My first week at Tiger Muay Thai

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Paul & Dan - at a bar as usual.

The first day at TMT was a little strange, as there was no official welcome or instruction manual about how to begin training. I was handed the schedule, and shuffled off to my bungalow with a handful of equipment I purchased at the office — gloves, shirts, hand wraps, shin guards. You can train at TMT for anywhere from a day to a month to a year, so there is a constant new stream of people coming and going.

Thankfully I met Dan, who quickly became my new best friend, since we had both arrived on the same day and were each walking in circles, dazed and confused, waiting for someone to tell us what to do. It was such a relief to meet someone else who for no reason whatsoever had booked a trip to a kickboxing camp on the other side of the world. It made me feel less crazy.

Dan’s here for the MMA or Mixed Martial Arts, which is Muay Thai’s sibling sport at the camp. Most people do one or the other, but a few do both. There is Muay Thai and MMA training every morning and afternoon, so you could conceivably do one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Even though MMA entails a lot of rolling around on the ground with another guy, and looks a lot like gay porn in shorts, it doesn’t really speak to me.

But Dan’s all about it, and since Dan’s a hot straight guy, I can watch him roll around with the other blokes all day long. Oh Dan’s also British, and uses words like blokes, lorry, lift, kip, and nackered. He constantly questions me about American English, like “Why do you have two words for rubbish?” (trash and garbage). I told him we like to use more words because it gives us a chance to show off our perfect teeth (oh SNAP).

My first session was with one of the head trainers Phet (pronounced pet). When I told him I wanted to lose 30 lbs, he stared intently at my stomach, rubbed both hands on it in circles like he was rubbing the Buddha’s belly, and said “Yes… 40 lbs.”

Wow. Say it like it is, Phet.

Muay Thai is referred to as the Science of Eight Limbs, as the fists, shins, elbows, and knees are all used (as opposed to American boxing, which just uses fists). So Phet took me through all the basic kicks and punches for each limb in the first session. The hilarious thing about Phet is that he is very easily exasperated when I do something wrong. It just didn’t compute to him that I would need to be told anything more than once. So he’d tell me to step on the left foot and raise up on the ball of my foot and strike with my right shin and tilt my hips up but keep my head aimed down and then bring my right foot back exactly two feet behind my front foot and rotated at a 45 degree angle… And I’d do everything perfectly except my foot would land at 60 degrees and he’d scream:

WHAT ARE YOU DOING? 45 DEGREE! ONE THING WRONG EVERYTHING WRONG!

And I’d bite my lip to not laugh, and try it again. Of course I’d do the exact same thing the next time, and he’d look at me in complete shock and horror, as if to say ”Why? Why would you kill an innocent puppy?”

I’d say “OK OK I got it” and try to shake it off, but the pressure was so intense. Plus the heat is sweltering and I’m trying to shake the sweat out of my eyes while concentrating on this mother fucking kick. So I’d step left, rise up, strike, hips up, head down, foot back two feet and land at a perfect 45 degrees.

YOU HOP! NO HOP – STEP! ONE THING WRONG EVERYTHING WRONG!

“I didn’t hop — where did I hop?”

LEFT FOOT! YOU HOP LEFT FOOT!
NO HOP — STEP!

“OK. I don’t think I hopped.”

YOU HOP LEFT FOOT! NO HOP — STEP!

“OK OK…” (sweat dripping… stomach in knots… eyes furrowed)

STEP left, kick up, strike, hips up, head down, foot back two feet and land at 45 degrees.

I TELL YOU 45 DEGREE! YOU NOT LISTEN! ONE THING WRONG EVERYTHING WRONG!

“That is 45 degrees! Look at my foot!”

“THAT NOT 45 — THIS 45!” he says grabbing my foot with both hands and twisting it back.

At this point I want to ask him to whip out a protractor, but figured I’d let it go.

The thing that made it bearable was that when I DID get it right, he’d let out a very specific happy grunt that sounded like “uh-OIEEE” and that was just the best sound I’d ever heard. I didn’t hear it a lot, but when I did, it was heaven.

