This is a post from my friend Justin Levy from New York city whom I met while he was passing through Pai to do some Muay Thai. He was changing course looking to the writing scene as am I and here are his thoughts on his trip through Southeast Asia.
Trying to explain your Southeast Asia trip to those back at home in a nutshell?! You’re crazy, forget it; the conversation was over way before it started. But if you can articulately explain the complexities of organic chemistry to a second grader then you can handle a proper recap of this extraordinary region of the world. For me organic chemistry was never my specialty. Even if I fail, I’ll try my best – here we go.
It may seem that everything is out to get you, and it is. It’s you versus the alien elements of a radically diverse environment, a place no westerner can adapt to right away. If you can, congratulations – you should have no problem hosting your own survival show on the Discovery Channel.
Asia is a place where your stomach and local dry cleaners will hate you. The water is undrinkable; health and safety are non-existent. Still, everything seems to work in harmony. Tropical climates are great for loosing those few clumsy pounds you put on gorging on airplane food and free wine. Sweat it out my friend. If your internal organs aren’t crying for help within the first few days of arrival, you aren’t eating the right foods. Sure, a tech-savvy flash packer can try to search the top rated restaurants closest to the hostel but you won’t do that.
Everything they tell you in the guide book are of no importance, you’re going to eat that delicious fly covered mystery street meat on a stick anyway because it smells so damn good. I don’t see a refrigerator in sight but that guy just ate the BBQ chicken heart in chili sauce and he’s still standing, I’ll take two please. As a wise traveler once told me, if you’re not getting sick, you’re not traveling. No wiser words have been spoken, dig in.
Every day is a new adventure. Walking to 7-Eleven to buy a pack of gum could inspire a novel. Yes, you will be asked a half dozen times if you want a massage, even if you’re coming back from a massage. Yes, the mighty, ubiquitous 7-Eleven; Western influences run deep in some parts … cough Starbucks cough Burger King. Twenty two hours on a plane will not get you far enough from the inescapable grasp of Ronald McDonald. The traffic in Asia is intoxicating to watch.
You can wait a long time to cross and you will. The longer you wait the better; there are few more amazing things than watching the density of motorbikes, animals, and questionably safe trucks stacked with cement and rice flow together in a mosh pit of controlled chaos. It’s truly eye opening. You can be lost somewhere in Bangkok’s remarkably confusing and endless China Town one day and the next day gulping down a cold Bintang with fish guts dripping down your chin on a deserted island in Indonesia.
These are a few suggestions if you decide to visit this remarkable, take no prisoners place. Now please by all means, I am not dictating what you should do because let’s face it, everyone has their preferences but just have fun! Turn off your phone; don’t worry if the place you’re staying at has Wi-Fi. I have never met such remarkable people, both local and fellow traveler.
You will be in one of the few places in the world where people say hello and run up to take a picture with you. No, people don’t want you to take their picture; you’re going to cheese it with them. You’ll be a rock star and they will change your life in one way or another. You’re probably going on a jungle trek. Bring lots of bug spray and sunscreen because like I said, nature is trying to get you. Embrace the stillness of nature, realize you’re so far from home and if something goes wrong, there is absolutely no one that can help you except you. You’re on your own buddy, so don’t get dengue. Regardless of what CNN might report, the world isn’t that scary.
Sure, you don’t want to let your guard down after finishing a bottle of Sangsom but people are generally good. Breathe in the cold stillness of morning air on top of an active volcano; jump from a boat into the bath warm waters of the Indian Ocean to swim along sea turtles and other questionably dangerous marine life. Then hang on for dear life as you and your new friends weave through the wrong side of traffic in a tuk tuk, explore the ancient temples which are definitely older than your own country.
Take classes in things you’ve never thought you’d sign up for even if it means getting whacked with a bamboo stick and yelled at in Thai for slowing down during a Muay Thai workout; leave your map at the hostel and get completely lost in the back allies of a foreign city.
