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Thursday, 12 July 2018

Bangkok Thailand: Dealing with Staph...

Greetings From Bangkok Thailand ! (3 - 8 Oct 2017)

I left the gorgeous island of Koh Tao in another long day of traveling. I loved the island life but was also really excited to finally see Bangkok, meet Vara and visit the gyms. It was a windy day on the waters so I took some Gravol to make sure the waves didn't bother me too much but I must have taken them too late as they didn't kick in until after the ferry ride was over.  As it happens that wasn't much of a problem since the ferry ride wasn't too rocky and actually quite comfortable, for this ex sailor anyways. Of course with the Gravol taking affect after the sail meant that I was now drowsy for the rest of the trip. I had to keep wandering around and not sit down for too long, scared I would fall asleep and miss the bus. It was a long bus ride to Bangkok, about 8 or 9 hours, but I was so drowsy from the Gravol I slept most of it, this time without a seat that falls apart every time I lay back.

I was refreshed and awake once we pulled into the station in Bangkok, ready to find my hostel in the busy city. The bus dropped us off in a busy area, with many Tuk-Tuk and Taxi drivers begging for your fare. I ignored them and continued walking, having looked up the city transit options and knowing my route without overpriced taxis. It was a bit of a walk to the bus stop and then I would transfer to the subway system, or BTS  as it's called, and just a few stops later I'd be at my hostel. As per Vara's instructions I found an affordable hostel that was both close to the BTS and not too far from the gyms as Bangkok is a big and very busy city. The thing about catching the buses in Bangkok is that they are not very reliable and the traffic in the city is horrible. The alternative was walking for almost an hour to make it to the closest BTS station and I wasn't up for that with my backpack and the sweltering humid heat of Bangkok, even in the evening. In the end it all worked out but it was an interesting experience.

No pictures to go along with my adventure finding the hostel but here's random cool looking door I found, I wonder if it's the entrance to secret full contact fighting tournament?

I made it to the bus stop, or rather around the area for it, there were several bus stops down the street and it was hard to make out which one was for the bus I was looking to catch. I saw a few people waiting around a stop so I showed them my directions I had on my phone, pointing to the bus number, they pointed to another stop just down from them. At the proper stop I confirmed I was at the right stop by again showing the locals the directions and pointing to the bus number, they nodded. So lucky to have tun into friendly and helpful people in Thailand. Also lucky I read up on the practices of catching a bus in Bangkok while looking up the transit system routes. Having been traveling for almost a year now I was getting used to different countries and how they worked their transit. For Bangkok you can get in either through the front or back door but first have to wave the bus down, run out and jump on as they just slow down rather than actually stop for people. When the bus I was waiting for was coming down the street a few locals motioned for me to go catch it. I walked out into the street, put my hand up to motion to the bus and jumped in the back door as the bus slowed down and stopped for just long enough for me to get my big back pack through the narrow doors. The same locals who motioned for me to catch the bus used the time to run in through the front door. I felt like I they used me to catch the bus they might have missed.

While on the bus and watching it slowly creep through the busy streets as we got more into the downtown areas I was checking my route on my phone. Just then a local who spoke English asked me if I needed help getting to my destination, he also helped a few other travelers on the bus, proud to show off his English skills and happy to help. It always cool to run into nice people looking to help those around them whatever the cause but I do wonder how many visitors to North America would be helped as much or as willful as I have been on this trip. I would be OK on my own, but not everyone is as independent a traveler as me and for some people different cultures and the city life they're visiting can be overwhelming. It was just a few stops on the BTS and a quick walk down the street and then I was finally done. I checked into the hostel, which was an icebox with the AC cranked so high (seriously it's a big problem with visitors in Bangkok, 40C outside, 16C inside and everyone ends up with a cold by the end of the week, always) and then walked around the area to find my bearings. There was a 7-Eleven down the street and a Starbucks nearby, with all kinds of restaurants around. As it happens, I was also nearby the red light district and there were all kinds of street walkers at the corners. The amount of old white tourists walking down the street with Lady-Boys hanging off their arms was comical. Only in Bangkok.

Staph Infection!!

