No Sunday Walk-in-the-Park!

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When looking for a name for my blog my partner Shaun suggested a Martin Buber quote, from which I chose the name “the Narrow Ridge.” There is a second Martin Buber quote listed on my blog under the section entitled, “quotes” https://thenarrowridge.wordpress.com/a-meeting-place/

Yesterday, myself and six new-found “Chiang Mai” friends lived this second quote; “all journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware.” And boy, were we unaware!

What began as a day trip to Doi Sutep, Bhubing Palace, and a waterfall, through Doi Pui National Park (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thailand/chiang-mai-province/doi-suthep-pui-national-park) turned into something all-together different. We were all looking forward to temporarily escaping the smoky air and heat (40+ degrees) of Chiang Mai, for the fresh, cool air of the mountains and forests surrounding the city.

We did visit the temple at Doi Sutep and gardens at Bhubing Palace, but our collective desire for a dip in the cool water of a waterfall was not to be.

From paved roads along the well travelled tourist path, we transitioned to a good dirt road through the coffee plantation and hill tribe area. We stopped for an iced coffee and were serenaded by a local man who had fashioned a musical instrument out of plastic pieces that he hung around his shoulders. He played his instrument between a grunting sound he made as he smiled, looking into our eyes . Our coffee shop host explained that he could not speak and was a character that lived in this village. We also met Mat, a tourist who intended to travel a through road from this hill tribe town to Chiang Mai, rather than going back the way we’d come. We intended to return the way we’d come so we could refresh ourselves in pools at one of several waterfalls we’d passed on the way up.

After our coffee and musical break we decide to go just a little bit further into the hill tribe area. Quickly, the road deteriorated from a decent dirt road, to a dirt track with rocks, roots, and deep ruts in steep switch backs down the forested mountains.  Two of us in our band of merry Thai Massage students had never driven motorcycles before, and two of us had passengers on our motorcycles trusting us to keep them safe. A suggestion by our colourful French companion Alexandra to continue down the mountain rather than trying to go back up this mess of a “road” (surely this would be the easier choice some of us thought) set in motion an afternoon that we will never forget!

After some motorcycles skills challenges, that led to a couple of minor tip overs, we found ourselves lost in the mountains with several choices of “do we go right, or do we go left?”

We came upon Mat who was also wandering around the mountainside equally lost, but we were all somewhat assured at being in this situation together. The sun was fading and if we were all going to get to class on Monday alive, we would need to find our way down before dark. “Sure wish we had a GPS” Mat said, which reminded me I had my iPhone on me. We were all thrilled the the CityMaps app worked on this mountain range, and using our superior orientation skills, we figured we had been travelling in the wrong direction.

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Turning around and taking the other turn, we felt somewhat assured that we were at least heading in the right direction (down). The moment of assurance came when a group of Thai motocross bikers came firing around a corner to discover our still hopeful, yet haggard, merry band. The look on their faces was “what are these tourists doing out on this mountainside on these mopeds?!” Big smiles and the words “Chiang Mai” accompanied by gestures pointing down the path we were headed, was music to our ears.

Now at least we felt it was REALLY possible we would make it off this mountain, back to Chiang Mai before dark in one piece, and to school on Monday, with stories to tell. The only thing missing was our refreshing dip in a waterfall. To our utter delight we found ourselves descending the mountain to the Huai Tung Thao Resevoir we had visited only last weekend! We reached the shore, stripped down, and plunged into the water of the lake shouting with pleasure.

Our ride back on regular roads to Chiang Mai was uneventful and we all collapsed at the organic restaurant Bird’s Nest Cafe. We laid back on floor mats and hung around in the hammock eating, drinking, listening to Ben play guitar and sing, and recounting stories of bravery, courage, and the craziness of our day.

Today, was a favourite day…

 

 

 

Elephant Nature Park – Lek Chailert

 

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What an amazing experience we had yesterday. Fourteen classmates from TMC visited the Elephant Nature Park an hour north of Chiang Mai in the jungle. Founded in 1996, the project’s aim is to provide sanctuary for distressed Asian elephants in a natural valley, bordered by a river, and surrounded by forested mountains.

Here is a link to the Park website.: http://www.elephantnaturepark.org

Lek Chailert conceived and opened this park, and her efforts have been recognised worldwide by television and print media including National Geographic and the Smithsonian Society. She has also been featured in documentaries from numerous film production companies including Animal Planet, the BBC, and CNN. In 2005 Lek Chailert was named Asian Hero of the Year by Time magazine and was received in the White House by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010.

