Muay Thai Your Heart Out

The spirit of Muay Thai (Image:

MIXED martial arts is a trendy, new way of staying fit. It’s also a great way to learn the fine art of self-defence. As the name suggests, it brings together various martial art forms for a body conditioning you won’t find in a traditional gym. Mixed martial arts, also known as MMA for short, happens to be my kind of activity.

So what exactly does the “mixed” in MMA refer to? Boxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, CrossFit, Karate, Aikido, Taekwando. Of this mix, the ones that excite me are Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

My MMA journey started at the beginning of 2014 when I was looking for new ways to stay fit and not look like a hamburger. I was dreaming of looking lean, muscular, and less chunky. I figured that Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu would be the two martial arts with the highest fat- and calorie-burning potential—900 calories per hour for Muay Thai and 500 calories for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Boxing, I learned, was the ultimate calorie burner, at 990 calories per hour, but boxing is not my cup of tea.

True, the whole business of burning calories was important to me, but I was after other nobler things as well: the skill of self-defense, building self-confidence, making new friends, and honing that don’t-mess-with-me look.

Of course, the other wonderful thing is that MMA could help me get my mind off my studies, off the incredible pressure of school. Each time I return home from training, I would be utterly exhausted, falling into the deepest sleep, from which I would emerge like a study demon ready to take on hundreds of sums—algebra, differentiation, quadratic graphs, simultaneous equations, you name it—all with the concentration of a bull. And that has nothing to do with downing my kratingdaeng, my Red Bull.

Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu aren’t just pure fight and destruction. They teach wonderful human values of perseverance, discipline, and respect for teacher and opponent. There’s something uplifting to the soul whenever we start a spar with a wai, that namaste-like gesture when you press your palms together at the heart center and bow to your opponent. I always feel a wave of humility whenever I perform a wai, particularly to my kru, my teacher, who happens to be the Muay Thai world champion, Yodteera Sityodtong. Learning with Kru Yodteera is like learning tennis from Serena Williams—which gives my whole MMA endeavor that special, cool factor.

Add the whole pre-training ritual—hopping on a bus to the studio with my favorite playlists blasting in the ears for a good half hour, while I snooze or space out, watching the world whiz by—MMA is just such an attractive venture.

Such a pity that I can only talk about it today in the past tense! I’ve long given up on it for a year and a half now, that’s all no thanks to the exam that I am about to the sit—the energy-sapping and fret-inducing ‘O’ Levels.

(518 words)

Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Four
October 2017

For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.

This essay was written in response to the question:
Describe a leisure activity which you enjoy and explain why you like it so much

For more ‘O’ Level essays, visit:
Student Essays
2014 ‘O’ Levels Essays by Viv

The Ways of the Teen

NO K-drama fan worth her salt would watch just a single episode of “Descendants of the Sun” in one sitting. For the love of their actor or actress idol, they would do anything to binge-sit through four, five, even six or more episodes of this romantic TV drama loved by not just Koreans, but fans all over the world.

We teens are masters of such foolishness, blind to the virtues of sleep, and how it can replenish our cells and generate new hormones. Our organs need sleep. Stay up all night and deprive yourself of sleep, your organs would protest, go cranky, and soon enough, you would just fall sick.

This teenage propensity for neglecting sleep happens as well not just in the name of K-drama. They put sleep on the sidelines just to add hours to their day. Want to load up on more revision? Sleep less. Want to meet the assignment deadline? Sleep even lesser. Want to mug it all for that big exam? Load up on caffeine, don’t sleep.  

More and more, sleep is also losing the battle against social media. Its 24/7 existence means that you can choose to be bombarded by it in the toilet, or past your bedtime. That compulsive thumb swipe that goes up and down the smartphone or tablet has such an addictive hold on teens. What social media takes away from us is also healthy relationships. People don’t talk to each other anymore. One could characterize modern social connection as simply this: so near, yet so far.

Teens have it tough in this modern world. Sedentary is in because no one can live without being glued to their smartphones—made worse by the fact that school is stressful and mugging is mandatory. Factor in a lopsided curriculum where Physical Education is a mere 100 minutes per week—equivalent to three percent of the entire week’s school hours—teens are not leading healthy lives, certainly not helped by school canteens serving up fried foods and a wide array of sweet drinks.

As teens would have it, anything instant or trendy entices them to the dark side. Think cup noodles and their salty, slurpy goodness. Then there’s bubble tea, KFC, bingsu, Korean fried chicken, rainbow cheese toast, rainbow cake, anything rainbow, Hokkaido cheese tart, the list gets scary.

