Sweet Jesus, can Thailand just build a nice, normal gym where the equipment is maintained and the Thai swoll patrol don’t freak me out? In this country, you have three options for fitness. You can go to an open-air gym, where the sauna and the weight room are conveniently one in the same and traffic pollution bolsters your heavy breathing. Or you could go to an indoor gym, where half the fans and/or air conditioning are broken, the ceiling barely clears the plate weight rigs, and there lingers this musty body odor smell with a hint of mildew in the air.
In either option, you get the bonus of 50% of the equipment being permanently and stubbornly nonfunctional, free weights scattered all over in a convenient system of leave-it-where-you-dropped-it, Thai jocks screaming in testosterone-induced pain with every dead lift, and locker rooms specially smeared from floor to ceiling with hepatitis, and possibly typhoid.
And in both types of gym, the other patrons are among the most pleasant and considerate of clientele:
The bench too dry? Not a problem—the bloke before you left his back sweat all over it.
Your toes in too good of shape and need a bit of shattering? Just stand near one of the jacked Thai jocks as he rapidly thrusts the dumbbells up and down with the ever helpful grunts that sound something like, “Guh guh guh guh guh guh guh.” When he’s finished his machine gun reps he’ll kindly drop the weight like a microphone as if he’s just owned a rap battle.
And trust me, that one dude really does plan on using all three machines he’s “reserved” with his mobile, towel, and water bottle.
If you’re not too shy, your third option is to go to one of the many free outdoor fitness parks. They’re in the most random locations, so they can be tricky to find. I’ve seen them under highways, sandwiched between hotels, shimmering conspicuously in coastal parks, and even spread across a 1.5-km circular track beneath a hilltop temple. These fitness parks always offer the same trade-off: free workout, but a free show for all passersby, which is probably why the swoll patrol never hangs out there. I have not once seen someone utilizing the various bolted down, weather-resistant machines. The only exception is the 1.5-km track, where everyone is hustling at dusk’s coolest hour to finish their last lap before the dark brings gangs of rapists to the park.
So Thailand doesn’t exactly have a culture of fitness, but at least it isn’t an industry of fitness, either. I can’t say the same for my own country: a growing industry of fitness while still boasting the highest obesity rate in the world. ‘Merica!
Wanna Get Away?
As you’ve probably noticed over the last 10 posts in this series, I often find myself absolutely disgusted with living in Pattaya. It’s hard to imagine that I would actually get bored with going out to bars on the weekends, hanging out at a sub-par beach, wandering a six-story shopping center, or visiting one of the few inauthentic cultural attractions or daytime activities, it’s only a matter of time before I want to proverbially blow my brains out from boredom. Thankfully, there are plenty of cost-effective options for getting away.
Even though I just smack-talked the beach in Pattaya—because, to be honest, it’s quite far from the best that Thailand has to offer—on a quiet Saturday or Sunday, it’s a convenient escape. I enjoy lounging in the shade of the thousands of umbrellas watching tourists splash in the water. The travelling vendors can get obnoxious after a time, but it’s also nice to know that if I get hungry I can wait 10 minutes before another array of fruit or ice cream or whatever else is presented to me. Plus, I know I’m the envy of teachers every where when I say that it’s the best place to lay back and grade papers.
Besides, if I want to seek out picturesque beaches, they’re an easy day trip away. I’ve already written about Ko Samed, but it’s worth another mention here. Turquois waters, white sands, tranquility, and a mild night life (if that interests you) all make it a nice weekend getaway. Approximately $500 can pay for travel fees, cozy resort accommodation, and food and beverage for a 3-night stay.
Moreover, if I’m tired of the beach, the Thai countryside is stunning. There’s an unparalleled calm and simplicity, where elevated huts lay claim to acres of rice, rubber, and banana farmland. The stifling pollution of a typical Southeast-Asian city has dissipated by the time I reach these remote areas. The poverty is overt in such a rustic environment, but the people are the most hospitable. And while the temples of Bangkok boast the glamour of royal patronage with astonishing architecture and detailed aesthetic, the rural temples must be the inspiration for the many images we Westerners see of the solitary repose of a meditative mysticism.
So just like in San Francisco, where urbanites and gentrifiers can escape to the many redwood forests and lush vineyards, Thailand has its share of easy escapes, which is a big reason why I’m able to tolerate its many annoyances.
So now that I’ve reached the end of my 10-post rant and rave, what’s the take-away or the verdict? Honestly, all the annoying stuff that irritates the crap out of me is also at times good for a laugh. My colleagues and I are always bitching in the staff room about these and other grievances, but it’s often with levity and laughter. On top of that, the positives are just too good to pass up. I won’t be here forever, but while I’m here I plan to soak up as much as I can and relish the experience. And you’ll be at my side, vicariously speaking…