The Elephants in this park have been rescued from their lives in the circus, street begging, and in the Thai logging industry (where it is now illegal to use elephants). Many of these animals have a tortured past, being treated with great cruelty. Some are blind, some have broken ankles, hips, and backs. Here at the Nature Park they are learning what it means to roam free again, regaining natural behaviours they would exhibit in the wild. Dedicated staff and volunteers have won over each elephant with love rather than the “breaking” method of Mahout training usually used on elephants in captivity.

The public can stay in the park for weeks at a time and pay to volunteer to care for the elephants. This program helps raise funds to run the elephant sanctuary, as well as provide the people power required to ensure the elephants get enough food and care. Each elephant can eat as much as 300 lbs of food a day! Volunteers plant trees and corn that grow to help provide elephant food, prepare their food and feed them, do various cleaning projects including dung removal, and bathe them in the river.

A family from New York (Joey, Timberly, Edel and Oslen) that we had done acroyoga and silk ribbon acrobatics with in the park, happened to be on their last day of their one week volunteering. We hadn’t seen them for a while and had a great moment of reunion when we saw each other walking through the park. Joey’s youngest daughter was SO excited to see us she  was vibrating and invited us to sleep over in her bunk bed that night.

Our group of 14 was there for the day trip program. We helped with snack time where we held out chunks of pumpkin and watermelon for the elephants to wrap their trunks around to put in their mouth. Each elephant had a different personality. Some were divas refusing to eat the pumpkin until all the watermelon was gone. Others who had suffered more, experiencing food scarcity, gobbled up the pumpkin as much as the watermelon. They have three baby elephants in the park, 6 months, 8 months and one year old. The one baby elephant loves to chase tourists and has been known to take cell phones from distracted tourists and never give them back!

They are curious animals and love to come up close and check you out, especially if you have food. Most of their dietary needs are supplied by corn, banana trees, leaves, and other natural plants that grow within the park. The special treats of watermelon, pumpkin, and bananas are a way for the public to have a positive and safe interaction with these amazing animals. The sky walk is another way to be close but safe around the elephants if you are nervous at all being so close to them.

We also went into the river to throw buckets of water over the elephants to cool them down and wash off the mud they throw over themselves as a natural sun screen. I am not sure who was doused with more buckets of water in our group, the elephants or our classmates. Water fight!

A recent immigrant to the park walked in on her own from a less ethical elephant trekking company nearby. Because she spent part of her day carrying tourists through the jungle she had noticeably darker skin than the other elephants in this park. She was not able to cover herself in mud as she naturally would have.

All but one of the elephants here were domesticated and it is Lek’s dream to be able to one day release elephants into the wild and not have to keep them within a park’s boundaries. But before that happens more natural habitat in Thailand needs to be regenerated and protected. Until then this sanctuary is just that for many Thai Asian elephants (and a good number of dogs and cats too!).

There were moments when many of us where near tears at the suffering most of the elephants had endured, and at the joy of being so close to these beautiful animals knowing how well they are loved and cared for in this sanctuary.

 

 

 

A Day at Huai Tung Thao Reservoir and Thai Massage in Public Spaces

It has been hot, hot, hot since I arrived in Chiang Mai. Although, unlike the prairies where in the winter the wind chill plunges cold temperatures even lower making a mere -30 degrees feel like -45 degrees, it is dry here in Chiang Mai making 39 degrees feel like 34 degrees. Either way, it is hot.

Peter, an Acupuncturist, Tui Na, and Thai Massage Practitioner from England I met at Acroyoga, invited me for a trip to Huai Tung Thao Reservoir just outside Chiang Mai last weekend. Ben, Daisy (fellow classmates) and I rented motorcycles for the day and had a blast cruising through the city and out into the country. The reservoir is a lake surrounded by beaches and bamboo huts built around, and on, the water. Close to our rented hut, a restaurant served fantastic Thai food. Peter’s friend Nid, a wonderful Thai woman, ordered for us giving us more unique Thai food experiences such as dancing prawns, fried crickets, and crispy frog with garlic.

The water was refreshing although those fish used in Thai foot spas to eat the dead skin off your feet live in the lake. It made for an interesting experience feeling a few nibbles and even a couple of sting-like sensations when we stayed too still in the water. Ben, Daisy, and Peter are all water babies like I am, so we had a great time in the water splashing about.

After we ate, we exchanged a bit of Thai Massage in our hut before heading back to the city in time for the Sunday Walking Night Market.