During my stay in Koh Tao I ended up with a staph infection, not from training but rather from my hike up Viewpoint Hill. If you read my last article you'll remember my trip up the hill for the awesome pictures. During that trek I got bitten by bugs and ended up in the torrential downpour on the way back, with the dirty street water splashing all over my legs. That's how I figure I got it anyways. It all happened at the end of my stay and it wasn't until the morning of my travel to Bangkok that I knew it was a serious problem that required some antibiotics. It was too early for a pharmacy in Koh Tao and it was too late when I got to Bangkok, there was nothing I could until next morning. During the whole day traveling to Bangkok, for the time I was awake anyways, my leg throbbed and was hot like I had a giant muscle cramp in my calve and a sunburn at the same time. First thing the next morning I headed to the pharmacy around the corner from the hostel and showed them my leg. "I think I may have a Staph infection" I told them "Probably, here take this" the pharmacist said nonchalantly while handing me some cream. I couldn't believe how everyday circumstance he seemed, like Staph is the common cold in Thailand.

the infection, before getting antibiotics, looks small but totally deadly.

A recent picture of the scar the Staph infection left behind. It's the size of my pinky finger nail and was a pretty keep wound from the infection. 

Throughout the Odyssey and my Jiu-Jiu life I've been very fortunate to make many good friends that are also educated in medicine, either from their own experiences or that work in the medical field. Only getting an antibiotic cream didn't sit well with me so I took a picture of what it was and posted it on Facebook with the full story. It wasn't long before my inbox was full with comments from friends telling me to go back and ask for the pills just to be safe. I finished my Starbucks Matcha latte and croissant (don't judge me!) and went back to the pharmacy, where now a young woman and an older one were behind the desk. I assumed they were the previous Pharmacist's family. I told the younger woman my story of coming in earlier and asked for antibiotic pills to be safe and she didn't hesitate to pull a couple boxes out saying "The cream should be good enough but sure, do you one 1 weeks worth or 2?" And like that I was set to fend off this infection easy and cheap, I even went back again and picked up an extra box of pills for later as a just in case. It's easier to get antibiotics in Thailand than it is to get cheeseburgers in America.

Remembering the King

The King of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, had passed away a year ago, almost to the day of me visiting Bangkok. As the custom in Thailand for remembering royalty, a year later the month of his passing is a commemorative time. Lot of forms of entertainment were put on hold for the month (Actually, it's gambling that was banned for the month but it's easier to stop events than hold them and stop gambling) as well as the major temples like the Grand Palace itself, Temple of the Emerald Buddha and Wat Pho, were closed to foreigners, like myself. Because of this my plans for checking out the temples and going out to watch a kickboxing event were cut short. I headed out one night to walk around the temple area to see the crowds of locals dressed in black to pay their respects. I tried to dress appropriately and put on my black pants even though it was way too hot for it but didn't have a decent black shirt so wore the closest thing, which was my gray BJJ Globetrotters shirt. No one seemed too concerned with my clothes and I wasn't stopped but I didn't press my luck or try to get into the temples, instead I just walked around the area to watch the masses pay respect. I've never seen any leader in North America shown so much respect by so many of their people, it was like the entire country had made it way to Bangkok to pay their respects. I had been told as much from locals that many families from the far rural areas closed their farms to make the trek. That is a lot of respect. Many of the locals didn't show up to pray, or rather that wasn't the only reason, most were there to take pictures of themselves in black with portraits of the late King. My feed on Facebook was full of these pictures by the local newsfeed and friends in the area. The cities throughout Thailand also had big decorated portraits of the late King posted all over like the picture below.

In honour of the late King.

Pictures from walking around Wat Pho.

The Sights

I did manage to get out a little bit and see some places, mostly just the market areas that I found or that Vara brought me too. There were some smaller temples that tourists were allowed to enter, that I took pictures of but arrived too late to see inside.  Here's a collection of random tings I saw and took pictures of while wandering around Bangkok.

As I was around the Grand Palace area I was thinking of heading over to see Wat Arun, a famous temple and popular tourist spot, since it's near by but timing never worked out. I did find the precarious little wharf to carry the small ferry boat over to the other side of the river where Wat Arun is though.

Meeting Vara 

While in Bangkok I finally met Vara, the one behind all the helpful information you see when people post on the BJJ Globetrotters Facebook group asking about Thailand and the one making sure all of the Globetrotter's business is running smoothly as Christian's only full time employee. She's basically a magical being of organization and information. Vara helped me greatly with planning out my trip to Thailand for both Phuket and Bangkok and I can't thank her enough for that. The first night we met Vara took me to the Rod Fai Night Market which is a big area of many tiny booths of all sort of things, food in one area, clothes in another, even some electronics, pretty much everything. Not only did I get to see this cool market but Vara also brought me to the place where the famous picture of the place was taken. The place where all the pro's go that Vara found is in a multi-level parking lot a few levels up where you can look over the whole market. It's a cool spot just to lookout and watch the nightlife.

