Kneading the Flesh
We received our certificates for the completion of our 5-day Thai massage course in front of Dr Shivago himself. Seated among fresh flowers, The bearded Shivago looked on stonily as our teachers Amnat and Pam handed us our graduation papers in the tiny chapel tucked in one corner of Wat Pra Sing, the royal temple of Chiang Mai. What a nice way to end the course or rather begin the journey into this realm of relaxation. There are supposedly 72,000 sen or energy lines in our body and armed with the knowledge of 10 of them, I should have the ability to make a difference…after all it was a 10 second earthquake that released the 10 metre tsunami.
30 hours of muscle mangling vaporised all too quickly. In exchange, I have now acquired 116 ways to give you…sensations of sorts. It is not in my head yet but we have a yellow ‘mi ji’ to refer to lest we forget. Thanks to technology, I’ve got the complicated bits down on video too. If my Pro 1 hadn’t died, I would have the whole 90 minute routine which we are suppose to be able to deliver down in digital. My search for guinea humans is now officially on! For all who are willing, daring or stupid enough, feel free to drop me an email. First five victims no charge, after that it will be a reasonable S$50 for a 90 minute session (insurance not included but indeminity form is).
The course was much more than what we bargained for and giving massages to Karen, Meghan and Igor was one sensational trip. For one, Karen is so petite, I had to take care not to break her back. Igor is German, weighs 90 kilos and stands at 1.87 metres. Meghan’s physique squares with mine so we had a good range of bodies to work on. It is indeed a pleasure to be a giver of as Pam puts it ‘good pain’. If you ever have a week to spend in Chiang Mai, spend it with the Khunchamnans (09-9526407 is the magic number to call). This Thai-American husband and wife duo really know their stuff and have the heart, ability and experience to teach it properly.
I have purchased 2 foldable massage futons for 2180 Bhat and will ship them home on Monday.
School Visit 1
We visited a Yuparaj High School after massage class one day just in time to see them make their final preparations for their Sports Day. It was quite a mega-lesson for me. Yuparaj is 100 years old and is the premier high school in Chiang Mai. It's name was given by and takes after one of Thailand's Kings. For a population of 4000 12-18 year olds there were 122 teachers. This combination ends up in an average class size of 60! School starts at 8am and ends at 4.30pm. Their canteen is 3 times the size of your average school hall. The track for the running events is painted on the grass of the large school field. It has only 5 lanes for the 5 houses. Students are allowed to bring handphones to school and rules on grooming seem to be rather laxed. Girls wore all sorts of earrings and boys had rings on their fingers. The students or at least the hundreds who were in school from 4.30 to 5.30 then were the liveliest I have seen. Everyone was involved in some way or another. Massive 2 storey 'House' (as in Red House, Blue House) decor were being erected at the respective modular grandstands around the field, cheerleaders were busy synchronising their dancing, runners were doing their last minute barefooted sprints, bamboo scaffoldings were being constructed, banner painting on the canteen floor, someone was operating an electric saw, metal supports were being transported in on the back of a pickup...all in all the school felt ALIVE and the best thing was it was student-driven. Hardly any teachers were around to supervise. No one seemed to worry about the integrity of the scaffold, the 50 cm parang lying in the corner or the very rusty saw two boys were using. Students were being true students here! We happened to approach the most popular parent around who happily introduced us to the Loy Kratong Float Construction Team, a few teachers, the Headmaster himself. The Kratong float had probably a few hundred thousand pinned sequins on it styrofoam frame. One bald teacher had two fine lines of smudgy tattoos across the top of his scalp. Parent Number 1 even phoned her well-mannered daughter to come and answer our questions. Her name was Candy and she spoke excellent English and told us that the students had to raise money for their Sports Day contraptions. They had to draft letters which would be signed by the Headmaster if they made the grade and then sent out to the potential sponsors. In return they helped advertised their products during the event. Sounds good eh?
Well it is not all that paradisical. We returned the next evening just as the Headmaster was making his closing speech. Half the kids were either talking loudly or running around. They only quietened down when the school song and National Anthem was played over the speakers. The second disturbing fact were the many effeminate teenage boys around. The ones with makeup in the dancing squad of each House deserved special mention. This seemed to be well tolerated in school. The third problem lay in the many boys that lingered outside the gates at dismissal time on their Honda Dreams waiting for prospective and probably female pillion riders. I would like to think that they were older brothers fetching their sisters home but the years in the discipline department has thought Number 1 says it’s a good thing.
I remarked to Candy that the students in her school seemed very alive and I liked the bustle and atmosphere of the occasion.
