Monthly Archives: October 2008

Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and the hilltribe villages

I made it from Koh Lanta to Chiang Rai via Krabi, Surat Thani, Petchaburi, Ratchaburi, Kananchaburi, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai.

In Chiang Mai, I went to visit some schools I had heard about. The Old Medicine hospital is “also” the oldest school of Thai Massage in Thailand (as was the Wat Po in Bangkok, a bit like the States where every other fast-food joint claims to have the “best burger in America”)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Northern style massage is different to Southern, because it focuses on different parts of the bodies with slightly different techniques. The northern one was developed specifically for the population of the North, where people work crouching down in the fields all day. So the treatments focus mainly on the legs and stretching them, as they get very stiff.
In the South, where apparently the Thais traditionally are more sedentary, the whole body is treated equally, with special attention on the back.

What I want in the North is to continue learning, and build on my Thai knowledge. What I don’t want is to do another rigid beginner’s course where it’s all about repeating and learning off by heart and not understanding. We will call that “Thai style”, where learning is quasi-religious, teachers are praised but questions are not permitted. Questioning the master means doubting him and that is not imaginable.

That is why I felt more at ease at  the Sunshine School. Both Thai and Westerners teach here, and it’s a more relaxed, Western style of teaching, i.e. you get explanations, background, and the right to ask questions! They believe you need to understand before you can learn. And that’s exactly what I need.

There are beginner’s course starting every week, lasting 2 weeks. But after discussing with a couple of teachers, they thought that even though I hadn’t studied the North Style, seeing my background I could jump straight to the advanced courses and they would slow down and explain when I didn’t understand. That sounds wonderful.

Except the next interesting courses start November 10th, and will last 2 weeks. In the mean time, and because I need to renew my visa, I am crossing over to Laos and whilst I’m there I will also be looking for massage traditions. And very much looking forward to it! I hear it resembles Thai, but with a twist, a Chinese influence.

Today though, I visited the Hilltribe Museum in Chiang Rai, and I learnt a few things on the villages and their ways of treating despite the unhelpful staff.
There are a many tribes that live in the mountainous regions of Thailand, and many are the Burmese and Lao border. These people lived secluded from modern Thailand, and have a separate culture in their own right, including medical practices.
Every village or settlement has what is best described as a shaman, mostly men, who spend their time making sure the spirits are kept happy. When a person is ill, the shaman will go to that person and diagnose what is wrong. Possible diagnosis includes: loss of soul, spirit affliction, and consequences of black magic.
Depending on the cause of the disease, the shaman will chose to make chants and incantation, give offerings (generally an animal is sacrificed, offered and then eaten by the family), prescribtion of herbal remedies and appropriate dietary measures.
I did not see anywhere any mention of hands-on treatment, but that does not mean it does not exist…

Shamans used opium as a means of helping with diagnosis (to get in a transe and contact the spirits), and as a means of treatment. Opium and Heroin were used in the West as asthma, cough and teething remedies. The first version of Morphine was derived from Opium.

After the government’s crackdown on drugs (excuse the pun) Shamans have had to stop using opium and its derivatives. Most tribes have also stopped cultivating poppy and have started growing other crops and raising animals as an alternative.

I may visit a tribe or two on an organised trek in Laos, but my main aim is to visit the Northern part of Laos and find traces of Lao therapeutic massage.

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On the road…

Ante Scriptom: (yes that does exist) the following story is totally true and ends well, but some parts may be dramatized slightly. So as to not get anyone panicking, please bear with me and read on. Thank you.

From Koh Lanta, after long goodbyes with Baaw, I disappeared in a mini-bus that was to travel on the island, on a ferry, on another island, then on another ferry and then on the mainland to Krabi.
Being currently on holiday (I am relaxing after over a week of hard work with my teacher) I didn’t have specific plans, so I stopped in Krabi town, to wander around, see if I liked the feel of it and decide whether to stay or not.
I walked up and down with my big, yet not too heavy backpack, and sat down in a cool-looking “Bob Marley” style cafe and got a Coca-Cola. Being on holiday, I read my new book on the theory of Thai Medicine. Then this guy sat down opposite me. I absent-mindedly said hello and continued reading. In my field of vision, I could see his feet and I noticed that one was much bigger than the other. As I turned a page, I focused on his legs. One had loads of bruises and scrapes, with much swelling and the other one appeared normal. So I casually scanned the rest of his body, nothing abnormal detected. I went back to my book.
He asked me something – what exactly is irrelevant – when I faced him to reply, I saw that he had a very bad black eye, and a massive “cartoon-style” scar on top of it (like the ones you draw on your cheek to look like a pirate, with one big line criss-crossed with lots of parallel little lines) I couldn’t help myself, so I asked how it happened. Scooter accident. And I thought he was going to stop there, but no…
“But you should see my friend John, he’s in a really bad state”  oh dear, they were both on the bike?
“No, he’s at the police station and they’re beating him with wooden sticks” shit… why is he there?
“Drugs”

Well of all countries, Thailand is not a place where you smuggle drugs, right? So I finished my Coke and ran the hell out of there. Not a good impression of Krabi, at all. I got to the bus station and got on a bus to Surat Thani, from where I could get a night bus to Petchaburi.

