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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

The Lure of "White Skin" in Thailand - Racism in Thailand

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Above is a jarring anti-blackness beauty advertisement for a product that promises to whiten skin, illustratively included in a new Asian Correspondent article on the esteem of white skin in Japan, Taiwan, Korea and of course Thailand. The Thai commercial is described:

In one such ad...Verena L-Gluta Berry Plus advertises its so-called beauty drink by showing an unhappy black bear speaking to a pale-skinned female doctor who explains to the bear that it took millions of years for its kind to evolve into a white bear. Fortunately, she tells the sad bear, with the use of beauty drinks evolution can happen overnight. Proof of this is her father’s appearance in the office; he has dark skin, and is actually Negroid. Needless to say the ad proved to be lusterless among some of the critical Thai population, but that didn’t prevent many more ill-thought out ads containing ridiculous prejudicial notions following it.

A few years ago Thai cultural critic Kaewmala also wrote a really good piece on this in her Thailand's Skin Whitening Crazy: How Far Will it Go?

The commercial itself just shows how completely alien much of the Thai thinking about skin color is to most of western sensibilities, and it's a small secret that tourists and visitors to Thailand just don't know much about. If you don't speak Thai it may be hard to detect in the short term. The people of Isaan, the heart of Muay Thai, in the North East tend to have much darker skin (rural, often of Khmer or Lao decent) and are uniformly regarded as less through the signature of their skin color. It could be argued that Muay Thai (male) an prostitution (female) are generalized expressions of Thai conceptual blackness. Buakaw, whose skin is very dark, has a name which means "white lotus", almost a counter message ironic marketing joke. A female Thai fighter here in Pattaya is simply referred to as "the black one" at times, her father seems to be of Malay descent, and I've heard very nice Thais fall into very strong racist characterizations without thinking much about it at all. In so many ways Thailand can feel like a sci-fi trip down to a parallel universe of the 1950s in the west, and this is one additional dimension of it. And, as someone from western culture which has long struggled with the moral approbation of slavery, the same moral arguments against anti-blackness do not quite match up. They are only parallel, riding along only a similar track of ethic agrarian peoples vs urban modernization. But it is real, and striking when you run into it.

This was another controversial campaign that ended up getting pulled, selling Dunkin' Donut chocolate donuts in blackface:

Thailand-Blackface-Do_Crav_opt.jpg

You can read about that controversy here.

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It is quite shocking once you see it in person, I am sure even more so when you can understand the language and what is being said indirectly. Lol if I had a nickel for everytime a Thai has said they want my skin or my eyes... The contact thing freaks me out as well. It is probably more prevalent in Bangkok, but it weird me out everytime I see it.

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The bear ad is blatantly racist. Considering the huge stigma around racism in the West it really does feel like a whole other world.

 

Charcoal donut? Does it taste like charcoal? Its weird that they decided to have a woman in blackface to advertise it, but it doesnt really seem offensive to me. Especially considering minstrel shows were never a thing in Thai culture. Its probably more analogous to Dave Chapelle dressing up as a White man. That never caused any controversy in the West.

 

dave_chappell.jpg

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Charcoal donut? Does it taste like charcoal? Its weird that they decided to have a woman in blackface to advertise it, but it doesnt really seem offensive to me. Especially considering minstrel shows were never a thing in Thai culture. Its probably more analogous to Dave Chapelle dressing up as a White man. That never caused any controversy in the West.

 

The article suggests that much of the protest came from international quarters, Dunkin' Donuts is a world wide brand. The Doughnut campaign seems a complicated issue of racism. Ironically enough, in the commercial the exact opposite thing happens than happens in the bear commercial. A very light skinned Thai woman eats the doughnut and turns black, and this is a positive. Maybe a way of saying this is: becomes Other...but only for a second..."enjoy your moment". She takes her walk on the wild side.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwvSb6x4a08

The campaign suggests that becoming black is "breaking every rule" and may be aimed at University students - we saw that Dunkin' Donuts is pretty popular with CMU students - perhaps mirroring the popularity and cutting edge of rap (just a guess). Progressive Thais did not see it that way though. It was just plain racism, using stereotypes to sell products.

As to "charcoal", keep in mind this advertisement is in English for educated Thais most of whom are not fluent in English. The word "Charcoal" probably does not have the same connotations to Thais that it does to us. I would also say that a black comedian going "white face" is politically very different than a white, or light-skinned person donning "black face". They aren't analogous to me. One comes from a position of social disenfranchisement, the other from a position of power. The history of black face and racism is well documented and is generally offensive in the west.

I do think that the younger generation that this seems aimed at makes the kind of racism implied complex.

