One Man’s Struggle Is Another Man’s Lesson

Written by John Wolcott. Posted in MuayThai, Tradition and Culture

Night Flight

Published on August 31, 2011 with 12 Comments

I sat back and watched as Bangkok slowly disappeared from beneath me. Gazing out of the small, double-paned airplane window I couldn’t help but contemplate the past twelve weeks of my life. I knew, as was always the case, that the further I flew away from the Land of Smiles the more it would appear that I’d never even been there. As the distance increased between myself and the small country nestled in Southeast Asia, and with each time zone the airplane crossed, the thoughts in my mind slowly changed. Like all my previous trips, somewhere over the snowy arctic, under the brightly lit moon of our heavens, the reality that I would soon be back in the states slowly encroached. Subconsciously, it was as if my mind knew it had to shift gears to survive in the aggressive, postindustrial western world that is America. Many times before I’ve tried to hold on to the jai yen outlook that I’ve come to learn of in Thailand, but I knew once I reached the customs line at JFK Airport the angry, unfriendly face of some under paid New Yorker would be waiting to test my cool heart against his poor attitude.

I tried not to imagine how it would be; returning to a mundane life filled with mortgage payments, unfulfilling responsibilities, and let’s not forget – work. I also thought about how these forces – you know, the one’s governing my existence as a good little citizen in society – held me back from truly living. When it comes to living, I never feel more alive than when I’m in Thailand. The sights, sounds, tastes, and scents, combined with the people I’m continually privileged to meet, all awaken within me some sleeping passion to remain in Siam. It’s because of this that I couldn’t fathom the idea of facing my supervisor, the passionless drone whose job it was to analyze every detail of my timesheet and pass on his uninspiring energy to the rest of the populace. Nor could I face the mentally imprisoned workforce that hassled me for giving up months of pay to go to a “third world country.” Half of them never even left the tri-state area so how would I be able to convey to them the sum of my experiences? Who would hearken my words?

Just how would I be able to describe the place where I’d spent the last two-and-a-half months? A place where children, some just eight years old, slept under the ring, popping their heads out from behind the apron to reveal the flickering light of a television set underneath. Others slept on the ring, protected from the insects by a tattered mosquito net. The lucky few – the fighters who’d been there the longest – got to sleep inside, sheltered from the elements of Thailand. I’d never be able to forget how the Thai’s warmed up their bath water over an open fire, or how the trainers picked at peanuts and sipped on whiskey during dinner, breathing life into the cyclical existence of nights spent in the Muaythai camp. Only later would I come to miss the cool shower taken out of a basin of water alongside the camp walls. Standing in my own bathroom, I could only laugh at how absurd and needy I’d felt, surrounded by everything I’d bought into as mandatory for my survival in the west.

I remember stepping into my house for the first time after twelve weeks. It felt soulless. I’d always imagined it as box; four walls and a roof that provided shelter. Even after nearly four years of barely putting a dent in the mortgage, I never looked at it as a home. After all, how would I be able to? Especially now? It had been lacking that feel of home that I’d left behind twenty-four hours earlier. I walked in and didn’t find Kittisak strumming away on the guitar, surrounded by the younger fighters who would sing along. I didn’t find Jack or Don sipping whiskey, offering me their share of spicy peanuts. I sat quietly, hoping to hear the familiar sounds that I had been so accustomed to. Instead, I heard only the thumping of my heart and it’s desire to be back in what I considered to be the greatest place on Earth. Although, if I sat there long enough, after a while I could make out the distant sounds of motorcycles, Thai music, and the ringing bells of food carts. With my eyes closed I could still make out the photographic image of the gym, the daily life for those who lived there, and the struggle they’d each endured.

This was their life, day in and day out, and long after I was gone they’d still be there. For me, the struggle ended when I boarded the plane back home. For them, however, the struggle was continuous. Nonetheless, it was in their struggle that I’d come to learn some of the greatest lessons I’d ever received, and for that I am forever grateful. How can I forget what Thailand had given to me yet again? Ever since my first visit in 2007 I’ve kept with me the notion that life isn’t about material possessions; but rather that life is about true happiness. By happiness, I don’t mean the temporary pleasures we receive through external means; I’m talking about the enjoyment for life that should always live inside our hearts. Although adverse conditions were ever-present, life for those Thai’s was lived to the fullest everyday. The smile on their faces said it all.

About John Wolcott

John Wolcott currently lives in Thailand and works as a freelance writer and videographer. He owns and operates Thailand Journal where he writes about his experiences abroad.

Browse Archived Articles by John Wolcott

12 Comments

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  1. Good article. I’m sure many people can relate to your views and feelings after visiting the LOS. Sounds like you have the “post Thailand blues” :-)

  2. post thailand blues… I like that. The subsequent times you go back, things you liked have changed, places you like to visit are gone.

  3. Literally reading this 2 hours before my flight back to America after spending 10 months in Thailand lol. Well put..though I do hold out hope that I will be able to take some of what I’ve learned here back with me, not just Muay Thai, but the way of life that created and sustains it. The good news is..it’s really not hard to stay here long term if one wants to, provided they’re not locked down to anywhere else via debt, family and what have you. Many foreigners find jobs teaching English and train part-time; I was actually able to teach English at the gym in exchange for training and accommodation. Point is, it’s not hard to make a life here if that’s what one really wants, for me 10 months was enough, now it’s time to go back to the states and see how much I miss it. I got a TEFL while I was out here, so at any point I can hop on a plane and find a job and live the dream again, I’m just not sure if that is my dream any longer. Selflessness, simplicity, dedication, these things can be practiced anywhere one finds themselves, but I agree it sure is a hell of a lot easier in Thailand. Anyway, I’m going to write some kind of article about my time here, probably just a very in-depth review of Kiatphontip Gym, maybe Nop will post it :)

  4. Great!

    After 7 trip to Thailand in the last 5 years, leaving Thailand is much easier. The first few times of returning to the US was depressing and heart breaking, but now it’s isn’t as bad because I know I will be going back to Thailand again soon.

  5. Agree with Ryuku… It gets easier… hahah…

    After about 10 trips to Thailand, I moved to SEA for 3 years and still go back several times a year. The interesting thing is when you start to get complacent even about Thailand… Yes, it happens! Eventually, you get into a routine, stop checking out new stuff, things do not seem as new or special.. and you just.. live.

    I think it’s more about one’s own attitude and embracing things around you. Yes, harder if you live in the suburbs etc.. but taking the attitude you have when you first get to Thailand and apply that to anywhere. Eventually, you just change and see things differently. Or at least not as pissed about where you currently are at.

    I am back in San Fran and digging it, maybe because I am forever affected by living over there (or knowing another trip out of the country is just around the corner at any given time). I am much more about getting out and doing shit and not taking things for granted, be that my gym, my friends, my neighborhood… and look for new things to try. I can say though.. I don’t find much comfort in “stuff” anymore, but rather experiences.

    Well, I leave for Singapore for work on Thursday, and am super excited to be on the next MMT Tours in October!

    Get your travel on guys and gals!

  6. if i include my first trip out here, which was for six months straight, i’ve been in thailand for 3 years. i can relate to this article, as well as the comments presented before mine. what i will add is that although i agree with everything written about the beauty of the culture, those aspects that john listed as less than inspiring back home absolutely exist here. at least in the thailand i know – they just come in a different form – many of it passive.

    the longer one stays and depending on where one decides to live/how they lead their life – challenges will arise. mine, i suspect are different than most of you, as i’m assuming you’re all male. i’ve also chosen to train in places with few farang and little or absolutely no female foreigners – that was part of my dream / felt natural to me.

    thailand, despite what is politely accepted on the surface of society, is a very conservative place. (i’m speaking of the working class – i have little experience dealing with the high so, with people who are very aware of foreign cultures, of people who have studied at good universities, etc.). there is a definite social order, based on socioeconomic background, colour of skin and gender. if i include foreigners, i’ll say ethnicity and/or race. the vast majority here are not taught to question authority – which includes the rich (if you are poor), your teachers, media,what is considered ‘common sense’, this includes assumptions of foreigners based on what potentially limited contact they or their family members have (i.e. sex tourists). Our media is generally not watched with understanding of the context. I could write a ton of articles on this, but won’t load you with more details. i will say that racism and sexism definitely exist and we are not sheltered from it. if you can’t understand the language, you will be blind to most of it.

    for me, having sold pretty much everything i had to follow my dreams has been an interesting experience. in my experience here, as a farang we will always be considered ‘other’. with that, comes our place in society. for me, inclusive of being a woman, ‘other’ will never equate to ‘thai’ and ‘woman’ never to ‘man’. it is how the culture is structured, and at the best of times, with great people, who are kind and welcoming, echoes of this may drift into how one is treated (i.e. how much one’s opinions and knowledge base are valued, or even believed, being excluded, etc). appearances matter here and often it is difficult to overcome that, despite proficiency in language, muay thai, anything. i see a glass ceiling here for me, to echo what grime wrote, has made me wonder if this is still my dream, despite my absolute love of muay thai and the beauty is still see int he culture.

    i’m not trying to bring anyone down, what i’m trying to do is to balance this and say, that if i’ve learned anything, it’s that people are the same everywhere. the how and the why of the people will be different, but the motivation behind it all may be the same. the aggressiveness, the pettiness, the materialism, it’s all here, just the form is different. the longer one is here, the better one understands the language (verbal and non verbal), etc – the more you’ll get clued into it. but the question is, how will you deal with it?

    my opinion is, follow that dream. whatever it is that takes you where you want to be, just be ready, because new challenges will arise, and there may come a time when the dream doesn’t meet your expectations (subconscious and conscious), but it doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. it just gives you more opportunity to grow and change, if that’s what you’re interested in. and perhaps follow new dreams as they arise.

    • just realized i wrote a book…eeeesh.

      • GOT IT IN ONE!! Nice post ldf.
        Like with any holiday, work holiday or even with multiple trips, people can get an inflated view of a place because its within that space of time they are away from the worries of their everyday life. E.g John talks about bills, mortgages, etc…
        Stay long enough, and it just turns into the same old rat race. You WILL end up with a mortgage (IF you find a way to get one), you will have bills (often more expensive due to the origin of your passport) and life will seem more like back “home” and can even become more difficult!
        I’m not trying to slag the place off, or your post John, as I really enjoyed the read, and the “post Thailand blues” are just a part of the repatriation process that can come from any extended break from what is the norm.
        * I AM looking forward to my next bout of post Thailand blues though mate ;)

  7. I think this is true when one travels to any distant place that is not like “home.”

  8. It is definitely part of the repatriation process, as nicely put by poondaddy. Many diplomats/FSO that wok for our State Department go through much the same thing, I imagine. I can empathize with John and have gone through a similar line of thinking.
    I ended up trying to reconcile it all by trying to achieve a same balance here, and by leaving myself open and able to travel more.
    In trying to achieve the balance, I basically tried to unplug from the “matrix”=). AFter travelling and involvement in muay thai, I tried to discern needs from wants, and then try to get out of the debt ridden prison that often befalls us here: nice house, clothes, car, but one has no free time nor money to travel and enjoy it. Yes we are a consumer driven free market, but Corp America has a price..
    There are equally nice things here, hence the big immigration draw; I think the common thread here is right. One must draw from the good and bad one learns in travels and create one`s own blissful existence.
    On my soap box: it why I say every kid here should travel and see how others have to live; it would make the US a better place I think. After travelling I really could not tell you which was reality, the US..or other countries I have been in. We live in quite the bubble here.

  9. you got mail nop

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