The market, each one of those stalls is packed with things, and there's a stage with a band on the far left.

Vara! Finally we meet, such a fun hang out!

I also took my first Tuk-Tuk ride with Vara and friend who meet with us. It was beneficial having someone who spoke the local language to barter and good price for us as I would have paid a price several times over what Vara managed. They brought me to a great restaurant that was also really cheap that I have no idea where it was but it was an great time. Way better then the various bugs and things on sticks that was at the night market. That's not my thing to eat. Anyways, we had some great conversations about traveling  and training at different places while eating some great food that we all shared. Thanks again Vara for the fun night showing me some of Bangkok I would have otherwise missed.

I blame the humidity for this blurry pic, but here's my first Tuk-tuk ride!

Bangkok Fight Lab

With the Staph infection there was no possible way I was training in Bangkok. I was sadly left on the sidelines for the week with my leg bandaged up, but I did come out to meet the gym Vara trains at, Bangkok Fight Lab. I looked up the gym on Facebook and sent a message about coming to visit and saved the address on Google Maps, along with Vara's directions I found the place no problem. As Vara was running late and I showed up early I was alone in my introduction. I walked through the front doors to the front counter area and watched everyone training Muay Thai on the mat space. I was greeted by people quite quickly, some students, the kickboxing coach and then Morgan the head coach. Everyone was very friendly and happy to have me come visit, and of course saddened to hear I was out of commission and unable to train. It sucked to sit on the sidelines and just watch the whole time but at the same time it was fun to watch a gym I'm not familiar with and see what they were working on and the different details Morgan focused on in his teaching.

Meeting and talking with Morgan was a big surprise and another example of how small the world and the Jiu-Jitsu community really is. During class I noticed that the Bangkok Fight Club banner said they were a Pedro Sauer Associate so I asked Morgan if he got his black belt from Master Pedro himself or one of his students. Morgan confirmed that he indeed received his black belt Master Sauer and inquired why I had asked so I told him of my lineage. His eyes just about popped out of his head when I told Morgan I came from a Pedro Sauer line as well with Kieth Owen as our head black belt. "You train with Kieth?! I know him well, we trained together ever since our blue belts!" Proving that even across the world I will run into close members to my Jiu-Jitsu family, no matter where I am. Probably also why I noticed all his details were very similar to Mr. Keith's since they're both students of Master Sauer.

I wish I could have trained with everyone instead of sitting on the sidelines with my leg bandaged up but as I had learned by now you can't always get want you want, and sometimes just being a spectator for the show is good enough. Morgan was teaching some great techniques that reminded me of some smaller points I had been skipping over as of late, watching him was like going over study notes, getting stronger before a test. The rolls were really energetic, not stiff or rough but also not slow or lazy. I don't know haw they had the energy for it in the the heat, especially while wearing gis the entire time. I'm sure I would have been dead had I trained with these guys. Despite the set backs for training and sight seeing I had a great time in Bangkok and because of the set backs I now have a good reason to come back and do it all over again. The visiting for sight seeing and training part, not the Staph infection part. Thanks for all the help and good times showing around Vara and thanks for such a warm welcome to your gym Morgan, until we meet again!

Even the kids were getting their reps in!

After resting and healing for a week I was ready to take off to my next stop, flying half way around the world to meet the Free Rollers and my Australian brother from another mother Luke for a week long training session in San Diego, the Disney World of Jiu-Jitsu! I wrote about my Adventures in San Diego and the 100th Gym Milestone (training with Kurt Osiander) already so my next stop in this blog is the home of those crazy Australians from Free Rollers, Perth Australia!

Until next time,
see you on the mats!

Buy Panda's Odyssey Patches at The Gi Hive.
Buy a shirt at Panda's Jiu-Jitsu Store.
Follow me and other traveling Jiu-Jitsueros at the BJJ Globetrotters blog section.
Subscribe to my YouTube Channel.
Check out my full photo albums for each article at my Flickr account.
Add me and follow along on most social media @pandasodyssey

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Koh Tao, Thailand: Island Paradise

Greetings from Koh Tao Thailand! (28 Sept - 3 Oct 2017)

My next stop in Thailand was one I added to the itinerary later on while traveling. I always intended to visit Phuket and Bangkok but knew nothing else of the country other then the party islands which I decided I would pass on, as there's no Jiu-Jitsu there and I don't party much. I found out about Koh Tao and Game of Rolls from Paul who I met in Paris (The Paris Post) and again in Barcelona (The Barcelona Post). Once my attention was brought to the awesomeness of Koh Tao, the home of the amazing card game 'Game of Rolls' I added it to my itinerary and worked out the travel plan.

