February 3, 2010
lessons

My first night I arrive at the gym just in time for dinner, and I sit down across from Euddi, who is huge and very Teutonic and shirtless; everybody at the table is shirtless, except for me.  He’s very friendly, in the way that people tend to be when they’re too large to have even been fucked with.  We have a lot in common, at least relative to the other foreigners training at the gym; he has a normal job back in Germany, as a systems administrator, whereas most of the others are professional fighters and MMA coaches or, in the case of Dave, a genial Englishman with a bed adjacent to mine, ex-pro fighters turned perpetual narco-tourists who live in Muay Thai camps but don’t train because of nebulous injuries.

I go to bed early but then can’t fall asleep.  I lie in the dark for hours, listening to the Bangkok traffic and the whirr of the three floor fans in the room (one in front of each bed,) at some point rediscovering a “Great Books” application on my iPhone, with a large selection of public domain texts.  I’ve read about a third of Conrad’s “The Secret Agent,” before Farmer comes in at 7 and asks if anyone’s up for a run.  I totally am.

Farmer is 19 but looks way younger; he’s milk pale and rail thin, with a buzz cut and big eyes with long lashes and a light spray of zits around his mouth; he could be a flashback to lost innocence from a gangster movie.  Back in Ireland, he’s the top-ranked Thai boxer in his weight class (which we inexpertly convert from kilos to about 125 pounds) and on Wednesday he has his first fight against a Thai (which he pronounces “Toy”) and on Friday he has his second fight.

The fighters go to one of two parks by the gym to run.  Today we go to the smaller one, with a narrow path twisting around a manmade lake through weird landscaping; it feels sort of like a futurist golf course.  Farmer tells me about how last week he was chased through this park by security guards, because the national anthem had started playing (it plays every morning at 8 over loudspeakers throughout the whole city) but he hadn’t heard it, because he was wearing headphones.  Whenever the national anthem comes on here, you are expected to stop what you’re doing; it’s a big deal; there’s a few things like this that you have to keep an eye on.

Farmer talks more or less continuouslessly from the moment we set out to the moment we get back, but he doesn’t come off as hyper or pushy, or even particularly talkative; information just flows from him as naturally as air or sweat, though his brogue is so thick that at least 1/5th of it slips pleasantly by me, uncomprehended.  He tells me how he regrets having paid for a full 6 weeks at the gym up front, because he and Jitti are not getting along, because Farmer has been sleeping with too many local women; one of the first things Jitti had told me when I arrived was not to sleep with any women in the area; he gave a number of reasons.  Farmer tells me a complicated story wherein he sleeps with three different women in one night—he stresses that they weren’t prostitutes, or else they were but didn’t make him pay, except maybe in one instance—and another story, or possibly part of this same story, where one woman mistook his subway card for an ATM card, and paid her own “bar fee” (this is one of the ways prostitutes operate here,) and took him back to her apartment, and made him a big breakfast from things bought at the 7-11 downstairs, and now wants him to come away with her to some beach house this weekend.  Farmer tells me that women here especially like young, pale foreigners: this is because Thais associate dark skin with farming and manual labor, and pale skin with money; and also because they assume young men traveling abroad will be rich and virginal and easily overwhelmed with sex.  “Let em think it,” he advises me.

Some other advice Farmer gave me during the run was not to go out drinking with the trainers, because they will stick you with the bar tab; to stay away from dogs in general, but in particular the gym’s salt and pepper terrier, who is prone to spontaneous violence; and to check your luggage before leaving the gym, in case the trainers have planted drugs in it and tipped off the cops for a commission.

About halfway around the track, the national anthem starts playing over loudspeakers all around us.  Farmer does not seem inclined to stop, but then we notice some security guards a little ways off, so we do, and listen.  “It sounds like something from a cartoon,” he says.  It’s true; it does.

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