Monday, December 10, 2007

Commuting to school

While Michael is busy with his TESOL class, I decided to enroll in a Thai massage course so now we're both students during our time in Bangkok. Here is what my commute to school entails:

I walk about ten minutes to the Skytrain, an elevated subway-like train, and ride for just three stops, getting off at the end of the line at the river. The Chao Phraya river is like a pulsating artery through Bangkok, a source of water for agriculture, a feeder for a canal system supporting homes and commerce and it also provides an important form of transportation that beats the exhaust fume-choked streets of the city.

I hop on a public water taxi like this one and for 13 baht (about 40 cents) I can ride up and down the river.

The boats are usually pretty packed with locals commuting as well as tourists who are trying to get the full-on Thailand experience as they use the river to get to popular sites like the Grand Palace and Wat Po.

You have to be very quick to get on and off the boat as it docks, unloads and loads passengers then pulls away from the dock in a matter of seconds.

The ride is never dull as there are all kinds of boats going by and buildings and temples on both sides of the river. Elegant-looking boats owned by big hotels like Sheraton ferry hotel guests around right next to rusty, worn-out wrecks that look like they should go under at any moment.

Like the country of Thailand, the river Chao Phraya is full of contrasts that I always find fascinating. There are fancy riverside hotels like this one with their own private boats and piers.

And just a few hundred meters down the banks you see sights like this:

This is actually a more typical scene along the river and it reminds me that Chao Phraya is not just some tourist attraction for westerners like me to enjoy a "quaint" boat ride on. It's a major living and breathing hub for a city of 9 million people, many of whom live on the banks and use the river to bath in, wash things in and unfortunately, as a refuse drain.

I get off at the Tha Tien pier and walk through a little market that is always lively in the morning with deliveries being unloaded while street vendors cook up soups, noodles and other unidentifiable dishes to order for the breakfast crowds.

This is primarily what is for sale here...

...every kind of dried fish and squid product you could ever hope for. It's a very fragrant street.

My class is at the Wat Po Thai Traditional Massage School. It's based at the famous wat, or temple, where the giant Reclining Buddha lounges, although the massage class is in a building outside of the temple grounds.

This is THE place to learn Thai massage. The classes are full of Thais learning the art, plus a few farangs (foreigners). We're learning five basic massages and like a martial art, it's a very precise choreography of body movement, positions and actions that always follows a set sequence. You use your thumbs, fingers, palms, elbows, knees and feet to apply pressure along lines of the body that correspond to different aspects of health. There are also some really amazing stretches that you do to the recipient like passive yoga.

I must say that Thai massage is not my favorite form of can actually be quite painful with all of the firm pressure if it's done right. Part of the learning for us students is to let others practice on us then we take our own turn doing the same. Each day I receive about the equivalent of 4-5 massages and believe me, I'm sore when I go home.

So after taking this course, maybe I'll hang out my sign offering Thai massage by an expert from Wat Po...but I'll probably just keep my regular day job instead.


At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Heidi,

I'm a Emory College grad and now in med school at MCG. I visited Alaska for the first time last summer and loved it. I'm trying to get back there this summer. Any chance you know of any contacts out there that could help me find a place where I could volunteer in some medical arena? Feel free to delete this from your blog, I just didn't know any other way to contact you after seeing your article on the EmoryWire. Thanks


Post a Comment

<< Home