Muay Thai


If you pay the standard higher charge for foreigners, the concierge informs the folks at Lumpinee. You are received well at Lumpinee, seated on a stool until the current show has ended, and then taken inside free from the bother of the line. You're given a place right by the ropes.

The ring was bright; but where we sat, the spills from the last show hadn't been mopped off the floors. The regulars sat behind tall meshed barricades. An American sat next to me, and next to him another American, young, of Indian origin. They sensed their common nationality and promptly plunged into talking, and they talked every moment, for more than two hours, till the very end, even during the tensions of the matches, even when a knockout happened in the fifth or sixth game, even in the top-billed seventh match. They spoke American things, long and loud.

Two kids fought the first match. Their eyes were locked on to each other so hard; I wondered if it was right to be watching it at all. The announcer did say something about a minimum age, but she spoke with a strong accent, I couldn't pick up her meaning. They were kids alright. The loser came close to tears when the match went off his control; but his backers showed him much kindness when he came off the ring, his head limp and hung forward in shame and disappointment. As the evening progressed, older boys entered the ring, and the matches began to get better. Every fight started with a slow, graceful dance, played to pipes—they played the pipes even during the bout, and during the times the fighters needed to gather themselves, they stepped in tune and paused and advanced to the rhythm of the music. The referees were sharp and wouldn't allow too much risk—so the players were quite safe. But the boys did take quite a few wrenching blows.

In the prime match, the losing boxer moved snake-like, his head dancing sideways on his neck, and his technique was to curve his hand all the time in a slow searching motion — divining a path to his opponent's jaw. But the winner was the other, and he was brusque, and he did not put his technique too much on show. In quick time he had his opponent all wound up, his punches wild now, his face agitated, control leaving him altogether.

I followed the winner out. They shot pictures of him at a victory-spot, and I had someone take my picture with him. I went behind him into the dressing hall. It was a dark open space, and there they tended his hurts. In the meantime the loser had come in, too, he sat at the tables in the far back, all by himself. He didn't appear to want any attention, anyway.

(Next week, I am in Singapore.)