- Seeking discomfort -

31st August '17

I have a name for this time of year: The season of bullshit.

Bullshit season for short.

Because this is the time of year that I have to go through the pointless exercises to ensure that my life remains in the relative status quo for the next 12 months.

Sign a new contract on my condo, even though I would be happy (and did this with my previous Bangkok condo) to just go month-to-month, and would still never be late with my rent.

Sign a new 12-month contract at work, even though I could leave or they could fire me on a moment's notice, without repercussion.

Get an extension to my work visa here, the purpose of which I assume is to protect the interests of Thailand, but in reality means getting a make-believe medical check-up, and smiling at an immigration officer.

Case-in-point, roughly eighteen hours after stepping foot off the plane, I was on my way into work to sign some forms that were necessary to begin this process.

I also got the four photos necessary for the application forms, but when I took them into work, was told that I needed to take them again. It was unacceptable for this process to be wearing a t-shirt in my passport photos; I had to be wearing a shirt with a collar.

Seriously? Like, is the role of the photos not to simply identify me?

Apparently not. Apparently your application can be rejected if you don't wear a shirt in your photos.

World-class doctor in a t-shirt: Denied. Unskilled rapist in shirt: Approved. Welcome to applying for a visa in Thailand.

Before leaving England I'd anticipated that these first two days back would be stressful, as I got my work visa, and then the two afterwards, the weekend, I could relax.

Turns-out that I was right about how these days would be, but for the wrong reasons.

This time wearing a shirt, I had to do yet another photo-shoot the next day, so had gone into work twice less than 48 hours after stepping off the plane. But it was too early to actually go to immigration to get the visa, despite doing it at this time twelve months ago.

So I pleaded with them to postpone the entire process until I was back at work, even saying I intended to go travelling (lies) during my time-off, just so I could forget about it all for the rest of my break.

So with that out of the way, of more concern had been how I no longer had access to the building that I live in.

After a long flight, two hours sat in traffic, and more than thirty hours since last sleeping, I'd arrived back to my condo, tried to scan myself into the building, as I've done everytime since I've been living here, never failing once... beep, rejected.

Fuck's sake.

I'd then had to go out to the supermarket just so I had some food to eat, and when I came back again... beep, rejected.

Fuck's sake.

Each time I was having to go and search for a security guard to let me in. And having travelled 10,000 miles since last getting any sleep, fuck I was over it. I just want to get into my fucking apartment.

With no one in the office, I couldn't even deal with it until the next day, and when I did, well...

I was a little less irritable by now, having actually had some sleep. But actually getting my key activated again?

Why it happened is completely beyond me, but for some reason an expiration date had been put on my key card. I can't remember the exact wording they used, but it was basically as a way to 'check' that I was actually living here.

I've living here for two years; never a problem. And then out of the blue, and without even informing me, suddenly I'm denied access to the building that I live in?

A part of me is glad that they're actually doing things like this to ensure that the apartments aren't being rented-out on Air B&B; that would be unfair to the residents. But when I've lived here for two years, do you think that you could at least tell me if you're going to lock me out of the building?

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

The people that run my building are dicks. And that's probably being polite about it.

When I first moved-in it was run by some incompetent, nice people. Then that changed to another company, and they're incompetent dicks.

But this, coupled with the visa bullshit, coupled with going to four different supermarkets in my first 48-hours back, meant that these first two days were as unenjoyable as I was anticipating, I just didn't get a visa at the end of it.

Expecting this to be the case, I'd earmarked these next two days, the weekend, to just relax and to recover from the flight. And that's also what it turned-into, but it wasn't exactly for the reasons that I'd planned.

If you read this blog, then you know that I have a torn-meniscus in my knee from a skiing accident in 2009.

At the time of the injury in 2009, I was so paranoid by the policy of paying the hefty price for healthcare, and then applying for reimbursment from your insurance company, that I never got it properly seen to while I was living in Canada. In fact it was only thanks to an unexpected visit from Paraguay in 2010, that I eventually got an MRI on the NHS, and received a reliable diagnosis.

