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Hello and welcome to my blog formerly called Gypsy-K. Please note that I am only updating this blog while I am walking from Rome to Jerusalem from September 2015. My online home and permanent blog is at You can also sign up for pilgrim postcards and newsletters here. Thank you for being here and supporting my journey. With love and courage, Kym xx

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Training like a Tiger

I can barely walk today. My calves are so tight that I’m almost permanently in a bent knee position, walking with a hunched back so I don’t have to straighten them and feel the pain. From a distance, you would think I am in my 90’s not my 30’s. The cause of the pain, 3 hours of Muay Thai training followed by a day of diving.

Over the last week, I have visited a few Muay Thai training camps to see what the facilities were like, how their training sessions were run, student to trainer ratios and generally sus out the culture and the vibe. I really wanted to find a camp close to Kata so I could minimise travel time and cost. At this stage, I am still avoiding hiring a scooter so I’m forced to use taxis and tuk tuks, both of which are expensive (comparable to Melbourne fares). Fortunately, I have a found a lovely taxi driver, Mr Saveak, who does me a good price.

There is a notable difference in the camps and for anyone thinking of training in Thailand, I suggest that you don’t rely solely on the website to make your decision. If you can visit the camp, try a session and speak to people who have trained there for feedback about their experience. All the websites tell you that they focus on technique and that their trainers speak English but the reality is that speaking English might mean simple words like punch, kick, elbow and they don’t all have sufficient care factor to correct your technique properly. At some camps, you have advanced fighters training with complete beginners in one big group. Your skipping and sparring area may be concrete with some carpet over the top or you may be fortunate to have proper mats. It all varies.

In the end, I decided to bite the bullet and have a go at the camp I got the best vibe from which was Tiger. Tiger is based in Ao Chalong about 15 minutes from Kata by taxi (300 baht one way). It is one of the larger camps set on 3 acres of land surrounded by tropical forest overlooked by the Great Buddha. It has three different training areas, one each for advanced, intermediate and beginners. The training areas are open air but covered by large tin roofs. So whilst you are protected from the rain, there is no escaping the heat or humidity.
I was sent to the beginners training area. They have two rings, one on the left and one on the right with blue training mats in between and on the area you enter. On the far wall they have mirrors. And in the area in front where you enter the area they have 10 workout stations with heavy bags.

This is where all the fun happens, 3.5 hours of solid training as follows:
• 30 minutes of non-stop skipping! Maybe not so bad with standard skipping ropes but these guys use really thick tube ropes with heavy wooden handles that are very heavy.
• 10 minutes or so running around the mat, side steps in and out, running and touching the ground, running kicking butt etc.
• 10 to 15 minutes of stretching.
• We lined up in two rows in front of the mirror, they put us in the correct stance and the we went through punches each with a number: jab (1), cross (2) , left hook (3) , right hook (4), left upper (5) , right upper (6). Then they yelled different numbers so we would practice different combinations. After a while, we added right and left leg blocks and right and left knees.
• Then we jumped into the ring and they ran through some combos that we practiced against a sparring partner.
• Then we moved onto punching, kicking, kneeing, blocking with a trainer who was holding pads.
• This was followed by sparring wearing shin guards and head guard.
• Heavy bag drills – kicking and punching for 3 rounds
• 100 jumping knees followed by 100 alternating leg blocks repeated
• 100 sit ups, 100 side crunches, 100 push up. Guys had a medicine ball dropped on their stomach 20 times and girls had to do sit ups pushing the ball above their heads 20 times.
• In between every round, we had to do 10 push ups (for girls) and 20 for guys.
• Cool down and stretching.

3.5 hours might sound like a long time, but the time just flew by. I was so absorbed by what we were doing and trying to learn, it was so much fun.

I have very quickly learned to throw out everything Sy taught me about boxing. It’s just not how the Thais do it. They stand very front on in a loose stance, they position their hands differently, they don’t turn into their punches and all punches follow a left diagonal step.

The trainers are good value. Their English is pretty good and they were all focused on watching and correcting technique. The trainer that held pads for me was so nice. He was very patient and encouraging and spent a lot of time ensuring my stance was correct, that I kicked with a straight leg, came up straight and tall and that my leg blocks were correct.

