Tom and Jodie posted a photo:
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Thai Rugby Union - http://www.thairugbyunion.com/
Asian Rugby Football Union - http://www.arfu.com/
Bangkok Southerners - http://www.southerners-bangkok.com/rugby
Phuket Rugby - http://www.phuketvagabondsrfc.com/
Khun Adisak - Chairman of ARFU &
ex international player for Thailand
|Eddie Evans (Canada) - Ex international player|
|Norm Hadley (Canada) - Ex international captain|
It had to happen at some point I guess. We had been quite lucky really. Neither of us had been really sick, well nothing that our basic first aid kit and some rest couldn't fix anyway. But days away from reaching our one year on the road anniversary, Tom took a funny turn. It all seemed quite innocuous at first. We had pedalled quite steadily from Siem Reap to reach Bangkok despite the rising temperature, I even had a new stripy top from Tesco's (yes - they have Tesco's here, its like being back at home!!) for the summer weather we were finally encountering. It was our first night with the lads from the Bangkok Southerners, a great bunch who met us in town to welcome us in over a few beers. So it seemed quite plausible that all that heat and dehydration could cause Tom to suddenly feel lightheaded and feverish. Tim, our fantastic host left his beer without a second thought and took us back home where Tom promptly took himself to bed. By morning, Tom was getting worse. His skin was on fire, his pulse was racing, his pupils like pinpricks and he could barely move. Panicking somewhat, I scanned the internet to try and diagnose him and see what I could do to help. Cold towels were applied, water and rehydration sachets poured down his throat but nothing was working. I am no nurse and I am certainly not good at keeping calm under such circumstances. By lunchtime it was clear that there really was no alternative but to seek proper medical help. Frosty towels out the freezer were not good enough. Again, Tim came to the rescue and before we knew it, we were on our way to hospital. I have never felt so helpless in my life. It was awful. Thankfully, we knew that the hospitals of Bangkok came with a good reputation. Well deserved they are. Minutes after registering, Tom was wheeled off into the Emergency ward and hooked up onto a drip. Nurses busied themselves around him and within 30 minutes we were sitting in our five star hotel, sorry, I mean hospital room. TV, fridge, ensuite bathroom, tea and coffee making facilities, room service - seriously. I settled on the couch and flicked through the hundred or so channels before finding the rugby match between Sri Lanka and the UAE, ordered room service while poor old Tom was served with some sort of watery noodle soup. To cut a short story short, Tom pulled through with miraculous determination and strength - I think there was far too much happening in Bangkok and he simply didn't want to miss out! So, now we've dealt with the bad news, let's move onto what you really wanted to read about...
What has he got to do with Thai Rugby?
Nothing at all, but we were in Thailand when news of his secret compound was discovered, leading to his death. It turns out that we pretty much cycled passed his front door last October, probably camping no more than a kilometre or so from his hideaway that evening.
This remains the only night on our entire trip that locals had found us, and genuinely concerned over our safety, had contacted local police who insisted that we accompany them back to the armed barracks in Abbottobad to spend the night.
Although a little happy that we didn't go knocking on his front gate asking for water, the reward money would certainly have enabled us to fund the entire TAG Rugby Development Trust for eternity.
If you would like to contribute to this shortfall, please click our International Donation Link
Thanks for reading,
Tom and Jodie
Ok ok, now onto Rugby in Thailand.
After the disappointment of missing the Nak Suu training on Saturday we were even more determined to uncover the work of the Nak Suu Tigers and find out how rugby is transforming the lives of many poor children in Bangkok. Our journey started with a visit to the co-founder of the project, Eddie Evans.
As a former national player Eddie had a huge impact on the game. He represented Canada 49 times, which at the time was the record number of caps, and played at 3 Rugby World Cups, including a quarter final against the formidable All Blacks in the 1991 Rugby World Cup. The 1991 Canada squad is widely regarded as the strongest side they have ever fielded, defeating both Romania and Fiji in the group stages and losing narrowly to France enroute to their quarterfinal.
After an amateur and professional career that saw Eddie play in Canada, Japan and New Zealand, he felt the need to give something back to the sport. Although busy with the day to day managing of his sportswear business X-treme Sports (http://www.x-tremerugbywear.com), he became aquainted with 2 Samoan rugby brothers from New Zealand who had been running a missionary project in the slum areas of Bangkok. The brothers, Sopo and Lea, worked with Eddie, and between them developed a rugby project that could further their efforts in the slum areas and provide another level of social activity to the children. The scheme proved an instant winner with the children, involving around 120 children weekly in sessions divided into 4 age groups. The Nak Suu Tigers are facilitated by Sopo's mission "Ark International" which he started 4 years ago under the umbrella of "Youth with a mission". Operated out of Perth, the scheme emcompasses near to 80 countries around the Indian Ocean, tackling issues like child labour, prostitution and human trafficking.
