Archive for the ‘Capoeira’ Category

Songkran in Ayutthaya and Bangkok

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

It may be paranoia writing, but on the air-conditioned afternoon bus from Sukhothai to Ayutthaya, I realized that my morning’s exploration of temple ruins had left me with a film of evaporated sweat, and a slight but unpleasant odor. The lady next to me didn’t seem to appreciate this. I am actively working on not caring about such issues.

After a six-hour ride I was the only one to get off at Ayuttahya, the bus continuing on to Bangkok, and instead of a bus terminal, I was let off on the side of the highway a few kilometers from the town center. I must note, once again, the infuriating affairs of hiring transport in Thailand. When you don’t want a tuk-tuk, you are inevitably going to be approached by someone offering you a tour of the city or x-rated ping-pong show for a very good price. When you are half a block away from your accommodations you are accosted by scooter-taxis, offering to take you wherever you need to go. However, when you are in actual need of transport, especially when stranded, the drivers get coy and pretend to ignore you when you don’t agree to their quote. Despite my best efforts to negotiate a price, the scooter-taxi driver wouldn’t budge from his exorbitant 100 Baht fee, all for taking me and my overweight pack on a deathride on the highway.

Luckily, I managed to persuade a very nice couple to let me ride in the back of their pickup the six kilometers into town, refusing payment upon dropping me off. Easily finding a guest house for the night, I was struck at the eery quiet in the streets. Most shops were closed, and the streets lacked the nightlife typical of Thai towns. The city was gearing up for Songkran, Thailand’s multi-day New Year’s celebration.

Waking up the following morning I had an agenda consisting of seeing the vast and manicured ruins of this former Thai capital city. Camera in hand, and everything in my pack wrapped in plastic bags, I set out to brave the commencing celebrations. Songkran, as I understand it, originally was a New Year’s celebration where families would gather and pay respect to one another with blessings of water. Likewise, holy Buddha statues often get taken out of town wats and paraded through the streets to let people wash them.

Today, Songkran is much more of a party, in Chiang Mai lasting almost a week this year. In Ayutthaya I was quickly drenched by mobs of bandit children, commanding the streets, Rambo style, wielding plastic water guns seemingly too big for their small frames. Groups of teenagers pack pickup trucks and crawl the streets, engaging in a country-wide water fight. My guest house even ran hoses that pumped water from the adjacent river to soak passers-by. Add to all of this the tradition of patting strangers’ faces with paste, and the celebration quickly becomes a messy, wet affair.

I did manage to snap a few pictures of the ruins and other historical stuff — thankfully these grounds were off-limits to drenching. But the day was mostly spent getting into the spirit of things. In 95 degree heat, the water is refreshing; and once you let go of western trepidation about getting wet, it is really quite fun. There are floats, beauty pageants, masks, street food and alcohol: really all you could ask for on New Year’s.

After several good soakings and a filling meal, I decided to head down to Bangkok a day early, having seen as much as I reasonably could. Waiting for a train, I met a Anglo-Estonian couple whom I’d recognized from up in Chiang Mai — I’d seen them in costume, riding double-decker bicycles. Apparently, they’ve been traveling the region, playing old jazz tunes on guitars and saxophone. We even got to pass the time with an impromptu Capoeira game.

Arriving in Bangkok, and hoping to run into the musical couple later, I headed out into every agoraphobe’s nightmare: Songkran celebration on Kao San road. I had convinced myself to book a hotel in backpacker central, to experience things from a different perspective than my last stay in BKK. Little did I know at the time that this is Songkran central. Multiple streets filled with young revelers, where nobody is safe from a soak.

I invite you to look at some of the pictures of the crowds, and picture me among twice as many people, trying to navigate like flotsam in a nearly-frozen sea, wearing a giant backpack, trying hard to be zen about the experience. At a snail’s pace, going from waterbucket fight to street rock concert (if only I’d known the words the songs, I’d have moshed, too), some internal GPS-radar-compass thing kicked in. I took an alley shortcut, went around the bend, and lo and behold, found the hotel. I’ve never been more proud of myself.

Able to settle into more comfortable clothes, I soon joined the party, ice-cold water in hand, seeking revenge on any sniper who dared shoot first. Three days into it, I had enough of the whole thing about 2 days ago; but Songkran is actually a lot of fun. One simply has to resign oneself to being soaked and dirty for a while. Not a bad way to end my time here in Thailand.

