Sunday, October 11, 2009

Some pics from Patong Beach-- Memories of the Summer

I am FINALLY trying to give my few but loyal blog followers some closure on my trip to Asia, even though I am having a hard time getting any personal closure with an experience so profound.

Here are some photos from Patong Boxing Gym, Patong Beach, and Koh Phi Phi, Thailand.

You can expect to see a few more blog posts from me with thoughts on my trip.




















Saturday, May 23, 2009

Thailand Part 2

So I'm back in Southern Thailand, this time in Patong Beach on the tropical island of Phuket. Absolutely beautiful place, great weather, awesome beaches, wild nightlife, all the things one wants in a vacation spot. But for me, the draw is Patong Boxing Gym. I came here to live at this Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) training camp for 2 and 1/2 weeks to immerse myself in Muay Thai training, and that is exactly what I have gotten (as well as bruised and swollen feet and legs, a decent tan, an obsession for spicy Thai food, and a big toe that may be broken ;-) )

Anyway, I train 2 times per day. The morning session is usually running and lifting weights, and the afternoon is reserved for pad work and/or sparring. This is my first experience with any martial art and it seems to be a good fit for me. I left the US in January thinking I would study Kung Fu but that proved to be impractical given my size. Also, Muay Thai is much more functional than Kung Fu and its easy to find a program in the US that teaches Thai boxing or incorporates it into a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) routine.

The trip has flown by, but I will leave with a new passion for fighting and a solid fundamental base of the sport. My trainers say I am talented and powerful, and that I can compete assuming I can drop into a reasonable weight class. I will look into K-1 kickboxing when I get back to the States, as their weight classes are more suited to Western body types. Still, the pros here want me to return next year to schedule my first fight at Patong Boxing Stadium, of course with representation from Patong Boxing Gym.

Also, I looked into changing my return flight to early June and it will cost $500! So rather than give Continental my precious greenbacks, I will return to Thailand (this time Pattaya) with an American fighter I met here. We will train at the renowned Scorpion Gym in Pattaya, and I will also spend a day at Fairtex Pattaya.

Return Date: June 21

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Greetings from the Shanghai (post Beijing) !!!

Ni Hao pengyou (Hello friends),

I am currently in Shanghai-- the largest city in the world-- with over 20 Million people.  Even with such a high population, the city appears to be quite manageable.  My group got in last night from Beijing, where I toured for 3 days.  Not quite enough time to see a city with such impressive history, but definitely enough to get a taste and decide that I will definitely be back in the future. Be on the lookout for pics from the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Olympic area, and some from downtown Hong Kong as well.  

I arrived in Beijing at 11 pm on Wednesday night with only a piece of paper with the literal translation of the name of my hostel on it, written in Chinese.  I was totally unprepared for my trip-- all my attention had been focused on a Distressed Asset Investing conference I attended earlier in the week, so the departure for Beijing has thrown haphazard.  Recommendation 1:  before leaving for Beijing, purchase the Lonely Planet China guide, the Lonely Planet Chinese Phrasebook, a Beijing map, and print out a CHINESE Beijing map clearly showing the location of the hostel/hotel.  I showed the piece of paper with the words "Sanlitun Youth Hostel" in Chinese, and I was taken to the Sanlitun district and dropped off.  My hostel was nowhere to be found, and I wandered around for the next 2 hours looking for my hostel until finally someone at a hotel-- a rare English speaker-- gave me directions.

I was surprised that NO ONE in Beijing knows any English.  I can count on one hand the number of people here who cold speak it, but most citizens don't.  Chalk it up to American arrogance combined with being spoiled by bilingual Hong Kong.  I can speak conversational Chinese but I still had a very hard time here.  The name of the hostel in Chinese is not a direct translation, so make sure you understand the Chinese name of your place before travelling here. 

Still an awesome city with an amazing and prestigious resume of historical sights, restaurants, and the 2008 Olympic grounds.  A must for any traveller in Asia-- I am glad I sacrificed to make this trip happen!