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Thanks for posting this topic. I came across this video a while back and meant to post it here, but forgot.

It's a compilation of some more ads, which also includes the bear one, all translated into English. They're really quite shocking. 

I can't tell you how many times students of mine have made racist comments in my classes. It happens all the time, but here are a few examples, all from Thai students:

  • One student had been on vacation in LA, and I asked her if she enjoyed it. We got onto the topic of transport, and I mentioned that I'd assumed you would have to get around by car. She remarked 'yes, public transport is very dangerous, a lot of black people get on'.
  • An older lady had lived in Chicago for a few years. She said 'I'm afraid of black people. They're so big'.
  • When I was discussing the idea of going to India with a student: 'No, I don't want to go. There are a lot of murderers and criminals'. When I asked her why she thought that, she simply said 'they have black skin'.
  • Another student who'd just come back from a holiday in Bali said she had a lovely time there, 'but I don't like black people'.
  • There was one particularly horrible student; a young, spoiled kid from a rich family. He boasted about how he'd attended Eton College in the UK, and liked to look down his nose at everyone else. He actually got kicked out of Eton for carrying a knife, which he claimed he needed to protect himself because he feared for his life after he'd called someone the N-word. Obviously, he didn't realise that he couldn't just say anything he wanted over there like he could at home. Thankfully, he thought he was too good to learn English, so despite his parents paying for a year-long course, he never came back, so we didn't have to deal with him. Good riddance.

My boyfriend is black, and we do get a lot of looks when we walk around in public. One student told me 'they don't look because they're racist. They look because it's something different'. A woman once got up and moved when he sat down next to her on the train, and there's no excuse for that. It's awful. He definitely feels very unwelcome in Thailand.

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The article suggests that much of the protest came from international quarters, Dunkin' Donuts is a world wide brand. The Doughnut campaign seems a complicated issue of racism. Ironically enough, in the commercial the exact opposite thing happens than happens in the bear commercial. A very light skinned Thai woman eats the doughnut and turns black, and this is a positive. Maybe a way of saying this is: becomes Other...but only for a second..."enjoy your moment". She takes her walk on the wild side.

 

The campaign suggests that becoming black is "breaking every rule" and may be aimed at University students - we saw that Dunkin' Donuts is pretty popular with CMU students - perhaps mirroring the popularity and cutting edge of rap (just a guess). Progressive Thais did not see it that way though. It was just plain racism, using stereotypes to sell products.

As to "charcoal", keep in mind this advertisement is in English for educated Thais most of whom are not fluent in English. The word "Charcoal" probably does not have the same connotations to Thais that it does to us. I would also say that a black comedian going "white face" is politically very different than a white, or light-skinned person donning "black face". They aren't analogous to me. One comes from a position of social disenfranchisement, the other from a position of power. The history of black face and racism is well documented and is generally offensive in the west.

I do think that the younger generation that this seems aimed at makes the kind of racism implied complex.

I agree in a Western cultural context this can be rightfully considered offensive. I also agree that a Black comedian in "whiteface" is not analogous to a Euro-American donning blackface. I just think it makes things different when its done by a Thai woman in a Thai cultural context. Though I suppose I am making the same mistake Dunkin Donuts did: not realizing the whole world will watch it on the internet.

 

I also find it interesting that her turning dark skinned is portrayed in a positive way. It conflicts with what we hear in the Muay Thai community about light skin being considered desirable. At the same time it makes sense to me on a personal level because I think all skin tones have their own unique beauty that should all be celebrated. 

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II also find it interesting that her turning dark skinned is portrayed in a positive way. It conflicts with what we hear in the Muay Thai community about light skin being considered desirable. At the same time it makes sense to me on a personal level because I think all skin tones have their own unique beauty that should all be celebrated. 

 

As I pointed out, the woman's skin is turned black for a moment "enjoy your moment". And this ad is likely aimed at rebellious university students, it's attempting to shock, to reverse everything, to "break every rule". It would though be a big mistake to assume that black is generally desireable in Thai culture, or that Thais with darker skin are experiencing an social advantage in some way.

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I can't tell you how many times students of mine have made racist comments in my classes. It happens all the time...

...My boyfriend is black, and we do get a lot of looks when we walk around in public. One student told me 'they don't look because they're racist. They look because it's something different'. A woman once got up and moved when he sat down next to her on the train, and there's no excuse for that. It's awful. He definitely feels very unwelcome in Thailand.

