Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Bangkok is humid. I knew that coming in, but it doesn’t change the fact. Lee was smart enough to secure a hostel with air-conditioning. His smarts are one of the main reasons we recruited him for the national squad. The other reason is his magnificent fist. The hostel appears to be in a relatively touristy neighbourhood. I was able to deduce this by noting the Australian, German, Irish and English themed bars less than 100m distance from the hostel. That, and all the white people.

Today was tourist day. We caught a train up to the Chatuchak markets, but not before James was targeted by security for having an open bottle of water. Not usually one to respect authority, he complied with the demand and put the cap back on the bottle. I can only assume that was to avoid upsetting the current team unity by “showboating” for the sake of rebellion.

The markets were impressive, both in size and selection. I was also impressed that all the biggest brands in fashion were happy to mark down all their items to bargain-basement prices for the sake of Thai tourism… although it did seem strange that these same companies would often spell their own company name wrong. After we split up to peruse the stalls individually and buy items for our loved ones, we met up at a central location and went to the bar for a beer or five. We discussed the cross-eyed leopard on the Leo beer label and hypothesized the story behind three large paintings of the same Chinese woman showing distinctly emotions in each painting. Given the crudeness of our suggestions, it is highly unlikely we got it right. Either way, we were a bit drunk again, and it was time to go home.

After lunch, it was decided that we would attend a Muay Thai fight that night. The standard suggestion from the hostel staff was for the weekly organised fights at the main stadium. It sounded nice, but a few fisters were a little put off by the price – 2,000 baht, or roughly A$60. Lee, on the other hand, and received a tip from a friend living in Bangkok about a local fight outside of Bangkok, where tickets were said to be much cheaper. The friend had even written the directions to the stadium in Lee’s phone in Thai, to make life easier for the taxi driver. It was decided – we were going to keep it “local”.

Choosing the destination was one thing, but actually getting there was another. A taxi driver out the front of the hostel quoted 1000 baht for the trip, to which we scoffed. He tried again “700!”. We walked away. Walking into a fancy hotel, we asked the concierge for assistance. “An hour’s drive”, she told us. The fight started in 45 minutes. “Or you could catch the train to the end of the line and get a taxi from there,” she offered, “much faster”. James kept his water bottle closed, and we boarded the train for Bearing station.

“Chaotic” would be a suitable description for the scene awaiting us as we disembarked the train and tried to flag down a taxi. We waited on the curb and flagged down a taxi. Eric showed the taxi driver the directions and was met with animated hand movements and feverous shaking of the head, gestures that seemed to imply that he couldn’t read, or didn’t want to. The next five taxis gave us the exact same response. It wasn’t looking positive. We saw a sign for “hotel ahead”, so we starting walking in that direction in the hope we could rustle up another concierge to arrange a taxi on our behalf. The sign may have actually been a mirage, as no hotel was to be seen… but a team of motorcycle taxis seemed interested. After some intensely confusing haggling for price, we were off. Weaving in and out of traffic on the back of a motorcycle, it seemed as if they were racing each other. Or perhaps that’s just instinct in this city. Either way, the ride was the highlight of the night. Once we got to our location, we peeled ourselves of the back of our motorcycles, feeling like some kind of James Dean. Or perhaps more like the girlfriend of James Dean. Those of us with hair felt windswept, and quickly rearranged the nest of hair on our head.

I can only imagine how different the stadium fight would have been compared to what greeted us.  This was truly a “local fight”. A boxing ring sat in the middle of a concrete soccer field, surrounded on all sides by decrepit and run down apartment buildings. A speaker stack was blasting out the energetic words of an announcer at a volume that rattled the ear drums. There was a palpable excitement in the air. We bought our tickets, grabbed some beers and found a spot in the corner away from the speakers. A young Thai fighter smiled at us as he was lathered up with tiger balm by trainers and I gave him the thumbs up. We waited for the fights to commence.

Two hours later, we were still waiting. The announcer had not stopped announcing things, and had hardly even paused for silence since we had arrived. I wished I knew Thai, as I wanted to know what he could have possibly been announcing for so long. I was impressed. The young Thai fighter was being lathered up for what seemed to be the third or fourth time since I gave him the thumbs up. I joked that if he fell over in the ring during the fight he’d probably slide right across the tarp and out of the ring. Lee’s friend had arrived and informed us that it was a public holiday in Thailand the next day, and that generally Thai people already weren’t big on punctuality anyway. I was happy to wait, but my legs were less forgiving. We grabbed another round and found a chair.

Finally the fight had begun. Watching eight year olds beat the crap out of each other reminded me of the Hunger Games, without all the pomp and ceremony. Or the standard death needed for victory. They seemed composed and unaffected though, and I was impressed with their dedication. The young fighter from earlier had avoided sliding out of the ring, and actually won against a kid who seemed to be a local favourite. I can only assume it was because of my “thumbs up” gesture. Six fights later and we were done. I think there were eight more fights to go. It’d been a long day and we were starting to think about the fact that were representing our nation in a few days and should probably try to get ourselves into some kind of sporting fitness. Rest was required. Drinking beer also needed to stop.  We caught a taxi home and went to sleep.

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