermarkets. You can get an expert, tailor made suit from scratch, made exactly to your specifications for $75-$150. Other Thai bargains are gold, silver, bronze, fabric, and wood carvings. Within 10 minutes of TMT (I’m from LA where we measure in drive minutes instead of miles) there is Tesco (a British chain like Target), Big C (a discount mega grocery store), and Central (a big mall and movie theater) We usually go to the mega-stores for groceries — I’ll cover the open-air grocery markets in a future blog.

I don’t have that gay shopping gene, and I really hate shopping for clothes, but I do love grocery shopping. If I’m bored at night in LA I go to Ralphs just for the bright lights and colors and aisle crawl. So it’s even more exciting for me to be in a place like Thailand, because even a grocery store provides thousands of crazy items waiting to be discovered. Grocery shopping is a great way to learn about a culture, and Thailand’s super low prices make it even more fun.

There are definitely some things to get used to with regard to groceries here… Trying to find some quality protein is almost impossible, because all they eat is pork pork pork… and fish. And they make everything into sausages and balls. Fish balls, pork balls, ham balls… I haven’t put so many balls in my mouth since–hey ho! Anyway. The meat aisles in the Thai supermarkets are rather shocking at first, because they’re set up like clearance racks at K-Mart. They just mound the raw meat into piles, and shoppers rifle through the meat, freely touching it with their hands, and tossing it into bags. You can practically feel the e coli in the air. Then there’s the package below, which Dan and I were convinced was frozen Golden Retriever.

Please don’t be frozen Golden Retriever…

There’s a lot of fish heads, random meat parts like knuckles and ears and other scary meat things, but overall the food choices are pretty great. The prepared food or “deli” sections are enormous and there is line after line and pile after pile of all kinds of delicious curries, pastes, noodles, sauces, cooked meats and rice dishes. The fruit is plentiful, fresh, and tropical, with loads of bananas and pineapple and mangosteen and my all-time favorite, pomelo, which is like a giant sweet grapefruit — I eat it every day. Wine is all imported, so it’s pretty expensive — I haven’t bought any while I’m here. They have a seemingly endless selection of snack foods like chips and puffs and crackers, but almost all of them are flavored with fish, or shrimp… or fish and shrimp. Or lobster and shrimp and fish. And what the hell is “pork floss?” Let’s take a look, shall we?

Coconuts and shark attacks

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TMT is located on a long, quiet stretch of country road. Groves of palm and rubber trees, lush green foliage, little houses and long stretches of roads leading who knows where. There is a resort directly across the street called Baansuan, which is mostly filled with people training at TMT. Baansuan has a beautiful pool that we can run and jump in to cool off (for 100 baht). It’s a bit more upscale than TMT, and for 24,000 baht ($600) a month, you get daily maid service, a separate living room and bedroom, and a 4-poster bed (after a week at TMT my own bed has lost its charm and I’m considering the move…). And for some reason, twice weekly maid service just isn’t enough for me here. I am incapable of picking clothes up off the floor or doing my own dishes here.

It’s usually pretty quiet on this country road, but they do have one odd custom here — talking truck advertisements. So several times a day, the quiet of the breeze through the palm trees is interrupted by this:

It’s bizarre. Like having live TV commercials interrupt your actual life. Or a poor man’s Minority Report. And during their local elections there were big candidates driving by with faces talking about themselves — it felt very Third Reich.

The most popular and cheapest mode of transportation around Phuket is the moped, and you can rent them everywhere – including on-site at TMT. What I first thought were charming little roadside bars everywhere are actually little moped gas stations. Owners fill bottles with brightly colored petrol and moped drivers can pull over, fill their tanks, and apparently leave money on an honor system. An HONOR system. After looking that word up in the dictionary I laughed aloud for 20 minutes at the thought of it.

There are a couple places we can walk to for food… Mama’s is very close by, down a little side street… nothing you’d ever see in a tourist guide or even find if it wasn’t a TMT hangout. The food is good and Mama is adorable. There’s also Fatty’s, which is a long walk (30 minutes?) but serves the most amazing ostrich steaks.

Amazing ostrich steak at Fattys.

A 10-minute walk down the road takes you to a great little spa, but the walk there can be a harrowing one for me… here’s why:

Driving in Thailand is on the left side of the road (aka, the wrong side), which is as irritating as the metric system but especially dangerous for me. And I can’t believe I’m disclosing this, but… for some reason, I don’t know right from left. I mean I don’t instinctively know right from left. If you tell me to turn left, I literally have to first think in my head “I write with my right hand, so the other way.”

Don’t ask me why – it’s just my way. So when I try to cross the street in Thailand, this is my internal monologue:

I write with my right hand so that’s right, so this is left, so they drive this way so the other way on the right

Then out of habit I look left-right-left, then realize that’s wrong so correct it with right-left-right, but then can’t believe they actually drive on the left so I look left one more time, and then step out into traffic where I mentally rehearse the whole thing again just to make sure it’s right. Err, left.

I can get stuck for hours in an intersection.

And even on this quiet little country road I’m a wreck crossing the street, with all these mopeds racing by at speeds of up to, well, 15 mph.

But the other thing that ups my fear of dying is the whole coconut death threat. Ever since I read that there are more deaths worldwide from falling coconuts than from shark attacks (15 times more!) I have this–some might say irrational–fear of death by coconut. And TMT is located on a coconut grove and palm trees line both sides of the country road. I lay in bed at night and every once in a while I hear the muffled THUMP of a coconut hitting the grass and think “there but for the grace of God…”

And of course I can’t walk anywhere without listening to my iPhone, which makes me deaf to the sounds of traffic. So now when I walk to the spa, cloaked in my deafening iPhone, I have to think “I write with my right hand, so left…,” look left-right-left, right-left-right, left, step into the street, look up for falling coconuts, walk-walk-walk, check behind me for cars, walk-walk-walk, forget which side they drive on, write with my right hand so left, look left-right-left, right-left-right, left, walk-walk-walk, up for coconut, look behind me, see someone coming, panic about which side of the street I should move to so start thinking really quickly write with my right hand so this is right so that’s left so they’re going to pass on the left OH FUCK IT — jump off the road and into a bush and look up for coconuts.

A 10-minute walk to the spa becomes 30 minutes of stress so that by the time I arrive I need that massage just to recover from the walk.

I do this ritual daily.