In the fall of 2010 my good friend and co-creator of the clothing line Vitamin Thick (www.vitaminthick.com, twitter.com/vitaminthick), Elliott Curtis, went on a trip across Europe. One of his many goals on his journey was to play pick-up basketball in as many places in Europe as he could, and experience different cultures through the game. He created a blog to document his experience (http://insearchofrun.tumblr.com) that was the inspiration for my blog. When I thought about my trip I also hoped I would have the opportunity to connect to people in Thailand through the game of basketball. Fortunately enough I was able to do just that.
My dad and I were unsure what do today. We had knocked off a lot of the standard “touristy” things the day before: visited a temple, taken a long boat ride on the river, went to the local market. We unenthusiastically settled on taking a trip to the Zoo, if nothing more than a destination to get to and explore from there. When we went to get a cab the driver said that we could not go to the zoo today. Something about “white shirts” and “government officials.” He said there was a safari zoo about 20 miles away that he would take us to. He went to his car and got a poster of the zoo he had in the trunk of his taxi. Neither my dad nor I were impressed with the flyer or wanted to go that far out of the city so we declined the trip.
We went back into our guesthouse and spoke to the staff about something to do. First we learned that the zoo was not closed and that the taxi driver was attempting to scam us. Apparently it is commonplace for taxi drivers to tell tourists a place is closed and then offer to drive them to another place that is farther away to make more money. The guy we talked to said the zoo was nothing special and that we should check out the weekend market. My dad and I hopped on the air tran and were on our way.
The weekend market deserves a blog post to itself. It is the largest shopping area I have ever seen in my life. People are selling everything you can think of indoors and outdoors. It is also located next to some very nice parks that we decided to check out. Side note: My dad and I took the plunge and tried food from the street vendors. As we walked along one park area we came across an outdoor gym with some of the rustiest, oldest weight machines you could imagine. Regardless, there were 3 or 4 guys getting their swoll on. It was like a Thai version of “Muscle Beach” on Venice Beach. My dad asked one of the guys where to play basketball. Simulating the motion of shooting and dribbling a basketball apparently was enough to break the language barrier. He pointed us in the right direction and we continued walking. We kept walking and asking people where basketball was. They kept giving us similar directions so we knew we were on the right path.
We eventually found the park we had been directed to. The atmosphere inside the park was incredible. Almost everyone was riding bikes. Massive groups of kids of all different ages were riding around with their friends. The park was enormous. I don’t know how big it was, but it was at least the size of the Boston Common, maybe twice as big. There were large open grassy areas, lots of trees, and small ponds throughout. However, I did not see any basketball courts. My dad and I sat down for a minute near the entrance of the park to take in the sights. I had not had any serious exercise since we left so I decided to go for a run while he sat by a pond and worked on his computer.
My jog around the park was pretty funny. I did not see any other white people in the park at the time so I’m sure it was weird for the local Thai people (mostly kid and families in the park) to see my big, white self just trotting around like it was nothing. I definitely got some good stares from people as I ran around the park. No more the five minutes into my run I came across two basketball hoops! There were two half courts, side by side, across from a playground area. From a distance I saw two kids shooting around on one of the baskets. As I got closer I saw that it was two Thai girls in school uniforms (get your head out of the gutter, fellas). This wasn’t exactly who I pictured playing basketball with when I envision playing basketball in Thailand, but it was the first basketball action I had seen in a while so I went over to the court to engage with the girls.
I watched the girls shoot around for a minute before I actually went onto the court. Eventually they noticed me and I motioned for them to pass me the ball, if I could even call it that. This ball was torn up, lumpy, and didn’t have much air in it, but it was a basketball nonetheless. The hoop was also not a thing of beauty. The rim and wood backboard were in decent shape, but the net was pretty much ripped to shreds. I swished my first basketball shot in Thailand and one of the girls went and got the ball. We continued to shoot around together for a while. They would each take a shot and then pass it to me for a shot. Everyone took a shot and then you passed it to the next person for a shot. I don’t know if this was the Thai version of “courtesy”, but they were very good at sharing the ball.