Then sit down roadside in a small plastic chair alongside locals and have some of the best food your taste buds have ever savored for a fraction of the cost back home. Go meet random people at your hostel and end up best friends eight hours later; rent a motorbike, feel the passing air cool down the remnants of water on your skin from that waterfall you just climbed a few minutes ago as you barrel through hillside tribes and around mountain ranges; learn about someone’s heritage and what makes them tick and embrace every damn second.
But lastly, inspire. Drive people out of their comfort zone to do something so extraordinary it sets off a pervasive emotional or physical reaction in others. I dare you from this point forward to become more inspired by everything and everyone around you. I am inspired by the people I have met and by the badass, exotic, mysterious, place that is Asia.
Have you ever been stuck between numerous choices unable to decide what direction to take. I’ve faced that choice many times and what I know today is that ultimately it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do something. You can’t keep all possibilities open, that just isn’t an option and if you choose more than one or two can you really give your all to either?
When you travel with no set plan you are faced with a sheer endless amount of choices about what to do or where to go and what I have realized is that you are always going to miss something by choosing one option and that you just have to accept that. In travel it just means you are adding more places to your bucket list in life it means recognizing that there will be other opportunities to fill the void.
Choice is about risk and reward, what are you willing to do and what is the opportunity cost of pursuing it. Success is never guaranteed but even if you don’t succeed if you learned something then that choice isn’t a waste it is a building block for a foundation of future success.
I’m writing this in Pai, Thailand in my bungalow before I go to train for the next 2 hours in Muay Thai, I am trying to write a story and it is a choice I had to make, I’ve been to easily distracted recently but I can feel the story back, the pieces finding their way from the back of my mind to the front.
It is hard, I know that success may be a reach but I believe in the value of what I’ve already crafted and that have to write it for myself, not anyone else. That is my way ahead as I also try to craft a new sense of self and make every day count whether it’s getting ready to fight in the ring, putting myself out there of diving deep into the story well to see what magic can be made. This is the journey spurred by my own challenges and sparked by the wonder travel has shown me that I have to make real, even if it is only to myself.
So just go out there and make the best choice you can now, don’t worry if it works or not just be doing something, just have a goal and do your best. That’s all anyone can ask for. That goal will crystallize your thoughts and your actions, make sure that your actions are focused towards whatever that goal is and know that no matter what happens it will be worth it as long as you learn something that you know you will apply when the next problem or challenge comes across your path.
So from one indecisive guy to the next let’s show ourselves that we can make our choices count no matter what that choice is and from however many options are available to us when you make your choice.
It’s hard to be dedicated to something, I know that because I’ve always kept my foot in one door and the other out in case it all went to hell. It’s not impossible to be dedicated while making other plans but I find it much simpler and more focused to just go for it.
In the last 5 weeks doing Muay Thai I’ve seen the dedication that the fighters who will be in the ring give and the Thai’s where it is their life. I can’t give that kind of dedication but what I will do is show up if I can walk. That is half the battle. I will not make it a habit to skip a session because to do so is to show that I am not putting the time into it.
I can’t always give 110%, being physically active in such frequency is still so new to me, exhausting and a punch to the gut. In some ways you have to be stubborn, not willing to give into the doubt you have or that others have about you.
I was talking to one guy the other night, one of the fighters who always had an intensity I could never approach. In a session I move to music and when asked to count during stretches I sing the numbers or do it in a radio voice. I do it because I am sick of being forgotten and what this guy said is that when he first saw me he hated me, or at least he thought I was a stupid piece of shit.
I never talked to him but unconsciously I could sense that, but he said that he came around. I didn’t really ask why but I think in part it was because I showed up, every damn day, every session. I don’t know enough and I see myself as the forever student, I push myself to extend my range and capabilities no matter how frustrating.
Am I do everything I can…. no I could be doing more, but you can always be doing more but for now I go in for 4 hours a day and try to go beyond my limits even if just for a moment when I’m trying to find an opening to attack. You have to show up because even if you are great, if you don’t show up then you can’t get to the starting line.
Action is proof, talk is nice and as a writer I love the art of words but action is real and tangible proof that will give the words power. There needs to be something behind the words to give them force. If there isn’t and in my case if I don’t show up how can I expect anyone to believe that I an giving it my all.