The trip to Koh Tao from Phuket was an interesting one, at first I tried to call a taxi to drive me around the corner to the bus station but they wanted more than the taxi I got from the Airport. I'm not paying more for a 2 minute drive than what I paid for a 30+ minute drive, especially when it's not that cheap. So I hiked it to the bus station. The Phuket taxi mafia can suck it as far I'm concerned, this is one foreigner they are not shaking down (before you comment they refuse to haggle a lower price). I now had just over an hour to hike almost 5 km and it was all up hill. I was walking as fast as I could with my 25 kg backpack and computer bag but the continual up hill slope was killing my legs. I had to keep the pace as according to the mapped out course on my phone I would make it just 5 minutes before the bus takes off. So many scooter taxis stopped and asked if I wanted a drive, ambitious enough for my money to try and balance the weight of me and my backpack on their little scooter that probably weighs less than me. Although it normally would have been entertaining to try this out I was on a tight schedule and low on money so I declined every one, waving them off over and over while I hurried up the street.

Covered in sweat to the point my shirt felt like I showered in it I made it to the bus stop on time. Luckily they were busy with everyone showing up last minute and were 10 minutes late before loading so I had a little time to catch my breath and cool off by a fan before getting on the bus to head towards Koh Tao. It was a long bus ride to the ferry as we were going North East and Phuket is down on the South Western part of Thailand, but there were some great views along the way and I could really use the rest after that hike. I think I slept half the way although I kept waking up as my seat kept falling apart every time I lay back. Once we got to the port we waited a short time for the ferry, people were given stickers on which island they were going to which determined which ferry they boarded. As it happens Koh Tao was the last island on the list, so I got a nice long ferry ride watching the sun set on the water. Of course that meant I also had to find my hostel in the dark. That wasn't too hard with Google maps and also there's not much on Koh Tao, pretty much one main road through the whole island.

Once I found the hostel and checked in I joined the other few guests on the balcony. The hostel was a big 3 floor building but only the top floor and only our room was used, the rest was empty. There were four of us, a woman from Peru, a woman from Australia, a guy from Iceland and myself. Three of us, all but the woman from Peru, decided to go for food and some drinks. First we went to a cheap restaurant that was just around the corner from the hostel. I ended up there throughout my stay quite frequently. Then we moved to a chilled out bar that was on a hill and pretty much in the trees, it had awesome smoothies and a good view. We talked about our travels, sharing experiences and adventures, tell each other how we decided to come to Koh Tao and recommend places to see. My new friends moved along on their own journeys in the next coming days and although I made new friends almost daily there I was left to roam the island alone for the remainder of my stay. It was a great first night on the island with the other travelers, I could easily see how people fell in love with this place.   

The Sights

There's not a lot of sights in Koh Tao but at the same time it's all a sight to see in itself. There's two small towns on either end of island and a waterfront where the bars are. Koh Tao is a major diving island with over 70 diving schools so there's a lot of tourist life down along the shores.

I did find a wonderful surprise in town as I was walking around, a Canadian restaurant with all kinds of Western food, including the amazing Canadian french fry dish Poutine! I was overjoyed to find Moose Knuckle Koh Tao and ate there a few times.

Most of the small island shore is a series of beautiful beaches and one large hill in the center on the island, Viewpoint Hill, where as the name states you can get the best view of the small towns, beaches and surrounding ocean. One day I hiked up the hill to take some pictures and enjoy the views. There's two ways to the top, the old path that's been mostly washed out by storms and is quite the long steep hike, and the new road that goes almost all the way to the top. I took to old path up and the new road down. I got some great shots of the island and sunset along the ocean but paid for it in being eaten alive by the bugs up there, having to find my way down in the dark and being caught in an evening torrential down pour. Still worth the adventure to tell about and pictures to remember this visit by.

As usual you can check out more of my pictures from this and all my other adventures over on my Flickr Account. There's some great panoramic shots I got while hiking up Viewpoint Hill.

