Alright. Disclamer. I didn’t know if I should post this or how much I should post. I really wanted to write it because I’m still trying to sort out the lessons learned.
Children should consult an Adult before reading it (yeah I know, Aaron, that just started you reading faster)
In the end I decided to post it because, besides being a little adventure hungry, it doesn’t make me look that bad. Not there are other adventures I’m having that do make me look bad. There aren’t. As Alan Quartermain would say: I am a timid man.
Ultimate Muay Thai, Tonight Only!
Chiang Mai actually really hurt my general opinion of the Thai people. Which is stupid. We met tons of really nice people. All the people running the night food stands, the ladies at the hotel, the mahoots we met where amazing people. But the focus of the city to me was the markets, which where a shifting veil of price gouging and desperation, and the night I went to watch a Muay Thai match.
You know the markets wheren’t really that bad. I should really lay the blame on Muay Thai night. And probably more squarely at Mr. What’s feet. But I guess that’s jumping the gun a bit.
I decided to see a Mui Thai match while I was in the big city because the matches here on the Island are apparently a bit down-market and I didn’t want to miss the chance.
Accordingly, I emptied my pockets and refilled them with a 1000 baht note and another 1000 baht in smaller bills. I figured 65$ cad was about what I was willing to lose that night. I have found that, when alchohol is involved, this strategy is an absolutely necesity in Thailand. Oh and I took our new camera. But this isn’t a story of great monitary loss. The camera is beside me now. The 2000 baht I do not hold onto (actually I think I made it home with about 3 of it in change) but the camera I keep.
So I dress my best street-hip farang and wander out to the match. I don’t actually know where the match is but I know there’s a truck parked down the street with a big add for the Muay Thai match on the side of it and I recon one of the leaflet guys can help me out. Which they can. One of them happily leads me down a couple of streets to the match, guides me through buying a ticket and actually seats me at a table facing the empty arena and directly next to the bar.
Cover is 400 baht. This is apparently quite cheap for a Muay Thai match. I had been told by an Aussie who had friends living in Chiang Mai that this is because it’s a new arena and they’re drumming up business. Which, of course, was just a good line someone down the rumor pipe swallowed.
So here I am. Sitting in a large room in front of a bar with about 50 bored looking farangs, a squared circle, and a couple of pool tables. This is not as cool as I was expecting. There aren’t, like, hordes of angry looking thais and an athmosphere charged with booze and testosterone. There’s just a big empty ring and some bored tourists. Oh well, I’ll order a drink and wait for the match to start.
I was in the middle of picking something at random off the menu when some guy at the bar started yelling ‘golden’ at me and pointing to his glass.
Enter the antagonist. He said he was Mr. What. Probably a joke on the piose name ‘Wat’. I said I was Mr. Who. I didn’t mention I was a doctor. He was average height for a thai, wore short hair, a green jacket and had a permanent smile under his ruddy complection.
So anyway I think he actually bought me a glass of the scotch but keeping track of the tabs was tricky. He ends up sitting at my table and it’s pretty clear right from the first ‘golden!’ that this dude was looking for a free ride. But what the hell the beer is cheap. I was here for an experience and the other patrons wheren’t going to help. One farang was litterally sitting and reading a novel. That’s how lame this place was.
So I buy a large bottle of Singha and we get to talking about life and personal dreams. Except he doesn’t speak english real good so he teaches me the word for ‘red corner’ and ‘blue corner’ about 50 times and we laugh at how drunk he is. An example of his trash tenacity: I don’t drink singha. It is my least favorite Thai beer. I much prefer Chang. Note, however, that I am buying Mr. What and myself bottles of Singha. This is because after I ordered a Chang Mr. What talked to the bartender and a Singha showed up at the table.
This is an important example of how the night would unravel.
Anyway we go on for ages about how to say blue and red in Thai (no I don’t remember) and we get some free nuts and a couple of glasses into the Singha. At some point he tries, I now realise, to suggest I buy a pack of smokes and mabey he can just snag one or two. I mistake his pantamime and think he’s offereing me a smoke. I say I don’t smoke at which point he takes out his pre-existing pack of smokes. Which I take as a coercive gesture instead of the defeated gesture it is. So I actually take him up on his non-existant offer (I’m still looking for something interesting to happen. Mabey choking on a cigarette for the 2nd time in my life will make this seem less contrived). At which point he looks extremely surprised but does fork over the smoke. So at least I got a smoke off the guy.