Although not witnessing the rugby session itself, we weren't to miss travelling out to the slum areas targeted under the scheme. Many of the communities are of Cambodian origin, left to survive in housing built on flood lands. Despite being born in Thailand, most of the families have no official registration of their children, fleeing hospitals after giving birth in fear they could be taken away or even deported. This causes many social problems further down the line, the biggest being no access to any of Thailand's social support.The stilted accomodations are very cramped, and often the water levels will rise so much that many of the houses are no longer protected from the contaminated water. In one recent situation, Sopo helped a family to move accomodation after two huge anacondas made a new home for themselves in the small living space. We've seen many poor areas on our journey, but to deal with the hygene issues brought about by so much stagnant water, it is all the more important than families receive health education that protects themselves from disease.
Thankfully given the chance, children will remain children, and taking Gilbert down to the slum for a mini tour it didn't take long to engage some into a rugby session of our own. Surrounded by smiles and even a few cartwheels, poor Gilbert was tossed from boy to girl, sometimes finding himself in less than favourable locations, being dropped "overboard" from the narrow walkways. Sopo used the opportunity to initiate new introductions with families and by the end of our trip, he had even managed to secure the use of a local business premises to conduct further English lessons for the children. My favourite moment was being introduced to a young lad called "Bum". He was particularly interested in throwing the ball American football style, normally aiming for parts of your body that need more protecting than others. I will always remember my time with "Bum from the Slum".
The Nak Suu Tigers and Ark International are schemes with a promising and hugely effective future, but they do need public support to operate. All 12 of the workers in Bangkok are full-time volunteers and they always welcome individuals with appropriate skills and energy to help out in any way. One aim that would benefit the scheme more than anything at present, would be to aquire their own minibus. Transporting children without papers from slum areas to rugby sessions not only brings about costs using public transport, but risks of being questioned by police, naturally resulting in further expense. With generous support from Xtreme Sportwear, transport costs are the greatest burden to the scheme. If you have any ideas or would like to contribute towards helping them obtain a "Nak Suu Tigers" Minibus, please e-mail us firstname.lastname@example.org and we will introduce you directly to the fantastic guys down on the ground in Bangkok.
As usual, being on bicycles is not condusive to scheduling appointments and being flexible on the length of our stays at rugby stops. We had missed out on the annual Pattaya 10s tournament by only 3 days, but falling 300km behind a target is no small matter and if you take a casual attitude towards this, you'll quickly find yourself 600km behind schedule, in other words sleeping outside Murrayfield when you ought to be outside Twickenham. When we arrive at Eden Park in October, we will have cycled close to 29,000km, to put this into perspective Mark Beaumont cycled 29,444km when he did a full lap of the world in 2007/2008. Thankfully, the Rugby Gods have been keeping a close eye on our journey and as one hand "taketh away" the other hand certainly does "giveth".
"Do you want to meet Norman?" Eddie asked us, following our chat.
"Yes, we'd love to" I automatically reply, vowing to leave no rugby stone unturned.
"Great, I'll call him down. He's upstairs helping me with a few things"
In the following minutes, several things occured, starting with an embarrassed admission that I had no idea who Norman was. Only as Eddie explained a little about his former captain did I realise that in 1991, I had been watching He-man instead of the Rugby World Cup, and so I received a very brief education into the man known as "Stormin' Norman from his friend and former team-mate with a little help from wikipedia.
"Oh my god" I thought, as I read his profile. "This guy would eat He-man for breakfast"
As always, a quick wiki search on "Norman Hadley" (the former captain of Canada, not the poet) will reveal as much as I could tell you, and if you weren't watching He-man in 1991, you will certainly remember Norman as one of the most influential players in the tournament. His playing career took him around the globe, even playing for the Barbarians RFC on no less than 5 occasions! Notably, he was one of the first 2 overseas players to ever play for Suntory Sungoliaths, who you may recall from our Japanese outing with Eddie Jones and George Gregan. He finally finished his career by playing alongside stars like Rory Underwood and Martin Offiah at Bedford Blue RFC in a successful season to promote them into the English top flight. An interesting project backed by boxing promote Frank Warren, which worked as effectively the following season, but in reverse, when all the stars left.
When not being a hero on the pitch, he was famously brought into the English limelight by swiftly dealing with two smoking hooligans on the London Underground. Without batting an eyelid, he removed the two trouble makers from the train to a standing ovation from the entire carriage of commuters. I have no idea what they were smoking, but I can't for the life of me imagine what they were thinking when they ignored his polite advice to comply with the train regulations.