No wonder Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has decided to go big on the health theme at this year’s National Day Rally speech. One of the biggest rally takeaways is brown rice. It may not sound like the yummiest thing on earth, but then again it’s not a bitter pill. If the Health Promotion Board ever needed a poster girl to run a brown rice campaign, they can find a ready volunteer. I’ve got my hand up.

(466 words)

Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Four
August 2017

For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.

This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2016 exam, Question #4:
To what extent do you agree with the idea that some teenagers lead an unhealthy lifestyle. Give reasons for your views.

For more ‘O’ Level essays, visit:
Student Essays
2014 ‘O’ Levels Essays by Viv

Tuning In to Ambition

On the road to becoming a chef (Image: Pixar)

AMBITION is a large word. It encapsulates career, social status, starting a family, building assets, growing wealth, and ultimately growing old gracefully with a bundle of grandchildren, or possibly even great-grandchildren, squealing about in the home over festive seasons.

As a teen, though, my vision of ambition doesn’t take into account that far-out silver-haired future. In fact, it doesn’t even accommodate any space for family. I can’t imagine myself being a wife or a mother. In my present world, the word ambition is not singular, but plural. Here’s where I’m the greedy girl: I want to do many things and be many things—a pilot, an officer in the Air Force, and a chef.

The first is an impossibility. I don’t have perfect vision, and sadly—I am not thrilled to admit this—I’m not a guy. The second is out of the question too. Just because the job sounds incredibly cool doesn’t mean that I can handle it. Besides, I’m not a genius at math, and wires and circuitry aren’t really my thing.

Now that I have struck off two ambitions from my bucket list, I’m glad I’ve overcome one of my greatest challenges—that of focus. Which leaves me now to tackle just one thing: becoming a chef.

Even here, I must bring all my focus to bear because like ambition, chef too is a large word that branches into a million other things. What type of chef, for instance? Culinary or pastry, savory or sweet? Then, there’s the cuisine style? Classical French, Italian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, fusion (so last season!). Then, there’s the question of money. Can I not be a chef, but a chef/owner?

These are big questions, questions that should rightly be addressed before I find my way to a culinary institution. But these questions aren’t going to test me physically the way it would if I were standing hours on end prepping, washing, carting and fetching stuff, receiving supplies, and cleaning, always cleaning.

I am acquainted with that kind of exhaustion, having clocked many hours and days in an international cuisine restaurant in Myanmar whenever I return to my other home over the year-end vacation. The queasy, achy ankles, the sore lower back, the burns from the hot, splattering oil, the boiling water, and the oven singes at the stove. Oh, and the cuts too!

Hardship can be cool.

Gordon Ramsay, Anthony Bourdain, all these culinary celebrities have never had it easy. And why should I? If I want to be a chef, I need to be friends with hard work. In the meantime, while I’m slogging away at my present academic pursuits, I spend my weekends playing around in the kitchen.

It’s steak one week, Tom Kha Gai another, pasta the next. I have a schedule going, sometimes I keep repeating a dish to get it right. When I slip into a lazy mood and don’t want to fuss in the kitchen, I’ll go food hunting and café-hopping.

Pizza, sushi, Wagyu beef, Korean fried chicken, kimchi soup, Korean barbecue, fancy cakes, pancakes, soufflés, and sexy tarts. No, I’m not gorging, I’m just training my palate.

(528 words)

Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Four
August 2017

For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.

This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2016 exam, Question #3:
What are your ambitions for the future? Explain how you plan to achieve them, including any possible difficulties.

For more ‘O’ Level essays, visit:
Student Essays
2014 ‘O’ Levels Essays by Viv

Not Just Friends. Best Friends.

Image: Pinterest

LIFE would be empty without friends, but it’d be a disaster without best friends. Best friends have that special edge over other friends: they are the ears to your most intimate secrets, you laugh more freely with them, you can be silly with them, you can do just about anything and never worry one jot.

Wei Ling is such a friend. She’s a classmate who sits four rows in front of me because she’s short. I have known her for only one year and two months, but I feel as if I have known her for years. I guess that’s what friendship is about—you just hit it off.

Our friendship started on the day I approached her, after she was bullied in the canteen. Another classmate, Xinlu, had commanded her to return her plates to the plate-return corner and she meekly obeyed. I was outraged though. Speaking to her, I would learn that she was bullied too into lending money, erasers, pens—all of which weren’t ever returned.

Xinlu was lucky I never punched her. I had just encouraged Wei Ling to stand up for herself, that meek, timid girl. I generally dislike mousey people, but with Wei Ling, I closed not one eye, but two. And that’s the strange thing about friendship. It’s partial, biased, and not very logical.