Drinking and choking continues. I’m starting to get a little tipsy and starting to get really impatient about the matches starting. The place is filling up at this point. There are probably more like 200-500 farangs in the place now and another mabey 50 thais. This is all retrospect. The ratio of Farangs to Thais didn’t hit me until much later. So I’m a little sloshed and Mr. What’s bald friend appears at the table sporting a thin fu-man-chu. Of course I buy him a beer without offering. Upon which he makes the most obscene gesture I have ever seen or hope to never see again. Only 200 baht. Sweet. What a couple of winners. I have to be very firm with him to make him stop doing that with your hands!
Mr What and Fu-Man-Chu
Finally the first match starts. That thai instrument starts playing from a looped recording somewhere. You know the one that sounds like a bag-pipe recording being run too fast? Apparently it’s a Muay Thai thing. And a womans voice stars on about Muay Thai in english.
The first fighters show up and are about 12. The womans voice assures me that this builds character or some poor excuse and to be a master you have to start out this young. Trust me, noone swilling through this joint was going on to better things. This place had a real end-of-the-line feel.
So the 12 year olds kick the shit out of eachother for a while. I really wanted to get a picture of the kid in the blue corner standing, gloves down, with a bloody nose after the end of a round, but didn’t. Well not on film. The image is indelibly ingrained on my mind.
The fight goes on, Mr. What is no longer sitting down but kind of patroling through the thin crowd of thais between my table and the ring. We both agree that red looks the stronger. There are a table of 3 or 4 navy looking guys sitting in the tables beside me with a couple of girls. I later learn that they aren’t navy but wake-boarders (yes my judgments about the people and the place where still overly romantic) from New Zealand. Looking back, What probably got New Zeland to bet around a hundred baht on the blue kid.
The round ends in a judgment for Red. There is a brief stint between rounds when What, fu-man-chu, and, I shit you not, the owner of the bar, help themselves to a drink off my tab. The next round starts. More 12 years olds. I am ashamed to admit it but I put down a bet on a fight between two pre-pubescent boys. Red looked strong again so I picked him. What happily took my bet.
This bet isn’t just of extremely questionable morality it is incredibly stupid. See red turns out to look strong again because he’s the same kid as last round. They put the same kid in two rounds in a row! and I bet on him. I blame the booze. And the atmosphere, which is starting to get a wee bit closer to roudy.
So the fight goes on and out of the corner of my eye I see someone sit down at the table right next to me.
Ok so I said Mr. What was the antagonist. And he played his blunt and seedy role in the night but Kansas was evil. I’m sure if he ever reads this he’ll enjoy it. He’s not blunt and he’s not seedy. I don’t believe he would do violence to another man. He’s just that personal devil you see in movies. The slick and experienced compatriot who knows where all the keys are to all the liqour cabinets of the world.
He also saves me from more direct contact from Mr. What. Kansas and I recognise eachother; we’re both staying in the Ryong Roong hotel. After Kansas and I are sitting at the same table What doesn’t come back except to illicit bets. I think What recognised his better.
Of course Kansas orders a large bottle of Chang. He’s the devil.
So anyway Kansas is a much better conversation parter. We talk about all sorts of things while the fight is going on. He’s been living in Beijing for quite a while working for a construction company and is in Thailand on vacation for a little while. That should be suitably vague.
The fight ends in a decision against red. We keep chatting, of course Kansas offers me some of his Chang so I drink up the dregs of my glass and take him up on it (quick note: chang is 6.4% alcohol per volume and singha is only 5).
There is another fight, finally between men. What offers us bets we don’t take. The Muay Thai at the match wasn’t awesome to watch or anything I’m not overly impressed with it as a style of boxing. There’s alot of grappling. Apparently a big strategy is to hug the guy close to you and knee him in the solar plexus a bunch. I guess thats effective but two guys hugging eachother flailing knees into eachother isn’t the most dramatic thing I’ve ever seen.
