It isn’t often that you get asked to travel to Thailand to play a bit of ball with some of the greatest rugby players of the professional era, so when it comes, you grab it with both hands, request the time off, jump on the plane and hope for the best. Unfortunately, I returned home a few ounces heavier but trust me when I tell you it was all worth it, as I will go on to explain.
The few ounces of extra burden that I am referring to arrived after a collision with my right forearm and an opponent’s head, where regrettably the opponent’s head won. Eight screws, one nine inch plate and a night in a Bangkok hospital later and there you have the explanation for extra weight on the way home.
Yes, last Tuesday I returned home from playing in a charity tournament that required travelling half ways around the world and left me requiring surgery however, I would do it all over again in a heart beat.
At forty-four years of age and with an inventory of injuries that would make WWII look timid, some would suggest that I should have my head examined however, for me the desire to lace up the boots is something I hope I will have until the final nail is hammered home.
The reason for the trip was to raise some funds for the lesser well off in Thailand albeit, heading out I didn’t know exactly where the monies were going.
The organisation my team-mates and I had the honour of representing was an orphanage called the Mercy Centre which was sited deep in the heart of the oppressive Bangkok slums.
This centre is a sanctuary for street kids and orphans, a hospice for sick mothers and children with HIV/AIDS and a serene haven in the depths of Bangkok where small gardens and a playground become a place to hide from what exists on the other side of it’s four walls.
It is also a place for those of us who think we have problems should go and visit in order to appreciate that life isn’t as bad as you perhaps first think.
I know we all have troubles of our own and charity should always begin at home however, this centre brings hardship, sorrow and grief to a completely different level and no matter what descriptive metaphors I can assemble, they will not do justice to the gangerous atmosphere that infests the back streets of Bangkok.
I would also like to point out that not all of Bangkok is bad and neither are its inhabitants.
There are parts of this vast and varied land that would easily rival the compelling scenery that West Cork and Killarney has to offer and the majority of its citizens are considerate and hard working folk whose everyday life is a constant battle.
Poignantly now because of TV documentaries, movies and social media, Thailand has become synonymous for its sordid nightlife and lady-boys more so than its magnificent temples, powerful rivers and meaningful work ethics that are visible on every street you walk down.
What’s also very evident is how well their diets have evolved over the centuries and how they make use of everything the land has to offer.
As a person who struggles to eat any kind of vegetable, you can just imagine how I felt when I was confronted with menus that looked like one of the bush tucker trials in “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here”.
Five-inch grasshoppers, live crickets, wriggling silk worms, waterbugs the size of your hand and to top it all off, deep-fried scorpions and spiders by the bucket load. It was not unusual to see the locals walking down the pavements eating an assortment of these creatures as you or I would consume a bag of chips from the local chipper.
On the rugby front we, or should I say the remainder of the squad did very well.
Regrettably, I didn’t make it beyond game two however, the lads went on to win the tournament and it was an honour to have played with this group of players.
I can’t say for certain but I think it is unique to rugby where a bunch of ex professional players aged between thirty five and forty eight can be assembled from the four corners of the globe (New Zealand, Samoa, England, Scotland, Fiji, Australia and Ireland) and form a bond that will stay strong forever.
Perhaps it is because rugby is such a team sport where one position is completely dependent on the other but whatever it is, I can guarantee you that no amount of money can buy the feeling you get when you tour in lands that are so far away from home.
Amongst our ranks we had living legends such as Bruce Reihana, Kees Meeuws, Stephen Bachop, Daniel Browne (New Zealand) Junior Paramore, Tanner Vili (Samoa) Marcus Di Rollo, David Hilton (Scotland) Big Bill Cavubuti 210kgs (Fiji) and Dan Scarbrough (England). All these guys still show an incredible level of determination to win and I guess that is why they went on to be the best in their chosen profession.
Winning is always good albeit, on this occasion the prize for everyone was to see the kids smile in the Mercy centre .
I don’t know where these kids went after we left or if they would be there the following day however, I can assure you that they have left an impression with me that I will take to my grave.