Elephant’s Leg


2014: MY YEAR IN REVIEW

The past 12 months have been some of the most fulfilling of my life. I made great strides both personally and professionally, and while death did intervene on a couple of occasions, and threaten on another, 2014 was by far a positive year overall.

The most interesting point, as far as I’m concerned, was my long-awaited return to competitive boxing. Also long-awaited was a promotion I secured in work. My relationship with Fai continued to progress and deepen, and I travelled overseas three times. On a sadder note, I lost two friends, and nearly lost a dear family member.

BOXING

(Mis-spelled) poster for my second 2014 fight

(Mis-spelled) poster for my second 2014 fight

In June, I finally returned to competitive boxing – a mere 17 years after my last match! To put that into perspective, it was a hiatus seven years longer than that which preceded George Foreman‘s famous comeback.

I had been training consistently for a couple of years but for various reasons had not secured a match. But last year, western amateur boxing really took off in Bangkok. Previously, foreign boxers in Thailand had two options – fight in muay Thai, or turn pro and get fed to the lions. Neither option appealed to me, and there has been no obvious amateur programme open to foreigners, so when The Lab organised its inaugural boxing show in June and offered me a spot on the card, I jumped at the chance.

I boxed Felix Schrick of Germany on June 13 in an event called Bangkok Throwdown, held at The Lab. He beat me fair and square with a higher workrate and proved difficult to figure out with his southpaw counter-punching style – not to mention he was 7 years younger and 6kg bigger than me! But we went the distance and I played my part in a competitive match that the crowd enjoyed, so I was satisfied with that. Of course I would have preferred to win, and I did prepare accordingly, but looking back, I think my mindset was more to see if I could still do it, given how long I’d been out of the ring, and how disastrous my previous match had been (a first-round stoppage defeat).

The overall show was fun to be involved with, as it featured a lot of my friends and gymmates boxing too, and perhaps most importantly it was a fundraiser for  Operation Smile, which fixes cleft lips and palates in poor children. The charity literally changes lives as it pays for teams of surgeons and nurses to travel to disadvantaged areas of Thailand to carry out the operations on dozens of kids. It is an honour to do a small part for this charity, and I’m proud of all those who work hard to promote it.

Operation Smile actually holds a bigger boxing event every year, in October. Felix and I were offered a rematch on that show, but Felix was unable to commit to it. Instead, I reprised my role from last year as timekeeper – with the best seat in the house! This year it raised 5.385 million baht (almost £110,000).

I connect with a right cross on Slava

I connect with a right cross on Slava

I got back in the ring in December, at the inaugural ETBC event. The ETBC – Expats in Thailand Boxing Council – is a new sanctioning body set up to oversee white collar and amateur boxing involving foreigners here. As I said earlier, there has not really been an amateur boxing avenue open to foreigners here before. There has been Operation Smile Fight Night, but that’s only once a year, so with the ETBC and the possibility of future Lab events, there will be more opportunities than ever before for foreign western boxers.

My second bout of 2014 was at Lion’s Head Boxing on a bill called King of the Pride. This time, having answered my own mental questions against Felix (albeit in defeat), I prepared not just to be competitive, but to win. At 37 years of age, I got into the best shape of my life and on the night, I felt I outboxed my opponent, Slava Granovskiy of Kazakhstan. Alas, the judges disagreed. Perhaps they favoured his forward movement, but while I was boxing on the back foot, I did think I was more accurate and controlled the pace. A lot of people in the crowd told me I should have won, but unfortunately they were overruled by the three men who count. Never mind, that is the subjectivity of scoring boxing. I was pretty upset at the time because I had invested so much in my preparation, but I feel OK now because I still made great personal gains even if the official result was not what I wanted.

Team spirit at Bangkok Fight Lab

Team spirit at Bangkok Fight Lab

As ever, I made plenty of new friends through the sport last year, and built on the existing boxing bonds I had. Through all the hours of training together, swapping banter and blows, and the total absence of egos, the camaraderie in boxing is unlike any other. A boxing match may be a competition between individuals, but it is the greatest team sport of all.

WORK

The other area where I made long-awaited progress was in work, as I finally secured a promotion after six years with the Bangkok Post. In April I took the position of Foreign News Editor. Previously I was a subeditor, and I had occupied that role throughout my career, albeit in different places and on different sections. The news editor position is quite different, carries more responsibility, is often more interesting and is definitely more rewarding. When a big international story is developing, there is a real buzz, and doing a good job in presenting this news in the paper is very fulfilling. And last year was full of big news events, such as the multiple plane disasters, the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, the rise of the Islamic State, the Scottish independence vote, and much more.

PLACES

Senado Square in Macau

Senado Square in Macau

I made three overseas trips in 2014, including my annual visit home. Of the other two, one was a new destination, and the other was revisiting a country.

The new destination was Macau, which I visited in November to coincide with a big boxing match involving Manny Pacquaio. Apparently Macau’s gambling revenue now exceeds that of Las Vegas and, accordingly, big-time boxing promoters are moving in on the territory. It was the second Pacquaio fight there, and there have been several other promotions based around China’s flagship boxer, Zou Shiming.