Wherever she lacks in courage, she more than makes up for with a great sense of humor, an irrepressible urge to seize the comedy in almost everything. Once, at PE, when we were stretching the tricep in that exercise where you pull your right arm leftward with the left forearm, she made her right arm go limp like an elephant’s trunk, and for good measure, she moved the wrist up and down, and announced: “Look! Elephant!” How funny that in her unabashed playfulness, a thick-skinned sort of courage comes through, while mine just disappears, consumed by mortification. 

But that’s fine. Wei Ling has many fine qualities. When you talk to her, not only her ears are with you, but her eyes as well. How many good listeners are there in this world like her? And how many happy-go-lucky girls are there like her, considering how every other student in school is a worry wort, stressed up to the nth degree, myself included.

Her jolly, merry, devil-may-care attitude makes her a bubble of positive energy. No wonder Korean barbecue is all the more delicious in her company; and movies, all the more fun and enjoyable. I consider Wei Ling to be reliable—she’s always punctual to a fault, but don’t trust her with your secrets. She has never kept any of her other friends,’ which somehow end up flying to my ears. Maybe she’ll keep mine, but I haven’t tested her out yet.

Perhaps soon, but in the meantime, I just smile thinking how fortunate I am to have such a friend. She calms my nerves, teaches me to worry less and laugh a little more. Who knows, if I hang out with her a little more, I just might end up laughing with my fists to the lips, just like a squirrel.

(530 words)

Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Two
February 2015

For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.


Never Walk Away From a Boiling Pot

Boiling, boiling, don’t walk away! (Photo: Gigaom)

GOOD sense tells me that I should check the pockets of my pants or shorts or uniform skirt before throwing them into the wash. Alas, good sense seems to elude me on occasion. Some mornings, when I can’t find my bus card, I’d invariably find it in the pocket of my uniform sitting in the pile of clean laundry. On more disastrous occasions, I realize too late that I have left balls of used tissue in the pocket. And then, I’d end up with an entire load of laundry snowed over with tissue flakes.

These are some of the common mistakes that grace my life. The tissue drama has proven that I have not quite learned from my mistake, even though my mother has advised me to check my pockets. My grandmother too. They are transmitting a hard-won lesson from their very own experience, but it hasn’t worked. Neither have the repeated mistakes that have come biting at me.

I guess the tissue dandruff problem hasn’t had a catastrophic effect on me just yet, or I would long have come face to face with that proverbial new leaf moment. I’ve continued to be sloppy, forgetful, and an utter disappointment. It’s not as if I’m deaf to the wisdom of my mother or grandmother, or even the lessons from my very own mistakes. It’s just that the valuable lessons in life can only be learned if we set our minds to it. Or when somehow, heat and pain are involved.

Once, while alone at home, I chose to iron without a shirt on. Going topless made sense given that it was a hot day, but it immediately didn’t the moment the edge of the iron nicked my belly just right of the belly button. I never go shirtless on ironing days anymore.

My other heat and pain story has to do with boiling liquid—pain not of the scalding physical kind, but one of dread when I realize all too late I have a gunky, boiled-over mess to deal with. Clear, colorless, and non-staining H2O boiling over is never too big a drama, but picture this: soup base for my Korean ramen filled with chili powder and vegetable flakes. Or worse: Japanese curry with chunks of vegetables.

In both instances, they had boiled over in my absence, while I was doodling with something else. The curry was particularly awful given its viscosity. By the time I had realized my folly, the curry had crusted on the side of the pot, flecked with a tiny square of carrot here and a potato there, and the bits at the base of the pot had charred. Not a pretty sight, including the stove.

Surely, I didn’t need my mother, or my grandmother, or all the nagging aunties I have, to tell me that what I did is the height of culinary silliness. They have regaled their own stories of burnt pots and charred stoves. I was listening, though not registering—until the day it all happened to me. 

Mistakes are no fun, but they are beautiful. Thomas Edison would agree. He has glorified every single one of his mistake, all the “ten thousand ways that won’t work.” And in the world of cooking, what I have learned about making pasta is this: never ever put a lid over the pot of semi-boiled water as soon as your pasta goes in. Of course, I did, and once again, I walked away, off to fiddle with my phone, my Instagram, my whatnot.

With my pasta, I was silly two times over and learned two important lessons: one, I should have let the water come to a rolling boil before tossing in my pasta; two, I should never have walked away, not least because I’m just an inexperienced girl in the kitchen, with so many lessons yet to learn, and a million more mistakes to make.

(654 words)

Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Four
July 2017

For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.

This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2016 exam, Question #2:
Do you agree that we can learn from the mistakes of others, or do we need to learn from our own experiences? 

For more ‘O’ Level essays, visit:
Student Essays
2014 ‘O’ Levels Essays by Viv