We arrived in Shanghai last night, checked into the Koala International Hostel, ate dinner at a very Chinese restaurant and then crashed.  Today we toured the Shanghai Museum and ate Xiao Long Bao (dumplings with soup and meat inside) and then shopped in the very trendy (but authentic looking) Yu Yuen district.  My family should be happy to know that I bargained extra hard for your presents today! 

Tonight we will go to the Bund and take pictures of the magnificent Shanghai skyline.  Pics are coming soon, hopefully with my travelling companions-- a stellar group of guys from Miami, New York, Minnesota, and Boston.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Queens Spa (an unofficial endorsement)









Wow, its been a month since I wrote! Sorry for the delay.

Three of my classes finished last week. I had 3 final exams on April 6 (my birthday). Happy birthday to me, right?!? However, it was nice to have those 3 classes over so early. The remaining 2 classes are written and oral Chinese. These classes will have exams next week, and then (hopefully) I will be travelling to Beijing.

The plan is to fly to Beijing on the 29th, stay for a few days and take some sidetrips-- possibly to the Shaolin Temple-- then take the train to Shanghai. We'll spend a few days in Shanghai and then ride the train to Shenzhen, finish our tour of China with another visit to Queens Spa, then return to Hongkers.

I went with a small group of guys to Queens Spa on Saturday night, which is right across the border in Shenzhen. This city is a shopping, dining, and spa capital, and everything is affordable. I find it difficult to describe Queens because there is nothing like it in the United States that I know of. Think of it as a theme park or resort that is all indoors, in a 5 story, 40,000 square METERS complex. There is something for adults and children, and everything is centered on spa accoutrements-- massage, sauna, pools, facials and other treatments, a salon, plasma TVs and comfortable seating everywhere. This is a high-class establishment, and professionalism and customer service is obviously a top priority at Queens.

Let me better explain by starting at the beginning. We arrived in Shenzhen and first hit the mall so my buddy Charles could order a custom-tailored suit. We then ate a steak , and afterward proceeded to Queens Spa. This is the only spa I have ever known that will pick you up in a Rolls Royce from the airport or train station (see attached photos).

Arrivals are escorted through the entrance and downstairs past some small indoor waterfalls on either side of the stairway, and into separate mens' and womens' locker rooms. There your belongings are put in a locker, and you are given an electronic keytag that unlocks your locker and identifies you with a customer number. This locker can only be opened by a swipe of your key and a staff key, in that order.

With towel around your waist and rubber sandals on your feet, you proceed into a large sauna and whirlpool room (separate for men and women, of course) where you shower and can then enjoy the steam room, wooden sauna, a shower bed, body scrape, one of three large whirlpools (hot, warm, or ice cold), or sit and relax on a chaise lounge. Next is the "pajama room" where you lose the towel and don striped pajamas and sandals, dry off, apply baby powder or lotion or whatever before going to Level 3-- the central hub of the spa.

Level 3 is a very large area with several fruit and juice bars (also with coffee, ice cream, desssert), a restaurant, a stadium-type area with about 60 reclining theatre seats, and several areas with theatre seats that have personal plasma TVs attached. Level 3 also has 2 billiard tables and an enormous snooker table, internet kiosks, and small rooms with TVs and XBOX 360 or PS3. The place can comfortably serve 1000 clients, and there are some 500 staff present at any given time. Of course Queens is open 24-hours-a-day.

From Level 3, you can select the type of treatment you want and proceed to the proper area. I got a 90-minute aromatherapy massage for 208 Yuan ($30.43 USD). This took place in a special aromatherapy area of the massage floor-- level 2. The room was beautifully decorated with nice music playing, and the massage table itself was the most luxurious I have ever seen or laid on. Needless to say, I was asleep after about an hour.

Afterward was back up to Level 3 for tea, some billiards with my buddies, and then to Level 4 to the sleeping area. This level has many rooms with similar electronically reclining theatre-type lounge chairs with a plasma TV attached. These rooms are darker and cooler, and the staff brings you a Down comforter once you have a spot.