If you don’t know where that is, don’t worry. Most guide books don’t even talk about it. It’s just off the road that goes from the South to Bangkok, about 200km South of Bangkok. So the bus company said no problem, they would stop there for me and even give me “special price”. On top of that, I got the priviledge of travelling downstairs, so I was fully lying down rather than on one of the reclining seats upstairs. Wonderful. One of the drivers was instructed to wake me when we got there.

3am. It’s dark, I’m alone and I’m tired. I find it difficult to open my eyes or focus my gaze, my legs hurt and they feel really stiff. I’m trying to remember where I am. I am in the Petchaburi hospital, trying to rest. The staff were really kind despite the fact they could not speak any English.
Fatigue is overwhelming. I can’t move so I just fall asleep, but I make many violent dreams.

4am. I’m lying on my side, my shoulder hurts and I’m thirsty. I roll over but nearly fall off. I stabilize myself, listen to the others around me, snoring. The neon lights of the ward are flickering slightly. I can’t be bothered to look or ask for water, I fall asleep again.

6am. I’m glad I got a chunk of sleep. I stretch out a little bit, but my legs fall off the end of the leather couch I’m lying on. I sit up this time, slightly dizzy. The other couches in the hospital lobby are also occupied by sleeping people, though I’m the only Farang (white person) and non-staff.
When the driver woke me, we couldn’t fnd a taxi to get me into town, and he didn’t want to leave me to find one by myself. We were in front of a major hospital, and he decided that was the safest place for me to wait until morning. There would be the night-shift staff, I could wait there and safely get to a guesthouse in a few hours.
I was relieved of the outcome. I went to the hospital, the security guard was asleep , and as he woke up suddenly he thought I was hurt somewhere. I mimed I was fine, used the Thai words for “bus” and “no taxi” and Bangkok. He seemed to understand and welcomed me inside the lobby.
The hospital looked new, and I was happy to find that Thais, like me, can sleep anywhere. So I put my already padlocked bag safely under the couch, lay down and tried to get some more sleep.
I slept surprisingly well, and only got up around 7am, when the day shift people were starting to come in. Noone asked me anything, so I just kept myself to myself.

Around 7.30, I once again used my miming abilities to good use, and with a little help from my phrase book. I found a taxi and got into town, put my bags down in a guesthouse and had a “continental breakfast” before going for a long walk around town.

I had chosen Petchaburi for its Khmer temples, and I was not disappointed, they were beautiful. I was soaked though, as the rain is also present here, a 1000km North of the Islands. I had pretty much seen everything I wanted to see, so picked up my bags and organised a different outcome to my day. I got on a Thai governmental bus to the city of Ratchaburi, where I was to connect with another bus to Chananburi, i.e. where the bridge on the river Kwai is.

The second bus was great – it took about two and half hours to travel 60km, but was an endless source of entertainement. There were no windows to speak off, a crazy conductor who kept singing loudly to announce the stops, and many young children who thought I was the funniest thing ever.

Actually Ratchaburi isn’t in the guidebooks either, and even the travel office and the tourist information told me I had to go via Bangkok to get to Kwai. But I figured there would be another way, since there is a road and the bus system is really well developed. 
Even though the tourist/VIP buses are faster because they don’t stop to pick up and drop everyone on their doorstep… Even so, the journey as indicated by the travel agent would have taken 7 to 8 hours, whereas mine took under 4 hours, and a fraction of the price. So all in all a great deal!

The plan is: I am staying in a guesthouse called “Nita Rafthouse” which is great because it floats on the water! The downside is the amount of mosquitoes here!! I am fully sprayed in repellent, I am wearing clothes that cover up most of me, but I’ve already had a few bites. Anyway, I’m only staying the night, as tomorrow afternoon I’m heading to Bangkok to take a train to Chiang Mai. I’ve booked a seat and I’m really excited for my first Thai train journey.

Once in Chiang Mai, I’ll start looking at the schools I’ve already looked up and check them out in real life, especially the Old Medicine Hospital, which is a similar institution to the Wat Po, but teaches slightly different techniques: more stretches similar to yoga and less trigger-point therapy (which resembles the Chinese Acupressure).

