I’m writing this in a hostel in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. I’m here to take further training in Thai massage with Ajahn (Master) Suwat at Thara Massage. I called about coming in January about the start of December and they let me know that Ajahn Suwat was celebrating his birthday by running an intensive ten day course. Most people in the West would celebrate their birthday by either pretening that it wasn’t happening or by taking a week off. It tells you something about the nature of this man that he would choose instead to open his clinic building to about 50 students, most of whom are sleeping on mats on his floors, and dedicate his entire day for 10 days to teaching. They even checked with me that I would be OK with most of the people on the course being Thai. Yes, of course I was OK with that.
I immedately booked a flight for 31 December, which meant having the interesting experience of celebrating the New Year somewhere over Hungary by turning to my seat neighbour on the flight and shaking his hand at the point I noticed that “local time at current location” had passed the 00:00 mark. Emirates presumably give more attention to the Muslim calendar as they didn’t see fit to comment. Their flights, nevertheless ran to time and delivered me to Bangkok pretty much on schedule. I spent a couple of nights there to get over the jet lag (not 100% successful it has to be said) and then caught a Bangkok Air flight to Chiang Mai.
The Chaing Mai White House, where I have stayed before didn’t seem to have a website any more so I presumed that BP and his family had moved to Switzerland as that had mentioned they might when I was here last. I had a little look on line and booked a single room the Sunita Hostel instead. The ‘room’ is miniscule and the price rather more, but it is so far turning out to be OK. In any case I’m out of the building by the time most people are up and in bed pretty early in order to achieve that.
I confess I didn’t realise that course hours would be quite so long. I arrived as advised at 09:00 on the first day to find that prayers were already done and Ajahn was already teaching. I’ve been there for 08:00 each day since. The first day we finished about 21:00, but after a few days teaching has ended by 20:00. There is a two hour break for lunch and a one hour break from 17:00 to 18:00 for dinner. All the same that is pretty intense.
About the third day I realised that I was going down with a cold. Initially it seemed like the constant change between the actually quite pleasant Chiang Mai temperature of around 25C to 30C and air conditioning and fans was getting to me. That might not have helped but clearly somewhere along the line I mingled with someone with a virus I would rather not have accepted as a gift. Fortunately a few days of living on ginger tea with a dash of fresh lime have seen the worst of it and I didn’t have to miss out on the course.
The ginger and lemons came from the market I walk past on my way to school each morning. This is the main food market for Chiang Mai and it is complete bedlam. The roads through it are little wider that the asiles of your loca supermarket – the difference here is that it is not only filled with people on foot, some of whom are pushing or pulling barrows of purchases – but hundreds of customers on motorbikes. No one seems to get injured and no one gets angry, but I don’t get the impression that anyone is enjoying themselves either.
The minimum amout of fresh ginger root I could buy was 1Kg. That was somewhat more than my reqirements but it only cost about £1 so I wasn’t complaing. Ten lovely limes cost about the same.
Not only is my cold just about over but so is the course. Tomorrow is the last official day. However Ajahn Suwat has announced that in order to cover all the material he intended he will teach an extra two days for those who can stay so I shall take that opportunity. This evening we had a lovely activity where everyone lit a candle from their neighbour. As they did so they spent a minute talking about what they had appreciated from the course before placing it in a central bowl. Many were tearful at the end of the course and we all expressed thanks to our teacher for passing on his knowledge and to our fellow students for making such a loving community.
I’ve not had the oportunity, given the schedule, to get up to anything much in Chiang Mai. The notable exception being getting out of school early one evening in order to make it to an Argentine Tango Milonga in the private house of a tango enthusiast. That was a very pleasant evening too. After the course extension is finished on Tuesday I hope to take time to relax, walk about and get a massage or two without having to provide feedback or think about technique.
What a wonderful experience (if also demanding). Was the course offered in English? Or do you speak Thai?
Thanks for the question. Ajahn Suwat speaks English well enough to be understood by his international students. On this intensive course most of the students are Thai so he generally teaches in Thai and then afterwards speaks in English. I understand enough Thai to get some of what he is saying: things like how often to repeat something or where to go slow or gently, the words for the body parts etc.
Found this very interesting. Will Tell mum to read it tonight.R.