 

Emma, it means a lot to hear real world examples like this. I think it is very hard for us in the west to interpret Thai racism towards dark skin. Part of this is that it comes from a different set of social circumstances (the whiteness is the whiteness of Chinese skin much more than it is of Caucasian skin, for instance), but the symbols and concepts of derision seem straight out of some of the most backwards western racist thinking. I can't imagine what Tu experiences in Thailand.

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Down in the Red Light District of Pattaya there are these carts piled high with stuffed animals, the type you would win at a carnival game, that are sold to the drunken customers in the bars. I assume western men buy them for the Thai bar girls. Mostly it's bears and rabbits and the kind of crap you'd expect, but there's also this huge - huge, like the size of a 6-year-old person - black doll with red lips; totally mistral "black face."  It's always there, so I'm assuming it doesn't sell, rather than that these carts just have to keep this awesome item stocked. But, much like the insane T-shirts you find in English here in Thailand, my question is, "who the f*ck is making this product for sale?"

My point is, Thailand doesn't have the history of "black face" that the US does. Thailand doesn't have the same history of racism and oppression against African-originating black skin that the west does. But that doesn't mean that "black face" means something much different. It's still poking fun at something (and someone) perceived to be inferior. While the concept of "blackness" and dark skin is not identical to the history we've made for ourselves in the west, the racism isn't much different.

And, as White persons in the west we are far less exposed to the pressure that People of Color in the west feel to purchase products that push toward "whiteness." Hair relaxers and straighteners, skin bleach, contacts, wigs, weaves, etc. The market for this stuff is huge. The fact that we don't see it on TV and in the mainstream magazines goes to show just how privileged whiteness is (we'd only see advertisements for white skin becoming whiter), rather than that we're somehow "post racism".

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And, as White persons in the west we are far less exposed to the pressure that People of Color in the west feel to purchase products that push toward "whiteness." Hair relaxers and straighteners, skin bleach, contacts, wigs, weaves, etc. The market for this stuff is huge. The fact that we don't see it on TV and in the mainstream magazines goes to show just how privileged whiteness is (we'd only see advertisements for white skin becoming whiter), rather than that we're somehow "post racism".

It really is hard to believe how huge it really is. I think its a gender issue too because it seems to afflict women more than men. On the bright side though there has been a big push against it by the natural hair movement. One of my best friends in high school was born to Nigerian parents and she would almost always wear weave. Now she only wears her hair natural and likes to post pictures on facebook of new natural hair styles she is trying.

In your time in Thailand have you witnessed any kind of "dark skin movement" to resist the social pressure that pushes towards "lightness"?

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I should also add that when my boyfriend was running, he passed a group of police officers, who stopped him and demanded to see his passport. Lots of locals came over to tell them that he was a fighter who they saw running along that same road every day, but they weren't interested. Of course, he didn't have his passport on him because he was running, so they took him back to the gym and demanded again to see it. There, the trainers spoke to them and managed to sort it out. 

Later, I went running alone on that same road and passed a group of police offices at the same spot where he'd been stopped. Not only did they not stop me, but one officer actually gave me thumbs up and shouted 'very good' at me as I ran by. 

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I heard that the dislike of dark skin here in Thailand originally comes from the ideal that if one has dark skin it would mean that that person works in the fields or works manual labor and therefore would be exposed to the sun.  So that would indicate that a darker skinned person would be poor, uneducated and more likely to commit violent crimes.  I can't remember who told me that (thai or foreigner) and I don't know how true it is, but it guess I can see the logic in that thought process.   In America I get the impression that many people still hold on to the ideal that black Americans are descendants of slaves.  (Clearly it's more complex than that, but I hope you see my point.)

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  • An older lady had lived in Chicago for a few years. She said 'I'm afraid of black people. They're so big'.

A lot of my Thai friends say they're scared of black people too, though they never specified why... another thing I found weird is they seem to call them the N word a lot, I really don't know whether they realise how offensive it is or not. I also read an article which was about a guy who went an trained in Saenchai's old gym, I think it was Sor.Kingstar in isaan, and in the article there had been some black people that visited the gym and the people from the gym referred to them as 'nekros' though the article stated it thought they might've picked up it up from American soldiers during the Vietnamese wars. 

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Yea exactly what punchdrunk said that's it really dark skin means poverty and uneducated hence more likely to commit crime. I want to say I'm shocked but I'm not anymore to be honest but its terrible! I've heard of many Indian/African expats being treated appallingly by thai's. And I'm talking about wealthy well educated expats here.

 

Have any of you seen that TV show its like mythical and there's twin princesses (same woman) one is white and good and beautiful and the other they have painted her body and face black and she's evil and bad....she looks ridiculous!