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Rain, tropical storm and more rain…

I love the rain! I never thought I’d say this, but the tropical downpours here are beautiful. Here’s how it happens. During the day, the sky goes dim and the light drops. Then a very chilly wind starts to blow. Softly at first, then then a few strongs gusts, until it’s like a proper storm.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a magnificent rainbow. The cold air gets more and more powerful, and as it does, it brings small droplets of water with it.
This is where you seek shelter. Quickly. In a few seconds, small droplets turn into proper power shower. The sound of the rain, the drops exploding on the ground, the roofs, the road is overwhelming. Conversations stop, motorbikes park, even 4x4s park on a hard surface, and wait.
The Thais are really good at waiting. It looks like they’re doing nothing, but actually they’re waiting. The science of waiting is not as easy one. If you lose your patience, you get soaked! So we wait. In silence. A few smiles.
And then it’s over. As quickly as it finished. All of a sudden the wind stops, the rain stops, and quiet returns. The silence is as deafening as the storm. There is a moment of stillness. People look around, smell the air, interpret the sounds and decide whether the wait is over.
At exactly the same moment, all activities start again. The birds sing, the motorbikes start, so do the cars, the staff at the hotel, the stray dogs… As if nothing has happened, except the 5cm of water covering all surfaces.

The good thing about the rain is that is freshens up everything. That’s why I’m enjoying so much. Feeling cold during the night, sleeping with my sleeping bag with no fan, simple pleasures after having spent the last couple of weeks drenched in my own sweat.
Moreover, all the tourists are deserting the island, as they flee the poor weather. Unfortunately, there is bad weather from Malaysia all the way to Myanmar and Vietnam. Not much hope for those in the middle on the islands of Thailand.

I have even more time with Baaw now. We scheduled two times one hour per day, as we both get tired from the one-on-one, and he needs to have time to massage the people who walk by. So when he does, I sit next to him and watch. Sometimes he’ll explain something to me, or show me a new technique that I’ll practise later. It is great observing him a few hours a day, as I get a sense of the wholeness of his techniques. One English tourist was complaining from her shoulders and neck. So he started with her back, spent 30 minutes on both her shoulders and neck, then worked hard on her arms, buttocks, legs… Then she flipped over and he focused on her abdomen, with special attention to all the important lines around her belly-button.
It was fantastic. She felt better, he gave her a 90-minute treatment to show me more ways of treating and I was glad to witness it all.

He also treated some rather overweight Swedish girls. As they left, he joked with our friend Rong (who I generally practise on) that these two girls were actually Swedish Anacondas. They burst out laughing, so I asked for an explanation as I obviously didn’t understand what they were on about.
“Anaconda, very skinny. But when Anaconda swallow a pig, then very fat! Same same!” They burst out laughing again, me smiling along with them. I inquired about what he thought these girls had eaten to have swollen up so much. “Cow. Them eat cow. No! Wait!” he could hardly talk he was laughing so much “Not one cow! Many cows!”
That’ll be Thai humour for you.

This morning, my teacher asked me for “the works”: a full body Thai massage “Baaw Style”. He said that I was to do it on him, so if I got it wrong, he could redirect me. He looked at me in the eyes and said that if the massage was bad, he would tell me; and if it was good, it would tell me also. I agreed. I haven’t had all that much feedback, so I was looking forward to it.

Over two and half hours later… I finished… Well, the techniques he taught me anyway. There’s a whole load of stretching and manipulation technique we haven’t touched yet.
So I start. I use coconut oil, which is made by his wife from fresh coconuts, and smells like a dream.
During the course of the treatment, I focused on his problem areas which are his left shoulder, the middle of his back and his sacro-iliac joints. Not working in my conventional way, I only used his ways and his methods from the sole of his feet to the top of his skull. “Toug Mai?” I asked when I was unsure of whether I was in the right place, he replies “Toug!” when I am, or he tells me to keep looking. When I find the right point on a line, he sighs in satisfaction.
As he opened his eyes, sat up, took a deep breath, he said “It was good massage”

So that’s the only feedback I was going to get? Don’t get me wrong, that makes me happy, but I need to know more detail what was good, not so good, bad… I’m a beginner, I need to know how to improve myself.

So he continued: “Your hands, they can find the pain. Your brain, it can remember the lines. Your mind, it can be focused on the massage. You can do good massage. If you do like this in your country, you very successful”

Wow. That’s something. Of course I don’t know all the lines, there are hundreds of them, but Baaw has taught be the main ones, and how to deal with each one. How to find the trigger points, how to treat the pain. And starting to learn how to diagnose with the lines. I can now feel something. And yesterday, I even felt a difference in several pulses we were palpating. I can feel I am progressing, and I also know there is still a long way to go.
My goal is not be to become a Thai massage practitioner – don’t tell Baaw this – but to integrate the Thai knowledge, especially of the lines and the holistic side of treatment, to my osteopathic practise. I still believe that my techniques are more efficient for the aches and pains we have in the West, and that people want to consult for. The Thai techniques will help my diagnosis, refine my palpation, treat more globally and think outside the box.

