Sunday, November 25, 2012

Getting Educated on Educating in Thailand

Usually when I am traveling around Asia, I joke that I am on a "business trip" seeing as how I am a History and Geography teacher, and the travels help me gain a better understanding of both the history and the culture of the places I teach about.  This time, however, my travels really were business.  Around 20 or so teachers from my school and I went to Chiang Mai, Thailand for the International Christian Educators Conference (ICEC), where we were to attend workshops and general assemblies for three days straight to learn about how to be better Christian educators.

This does not mean that I did not find my time to have a little fun and experience the culture, however.  Me and my roommates, James and Jason, purposefully went a day and a half early with that goal in mind.  The very first thing we did was go to the local Night Market and find a place to rent motorbikes.  Surprisingly it didn't take a drivers license, a passport, or really any documentation to rent them; just 2000 Thai Baht (about $80 USD) for a deposit.  All of this despite having never driven a motorbike before and given about as much instruction as "here is how you start, and here is how you stop".  After nearly running straight into a parked van upon existing the rental place, it was virtually smooth sailing after that as we were zooming in and out of traffic at about 35 mph as we cruised around the city.

The next day, already equipped with our motorbikes, we took to the surrounding mountains of Chiang Mai and just meandered through long, empty, steep, and winding roads.  True bliss.  In the mountains we visited a Buddhist temple, ate Pad Thai, and had coffee that was grown and made in this random village we happened to stumble upon.  Once back to our hotel, we took a nap, and then got ready for another adventure that night: spectating some Muay Thai fights.

For those that do not know what Muay Thai is, it can basically be described as an intense version of kick boxing that is extremely popular in Thailand, and is one of the most brutal forms of martial arts in the world.  I have heard rumors of fighters training by kicking metal poles to create micro-fractures in their shins, so that when it heals it would actually make their shins thicker and stronger!  I was excited.  The bout card included 7 fights: one of which was a female fight, one a "special fight", one the main event, and one an international fight with one guy being from France.  It. Was. AWESOME!  The highlight was the "special fight", which turned out to be around 8 aspiring fighters in the ring, all blindfolded, going crazy to the tune of "Gangnam Style".  It was hilarious watching these guys walk around the ring throwing hay-makers at the air, or fighting the corner thinking it was a person.  Most of the fights were really good, with 3 of them ending by way of knockout (two were actually knockouts to the body!).  And that ended our day of fun.

The rest of the trip was spent in and out of different sessions.  Most of the sessions I did not get much out of, with a few even upsetting me, however there were a few that were practical and left the attendees with some good takeaway that will be applicable to the classroom.  The best part of the conference was just meeting tons of other people doing the exact same thing as you from all over Asia.  All in all, a good trip.  Now time to buckle down for the last few weeks of the semester.

 Coffee Shop

 Call of the Wild

 Muay Thai

Lady making soap flowers at the Night Market

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Underdog Knights

This past Thursday we had our Championship tournament for the U-14 rugby team I have been coaching this year.  This was a winner take all tournament, which basically meant that all of our previous games throughout the season meant squat and what place we finished hinged entirely on this one tournament.  Needless to say, I was nervous going in as the boys had worked so hard all year, the thought that they could walk away empty handed (despite being in 3rd place going into the tournament) made me literally sick.  The flip-side of the coin was that we could also improve our standings if we played well.

Our first game was against the UWC-SEA dragons (United World College-South East Asia). The team that was ranked 2nd going into the tournament, and yet the ONLY team we had not beaten (tied once, and lost by less than one try twice).  The Knights started the game strong by scoring after a couple phases after the opening kickoff.  However, the Dragons were quick to tie it back up.    When we scored another try in the second half, UWC was again able to match us with one of their own and do one better by scoring the go-ahead try.  Due to 2 missed conversion kicks the score was 17-14 with time dwindling down.  As the horn sounded to signal the end of the match, we had just been awarded a penalty and were allowed to play until the next stoppage.  From the penalty tap, our fly-half had a break away run starting from mid-field and ending within the 5 meter line.  Due to great support, we had players there to ruck over, retain the ball, and give a few more drives towards the try-line.  However, the UWC defense stood tall on the try-line and one of our players was pushed out of bounds at the 1 meter line, officially ending the game.  It was a hard fought battle, and it was a bitter pill to swallow knowing we had come so close (scoring that try would have put us ahead 19-17).  However, we had no time to wallow in self-pity because we were scheduled for the very next game against the division leading Huskies from CIS (Canadian International School).

Although CIS were the division leaders, we had beaten this team before (whooped 'em 25-0 in fact), so I knew we had a fighting chance if we got ahead early as they tend to shut down when they were behind.  Despite having played an exhausting game just minutes before, the ICS boys dug deep into themselves and put everything they had into this game and it showed.  Everything was on point: tackling, running, supporting the ball, rucking, passing, EVERYTHING!  By the games end, the Knight walked off the field winners by a score of 22-5.  WE HAD JUST BEAT THE DIVISION LEADERS...AGAIN!  First place was still attainable if CIS could beat UWC by less than 17 points, then all of the top 3 teams would have one loss and we would win due to point differential.  I quickly became the biggest CIS fan in the stadium!  This wishful thinking did not come into fruition however, and UWC ended up beating CIS.  We were now fighting for 2nd place and only one team stood in our way. SAS (Singapore American School).  Throughout the whole season, we had never been beaten by SAS, but they had tied us once.  I spent the whole time prior to the game trying to keep the team focused and to not count their chickens before they hatched.  We still had a job to do!

My worries became reality as the team let SAS score in the opening minutes of the game due to lousy tackling and not being focused.  Much worse, one of our star players was injured on the play.  With a lack of depth on the bench (only two subs), this was a critical blow.  As I was helping him walk off the field, he looked at me and said, "I can tough this out".  Keep in mind that this is coming from a 12 year old!  After asking if he was sure and him giving me confirmation, I trotted off the field to where his worried mother was waiting on the sidelines for an explanation.  To which I just shrugged my shoulders and relayed his message.  From that point on, the Knights were back to their form and scored three unanswered tries to win the game 17-5.  We had done it!  The tiny school of ICS, 1/4th of the size of the next smallest school in our division, had just won 2nd place in their very first rugby season EVER!

To a crowd of over 50+ ICS supporters who had traveled to witness this historic event in our school's history, our team marched up to receive their silver medals.  I could not be more proud to have gotten to coach these boys.  They showed incredible heart the entire season despite being unbelievable underdogs.  Only one player had ever even played rugby before starting this season, and now they are the division runner-ups!  Our motto the entire year was "TOGETHER" and they truly accomplished this together as a team.