I first arrived in Pai in the summer of 2014 after having spent awhile in Taiwan. My friend Mike who I sparred with every now and then told me that I should try muay thai. So on a whim I decided to spend a month or two back in Thailand and thought the north would be the most economical way for me to do it.
When I first arrived at Pai and went to the gym they were in the midst of the morning session. The way it works in Thailand is that there are two sessions a day, the first being 8-10 am and the next being 3-5 pm.
I saw them all training and was intimidated as hell, I walked by and could hear the sounds of pads and Bee yelling. I took a few steps watched for a few seconds and said to myself I’ll come back later.
I went back into town and got some breakfast before finally getting the courage to go back to Charn Chai Muay Thai and telling them I wanted to do a month of muay thai there. I really didn’t have any idea what I was getting myself into.
That afternoon the pain began. When you get there and you don’t know how they work you just go with the flow. The afternoon session began with skipping for 3 sets at 3 minutes a piece.
As soon as that’s done one of the trainers leads the group in a warm up stretch which lasts about 10 minutes. Then we get our hands wrapped, grab some gloves and for the noobs like me a trainer will take you through all the basic moves by the mirror.
I was so horrible at it that it was embarassing but I guess I didn’t really know anything so I just tried my best and really that’s all you can do. No one cares, everyone whose there has been through it and you just gotta have fun but also expect a bit of pain.
The other people who had been there awhile were doing techniques with each other, where a trainer would show them a combo and they would do it with a partner. They would walk around and observe correcting people as they went. Combos were as simple as a jab, punch then kick to 6 or 7 moves strung together.
As all this is happening they work through everyone training so we could all get a few rounds of pads with the trainers most of them having hundreds of fights in their muay thai carriers.
Once that was done you would at that time you would do a circuit workout of kicks, punches, weights and so on and then after that you would have to kick the bag and do a cool down stretch and an ab session.
It takes 2 hours and by the time it was done all I wanted to do was eat and sleep. Those first few days I felt so inadequate, I just didn’t feel like i belonged but in my mind I could never do what I saw the people fighting were doing.
What I lacked in physical ability I was determined to go to every session each and every day. It’s easy to get distracted and skip sessions now and then but for me that wasn’t why I was there. I knew after the first few days it would be hard but you just soldier through it and learn.
I think it was about after 2 weeks I began to at least physically be able to keep up with everyone else. My kicks were horrible, my timing and footwork didn’t exist but you can feel the progress. The soreness faded, the shin pain from kicking the bag became less painful and I was slowly learning how flow from one move to the next.
Ilived just 50 meters away from the gym, I ate there, trained their and would wander down the street every evening to partake in whatever was cooking on walking street. I had no thoughts about fighting and really feel like I belonged but I was dedicated to the cause of trying to remake who I thought I could be.
I never believed I could do anything like muay thai, I didn’t even know what it was until my friend mentioned it off the cuff and that I should do it. At this point I thought I would just stay a month or two longer just so I could progress.
You look at everyone else who is training and try to absorb as much as you can. It took me a long time to progress. I never missed a session unless I was deathly ill and just tried to get better it took me way longer than a lot of other people to get there but inch by inch I was and that was enough.
I will never forget that first day stopping by the gym and wondering what have I gotten myself into and should I walk away. I didn’t but I could have and I am so glad I took the chance to get uncomfrotable and push what I thought was possible.
I never thought it would come to mean as much as it does to me now. It was never part of the plan but it has made me a better person not just physically but as a way to beat back the fear and for that I am eternally grateful.
In the hills of Northern Thailand you can find Pai, situated in a valley that’s 762 turns from Chiang Mai this small stop on the mae chong son loop this area is full of personality and beauty.
To get to Pai from Chiang Mai it’s as simple as heading to the Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station’s Terminal 2 and going behind it to buy a ticket for the minibus which has bus leaving all day every thirty minutes from 6:30 am to 5:00 pm.
The bus takes 3 hours or so going up the twists and turns of the highway which as of this writing is undergoing substantial renovation as they extend this 2 lane road to become 4. What this also means in the long-term is more development for Mae hong son as it becomes easier for people to travel into the hills of Northern Thailand.