On the doctor's advice that I'd be able to get the needed surgery before starting work in the US later that year, I cancelled my return flight to Paraguay; a decision with implications much more far-reaching than I've ever revealed in this blog, only to be let-down by the NHS, and not getting the surgery.

Never again have I spent long enough in England to climb up the waiting-list to get the surgery on the NHS, and in no other country that I've lived in (Thailand and China) do I know enough about or have enough trust in the medical care to get what is a non-essential operation.

Does my knee feel great?

No, it's hurt for eight years, but I've learnt to live with it. And it's not like it's ever stopped me running 20km. And I've always tried to put a positive spin onto it.

At the moment of this accident, as I was tumbling down the mountain after skiing like an idiot, I felt so much pressure on my left leg as my body was spinning around, but my left ski remained on my boot, I was sure that my leg was going to snap in half.

To this moment I still remember the feeling that my left femur was about to snap in half. And when I stopped tumbling, and all my bones were in tact... it might not sound lucky to have a torn meniscus, but I felt lucky. It should have been a lot worse, and I probably deserved a lot worse. And so I never forgot that.

I've always used this injury as a humbling reminder that hey... you are only human. There's only so much dumb shit that you can get away with. And this constant pain in my left knee probably allowed me to live-out the remainder of my youth without doing anything so stupid ever again.

That was eight years ago, and now becoming an alcohol-free, meditating vegan, I think it's fair to say that I'm passed the point of any youthful craziness. But I might not have got here so in tact had I not been humbled that day back in early 2009.

Fast forward to now, and my knee goes through good periods and bad periods. Some months it can feel like it's almost healed, and others I feel pain in every step I take. It's been up and down like that ever since it happened. But my rule is generally that so long as it never stops me from actually doing something that I want to do, then a bit of pain isn't a problem. No need to let some random person I don't know cut me open and start poking-around inside me with knives.

And after a flight where I was forced to remain mostly cramped-into an economy-class seat for 12 hours, as I said, these first two days back, when I was jet-lagged and felt like a zombie, were kind of manic.

I don't have a car, and I rarely ever take taxis; only really if I need to go to/from the airport. Whenever I go to a supermarket, I carry everything home in my backpack. But by the end of this second day... man, my knee was bothering me worse than at any other time over the past eight years. Stairs in particular were just excrutiating.

I'd been going through a bit of a rough-patch with my knee recently anyway, but it's one of those things where... well I just ran 25km, how bad can it really be?

But on my final night in England, typically when it was too late to do anything about it, I looked at my knee and... that's not normal.

It was just slightly disfigured compared to my right knee. It looked like swelling, but it felt harder. Swelling's normally a bit spongy.

Oh well, I'm flying to Thailand tomorrow, not much I can do about it now. I'll retain faith in my body's ability to heal itself.

By the end of Friday... ok, I need to rest this. So the weekend of inactivity I'd been planning for anyway, was forced upon me as I felt obliged to rest my knee.

Royal Mail had come through, and I'd brought back ten new PS4 games to Thailand with me, and so I was actually kind of glad for the excuse to act like a slob.

Horizon Zero Dawn had taken my fancy first, and having only started it on Thursday night, by the end of Sunday I'd logged 22 hours of gameplay. It was a great weekend, one where I tried to not fully bend or straighten my left knee at all; just give it as much chance as possible to heal.

As I'd anticipated back in London, on Monday I then went to check-out my local gym. I was looking for a reason to join, so was rather unimpressed by the girl who showed it to me, who did nothing to sell it to me and make it seem like a place I'd want to go.

I guess that's good, because I'll probably never see her again, so it's better to make my own mind up, and I was 90% certain I was going to join.