But my favourite trainer was the head trainer, Ajarn Dang. He is a Master Instructor and usually trains the Advanced fighters but for some reason was in the beginners area. He was positioned near me for the heavy bag rounds and would keep walking over, slap me hard on the arm, make an angry grunting sound followed by “Why you kick like that?" or "Why you do that for?". My standard response was “This is my first training session”. He would then show me how to do it properly. If I got it wrong, I got slapped again. However, if I got it right, I got the nod of approval. Unfortunately, I was slapped and grunted at numerous times. Standing up straight and kicking with a straight leg is no easy feat.

I left the training session 20 minutes early because I thought it finished at 6.30 and Mr Saveak would be waiting for me. I dashed off whilst Ajarn Dang was throwing the medicine ball onto the guys stomachs. I didn’t want to interrupt because he was busy. I went to the office and paid for my session and as I was leaving I heard the angry grunting noise. I looked up and there was Ajarn Dang motioning for me to come over. “Why you leave without saying anything?” he asked me. “Because you were busy and I didn’t want to interrupt. I thought it finished at 6.30 and my taxi is here” I explained pointing to my taxi. “Hmmmmm” he grunted. “You come tomorrow”. “ No, diving tomorrow” I told him, “I come back Monday, I do extra Monday.” “OK” he said.

Off I trotted towards Mr Saveak and my awaiting taxi. I stopped to wring out the sweat from my training shorts before wrapping the towel around me and getting into the taxi. I have never sweat so much from training in all of my life. I never though it possible that I could sweat that much and still be alive.

Well I didn’t quite make it back there today but I have every intention of going back once I’ve sorted out my Divemaster course schedule. And I can’t wait.

My shins after training

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Rescue & Resistance

I am ready to pull back the covers of my bed and snuggle down between the sheets and fall into a long and peaceful rest which will last well into late morning tomorrow. I am physically exhausted.

Here’s a snapshot of my week
• Tuesday: ½ day First Aid Course, ½ day Rescue Diver Theory homework
• Wednesday: ½ day Rescue Diver Theory, ½ day Rescue Scenario Practice
• Thursday: Rescue Scenario Practice in pool
• Friday 3 hours Muay Thai Training
• Saturday Dive Boat completing open water rescue scenarios

The physical exhaustion is worth it as today I completed my Rescue Diver course!

Completing this course has been on my radar for a couple of years now. After completing my Advance Open Water course in 2004, I wanted to enjoy diving without any study or learning and practicing skills. I just wanted to be in the water and absorb the magic of the underwater world without distraction. However, after a couple of difficult dives in the Similan Islands last year, I knew it was time to complete the Rescue Diver Course. I’d been told by many divers that this course was “so much fun” but I think they forgot to include the word “challenging” in their enthusiastic description. For as fun as it was, it was as equally challenging.

All Rescue Divers have to have a current first aid qualification, so I started the course by completing PADI’s qualification, the Emergency First Responder. If anyone needs any first aid assistance in future, just to ensure that you don’t sue me, I shall be seeking your agreement by rattling off , “My name is Kym. I’m an Emergency Responder. Can I help you?” quite possibly in a bad American accent as I was taught. I say bad, because I don’t do a very good American accent at all. Quite simply, this course involved practicing mouth to mouth resuscitation, CPR and bandaging wounds.

I spent the rest of Tuesday attempting to complete my Rescue Diver theory review questions and this is when my resistance first surfaced. It should have taken me around 3 to 4 hours to complete the work, but not me. I managed to stretch the task out so I spent 10 hours doing it. In that time, my resistance surfaced in the form of doing anything but the task at hand. I emailed, Facebooked, had coffee, used the internet, went for a swim, used the internet, had a shower, used the internet, had dinner, used the internet. Ordinarily, all of these things might be nice to do during the day but I was using them as a procrastination tool not because I was enjoying doing them. In effect, I wasted 7 hours of my day in unfocused, unenjoyable doing.

By the time I completed the final chapter of theory, I felt completely despondent about diving and my diving course. I wasn’t enjoying the theory at all. It felt monotonous, boring and like a chore. I felt awful. I’d dreamed about diving and coming back to Thailand to dive and complete further courses for over 12 months and now that I’m here, how could it be that I didn’t want to do it? Had I lost my passion for diving?

As I fell asleep that night, I had decided I wasn’t doing any more dive courses. Maybe I’d just spend my time here in Thailand doing some Muay Thai, some fun dives and lazing on the beach reading. I was very willing to accept that I had simply changed my mind as I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. However, that was short lived.