10th Planet Koh Tao (Monsoon Gym) 

I messaged 10th Planet Koh Tao early to talk about options for finding a place to stay and soon found a cheap hostel. When I first got to Koh Tao I was burnt out from the hike I had to do to catch the bus so I had to rest a few days and just enjoy the island life. Once I was ready for training I checked the schedule and headed over to the Monsoon Gym, where 10th Planet Koh Tao is located. The gym is set up just like the gyms in Phuket with the main training area with padded floor, punching bags and a ring under a roof but no walls. There's also an air conditioned weight room off to the side and behind it all are the stairs that bring you up to the newly built Jiu-Jitsu room, a padded floored room with a huge diagram of the 10th Planet grappling system on the back wall.

I showed up early and hung out on the stairs until the room was opened up, that's when I met Stefan an american who like everyone visiting Koh Tao fell in love so decided to stay there. He's a brown belt with some great teaching methods. The class was small only about 5 people one day and a few more the next time with students ranging from new students trying it out to experienced 10th Planet players. non of them were locals with all seeming to be visitors to the paradise island, and of course most of them seemed to have some surfing experience with their balance. Stefan started class with some pummeling, neckties and arm drags as warm up drills. His details for the footwork, body movement and control was top notch as they would be the theme for the class for the techniques. We moved into some takedowns, lazy takedowns as Stefan called them, simple techniques like grapevining the leg after the arm drag or just hugging the arm and sitting down. Stefan's classes were an eye opener to what's out there and has been in front of me all this time. 

Rolling with the guys there was another eye opening experience. First class I worked with a smaller younger guy who was pretty quite so I didn't learn much about his training experience or where he was from but I did pick up he was a surfer. When we got to rolling I found out he was quite experienced in the ways of the 10th Planet and liked to do really unexpected shit. He had really good balance and I had a lot of problems getting the upperhand for a takedown. At one point I got a necktie and wrapped his arm for a snap down only to have he pop back up and do some sort of cork screw jump over me and land on my back, quickly stinking his hooks in. I sat there and looked up at the guys on the sidelines with a big "What the giant fuck?!" look on my face, they must've seen it as he all seemed to be enjoying the show.

Another night I rolled with Stefan and another instructor Darius where I worked mostly on leglocks, or rather leglock defenses, as well as learned Stefan's sneaky guard retention from a pressure pass attempt. Most of my rolling with the guys I was just trying to defend or falling into traps and figure what happened. With all the cool techniques I picked up from the classes my leglock game grew exponentially, that is to say I now have a some defense from none. It was an awesome time training with everyone and learning some great techniques and details for my game. The whole vibe training and rolling with them was very chill, even when trying to escape imminent heelhook death. I shot the classes on my GoPro and put together a training montage video, check it out.

If the video doesn't load or if you want to check out my other videos you can head over to the Panda's Odyssey YouTube Channel. While there share some love, like, comment, share and subscribe!

Game of Rolls

What makes 10th Planet Koh Tao so unique, other than the awesome club itself and being on an island paradise, is the positional training card game the head coach Victor came up with, Game of Rolls. When I first was introduced to the game by Paul in Paris I was blown away by both the concept of the game and the awesome artwork on the cards. I have carried around the pack Paul gave me ever since but only a few times have I actually been able to find people to who will play it with me. It's absolutely fun and a great way to work positional sparring, I recently brought it to me at a BJJ Globetrotters camp and had a number of rolls using the cards, everyone loved it and wanted to know the site for it. By now you must be wondering 'What is this Game of Rolls he's speaking of and how does it work?' rather than write out a huge paragraph to try and explain here's a video with Stefan, explaining how he ended up teaching and training in Koh Tao and how this awesome card game works.

Again if the video doesn't load or if you want to watch any of the other videos head over to the Panda's Odyssey YouTube Channel.

After an all too short visit to Toh Kao I was off to Bangkok to finally meet Vara. The morning I headed out I noticed my left calf was starting to burn though, a serious problem was about to hit me..

Until next time,
see you on the mats!

Buy Panda's Odyssey Patches at The Gi Hive.
Buy a shirt at Panda's Jiu-Jitsu Store.
Follow me and other traveling Jiu-Jitsueros at the BJJ Globetrotters blog section.
Subscribe to my YouTube Channel.
Check out my full photo albums for each article at my Flickr account.
Add me and follow along on most social media @pandasodyssey