Custom travel – Three week learning adventure Part VI

Below is part VI and the last entry of Raghav’s custom learning adventure from 2012! If you missed it, here is Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, & Part V.

23 July 2012 

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Comparing ID cards

Today was a pretty simple day, with my conversations with the group from Shan State being the highlight. We had a very interesting conversation today, comparing cultures. They got an American – Indian perspective of my life and I got a Thai outsider perspective from them. We compared each other’s problems and challenges in life. Compared to them, mine seemed very insignificant. Most of their comments ranged from how to find work, finding and relocating their families from Burma, living with segregation, and more. This conversation was definitely an eye-opener for me to appreciate the opportunities and privileges my background offers, and the challenges that others face in their daily lives.

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Group discussion!

24 Saturday 2012

Today, on the whole, was a very cultural day. I started the day off with a lesson in the National sport of Thailand: Muay Thai. David and I had two guys teach us some different techniques of the sport such as kicks, punches, and blocks. It was really fun learning the sport that I had seen people here watching so often, even in the remote hill tribes.

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David and I with our Muay Thai teachers

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The whole group getting ready for food!

After our lesson, David and I headed over for our next discussion to the Best Friend’s Library. A lot of people didn’t show up today, so I was able to have a much more intimate conversation with the ones who were there. Today, each person brought their favorite dish from their origins. One girl was so excited, she brought three full dishes of food! The food was very similar to Thai, just with a little more meat and seemed a lot spicier to me! It was really fun trying all their types of food and hearing that they all love pizza and pasta, most said they could it every day! In addition to the food, we continued our comparison of perspectives of each other’s countries. This conversation seemed to be, universally, the most interesting for me and for everyone else.

With our discussion coming to a close, we all decided to go out to dinner as it had been awhile since we had gone anywhere as a big group. We decided to go for Mexican. It was a fun dinner with everyone!  After dinner, Natch and his girlfriend Im dropped me to my hotel. We shared some local fruit and talked a little. Then it was time to go to sleep!

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David, Nid, Marcia, me, Ji, Natch, and Im ready for Mexican food!

25 July 2012

Today would be my last full day in Chiang Mai. It is amazing how quickly three weeks flew by! I started off the day with a cooking class. When I first heard the idea of cooking, I wasn’t too excited about doing it, but I tried it anyway. A guy came to pick me up in a car and took me to the restaurant I would be learning at. A nice lady greeted me there, and we both went to a small open market very close to her restaurant. We bought all the things we would need to cook with and brought them back. It took me about three hours, but in the end, I was able to learn how to make three different curries, papaya salad, mango dessert, and much more! I was glad that I took the chance at doing something I hadn’t tried before!

After they dropped me back to my hotel, it was time for my last discussion at the library. Today was a pretty short discussion because most of the people had to leave early for work and other things. We had a very informal conversation with everyone about their lives, parents, romantic interests, and very simple conversations. At this point, only about 5 were coming to the discussions, but I felt very connected and comfortable with each one of them, more so than I probably would have been if it had been a large group. We did some closing activities and took pictures there with Garrett. As always, it was kind of a melancholy goodbye as we had gotten to know one another.

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Last group shot with Garret at the Best Friends Library!

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Nid and I wearing traditional Thai outfits!

Everyone was pretty tired from going out to a late dinner from the previous day, so we decided to end the day early because I also would have my long flight back tomorrow. We did however first go to Nid’s costume shop and tried on some of her elegant costumes. After, I went to the hotel and fell asleep for the big day back the next day!

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written by: Raghav Agarwal

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Learning Muay Thai in Doi Saket

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Kim sparring in the ring

Muay Thai is a combat sport and is the National sport of Thailand. It is also called “the art of eight limbs” because it combines fists, elbows, knees, and feet. As an English volunteer teacher in Doi Saket district I spent my evenings in Doi Saket with Kim, another volunteer English teacher. We always introduced ourselves to all the shop owners we met around the market. The reason is that Thai people are very friendly, and we wanted to make as many friends as possible in Doi Saket. On one of these occasions we befriended two young women, Kwang, Gift, and their mother at their family’s grocery shop. Kim forgot his notebook in the shop, that is why he had to come back the following day. While chatting with them he learned that their father used to be a Muay Thai fighter and was now training a few young men for free. They offered us to be trained at their gym. In exchange Kim offered to teach English to the youngest sister Kwang, whose English was weaker than her sister’s.

