The Champion In Thai Boxing
I normally don’t spend a lot of time in front of the computer surfing the net, chatting, blogging, etc. Life is still too exciting for me, even now in my mid fifties. But currently I work in one of the world's oilfields, doing the nightshift and have got some time on my hands. And I started reading through the Stickman’s submissions. It is interesting to see how the perception of Thailand has changed over the last 30 years. I especially enjoy the submissions by BKKSW and Marc Holt. They stay away from the constant bar girl – good girl, broken hearted love stories discussions and bring a sense of humor into their submissions. I was reading today Marc’s submission “What brought you to Thailand?” This tickled a lot of good memories of the Malaysia Hotel, the Thai Song Greet Hotel up at Hualampong railway station, the Blue Fox coffee shop where one could get a dinner of spaghetti for 16 baht and of course the Mississippi Queen at Patpong. Excellent music and of course the girls. And many other good memories.
For me it was the same as for Marc. But I traveled the other way overland. From Europe to Australia. Through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. By bus, train and hitchhiking. I was supposed to stay in Thailand for two weeks only but stayed on for 12 years before finally making it to Australia. The minute I arrived at Don Muang airport I was fascinated by this country and its people. Especially since I was only 22 years old and free to do whatever I wanted. And there are many stories to tell. A while ago I started writing them down. Below is one of them. I hope you enjoy it.
Middle of 1978
My Thai wife Maew was pregnant with Mook at that time and we were already living “up-market” in a concrete two storey house half way down Soi Starlight, a side lane from Soi 22. This lane was called Starlight because at the end of it was an old hotel become short timer hotel called Starlight Hotel. Maybe built for the GIs doing their R&R in the just past Vietnam War era. We did not have the whole house to ourselves. We just rented one room with a terribly small attached bathroom on the second floor, the window overlooking the narrow soi. A Thai family was living in a room on the other side of the hallway. It was one of these houses which have seen better days. At one time this house might have been called a mansion with a little garden and high walls around it, tucked away on the side of this little lane, a hundred meters from the beginning of the lane at Soi 22. Looking at that house from the outside a few years ago with Mook, her now Australian husband Glen, when I wanted to show my kids where Mook spent the first few months of her life, it came across very shabby. Maybe back in 1978 it was not that way. Or we just did not see the shabbiness or were just too happy to be in such a house after living in the wooden bungalows in the middle of the Soi 22, living together in what we call slums today with the poor of Bangkok.
I, as always, was looking to make some money to survive. It was a constant struggle to keep the head above water. My head was full of ideas on how to make money, but nothing concrete. The school days at Nisa Thai Language School were over at that time. It just did not work out. I had too many other things to do. Out every night, lots of so called friends around town, always up and about. Meeting new people everywhere. Grand ideas of making it in Thailand.
So one of the people I knew was a young American guy. Another hanger-on in Bangkok. He was a bit taller than me, the same age, early twenties. I never got to close to his story. Never really asked him what his deal was in this big town, his family background in the States and why he forgot to book a ticket to go back home. Did he still have a visa? Nobody asked these questions in Bangkok unless you were really close friends.
Anyway I knew him because he hung around the same night clubs and venues as I did. I used to bump into him on different occasions. I knew he shagged up with a girl near the old Rich Hotel at the beginning of Sukhumvit Road. And I knew he did not have a proper job either to justify his existence in Bangkok. Let’s call him Jim. Well, Jim came to see me one day at our mansion and told me that he had been approached by a Chinese “agent” to do a boxing scam. To make a quick buck. And Jim chose me as his partner in the scam. The deal was to go together with the “agent” to Surin, a small provincial town in the North East, near the Laos border, to be the main attraction in a Thai boxing match at the local stadium. Saturday night entertainment for the whole Thai family. Us posing as European boxers on the way to Australia, trying out a fight, just one fight, with the Thais. We were supposed to get baht 5000 each for it. A good fortune in those days for me, as Maew and me were basically living on baht 1000 a week, or at least tried too. This was US $ 50 in those days. But never worked out that way. The budget was always out the window. But whose budget isn’t? Mine still is sometimes today. The “agent” probably was hoping to attract quite a crowd with this farang – Thai fight in this provincial town. Of course I said yes to this proposition. Just the thought of the baht 5000 made me forget that I have never been in a boxing ring before in my life, lost nearly all my drunken late night bouts outside pubs in Zurich and was now out of shape as well. These thoughts never crossed my mind. I just wanted to get up there to Surin, have a go at it and bring back the money to stash into the old safety deposit box in the Bangkok Bank up Sukhumvit Road. Bank accounts or ATMs did not exist for me in those days. My whole fortune was always in cash in the safety deposit box.