I am looking forward to continuing my path, and discover more about the art of Thai medicine. Soon, it will be time to say my Kop Khun Kahs and leave Baaw and Koh Lanta.

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Koh Lanta: Magic Hands, Motorbike and Thai Massage

So here we are, arriving in Koh Lanta. For those who haven’t had the chance to visit the islands on the West Coast of the Southern part of Thailand, Koh Lanta is a relatively smallish island where no reality tv show was made.

On the boat, we sit with a couple from France, who happened to also stay in hour bungalow place in Koh Phi Phi. We let the people from the hotels tell us how great their places are, and we settle for one that appeals to us all, “Lanta NAture Beach Resort” on the Klong Nin Beach (West Coast), a stone’s throw away from Relax Bay, where Greg stayed a few years ago.
As I check-in with MP, I mention to the receptionist that I would like a Thai massage, and can she recommend someone. Of course she can. She calls the massage family people straightaway, he will come in 10 Thai minutes (i.e. anything from 10 minutes ago to in an hour or two). I meet an older woman, she says that her son works here normally but is with his daughter in the hospital. He teaches massage also.

He teaches massage? Here in a beautiful resort on the beach? The idea is exciting. Until the lady massages me. She’s not very good. What she does is painful, but in a bad pain kind of a way. I have a scratch on my right big toe so I mention it to her, but when she starts massaging my feet she has already forgotten. Yikes it hurts! My toes starts throbbing… She apologizes, only to press on my delicate toe again a few minutes later.
Disappointment strikes. There is no way I want to be taught anything by someone like that who does not care about what she’s doing, and generally is not very good. I still want to meet this guy, her son, and check him out, we never know.We set an appointment for Thai 8.30am the following day.

By 10am, still no one. So I get MP and another guy we met the night before and we decide to hire a tuk-tuk for the day, to visit the Island. Tuk-tuks here are very simple: a simple motorbike, joined at the hip to a wheel-barrow type machine. It’s slow, but steady. We take it in turns to drive, and the joyride begins.
Except a tuk-tuk is not made for going up and down hills, and we plan to do exactly that. I volunteer to jump out the thing whenever the up or down is too steep.
Visualize me running by the side of the road, a weird motorbike/wheel barrow thing with two scared passengers on board in the most aerodynamic position possible, surrounded by Thai kids laughing their heads off.

Anyway, we made it to where the road ends, and we trekked through the tropical jungle to see a satisfying waterfall and some elephants… And we even made it back, after eating delicious unknown shellfish in a restaurant on the main pier.

The following day (that would be yesterday), another appointment was set up with the massage therapist. I could hardly believe my luck when a short, dark guy with a moustache and a beard turned up and said hi. He was wearing tracksuit bottoms, a purple football shirt and a big grin. I was actually practising my Thai massage as I’d learned it in Wat Po on MP, so I asked him if he could wait just a few minutes… Pressure was on as he observed what I was doing. I got a little flustered and forgot a couple of stretches. Nevermind.

We started chatting in his “massage home” a little elevated sheltered area, which was built after the tsunami destroyed his previous bamboo massage home. His eyes glaze over as his mentions the destructions and the loss of lives on Kho Phi Phi.
We go onto talk about the massage. He seems unimpressed by my Wat Po qualification, but appreciates the fact I am actually serious about this. He asks how long I can stay, and I answer without blinking: 1 month. He laughs.
He then goes on to ask me why I want to learn Thai massage. Now is the time to explain to this Thai guy with poor English that structure and function are inter-reciprocally related… “I am like a Thai massage therapist, only the Western equivalent. I don’t work with the energy lines, but with muscles, joints, organs, blood etc”
He nods politely but I am not sure how much of this he understood.

The best, he says, is for him to give me a masage, and then I can start learning. I agree, as I am sure I don’t want to take classes from a guy who can’t massage to save his life.
I lay down, and he starts. The second he lays his hands on my back to spread his special herbal oil, I know that I have met someone exceptional.
He explains that this oil is made with Chinese herbs, made with a recipe from his great-grandfather, who was a Chinese doctor. And he works away. I try to focus on what he is doing, where he puts his hands, what order he does things in, how much it resembles what I do and not what I learned at Wat Po. But slowly my mind drifts away, far away from his expert hands.