With anything challenging, it’s interesting to observe your internal reaction – do you embrace it or do you resist it? Or do you resist it just before you embrace it? I am a perfectionist and my own worst critic. I like to be good at everything I do, and if I’m not my inner critic kicks in. I can and will give myself a harder time than any teacher, manager or anyone else ever could. In this instance, I was resisting the challenge. My inner critic was encouraging me to quit before I started just in case I failed proving that I’m not good enough. Funny how the ego works. Needless to say, as with all things, this was just temporary, just resistance surfacing before the embracing.

The next day, I spent all afternoon in the pool practicing rescue scenarios…different ways of towing divers, how to approach and assist panicked divers on the surface and underwater, buddy breathing, simulating out of oxygen scenarios for myself and buddy, simulating vertigo underwater and ascending to surface, rescuing a tired diver and panicked diver simultaneously, carrying and lifting divers out of the water. It was so much fun and I could have stayed doing it for longer except my hands were so pruned the skin was starting to peel off and I had lost massive chunks of skin off my heels from burst blisters caused by my fins rubbing against the skin, incredibly painful.

Today was the last day of my course and it was to be spent out on the boat where I would put everything I had learnt in the preceding days to the test in open water. The mini-bus picked me up at 8am to take me to Chalong pier to board the dive boat. Off we headed to Racha Yai island, a mere 24 kilometres from Chalong Pier but about 90 minutes on the boat. There was quite a bit of swell today so it was a mini roller coaster ride. I was feeling anxious, trying to recall what I had learnt, ready to put it into action. There were protocols to remember and follow depending on the situation at hand. Being in or underwater changes everything when it comes to saving someone’s life. If you’re under water, you don’t have the luxury of verbal communication to calm someone who is panicking and your own life can be at risk trying to rescue another.

This was to be a day of testing, where I would be surprised by simulated diver emergencies and incidents that I would be responsible for resolving. Without boring you with the details, I had to do the following tasks; correctly safety check my dive buddy, disentangle a panicked diver from a line, calm a panicked diver, check an unresponsive diver, calm a panicked diver with a flooded mask, buddy breathe with an out of air diver, surface a diver with a sea urchin cut (complete with fake blood) and perform first aid. And this was just before lunch. Straight after lunch I had to swim to and assist a tired diver at the surface and tow them back to the boat and then immediately back in the water to assist a panicked diver on the surface who thought she saw a shark. Then it was onto the second dive where I had to search for a missing diver underwater and then bring the unconscious diver to the surface, perform rescue breathing on them whilst towing them to the boat and removing both their and my equipment in quite a strong current before getting them out of the water and performing CPR.

I completed all the tasks and scenarios, although not perfectly. My inner critic kicked in and I internally berated myself for being less than perfect. I even considered not completing my Divemaster Training because I didn’t complete this course perfectly. Sounds crazy I know, but that’s how my inner critic works. It’s only now as I write this that I can change my focus from what I did wrong, to what I did right and be proud of the hard work I’ve put in this week and of how I responded in new situations and under stress. I am still only learning after all and it is practice that makes perfect. Although to be honest, I hope I never have to put the skills I learned this week into practice in real life.

I’d like to give a big shout out to my instructor, Emma, who is fabulous. Her passion for diving and teaching, both the theory and the practical work, and her encouragement made the course a lot of fun in a serious way. A big thank you to Leah, Saskia and Luke, the Dive Master Trainees who acted as my victims to rescue with humour. I’m looking forward to being a victim and hopefully rescued when I complete my Dive Master Training.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

The Arriving

After a smooth but sleepless journey, I finally arrived at my guesthouse at Kata Beach, Phuket at mid-day on Thursday 16th April. The climate is stifling. It is hot (in the high 30’s) and extremely humid, exacerbated by occasional afternoon rain. I know many people who hate this type of weather, but I love it. It makes me feel alive. I love walking around and feeling the sweat rolling down my chest and back, watching beads of sweat breaking out on my arms. If you don’t like it the only way to avoid it is to stay inside in air-conditioning. But not me.

The first thing I did after unpacking and showering was jump into shorts and singlet, and start walking to acquaint myself with my current home away from home. I walked along Kata Beach and back along the main road. I ate spicy seafood soup whilst sipping an ice cold Singha, promptly followed by another one, at an outdoor restaurant. Weather like this always makes me crave ice cold beer. I walked the streets, looked at the different stalls and shops (most selling the same stuff) and yes, I sweated it out.