The other problem I had was you have to keep your torso facing your opponent at all times, and not turn it left or right. For some reason I kept twisting my body right when I’d get in front of him. He’d yell

FACE ME – WHAT YOU DOING?

and point at my stomach accusingly like he was pointing out the rapist in a police line-up. So of course I’d look down at my stomach to see what he was talking about and he’d yell

NO LOOK – FEEL IT!

So I’d stop, adjust myself so I’m facing him completely, and get in position.

FACE ME – WHAT YOU DOING??

(points at stomach).

I look at my stomach.

NO LOOK – FEEL IT!

OK I was beginning to get the game. The problem is, I really could not tell if my stomach was facing him without looking at my own stomach. The combination of heat, sweat, and pressure completely cut off any sense of body awareness. So then I’d try to catch myself and auto-correct… That went something like this:

Assume position, facing him absolutely square on correctly.

FACE ME – WHAT YOU DOING????

(points at stomach)

I look at my stomach.

“DOH! Sorry….”

Look up, correct, feel it.

Uh-OIEEE

Phew.

After a couple days of this, he would get even more exasperated when I did something wrong, at times yelling in Thai until I was literally on the verge of tears (i think his sister works in Customs). This always seemed like a good time to correct his English in some ultra condescending way. I’d spit out “That’s not English!” or “It’s HOOK — not HOOP!” hoping to find that magic insult that would make him run from the ring in tears, but he was like Teflon.

Once when he was insisting I was not raising up on the ball of my foot when I was insisting I was, I considered pointing out to him that I used to take ballet from Bob Fosse’s daughter Nicole at ABT in New York and one thing I know how to fucking do is a god damn mother fucking foot raise. But I don’t think that little piece of trivia would have been as impressive in a Thai fight ring as it would at a West Hollywood happy hour.

I also wanted to make him start calling me Grasshopper, so I’d feel like there was this heavy spiritual bent to our interaction, but I thought it would be too hard to explain in English, and who knows if Kung Fu ever made it to Thailand. Plus grasshopper is not on the list of crucial words for foreigners, and there may not even be grasshoppers in Thailand. And if there weren’t, I was afraid he’d start calling me something Thai like Mangosteen or Pomelo instead, and that would just be humiliating.

There is a super eclectic mix of music that is constantly playing throughout the camp as a soundtrack to all the training. I usually am woken up to some crazy Thai music and yelling around 6:30am, which makes me drag into the shower. Then I accidentally sleep through yoga and I’m in the ring by 8am subconsciously jazz-handing to “Flashdance.” Minutes later Marilyn Manson comes blasting out, and we’re rock warriors in hell as we punch and kick and duck. Suddenly it changes to a Europop dance mix, and the ring becomes a Florentine disco. My favorite song is the Thai version of “My Hump” which goes “Mee How… Mee How…”

I’m not sure where the music selection comes from, but sometimes the rap music can be a bit jarring. This morning I heard for the first time Afroman’s lyric blaring out over the camp “I was gonna eat your pussy too, but then I got high…” and my jaw dropped open, but since I was the only English speaker in the ring, it didn’t phase anyone else. Not exactly the tracks you’d hear at 24 Hour Fitness.

At some point after a few killer rounds I usually find myself lying on my back in the ring, drenched and gasping for breath. The strong, spicy smell of muscle liniment in the air clears out my head. A speeded up, Mickey Mouse sounding Madonna is singing about Hollywood through the loudspeakers. The rain blurs the jungle around me and makes the roof of the open pavilion roar like thunder.

And I feel incredibly blessed to be here.

My pad Thai

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Get it? My pad Thai? (sigh) Things sound so much better in my head. Here’s a video of my little bungalow.

Tomorrow, my first training session. Get out the Tiger Balm.

Tiger Muay Thai

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My first meal in Thailand looked harmless enough. It wasn't.

