|“I love places that make you realize how tiny you and your problems are.” – Travel Noire IG Feed
There we were, 13 of us, tattered and tired, on the Airport Rail Link headed for Phaya Thai Station in Bangkok, Thailand. It was November 4th around 2:00PM local time and I was staring in awe out the window at something I’d only tried to imagine previously, but my imagination had failed. My brother and I caught each other’s eye for a brief second and he said, “…and we think we’re important. We think what we have going on matters…” I smiled, nodded and returned my gaze to the motion picture before me, only I was the one in motion and all that I was seeing was, for the most part, still.
|At that point I realized that, although we were only 37 hours into our 55 hour travel schedule, although it had taken 9 weeks of planning and coordinating, of answering questions and wondering how things would turn out, of leaving my two boys behind for nearly two weeks as I traveled with their mother, halfway around the world, that it would be worth it!
You see, a lot goes through your head as your 13 hours into a sleepless flight high above the Pacific and the captain comes on and warns that you are about to enter a Typhoon Zone. A lot goes through your head when you get off that flight only to rush quickly to a subsequent 4 hour flight where, when you land, you’ll have to rush to the local CrossFit gym to give a seminar, find a way to the train ticket office to pick up the tickets, and then rally your crew to the train depot to hang for awhile before boarding a 14 hour train ride. You can’t help but wonder if it will be worth it…
“One of the hardest parts of life is deciding whether to walk away or try harder.” – Jeff Gorsuch IG Feed
And worth it it was!
I’ll spare you the suspense and cut to the chase, this trip was the single most eye opening experience of my life! While we set out on a Culinary Adventure, the food facet of the trip pales in comparison to the lessons in culture, humanity and stretching one’s limits. It’s fair to say that we accomplished all that we set out for and more.
Writing this article has been hanging over my head. I want to do justice to what took place, but, at the same time, I know that would be impossible. So, I am going to recap my three favorite memories. Here goes nothin’…
Barbells, Zip Lines and Elephants
This one could just as easily be titled “Mark, Cash and Crazy Jimmy”, as they are the memorable people from the respective experiences.
|Mark is the owner of CrossFit Chaing Mai. He allowed us the privilege of working out at 06:00 each morning. The gym was a security blanket of sorts as it was the only similarity to what most of us would find on our home turf. The only difference was that they had freshly brewed Kombucha and their grass-fed beef jerky cost $1.50 instead of $15.00! We had an amazing time with a variety of workouts, and, in the end, the early morning intensity provided the clear minds we’d need to get the most out of each day. So, thank you, Mark, for your hospitality. Thank you for allowing us to experience, once again, the “global network of friends committed to making the world a better place” that is CrossFit.
Cash was my group’s guide for our zip line experience at Flight Of The Gibbon in the mountains north of Chiang Mai. Now, I zip lined when I was on the Nicaragua Culinary Adventure, but that was like a bunny hill and Flight Of The Gibbon was like a 50° north facing slope in Alaska’s Chugach Range (you skiers will understand this analogy). When they say “high above the rain forest floor,” they aren’t joking. Anyways, Cash was a bit flamboyant to say the least. He was an awesome leader and kept us laughing through all 30 platforms.
|The crazy thing is that, with 7 platforms to go, a wasp stung him and he’s allergic to wasps. He didn’t have an EpiPen with him, so, by they time we finished, he was half swollen and his torso was ridden with hives. We rushed back to the office and they rushed Cash off to the hospital. We enjoyed a tasty dinner creekside while the locals played live music. A few of us joined in to play the bells and Jason beat on the drum to keep the rhythm going. While we never heard if Cash survived, we did leave him some “cash” in case he did… 1000 Baht!
Crazy Jimmy was our guide at Baan Chang Elephant Park and he was a hoot! It was clear that he’d learned English from a mix of Aussies, Brits and Americans as his dialogue was a mix of the three accents. He wore a hat like Mick Dundee, held a bamboo cane, and sniffled and snorted a lot. The day with the elephants was amazing. Again, you can try to imagine what it would be like and I can attempt to tell you, but to actually hang out with the big beasts is only way to understand.
They are like oversized puppy dogs that need walks, baths, and to stay away from trees, where they like to scratch their skin. They know how to sit down, stand up, stay, walk faster, turn left, and turn right. They love sugar cane and bananas and they know they are good when you pat them on the hump between their eyes and say “Dee!”, which means “good elephant.” They had all been rescued from logging camps in the north of Thailand and Burma, which now costs around $60,000 per elephant to do. When they arrive, they are often tattered and torn and need medication and skin treatment. When we were there, one of their elephants had just returned from 60 days at the vet. The Mahouts, elephant trainers, are assigned to each elephant for life and most of them at Baan Chang are Burmese refugees. Here’s a great pic Andy took of one, you can see they have a different look than the Thai people.
|With the elephants, as with CrossFit and Zip lining, people faced their fears and overcame them. We all rallied around them like a family and offered support and encouragement. Limits were stretched and we were all better because of it.
