Greetings from Yangon, Myanmar! (17-23 Sept 2017)
As I detailed in the last post my traveling experience to get from Albania to Myanmar through the United Arab Emirates was long, ill fated and left me completely drained and exhausted after the back to back overnight flights to get to Yangon. By the time I had landed all I wanted to do was find an ATM, pick up some water as I was feeling greatly dehydrated from the flights and get my ass to the hostel to rest. The problem with the Yangon airport and the transit options from there is that there’s all sorts of ‘taxi drivers’ hanging out at the airport pestering anyone who walks through the arrivals door while the bus stop is a few blocks away. This creates quite the tourist trap for paying for overpriced taxi’s that’s really hard to get through to the cheap taxis or buses. One ‘taxi driver’ followed me asking me if I needed a ride and telling me to come to his car, over and over. I told him ‘No’ many times and even stopped in the overpriced cafe for some food and to use the shitty airport WiFi. After being there for some time I was sure the taxi driver had left or found a new victim, no luck. As soon as I stepped foot outside the cafe area he appeared begging and trying to coax me to his car again.
I wandered around, taking my time in the overpriced airport convenience store to pick up some bottled water and hope he maybe listened to me saying No for the 50th time. No avail, he just waited. I had read that grabbing a taxi down the street would be cheaper or that the bus into town was really cheap but once I stepped outside and felt to the heat and humidity I couldn’t stand searching for a cheap taxi or taking a 90 minute sweltering hot and crowded bus to the city. I was worn out and done with fighting. I needed to rest more than I needed to save $10. I caved in and followed the beggar to his car. It had AC and was clean, so it at least enjoyable, although he tried several times to get me to go see some sights for employ him as my driver for my stay. Hard to tell if the AC was worth it. All in all it only cost me about $20 which is a fraction of what it would have costed back home or anywhere in Europe, but it’s also about twice the price it costed me to take a city taxi back to the airport when I left.
I arrived at the hostel and after checking in and being shown around the place I immediately crawled into my cubical, downed a bunch of water and passed out for the afternoon. I didn’t mean to sleep for over 4 hours, I remember wanting to lay down and try using to hostel’s shitty internet but it happened and I woke up at 10pm wondering what happened to the day. It messed up my internal clock for a few days afterwards where I never woke up before noon and never fell asleep until after 3am. Yangon was too hot for me during the day so I wouldn’t be exploring until the later afternoon or evening anyways. Resting, re-hydrating and acclimatizing was best until I found my bearings and was able to go to the gym again.
Yangon has its downfalls, it’s a dirty city with shitty internet and its share of bugs everywhere, but that’s most south Asian cities. It’s something you get used to after a while. The redeeming qualities far outweigh the downfalls. Throughout my exploring I saw a city that just seemed like it couldn’t maintain it’s past economic boom and judging from how busy the city and the sprawling harbour that borders it was Yangon is probably hitting another economic growth.
The temples, pagodas, that are throughout the city are quite beautiful, especially the main temple grounds Shwedagon Pagoda. I spent a day walking the grounds looking at all the statues and prayer temples to their gods. The giant Bodhi trees were magnificent to be in the presence of and the overall spiritual sense of peace I felt while walking the grounds was intense. I seemed to also be on display while walking the grounds or just on my everyday exploring. I was stopped by a few people at Shwedagon Pagoda to take a picture with, including a group of kids who ran across the street to meet me when I left the place. Apparently my tattoos and red beard seemed to be quite the hit with the locals.
In the mall that the gym is in there was a ramen shop, Monster Ramen, and it had a ‘Monster Ramen Challenge’ that is a giant bowl of ramen. Basically it consists of enough noodles for 5 bowls and enough toppings for 3 bowls and the challenge is to eat it all within 20 minutes and you get it for free (not actually for free, you pay then when you eat it all you get a gift certificate for that amount). The trick is that the broth is boiling hot so trying to eat it all fast will just burn your mouth and tongue. I accepted the challenge and made fast work of the eggs, pork and sprouts, the noodles and boiling hot broth was a bit harder. I had to use the spoon and chopsticks so that I could pull the noodles out of the broth and let them hang to cool while eating previously grabbed noodles. Like a conveyor belt of ramen from the bowl to my mouth. I still brunt my lips and tongue and even the roof of my mouth but I finished the bowl in 17 minutes. I was sweating profusely from dealing with all that boiling hot broth and they gave me some iced tea after my triumph to cool me down. A picture with the winning certificate and empty bowl was taken and put up on their wall. I hope one day a friend ends up there and sends me a picture of my ginger face on that wall of local winners. No longer feeling like eating ramen during this visit I gave the the certificate to the gym.
As always you can see more of my pictures over on my Flickr account.
Transcend Fitness – BJJ Myanmar
I first started talking to the BJJ Globetrotter contact for Yangon, Tammi, months before heading to Myanmar. I knew nothing of the area and was curious to see about maybe traveling and seeing more of it than just the one city. Also I was trying to figure out how I would spend my holidays at the time and had the idea of staying there longer and perhaps working temporarily at a hostel. I later made different plans but Tammi was very helpful on filling me in about the area and connecting me with the gym, unfortunately she wasn’t around during my visit and we never got to meet. I talked to BJJ Myanmar before showing up to find out the schedule and once I was rested and feeling up for training I made my way over to finally meet them. The gym was only a 10 minute walk from where I was staying, on the top floor in the Yangon Junction Mawtin Mall, about the only modern building in the city center. It was a bit awkward to get to at first because the stairs and main elevator don’t go up to the top floor. I walked around and searched for the entire top floor, and even went back the the main floor and entrance to look for a floor map, before finally finding another elevator hidden in a back corner.