The minibus usually fits 13 people with luggage going in the small space in the back and the roof. The 762 turns winds its way going up and up before hitting the first valley where Pai and the river for which it was named after are found.
About a little more than half way to Pai, the buses stop at a station where you can go to the washroom for 3 baht, get snacks and or have a quick mean before finishing the long drive through the curves.
The minibus stops at the Pai Bus Station which is located in the centre of town on the same street that becomes walknig street every night. Pai is a small village that has become popular with local tourists because of the thai movie “Love in Pai” and Chinese tourists because of the Chinese movie “Lost in Thailand” which was filmed in Northern Thailand.
It’s proximity to Chiang Mai and the scenic beauty of the region has made it a great place for travelers and backpackers to explore. In general I found it cheaper to live in Northern Thailand than in the south and especially the islands. Although the difference isn’t huge it does make a difference over time.
If you want to learn muay thai, try kung fu, chill at a bar, trek through the hills, meet the natives of the hill tribes, do yoga and or meditate I think Pai offers something for everyone.
It is easy for a few days to become weeks or months for many people who come to visit Pai and that’s what happened to me. Pai’s location means that you are outside of the modernity of Chiang Mai but it’s never that far away if you want to catch the latest 4D movie in Chiang Mai or go down to do battle in the muay thai ring.
Pai is a place that is easy to get to know innately and the movies have made sure there is always new people coming in and new places seemed to open up every week while I was living there.
The road to Pai sign
Although the bus ride to Pai is scenic the twists and turns are not for everyone and I’ve seen people get sick going to and from Pai. If you would rather avoid that you can easily rent a motorbike in Chiang Mai and drive it yourself to Pai.
Being on a bike or renting a car gives you the freedom to explore the small road side villages, hot springs and national parks along the way. Be aware of the construction being done on the road to Pai and the weather because of the sheer numbers of turns on the road rain can be dangerous if you don’t have a lot of experience riding in those conditions.
Another option is to rent a motorbike from the Aya Service in Pai and returning it to their Chiang Mai office for a fee of 500 baht as of this writing. It costs between 120-140 baht before insurance for what will most likely be a Honda Wave. A 110 cc motorbike is good for general riding but it will struggle on even the small hills with more than one person.
I never rented a motorbike, I bought a bicycle instead but when I go back to Pai I will definitely do it so I can explore all those little nooks in the valley that I missed the first time, so enjoy the ride.
When I first came to Bali in February I wanted to do a climb and there are a few volcanoes and mountains to explore in Bali. There is the Gunung Batur where within the caldera lay the stratovolcano Batur which rises 700 meters above.
Then there was Gunung Agung which is located east of Batur and from everything I read it was a longer and more difficult climb. Batur is for the tourists because its views are stellar and it is a short easy trek of two hours to the summit.
Whereas Gunung Agung stood as the holy mountain and at 3,033 meters high it is the highest point on Bali and the 5th highest volcano in Indonesia. It is the home of the mother Temple of Pura Besakih from which all the rest of the 9 directional temples spring as these 9 temples act as the island’s guardians from evil spirits.
I had seen it from Nusa Lembongan before and knew I had to get there, I tried in February but the rain made it impossible and now having done it I am so glad I didn’t do it in the mud or rain. It would have made a challenging trek into an impossible one with the risk of injury increasing with every step.
There are three primary routes you can take one the starts close to the Besakih on the west side of Agung and can be 6 to 7 hours up and another 6 to 7 down. With the other 2 main trekking routes starting south at Pura Pasar Agung. This route splits off into two routes one you hit the caldera one circling the crater and the other leading to the actual summit.
I met a young guy named Eric on couchsurfing and we both wanted to climb Agung. It was the reason both of us had come to Bali, to summit the Volcano and meet the rising sun.
To meet the sky and awe at the holy mountain that towers above Bali is a gift, a wonder and a moment to experience.
When you travel for awhile and you have a choice we both wanted to earn the view in comparison to trekking up Gunung Batur it meant more to have to work for it than having it just be given to you through a stroll.