I leave you with John Major's words that week in the House of Commons: "What this country needs is more Norman Hadleys".
With 2 Canadian legends on the "World in Union" scroll, we move onto Thai National team training.
The Thai Rugby Union (TRU) themselves don't have any English speakers, but luckily for us, we were able to meet with several individuals, some former members of the TRU to discuss rugby in Thailand.
Our trip started with a guided tour of the oldest and most prestigious school in Bangkok, Vajiravudh College. King Rama VI, the former Thai King, had taken his education at Oxford University, England and returned to Thailand in to further the development of Thai society with Western methods. In a very forward thinking attitude, he chose not to construct a temple (traditional for all Kings as a memory of their reign) but to build an English style boarding school instead. The primary sport played at this school would be rugby, "the sport played in heaven". King Rama VI believed that the sport promoted gentleman like qualities and encouraged sportsmanship. Even to this day, each interhouse rugby match played in the school is preceeded by the singing of a Thai hymn called Jan ya nak kee la, meaning "Sportsmanship".
The Thais, unlike some of their South East Asian counterparts, have much more diverse physiques and take to the game quite naturally. The difficulties lay in the amateur nature of the game, and that most of their players emerge from the elite schools and colleges, naturally chosing to pursue university studies ahead of commiting to training and travelling for international commitments.
Three men in particular are addressing issues like these, and are instrumental in the ongoing development of junior rugby in a country where the media focuses on soccer.
Firstly we will start with our Thai scroll signatory, Khun Adisak, ex National Player, and current chairman of ARFU (Asian Rugby Football Union). Khun Adisak himself is a former pupil of Vajiravudh College, and former standoff for Thailand. His son, Nattapol, has also played for the Thai National team, and now spends any free time assisting the management of the national team with all manner of duties. Nattapol accompanied us to international training, and introduced us to both players and coaches from the male and female national teams.The pair are at the heart of all Thai rugby issues and are now well known rugby figures around most of Asian rugby.
Another former member of the TRU and ex-National player is Khun Nakara Nakornthap He kindly invited us to the exclusive Royal Bangkok Sports Club to meet with the Siam Sport Newspaper, to chat about rugby development in Thailand, and more importantly to allow Jodie to eat a grizzly bear's portion of smoked salmon. (The Royal Bangkok Sports Club have since ceased the "all you can eat" buffet option). Khun Nakornthap is an ambitious and passionate rugby man, who along with Khun Adisak and the others, brings a highly professional approach to the rugby development plans in the country. One of the current priorities is to extend the current domestic rugby season, which only lasts for 3 months, into a 6 month structure involving schools, universities and the local senior clubs. This year Bangkok will be hosting the HSBC A5N division 2 tournament, and their focus will be using this tournament as a platform for growing rugby interest in the capital.
Our last man has a more unusual story to his name. Major Apirak, another former national player and ex Thai national coach is thought to be the only International Rugby player to have been struck by lightning, and survived. The unfortunate event happened in Singapore during a national training session as the Major stood by the side of the pitch, presumably holding a rather conductive whistle in hand. The strike rendered him unconscious and was rushed to hospital with burning around his neck from a metallic pendant.
Although last on our Thai write up, we would like to offer our huge thanks to the guys at Southerners RFC, with reference to some in particular. The skipper, Stephen Bell (aka Belly) from Australia, was a
crucial part of bringing our Bangkok experience together. Between him and Darrel Lintott, they made it possible to explore true Thai rugby, and for allowing us the luxury of air-conditioned accomodation with our kind host, and Southerner backrow, Tim Hanson. Tim, it will take something quite ridiculous to repay you in Melbourne.
The Southerners RFC are a social but competitive outfit, comprising mostly, but not exclusively, of players from the 3 southern hemisphere giants, SA, AU and NZ. Open to anyone with the appropriate social attitude, they field players from all over the globe, and they sometimes let Welsh people play too.
Embarrassingly, my socialising with the Southerners lasted a pitiful 12 minutes, or half a small beer, before I collapsed with what was later diagnosed as "soft pom disease". Needless to say that I could have found out more, but a few days later at least witnessed a training session in preparation for the Pattaya 10s. Great group of guys, and if you are looking for some opposition or a good social tour, get in touch with them through their website http://www.southerners-bangkok.com/
Either side of my 1,000 USD night in a Bangkok hotel, we managed to squeeze in some filming for Total Rugby TV. Keep your eyes open for 2 camera-shy cyclists coming to your screen soon..........
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