Tomorrow morning I fly to Cambodia to meet up with an old friend, whose only warnings have been to expect a very different world from Thailand. I eagerly anticipate culture shock.


Monday, March 19th, 2007

Bangkok is huge, noisy, polluted and really fucking hot. I kinda love it.

Yesterday I spent the day just walking around, getting my bearings. I’ve mostly traveled along Sukhumvit, taking advantage of the convenient SkyTrain system. I opted not to stay on backpacker mainstay Kao San road, and ended up in a much posher area. Along Sukhumvit Road are endless shopping centers, seemingly modeled after the ones in Japan. The scale of these, however, I have never seen before. I got seriously lost in one that blew me away: on the ground floor, a food court the likes of which you’ve got no idea (and bigger than any I saw in Osaka, for that matter) — foods from around the world, pastries and local fruits.. Upstairs were several floors-worth of shopping: everything from your typical western clothing to, i shit you not, car showrooms (including Lamborghini and Ferrari), appliances and electronics like nobody’s business… further upstairs were several language and culture learning centers, geared towards kids; next to that, a Yamaha music shop, in front of which was playing a teen-aged rock group (really talented, too.) After picking up some food and getting a local SIM card for my phone, i escaped (it only took me 20 minutes to figure out how the hell to get out of there.)

I expected the clientelle in these enormous shopping meccas to be all Farang, but to my surprise they seemed to be mostly Thai. I clearly know nothing about the wealth of the average Thai, but I was very surprised by the affluence I saw. To wit, directly next to these concrete behemoths, in the alleys I saw scenes of much greater poverty – between rust and concrete, clothesline glimpses of people’s lives. Bangkok is evidently changing at a very rapid pace.

I spent the afternoon and the following day visiting various Wats, palaces and other points of cultural interest. I know very little about Thai art history, but the various styles are all very beautiful, rich in color — gold leaf statues and wall coverings, elaborate masks and doll.. not to mention the enormous reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, which was truly spectacular, even to me 😉 At Wat Pho I got an incredible massage at the traditional massage school located there.

Temporarily reinvigorated (not to mention contorted), I continued amassing a sunburn, visiting more tourist destinations, including the Grand Palace, where I met two very nice, intrepid and beautiful Polish girls. The sun’s effect by this point in the afternoon was taking its toll on me (and my ever-poor command of the Polish language), so I trekked on.

All templed-out (easy to do, very quickly), I managed to find the park near the water, where Capoeira Thailand holds an open roda on Sundays, per the recommendation of Iuna, from ABADA SF. I give these guys the biggest kudos possible, for they are a self-started group (one of two schools in Thailand, no less), and are super dedicated; one of the guys had even spent all morning making berimbaus from local wood and gourds (they sound great).

I managed not collapse in the intolerable heat, and we played until the sun set before going out for dinner and drinks. Perhaps it helps to have a shared interest, especially across language-barriers, but these are really some of the warmest people I’ve met in a while. I hope to play with them again next time I’m in Bangkok.

What next? Despite having walked miles on end, there is so much more for me to see in this city. However, my lungs need a break from the pollution, so I’ll be headed to Ko Samui tomorrow for some beach time.

Lots of plane time

Friday, March 16th, 2007

I love planes, and I am fascinated by airports. But right now I’m tired of all of that.

My last night on Maui I took a small capoeira class with Pedrita, of grupo Porto de Minas. As it turns out, she knows Edna Lima from New York (Mestranda Edna baptized me at my first batizado in 2005 in SF.) The class was all of 2 people, so it was low-key, which is just as well, since it’s really hot there and I hadn’t worked out in a little while.

The following day I flew to Honolulu and spent a night at an unmemorable hotel on Waikiki. I got some sun and sand time in, so I can’t complain; but it was really just a transit point and I didn’t get a chance to really see Honolulu (next time, right?) Early next morning I took a flight to Tokyo (9 hours), had a 4 hour layover in Narita (inari + sake + massage chair.. need i say more?), and then hopped a 7 hour flight to Bangkok.

And here I am at Big John’s guest house. I have no impressions of Thailand yet, and i’m exhausted. I just chatted with Justin, who claims it’s 11:30am in SF. I believe him, but my body clock doesn’t. I think it’s time to hit the sack.