The Buriram I live, may not be the Buriram you know.
More often than not, when I tell Thai nationals who aren’t born of this region that I live in Buriram, my statement elicits a variety of mixed reactions – confusion, shock, and disdain generally being the top three. Adding that I train muay thai doesn’t work in my favour.
The region of Isaan, situated in the North East, is Thailand’s poorest.
Buriram, in the southern hemisphere is one of the poorest provinces of the region – it’s also one of the major suppliers of sex trade workers to Pattaya and Bangkok. Among the lower classes, a proportionate number of females work the bars and brothels, males compete in muay thai. The trannies/ladyboys/katoey do either. It’s not an absolute, rather an option that generally goes without judgment amongst many, although rarely openly discussed. It’s a fact of life.
There are girls who train muay thai and gay/bi/straight men (MSM) who work the bars and brothels, but they are not among the majority who make up either occupation. Most locals don’t do either. On the surface, Buriram is like anywhere else.
I’ve been living in the city of Buriram for approximately one year. Until a few weeks ago, I thought I was the only non-Thai female living amongst approximately 28,000 plus people. In the past month I’ve heard there is a sixteen year old Western female exchange student in the city. I’ve yet to meet her (Hello.).
The ex-pat scene is an interesting mix of men. They reside here part or fulltime, most of them in relationships of varying kinds with locals they met outside of the region. The city also attracts some ESL teachers. My guess is the average age of the ex-pat population lies somewhere above fifty.
So what brought me here? Intuition, a twisted mix of luck and muay thai. After having trained for over a year at Chuwattana gym in Bangkok and being exposed to a consistent stream of new fighters under their promotion, I came to realize that Buriram was consistently pumping out talented nak muays and some really humble and kind people.
Being a Foreigner/Farang in the muay thai game here gives me a number of advantages, the primary one being choice. I can decide where I want to train. Finances and whether or not they allow women come into play, but I’m neither locked in nor sold to a gym, and I don’t have my extended family relying on me for support. This allows me more leverage than your average Thai boxer/nak muay.
There are many gym options for Farang, some catering to us solely. At the high end, there are luxury resorts like Fairtex in Pattaya and at the low end, there’s a bag on a rice farm somewhere in the sticks. High tourist areas, as well as some gyms in Bangkok offer free training and accommodation if you meet their requirements, you’re in for the long run, and you agree to fight as often as they ask you to. This could mean every four to six weeks, sometimes more. Usually they take a negotiated percentage of your (known) winnings.
Given the above options, I decided to take my chances on Buriram.
The way I saw it, I could learn to fight in a shopping mall or I could learn to fight in the ghetto. I wanted to fight hungry farm girls that wanted to break my high Farang nose.
Something about it seemed pure to me.
A brother of a friend introduced me to a thirty one year old retired nak muay. He lived at a defunct gym and installed aluminum during the day. He had never had a conversation with a Farang before. He hadn’t thought of muay thai in years. Later, I found out he didn’t even want to train me; he had felt obligated to.
One year in…
Saturday, February 19, 2011