Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ballin' on a Budget Year in Review 2012




After becoming acclimated to the 15-hour time change, snow, and toilets swirling back in their "normal" direction, I am now back in Boston settled in again as a washed-up basketball player. A big thank you to everyone who has supported Ballin' on a Budget in 2012. It was another incredible year, highlighted by the opportunities to meet some amazing people (i.e. accordion lady), learn some valuable lessons (i.e. don't sit on baby lizards), and form lifelong friendships (all without embarrassing the United States too much). 

Be sure to order your Limited Edition BOB T-shirts below. All of the proceeds will now be used to support PeacePlayers International (visit their website here). PeacePlayers is a fantastic organization that uses the game of basketball to bridge divides among youth in areas of conflict. 

Your peace-building gift on behalf of BOB Nation will be used to sponsor a child in an area of conflict to participate in PeacePlayers. And you will look snazzy doing it. 



Monday, October 1, 2012

Thailand

“Big Foot, wake up! Surat Thani two hour!"

It was a familiar voice of Thai-accented broken English waking me up, that of a worker in my 2nd-class compartment of train #85. I had grown quite accustomed to these friendly but constant service calls after just a short period of time on our journey down Thailand’s southern peninsula, having heard them the night before move up and down the aisle soliciting “so cold” Chang beer and “Dinner 220 baht!”.

I pulled back the curtain, squinted from the sun finding its way through the train’s windows, crawled myself out of my lower berth, and made my way to the makeshift table in the compartment across from me. The roughly $7 meal was a bit steep, considering I had been living off of rice, eggs, and pork for 85% less during the past few days in Bangkok, but I knew my body would require breakfast after ten hours of the twelve-hour trip. 

Usually I’d prefer some reading material or a TV show while eating, but the outside scenery served as more than sufficient visual stimulation. A flush green conquered the landscape, broken into different variations of tropical flora interspersed with limestone hills - rocks that protrude from earth in ways that seem to defy the laws of nature. 


A train traveling through Thailand


The train’s destination was Surat Thani, “The City of Good People” named for its heavy Buddhist influences. From here I would hop on a bus to the port-town of Don Sak, where a boat would be awaiting to take locals and farangs (Western foreigners) alike across the Gulf of Thailand to the island of Koh Samui.

As I finished my breakfast, I noticed my clothes were now finally completely dry, the heat having dried them after a torrential downpour took storm prior to arriving at the Hua Lamphong railway station in Bangkok the day before. I had decided to take an unscheduled detour en route to the station to explore a park in the country’s capital. Perfectly cut grass separated the small ponds in Lumphini Park, with joggers and fitness classes making use of the preserved land that was juxtaposed in the middle of one of the busiest and most crowded metropolises in the world. It was a pleasant stroll until the dark clouds that had absorbed the skyline in the distance were then directly overhead. In a matter of seconds, the greatest volume of rain I have ever seen decided it was then a good time to distribute itself across the area. The little bit of clothes I had on were soon soaked with water- or rather I was then wearing water with a little bit of clothes on. But thanks to the mere 14 degrees of latitudinal distance from the equator that brought about 90-degree weather, my clothes were now crisp and ready for the rest of the journey. 



Lumphini Park, Bangkok


On the boat ride from Don Suk to the island of Koh Samui, two things came to mind: 1) how beautiful and movie-like the trip was; the wind blowing my hair, the waves gently crashing against the hull, and islands off in the horizon - only clear, blue water in between us. And 2) I was so far removed from home/civilization that, even with such advances in communication technology, if I were to die no one would know for a while. As the boat veered its way through the Gulf, I felt I was going deeper and deeper into a far-away, mystic land. 


Islands off the coast of Thailand

The backpacker’s hostel was situated in the back of an alleyway, easily miss-able as the sign had been tucked away on the side of the building, as if they were intentionally not looking for customers. Not surprisingly I walked up to a locked door, as well as a local man from the tailor shop next door informing me the hostel was closed. I heard some noise upstairs, so I decided to ring the doorbell. A Thai girl soon appeared from behind the see-through door, again to tell me it was closed. As I realized on a closer look that this “girl” was in fact one of Thailand’s famed ladyboys (or transgenders), an older blonde woman (definitely a woman) came speeding in on the back of a motorbike taxi. “Oh hello there”, she spoke to me in a Scottish accent, “I’m sorry but were closed, we’re doing a bit of construction and the place is a mess.” Noticing the sign for 250 baht a night (about $8), I had to persist, “are there any beds available? I’m really just looking for a place to sleep. I don’t mind the mess at all.” 

“Well then, okay, come on in.”

I followed Dolly, the Scottish owner, as well as Fern, the fair ladyboy, up the winding stairs of the hostel, equipment and supplies scattered about in what seemed to be the final stages of preparation. 

I would soon learn how interesting Dolly is, a writer having traveled her whole life. Her next book is called "Who is Fern?". Fern has been working for Dolly for seven years, and Dolly has always felt a special connection to her. Fern had a less-than-common upbringing, magnified by the loss of both of her parents as a child, as well as the confusion that naturally came with a mixed sexual identity. Despite the challenges Fern faced, she used her intelligence and photographic memory to teach herself English, along with many other skills. As for Dolly, she lost a child to miscarriage...at the same time Fern was born. Dolly, along with many Thais, believe in reincarnation and multiple lives. Dolly currently has a DNA test pending to see if Fern is somehow genetically connected to her...