My spine cracks and it feels good. My muscles are unknotted one by one. My tight kayak shoulder feel as light as a feather. He works my back, buttocks, legs, feet, arms and hands before I turn onto my front.
He takes several of my pulses, including axillary (armpit) and declares that my Left shoulder is weak and slow compared to the right. He says more work need to be done on my scapula (shoulder blade), and did I have an accident on that arm? I explain my football tumble of last year. He cringes as I go into the details.
He continues working, for what seems like beautiful, endless minutes. When I sit up, my head is dizzy and I feel incredible. He looks at me, smiling and laughs out a “finissed”.
I convince MP to have a massage, and Buuw (pronounce Baow) explains certain things as he goes along. He keeps repeating how hard Thai massage is to learn.

He learned from his father from the age of 18, and his Dad was taught by his own father at the same age, who was given one of the ancient books of Thai medicine by the King himself. I am told by the other members of staff that this is true, and that Buuw’s father is a famous man.
As he goes on tender, tight spots, he takes my hands and lays it on the sensitive part and says: “this is Pain”. I realise that he did not understand that it’s my job to know what is and what is not painful, and treat it.
What is the best way of explaining to someone who does not speak the same language what osteopaty is (and hopefully convince him I am a professional): treat him.

That evening, after spending the afternoon chatting and laughing with Buuw, his 15-year old daughter Dao (which means Sky) and his wife, I dragged him into the massage home, and authoritavely told him to take his t-shirt off, and lay face down. And he did.

I focused for a moment, and realised how important this treatment was going to be for both of us. I wanted to show him what I did in my country, that I understood the body in a different way, and that osteopathy is an effective, efficient and valid way of treating.

I started with his back, mobilising, using different techniques to show him, manipulating his thoracic spine, a rib or two on the way. I was rocking! I worked on his gluteus (buttocks), down his legs, up his arms… Put him on his side for a classic lumbar roll to HVT his L/S junction (sore and restricted on the Left): a big crack made us both laugh. On his back I worked his abdomen, going deeper and deeper, into his colon, his diaphragm. I worked the thoracic cage whilst I was at it… I was sweating, as one does when working hard on a sunny tropical afternoon.

His eyes were closed and his face seemed at rest. He opened them again and asked: “can you do my neck, it pain”
Sure can! I asked whether I could sit behind him (as the head is very important in Thailand, it should not be touched, and when lying down one should not walk behind it) he agreed and I was going at it again!
I used a little bit of everything: from strong techniques, to easy simple ones. A couple of manipulations, the wonderful “strain-counterstrain” where pain seems to disappear under my fingers, and to finish a big double crack on the junction between the neck and the shoulders.

“Finished!” He sat up, moved around a bit, and said he felt good. We set an appointment for tomorrow.
As we said our thank yous and good byes, he said something that is now engraved in my memory.
“I will show you Thai massage. It will take time, but you have magic hands. So it will be ok”

So I have magic hands.

Since then I haven’t stopped smiling.

Especially that he came to greet me at breakfast this morning: “my neck feels so good!”. And the staff have been treating me even better since the magic treatment… They are all asking me questions and want to be treated also. They say that Buuw has talked to them about me, and they want to try this new “French Thai Massage” too.
Today we did more training, first 2 hours this morning, I observed him giving a long treatment, him explaining as he went along. Then this afternoon, working on one of the staff. We covered the main lines of the back, the buttocks, the thighs and the popliteal fossa (back of the knee). It is fascinating.
As Chinese medicine and acupuncture, Thai medicine has “lines” which resemble meridiens. They are energy or wind lines. As I understand it so far, “wind” or “air” gets trapped in many places around the body. To avoid disease, and achieve health, the Thai therapist unblocks these with massage, manipulation and herbs.
When the patient complains of pain, the therapist finds out what the cause of this pain is, and works on that. Buuw jokes about treating directly the site of pain, how silly is that! With massage, he works on specific trigger points, which are situated on the energy lines, as well as working on the whole line in question, and those connecting with it.

For now, he is showing me the main lines, and teaching me how to recognize trapped wind. We are also starting to take pulses, and I am trying to feel something…
He is impressed with my palpation skills, I am impressed with his knowledge of the body. This special interpretation. He respects my point of view and background, and we joke about how similarly we work, yet how far apart our theories are.

The fact he was taught by his father, from his father, makes this teaching very special indeed. I am going to stay here for at least another few days, maybe a week. Continue my healthy schedule: run early in the morning, massage, then a healthy break with some amazing food and then more massage in the late afternoon, a final meal and then I collapse into bed…

I am doing my best to take detailed technical notes of what Buuw tells me, so I will have a written version of all the information I know will leak out of my brain. I will also take some pictures of him and some techniques in the next few days.