I feel terrible for people who come here and are treated like that I don't know why they would stay here to be honest! The land of smiles .....but only if you look right to them, they conception of beautiful is so misguided its tragic

 

One of the reasons I love buakaw is that he's so dark doesn't care does loads of training and stuff outside in the sun and doesn't care!!

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Yea exactly what punchdrunk said that's it really dark skin means poverty and uneducated hence more likely to commit crime. 

I find this weird because like one of the major icons of Thailand is Buakaw and he's sooo dark, and I've never heard a Thai judge his skin. 

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I think Buakaw is more of the exception than the rule since he's done quite a lot to elevate himself status-wise in the sport, especially on an international stage. I feel like it would be different if he was just a Thai champion, but it's also the fact that he's recognized in K1 and other circles as well as an icon.

As for the skin thing, it really is insane here. The number of new products that come out to whiten your skin is staggering. Right now the new thing is this "Snail White" lotion or something.

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I find this weird because like one of the major icons of Thailand is Buakaw and he's sooo dark, and I've never heard a Thai judge his skin. 

 

That would be like saying that America isn't racist because Michael Jordan and so many other major sports heroes are black. Or even because whites were pulling for Joe Louis against Max Schmeling in 1938.

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... he's recognized in K1 and other circles as well as an icon.

 

I do wonder what Buakaw's image is among the core Thai Muay Thai community. He's a huge name in the west because of his K-1 success, and much of his media seems very western oriented - the face grimace, etc. Though he also puts up a lot of nationalist imagery too (flags, military). He hasn't fought a Thai in almost a decade, and I've been told by at least one person close to the fight game that if he fought a real Thai fighter now he wouldn't stand a chance. He's such an interesting case because of how he broke from his gym, isn't a Muay Thai fighter proper, and is ethnically so dark. Maybe he is like a kind of movie star, who doesn't make movies.

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That would be like saying that America isn't racist because Michael Jordan and so many other major sports heroes are black. Or even because whites were pulling for Joe Louis against Max Schmeling in 1938.

I think you read it wrong, I wasn't saying they aren't racist because Buakaw is dark. I was saying I just found it weird they don't judge him for it. 

Please read it again, rather than jumping the gun as I don't understand where I said 'Thai's aren't racist' nor did I imply it either. :mellow:

 

I think Buakaw is more of the exception than the rule

 

 Yeah, that's I meant though in my previous comment that I find it weird there can be exceptions, as I was comparing it to the west in my head where I though racist people tend not to find that ethnicity or skin colour attractive even if they're celebrities, but I don't know... 

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I've been to a couple of Asian countries and have witnessed these skin whitening creams ect. I thought one was a moisturizer and was applying it to my sunburn and thought my sunburn had gone away in record time. Nope. I merely bleached my sunburn.

 

I'd also see women wearing long gloves, leggings, and umbrellas to stay out of the sun.

 

I've read some articles that trace it back to the idea that being pale equaled wealth because you weren't outside in the fields.

 

I've read some articles that talk about a desire to look western. I.e. the trend in Korea to have plastic surgery done to their eyelids.

 

It seems to stem from a lot of things.

 

Someone posted about people getting up and switching train cars when their boyfriend came on the car. That happened to me all time. I don't know if people were scared, disgusted, or intimidated by me lol. There was also the look of dread when I would sit by some people. You are correct in stating that it is a very unwelcome feeling.

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I think you read it wrong, I wasn't saying they aren't racist because Buakaw is dark. I was saying I just found it weird they don't judge him for it. 

Please read it again, rather than jumping the gun as I don't understand where I said 'Thai's aren't racist' nor did I imply it either. :mellow:

 

Fair enough, my bad. I was just surprised that you felt that what Thais say out loud to you somehow would reflect their feelings about race. I've never heard any Thais talk about the skin color of well-known people - other than Master K making a joke about Buakaw's name - but I didn't think that was weird. I just assumed that because I don't speak Thai and don't engage in long conversations it was never something that would come up. And more than this, when I think about it, I'm not even sure I've heard Americans judge Michael Jordan for being black, and I'm American, which is really the point I should have done a better job expressing. I do wonder how he is viewed, and in fact how all people of some celebrity from Isaan are viewed.

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He hasn't fought a Thai in almost a decade, and I've been told by at least one person close to the fight game that if he fought a real Thai fighter now he wouldn't stand a chance. 

At 70kg I would still pick him over most. The only guys I could see outclassing him are Yod and Sittichai.