So what did we do to prepare, we were told to bring a sweater as we would be picked up in Kuta at 9 pm and start the climb at 11 pm so we could make it to the summit by sunrise.
I am not 100% sure but I think we started at Pura Pengubengan Besakih which is north west of Pura Besakih. From there if we were trekking in a straight line it would be 5.26 km but Eric’s iPhone fitness tracker measured us going a total of 11.1 miles or 17.8 km up and down starting at about 1,045 meters above sea level and climbing to more than 3,033 meters at Agung’s summit.
I hadn’t really prepared for a long hike, the last time I had done anything physical was when I had my last muay thai fight at the end of January. So I didn’t know what it would take.
The other Eric had done his research and we debated just going up to Besakih and find a guide there or arranging it through an agency. We ended up doing it through Dartha Mount Agung Trekking.
Their website had good information and although we probably could have done it cheaper by just going to Besakish ourselves since we were splitting the cost between the two of us and we were doing it last minute we thought it was as good as we were going to get.
The costs was 700,000 for pick up and drop off at your hotel, then 1,200,000 for the guide. This was the cost for one or two people, so we choose this one because doing it together was cheaper than doing it on our own and they provided headlamps, a walking stick and some food during our breaks as we climbed.
We were told to bring 3 L of water, so 1.5 L up and another 1.5 L down, snacks for on the way up and down. I ended up bringing an electrolyte drink and a can of some local drink, some cookies, sugar tablets because I am diabetic and some chips.
I was worried about what it would take to do this trek because I have been trekking before and faced a low blood sugar which thankfully didn’t happen on this trek.
I took insulin once at dinner and didn’t end up taking any insulin at all until I had returned to my hostel the next day. My blood sugars were normal to a little low so I kept on snacking as we climbed.
It wasn’t until we had come down and finished that my blood sugar became high. I didn’t think I could go around 20 km up and down without facing the diabetic repercussions but I did and I didn’t think I could go eating without taking any insulin and I still wonder why that was.
Our group got started the long climb at 11 pm on April 22nd, 2016 right after the moon head reached it’s zenith a day before which provided some much needed moonlight instead of being in the darkness of a new moon.
I was worried about climbing in the dark but I think many people that have done it would say that the darkness was a blessing in disguise because it hid the sheer length and height of the climb ahead.
If I had known how high it was then I may have had second thoughts. Most of the trek was through forest. It wasn’t up until we were 2 hours away that the forest gave way to volcanic rock and a seemingly sheer 45 degree angled climb.
I can’t imagine doing this climb if it had rained because that would have made it near impossible to get up and even more so down without falling or slipping. So it is a good idea to check Mountain Forecast for what the weather conditions would be like during your accent to the summit.
I didn’t realize how high we were going until I saw the trail on the way down. The path usually followed a deep line cut into the forest floor that rose higher and higher with it feeling like there would be no end in sight.
Although I think I am fit I have never been fast and I would say that my only super power would be being consistent, more slow than fast but a steady pace.
I have tried not to think about my diabetes as a limitation and I choose to see it as a reminder, of how fragile we are and the balance I need to maintain which I am getting back to.
We climbed it in the light of a full moon and were greeted with astonishing views of Bali, Nusa Penida, Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Lembongan, Gunung Batur and in the far distance east of of Bali you could see the peak of Gunung Rinjani in Lombok which from Gunung Agung’s peak was 105.27 km away. It beckons to the adventurer in me to climb and summit it’s peak as we had just done Bali’s.
Although Gunung Agung can be done in a day it is not just a mountain but a volcano that deserves respect, awe and humility if you attempt to rise to it’s peak. I would say that you need a guide if only because they know the path to take up.
Not just following the trekking path laid out before but the way to get around roots, obstacles and rocks. I often found myself as I was last not knowing how to get around certain areas even though my guide and my friend were just 7 or 8 meters ahead.
Then just a few hundred meters to the summit the forest faded and was replaced with lava rock and stone up an accent that seemed angle 40 degrees up at certain points.
It was an amazing climb that as I wrote this I could still feel in my legs. Going down was probably harder than going up because I thought the sheer exhaustion and the ease of slipping while going down was more risky than when we were going up.
