At my gym, there are around six trainers. I see these guys every day. We understand so little of each other's languages, but I love figuring them out and trying to appreciate them more as people outside of the gym. Thais are generally very public about the people they spend time with, so I decided to write about them.
Joe is the owner of the gym and a former champion of Thailand. He is also my trainer! He and his twin brother, who is still an active fighter, grew up fighting Muay Thai. He retired from fighting a few years ago and is now focused on taking care of the other fighters and growing his gym. Joe is upbeat and perceptive, always running around taking care of someone or something. I try to available to help him with small things at the gym and at the stadium.
Here's a video of him training Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu, who has over 200 fights in Thailand.
Datsun is a senior trainer who's got tattoos on every inch of his body. Despite looking like a gangster, he's very considerate and expressive. He beams and sings when he's happy and sulks when he's injured from a fight. His girlfriend, who speaks more English, sometimes stays at the gym. They also like to bring their baby husky, Panda, out to play. I try to empathize with him.
Thep is an up and coming fighter and no stranger to the title fights in town. His favourite English phrase is "Are you ready?!". The biggest trophy in this gym is his - it's almost as big as his ego. In the mornings you can catch him fixing his hair and checking out his abs in the gym mirror ...before he sees you looking checks you out. He's flirty but fun, reminds me of a trainer and friend at an old gym. He likes to give and receive attention, though sometimes he gets flustered when you throw him off and it's endearing.
Tommy is a strong, stoic trainer who loves the sport. He recognizes work ethic and respects you when you show it. It took some time for him to warm up to me. You could tell that he's a dad. He has two kids back at home whom he misses a lot and posts their photos on Facebook. He's also quite the mean chef. Last week I walked in on him cooking up a storm for the other trainers. I shared food and he appreciated it. He and Thep tend to stick together like pinky and the brain.
There's one other trainer I haven't quite figured out. He's soft-spoken, precise and tends to disappear in a corner when he's not training someone. I thought I didn't have any clues about him, but today I caught him in a corner gushing over Panda. I'm sure I'll earn his trust in time.
Even though training and life have been a bit rough lately, my heart is full with all these people with whom I'm sharing my days with. I'm a huge introvert, but for some reason, communal living brings out the best in me. A lot of the Caucasian foreigners live and train at the gym to fulfil their own personal journeys. They bond with one another outside of training.
But for me, I'm caught in between cultures. I share similar ancestry with the Northern Thais here, 25% of language, to be precise, with my Zhuang cultural minoritiy's dialec. Foreigners tend to be more self-involved, and asserting during conversations, but easy to relate to in language. While Thais are harder to communicate with but more caring and relaxing to be around. I'm grateful for each of these men and it will be so sad to leave in April, when I need to be in China for 清明, tomb sweeping festival with my own ancestors.