A Two Holed Time Machine

As I strapped on the pink “farang” gloves this morning in the gym, I took a quick glance around the scene.

Si-Nook, the resident gym mutt was lounging ringside while two cats that weren’t quite stray but weren’t exactly owned lay near the fans.

Zack was standing in his preposterous rubber sweat suit, occasionally opening the elastic arm cuff to let loose a deluge of sweat. I’m “glistening” standing bare chested in shorts short enough to make the most even the most risque teen girl think twice.

In reality, I’m sweating harder than the ne’er-do-well boy hiding under said risque teen’s bed after her parents came home early.

Zack’s covered from ankle to neck in a rubber suit.

I’m about to faint from heat stroke just thinking about it.

Koh is running around like the magnanimous maniac he is, shouting this and that in Thai, occasionally peppering it with a little “well chewed” English, throwing a few shadow punches and kicks as I wrap my hands.

Khan, the 17 year old (easily mistaken for a 12 year old) Thai “pride of the gym” is laughing at me while laying in the middle of the ring with one of the stray cats, making crude hand gestures back and forth with Zack. Finally he jumps up, and starts miming a hide and go seek around one of the punching bags. I have no idea what is so funny, but he and Zack are splitting their sides laughing.

The only other “farang” in the gym, an Englishman named Glenn, is warming up by jumping up and down on old truck tires, the old “Thai trampoline.” He quickly moves on from this to grab a “jump rope”, a pinky width length of hard, clear tubing with two hand carved wooden grips on the end, held together by a bolt and washer.

As I finish wrapping my hands, I move over to one of the punching bags. This one consists of 2 SUV tires bolted together, swinging from a heavy chain. What it lacks in sleek looks, it makes up for in utility. I’d rather be punching this than either of the “professional” punching bags swinging to its right and left. The give from the tires keeps it from swinging as violently, while still giving enough weight to really feel it in the shoulders.

The smell of “gym” is omnipresent. Every time I slip my sandals off and take that first deep breath, I am immediately transported 9200 miles and 10 years in the past, to a long ago August in a hot, old, poorly painted locker room on the south end of the BNL Fieldhouse.

If I close my eyes, I can hear Zac Gary’s voice, always an octave higher than normal when he was excited, shouting what he planned to do to someone poor soul as soon as “stations” were done and “Oklahoma” started.

Every time he really gets going though, the even higher voice of DJ Horton drowns him out, “Gary you chucklehead why don’t you shut your mouth and show me something on Friday instead of telling Flick what you’re going to do to him after practice.”

I swear if I look left, I’ll see the big head of Paul Spreen bouncing slowly as he emits his famous “hut hut hup” laugh.

Amazing how a smell can bring a decade old memory back with clarity that makes HD seem like an RCA box TV with bunny ears.

For all the gifts God gave us, that protruding two holed time machine is among the greatest.

After I’ve been appropriately slathered down with Tiger Balm and boxing liniment, the real training begins. 4 minutes of shadow boxing, 1 minute rest. 4 minutes combo work with a trainer shouting commands and holding the pads, 1 minute rest.

After the 4th round of combo work, I’m trying to drown myself in water which 20 minutes ago was straight from the fridge. Now it is room temperature and climbing, sitting in a pool of sweat which rivals my own.

The shirt I’m using to wipe my face is completely drenched, my hips feel like I just gave birth to a hippopotamus from the continuous strain of high kicks on my brutally inflexible hip flexors.

As I look in the mirror, I look like a 2 legged contestant in a greased pig contest.

As I told my parents in an email after day 1, “You know the flames that jump up from the grill as the fat from a nice ribeye slowly drips down? Thank God I’m not training on a grill, or my doughy American ass would be CHAR-BROILT!”

Oh by the way, it is only 8:25AM. Not even halfway through session 1 of 2 for the day.

For all the memories of high school football that flood my mind, none of them seem to be able to remind my sorry 27 year old carcass of what it once was.

Real shame, because that 17 year old body would really be handy right about now.