I think we really earned these views and as the golden glow faded and we took our pictures to prove we were there everyone knew that they had to repeat the same task going down, that although we had risen skyward we were only half way done.
There was about 10 of us who had made it up from the 3 major routes, us from Besakih, and the other from Pura Pasar Agung. On the way up we saw human’s impact as trash littered the trail and I remember in myself to respect the mountain by keeping it clean, so that only my footprints and the photos are the proof I had made the climb. As the holy mountain, as the protector of what Bali was, who it’s people are and what it means I think you can do no less than that.
Going down was quicker because we were no longer in the dark of night and you could see what we had just climbed up just a few hours ago with little but a light and a path to follow.
Looking east you saw Rinjani and then as you looked east you could see Gunung Batur and the epic scale of the caldera and the crater lake and the new Batur peak rising from within.
I was going to take pictures as I went down but there came a point where I knew if I stopped I knew I wouldn’t want to get going. So our guide and the other Eric went faster than me going down. I wasn’t going to fast I took my time just tried to be consistent.
It just felt like it would never end but there comes a point when you don’t even feel your legs anymore when they are so tired that you can’t feel them at all. That is a small miracle, to find a way to keep on walking, as you slide beneath the rocks, gravel and roots that litter your pathway down to realize how steep it was at points and to realize that you had made it there and just had to get back.
I say if you want to see Bali in all it’s glory then you have to take on the challenge of Gunung Agung to marvel at the beauty of this island itself and the people that call her home.
I had wanted to climb a volcano for awhile and Agung was not the volcano I sought to climb when I stepped off my plane, knowing that I could do this means I know I can do Rinjani.
Just as you could see Rinjani from Agung, it calls to my spirit, to rise to see how Agung looks from Rinjani as now I know what Rinjani looks like from Agung’s peak.
Maybe I won’t get to Rinjani this time but I will get there at some point. Gunung Agung is not an easy climb but it isn’t so difficult if you are reasonably fit. If I as a diabetic can do it then I think so can most.
I would recommend this to anyone who wants to experience the exhaustion and exhilaration of getting to her summit just as the sun rises to meet you. It isn’t for those who just want a photo op, it is for those who respect the mountain and who understand that for the hours of ache and sleep deprivation those brief moments of wonder are worth pain because it isn’t easy and because it must be earned.
Below is a test scene that I wrote to bet a feel for writing fiction a bit more. It’s not the first time I’ve done it but it’s still rough as hell and the balance between exposition, action, dialog and thought isn’t there yet. I am not explaining everything in it yet cause that’s not what it was for but I just wanted to see what it would sound like. How bad it is so I can improve.
This isn’t a short or a story at all, there is very little tension, it happens really quickly but since its just me working more on my voice and how to frame the scence the only thing I am trying to do is learn how to balance all those elements which I am a novice at, at the moment anyway. If anyone has any feedback please let me know, whether its good or bad especially if it’s bad I want it and need it.
When the End is the Beginning
The line is quiet, almost the entire facility has already been packed up and the bots were just preparing to move what was left out of here. Will’s grandmother Vivian York had started Flight Span decades ago as a custom ship yard whose prices for ships where a third less than that of the big companies.
Will father sold the company to Thaden Areospace when he retired and the only condition was that Flight Span would remain independent and Will did a great job of making Flight Span relevant but times have changed and the name wasn’t enough to save it. So after years of downsizing this is the end.
Laura and I were watching everything being packed up and the last bit of work being completed, Will was pacing in his office yelling at someone over the comm.
Leaning over and seeing the near empty hanger I said “I can’t believe it’s over.”
Laura’s eyes were still red from the farewell party yesterday. “Me too, we gave it everything we had.”
I couldn’t look below of what had been my life for the last 5 years and longer for a lot of us. Thaden Areospace told Will and the entire company that they were looking to downsize or sell off Flight Span a year ago. We were hoping for a sale but there were no buyers at the price Thaden wanted.