Mostly at this point the minor raucos around us is just an undernote to drunken conversation about Asia and boxing.
The fight ends. I don’t recal who won. I don’t think I got any pictures of that match.
The Knock-Out Blow
Finally the match of the night starts. Two very muscular young men lank into the arena. Blue is cocky, with dragon tatoos on one peck and again down his back. Red is calm and taller, but thinner. Kansas thinks red will win but a lightning fast jab from blue lands before red even has time to react to it. Even so I overhear the Kiwi put down a couple hundred on the guy in the red trunks.
This is a much better fight. Red doesn’t knuckle under by any means. Mostly it’s entertaining to watch blue’s face as he staggers between overconfident and desperate. I try to take pictures of the match but find that I can’t focus because I’m seeing double, let alone work out a decent shutter speed, aperture width, and light sensitivity. I just flip it over to fully automatic and click away.
I end up capturing the knock-out blow of the match. Kansas thought red caught it in the neck and not the head. It looked like the head to me. Here’s the picture you can chose for yourself. I guess a blow to the kneck won’t knock you unconcious? Anyway Kansas thought it was rigged. The kiwi lost his money. Either way there wasn’t much fanfare as blue celebrated and red crawled off the matt.
More conversation while the next match starts. The fight starting now isn’t the main attraction but it is the fight of the night.
The kiwi isn’t put off and bets another couple hundred (baht) on the guy in the red corner. I started the night convinced noone would ever win a bet against the Thais. I put down money just to say I did, the kiwi seemed to harbour thoughts of actually winning.
The fight progresses, I’m not paying that much atention. A few rounds go by. And I miss what must have been the only real bit of fighting that went on that whole night. I look up from my drink and the guy in the blue trunks is on the floor.
The guy the Farang bet against is on the floor and not moving. The ref does not start a count. A knot of thais forms suddenly around the downed fighter.
This is new. The last time someone got knocked out noone even seemed to notice. There is no short Muay Thai count-out and the red fighter, who just won the match, is off in the corner looking just sick. Mabey you think the red fighter is sick because he’s worried about the blue fighter but I’ve never seen a boxer be sad about a knock out. And mabey you think I’m calous to the plight of others but I didn’t moon over the semi-concious fighter. I just sprang out of my chair. I know there was a really great picture there somewhere.
Sic Transit Gloria
I wish I could have found it. This is the best I did.
I held the kiwi by the shoulder and shouted ‘I think you just won a bet’ over the din. But here I learned my new calous motto about Thais: they have no subtlety.
This is a racist and mean statement which isn’t true. But it still feels true. Three days after the Muay Thai night and the massive markets of Chiang Mai it still feels true. Mr. What didn’t put on a preface when he was trying to get me to buy him drinks. He just walked up and did it. Street vendors don’t try to justify or hide that they’re charging 10 times the price for an item. They just do it. In strip bars in Chiang Mai the dancers have numbers pinned to their bikinis. And when the wrong guy gets knocked out in a Muay Thai match he gets back up and throws two more punches. It doesn’t matter how feeble.
At this point we where all pretty much decided the Kiwi wasn’t going to pay his bet. Which is obviously a bad decision which one can only make drunk. Luckily for us the Kiwi must have had more experience at losing money because he let it go after reminding us it was only really a couple of bucks.
So we went on to the last fight, incredulous when What offered us another bet. Actually the Kiwi was pretty entertaining. About 4 guys came up to him and all wanted Red and he refused. Then he went around and bet on red himself. All the same guys came around and bet on blue. Of course blue won. So the guy from New Zealand (who was the only guy betting all night) turned a Muay Thai match on about 6 dollars Canadian.
From there the New Zealand group and I all followed Kansas off to some bar in some place. I’d spent about 1000 baht on drinks and entrance fees but the other 1000 had at some point disapeared. I don’t know if I paid with a 1000 instead of a 100 at some point or if someone picked it out of my pocket. It doesn’t matter, I’m sure What got a piece of it either way.
I’ll end the story here. For the rest of the night Kansas put me on his tab and continued to try to send me to hell. He failed, I still have my self-respect and my good consious. Although I do now know that in strip bars in Chiang Mai the dancers have numbers pinned to their bikinis.