‘Well…it’s not always like that’, she replies.
School Visit 2
Today I visited another school. This one had only boys who according to the teacher I spoke to were classified into ‘Students, Novice monks and Monkeys’. It wasn’t exactly the RI of Chiang Mai so the facilities were a little lacking. It was the kind of school with only 15 instruments in their band room. Still, I was impressed with the boys who were actually doing the cleaning up after class. They were sweeping and picking up the class litter even though no one was supervising except for Buddha and the King who were watching from the front wall. A teacher here earns about 10,000 Bhat or S$416 a month. The trainee teacher I spoke to teaches English, was very inquisitive and took it upon himself to give me a tour of the entire school. En route, I spoke to other teachers and learnt that that boys are rather naughty. This was a relief as boys who weren’t naughty to a certain degree weren’t normal. My tour guide asked me to come and join in some school-based Buddhist celebrations tomorrow which is Sunday. The other teachers he introduced me to were very friendly and stopped whatever they were doing to chat. I think teachers everywhere speak a common language. I told them about ‘interactive IT lessons’ and their jaws dropped. There were only 7 computers in the computer lab and 1 in the teacher’s room. He asked me how I taught English which made me think about how I would teach English here without the IT infrastructure I was so dependent on. The novices were separated and had to study Buddhism which was the last lesson of the day. It was strange to know that when the Students were running and playing basketball, the Novice Monks where in class doing mental PE: Meditation. But I’m sure the Monkeys would find their way to the courts.
Eh…Ah Beng…Gam Siah
15 Bhat an hour internet places weren’t cheap enough for us. We were lucky and found a place for 5 Bhat less just opposite our Whisky Guesthouse. This stuffy joint is manned by a soft-spoken Ah-Beng with a hairstyle that looked like a rebounded mop. We left our camera at one computer terminal one day, took a tuk tuk to another part of town, realised that it was missing only 30 minutes later, PANICKED, took another tuk tuk back, ran into the shop and there he was. The saint that saved us 12000 Bhat (including 256 SD card and rechargeable batteries). He chuckled, ‘Ya, you forgot your karmarraaa!’ unlocked a cabinet and returned it to us. Later, we were politely told that our sigh of relief smelt of pork with basil leaves. Cheers and a BIG THANKS to the honest Ah-Beng who could have easily pocketed it for himself.
After 5 days of massage course, we had a considerable amount of laundry to do. At this point in training, the therapists are still sweating trying to lift each others arms and legs. Laundry service is 30B a kilo or 30B per load if it's self-serviced. So the cheapo duo strikes again, choosing the latter which meant coming back after 1 hour to pickup the wet but washed clothing. We wanted to hang out at a coffee place with free Wifi so I asked what time they knocked off.
'Oh no, it's already 7.30 (and I've just dumped the load in)'
'It's ok we (the chirpy laundry lady pointed to herself and partner) wait for you (pointed at us)'
'Ok thank you!'
I returned at 8.30 sharp but the machine was still tumbling.
'Oh not ready yet. Sorry. You sit down and watch TV. Another 10 minutes'
When Thai's say 10 minutes, it means at least 15 minutes. But it was fun sitting at her living area watching the Thai news. Thai people here are just so nice.
One Happy-Sad Ride
Ever met a kid who chews on CDRs? We took a tuk tuk ride one day and saw this boy sitting next to the driver of the pickup. There are 3000 of these in Chiang Mai and they form the city’s cheap public transport system. He must have been at least 13 years old. He was obviously retarded, turning around now and then to look at us with his dreamy eyes. When he wasn’t looking, he was biting his CD. Daddy drives on towards our massage school with one hand on the steering and the other affectionately patting his son’s head and playfully tugging his ears. He was a cheerful and smiley driver joking with his fellow drivers and us as we bargained. ’40 Baht’ ’40 Bhat?? No Mai Dai, 30 Bhat?’ ‘Ok 30 Bhat’ It wasn’t much of a bargain and we didn’t see his son then or we might just have agreed on the 40. What was the future like for this boy? Will he always occupy the passenger seat? How does Daddy keep the smiles going with such a dependent?
The Abbot Revisited
These are the good bits I left out from the Chedi post.
Words of Wisdom from the Abbot of Wat Chedi Luang
‘I like 2 things in San Francisco, Golden Gate and Alcatraz. Alcatraz very good, very quiet, good for meditation.’
‘I like casinos. They very important, they teach us how to lose.’
‘Singapore very good. No corruption. I not from Singapore but I very proud of your country.’
‘Very good’ (His favourite phrase)