Sports in Thailand: Different, Yet the Same

Sports in Thailand: Different, Yet the Same

Being in Thailand for the last two weeks was a once in a lifetime experience. Besides the 90 degree weather in February, which is as foreign to a Chicago resident as having a Pro Bowler at quarterback, I got to spend a day taking care of elephants in the jungle, ride a motor bike to a top of a mountain in order to see a 600 year old temple, and have a cocktail at the world’s highest open-air bar. However, despite being immersed in a completely different culture, sports still found a way into my life the the other side of the world.

I sat ringside at a Muay Thai fight in Bangkok for under $80. Although I will never be able to afford ringside seats anywhere in the US, I was able to experience the absolutely brutal sport at a distance where I could actually feel the pain of the fighters in front of me. Each blow to the face or ribs made me flinch. Watching the only American participating in the 10 scheduled matches that night get his leg broken within the first 90 seconds of his match was both traumatizing and enthralling. Maybe we should leave Muay Thai to the people of Thailand.

I played soccer among local children in a small village outside of the city of Chiang Mai. With a population of 150, I was in the presence of 8% of the population on the pitch. The field looked like it came straight from a Thailand version of “Backyard Soccer”. Rocks were set up as goal posts. Out of bounce on the west side of the field was a river. A giant pile of water buffalo droppings resided in the center of the field (the ball went through there way too much). Everyone played barefoot. The children, who spoke as many words of English as I did Thai (for those scoring at home, that would be 0), played until the sun went down, with so much happiness. I didn’t see any competitiveness or anger among anyone throughout the hours we played. Only unbridled joy. I even scored a goal, which just demonstrates how nice the Thai people really are.

I kayaked as the sun rose on a lake within one of Thailand’s national parks, with views that would make the best screensaver blush. The shoulder workout didn’t exactly vibe with the laid back lifestyle I had gotten used to on the vacation, but I will never forget that morning. Completely surrounded by mountains, monkeys hanging from the trees to my left, and dead silence on a giant lake surrounded by a jungle. It was a majestic site that I would row miles to find again. Any workout would be worth it if that location was your end destination.

With a 13 hour time difference separating Thailand with Chicago, I may have not been the first person to hear about the Yu Darvish signing or learn that Nikola Mirotic had been traded (thank you Pelicans). I missed the Super Bowl (technically I didn’t, as I watched the Super Bowl live at a bar in Bangkok while eating breakfast. Unless the Bears are playing though, the real Super Bowl for me is the dozens of mouth watering appetizers available at the Super Bowl party. In that sense, I missed the Super Bowl) and didn’t get to watch Lauri Markkanen for two weeks or hear the buzz surrounding pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training.

However, what I got to experience was sports on the other side of the planet. And although I hold Chicago sports close to my heart, I advise each and every one of you to go out and experience sports in other parts of the world because what I learned is that no matter where you go, sports will always surprise you in the best ways. In Chicago, Thailand, or anyone in between, sports are simply the best.

 

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