January 12th, 1992, Pattaya. By the boat jetty, a group of European men accompanied by Thai ‘service girls,’ of which there are said to be 10,000 in Pattaya (destination of choice for the US 7th Fleet on R&R.) I can barely see the sea for the boats: cruisers, fishers, power, speed, pedalo, dinghys, jetskis, and double/triple decker gin palaces. Nor the beach, for deckchairs and umbrella shelters.
It’s early and I’ve just arrived on the night-bus from Chiang Rai after a week of adventures in the North. Walking from the bus station, past restaurants of every kind and nationality with prices from somewhere in outer space, I head for the hotel. It’s a long walk – good! The sun gets higher and hotter. I go through the already thronging market, listen to a conversation between a grey-haired Brit and a worn-looking service-girl, too short denim shorts, huge leather handbag. ‘How much more?’ he says despairingly, watching her load up with handfuls of scent bottles, lipsticks, eye makeup etc. ‘For my sister.’ Good deal, I guess, getting paid for her time, shopping for all the family, meals, drinks and taxis.
I walk on, through a shanty-town complete with ‘what the hell are you doing round here’ stares. I guess I look too poor to be robbed: flip-flops, grubby shirt, tattered shorts, smelling like someone whose been on trek for a week. I don’t even get offered fake Rolexes or good times.
Here’s my hotel, imposing white building in tiers, like those elegantly designed blocks in Pimlico. What on earth made me think I would be training in an ashram? At the price? Ah well! Ah yes! Hot shower and sitting toilet, not having to suspend myself from the squat position and hope the rear gunner gets his aim right. It’s all worth it. I’m going to get fat here: three big meals and two big snack-breaks daily, so every hour-and-half I’m stuffing something down my throat.
I’m one of about 60 here for the training and, as it turns out, a bit more in the after-hours. We hail from all over: USA, Japan, Taiwan, France, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Australia, Switzerland, a couple of other Brits. The program starts at 7.30am and goes on till dinner at 6.30pm. Then comes the night.
The first morning, I find myself doing Tai Chi push-hands with Mantak Chia!
Next week – Training with Chia.
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