I guess the aches and pains of my current form are a small price to pay for a ride in that two holed time machine. A quick trip back to a place where our problems were laughably small and our guts were even smaller.

We were all still invincible back, because Life had graciously saved those lessons in mortality for a later day.

To spend even a moment back in that long gone time and place. That’s worth every ounce of sweat. Every ache and bruise.

In fond remembrance of Zac Gary.

Friendships and Forks in the Road

Greetings from Bangkok. Turns out this is a real place, not just something that teenaged boys say before hitting each other in the balls.

Took the night train from Chiang Mai. Quite a nice way to travel when compared to the busses of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. I paid about $25 for a sleeper berth, which wasn’t at all what I expected. When I got onto the train originally, the seats were setup in the traditional 2 facing 2 format. I thought to myself, “Shit, you managed to get ripped off.”

In Bangkok, everyone with a voicebox is trying to rip you off.

There wasn’t really anywhere to put my bags either, so I just laid them in the middle of the two seats. I took a short nap sitting up, and then settled in to read for a bit. About 2 hours later, a small Thai stewardess walks up with a big Allen key and motions for me to get out of the way. 3 minutes later, there were two beds, top and bottom, laid out in front of me with small blue curtains almost holding back the light. There were even real pillows.

I was amazed and grateful, so I tucked my things into the top bunk, and laid back down in the bottom. Again, SE Asia has made me realize that height isn’t always an advantage, as even my very average frame was at the absolute maximum to lay flat in the bunk.

I had a little chuckle thinking about my 6’11’’ buddy Kiefer trying to lay in this bed… or hell, do damn near anything in this part of the world. God that’d be miserable.

After settling in, I went to go grab some dinner on the dining car. Dining car was a bit of a scene, with the mandatory moaning Thai music videos playing and the staff smiling and dancing. When I walked in I was the only phaulong (foreigner) in the room. I got a Pad Thai and a Chang beer, and tried futilely to talk to the older Thai gentleman sitting across from me. We got through our names, exhausted our knowledge of our non-native language and finally settled with smiling at each other and tapping our beers for cheers about 5 times.

He left, and two Westerners sat down next to me. I asked, “How ya goin’?” having picked it up from the Aussies, and we started to talk. After getting to where are you from, they replied Americans and I said the same. They actually thought I was Australian, which shocked me.

Turns out they are from…Indiana.

I thought I was going to have a heart attack.

One had gone to school at Arizona State University, and I asked which fraternity he was in. When he replied Sigma Chi, I asked if he ever met an alum named Kyle Uminger, a pseudo cousin of mine who had been the president of that chapter. Turns out, he had apparently given a talk at the house while he was there.

The world is a damned small place, evidenced today on a night train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok.

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Leaving Chiang Mai was bittersweet. As I left, I knew that I was leaving several good friends behind. Luke and Wendy (of the Thaket/Kong Lor Cave adventure and motorbike accident) finally caught back up with me. Luke and I went and watched the USA/Germany game, and then said our goodbyes afterward. He’s headed back to Australia in a couple weeks, to have a cornea transplant and hopefully open a food truck in Brisbane. In a little over 3 weeks, we had some great adventures.

Luke, Wendy and I in front of Kong Lor Cave

Luke, Wendy and I in front of Kong Lor Cave

From getting to Thaket in the middle of the night with nowhere to stay, with reports of Burmese body snatchers floating in and finally having a 10 year old kid take us to the neighbors, where he beat on the door at 2AM and told them to make us dinner. Finally some poor groggy man got out of bed and beckoned us in. We sat and laughed and drank beers while watching some old Champions League game.

The next day was when we crashed our motorbikes during the 4 hour ride to Kong Lor cave.

The night after that, we got into Vientienne in a pouring rain at 1:30AM and were promptly dropped off in an alley full of hookers by the least scrupulous tuk-tuk driver I’ve encountered yet.

The following hour and a half was an unfunny comedy of errors before we finally found a hostel that would take us.

I also left behind Fabio and Marlene, the German couple I’ve been traveling with for the past couple of weeks.

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They’ve been excellent traveling partners and great friends. We’ve ridden elephants, flown around Vang Vieng on go-karts, played endless games of Ralfrunta, and even seen off a near tragedy when our mutual traveling partner Marayna decided to take a header down some stairs (resulting in 40 some odd stitches.)

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We talked about a little bit of everything from politics, culture, language, movies, you name it. I can speak a very small amount of poorly pronounced German now (Marlene still thinks I have potatoes in my mouth,) and they know what phrases like “Hell in a handbasket” mean. I had a blast with them, and saw how a well functioning couple doing this kind of long-term travel operates.

The mere thought of traveling with most American girls like this is enough to give me grey hair, but Marlene was a trooper of the highest order; a veritable mobile pharmacy which could produce anti-diahhera medicine, toilet paper, contact solution, and mosquito repellent out of a bag which didn’t seem large enough by half.
I’ll miss Fabio’s bad jokes, which were always saved by the second punchline, “Ya, dat EEs funny. Right?” And I’ll miss Marlene yelling at Fabio during Ralfrunta, “Fabi-YO, I cahn see yooor cahds!”

They are headed to the Philippines from here, then back to Germany in a month after a full year of traveling from New Zealand through SE Asia. I promised that if I ever got to Germany that I’d stop in, and I’d imagine if Marlene has her way there will be a mini-Kraut padding around their flat if I wait more than a year or so.

As I got off the plane in Krabi, I wondered who I’d meet as I got to my hostel. Turns out, there was a ready made crew waiting in the dorm room when I got there. Dutch girls, with their throaty accents and slightly amazing hair products (just in time for the Netherlands/Mexico game!), a Welsh lad who was brutally offended that I didn’t know about rugby, and a parcel of English girls telling me all about their time in India.

I have the feeling I won’t lack for company here either.

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That’s the beauty of friendships on the road. In a mere few weeks, I’ve had more unique experiences with these people than many that I’ve known for years. I know how they react under pressure and how chippy they get when they’re hungry or tired. I know how they deal with a legitimate crisis and how easily they can laugh off a “toilet” which is little more than a hole in the ground. I’ve seen them on mopeds and I’ve seen how well they barter with tuk-tuk drivers. I sat across from them when the transmission fell out of our bus in the mountains, and I saw the fear on their faces when we drove past a bus just like ours that had rolled off the highway on a rainy night to Vientiane.

These friendships taught me things, both about others and about myself. So often we find ourselves squabbling with our friends in our routine lives, taking offense at this or that. None of it really amounts to a hill of beans, but we ball up our fists and get angry instead of just letting it all go.

I’ve seen enough of the world to know that lives intersect for a reason. Hell I wouldn’t be sitting where I am today if a collegiate acquaintance hadn’t been dumb enough to stay in the biggest dump of a hostel in Amsterdam and struck up a conversation with a certain dingo kicking Australian.

They traveled together for 5 months and thus began a lifelong friendship.

That dingo kicking Australian ended up becoming my roommate when he moved to NYC, and since then I’ve been on 4 continents with him and consider him one of my closest friends.

Thanks for picking a dump of a hostel Mr. Misamore, I owe you one.

If it weren’t for an interaction that I was unaware of until years later, the Conquest would probably be sitting in front of 8 computer screens swearing at non-existent gold customers. Instead, I’m sitting on the 10th floor overlooking Bangkok, celebrating the start of my 4th month on the road.

Friendships come in all different kinds. Some last for decades, others for only a few days. Appreciate them all and be careful about discarding them. The universe puts people together for reasons often beyond our comprehension.

There are enough forks in the road that end friendships prematurely. Don’t be like the fork-throwing monkey in Battambang and put one there artificially.

I can damn near promise that the issue you think matters so much isn’t half as significant as you think. Holding onto anger in one hand and a friend in the other, the choice seems pretty clear.