My guesthouse, Southern Fried Rice, is located on a side street off Kata Road just near Kata Night Bazaar, a night spot with many bars and not so good music. The Bazaar really comes alive on Friday and Saturday nights when they pump out the music, including a bit of Johnny Cash. Fortunately the noise isn’t too bad for my room and I can sleep through it.

It was only yesterday that I realised my new home away from home is in an area that is a little on the seedy side. One of the dive guys mentioned something in passing which confused me so I decided to open my eyes a bit more when walking around. That’s when I saw it. Dragon Bar, on the corner had a billboard above it of a scantily clad female bending over, oh and there just so happens to be dancing poles on each of the bars. Maybe there is also a special reason they have left all of the bar stools wrapped in glad wrap. How did I not see this before? I just wasn’t looking for it. I suspect this is not the only bar like this around here (I just haven’t gone looking).

Phuket is quiet, really quiet by Phuket standards. I noticed it on my first night. Most of the restaurants and bars seem to be empty. This is odd, because low season doesn’t officially start until 1st May and there still should be people around finishing their Easter vacation. Walking into Karon beach yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice how many shops were void of potential customers. I chatted to the Kashmiri owner of the Asian Arts shop. He told me it had been unusually quiet for 6 weeks already and that the economic crisis and the Bangkok riots were affecting business. Terje, the Norwegian owner of Southern Fried Rice, confirmed the effect of the riots when he told me he had already had a few cancellations from Australians due to arrive this week.

There may be a need for people to reconsider their need to travel to Bangkok but not here. It is so far away from the trouble and life is relatively peaceful. I say relatively, because Terje told me a story about an altercation between a couple of American lads and a tuk tuk driver which ended up in the tuk tuk driver smashing the scooter with a bar. Unfortunately they had rented it from Terje. With the tourist downturn, the tuk tuk drivers are fighting for fares.

I had considered renting a scooter myself but last night I saw a westerner hit by a Hilux , the typical 4WD ute drive here. He was riding his motorbike (minus helmet and only in shorts, t shirt and flip flops) on the main street of Kata when he was hit and flung onto the bitumen. There he lay, lifeless. I thought he was dead until I saw him convulse a couple of times. A huge crowd was gathered around and noone really seemed to be doing anything, not checking him or comforting him. I saw a policeman drive past when I was 5 minutes walk up the road, this was some 15 minutes after the accident occurred. It was a horrible thing to see and it left me feeling nauseated to my core. What if that was me? I have since vowed never to ride a scooter here.

I’m doing my best to support the local economy and especially Terje. He is very friendly and extremely helpful. He even drove me to look at Phuket Muay Thai camp today so I wouldn’t have to pay the taxi fare. Southern Fried Rice’s location does not subject it to walk-by tourist trade. Access to the Night Bazaar is from the main road. There are few people staying here now and even fewer eating in the restaurant. I am eating here when I can. The food is good and many of the restaurants in this area seem to be much the same.

So what am I up to I hear you ask. Apart from slowing down, enjoying breakfast, enjoying coffee from my Italian barrista (yes I found decent coffee and it’s not Starbucks), enjoying reading on the beach, swimming in pounding surf, chatting to the local shop keepers and watching gorgeous sunsets, I have started to make plans, for next week anyway.

I met with Rene, the owner of Sea Fun divers this morning to discuss courses. Sea Fun operate out of Le Meridien and Kathathani resorts, both of which are way out of budget as accommodation options for this trip. I was lucky to dive with them when I stayed at Le Meridien on a work conference back in August 2007. I was really impressed with the operation. It’s not the cheapest way to dive Thailand but my experience is you get what you pay for. The premium you pay gets you a low instructor to student ratio and a better quality experience. Rene spent a good hour chatting to me and gave me his mobile number in case I have any emergencies or need help while I am here. I’ve also had regular communication with Lisa, another employee, before I came here. They are so helpful and happy to spend the time required to make sure I am comfortable with everything. I am starting my Rescue Diver and Emergency First Response course with them on Tuesday and then all going well and I feel it is the right next step, I will complete my Dive Master course as well. Depending on how much time I dedicate each week, the courses will probably take me between 3 weeks and 2 months to complete.