I'd got the corporate rate that I wanted, the gym looked good. Why not take the night to mull it over, and if I know sales people, maybe they'll call me tomorrow with a better offer.

I'd told them I'd think about it and come back tomorrow morning, knowing full well I wasn't going to be up in the morning; my body was still operating on London time. I figured if I didn't show-up in the morning though, then they'd have to call me to entice me back, so the next day I sat on my sofa, waiting for the phone to ring.

Oh look, surprise, surprise, they're calling me.

"If you come in and join the gym today, I have a special gift for you."

What the fuck does that mean? I don't want a special gift, I want a discount. What gift?

"I will give you a free bag if you come and join today."

I already have a bag.

With nothing else to really do for these three weeks, I didn't want to drag-out the process of joining in the hope of getting a better price, so I did go back later that day to join, but it certainly wasn't for a shitty bag.

Do you know how many Fitness First bags I've had in my life?

Many. And they've all been shit.

Signing the contract was a much longer, and at times heated process than I'd anticipated, because they needed me to give them a credit card to guarantee the payment.

I only have a UK credit card, so I was all 'fuck you, I'm not giving you that credit card, because if you do ever charge it, I'm going to be stuck with the international fees. Take my Thai debit card instead.'

Then they were all like, 'ok, but to use your debit card is 175 baht per month.'

Then I was all like, 'fuck you, I'm not paying an extra 175 baht per month just to guarantee the payment. I've never been late for a payment in my life, I don't need a guarantee that I'm going to pay.'

And then they were all like 'yeah, but the bank charges us that much every month to have your account on file.'

And then I was all like 'well then don't put it on file, just keep my details and only add my account if I don't pay.'

And then they were all like 'we can't do that.'

It got rather heated, and where as you'd think signing a contract would only take a few minutes, it actually took well over an hour. The solution that we eventually came to was that I'd give them my UK credit card however with an amendment added to the contract that they may only charge it after a certain point each month.

Strangely enough, when I got home, that amendment never made it into my copy of the contract, but whatever. As long as they never charge it, then I have no problem.

So that was it, I had a gym. I have done for three days now. And it is nice, I'll give them that.

It's Fitness First Platinum, which I think just means that they give you a towel, and shorts and a t-shirt to exercise in when you go there, which is kind of nice. Less kit to carry around in your bag with you.

But on this first day, immediately after signing-up, I did a spinning class. Then the next day, yesterday, I did a yoga class and lifted some weights. Then today, I did another yoga class and then a HIIT class.

Like I said in a previous blog, I could probably run 20km everyday for the next year, and never once find it challenging. And if I'm not finding it challenging, then what's the point in doing it?

I'm actively seeking discomfort, in more than just how I'm exercising.

But I am very aware that I have the flexibility of a 60 year-old, so what's best to do?

Yoga.

And I'm looking at all of the things that I can do in this gym, and actively seeking-out the ones that I know that I'm terrible at, and I know that I'll find the most difficult, and will cause me the most discomfort.

I wasn't like that the last time I had a gym a few years ago, so perhaps that says something about my mental age.

When you're young, you're supposed to be fit and healthy, so I think in the past I felt an obligation to live up to that, or to at least appear to. I'd be scared to be seen to be struggling to do something.

Nowadays, I really don't care. If you see me struggling to touch my toes in a yoga class, I really couldn't give a shit. I'm passed the era of my life where it's expected of me to be good at things like that, or where I care if people think I am good at things like that. And it gives me a lot more freedom to do classes I know I'll be bad at, or to struggle lifting weights that'd be comfortable for most women.

The classes are all in Thai as well, which just adds an extra challenge.

But as I was contemplating whether I'd join this gym or not, a year-long commitment, it wasn't lost on me that I was struggling to climb a flight of stairs.

In actual fact, it was probably the best thing I could have done.

At the beginning of that first yoga class, I was sat on my mat cross-legged, and even that was painful. But the class just stretched-out my knee-joint so much that it's felt a hundred times better ever since.

