It started out as a vacation; we just needed to get away.
It turned into a life-changer.
Here’s what happened to me and Virginia for three and a half weeks in June.
All of my posts began as emails from Thailand to my incredibly talented and loving daughter, Layla (think I’m only saying that because I’m her father? Check out her website www.laylaangulo.com then come back here and apologize). She not only house-sat for us, but six days after we left had to deal the death of our 21 year old Persian cat, Luna, who took the opportunity to spare us from the ordeal. I loved her dearly, but she was my wife Virginia’s animal soul-mate.
She was one special creature. I dedicate this journey to her, as her death made me look more closely at my own life. Thank you, my dear Luna. And, as always, I know you don’t care. I’m doing it anyway.
Thai Boxers and Ladyboys
Glad you are getting out of the house and having some fun while you are there. Bet it is getting warmer there, yes? It’s about 90 degrees here…with 90% humidity so it feels like 140 (or so it seems, probably more like 100 or so).
The Chiang Mai dogs are really monks of the city.
That’s the thought that struck me while walking back from breakfast with V this morning. They seem to be everywhere and just by their presence add an extra, unexplainable element to the spaces they inhabit.
We don’t like the hotel food and found a tiny place on a quiet side street and ate an American breakfast; cheese omelet, toast, orange juice, and excellent coffee — owner is growing 30 acres of organic coffee beans in the mountains near Suthep. All for 90 baht. Under $3. You can eat here like that all day and night, Thai or Western or Indian or Chinese.
We sat and talked with a young couple from Belgium, on their way for a two month adventure in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Made me think that another extended trip deeper into Southeast Asia could be in our future.
V really likes Chiang Mai and I was a little surprised as it can seem a overwhelming with all the motorbikes and swarms of people everywhere, but she feels safe.
We’ve seen incredible sites here; temples, people, just life here is so different from what we are used to. When you walk around this city, every turn, every street, is filled with the unexpected, even the most mundane bits of every day life.
Last night she walked through a large bazaar right at the end of our street while I was out watching the muaythai boxing with Somboone and she never felt unsafe or weird.
Earlier in the day a young girl dropped a yellow square of a flier into my hand. It touted a championship fight that night between a Thai and, of all things, a Norwegian muaythai boxer. When I showed it to V, she insisted on me having a ‘boy’s night out.’
Our guide Somboone picked me up and we drove the short hop to the ‘stadium’ — really a large pavilion covered with an aluminum roof but much of it open to the air. It was in a seedier side of town outside of the old walled quarter, and the streets were filled with bar girls and ladyboys.
We bought tickets and walked down a gauntlet of bars and bar girls on either side of us.
As we entered the arena I could see a boxing ring that had comfortable seating all around it. It was like going to a supper club; we had our own waitress. Joy — not her real name I am quite sure — took our orders and placed the beers in front of us encased in beer cozies to attempt to keep the liquid a cooler than room temperature (90 degrees again), which they did for about 1.5 minutes. We sat there for over an hour as the fight sponsors hoped more people would come.
It was supposedly a big match but there were only about 50 people in the seats, plus another 50 in the bars.
Picture this: the boxing ring is surrounded by small storefront bars, each with its own theme; Jenny’s Bar; Happy Bar; Family Bar (yes, people brought their little kids) and Ladyboy Bar. I had a great idea but had to coax Somboone three times to take my video and follow me over to the ladyboys. I could see they were bored to tears, had no customers, and were entertaining each other practicing sexy walk moves and endlessly re-applying make-up and gossip. They could care less about the fights.
Somboone was so concerned. “What about Virginia? She get mad?” All the way there he asked if Virginia should come, he didn’t want her to feel sad and alone. I had to explain how we work to him, but when he got it, he understood that our honesty and independence adds all the more depth to our relationship. V really wanted me to get out on my own and I appreciate her for that.
I finally convinced Somboone to film me going up to the ladyboys and offering them a 20 baht bill to have them take a picture with me. They were very nice, even though they chided me (“20 baht? Is this a tip, Big Spenda?” — yes, I am cheap).
I stood between two of them. And they dwarfed me. 6′ 3″ in high heels each with broad tattooed arms, shoulders and backs. We all waved at the camera and said hi to Virginia. “We will take goooood care of him, Virginia, don’t worry!”
Yikes. I suddenly felt a wee bit, uh, wee. These guys were like football players with large breasts and really good lipstick. Later, the biggest ladyboy walked around the bar area with an eight foot long albino python looped around his neck as a fashion accessory. Brave and outrageous and often reviled and discriminated against, on so many levels, those ladyboys have balls.
I’m telling you this because you won’t be able to see it. The video unit we have has no light. You can only see me and the boys in silhouette. Dang. We went back to our seats as the first bout started. Between two twelve year old boys. They were so focused, disciplined and passionate it was beautiful and frightening to watch.
I knew V would freak out but I was going to film it anyway. And then it happened. Ran out of memory. I could not get another image onto the video. It was not going to happen no matter how much I cursed and pleaded and shook it. I looked up to catch Somboone, his lips moving silently, encouraging the gadget to work for me. It dawned that we were going at the same problem in two different ways: As westerners we cuss and bang on stuff that isn’t working. Somboone was calling upon the spirit of whatever mechanical god that guides and controls the gadgetry to answer his prayers. It was bizarre and kind of cool all at the same time. Both ways had no effect and, really, it didn’t matter. We gave up, sat back, and let the night proceed.
The fights that lead up to the main match were great; the boys got older and there was a match between two women that outshone the men in every way; fierce, competitive fighting that got almost brutal in its intensity.
Joy bet me a drink on the outcome (they love to gamble and at every round a guy would come by to take bets) and though I thought for sure this one young lady would take down my bet, she lost and I won, though I did not take Joy up on the drink — three beers were enough for the night.
The main match was a disappointment. Both fighters, Norwegian and Thai were overweight, they had guts on them! In every other match the boys or women were in superb shape with long thin muscles that their handlers massaged between rounds with oils and creams. But the big fighters looked crappy; I have less of a stomach than the Norwegian champ. They went three languid and lazy rounds before the Norwegian put down the Thai in what looked almost like a fixed fight.
But what a night of male bonding with me and Somboone who took such good care of me and his sincere concern for our comfort. I spent a bit more than I thought and had him wait for me at the hotel. V was still up and she came down to say goodbye to our Chiang Mai guide and, now, our friend. He thanked us profusely and drove off into the still humid night.
More later; we have to run and catch our plane back to Bangkok, then ride the night train 12 hours down to the southern part of Thailand. We will be out of contact a day or so. Love you! DAD