So show up, every time as long as you are able. Start from that point, make it your part of your rhythm, if you are there you will get better but if you are not then how can you expect to make the gains you need to. So show up, be remembered and don’t fall into the background, be remembered, don’t be a number be a person and if you can do that you’ve already won in focus, dedication and action.
I’ve never had the urge to learn any form of martial arts but for the past month I’ve gotten up every day and trained for 2 sessions each for 2 grueling and exhausting hours. I will admit one thing I was a quitter, I was running away as much as I wanted to experience life and that was how I defined my truth until I realized that I was warping my reality living in the cesspool of negativity, self doubt and shame.
I will not be that person any longer and I want to do more than just travel although I am not ready to stop I want to start creating not just consuming. For me Muay Thai is about commitment, about working on my physical self to gain confidence and learning to hold my own. I want a solid foundation so I can continue to train in some capacity no matter where I go. I want to make it more than something I tried and make it part of who I am, in the best sense of the word and I can’t do that in a month but I think 5 is enough for a head start.
Muay Thai can be brutal, its a tough as nail kind of martial arts where the basics are simple but mastery is a lifelong pursuit. Here the thai’s don’t do it just for fun it is a way of life and probably way more than I can possibly understand as a foreigner. After traveling to see and experience I want to travel to expand who I am, to bridge the gulf between who I am now and who I can be tomorrow.
Muay Thai is about taking the limits I thought I knew and getting beyond. It happens by starting from zero and seeing how far I can push to see just how far I can go and that my friends is an honour and a gift I can’t thank Charn Chi enough for..
This is a guest post by Erin Myers, the first time that I’ve had one, I am humbled and honoured to have her write on my site. Thanks for your contribution to my online home.
Traveling efficiently doesn’t mean taking chunks out of your routine.
Those of us who travel often will have fallen into a sort of routine – we’ve packed our bags so often, we already know what to stuff into our suitcases and where each and every little tidbit goes. We know which buses to take or which roads and exits to drive to the airport to get there in the shortest amount of time possible, and we know which cafes to eat from at the airport. This familiarity is often what we draw comfort from when we travel, but often, it’s this familiarity that also gets in the way of us traveling efficiently.
Efficient traveling doesn’t mean just cutting back on the amount of time we spend getting to and from each destination, or cutting corners on cheaper flights. Here are some small changes you can make to your routine, to make everything from packing your bags to getting to your flight on time more efficient:
1. Pack Like a Flight Attendant
Your favorite way of packing might not be the most efficient. If you’re still folding your clothes instead of rolling them and tucking them into a suitcase, then you need to make some changes. Heather Poole, a flight attendant who’s probably packed more bags than any of us could ever imagine, has been featured on the New York Times for her guide to efficient packing. The secret? First, roll your clothes and set them aside. Put your shoes in, and then start packing the rolled items into your suitcase, from heaviest to lightest. This makes it easier to close your suitcase and compress the items together.
2. Save Up on Airport Parking
Driving to the airport can be quite a hassle, and many people have opted to take cabs instead of driving themselves. After all, as one surprised Filipino traveler found airport parking can be expensive. Do your research and try to secure parking in advance, as some airports can even help you cut off on time by parking your car for you. London’s Gatwick Airport, for example, has something called the “Summer Special Parking” – a service that, despite its name, runs for the whole year. Parking4less explains that the Summer Special Parking allows the airport’s customers to leave their car at reception, with a member of the staff taking the car and parking it afterwards. Small services like these are essential to saving time – no more wandering around looking for a parking space!
3. Download the Right Apps
Today’s travelers are more technologically-inclined than ever before. Whether you’re a backpacker or a first-class flier, you’re bound to have a smartphone or some other device with you. These can be great for general travel, but to make your trip even easier, make sure you download apps that are specific to the place you’re traveling to. Area-specific apps usually have more information than general travel apps – and because they’re almost always community-driven, they’re bound to be more updated than other apps. Getting the right apps is a great way to cut back on time you spend asking around for information.