One of the wonderful things about Thai Massage in Thailand is how prolific it is in public spaces. Many streets have Thai Massage businesses, so you are never far away from a good massage. Massage shops usually have people in the front window sitting in chairs having their Thai foot massage – great advertisements and enticements for those of us walking by with aching feet. Street massage set ups can be seen all over the city where you can rest your tired body by simply laying on a mat on the sidewalk or sitting in a chair for a foot massage. The Old City Park has an area under a shaded hut that is always busy. One of the most prolific Thai Massage sidewalk areas is at the busy Sunday Walking Night Market. I had a great 2 hour thai massage at “Silver Hands Massage” in Kad Suan Kaew, a mall close to the Old City, just off the mall’s food court. Diners in the food court (which serves good thai food) were being serenaded by a Thai Elvis impersonator. It made for interesting background music during my massage.

Thai Massage and Elvis, they are everywhere…

 

A double flat…

This morning on my way to school I hit a grate in the road and ended up with two flat tires. Of course I had left for school a little later than usual and was already tight for time. I tightened the straps on my backpack, grabbed the centre post of my bike, and ran hard. I’ve never had so many Thai people smiling and laughing at me. In 30+ temperatures for 30 minutes I ran to get to school with two minutes to spare.

Every morning staff takes our temperature to ensure we are healthy. An abnormally high temperature gives you a day off. They don’t want us spreading anything around. I was a bit worried I would register high and miss a day of school, but thankfully it was only 2 degrees higher than usual. So, to class I went, although it took me over an hour to stop sweating, and I had to change my clothes twice. That made me a popular classmate for partner practice!

I bought three new tubes, changed my two flats, and put the extra in my pack. I figure chances are slim I’d get two flats at the same time again. Hopefully you won’t see another posting from me with the title “A Double, Double Flat!” Temperatures are forecast to get into the low 40s over the next week. I really don’t need another run in heat like that.

Here is a photo of the staff at TMC many of whom great us every morning.

 

 

Thai Massage at TMC – Awarded the Highest Achievement Certification Given by the Thai Ministry of Education

For those of you out there wondering if I am really here to learn Thai Massage techniques, deepen my understanding, and inspire my practice, rather than just having the time of my life (which I am by the way). This post is for you.

My experience into week two of my training at the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai (TMC) has been exceptional. The staff and teachers are professional, friendly, and knowledgeable in their field. Our first class at school consisted of going over the course outline of what we were expected to learn in week one, as well as an overview of the entire 5 week program. Videos, and presentations from the administration and teachers made it clear what we would be learning, what was expected of us, and that in the Thai way, we were to learn well, and have fun doing it. So far, so good.

Our text book “Ancient Thai Massage, Healing with Life Force” by the school owners Jan Chiathavuthi and Kanchanoo Muangsiri is exceptional in content, clarity, and design. Each week we receive a new text book to read and facilitate our learning. Our classes so far consist of demonstrations and practice with most of our time hands on. It is a perfect learning environment for those of us in touch professions. Teachers are constantly watching us, correcting us, and often laughing with us.

We go to school from 9 am to 4 pm five days a week. Our evenings are a combination of social and eating time (really, life is all about food isn’t it?) as well as reading, studying, or practicing. My guest house has a gazebo where a group of us met tonight to practice we have learned over the last several days. Then we went out for dinner at the Bird’s Nest Cafe, a local organic restaurant http://www.thebirdsnestcafe.com  Did I say I was loving the Thai food here?

Needless to say the time here so far has been intense with learning, practicing, and taking in all Chiang Mai has to offer. It’s a pace that couldn’t be sustained, but I think I can keep up for five weeks.

I have connected deeply with my classmates, the owners, administrators, and teachers of the school, as well as with the philosophy the school aspires to.

The School’s Philosophy:

Knowledge is sacred-the seeker is a noble one.

Thus, the giver must be totally sincere and honest.

We strive to give the highest quality education.

Royal Award:

And it appears that their commitment to quality education is being recognized not only by the Thai government with their Highest Achievement Certification (which Kanchoo is accepting this week in Bangkok) but by Massage Associations around the world that recognize TMC training for continued education credits.