Marie-Pierre has taken off, and is on her way to Bangkok. So I downgraded to a smaller room, and hang out with the Thai staff where I am staying. They call me the professional footballer. I am not sure how many more compliments I can take before my head -or my ankles- swells up and explodes.

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Exam results and Kho Phi Phi

So there I was, after four and half days of learning, practising every night for 2 hours with my new massage friend, I bowed and joined my hands ceremoniously “Sawat Di Kha”.
The person I was to massage didn’t actually understand or speak English, and my Thai is not great. After introducing myself in Thai, I went on to mime the important questions before one can start a massage. Imagine me kneeling down, twice the size of my patient, moving in all sorts of directions and waving my arms to ask whether she had any diseases, recent serious injuries, cancer, rhumatoid arthritis, gout or a skin infection.

Somehow we managed. She lay on her back and I started working. As I mentioned before, Thai massage is very choreographed, and hand position have to be learned, as well as how the practicioner should position themselves. I start from the left sole, then the foot, leg, thigh, hand, arm and finger. Then I switched sides.
Most postions are kneeling, either resting the bum on the heels of the feet, or keeping the toes bent and having a 90 degree angle at knees. It’s pretty tiring for the quadriceps, who have to keep certain positions for ages.

The Bicycle, one of the techniques of Step 1 of traditional Thai Massage

The Bicycle, one of the techniques of Step 1 of traditional Thai Massage

She turns on her other side, and the guy next to me jokes around, stupidly I listen and continue on the Gala-Taree line turning my palms up. One of the two examiners tuts whilst tapping on my shoulder. I imediately turn my palms down, and look down too. First mistake. When I let my concentration slip just a second, I make a mistake. I focus even harder, despite the joking around.
Then I made her lie on her bach, and repeated the gestures I have seen my teachers doing. Teachers, those who hand down knowledge are very respected. One must bow everytime one crosses their path, and always be smaller in size than them when addressing them or simply walking by them. As I like to imitate my peers, I looked utterly ridiculous -yet respectful – as I crouched down when necessary. Because I’m about 40 cm taller than my smallest teacher, I basically crawled everytime I walked by. Or kneeled when she was speaking to me.
Next position: lying on the face. I’ve been working for about an hour now, and I’m really proud to have made one mistake only. Most the others have been corrected a few times.
This is my favourite part of the massage, as we get to kneel onto the back of the patient’s thighs and then walk on the legs. It’s fun, and I get to work my favourite part of the body: the back.
Then she lies on her back again, for the fourth part, which comprises lots of stretching. I do well, except she it’s difficult for me to crouch and kneel down low enough.
Fifth part. I try not to get too excited, but I do a little bit. Mistake. I don’t position my thumbs exactly on the imaginary line of Jun-Tha-Pu-Sunk. The teacher kindly repositions my thumbs. She also restraightens my back, but then I can’t grab the person’s shoulders, so she puts me in my previous positioning and smiles an apology. I continue.

When it’s over I can harldy believe it. I mime to my patient that she must drink lots of water, do some exercice, eat well and come back for another massage soon. I bow and thank her “Kho Kunk Kha” and sigh in relief.
I final grilling: major contra-indications of Thai massage. Easy. Don’t practise on drunk patient, on open wounds, over broken bones, etc.

Then the examiners go away, and I am left slightly worried. Are 2 mistakes too many? I saw all the others make more than me… Did I not say the right things? Was my miming not good enough? What did I do wrong? Another white guy taking his exam is talk at my the examiner, and he bursts into tears. Not those of joy, but of sadness. He has failed.

My eyes start to feel prickly, and that familiar knot ties itself around my throat. I will not cry if I fail. I will just keep practising until I get it. It’s hard remembering everything, but if I was promoted to the group of Thais rather than whites after the first day, there must be a reason. I must be doing well and next time I won’t make any mistakes at all.
The examiner gives me a paper to sign, I sign it and hold the tears back. She thanks me and leaves. I am really upset. She turns around with a “I think I forgot something face” and give me a big blue envelope. Thank you she says. I open it. The knot unties itself, and transforms itself into tummy butterflies. I did it! I got it! I am so happy!

The head of the teacher comes over to congratulate me and says he is looking forward to seeing me in the advanced Thai medical course. I am overjoyed. The diploma is beautiful!

My Diploma of Thai Traditional Massage, surrounded with my new friends

My Diploma of Thai Traditional Massage, surrounded with my new friends

I nearly run home, where Marie-Pierre is waiting for me with the bus tickets for Koh Phi Phi. What a great present… a holiday after a really intense start to my Big Project.