So a few days later I met up with the Chinese schemer and Jim at the Northern Bus Station. Or was it still Ekamai Bus Station in those days? I believe so. The traffic volume in the late 70s was not as great as it is today. The North-Eastern part of the country was still serviced by the bus station at Ekamai. We took the overnight air-con bus to Surin. A luxury. Cool and comfortable, traveling in style. With the usual drowsy stop in the middle of the night for a leak and a bowl of rice soup, boiled salted egg and sour veggies, somewhere along the main highway at a truckers' stop / petrol station. All the overnight buses stop there half an hour at a time.
In Surin we got put up in a hotel room together. Another one of these GI / American influenced 2 star hotels. Just like out of an American movie. Jim and I shared a room. Who cared. After wooden bungalows and our mansion at Soi Starlight this is pure luxury. Even if the air-conditioning unit cut into the window made a terrible rattling noise. It was cool and that is all that counted. In spite of the paper-thin white towel with the hotel name printed in blue letters across it, just big enough to wrap around the waist, and the standard little soap bar smelling of not much.
Not much of unpacking to do here. In those days we traveled light. A small shoulder bag with the pure essentials for a day or so. Photocopy of the passport was enough. A few hundred baht. The agent was supposed to pay for everything anyway. So as we got used to our new surroundings the agent walked in and threw two Thai boxing shorts and shirts onto the bed. One in red and one in blue. I liked the blue color and dived for it. There was a name written in Thai on the shirts and shorts, but who cared what it meant. I liked the blue outfit and I was faster than Jim. Then we got packed into a baht bus and transported to the Thai Boxing camp at the outskirts of Surin to meet our opponents, carrying our boxing outfit with us.
Oh, it was time to wake up now. This whole affair got serious now. Surin has the reputation of producing the best boxers in the kingdom. And there were boxers of all ages training there. From a very tender teenager age to full grown fighting machines. The Thais follow this sport with a passion like the Europeans follow soccer or the Australians their footy or cricket. Matches are held all over the country over the weekends. On Saturdays it is broadcast live on TV from the Lumpini boxing stadium. It is played in temple fairs in the smallest village. Muay Thai as they call it.
Let me tell you here that we were ordered by our “agent” not to speak any Thai since we just arrived from Europe and were strangers in this beautiful land. I had a good grasp of the language after studying it for two years on and off and Jim could speak the lingo as much as he had picked it up from his travels around the place.
We got introduced to our two rivals. One was a smaller guy but looking just like a fit power pack. Maybe the same age as us. The other one was much taller and meaner looking. Well, he was the trainer of the camp. They threw the best at us, expecting some hardcore European fighters with years of experience. Little did they know that – at least for me – we had never stood on the floor of a boxing ring nor had the slightest idea what was going on – or what to do. The Chinese paired me up with the little guy. Jim got the big one. Fair enough, looking at the size of us. We must have looked pretty stupid standing there with wide eyes surveying the training of these fit fighting machines. It just became like a dream. A bit of a horror dream without escape.
Well, that was it then. We met the Thai boxers. Let’s go back to the hotel now and have a cold beer in the hotel coffee shop to calm our nerves before the big fight in front of the whole Surin population. But no chance. We were told to put our boxing gear on, the wide silky colorful pants and the shirt. And barefoot we were put together with our rivals on the back of a pick up truck. In the heat of the glaring tropical sun. And there was another pick up truck. On its tray was a sandwich board with tonight’s boxing program on it and a mega big loudspeaker. So off we went. The sandwich truck in front of us, blaring from its loudspeaker Thai traditional music interrupted by the guy in the front cabin with a microphone, announcing the fight of the century between two continents and two cultures. In the back of the second truck were we and our newly found Thai friends standing up and looking mean and dangerous, clenching our fists and dancing around barefoot on the hot tray. And this parade went through town, from one place to the other, right into the heart of the city. To the market place and up and down the main avenues. Slow, of course, so every single Thai, his wife, kids and dogs could have a look at these mean European farang bastards. We must have looked like a real bunch of dorks. Things we do for an honest living!
Evening time. After a short rest in the hotel, we are brought to the stadium. Stadium? It did not look much like one. A corrugated iron sheet enclosure which could hold a few hundred spectators if you were lucky. In the middle is the boxing ring. Thai music blaring through loudspeakers on poles. Seats were just rusty folding chairs. And there were not many of them. Mostly it was standing room only. Food stalls selling the normal variety of Thai snacks. Changing rooms and lockers were non existent. We just stood around in our boxing gear amongst the Thai spectators. They watched us curiously. We were sticking out like sore thumbs in our Thai boxing garb. The fighting had started already. Started off with little kids fighting. One fight after the other. We were the main attraction and therefore the last fight.