That is how we started training three to four times a week in Doi Saket. Kwang and Gift’s family owns a huge house surrounded by a wide domain including several traditional guest houses, farming activities and a gym with bags, gloves, weights and even a boxing ring. Even though we were a bit shy at the beginning, our Muay Thai teacher and his family made us understand that we were now part of the family. We call our teacher “Pa”, which means “Father”, and his wife “May”, which means “Mother”. We are trained by our teacher, but also by his four students, all younger than us (they are aged from 15 to 19, while Kim and me are 21 and 23 years old). Pa’s friends are visiting him daily and, along with the employees of the domain, they usually stay around the gym to watch the training and give us very useful advice.

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Me having fun in the ring!

More than just learning Muay Thai, we truly feel that we belong in this big family. The daughters always make a small detour to chat with us while we train, and sometimes even bake cakes for us. Our teacher and his friends are always smiling and patient, debating about how to improve our boxing and then trying to guide us with simple Thai or English words. The other fighters we train with are very talented despite their young age. One of them has fought more than 70 times. It is a privilege to learn with them : they are always training very seriously and being very warm and respectful with us, even though I am a complete beginner.

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One of the fighters getting ready for practice

All our training sessions start jumping for several minutes on a tire laid on the ground. We punch the air in front of us while holding small weighs in our fists. After this warm up we usually do pull ups, push ups, sit ups and lift weights in order to build our strength, as physical strength and endurance are a very important part of Muay Thai.

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Me doing some chin ups

As a beginner I have spent most of the first trainings hitting bags in order to learn different moves : kicking with the shin, usually as high as possible, hitting with the knee while holding my opponent’s neck, punching with one hand while protecting my jaw with the other and relaxing my shoulders to hit with my elbows. I have also learnt how to stand with my legs straight, my upper body bent forward and my fists held high on the sides of my head. I have trained to protect myself by lifting one of my knee and up to my elbows. I can create a wall with my upper arm and my shin in order to protect my head, neck and ribs.

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Practicing on the bags

When I started mastering these moves I was invited to enter the ring and practice with the other fighters. After exchanging a few punches, we practice clinching, grabbing each others neck and trying to free our elbows and knees to hit the other (lightly of course). We can also try to tire our opponent or throw him off balance. During my last training I also tried my kicks on one of the fighters who was wearing heavy protective gear and tried to punch back every time I kicked, to teach me how to protect myself against counter-attacks.

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Practice in the ring

I am very happy to feel that I am improving day after day. But the thing I appreciate the most about Muay Thai is that it is a smiling boxing style. We learn to relax and ideally to smile while boxing. The family atmosphere of our gym makes this trait of Muay Thai even more enjoyable. We train, fight and have fun at the same time, trusting each other and laughing as we learn together.

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Group shot!

I will keep training and I hope to come back to Thailand next year to continue this great experience.

Stay posted to learn more about Thai culture and the experience of volunteers within the Wat Doi Saket project.

Antoine Gratian, on-site intern

info@atmaseva.org

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Photography Corner – Mae Sai part 2

In Mae Sai part 1, the ATMA SEVA team went to the White temple and also Mae Sai.  On our second day, in the morning we went to Wat Thampla MaeSai also known as the Monkey cave temple, as monkeys roam around and live on the premise.  The temple is set right into the mountain and jungle and there are two caves you can hike up to.  There are great views and the caves are fun to be in and the Buddha shrines within are stunning.  There are quite a few monkeys and visitors are accompanied by local teenagers who carry bamboo sticks in case the monkeys bite or jump on people.

After Wat Thampla, we set out to find a very unique temple named Wat Maa Tong or the Golden Horse temple.  The temple is famous because of the abbot Phra Khru Bah Neua Chai Kositto, who is a former professional kick boxer, and has also helped the local hill-tribe community immensely.  He also teaches self-defense and muay Thai to the young men to teach discipline and give them strength.  The monks in this temple ride horses to collect alms in the morning, hence Golden Horse temple.  A while back a horse was donated to the temple and the abbot saw how the horse could help him spread the Dhamma.

We went for a hike next to the temple to try and reach a stupa on the mountain.  After about forty minutes of hiking we found a farm in the jungle where lots of horses were and we also saw the abbot, but he was unable to speak as he was in the middle of a seven day meditation.  The area was so mystical with a muay Thai training area, horse farm, and Buddha statues nestled into the lush green background.  We never reached the stupa, but we were overly satisfied with what we had found.

Stay tuned for the next Photography corner as the ATMA SEVA team went to Wiang Haeng several days after this trip!

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Photos by David Poppe

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