The event, staged on the morning of Sunday, November 23 (to suit the US prime time Saturday night audience) was spectacular, set inside the cavernous Cotai Arena, dazzling with light and sound, with music performances from local and Hong Kong stars between the fights, celebrities from both the East and West crammed in to ringside, and all the faces you’d come to expect to see in pay-per-view boxing. It was as good, and as grand, as anything emanating from Vegas.

I spent five nights in Macau so I could have a proper look around besides just watching the boxing. I spent the first three nights in Macau City, the old part of town, and the last two in Coloane, the more rural southern end of the peninsula.

The Cotai strip by night

The Cotai strip by night

As a non-gambler, Macau City was the main attraction for me. I’d long wanted to see the blend of Cantonese and Portuguese which makes Macau unique. Some of the architecture looked entirely European, while the city planning seemed decidedly Asian, with narrow streets and high-density residential areas.It’s a nice walking city, with atmospheric sidestreets to traverse at random and without a significant risk of getting lost. Naturally, I visited the main tourist attractions such as the Sao Paolo ruins, the Mount Fortress and Senado Square. As delightful as the fusion feel to the city’s streets were, the same could be said of the food. If Cantonese food is among the best in Asia, and Portuguese among the best in European, then the blend of the two is as good as you’d expect.

To the southern end of Macau City, history starts to give way to what the territory is now best known for – neon-soaked nightlife, specifically of the gambling variety. Looming over that part of town is the iconic Casino Lisboa – a monstrosity, if I’m honest. While the newer casinos in Cotai are architectural marvels and zoned appropriately, the Lisboa is a hulking tower of dated design that encroaches on almost every view. Still, it is a landmark, and the bus station at its foot is Macau’s central public transport hub, so if ever you get lost there, just head for the big, ugly building that you simply can’t miss.

Jungle sunset in Tatai

Jungle sunset in Tatai

In May, I returned to Cambodia for the first time since 2005. A lot of people have talked about the improvements there, and while I went to a different destination this time, I could see general progress, such as in the quality of the roads and infrastructure, widespread ATMs, and fewer people who appeared outright desperate and/or who propositioned me about me immoral and illegal products and services. And yet for all these obvious improvements, it remained significantly cheaper than Thailand – a good quality guesthouse room set me back all of £5 a night, while meals went for £1 and a beer for half that.

I embarked on a jungle trip in Tatai, Koh Kong province, which is not far from the border with Trat in eastern Thailand. It’s an easy coach ride from Bangkok (about five hours) and the border crossing was a breeze. I stayed a night in Koh Kong town and then took a boat into the great green yonder, where I stayed at Tatai Riverfront, a lovely eco-tourism lodge offering various jungle treks and excursions and boat trips. I enjoyed a three-day combination of arduous adventure in the bush and total relaxation in a hammock on the balcony of my above-river bungalow. Highly recommended.

My other overseas trip was home to the UK in August, where as usual I caught up with family and friends and had a de facto school reunion when my old pals get together as a result of my rare appearance. Again, the rural areas of Wales, Scotland and Kent were a welcome contrast to the majority of the year spent in uber-urban Bangkok.

BAD NEWS

Aaron

Aaron

While 2014 was largely positive, two friends did pass away in sudden and untimely circumstances. First of all, in May, my boxing buddy Aaron Clundell died while on holiday in Koh Samui. It came completely out of the blue and deeply saddened the western boxing community here. Aaron was showing great enthusiasm and promise in his boxing and surely would have been part of one of the three events mentioned above. It was a pleasure to train with Aaron, and I am grateful for my friendship with him.

In work, my colleague Mark Child was here one day, gone the next. He had deep vein thrombosis in his right leg and sat with the leg elevated for a couple of weeks, but didn’t seem overly concerned about it, and by all accounts it was a manageable and temporary condition which he was being treated for. But just hours before a scheduled follow-up appointment at the hospital in November, Mark passed out and never regained consciousness. His dry humour and endearing pedantry (a positive trait in an editor!) is still missed to this day in the office.

Both Aaron’s and Mark’s deaths came as a surprise as they were so sudden, and as such were sad illustrations of the fragility of our mortality. If anything, they served as reminders that if you are in a position to do something, you should do it then, and not defer until “next time”, because there might not be one.

Another illustration of that came with my Uncle Daudi, who visited me in 2013 after several years of saying he would come to Thailand “next year”. A good job that he finally did make it, because in 2014 he became very ill with chronic restrictive pulmonary disorder. It was touch and go for a while but eventually Daudi pulled through, albeit with some major changes to get used to. It’s not out of the question that he can travel long-haul again, but it won’t be for a while. This not only reinforces my “do it now” stance, but also, since Daudi was a long-term smoker who suffered very badly as a result, it showed the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

But to end on a positive note, he is doing well now and is happy with his “second chance”. Here’s hoping that my friends and family stay happy through 2015, and if this year is half as good to me personally as last year was, I will be pleased.


Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: