Right now I am living and training at Jitti Gym, which is in Ratchapidisek, which is a shitty neighborhood in east Bangkok full of slummy two- and three-stories and cheap new mid-rise developments. I haven’t found the neighborhood in any guide book; I think the gym is its only point of interest to farangs, but last night I saw a fat white couple and their kid at the Metro so maybe there’s a basket museum that I don’t know about.
The gym is a little compound with granite-brick walls about twelve feet high, and a huge wrought-iron gate that’s painted gold and quite ornate and as such stands at odds with the rigorous unfanciness of everything else. All the cooking and eating and fighting is done in the open air, under corrugated metal roofs that start in about five feet above the walls. Right when you come through the gates you see a few big picnic tables made of dark wood, with logs for legs, and behind that there’s a fridge and folding table and a couple of rough cabinets with dishes and cooking supplies. All the food’s cooked back there, in one pot over a big gas burner. Up on one wall by the tables there’s some photos of fighters who’ve trained at the gym and photos of Jitti at various ages and some weird water-color portraits of boxers. Top row center, pride of place is given to a poster of Natalie Portman dressed as a galactic princess, which reads “One Love. One Quest. Star Wars.”
There are about eight foreign fighters training at a given time, and maybe four Thais, and then six Thai trainers. Everybody sleeps in a small two-story building, set in between the dining space and the boxing ring. I sleep on the ground floor, with Dave and Ethan. There are two other rooms upstairs, plus Jitti’s room. Some of the trainers sleep in tents on the roof. Outside my room’s another little room, with pillows on the floor, and when they’re not training the Thai boys sprawl out there like big cats and watch television, and sometimes sing karaoke. There’s a wall of lockers in that room, where we keep our passports and sundry valuables. And there’s a shelf with some trophies, and below those is a glass case with a carved figure of the King, seated at a table with his legs crossed, reading a newspaper. At his feet two little ceramic cats play with marbles. There are stuffed elephants and carved elephants everywhere all over the house, and many broken fans.
The training area’s out back; I can see it through my window, if the curtains aren’t shut. At the center of everything is big ring that’s about one and half times regulation size, with some mats and heavy bags arrayed around it. Some of the heavy bags are quite dilapidated, and some of them are little more than skeletons of heavy bags. There’s a pair of wooden sit-up braces that look like something a castaway might build, if he was training for a fight against a bear.
There’s a terrier who has the run of the place—on a side note, in Thailand the silouetted dog icon used in “no dogs allowed” signs is recognizably a terrier—who can stand on his hind legs more or less indefinitely, when he thinks there’s food in it for him. Sometimes he will steal off with one of your shoes and leave it up on the roof. It happened to me. And he will bite you if you touch him.
We wake up around seven—or we’re supposed to, anyway; jet lag wakes me earlier—and run three or four miles. We run around the city, or in a park, or sometimes through the city to a park and then back again. The other day a dog chased me for a couple of blocks, but I don’t think he expected to catch me, and he didn’t.
After the run we come back to the gym, and train for an hour or two, some combination of padwork and sparring and shadowboxing. What you do and how much depends on who you’re training with that day; an asshole like Sern will be throwing knees at your head halfway though the first round—and this is during padwork; I refuse to spar with Sern, because he’ll just hurt me and I won’t learn anything—and you’ll be fucked after twenty minutes.
Morning training is pretty quiet; people drift in and out, and some people just skip it. The afternoon session, starting in around three o’clock, is much more raucous. Everybody comes, and then a lot of people staying elsewhere on top of that. It’s about three or four hours, loosely regimented: five rounds of pads, then bagwork, then sparring, then clinching. The rounds are five minutes long, rather than the usual three: a fucking eternity. But you can take a round off whenever you feel like it, or even have a shower and come back; the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed and nobody wears a shirt, like a pool party where people are hurting each other.