Note: This is a work of fiction based on the author’s experiences training muay thai in Thailand.
It’s been exactly two weeks since Gong and I kissed in his room. Much to my utter relief, he has continued to train me well as before. In fact, he’s been so normal and non-flirtatious with me the last two weeks that I’m starting to think what happened between us was a one-time mix-up.
Tonight, Gong is over in my room studying English and Thai, as has been our Sunday evening custom the last couple months. We keep the door open and Camp Grandma walks by, smiling at the sight of us sitting on the floor with our notebooks and pens scattered around, laughing while we mangle each other’s language.
I try to tell him that he’s my best friend here, that he’s the only one I trust completely, consistently. But all I can manage in slow, awkward Thai is telling him that he is my good friend. I mix up the pronouns and out comes: “I am your good friend.”
He laughs a bit, then says in Thai, “No, you’re not my friend. You’re my girlfriend.”
I feel a sudden jolt in the pit of my stomach but try my best to play it cool. I stare at him with my confused grin, assume I’ve misunderstood his Thai. It’s been two weeks since we kissed, and he’s been acting like we’re just friends.
“Wait, what?” I say.
He repeats it again in Thai, but still I doubt I’m hearing him properly. He wants me to be his girlfriend? But he doesn’t even like foreigners. What the hell does he want with me, anyway? He’s so much better looking than I am. And what do we have in common aside from Muay Thai? What would we even talk about? Sure, I can see him wanting a gym fling, that makes sense, everyone wants a gym fling, but a girlfriend?
As a last resort, Gong tries again in English. “You, be girlfriend me, okay?”
“Girlfriend? You want me to be your girlfriend?”
“Yes, girlfriend. I no girlfriend. I want you be girlfriend me.”
“You mean your gik?” I ask, using the Thai word for casual lover.
“No! No gik! You faen! Girlfriend!”
He switches to Thai: “Because you’re pretty! And you’re so easygoing about everything, and you’re a good person, good heart.”
Well, that was sweet. Deep down, I want to say yes, but it seems so impractical. It’s true that despite trying to keep my dating life outside the gym, I have developed feelings for him. I’m calm and happy when I’m around him, and I always find myself fighting the urge to hug him. But how can we do this? He’s my trainer. Entering a romantic relationship with him means I’m risking my training relationship. Is what I could have with him worth what I could lose with him? And then there’s management, which does not encourage trainers dating customers. Would we be jeopardizing his job? He reassures me that as long as we are professional during training, it will be okay. Just keep it discreet for now. Sabai sabai, he says. Take it easy.
“Okay?” he asks. “Girlfriend me?”
Well… Fuck it, life is short. Let’s go for it.
I don’t even try to hide my enthusiasm when I say yes.
It will take about a month for it to become an open secret that everyone’s figured out. I will be teased good-naturedly by the Thai boys for dating the Raja champion, management will do their best to ignore it, and we will keep our affections private. It won’t affect our trainer-fighter dynamic much at all.
Until it does.
I haven’t thought much about fighting since last August. Now it’s February, six months later, and it’s on my mind again. Lately I’ve been read blogs by other women fighting in Thailand, professionals like Natasha Sky, unexpected contenders like Jill Bosserdet. My nak muay friends keep encouraging me to fight. One of them, an Englishwoman named Hollie, left my gym in Bangkok last spring for Phuket, an island down south with a heavy tourist economy. A few nights ago, she wrote me a long email telling me how much easier it is to get a proper match in Phuket than in Bangkok, primarily due to the island’s destination for tourist-fighters.
“Take your first fight already,” she wrote. “You’ve been training a year now in Bangkok. You could get a ton of great matches in Phuket, and you’d probably win too.”
My curiosity sparked, I decided to email the manager of a Phuket gym I planned to train at for a few weeks, and ask if they can arrange fights. “Absolutely,” was the manager’s reply. “Just let us know, and we’ll match you up correctly.”
I might as well just do it already. Besides, I could make a small bit of money, somewhere around $100 or so. That’s nearly a month’s rent for my one-bedroom apartment. I could put pictures of the fight up on Facebook and get instant street cred, join the legions of cool kids who not only train in Thailand but also take fights in Thailand too. Gong would be proud of me for finally taking a fight. He always told me he respects female fighters.
Lindsey Newhall first left her home state of California when she was 20, and has since called China, Thailand, and Alaska her home. You can check out more of Lindsey’s writing on Fightland.