For those die-hards out there that would like to read more details about the school and its’ teachers here is a link for you: http://www.tmcschool.com/about.php#teachers

The venerated monk of Traditional Thai Medicine and Massage, and advisor to TMC, Phrakru Uppakarn Phatanakit, is the abbot of Wat Nong Yanang in Uthaitani province. University Professors in Orthopedics, Anatomy, and Physical Therapy are also advisors to the school which was founded by CEO Jan Chaithavuthi (RN,B.S., MPA in nursing and a master’s degree in Health Management from Golden Gate University, USA). Jan worked as a nurse specialist in the USA for twenty years and has a strong interest in promoting safe, effective and pure Thai Massage for the wellness of individuals and the community. School Director Kanchanoo Muangsiri (B.A., LMT in Mass Communication) has vast experience in teaching and training within the Thai community and to refugees.

Here is an outline of each of the standards which the school had to meet to be awarded the Achievement Award by the Thai Ministry of Education.

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The highest Achievement Certification Given by the Ministry of Education

Standard 1
Philosophy and objectives of the school is appropriate and applicable to school’s vision and implementation.

Standard 2
Course syllabus is based on the need of learners, community and society.

Standard 3
Teaching and learning is efficiently carried out according to course objective.

Standard 4
Examination and evaluation system is applicable to real situation.

Standard 5
Teachers are knowledgeable of the subject matters and their performances are professional.

Standard 6
Students’ accomplishments are highly achieved.

Standard 7
Students have ideal attitude toward learning.

Standard 8
Management team is professional.

Standard 9
School management system is effective.

Standard 10
School facilities and atmosphere are appropriate to course objective and sufficient for use.

Standard 11
Other supporting service including security system enhances teaching and learning.

Standard 12
The school has good relation and has community based education development.

Now, I hope those of you reading this that are clients of mine are getting even more excited about those appointments you have booked once I have arrived back home. I think we are all in for a great experience.

 

Learn and play…

I love how travel and learning opens up time and space to explore things I don’t usually do. In four days in Chiang Mai I have learned new techniques and approaches in Thai Massage I can’t wait to bring back into my practice with clients at home, learned to base and fly in an acroyoga/thai massage “jam session” at a local yoga studio, and performed circus acrobatics led by Boris of Chile in a park in Old City Chiang Mai.

The TMC school experience has been amazing. Thai culture has a profound observance of respect and we experience that throughout our school experience. We are greeted every morning at the school entrance by staff of the school, have our practice clothes set out for us in baskets to change into, and pray, stretch and meditate each morning before we begin classes.

The group that I am learning with are incredibly open, friendly, compassionate, adventure loving people. I couldn’t have asked for a better collection of people to share this experience with. I am so very grateful to be in their company.

Not only am I getting the formal learning at TMC, but I am now a part of a growing group of people that meet to practice and play with all we are learning. Some of us are in classes together, but others are  taking Thai Massage from other schools, or simply here on vacation such as a women with her two children from New York (one who just happens to have been taking ribbon acrobatic classes at home).

A few days ago our group began practicing our silk ribbon acrobatics in the park in the early evening after class. Others continued to show up throughout the evening and those waiting for their time on the ribbon began doing acroyoga and baton twirling. Then a Norwegian couple set up a slack line between two palm trees and we all took turns trying to balance, walk, turn and kneel. By the end of the night we laughed at the site of this area of the park transformed into a circus arena.

All around us Thai’s were playing badminton, doing aerobics, playing basketball, receiving Thai Massage, and simply lounging in the evening heat.

Oh and I bought a bicycle from a fellow traveller who is leaving Thailand and I am now cycling to school. Pollution can be an issue and since I am breathing deep during my trip to school, I wear my face mask. Just call me Darth Buffel. The traffic is wild and the cycling is fun and exhilarating.

Here are a selection of photos from my last couple of days…

 

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Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai – Day One

What a wonderful first day at the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai (TMC). The school is incredibly organized, friendly, and professional. We had a stellar orientation this morning after receiving our lockers, massage clothing, Thai Manual, and welcome tea. My classmates are from the USA, Canada, Russia, Romania, Chile, France, Australia and Kazakhstan. Motivations for taking the course were as varied as the occupations we represented; from Massage Therapists, to a Lawyer, to a Circus Performer. What’s not to love about this mix.

Not only did I learn some great Thai techniques this afternoon but I also learned some circus moves on a silk rope hanging from a tree at the canal by the North Gate of Old Chiang Mai City. No photos are allowed in the classrooms at TMC so the only photos you will see here are of circus moves. You’ll just have to trust me I am actually here to continue my studies in Thai Massage. And although I could pretend that the photo in silhouette is me after lesson one from classmate Boris of Chile, that just wouldn’t be right now would it?

During lunch at the Market across the street I tried the Thai delicacy of fried, salted crickets. Mmmm, now I have a new favourite snack.

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