Once I found my way to the gym I introduced myself at the front desk and the owner Joey, a very friendly and welcoming guy who is also quite built and intimidating to watch kick the pads. The gym itself is small and completely open to the rest for the mall floor for all to watch, separated from the concourse of the floor only by a fence. The wall across from the fence is done up in a big street art style mural of the gym name ‘Transcend Fitness’ with the area in between a matted floor and where the BJJ class is usually held. Off to the right was the front desk and behind it a lower floor area with a heavy bag where the Muay Thai kickboxing was held. The change rooms were off from the gym, across from the outdoor pool and spa also on the top floor but not apart of the gym. Once I changed I headed to the BJJ area and started stretching out before class.
Joey runs the kickboxing classes but a purple belt from Australia was teaching the BJJ classes when I was there. Other than the instructor everyone else was a white belt at the time. I believe there has been some belt gradings since I visited, I know that a few of them, like Joey, were well deserving of a blue belt back then. The students were all happy to have a visitor to train with and even learn from as they asked me all sorts of questions before and after class. We went over a cool entry into a single leg takedown using the gi and lapel for control and guard pass sequence for class and worked on adding to it the next day. It was fun stuff with a few details I really enjoyed adding to my set. Single legs aren’t my thing, I’ve never been good at them, of course I’ve also never drilled them continuously until they worked, but the details of the angle the purple belt used to attack the leg and the grip controls he used for the technique make it seem much more easier for me.
One day I was asked to fill in and teach, with some asking for some no gi techniques. With the recent series in mind I decided to expand on it as a “what if?” class to work other options if you lose the grips to control your opponent. This way with a simple option we could work using both gi or no gi. I brought back the low single leg takedown Kamen showed me in Bulgaria and added that as the second option for shooting in for the single but losing the grips in the process. They all seemed to love it which I was happy for as I was really working out my own ideas of what I could do for my own game while teaching them the sequence. I also taught my guard break and passing series I had been working and showing all through this Odyssey, it’s a staple for me in my game so fine tuning it any time I can is a bonus and teaching it goes over great lower belts learning the basics. The higher belts like seeing it to try and pick it apart and break my pressure game down as well since I seem to be a good candidate to work on defending against a top pressure game.
The Death Match
The gym was awesome to train with and I had a great time there, I felt very welcome and would love to visit them again sometime. I did however have an usual situation during one of the classes. I was training with one of the white belts during class and he seemed like a nice shy individual who was very open to getting help during our time drilling techniques together. In fact he was really good at taking the notes that both the purple belt and myself were giving him to fix any problems with drilling the techniques and correcting it. Then came time to roll. Once we bumped fists he became a whole other person, overly aggressive, doing anything to attack while not willing to tap himself. He came at me like a bat out of hell but quite quickly ended up in my guard on the receiving end of a cross collar choke. There was no way out but he refused and fought it with all his might, choking and sputtering, eyes going red and glossed over as he used all the strength to fight the choke and try and tear my grips off. I just sat there holding the grips and told him “Just tap, there’s no problem with tapping and resetting. It’s not worth going out for” but he persisted. I was stuck with the decision to teach him a hard lesson by putting him to sleep or letting it go. Not wanting my first time putting a training partner to sleep to be in a gym I’m visiting, and on the first night too. I let go.
I stopped the match and gave the white belt a lecture about how unnecessary and dangerous it is to have a ‘fight to the death’ mentality and not wanting to tap at his early stage in his Jiu-Jitsu journey. I’m all for training hard at times for a number of reasons, like preparing for competition or wanting to get a good workout, be the hammer that night, or for work situations but this type of training of just going all out fighting everything until you’re either broken or put out is going to get him or his partners hurt and likely end their Jiu-Jitsu journey early. The key about it all is at this young stage 99% of the people rolling like this really do not mean to or understand what it is they’re doing or what situation they were in. It takes a lot for some people to finally see that, for me it was realizing that if I trained with less energy to work on technique instead always focused on ‘winning’ that, although I would tap and ‘lose’ more I wouldn’t end up hurt as much and be able to train more. Then along the way you realize that tapping is part of training and there’s no winning or losing, just learning. I made him sit there and think about it for the rest of the round to have it sink in. I’m sure there’s lots of people out there that think it’s Ok to roll like this kid was because they “always train like you fight and always fight to win” or think I should have put him to sleep and moved on and let him learn on his own. To each their own but in my opinion at his stage of learning the basics of Jiu-Jitsu, unless he’s getting ready for a competition, he should be solely focusing on defending and using less power to get out of the spastic white belt style we all started at. This, luckily has been the only time I’ve had such a situation and hopefully the student has learned from it and will change before getting hurt or hurting another student.
Even with the death match I had a great time training at BJJ Myanmar and making new friends (the guy was a really friendly, good natured person who had no hard feelings and I was bound to have this event happen at some point in the Odyssey). I also enjoyed exploring the city and I hear going north into Myanmar more is really beautiful, maybe I’ll return for a visit to travel around more to really explore the country next time. In fact, without giving away my future posts I really loved this area of the world and would gladly return to explore more of it. Maybe with friends next time. Maybe I should look into creating a group of BJJ South East Asian Jungle Globetrotters where we hike all over the area and set up impromptu classes in the forests and on mountains. Whatever the future holds I look forward to seeing how BJJ Myanmar progresses. Thanks Joey and the gang for all the good times!
I was off to my next stop, one I had been really looking forward to since the start: Fight Street in Phuket Thailand! Spoiler warning: It’s a combat athletes’ vacation spot paradise! But that’s another story.
Until next time,
see you on the mats!
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