While waiting for our bouts I had the honor of seeing the real Thai boxers kicking the daylights out of each other, using not just the fists but feet, knees and elbows. Scary stuff. Now I got scared. If my opponent uses any of these techniques I am dead meat for sure. I discussed it with Jim who did not look too impressed either. So we decided to go and talk to our “manager” to tell the Thai fighters not to use elbows on us. He rolled up his eyes and went to negotiate with the Thais. They seemed to agree.
And where is our money? The “manager” was slow in handing it over. And no way I go up there fighting without first getting paid. But the “manager” looked worried. Maybe there weren’t as many people here has he had expected. The takings didn’t look too good. His scheme did not seem to work out. Was he on the losing end or did he want to cheat us? I was getting tired of this Chinese “agent”. He said he was going to pay us back at the hotel after the fight. Bullshit. We wanted our money now or we walk off. So he handed it over, baht 5000 each. It must have killed him. So now we were holding baht 5000 each in our hands. Nowhere to put it in a safe place, country Thais all around us. Were we going to get mugged here?
Then it was our turn. The big attraction. And the bigger fighter of the two got up into the ring. Well, so it was Jim's turn first, the poor bastard. But the announcer with the microphone pointed at me. The name on my blue boxing shorts corresponded with what’s on the program. And it was me who picked the blue shorts off the bed in the hotel, not even thinking what name was written on the shorts. What a screw up. I could have killed our Chinese “manager”. I would have loved to just run away. Disappear into the ground. But there was nowhere to go but forward into the ring. I handed Jim my money to take care of and stepped up into my corner. Across from me in the other corner was the tall muscular Thai. I looked him in the eyes and I only saw a fighting spirit. And he must have seen pure fear in my eyes. I knew now he was not going to give me a chance whatsoever. He was serious about the whole business. Then he did his pre fight dance, honoring the spirits and his teacher. And I was in my corner looking as stupid as ever.
And off we go. I tried to look professional. Got my fists up and met him in the center of the ring. Wham…and I was face down on the floor. Not even twenty seconds into the fight. He just hit me with his leg square on my chest. It knocked the wind out of me. God…this was going to be bad. I got up again and wham…same thing, I was down again. And it hurt. What the hell was I doing here, I thought. The Thais were having a ball. My opponent danced around me and I smelled the dirt on the floor. No way was I carrying on with this. He was just going to break some of my bones. So forget it. I got my money. The show was over. I kept laying on the deck till the referee counted me out. Sorry you lovely Thais for the short show but I wanted to get back to Bangkok in one piece.
My head hanging down I climbed out of the ring and looked for Jim. He was not impressed but at least he got to fight the smaller guy. I took my money back from him and held on tight while he climbed up into the slaughter house. And what a surprise. He lasted the first round. His opponent must have taken pity on him. But at the beginning of the second round it was all over in a flash. He got nailed too and did not get up for a while.
Show over. Money made. The Chinese was quiet and disappointed. Well, screw him. It did not work out for him financially, but what was he to expect with a couple of young farangs from Bangkok. We were only in it for the money and we got it.
Back at the hotel we went to the coffee shop for some dinner and who was there celebrating? Our two Thai fighters. Our Chinese man was nowhere around. He gave up on us and set us free. And we gave up on him. So we had to make our own way back to Bangkok. At least the hotel was paid in advance. And Jim and I were tired of the charade not being allowed to speak Thai. Our Thai fighters invited us over to their table. They were there with all their friends celebrating their victory with a table full of food and a non-stop flow of Thai whiskey. And we were invited with open arms, not allowed to pay for anything. What a bunch of nice guys. And once they found out could speak Thai they were happy, generous and full of great spirits. And they got only 200 baht for the fight. And still we were not allowed to pay for anything. Now this was the Thai generosity you can only find in the poor rural areas. And we partied on with these boys for hours. Great guys and before our departure we exchanged addresses.
With a gut full of good food and whiskey we took the night bus back to Bangkok holding on to our well earned money.
Weeks later I got a letter, written in Thai, from the smaller one of the two guys, hoping that they did not hurt us too much and an invitation to the upcoming elephant round up festival in Surin. I should go up there and stay with his family. What a nice man. The invitation is still open and I might catch up with this man one day in Surin.
Fantastic story! I just love these only in Thailand stories!