We hadn't brought enough cash. We knew they would charge more
for tourists, but hadn't counted on this much -- something like $60
for good seats, compared to a few bucks that Thais would
pay. A very helpful Thai attendant explained politely but
frankly that we would need to buy the much more expensive tourist
ticket, or the gate tenders wouldn't let us in. I gently
protested, saying that if she came to the U.S., we would
never imagine charging her more to attend a sporting
event. "No, in fact," she agreed, "you'd give me a discount
since I'm a student."
We had enough to sit up in the cage, behind the cyclone fence,
and still a few baht left for some satay on the street out
front and a couple sodas. Shortly after settling in,
a man approached us
and held a scrawled note in English a few inches before
our faces: "Please move. You are in the betting section."
He was showing the same note to all the tourists, and we
moved as a group to the periphery of the betting section --
where, it turned out, the real action was.
The betting steals the show. Before matches and in between rounds, men flash
hand signals at each other and bound up and down the concrete
bleachers exchanging 1,000-baht notes. An apprentice system is
at work: older men sit, taking in the action, while a younger
man -- their runner -- handles the bidding, the trotting, the
money-changing, all within earshot of the senior guy.
It looks like a lot of fun. And here's a nice touch:
every time someone cleaned up and collected a wad of 1,000-baht
notes from someone else, they would immediately peel off a few
and hand those back to the loser. Pleasure doing business with
you. Then they'd hop back to the boss and hand the cash over. Well,
most of it, anyway.
The other interesting thing, apart from the kick boxing itself,
the boxers perform before each bout. It's
a blessing of some kind, I'm sure. But to Western eyes, it's a bit
unusual to see such a light little dance at the same point where,
in an American wrestling match or football game, the contenders
would be roaring and beating their chests.