Eat, Pray, Pad Thai (part two)

(Read the first half of my essay here)

Once I gave in to the flow of our daily rituals, the nausea that had been plaguing me dissipated. I even found myself offering tips to the constant revolving door of young backpackers staying in the one room not used by yoga students. I got used to the eggs, the menagerie of creatures I was surrounded by on a daily basis, particularly in my shower (frog, gecko, spider, cockroach – in that order); seeing the Buddhist monks early in the morning exchanging blessings for food in the streets. I got used to the rhythm of our days, all of us barreling into the back of a pickup truck to get to and from class everyday. I couldn’t believe how uncertain I had been at the start, and how quickly I’d assimilated. A few of the girls on the course generously donated a rotating selection of fruit to our morning coffee breaks, the mangosteens were great but the durian (stinky fruit) was not for me.

 Top: Monks offering blessings in exchange for breakfast (and Goofy’s canine behind); bottom: the back of the pickup truck

We went to a local restaurant offering Thai and ‘Western’ food one evening, pictures of a club sandwich next to a green curry in the menu. We were always the loudest in the restaurant, a gaggle of five dirty, sweaty yogis ordering nearly everything on the menu. I ordered my by now signature Chang beer, and a panang curry. The waiter wrote it down on a pad of paper, asked if I wanted it spicy or mild. ‘Spicy’ I said, then jokingly added ‘very’. She slowly looked up from her pad, taking in the colour of my skin and hair. ‘Thai food is very spicy, are you sure?’ I was like ‘yeah go for it’. What came out was definitely spicy – Thai chillies have a habit of lulling you into a false sense of security at first, then the slow burn. It was great.

 

A Friday evening brought the strangely titled ‘Night Walking Market’, a street market of curios, souvenirs, cheap-and-nasty cocktails, and noodle stalls. I’d now gotten used to the noise and smells of the place, but even this was busy for me. We ate delicious pad thai standing in the street, and once we’d taken in all the stalls found a man making fresh hand-made coconut ice cream. Retreating to a corner of the square, we watched a man beatbox amazingly well and later two boys do a Fawn Leb (traditional dance) and ate our coconut ice creams. Everyone had topped theirs with peanuts, I had sprinkles.

 

Top to bottom: pad thai, market, coconut ice cream, dancing

One evening we came back from dinner, I turned on the air conditioner in my room and suddenly everything went quiet and black. Outside; the crickets, frogs and whatever else sounded louder than ever. I stepped out to the main patio, and met the guy on my course. It seemed the power was out, only in our building. The housekeeper called Ronald* and our teacher. When they arrived, he proclaimed the fuse to have blown, that there was nowhere he could buy one at this time, and no way there would be an electrician working to fix it. I looked at my co-student: a night without aircon and phone charging was a bit too much after the long day. We sat on the patio in candlelight, and watched Ronald ‘jerry-rig’ a new fuse from a Chang beer can. How appropriate. He made a little handle for the fuse out of sellotape to prevent electrocution, and climbed up into the rafters of the roof with only an iPhone torch to attach the new fuse to the mains electricity. Amazingly, it worked, and he said he’d buy a new fuse the next day. On our last day we all laughed when what we’d suspected was true: he hadn’t bought a new fuse and we were still running on the Chang can replacement. This guy was the ultimate cowboy, a swiss-American ex-rockstar, avid Bitcoin ambassador and conspiracy theorist, dressed only in tatty chino cut-offs.

After lunch, we would have ‘Satsang’ (wisdom-sharing, or theory) sessions, sitting cross-legged on our yoga mats listening to our teacher talk about yogic and Eastern philosophy. Some of this tied in with Western medicine quite nicely: Qi-Gong states that every organ has an active hour (could be somewhat compared to cell circadian rhythms). Other stories were more esoteric, ranging from Buddhist monks meditating their way to being able to breathe underwater, to prisoners growing knocked-out teeth back. Sometimes this would be on seafront rocks, or visiting Ronald’s adobe (sandbag and earth) home’s construction site. Sitting on the mats on the floor during portions of the class not spent doing active yoga was nearly the most difficult thing, especially being told that Buddhist monks and real yogis can sit cross-legged for hours, concentrating on meditation to overcome discomfort. I felt like I’d failed, it was just so uncomfortable.