***


Koh Samui is the largest of three islands situated in a vertical line in the Gulf of Thailand. Directly to the north of Koh Samui is Koh Phangan, a relatively quiet island save for the dozen nights throughout the year when the moon is in its brightest lunar phase and 15,000 party-goers from around the world descend on the island for one of the world’s biggest parties, the Full Moon Party. Further north is the tiny island of Koh Tao, famed for its spectacular diving opportunities. As for Chaweng Beach in Koh Samui, it offers easy living on the beach by day, then comes alive at night with its plethora of pubs, discos, go-go bars, nightclubs, and the infamous Green Mango Square. Crystal clear, warm waters offer plenty of relaxing entertainment during the “calm before the storm” in the afternoons, then the Beach transforms into quite the scene, with backpackers letting loose, prostitutes subtly putting on their best display, and ladyboys zipping up and down the roads on their scooter offering their services (and sometimes offering to pay YOU for their services, a seemingly counter-intuitive economic strategy that rocked my views on standard business practices of the free-market). 


Koh Samui
After several interesting days on the island, my time living cheaply off the grid and under the radar came to an end. The bus ride back to Bangkok was a little uncomfortable (I was on the last of my Baht, so I couldn’t afford the train), as the seats designed for the average 5’4” Thai were not adaptable for a 6’8” lanky body. I rotated between several positions throughout the trip - arms wrapped around both legs to the chest, one leg to chest with other leg sticking through small space in between seats, both legs curled around head (just joking) - and was able to snag a couple minutes of sleep over the 700km. I made it to the capital in one piece, took a quick nap and said my goodbyes to my gracious hosts. A 10-hour flight followed to the Ukraine (where upon landing, the airplane burst out in cheers - Ukrainian airlines apparently don’t have the best track record), and another 10-hour flight to the United States of America.


What I looked like on the bus

My pictures from Bangkok:


I found I was in good company when I arrived to a chalkboard of engineering equations at my host's place


Foreign friends of all sizes


My first motorbike taxi...one of the scariest experiences of my life as they zipped through traffic


Thai food


Khao San Road...the "backpackers capital of the world"


Bartering...I'm not a very good negotiator

USA, Germany, Thailand

And don't forget to get your BOB T-shirt!







Friday, September 21, 2012

Ballin' on a Budget T-shirts!!


There are just a few Limited First Edition Ballin' on a Budget T-shirts left!

Use the shopping cart below to get this Fall's hottest look!





Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cheerio, Mates

Well, its been over a week since our loss to Rockhampton in the QBL semifinals. After putting it in the back of the brain and trying not to think about it, now is an appropriate time to give the recap.


A fantastic atmosphere set the stage in the ocean-side farm-town of 75,000. A packed house came to watch a classic match-up of David vs. Goliath: the Gold Coast Rollers, a team that was out of the playoff picture before winning six in a row and boasting a non-existent payroll (my contract consisted of three complimentary tickets to each home game and sporting tape) versus the Rockhampton Rockets, a squad that was featured in the previous four championship matches (including two titles) who opreate on a budget of over $250,000.





We came out with a bang in the first quarter, but a run over the end of the second and beginning of the third by the Rockets left us with a double-digit deficit, one we couldn't recover from. Rocky has a tremendous line-up of shooters, slashers, and big-men who executed their sets efficiently on offense and clogged the lane on D. We would fall to the hosts and winners of the regular season 86-67.


Despite the loss, I couldn't help but smile after the game. This is one of the few leagues in the world where a hostile crowd would all chant in unison "Aucoin's a Wanker!" (Jason Aucoin is one of our veterans), yet after the game all the fans and both teams would join together for a friendly drink. This rare display of comraderie immediately following a heated competition where two sides were looking to rip each others' heads off served as pleasant microcosm for Australia as a whole: despite any differences between two people, it seems that all Aussies are always down for a good chat and a beer.

Which is why I am going to miss this place so much. The last six months on the Gold Coast has been an amazing experience, and not because of the incredible weather and gorgeous women on the beach (okay maybe a little), but because of the type of people Australians are.

To all of my teammates and friends, the coaching staff, the fans, the All-Star Group, everyone at the GCCRBA, great friends who have given me a place to stay, my roommate (who by a divine act of the Basketball Gods had our paths cross which led to a plane ticket from Boston to Down Under), and the entire region of the Gold Coast:

A big thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will cherish these relationships for a lifetime.

Here's to a bittersweet last week.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Gold Coast-72 Northside-58


58

72
Six in a row! On to the Semis!

After a slow start in the first quarter, we picked up our defensive intensity the rest of the way, holding Northside to only 36 points and 25% shooting during the final three periods.

The win marks our sixth in a row, and our seventh in our last eight games. We now make the 800km road trip to Rockhampton next weekend to face the host of the Grand Finals.

FIBA Oceania QBL Quarterfinals: Gold Coast vs. Northside

For the kids reading at home, our season is a great example of just how important defense is. In our seven losses, we have given up an average of 91 points. In our ten wins, we have given up an average of 71 points. There will be stretches in a game, or even entire games, where the ball just won't go in the hoop for you. The one thing you have complete control over, however, is how hard you play. And defense is 99% effort.

Best of luck to the Lady Rollers, as they are preparing to take on their quarterfinal counterpart as I write this.

Rockhampton on the brain...