Since I’ve been traveling I find myself in one of 3 modes, where I run and gun from place to place doing the tourist thing or staying in one place and settling in. I’ve done it multiple times on this trip. At the beginning it tends to be the former where you know that there are more things to see and do than you could ever hope to accomplish.
This leads many to run and gun through places with epic lists of things to do. I find that kind of travel is more prevalent when you are traveling for short periods of time and is due in part to time maximization. People want to get as much out of a trip as possible and plan more which if they stick with the plan takes some of the surprise out of the adventure.
When you travel for a long time you get to miss having a rhythm, it doesn’t necessarily having a set routine but it does mean learning to know a place and get a feel for the people and places around you. There have been several places I’ve stayed for a week or longer just because it felt good even if only for a few days to have a rhythm. To have that favourite street food person, or coffee shop or stop and not have to worry about getting used to a new place again.
The fun about being always on the move is that you have to constantly reorient yourself because you are moving so fast, the downside is you don’t spend enough time in places to actually understand the people and culture you are inhabiting. It is always about the little things, getting to know the locals and having them become more than just a person you meet but being able to call them friends.
The rawness of southeast Asia is something that comes across in how the work life balance isn’t separate, it’s just life. For instance a lot of families run small shops out of their homes, which makes it easier to watch their kids while they work. In the west there is a distinct separation between the two and while you find the separation in the big cities with many jobs, there are so many others where there is no distinction.
In some ways I wish we had that same flexibility back home, it is done out of necessity here but its only something you really notice when you stop just passing through and get a chance to see and talk to the who live and work there.
I will end up running and gunning again later but for now it is about focus, to go in and really do something that I could have never seen myself doing one year ago and Muay Thai definitely qualifies. It is about more than travel for me now, it is about a mission and I have 3, to get good at Muay Thai, write a story that will change my life and be better every day than I was the day before.
Muay Thai is a physical and mental challenge that feels right, that pushes be to go beyond what I know and that is good enough for me. It is not about just the physical change but about dissipating the fear and lack of belief and to find the ability to belief that I can reach farther. If I can do that then everything will come into view and at this very moment I believe everything is possible.
I guess I’ve always been one to wonder, its one of those things that comes with an over active imagination and an over active sense of thought. It comes with thinking more than acting. It is the pain and the strength. I carry that with me everywhere. I can’t not, that’s just who I am.
What I like about Muay Thai is that the focus is simple in its complexity, I still think too much but with each passing moment I can tame the mind and can focus on something that I long neglected, my physical self. I have to fight the shadows of doubt that come from those that love you.
I must listen to what I know, that it is time to fight not in the arena but in the mind and body. That they are one and to know one is to know the other.
The other day a bunch of us went around wandering around Pai by motorbike, we were disappointed with the so called canyon, got caught in the rain, went to the foot of waterfalls, were blessed with views to make the jaws drop and as the sun set we went up the mountain to the spot where the white Buddha watched from up high for and in peace.
I was with people I barely knew but for which we shared a sense of wonder, of exploration, of possibility. We were all breaking down our physical selves to learn and if only for the briefest times to test our physical selves along the way.
I hadn’t seen Pai’s beauty and this was a gift, I’ve been just trying to keep on going with training that I forgot how I was surrounded by paradise I was and it was good to be reminded of that. We were never that far from where we started but the sights were profound, the surprises were small but none the less genuine or fun and it was shared by people I barely knew but who in those moments I could think of no better to be with for that fun.
The lesson I forgot but that this taught me was to be an explorer every day be it in the wonders of Pai or at home in Toronto or wherever, that to be open and to go out there is just as important as where you go.
So as I head back to the second session of the day I know that this is the right place for this moment, to focus in on the physical to help remake the psychological that both need adherence to the goal which is simple to be better than I was the day before.
So I will never stop wondering or exploring who I am or the world around me, to reach, to ask questions and to be willing to put myself out there in order to overcome every barrier I and we all spend a lifetime putting up ourselves to reach a little farther. That’s the mission every day.
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