February 7, 2010
brits, part 2

This is the second part of my two-part report on the British men who sleep in my room with me.

Ethan is twenty-four, but it’s a “hard twenty-four,” as they say.  He makes me think of those British mercenaries in North Africa, who drift from civil war to civil war: he has a perpetual squint, as if from a lifetime spent in harsh sunlight, but also skin that’s shut-in pale; his body is as strong and unsexy as a cudgel, and a bit doughy in the way that athletes get when gone to seed.  There’s scars all over his body that don’t look boxing related and a raised circular burn in the center of his chest about the size of an Om tattoo.

I learn about most of the other people here in dribs and drabs; I know more about Ethan than all of them put together, probably, because he talks a lot.  Farmer does too, but Farmer talks a little like a jazz solo, full of angular turns and flowering tangents. Ethan is more like a piece by Philip Glass: obsessively, hypnotically repetitive, delineating and relineating some small facet of Thai boxing, drugs, or prostitutes.  I don’t mean that Ethan’s boring; he’s fun to listen to.  He uses a lot of good expressions like “cheap as chips,” and appends a reflexive “innit?” to most of his statements, which is probably my favorite idiosyncracy of British speech.  But a lot of those “innits” feel less rhetorical to me than Ethan probably intends, i.e. “A Paki’s like to lie about the time of day, innit?”

Ethan grew up poor in Leeds, in a council estate, and now he lives with his parents and sells weed and coke. His family life sounds relatively stable now, but he’s let drop a lot of bad details about his upbringing, for instance a laundry list of all the things he’s ever been hit and stabbed and burned with, snooker cues et al.  When he says things like this I don’t think he’s angling to shock or to establish something hard about himself; in fact, he doesn’t seem to be talking to any particular end, usually.

Before coming to Jitti Gym, Ethan spent a week in Patai, smoking crystal meth with his girlfriend, a prostitute he met there and with whom he now has weird baby-talk conversations on his cell phone, while lying on the bed next to mine.  Patai is another of Ethan’s pet subjects; I try to avoid discussing my travel plans with him, because he seems genuinely hurt that Patai is not at the top of my itinerary.  From what I’ve heard, it’s a city-sized extrapolation of Bangkok’s gogo strips, with some beaches sketched in around the edges.

Ethan and I share real common ground; we both love Thai boxing, and if I don’t like drugs as much as he does, I did once, so I can relate, especially vis a vis the difficulty of balancing drugs and Thai boxing.  But we really diverge on the subject of prostitutes.  When I told him I was not interested in fucking a prostitute, full stop—something I put off making explicit for as long as possible, I admit—he was incredulous.  He pinched my arm and asked if I was real and was not being wholly ironic.  He asked me how many women I’d slept with, and I gave him a rough number, and then he asked me if I really hadn’t paid for any of them.

Although I object to prostitution for a lot of reasons, I’m not bringing this up to scorn him, not in a moral sense and certainly not in the sense of “what kind of man would need to pay for sex”; it’s not like I’m appreciably more handsome than he is, and I think a lot of girls would find him much more engaging than they would me.  And I really do like Ethan, though I would I go to jail before I went out drinking with him.  He’s funny and generous and doesn’t condescend to me when we talk about Muay Thai, though as a pro fighter he has every right to.  I’m only illustrating the gulf between our sensibilities, and the gulf between my sensibilities and those of a lot of men at the gym, and a lot of the men who come to Bangkok.  It’s evident everywhere and it’s in my thoughts a lot of the time, because—hopeless Jew relativist that I am—it does not feel as straightforward as it did before I got to Thailand; I don’t feel summarily hating half of the men I meet.  I’ve been putting off unpacking all this here, though, and I’ll do so a little longer.

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