Flight Span has a great reputation for our ships but the revenue had been dropping as most people went to AI based ships that were so good that space flight training wasn’t even required. I hate that shit, what is the point of being in space if we can’t fly. That’s why I worked my ass off hacking my way here to one of the few organizations outside the military that still does manual piloting.
A month ago this entire facility was humming with activity but now it was an empty husk, as if we were never here to begin with. The board had decided to close our division, Will had tried everything he could to convince the board that we could continue but they went with the AI projections over all of us.
Suddenly my ARM band started to flash. “Hmmmm I have to go.”
Laura stood up straight “What’s going on?”
I had no idea why Will would want to talk to me and seeing him pacing in his office didn’t exactly make me want to go over there but he was still our boss. “His AI told me to get to his office right now.”
Will was a great boss, he cared for everybody here and the last few weeks have been hard on him because he thought he failed to keep Flight Span alive.
Laura gave me a little smile and held me shoulder for a sec before walking off back to work.
A few minutes later I was almost in front of his office and I could hear his screaming “Everyone gets an 18-month severance, they’re some of the best in the business.”
I really didn’t want to interrupt and was about to turn around and walk away when his damn AI opened the door.
“Look we’ll finish this later, this isn’t the end of it.” Before the person on the other end of the comm could respond he hung up.
Will took a breath as I stood in the door fame “Come on in Eric, take a seat.” Motioning me to sit not in front of his desk but on the couch instead.
As soon as I took a seat he collapsed in the recliner and just then you could see how much the fight to keep Flight Span operation had exhausted him.
He skipped his ARM band and suddenly instead of a clear view of the hanger floor became blurred. He had turned on the privacy shield.
“How long have you been working on Red Shift?”
Leaning forward and looking him in the eye I still didn’t have any idea what this was about. “It’s been about 4 years.”
“What do you think about or little tech demonstrator?” His eyes gazing at a model of the Red Shift that sat on the coffee table.
“She’s fast, modular and has adaptive I’d say you can’t have better.”
He smiled and picked up the model and tracing its lines with his thumb. “You know I designed and built her, worked on her with my mother before we were sold.”
I was still not sure what this had to do with me. I was a mechanic who worked on ships but I preferred to be called a pilot no matter how archaic that title may have today.
Looking at the model in his hand “Well she’s brilliant, a joy to sim with but even better in vacuum.”
He put the model down and looked me straight into the eyes “You know everything has been sold, all the assets and IP but as the former owner and CEO I retain certain rights and assets and Red Shit is one of them but I can’t do her justice anymore.”
Will then brought the coffee table into display mode showing a list of everyone whose worked and piloted Red Shift. “Impressive you’ve clocked in more hours working on her, in the sims and in flight than anyone.”
He was right, Red Shift was rare in today’s market a completely modular design framework that seems more military than commercial or private.
“You and the rest your team have made extensive modifications to it on your off time, why?”
Before I could respond will leaned in “You knew that it wouldn’t fly again, we told you that, so why continue working on her?”
I knew the answer before I said it. I grabbed the model and said “You have a crew of tinkers and I can’t now work on her while I have the chance. Laura’s been able to get military like performance out of a commercial SCD. Mohammad’s AI work has been amazing we are all going to keep on going until you kick us out.”
Leaning back in his chair he slid something to the display, it was the ownership certificate “Red Shift is yours.”
Just then my AI said ownership transfer complete. “But why me?”
He stood up and the privacy shield went down and the hanger floor came into focus. “There are few pilots out there, everything is done by AI but I didn’t make Red Shift for those people I made it for people like you and me.”
“Flight Span may be done but Red Shift is mine and I want you to keep on flying her since I can’t.”
Everything that is left here now is you and your team’s.
Suddenly a manifest appeared on my terminal of everything in the hanger. There was a custom frigate in the aft hanger which was put on hold 3 months ago.
“Your giving us all of it but why?”
Will turned around to face me, putting his hands on my shoulders. “I’m still CEO and most of the assets that belonged to the company have been moved. My AI caught wind of what was happening and I bought out as much as I could. The Odyssey became Flight Span’s when the clients cancelled their order we returned a portion of their funds minus a substantial fee and I bought it instead and had it finished. Now it’s all you and your team’s free and clear. Think of it as a fuck you to Thaden.”
