If there’s one thing Thais love as much as their food, it’s sports. From football (referred to as “soccer” by those only from the States) and volleyball to aerobic dance and ta gaw (a Thai sport similar to hacky sack with a hard ball and a net), there is no shortage of physical activity here. In addition to these more organized sports, it is not uncommon to see runners on their daily jogs in both cities and villages.
When I first arrived in Pla Pak I dabbled in a variety of activities. Since I live next to the high school girls’ football coach I attended practice for a few weeks but I was quickly reminded why I didn’t play in high school. I also played volleyball with my sixth graders after school during their season in November and December, though the volleyballs here are not like the padded ones I remember playing with back home-ouch! Neither of these activities were really what I was looking for in terms of routine exercise so in mid-December, I finally took up an offer from a fellow teacher to accompany her to Thai aerobic dance class…and the rest is history.
Now a Thai aerobic dance aficionada, I try to attend class three times a week, though in this recent heat wave I’m lucky to drag myself there at least once. Thai aerobic dance is similar to that in the States, though some Thai elements of traditional dance are incorporated; the Pla Pak instructors also include basic boxing moves and line-dancing elements. We usually listen to Thai pop and electronic music which is (unfortunately) really growing on me. As the youngest attendee by at least 20 years and the only foreigner, my presence at class raises both interest and amusement from the other ladies.
In addition to aerobics two to three times per week, I also practice yoga in my room as often as possible. I usually roll out my mat before temperatures rise to an unbearable level, which peak around 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit by noon.
Exercising on a regular basis has definitely benefited me in more ways than one. In addition to looking great for my upcoming trip to Koh Pha Ngan (so excited!), aerobics help strengthen ties between my fellow teachers and other community members, as well as give me a sense of acceptance among this close-knit group. Working out regularly also breaks up my time in this slow-paced society (most-appreciated on days off and holidays) and gives me an outlet for the anxiety, frustration, and restlessness I sometimes feel as a result of living in a new culture.
Some of the best parts of my day (excluding the time spent with my students) include my sunrise salutations in the morning as I face east and my arrival to aerobics in the afternoon where I am greeted by a warm smile and wave from the instructor. I hope to continue my yoga practices during my month of travels since lots of tourist spots offer drop-in classes. Maybe I’ll pick up a new position or two along the way as well.