Watch Jack Osbourne: Adrenaline Junkie Online posterI decided to come to a kickboxing camp in Thailand after seeing Jack Osbourne’s physical transformation on his reality series, Adrenaline Junkie. I have been complaining about wanting to lose 30 lbs. for years and frankly I was just sick of talking about it. I wanted to do something weird and extreme and physical, and this seemed like the right solution. I had never done Muay Thai in my life, so I planned on taking classes everyday for the 4 months prior my arrival so I’d be completely “conditioned” by the time I arrived. What I forgot to consider was that if i had the commitment to workout every day for 4 months, I wouldn’t be 30 lbs. overweight in the first place. And I’d probably be rich, famous, and living in the hills. So big surprise, I prepared for Thailand and this intense experience by working out a total of zero times. Then I justified that “it would make a better story to be completely unprepared…” I really am brilliant at the justification game.

It was raining when I arrived in Phuket, and the warm air felt thick and heavy (I’m not one of those interesting travel writers, so every once in a while I’ll force in overly-descriptive words to make it seem like I am). I took a cab to my training camp of choice, Tiger Muay Thai. Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand, and there are literally thousands of training camps throughout the country. Bangkok has its share of popular camps but I decided to go for more of a beach experience on the island of Phuket, in the Andaman sea off the Southern coast of Thailand.

Myanmar has been in the news recently due to the citizens violently protesting the junta government there. The internet has been shut down in Burma in a feeble attempt to stop information about the rights violations from getting out into the world. But the only Thailand inclusion in these news stories is problems at the Burma/Thailand borders with refugees fleeing Burma for obvious reasons. Under no circumstance would anyone want to go and visit the Burma border at this time, so it makes sense that I have to go there in 2 weeks to renew my tourist visa.

And although it looks like “fuck-it” it’s actually pronounced “poo-GET.” I found TMT by doing some internet research and contacting past guests, and after being here a few days I think I made the right choice. The owner Will is an American, as is his right hand man Cori. The rest of the staff is Thai, and there are 18 trainers who all live at the camp. It’s a very close-knit family, and the overall atmosphere is friendly and welcoming. I expected a sort of frat house mentality, but the testosterone level is surprisingly balanced, given the intensity of training that goes on here. There are people (like me) who have never put on a boxing glove before, and there are also professional fighters here training for a pro fight. I fit right in, as long as no spiders run across the mat and force me to scream like a girl.

The spiders here are the size of small dogs. I’ve only seen one so far, and it was about as afraid of me as I am afraid of wine.

I went for the deluxe bungalow (quelle surprise) which has TV/DVD, A/C, a small fridge, hot water, WiFi, twice weekly maid service, and a big porch overlooking a coconut plantation. It’s 18,000 baht per month, which is about $500 right now. Training (up to 7 hours a day of Mixed Martial Arts, Muay Thai, and yoga) is 8,000 baht or $222. So you’re looking at $722 for a month of living and training in a tropical paradise… compare that to any fitness or destination spa out there, and you can see why Thailand is such a deal now. Even with a $1,000 flight thrown in, it’s still cheaper than a week at most spas. And if you put it on your mom’s credit card, it costs you nothing! (just kidding mom…) Then there’s the Thai food, which is awesome and only about $2 a dish. Even a couple dishes and a beer won’t be more than $5 in most places, but if you’re trying to lose weight the food can definitely be a trap. Almost everything is fried, and when you don’t speak the language it’s harder to make all kinds of special requests when you’re ordering, like “hey could you not deep fry everything you bring me first?”

Speaking of food, here’s a little Thai food tip: If it’s insanely hot going in, it will be insanely hot coming out. My first meal at the airport (above), which was ordered by pointing at bowls of things that looked vaguely familiar, cost me 3 additional bottles of water and left my clothes completely drenched in sweat. And hours later… let’s just say the party had only just begun.