I am also shopping around for a Muay Thai gym. I’ve checked out two so far. One that is two minutes down the road from me, but the Romper Stomper and Rastafarian looking guys intimidated me. The other one is Phuket Muay Thai, about 3 kilometres from Kata beach set on the side of a hill of Patak Road with beautiful sea breezes. I chatted to a guy from Perth about his training experience there. He had trained at another couple of places in Thailand and suggested that whilst this one was good for conditioning, it was not good for learning technique mainly because the instructors English is limited. I want to learn technique. He suggested Naiharn Boxing club, which is new and owned by a westerner. I’m going to check it out on Monday (boxing gyms are closed on Sundays, day of rest for students and teachers).

So for now, I’ve got a whole two days of rest and relaxation ahead of me before I get stuck into the exciting stuff. Whilst I can’t wait to get into the diving courses, I don’t mind having this time to myself. One of my initial fears was about being lonely and whilst it’s too early to feel lonely yet, I am quickly learning that even when I am miles from home there will be people around to help and support me (Terje, Rene and Lisa are good examples of this).

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The Leaving

The idea behind this trip was conceived just over 12 months ago, on 21st March 2008. I was flying back to Australia from Bangkok after an inspiring visit to India and an amazing dive trip to the Similan Islands (off the west coast of Thailand). I was on a peaceful high but sad and a little depressed to be returning home. I wasn’t ready for my holiday to be over yet and I was returning to a job that I had come to despise for a company that after seven years of dedication and loyalty could find nothing else to offer me (yes I was feeling a bit jilted and jaded).

It was time to move on. The signs had been there for a while but I had stubbornly ignored them. I had just been through a major relationship break up and didn’t think I could face another significant change in my life, just yet. I wanted to ride out the turbulent signs of change for as long as I could.

But sitting on the plane, thinking about leaving and then finding and committing to another job in financial planning (ie finding the next step in my career), I felt nauseous to my core. This wasn’t just the issue of moving on from a job and organisation that had been a second home for 7 years, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to work in financial planning anymore. In fact I was fairly certain that I didn’t. My mind wandered back to the things I had just experienced; the joy in the faces of children who had nothing, the unique sights, sounds and smells of another country, the wonderful people I had met on my journey, and the peace that only neutral buoyancy seems to bring me. I knew that I needed to experience this again, without a time limit.

So I returned to work on the Monday, resigned on the Friday and finished work the following Friday with the intention of only undertaking contracting work until the end of the year before heading to Asia to scratch my perpetual diving itch. By June, I commenced a 6 month contract which I agreed to extend, mainly because I wasn’t ready to leave yet. Then in January, an unexpected change in my living arrangements provided the motivation I needed to finally set a date and book a ticket.

My belongings have been packed into boxes and space saver bags ready to go into long-term storage, I have crammed as many belongings as possible into my back pack and have said a final “see ya later” to most of the beautiful people in my life. That makes it sound so simple and easy but to my surprise it hasn’t been at all.

Up until ten days ago, it was almost as if I was in denial about leaving. Other than arrange my visa and my holiday hair management strategy with my beloved hairdresser, Joey, I had done next to nothing to get ready to go. But why? This wasn’t a case of being lazy, this was a case of a stubborn, change-resistant soul trying to hold on to what it knows and pretend that this wasn’t really happening.

Now this may sound crazy because as we all know, this period in my life is going to be an exciting adventure. However, there is a large part of me that likes certainty and likes to plan everything so that outcomes can be certain and that’s one of the main reasons the leaving has been so hard. I have no plan for this trip. I have ideas about what I would like to do with my time but as much as I tried (and I did try on numerous occasions to plan my movements and activities for at least a 3 to 6 month period) I couldn’t commit to a plan of action.

I have a one way flight, two weeks accommodation and an appointment at the dive shop on Friday morning. And that is as much as I can tell you about what I am doing at the moment. So quite simply, I have no plan and that part of me that hates change and uncertainty is terrified. The terror manifests itself in the form of an anxious, nauseous knot in my stomach and for each item packed away for my future return, many tears were shed. Each item packed was one step closer to being ready to leave and each tear shed represented a letting go of what currently is and preparation for flowing into what may be.

There’s still some more tears to be shed with some final farewells to take place tomorrow but most of the letting go has now taken place. This time tomorrow, I will be on Malaysia Air flight MH128, flying to a known destination but into an adventure that is yet to be defined.