Having pulled through the fire of recent events, and coming to the partial conclusions I have about the people around me, the question seems to become can I survive? Can we find a way to safely navigate the treacherous streets and dark alleyways of life? Have I been naive to think that anybody has my best interests at heart, much less those I meet on trash strewn boulevards? Stray too far from the light and ladyboys loiter hidden from plain sight, their curious habits a man’s conception of a woman. Just the other night (Songkran) a street urchin rubbed prickly heat powder mixed with water in my friend’s eyes as we walked near Bangla road… A malicious attack aimed at a woman, no doubt catalysed by the belief she was a foreigner. But what can you do – if you start a fight they might take your life. I’ve had roommates up and leave and take every item of clothing I own with them. The first interaction I had here was a taxi driver who overcharged me 1,000%. Cars repossesed, bank accounts sacked, fight purses dipped – there is little you can’t expect. Sadly, being mugged off here is a reality of life. The grinding aspect of it is that they seem to be actively targeting you.
So why do we stay? When this is so clearly bandit country, why do people exert so much time and energy to remain here? I can’t speak for other people, but for me what this place lacks in safety, it makes up for in concentrated life. Being a prick isn’t exclusive to Thai people, they just happen to be the particular flavour of the human condition I encounter. I am sure there are far worse people elsewhere. As for reasons to stay; for one the food is amazing, and incredibly cheap – if you know the right places. I’ve been eating out twice a day for five years, and each and every time is an occasion. Thai culture is food, therefore eating becomes an event.
Temples; the peace and serenity of these public spaces has an ethereal quality to it. How many times we have stumbled upon mountaintop shrines with enormous golden Buddhas overlooking valleys and vast expanses of forest. Light some candles inside and listen to the quiet amidst the murals of a mystical bygone era. And the boxing, sport, tradition, Thais have mastered “the art of fighting, without fighting”. Wily beings, they sense your intent before you can even mount an attack. The Japanese are good kickboxers with sharp hands, the Chinese – expert conterpunchers. In Myanmar they fight with ropes and headbutts, but only the Thais fight with such grace and precision.
The landscape; southern Thailand is an unending coastline, with the best roads I have ever driven. Dense, fertile forest lined beaches, limestone cliffs, islands with reef and river. Sit at night and listen to the cicadas play their chorus through the walls of the hut, on this islnd or that, a climate which allows one to be a part of life itself. Waterfalls, emerald pools and caves, everywhere one looks an ancient mysterious landscape with insects which glow, lizards with red crests, purple eels, sharks and ancient reef.
At this current juncture in time the Sutai bamboo mansions accommodate two Costa Ricans (soon to be joined by a Peruvian), up to 10 Thais, and me, though we seldom all reside simultaneously. Thais have a penchant for loud music and anyone who has heard it knows it doesn’t stray far from the “I’m so sad, my girlfriend left me” theme. Extreme patience is required when living in close proximity with people of other custom and background, as outbursts can be easily misunderstood. Thankfully this gym, my sanctuary, is staffed by a group of people I have grown to trust. So long as I am willing to let go of the tedious music and outrageous behaviour things proceed well. I’ve only had to brandish the machete once to get them to stop pissing out the back of the hut.
The current team is young and keen, they range from only 17 upwards. However each one of them is superior to me in some aspect of muay Thai. This keeps things fresh, and they all still fight. The hilarity which regularly accompanies their training camps makes most of them seem ridiculous, and in a way they are, especially with the southern dialect people from this region speak. There’s Nid, who the others call “Burma”, because he’s dark and wears a moustache. Nid has a vice like clinch and almost inhuman endurance. Thi, who on several occasions fought ”koo eak”, or headline fight, in Lumpini. Toon, whose antics keep the others amused most of the time is probably the most technically gifted. Bungid, a sturdy local musician and security-man who holds pads for fun. Buakeaw whose style and grace when she fights is literally second to none. And Odd, from Banchamek, an ajahn overseer whose perceptiveness and good manners are consistent as his pads. Mauricio leads this team, and makes sure cohesion is tight. I just get ragged about in the clinch all day by everyone.
Most of all people come here for freedom. That freedom has a dark side, as we have seen, what you gain in personal liberty you sacrifice in overall security. The structure of society here is just loose, Thais have a very close relationship with chaos, virtual anarchy rules supreme – people are too busy enjoying their lunch to give a damn about safety or any other such high minded concerns. Thai society praises above all else the ego, and individual freedom, but often that is exercised as the freedom not to take responsibility for the well-being of others. To what lengths must people go to gratify this sense of themselves?