Thailand, here I come

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Took a 20-hour flight on EVA Air from LAX to Bangkok via Taipei last night. I was thrilled when the tourist board decided at the last minute to fly me to Thailand on their dime, but was less than thrilled to discover it was in coach on an airline I’d never heard of. I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, unless the gift horse doesn’t come with champagne, lip balm, and slippers. Turns out EVA Air is actually the biggest airline in Taiwan, and they handle massive amounts of cargo. My flight was not that bad actually. The worst part of the experience of course were the security lines at LAX. I really don’t understand how IKEA has no problem processing millions of customers through a very specific route in a short amount of time, and yet our government falls apart when it comes to organization. How does it make sense for me to wait an hour to check in, then take my own luggage over to another line for another hour wait, just so I can hand it to the 24-year-old who’s still trying to graduate from 6th grade? This is security? Call me crazy, but can’t the TSA just set up shop behind the check-in counters? And how does this make anything safer? If anything, standing in line for two hours contemplating the bureaucracy involved made me made me want to bomb the flight myself.

Anyway, for some stupid reason I decided to watch Brokedown Palace the night before I left, because it happened to be on HBO, so I was a little freaked out about dealing with the Thai government and was positive that everyone around me was trying to plant drugs in my suitcase so I’d end up in a Thai prison for life. The first customs official I ran into was such a total BITCH I swear I thought I was being Punk’d. She was so livid I had not filled out my little form in advance she was literally screaming at me. In Thai of course. I don’t know if it’s just the sound of the Thai language, but in English we just sound bitchy and sarcastic when we’re upset. She sounded like I was holding a knife to her child’s throat. I said “I didn’t have a PEN and I could not FIND one in the AIRPORT,” and I bit each word for what I thought was emphasis, but this tactic was like trying to stop a tidal wave with a toothpick. She pushed me aside and screamed for the next person in line, while I quietly filled out my form and tried to stop my lip from quivering.

Cancer patients prepare for a synchronized parachute jump at Suvarnabhumi airport.

After winding my way through the Bangkok airport for about 5 minutes, I realized I was being followed by two security officials. As I passed some scaffolding, I contemplated leaping up and going all Bourne Ultimatum on their asses — climbing the scaffolding like a monkey and swinging across the airport before crashing out a window to my freedom as they all stood there helplessly yelling into their radios. But I haven’t worked out in a year and the thought of lifting my own body weight was a substantial obstacle. Plus they probably would have just shot me dead before I even reached the scaffolding and it would have been the worst action sequence ever. So when they asked me to follow them into a little room, I acquiesced, after quickly scanning the airport for what could very well be the last images I see as a free man. Thankfully most of the heroin I brought was still up inside me, but it’s always humbling to watch two officers rifle through your underwear. They asked me about the two suspicious plastic bags of Chinese tea that my doctor insisted I take with me to stay healthy (thanks Sabena!), and then held up every vitamin supplement I brought with me for an explanation. In a misguided attempt to save space, I had dumped all my supplements into separate plastic bags to make everything look as much as possible like a stash of illegal drugs. I don’t think they really spoke any English at all — I guess they were just listening to the tone of my voice and watching for sweat on my brow.

They finally let me go and with the jump of freedom in my step I made my way to the gate, thinking this must be exactly how Nelson Mandela felt when he was released from prison. Except he had just spent 26 years in a tiny cell on Robben Island and wasn’t listening to Maroon 5 on his iPhone.

Landing in Phuket was made a skooch more exciting after 89 people were killed in a plane crash here the week prior. Of course that plane crashed in a dark sky during a torrential downpour, whereas as we prepared for landing, the sky was clear and beautiful.

Then we broke through the clouds into a dark sky and torrential downpour, and I began to prepare for death. I was still calm from all the Xanax, but was definitely preparing to die. First I was praying to be killed on impact, because I was just not into being trapped in my seat and slowly burning to death – I’m already in coach for gods sake. Then I mentally went through my laptop to figure out how much if any porn would be discovered by my mother. Porn seems to be the first thing I think of at the prospect of my own death… Like it’s not bad enough that her son is dead, now my mom has to be given all my porn. Although if my body was completely destroyed in flames, I would hope that my laptop would be as well. But suddenly the wheels were on the ground and my fears were in vain. My porn and I had both arrived safely in Phuket.

Next stop, Tiger Muay Thai.