I couldn’t process what I was hearing Will had just given us 3 ships and enough material where we could start our own company. I had to pick up my jaw off the floor.
“Everyone on your team has just got the notices, Red Shift is yours and yours alone because you treated her like a lady should be treated and I’ve created a company out of the transferred assets with you being the majority shareholder, so the Odyssey is yours free and clear of Flight Span.’
“So that’s why we are here and no one else, that’s why they’ve been packing up everything and putting onboard the Odyssey.”
“Yes but I wanted to tell you first, your team is coming up now and I’ll go over everything with all of you but you’ve been great to my ship and I am happy it is now yours. The ships are yours, the rest of it has been deemed as scrap. I had my AI doctor the results, so to Thaden everything that is lest is worthless even though you and I both know better”
“Why me, why us?”
He motioned the screen up and flipped a video so I could see “Because of this.” The video just showed cameras from all the labs in the complex. It showed our team in our lab working. There was always a few of us in session, that I knew because I clocked in a lot of all-nighters as well working on Red Shift.
“You were working on the engine module and you guys got near military grade performance on what once was just a standard commercial SCD. That is unheard off. That kind of work is why I did it, why I know you’ll do Flight Span and me proud.”
He shook my hand and smiled “Now let’s tell your team.”
When you create a story you start with the structure, the idea, the hope. It is never easy and it is always a challenge to go from zero but you are not going from zero. You are starting from your experience and he possibilities that exist and are informed by who you are, where you are going and what that means.
Today I start with a foundation built from what if, today I start with watching, observation and the human condition. That is the beating heart of every story. It is what gives me the power to take the steps I need to see, to feel, to be and to write.
So you never start with zero, you start with emotion and I start with joy. I start with hope. I start with a mission to craft here and now something worth reading, something worth being and something worth existing.
This is the journey, this is the mandate and this is why I write who I am and what I want to be. So it doesn’r have to start with some grand beginning but maybe it just starts with a single moment. Maybe it starts with waking up to the day.
So these are the words I wrote yesterday and this is where I begin as I start to go not from zero, not from nothing but to somewhere.
Speed is my weapon, momentum is the edge and maneuverability is the skill that makes me move. I hear the music in the vacuum so that I become the ship as it is me so I can dance in the home of the stardust.
Ever since I first felt my feet lift off the ground all I’ve wanted to do was go higher, faster and further. To reach up and discover where we have not set foot so I can make a mark to remembered and revered.
Twitter recently gave a makeover to Larry aka the bird that goes with the tweets that have come to define the twitter brand. They changed the orientation and the branding guidelines. They made him more upright and gave him a hair (I mean vector) cut. It is nice and all but being a more nuanced change, does anyone really care. Twitter is my go to social network and the video showing off the slight changes to the iconic bird has lots of hits but whatever.
When twitter was a much younger social network designers and all sorts of folks played with Larry, giving the bird personality and presence through their play with the iconic bird. The logo that is now in the rear view mirror had a slight twang of personality.
The hair felt young and wings arc upward. This new and improved Larry (who gets his name from the Basketball star Larry Bird) swoop up and feels more slick. The play you could unconsciously sense is gone, the new Larry is more slick and streamlined. Since twitter has been around for several years which is a lifetime in tech maybe it was time for Twitter’s Larry to grow up and leave that playful nature behind.
The way Twitter made the change was with as little fanfare as possible with them releasing a YouTube video showcasing the new look for Larry. They gave very specific brand guidelines so that when people use the twitter logo, it will conform to the brand they want to cultivate from this point on.
I wish they would have allowed people to play on Larry, they will do it no matter what. It shows that people are willing to take the time to take their logo and add a bit of themselves to it. Sorry those days are gone, and while the new Larry is slick, the old one had personality but I guess as a communication that personality had to grow up at some point, sadly that day has come.
It’s still Larry the bird that people tweeted with when using twitter but bald and a little less personality. I loved how people used to make the logo into a toon bird which added flavour to the entire brand intentionally or not. You make be smoother Larry but I liked your old cut fine, fly free, Larry, fly free.