Sunday, September 25, 2005

Dippin' and Divin'

Near Bangkok, Thailand

We are in a bus on our way to Bangkok. Soon, we will be at the airport, waiting for our flight to Delhi, India. Our stay in Thailand is at an end, and I am a little depressed. I really enjoyed my time here, and I feel like I only scratched the surface of all that is Thailand. I will definitely be coming back here again.

Koh Tao was the last stop in our tour of Thailand, and it was a little paradise. A tiny island off of the eastern coast of Thailand, Koh Tao was the perfect place to have an OC vacation. It wasn't really a cultural experience, as it's basically an island full of honkies, but it was sunny and relaxing. There were basically two things that took up my time on that little slice of "Thailand": SCUBA diving, and Muay Thai. Mike and I spent our days getting our Open Water Diver certifications, and at night, I would go to the other side of the island to learn how to kick stuff.

Our diving certification was a four-day course with Planet Scuba, which included lodging. Mike and I were given two bungalows near the main pier, where we stayed for five nights while we learned how to breathe underwater. They were very simple little wooden affairs, with four walls, a roof, a bed, and a bathroom. No hot water, no air conditioning, no flush toilet. Just the basics. But, they were $5/night, and right near the beach, so I've got no complaints.
In the mornings, we would wake up early, take a cold shower, and have some breakfast. We would meet our instructor either in the classroom, or at the office near the beach, depending on what we were doing that day. Then, we would spend a full eight hours doing the diving thang. Sometimes this meant some schoolwork: learning SCUBA theory, and taking quizzes. Sometimes, this meant going out to dive sites to put our theory into action.
I remember vividly doing a one-day diving discovery course in Cancun a couple of years ago with my siblings. It was a very enlightening experience, and it was what enticed me into getting my full certification during this trip. But, ultimately, it was just eye-candy. They strapped Jackie, Erik and I into some SCUBA gear, taught us enough to not kill ourselves, then took us on a short and shallow guided tour around the ocean floor. It was great visually, but I didn't really learn anything.
The four days of our Open Water training were a lot different. I actually felt like I knew what I was doing. Instead of just being some underwater voyeur, I was learning how to live and breathe underwater. I was learning how to control my buoyancy, and watch my gauges, and keep an eye out for my dive partner. And in an emergency, I now know how to safely extricate myself without blowing out a lung. All of these technical aspects I had no clue about before were an essential part of this training course, and made the experience that much more rewarding.
And, of course, the scenery was amazing as well. I couldn't possibly explain in a short blog article how cool it is to explore a reef 15 meters below the surface of the water. That world is so new and alien that you almost have to experience it yourself to understand. So, I'll just say that I'm really glad that we took this open water certification course and I'm very much looking forward to getting my advanced diving certification in Australia. Oh, and I swam with some grey reef sharks. That's it.

Ever since I started doing capoiera about a year-and-a-half ago, I've had a growing interest in learning a martial art. It's good exercise, and should synergize well with the gymnastics that I've already been doing. Plus, it would be nice to know that I could defend myself if the need arose. But, I've had a hard time choosing which martial art fit me the best. I had heard about Muay Thai before, and, after seeing it in action in Bangkok, I'm thinking that we may just be made for each other.
Everyday, after the SCUBA lessons, I would quickly rinse off, change, and head down to the local 7-11. There, I would catch a ride in a motorbike taxi for about 50 baht. I rode pillion while the driver sped us up a narrow paved road to Island Muay Thai, on the other side of Koh Tao. Once there, I changed into some boxing shorts, warmed up by jumping rope for about 15 minutes, stretched out, then had my hands wrapped up to start the wuppin'.
The first half of the lesson was spent on the bags, practicing the finer points of technique. This was where I learned some of the basics of Thai boxing with Dam. How to punch, elbow, kick and knee. Relative to the second half of the lesson, this part was a breeze.
The hard half was spent in the ring with a heavily padded man; usually Mark. He would present me with targets, and I would jab or kick where appropriate. In the later lessons, he would also start to kick back, and, in theory, I would block with a raised leg. In reality, I had a very hard time remembering to block correctly. My instinct was to block the kicks in a way that all of the instructors insured me would lead to a broken arm. It doesn't sound that hard, and I only had to go through five three-minute rounds, but it was tough. I don't think I ever made it all the way. Near the end of the rounds, I would be drenched in sweat, and it would be a struggle just to keep my hands in front of my face, never-mind trying to throw elbows with any force behind them.
It was hard work, but it was awesome. It had been a while since I had been able to get a good workout like that. Being on the road 24-7 makes it difficult to get any regular exercise. I feel like I got a good taste of the Thai boxing, and I likes it. Hopefully, I'll continue it once my trip is at an end.


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