The next morning, we gathered in the restaurant for a breakfast of Dim Sum, banana pancakes, and my favorite noodles-- fried Udon with beef and XO sauce. I couldn't get anyone to split the fried jellyfish with me, unfortunately. Afterward, it was back to the sauna/steam room/whirlpool/shower before heading to Hong Kong.

Queens Spa is simply incredible, and I would have gone many times before had I known more about it. Unfortunately there is nothing like this in America that I know of. Even if there was, I imagine the prices would be outrageous. I spent just under $120 USD for an overnight visit there-- two 90-minute massages with tip, a manicure, and a great meal. I even read online how some business travellers to Shenzhen will stay at Queens each night instead of going to a hotel. I certainly would consider it, as long as I could figure out a way to stay away from the all-you-can-eat ice cream cone bar.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cambodia

I have been reluctant to write about Siem Reap, Cambodia so far, and I'm not sure why. Maybe because it wasn't an "exciting" or "vibrant" place like many of the other locations I have travelled to in Asia. Maybe it was the poverty, the corruption, or the raw hunger that many locals have for tourists' money.

The plan was to visit Andkor Wat, the ancient temple built almost 1000 years ago, which is the largest religious structure in the world. It certainly was amazing, as well as neighboring Angkor Thom. The temples were beautiful, but the area was so "touristy" that it kind of turned me off. Not to mention the two people I was with snapping pictures of ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING that we saw.

What really struck me about Siem Reap was the poverty of the people there. Mom told me before I left to make sure I visit places like this to see how most of the world really lives. There was strong competition from restaurants, Tuk Tuk drivers, and foot massage vendors for dollars (the US Dollar is the unofficial Official Currency of Cambodia now). The saddest sights were the children that were everywhere trying to sell all manner of tourist items-- maps, postcards, bracelets-- and they all had a hustle, a sales pitch, and a quick comeback for whatever you had to say. Apparently, these kids pay their parents, and their parents pay the police for the right to sell goods on the street. A little girl even offered to give me credit wheh I told her I had no money, as long as I bought post cards along with whatever else I wanted!

On Saturday night, we attended a cello concert/fundraising presentation by a Swiss doctor who has singlehandedly raised money to build 5 childrens' hospitals in Cambodia (1 in Phnom Penh, and 1 in Siem Reap that is in its 4th new location). These hospitals provide free healthcare to children, and they do amazing work! He showed me a side of Cambodia that I knew was there but that I couldn't see behind the tourist facade. Children there are dying every day of Tuberculosis and Dengue Fever. They are filling up the hospitals every day. They have saved the lives of something like 9 million children in 30 or 40 years.

This was a deeply moving experience for me. This doctor gives the cello concert/ presentation every Saturday night at 7:15 pm to (mostly Western) tourists, and 90% of the funds for these hospitals are still from private donors! He has been acclaimed my doctors all over the world, bu the President of Switzerland, and it is a truly legit outfit. If I had the kind of money to donate, I would have written him a check on the spot. I got a bunch of information about the charity, so don't be surprised if you here about this guy again.

Its peculiar that this hour-long presentation by a white guy was my most memorable experience in Cambodia. All I know is that God lets me know when I'm in the presence of people who are walking the righteous path, who are truly giving all they've got to help someone else. I hope I am able to give selflessly like this man surely has.

My second home

Wow, Hong Kong is an amazing city! I think I have broken through the last bit of culture-shock, which manifests itself mostly in frustration and irritability.

The last few weeks of February were particularly tough for me. I was getting frustrated about everything in Hong Kong: the crowds, the culture I couldn't understand, the school, basically a bunch of stuff over which I have absolutely no control. None whatsoever. After realizing this I began doing more to grow through it, such as journalling, asking more people for help, and exercising more vigorously (see: Muay Thai). I also stopped walking so fast, eating so fast, and trying to understand everything about everyone. I began to observe without judging, without perceiving or naming as Eckhardt Tolle might say. The city looks new to me now-- something exciting around every corner. The people are fascinating. The language is not a barrier, but a challenge. The financial services industry in Asia is promising. I feel a little more at home in Asia, certainly more independent, and ready to compete, ready to "get in the game."