We have been in the islands for 3 days, after an uneventful journey on the bus. It was rather comfortable and I slept like a log. A 2-hour boat journey takes us to touristy Koh Phi Phi, so we jump on a long tail and arrive in Paradise. The place we go to is expensive by Thai standards, but absolutely beautiful.
Marie-Pierre and myself are pretty exhausted after our massage courses, so we both decide to take it easy. By hiking up the hill to viewpoint, and the following day we kayak our way to the surrounding islands.
It is exhausting. My left shoulder kills me, but we keep going. We see beautiful fish, amazing desert islands and horrible tourist resorts. We paddle home, but we are both tired. I spot the hugh dark clouds of the evening tropical storm behind us. I can see it is already raining on the islands we have visited. We try to go faster but we can’t. MP is more exhausted than I am, so I paddle for two.
The twinges in my left trapezius turn into a burning sensation with intense radiation into my left arm. My joint is ok, but my tired, weak muscles are crying for help. I try not to listen to them. We keep going around in the same directions, because my right side makes us go to the left…
We can now hear the thunderstorm, but our bungalow is nowhere to be seen. We play a game to keep our minds off our screaming bodies.

And then we see it. As each wave starts to get taller, and the canoe fills up, we see the boats of the fishermen who live close to our bungalow. We both laugh as we paddle harder towards shore. Cold raindrops start to fall on us, gently at first. One of the staff helps us carry the boat out of the water.
We walk to our bungalow, and get drench by the storm. We look back at the sea before having a shower: the sea is rough and the wind blowing towards the sea. Wow, we made it in the knick of time.

The isthmus of Kho Phi PHi

The isthmus of Kho Phi PHi

I have to get off the Internet connection, and I don’t have time to reply to emails just now. We are heading to Koh Lanta this morning, and I will try to get in touch as soon as we have found another computer.

Click here for photos. You don’t have to be a facebook member to see it, anyone can. Or copy and paste this url into your browser: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=76020&l=95acf&id=671740139

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Wat Po… Final days and plans

Tomorrow is my last day and also my exam at Wat Po. Hopefully this time tomorrow I will be a qualified Thai Massage Therapist. We have learned the “basic” routine which is a two-hour massage which comprises acupressure, stretches and yoga-type positions. It’s great for general suppleness, so I can now bend in many more directions than before. It also really is energising, and since I’m spending 6 hours a day being massaged (yes! yes!) I’m really energised!!! but it also means I can harldy get to sleep at night…

Wat Po - the temple of the reclining Buddha and my massage school

Wat Po - the temple of the reclining Buddha and my massage school

My routine is pretty settled. I get up around 6.30am to have fruit , yoghurt and nut for breakfast, followed by a cold shower before getting the boat to Tai Chi. After an hour of stretching I head to school until 4pm, with a break for soup and noodles. At this point I treat myself to a fresh coconut, go swimming with my new friend for about an hour (Camille mon colloc – tu serais fier de moi, je krolle mieux que tous les Thailandais dans la piscine reunis), take the boat home, have a soup and some fresh fish, meat or veggies… and then Marie-Pierre and I practise massage together before I get to bed.

It’s exhausting! Massaging is very physical, and I spend most of time kneeling, which I am not super comfortable with. It’s crazy how fast my body adapted to it though, because I can now stay in that position for a couple of hours before my feet and legs start complaining. Also being massaged, especially the Thai way (I get walked on a lot, and poked constantly) makes the muscles specifically and the body in general react pretty strongly. I have aches and pains constantly… But swimming and walking around helps.

So I’m in bed by 10pm. It’s not very sexy but I don’t really mind… What is glamour though is that MP and myself are preparing a holiday! Some might say that I’m already on holiday, but my tight schedule would convince anyone that I’m working hard (right?) Anyway, we’re heading to Koh Phi Phi tomorrow after my exam or the next day. We’ll stay for a few days for sure, and then I’ll travel back to Bangkok or straight to Chang Mai on the plane.

What I’ve found out is that in Wat Po there is a therapy course, which is basically how to treat specific conditions (like tension headaches, period pain, low back pains, etc) with Thai massage, i.e. manual therapy. The course is intensive: 60 hours in 10 days and pretty expensive (250 Euros) but I think it would be worth it.
Also, I have learned the South Thailand massage, which is different to the Northern one. I won’t go into the usual North/South debate (even though North London is better than the South) but the Northern one was developped for the popular classes working the land, who spent their days bent over in the rice paddies. It focuses on the lower limbs and is mainly stretch based. It is easily usable on sportspeople who also tend to have tightened, shortened muscles.

Kneeling on someones ankles, not as easy as it looks (does it look easy?)