The girls were pretty good too! They both shot the ball with two hands in kind of a chest pass motion, but used the backboard effectively and I’d say each was shooting around 50%. I was shooting pretty well, but the girls didn’t seem that impressed. On one turn I dunked the ball that got a slight rise out of them, but not the reaction I had hope for. I guess I wasn’t going to fool anyone into thinking I was in the NBA today. Still craving some recognition for my skills I gave one of the girls a behind the back pass (I was really pulling out all the tricks) to which they screamed and laughed with excitement. Wait…I was swishing 3 pointers, I even dunked the ball, and that got nothing, not even an “oooh”, but when I gave them a simple behind the back pass they went nuts. I guess they really appreciate good passing in Thailand. The girls laughed as they tried to pass the ball behind their backs to one another.
At some point one of the girls asked me what my name was. I told them Sam and asked them the same. Their names were (as best I could understand them) Bob and Kat. We then continued to have a conversation together. It was pretty tough to communicate with them. I speak no Thai and they spoke very little English. However, I was able to understand that they 15 and went to school together. They were very interested to know how tall I was and where I played basketball in America (I didn’t say NBA). I ultimately thanked the girls for playing basketball with me and told them I had to go. Not even thinking otherwise, I went to shake their hands to say good-bye. Bob shook my hand, but Kat would not. Bob explained something to me along the lines of I was a man and Kat could not touch me, which I completely understood. It was creepy enough that I was playing basketball with two 15-year-old girls. I left the court and started running back to tell my dad of my experience.
I was almost back to the entrance of the park when I saw some people playing basketball off in the distance. I changed my running route and headed to where I saw the basketball action. I came upon two full courts and one court had a serious three-on-three game going on. To my surprise all but one of the players were white. I stood beside the court and watched the game for a bit. Soon after approaching the court however the one non-white player asked me to sub in for him. I stepped onto the court and greeted the other guys on the court. I don’t remember all of their names except for Britt (who was from England oddly enough) and Ken who was from Oregon. There was another guy from Oregon who was pretty good. All of them were from the US or the UK and had come to Thailand to teach. All of them had been in Thailand for three to six years and taught from grades K-8.
It turned out that these guys had been playing for a couple hours before I got there so they didn’t have much energy left when I hit the court. We played one game of three on three to 11 (all ones), which, I regret to say I lost 11-9(one guy on my team was getting killed in the post!…never mind though…rule #47 no excuses, play like a champion…I lost fair and square). I hit some tough shots though and felt good about the way I represented myself. The level of competition was decent. The kid from Oregon was a solid player, had good handles, knocked down some shots, and the guy who I guarded (Britt), from the UK was just about as tall as me. The style of play wasn’t very aggressive. I was the only one on my team setting picks, and no one was really taking it to the basket. It was a game of mostly passing and cutting until someone got a decent look.
I talked to one of the guys after the game. They play at that court every Saturday and invited me to join them again, but I told them I would be gone by then. I shot around for a little bit while the other guys chatted and packed up their stuff, not knowing when I would be playing ball again. Eventually I thanked the guys for the game and was on my way. I’d have to say the MVP award for the game goes to Britt. Although he didn’t score a single point, after the game, he was greeted by his gorgeous Thai girlfriend. I may or may not have stalked them as they walked off into the park together. ANYWAYS! It was a beautiful day in the park. The weather was awesome and it felt great to get some basketball in Thailand. Hope I did you justice, E. Until next time. GO PATS!!!!!!!!!!!!
P.S. After some helpful street food tips, my dad and I took the plunge and ate street food at the weekend market. We had some really interesting foods and so far we are alive and well and not running to the bathroom every 5 minutes (knock, knock). I’ll have to make a post about all the food we’ve had in the near future.