Lanterns Let Loose
|They reminded me of the beggars you read about in the Bible, those who hung out at the city gate. The truth is, they make American Transients with cardboard signs look like chumps! While they write on carton to help us understand their situation and why they need money, Thailand’s beggars need no such signs. The only thing you wonder about them is how they got there? Clearly someone had to carry them to their place of pleading and this was explanation enough for why you’d want to give them some gold. One guy was at the entry of the Nakornping Bridge as you entered from the East and one lady was at the entry to the main section of riverbank where people were sending off their lanterns. Again, words are insufficient tools to describe this, but suffice it to say that if you have two hands and two feet, you don’t even need fingers or toes, then a beggar you are not! At least in Thailand…
Som and Payut (The other S&P)
|Things started out slowly with purchase of $1.00 Pad Thai, but quickly escalated to Som letting me into her kitchen to prepare “Friendship Curry” and eventually renting out her restaurant to us so that we could run the “Stupid Easy Paleo Nick” Thai Cookery School for a day.
As Payut would stare into the sky with his head slightly tilted trying to translate into Thai what you just said in English, I quickly realized that this guy was my friend. It wasn’t like he had something I wanted so I’d befriend him to get it, it was more like, I saw genuine kindness and caring and I’d do anything I could to help him. The way he’d lean forward, extend his neck slightly, and open his mouth in a peculiar way as he’d softly, almost silently, pronounce his words was a thing to behold. I only hope you can make it to Inpoo someday to meet this marvelous man.
Som was one of the women who would be “praised at the city gate.” She was up early, already cooking by the time we’d leave for the gym at 05:40, and she’d work late to ensure she got every possible sale for the day. She didn’t have a huge commercial kitchen with all the bells and whistles, she had a small cutting board, a few woks, an ice box, and a blanket that she’d sit on, cross-legged, at the back of the restaurant, as she prepped her meat and veggies for the day.
Did you hear that?
She’d sit on the floor!
She didn’t have ergonomically designed knives and NSF certified cutting boards with little grippy feet. She had running water, bottled propane, and electricity. Her and Payut were proud of the two fans that were installed on the restaurant walls. I didn’t think much of the fans until they’d pointed them out. These fans turned out the be the only major purchase they had been able to make since opening a year earlier.
Som and Payut became our friends. We wanted to help them and they could use our help. We ended up renting their restaurant to run our own cooking school, as mentioned above, which involved paying them far more than they’d ever made in sales in a single day. Andi bought Som two new Woks and I bought them a grill so they could add Satay to the menu. Others pitched in to purchase cutting boards, knives, peelers, etc… Simple stuff that would make a big difference.
|On the final night, we rented out the restaurant again for our last supper. Jason, Steph, Som and I prepared all of the food and we served it family style with free-flowing Chang beer. I shared my poem and attempted to sum up the trip by encouraging people to remember what they’d experienced. In the end, we used Som’s sticky rice pot to take up an offering for a new oven for the Inpoo Food Shop. When I gave S&P the money, they didn’t know what to say. They told me they loved me and I told them the same. The following morning, Payut tried to return the money to me, but I told him that wasn’t allowed.
As our song tao (truck taxi) pulled away from the hotel that morning, the last memory I have is of Payut leaning out the side of his tuktuk, waving and smiling ear to ear and I can tell you, that image is burned in my memory. Like one of those old school cameras… 🙂
Wrap this up already!
While what we have going on in the developed world (i.e. America), seems monumentally important, it’s really not. It only seems that way because it’s real and it’s in our face on a daily basis. We have mortgages to pay and mouths to feed. We’ve got Nano’s to buy and PR’s to hit. And, we’ve got our image. We’ve got to keep that up, right? This is all heavy stuff that we think about on a daily basis. But, I’ll argue that all of this is less important than what is going on in the third world.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, 7 out of 10 people don’t have access to electricity.” – chefaz IG Feed
Does that mean that we don’t apply ourselves here? Do we hang it up instead of try harder?
It means, unless you make the time and investment to travel outside of your bubble, it’s really hard to understand what’s going on on the other side of the world. Or, maybe it’s just down the street… I can think of some executives working in sky-scrapers in downtown LA that are only a few blocks from skid row. So, whatever travel means to you. Whether it is a few blocks, or a few days on a plane, I want to encourage you to get out, expand your horizon and gain a better understanding of what’s going on globally. And, if you can find it in your hearts, do as Paul instructed the Phillipians to,
“do nothing out of selfish ambition or vein conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others.”
Wow! Did things just get heavy? Sorry about that. But, not really. 🙂