 Joined by a different stray dog, ‘nan tang’, for satsang.

Somewhere just before halfway through the training, we were let go early from class. How does one celebrate early freedom? We headed to a nearby beach club and drank sugary cocktails whilst swimming beneath the stars and frangipani trees in full bloom, the perfume sitting heavy on the breeze. We were celebrating: lounging on giant pool floaties, playing like kids.

 Beach club fun

On the second last day, the rest of the group decided to join myself and my coffee co-conspirator on our lunchtime coffee run. We went to an Italian restaurant for ice-cream, only to find it shut as is typical on a Monday in Samui. Walking back, disheartened, a waiter jumped out at us from the trees and gestured for us to come in. One of my classmates asked whether they had ice creams, the waiter gently assuring us they had ‘many flavours’. This sounded suspiciously like it might not be true. We were brought behind the bar, and the waiter’s face turned to a proud grin as she gestured towards a freezer full of mini ice cream tubs of every flavour imaginable: rum & raisin to durian, mangosteen to cookies n’ cream. I wondered what she must have thought about this bunch of 5 sweaty and dirty foreigners, walking in to a nice restaurant and demanding ice cream in multiple flavours and coffee.

 

The exam day, our second-to-last, came around quickly. We had to select a logical and cohesive flow of poses from the 90-minute routine we’d done every day, condense it to fit into a 60-minute session, and lead the full class. It was nerve-wracking, and I got reprimanded halfway through for not leaving the students to hold a pose long enough (three variations of half moon, my least favourite), but I managed to get into the groove after that and passed. Afterwards I was exhausted – teaching is hard! We all decided to do every one of each others’ exam class – four in total that day. By the last happy baby pose I thought my hips would never recover.

 Wat Plai Laem Buddhist Temple visit

Our last day concluded with two 60-minute sessions taught by two classmates, followed by a ‘posture clinic’ at a ‘waterfall’ on the other side of the island. This turned out to be less fun than we had anticipated: we took turns photographing each other holding each of the thirty poses we had practiced throughout the course, whilst balancing on the boulders within the river. In our subgroup, hiking upriver jumping from rock to rock, a young boy offered to lead us to the ‘proper’ waterfall, presumably for a small fee. He wouldn’t take no for an answer for a long time, and then sat bemused, watching us run through the poses on various boulders. The rocks trapped the sun’s heat, it quickly became very sweaty work. We finished with sandwiches like Vietnamese banh mi on the rocks, grateful for the posture clinic to be over.

 Top: the waterfall; bottom: my ’embryo’ pose

After the conclusion of our course – celerated by burning our wishes and yantras from day one – I left our little home and stayed in a nearby hotel. I’d planned this for months, as it was the eve of my birthday I wanted to treat myself (as if I hadn’t already, but oh well). I booked a beach suite, which I barely got to see but the morning views were worth it alone. I was so sad leaving, everyone was so kind and friendly. I have to go back soon – if not for the yoga then definitely for the noodle soup and Changs.

Final night’s accommodation

It will take a while to digest everything that I learned in Thailand. For a short while I completely went with ‘the flow’ (I flow with the rhythm of life – second chakra mantra). Our little band of students got surprisingly close during the intensive teaching, we laughed near-constantly and managed to lift each other when things got a bit tough. Being home, I feel the same as before, and yet completely different. Yes, there were beaches and trips to Buddhist temples, but the yoga and teaching were a different level of difficulty. My body ached, and yet I kept going.

Samui airport transport

I always thought I was good at getting outside of my ‘comfort zone’ but realised that I never truly had as an adult. I still always had control, had always planned a trip so that I would be comfortable. I was able to see the privilege in being able to go on a yoga retreat, and the privilege of being able to be comfortable. Going forward I promised myself that I’ll make sure to be more uncomfortable in all the right ways, and be better at getting out of situations where I’m uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons.

 

Thanks for reading!