And if during my twenties this injury was a humbling reminder to not do too much dumb shit, then in my thirties it can be a reminder that I need to be regularly going to yoga class... otherwise I won't be able to walk anymore.

I'd enjoyed my weekend of inactivity, but in actual fact, that might be the worst course of action for my knee. Exercising it for three days had made it feel almost 100% pain-free.

Got to stay active, otherwise I turn into a cripple. The new rule for my thirties.

I'm also using my new-found gym membership to break-out of... some unnecessary parts of my routine, shall we say.

Routines are sometimes good, but they also have a way of adding perceived importance to things that really aren't important. And when I say I'm searching for discomfort in more than just my exercise, I'm trying to break-out of habits that really don't matter, but in my mind do. That's an advantage of leaving for a month and seeing some of the stupid shit that you do.

Just little things. Like, I never leave my apartment in the morning without having a shower. Which if I'm going to work or something, fair enough. But if I need something from 7-11, thirty seconds from my condo, I'll still refuse to go down there in the morning without a shower. I don't want people to see me looking even a little unhygienic.

When you get too set in your ways, you stop appreciating that even if anybody did notice that you hadn't taken a shower that morning, that no one would give a fuck. It's all in your head, but when you're settled into a routine, those things that don't matter start to matter.

Well seeing as I'm going to shower at the gym after my workout anyway, fuck having a shower before.

Little things like that, little things that make me uncomfortable, but have no reason for doing so, I'm trying to seek-out those. And having a gym now, which completely disrupts my normal routine, is helping me do that.

Routine is a bad thing. Comfort is a bad thing. I'm actively trying to do the things that make me uncomfortable.

It's flown-by to be honest, but I've already been back for more than a week, and four things have dominated my mind:

Horizon Zero Dawn: I've now put more than thirty-five hours into that game... and I have no regrets.

The gym: I've done at least one class on each day since I signed-up, and on the remaining seventeen days until I start work again, I don't see why I can't exercise on all of them.

My knee: I tick more boxes than I'm comfortable with for the symptoms of arthritis, including 'It can occur years after a torn meniscus,' but... fuck it. Shit happens.

And then the last thing, which I haven't yet mentioned: The future.

I'm signed-up to my gym for the next twelve months. This weekend my landlord is coming over to extend the lease on my condo for another twelve months. I'm about to extend my working visa for another twelve months.

Barring something unforeseen, I'm in Thailand for the next twelve months; I have little doubt about that. I'm kind of looking at it like I have twelve more months to relax and to enjoy life. But I'm also looking at it as twelve months to plan-out the rest of my life.

I started talking about this in the last blog, but I'm acutely aware that I'm not currently paying into any pension fund or national insurance. I don't have any assets, or anything of real value. And along with maturing to no longer care about what other people think of me, and not feeling conscious at all as I struggle through a yoga class, I've matured to a point that this also concerns me.

I arrived in Thailand without a care in the world. But nowadays I'm looking to the future and... I don't really have one.

If you asked me today, I would say that twelve months from now I'll be leaving Thailand. But if you asked me where I'll be going or what I'll be doing...

I dunno.

That's what I mean, twelve months to figure-out the rest of my life. Twelve months to figure-out how I'm going to reach retirement age, being able to afford to retire. And I don't think I can by staying here. Certainly not teaching English.

What will I do? What can I do?

Start a new career? Go back into education? I'm really not sure. But I kind of see it like twelve more months to enjoy this life that I love... but then this time next year, time to build my future.

When I started it, I said that this would be a ten year trip, and next year will be ten years.

This was in my head anyway, but then a couple of connected Reddit threads on r/Thailand (here and here) really reinforced things.

So that sums up my life pretty well right now. It's a simple life when I think about it.

What am I doing with my time?

Going to the gym and playing video games.

What am I thinking about am I do them?

Life. That's about it.