Kneeling on someone's ankles, not as easy as it looks (does it look easy?)

So tomorrow is Thai Massage Exam (a grilling done by 3 Thai teachers, and a 2 hour massage done on one of them), more swimming and then going to the beach. After that, probably heading to Chiang Mai to learn Northern style massage and/or heading to Bangkok to learn therapeutic use of Thai massage. There is a national holiday on November 5th, where a candle is lit into a lotus flower which is then delicately put on the water/river… If it floats, it brings lots of luck, and the best thing is you can put as many lotuses as you like! Lucky me 🙂

Anyway, everyone will be glad to know my intestines are in perfect working order, that it is raining like pissing cows this evening (another amazing thunderstorm, and a great French expression purposefully literraly translated) and that my mosquitoe repellent is very effective. Also, I am eating like a sumo. Tonight we went to a very Thai 99-Baht all you can eat fest, complete with cross-dresser singer, who treated us to at least 6 out of tune “happy birthday” tunes, thankfully with a selection of delicious meat, seafood and vegetables to grill on a table barbecue, cook in a hot soup or on a proper barbecue. I even got to see Brazil kick some Venezualian ass (4-0 when we left the place)
I have taken some photographs but don’t have my cable with me, so it will be for next time.

Life is good.

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One more sleep

I’m excited! This time tomorrow, I’ll be on the plane!

After purchasing over 300 € (£230) worth of medication, I feel ready to leave. Also because I can’t afford anymore expenses… This week I bought a travel towel that dries super quickly, a thin-but -warm fleece, long light cotton trousers that unzip into shorts, and my malarial tablets. I have been pondering whether to get some, but my super cool doctor decided for me. He says it’s worth the money, especially in the Northern parts of Thailand at the end of the wet season (October). I couldn’t agree more.

Here is now the official list of the contents of my backpack. I will keep you updated on what I use, send back, regret packing or obviously forgot. I have visited a lot of blogs, websites and forums over the last few months, to see what others were packing, so my list is now added to the mumble-jumble of the web and I hope it can help others planning trips like mine.

– 1 pair of jeans (old and rugged, ready to be left somewhere – I am told they can be annoying as they don’t dry fast enough! I love my jeans, so I’ll just see how it goes and dump them somewhere if not practical),
– 1 pair of light cotton trousers (that double up into shorts and make me look like an 1920s explorer)
– 1 fleece (for the flight, because it’s always freezing on planes and I don’t want to be cold during the night in Northern Thailand)
– 2 tshirts, 2 vest tops, 1 long-sleeved tshirt,
– 1 pair of shorts (for sleeping or sports),
– Enough underwear,
– Shoes: hiking, bright yellow trainers (yep, they’re coming with me), plastic flip-flops (that I can shower with if necessary),
– 1 pair of long-haul flight support tights (actually, still debating whether they’re worth the hassle. I actually won’t be flying all that much, and they’ll just end up being bulky. My vein-doctor says they are also handy during long bus, train or car rides),
– the oldest bikini in the world (desperately need to get a new one, after mine got badly discolorated due to an overenthusiastic pool owner scared of a potential algal bloom in his beloved swimming puddle),
– First Aid Kit (with anti-malarial for 2 months (approximately worth an arm and a leg), anti-diarrhoeal medication – for Dehli Belly and its local equivalent -, anti-constipation (for the extreme rice intake), antispamodics, antibiotics, mosquitoe repellent, motion sickness medication and everything needed for small cuts, bleeds and scratches)
– Toiletries: travel towel, toothbrush (with cover, thanks for the tip Harry), toothpaste, comb, mooncup, soap, small bottle shampoo (because I won’t need much), razor, Nivea all-over moisturizer (to smell like my Grandma), nail scissors, tweezers, earplugs,
– Random: photocopies of travel documents (actually it’s all electronic, so can’t lose them!), passport, driving license, CV (plus electronic copy of the above sent to myself by email), ziploc bags of varying sizes, small pocket knife, toothpicks, duct tape, charger for camera, digital alarm clock, ipod USB charger, 2 blank DVDs for burning photos, combination lock,
– Bolivian handbag my brother got me from his travels (actually a camera bag in disguise) with SLR camera and its protective scarf, change purse, ipod full of great music with new sturdy headphones,
– money belt: passport, cash, credit cards, SD cards.

So I think I’m ready. I haven’t packed my trusted backpack yet, but it doesn’t look like much when spread out on my bed at my parents’ house. Hopefully it should weigh less than 10kg, and ideally about 8kg. I had gone to India with 7kg at the beginning of the year, but I don’t think I’ll manage to beat that.

For now, I just need to make sure I get some sleep tonight, and play it cool, real cool.

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