Riley starts looking around Lumphini Stadium for someone to bet with. He wades through shouting mobs of rowdy Thai’s hustling their predictions and waving Bahts before the Muay Thai fights.
The stadium stinks of sweat, all the locals and the action is in the cheap seats. Riley and Chuck are stuck sitting with the docile-foreigner crowd, alongside a family of bored looking tourists yearning for a slice of pure, Thai culture and a couple of degenerate looking old men in Beer Chang muscle shirts with young looking girls they bought for the night.
Two kids come out, must be 100 pounds apiece. The Khaen starts wailing loudly, accompanied with the sounds of enchanted cymbals. The kids start doing their traditional Muay Thai blessing. Bless the sky with their fists. Bring ‘em down to the canvas, and rotate around to the next part of the ring.
Riley’s still itching to bet, so Chuck bit.
“Who are you taking, Riley?”
“Blue trunks,” Riley says.
“You know blue trunks are the underdogs right?”
“Well then give me some odds.”
“Fine, 10 Brown ones, 3 to 1 odds and you’re on.”
“You sure you got 30,000 baht, Chuck?”
“I’m good for it.”
Riley pokes around for more bets. The locals don’t miss him because he’s a big, white tower compared to them.
“You know blue trunks is gonna win?” says Riley. “Tell me.”
“Look at how he’s doing his prayer. He’s got his heart in it. He respects the practice, the discipline. He loves the sport for what it is.”
“Yeah, we’ll see how much respect red trunks got for his chin,” Riley chuckles, “Look at red trunks; the guy’s won four fights and he thinks he’s above tradition.”
“Well there ain’t no folklore in a granite chin.”
The beer girl comes by with a tray of Singha in plastic Dixie cups. Riley buys the tray. It’s hot, so Riley and Chuck swig the beers like water. Like that, 10 Dixie cups of beer, gone.
Riley and a local lock eyes. The local has over 10 different sized Buddhist amulets hanging from his neck. He motions Riley over. The guards yell out something in Thai and the amulet man breaks eye contact.
“Hey, I think that guy with all the Buddhas hanging around his neck wants to bet,” says Riley.
“You shouldn’t bet with the locals.”
“‘Cause they’re dangerous.”
“You mean those little Thai shits?”
“Just don’t bet with them.”
The two friends get some more beer and the fight starts. The kids square off in the blood stained ring, the buzzing khaen and ringing cymbals get more chaotic. The mob shouts, “dtee!” for every kick thrown and “dté!” for the knees.
The stadium is mesmerized by the spectacle; even the family is getting into it, shouting with the mob for every kick and punch.
Red trunks has blue in a traditional Thai clinch—his gloves are gripping the back of his opponent’s head and he’s tossing blue around like a ragdoll. He gives blue a couple of knees to the ribs—“dté! dté!”—and throws him on the canvas. The bell rings and his trainer lifts blue into the corner.
“Doesn’t look like your kid’s doing very well,” says Chuck.
“He’ll be ok.”
Blue’s trainer lifts his hands in the air. The kid screams in agony and his trainer slams some Tiger Balm on his ribs. The bell prompts round two to start.
Red walks in holding his hands low and blue gives him a roundhouse kick straight to the jaw. The slap to red’s chin reverberates through the shouting mob, “DTEEEE!”
The kid in the red trunks goes limp and his eyes roll around. Blood seeps from his mouth. Two guys with a stretcher come to the ring, pull red by the arm, and haphazardly take him away.
“Payday, baby!” Riley yells.
“Shit, worst way to spend a grand.” Chuck pulls out a wad of cash and hands it to Riley.
“Tell you what, the beer’s on me tonight.”
Two more kids come out, a little heavier, must be 150. A soft looking white guy with an Irish flag tattooed on his arm in red and a ripped up Thai kid in blue.
“Who you takin’ Chuck?”
“You took all my money.”
“That’s alright. I gotta bet on my boy though. That’s my blood in the ring.”
“Blind conviction for your own race, huh?”
“Gotta have it.”
The tray lady comes, and Riley buys the tray again. The geezers with prostitutes say something about buying all the beer and Riley tells them where to stick it.
“Hey Chuck, how do I get the guards to let me make some bets?”
“Shit Riley, you ain’t gonna let this go, are you?”
“I’m feelin’ lucky. Today’s my day.”
“I’m tellin’ you right now Riley, it ain’t like back home where if you scrap it’s the end of it. Don’t fuck with them, even if they fuck with you.”
“No one’s gonna fuck with me, make it happen.”
Chuck goes up to the guard and levels with him in Thai. The guard tells Chuck that they gotta take the cheap seats to bet and that this is an exception because Chuck’s dad used to do some betting here 30 years ago. Chuck walks over and slaps Riley on the shoulder.
“Let’s go to the cheap seats,” says Chuck.
“Fine by me.”
“You ain’t welchin’ here; you’ll feel the vigilante justice of Lumphini Stadium. There’s an unwritten code. You don’t fuck with bets here. You understand?”
“Don’t worry ‘bout it.”
“The guards don’t usually let foreigners bet because there were a couple of incidents where the foreigners didn’t respect the code and a couple of them got stomped, so it’s banned altogether.”
The traditional blessing commences before the fights start up. The Thai kid in the blue cautiously does the dance, while the Irish kid leans on the ropes and eggs the Thai on and tells him to hurry up. The mob boos the Irishman. He goes in the ring, yells “Fuck you!” and spits.
“How’s that for tradition and discipline?” yells Riley. “That’s Irish tradition! I need to make some bets!”
“You won’t get good odds, your Irishman’s got the reds on. He’s been knockin’ guys out left and right.”
“Ok, pinch your thumb and your ring finger together and wave that hand in the air and maybe someone will grab you.”
Riley holds his hand up and does the pinch. The man with the amulet grabs his shirt.
“You want betting?” says the man with Buddha.
“Yeah, who you takin’?”
“I go for Poonsawat.”
“I’m guessing that’s the Thai guy.”
“You have Bob, or Rick.”
“Cheeky Thai huh?” says Riley. “10 Brown ones.”
“Three to one.”
“You got it.”
The fight starts. The Irishman’s got the Thai on the ropes, giving him body shots and turning the fight into a boxing brawl. The crowd boos. The Irishman throws the Thai on the ground and grabs his junk, motions the crowd to suck on it.
Suddenly, an energy drink bottle flies through the air and nails the Irishman on the head. He falls limp like one of those collapsing toys. His temple’s bleeding like crazy. The stretcher comes out and he gets thrown on it and gets taken away. A man with a mop tries to clean up the blood and sugar but doesn’t get all of it. The ref lifts the Thai guy’s hand up even though he’s on the canvas, half unconscious.
“Give me 30,000,” says Amulet man.
“Fuck that! That wasn’t fair! Fuck that!”
“Give me 30,000,” Amulet man repeats. The mob closes in on Riley and Chuck.
This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 23, published February 15, 2011.