The Thai Competitive Spirit: Update
For those who might remember, last March I wrote a small missive on running with my Thai wife and how our cultural differences played out in our daily runs and races we did together. I also mentioned that our running had an ultimate purpose that is to run together in our first marathon. This article is an update on that story which will hopefully tell a story of Thai culture and Thai people in America more than it does about running. I certainly hope so as I stated before, I am a horrible runner who is the least likely to sing the praises of running long distances. Simply, I subject myself to this punishment to keep from appearing in one of Stick’s photographs of fat farangs eyeballing tiny Thai women in some open bar in Pattaya. There is no greater glory to this story. But why does my Thai wife run alongside me when she could eat her weight in curry puffs everyday and still be 95 lbs?
Since that 10 km race in March, in which my wife’s fast pace was due more to stay out of the sun than athletic skill, we have slowly improved to the point where running five miles or so in the morning does not force us to couch for the rest of the day with aching joints. In fact, right now, as I sit writing this, I am in doubt about all I have heard about Thai women and athletics. As most of you know, Thai women are infamous for taking taxis to go two blocks. So, as my wife and I progressed to greater distances, I really thought my sweetie would find some silly reason why she could no longer train. Although she is in her mid-forties and I ten years her senior, she instead started to find her running form and is actually starting to press me for greater effort. Her approach to this daily effort is direct and so very Thai; we have to run so get over it and move your ass. It has become like any other chore, like washing dishes after dinner or wiping your butt after pooping. I saw the same attitude with her mother doing her many chores in her small country home. Head down and always moving until they were all done. I have adopted the same attitude towards running and even though we laugh and joke along the way, there is no slacking off until we are finished.
So how does a slim, petite Thai woman become a running drill sergeant? The answer, as some of you married to Thai women may have already figured out, is shame; the great motivator for any Thai action. Almost a year ago, just before we started running together, one of her close friends remarked that she thought my wife’s upper arms were getting larger. Her friend has some chutzpah as she long ago succumbed to America’s fast-food diet. No matter, my wife immediately went into panic mode. She peppered me with questions about how to make her arms smaller. No amount of reassurance from me that she was still the wonderfully petite woman I married six years ago helped. Finally, I said as a woman’s body fat was spread over her body, the only true way to reduce her arms was to reduce all of her body fat. Thus, the Thai version of Steve Prefontaine was born.
But, as the famous Buddhist saying goes, “who knows what is good or bad”; the criticisms from her friends did not stop there. As our distances increased, their remarks moved from her arms to other parts of her body. They said running was bad as it made her legs larger and that the constant up-and-down motion would make her boobs sag. Now she was questioning whether she should continue running. Normally I stay out of these Thai conversations, as common sense seems to take a back seat to rumor and speculation. But this time I came off the sidelines and asserted that I thought her friends were jealous of her running. She was doing something positive for herself they could only dream of doing. I then pointed out that her shapely legs were always more appealing than skinny legs. She did not immediately respond. Instead, in the quiet way she has, she never brought this subject up again and the next day she went back to her “Pre” ways.
Later, she asked me why we had to run marathons if small runs every day were working so well. I wanted to tell her the truth, that whenever I did anything I had to have a goal or it became boring and I would stop. When I lifted weights, I wanted to be Arnold Schwarzenegger; when I sing karaoke I want to be Steve Perry. Even when I mow the lawn, I imagine I am in a lawn mowing competition with my neighbors with first prize being a trip to Mexico. But I didn’t tell her. Instead, I said that training for a marathon would not only make her arms firmer but every other part of her body as well. After this prophesy came true halfway through the training schedule, I invoked the one thing that all Thai people appreciate, a truly wonderful sanook dee. The website for the Marine Corp Marathon has lots of information about race day, including pictures of all the post-race events in an almost carnival atmosphere. I showed my sweetie these pictures and suggested we could meet our friends there for good food and drink after the race. The hook was set perfectly and now we have a bunch of friends meeting us after the race. Today, my wife is motivated more than ever to complete the rigorous training required of a marathon.
As the number of miles per week increase, I, too, am filled with the Thai spirit of sanook dee. I have no idea if we will make it through the entire course of 26.2 miles, but I know my wife has traveled a long way from her days of short taxi rides and winded walks up stairs. I wonder if she were still in Thailand, would she have been able to make a personal choice like this and stick with it? I doubt it; with her friends constantly barraging her about why doing something different is bad and with no other support mechanisms in place, she would have eventually succumbed to doubt. I am glad, here in America, she has a chance to do what she wants, no matter what the reasons.
It's wonderful to hear that you and your wife exercise regularly together like this. The idea of doing something fun and which has huge benefits for the both of you makes it a real winner!