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And this is to some degree a spiritual ascetic practice, even if you approach it from a completely secularized place, and even if your trainers are not consciously expressing religious beliefs. This is the older form of the marriage of the martial and the spiritual, as it has been inherited, and to some degree sublimated, by the culture. And Thais who train in Muay Thai, who are part of the culture, are training in "soul stuff". The art of Muay Thai is developing the "prowess" which will eventually be expressed as a charisma (as it is culturally defined). One of the most subtly cutting criticisms of contemporary Muay Thai that we've heard was in a casual conversation between the legend Karuhat Sor. Supawan and WBC World Boxing Champion Chatchai Sasakul, both prolific fighters in Thailand Muay Thai's Golden Age. "Fighters no longer have charisma (sanae) today" they mourned. This wasn't a complaint about marketing, it was about the nature of the fighting itself. Fighting did not express the charisma that it once did. The reason why this criticism silently cut so deep is that the development of charisma was actually the point of Muay Thai fighting itself. Charisma is the aura one has, the capacity somehow (magically) draw people to you. It is a certain kind of personal gravity, which directly exudes your "soul stuff". It is your ittiphon, your power to influence. And it can be shown or lies in parallel to your ittirüt, which is your invulnerability. The connection between charisma and invulnerability is what lies beneath classic Muay Thai forms. The emphasis on ruup (posture, visible form), balance, freedom, control, and the fighterly aim of not necessarily "damaging" your opponent, as so much as dominating your opponent in a great variety of ways, including physical damage, is about the cultivation of charisma. This literally is the same kind of charisma of ancient kings, within the same scope of connective beliefs, trained for performance in the ring. Because Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist culture - and has been for much more than 1,000 years, the cultural form of that charisma has Buddhistic expression. In the same way that Buddhist novice monks seek to discipline their bodies, temper the hotter emotions, cultivate a kind of stoicism under travail, the young nak muay seeks to do the same. And great monks, through their ascetic practices, acquire great charisma revealing their "soul stuff". In some sense Thailand's Muay Thai has split off from many of the religious forms of charismatic development, but still expresses the same spiritual reality, even if in practice if falls into a broken, or and much less unreadable state. The ascetic practice, and the hierarchies of respect and rite in the gym are cultural pathways of "soul stuff" development. And arguably, anything you are learning in a Thai gym, whether it's the ability to endless do knees on the bag, or how to stay calm under sparring pressure, or how to properly block, or how to compose yourself under the exhaustion of padwork, are all actually about charisma, a projected invulnerability and magnetic aura, each fighter of which would have their own version. As Wolters emphasized, it is both a physical prowess and a spiritual prowess. Soul Stuff and the Magical Policeman The role of magical beliefs in the history of Muay Thai development is likely quite pronounced. If you would like to read an account which exemplifies the parallels between combat prowess and magical capacities, read the biography of the southern Thai policeman, Khun Phantharakratchadet (1898–2006) whose prowess occurred in the decades of Muay Thai modernization, and Thailand's rise as a modern Nation. It is important to understand that the development of fighting techniques (the knowledge of them, wicha) were historically not divorced from the development of magical techniques (that protected or aided you). Wats, traditionally, were likely a home for both. The tale of Khun Phan, a legendary real figure of Thai early modern 20th century history, recounts his advance as a physically small man who was a fierce fighter, taking on the nakleng gangs of the Sangkla area, and eventually other regions of Thailand, armed with his knowledge of the fighting arts, as well as study of the magical arts at the foot of the famed monks of Wat Khao Aor Or. in Phattalung. He even became proficient in Western Boxing (& perhaps Judo) studying at a wat in Bangkok, as part of his advancement as a policemen. He was a man of a remarkable amount of "soul stuff", much of it acquired through rigorous study and practice. The magical arts of Amulet protection, and sak yant are expressive of this spiritual under-logic of soul stuff. Everything has soul stuff, but pieces of material can be imbued with soul stuff, and because soul stuff is transmittable, it can be conferred to you through proximity or practice. Holy men, through rite and ritual can transfer soul stuff to you, and through spiritual practice you can hold it. Sak yant (sacred tattooing) are often devices of "soul stuff" transmission. They are thought to express/transfer the soul stuff of animals (tigers for instance) or gods, or heroic figures. They are thought to bring powerful energies, and often sak yant specifically bestow powers of charm or charisma (the ability to influence), or the power to command (amnat). In some cases creating invulnerability. Today, in their more commercial form they may be more thought of as one-way transmissions, but originally they involved spiritual devotion and self-transformation through practice. You achieved their powers through a growth in personal "prowess". It's enough to say that in the body of magical beliefs in Thailand we can see the nexus between martial prowess, spiritual power and charisma. These beliefs and practices, based in the logic of soul stuff, developed in parallel to the fighting arts of Thailand. Khun Phan at the age of 90 commissioned a Jatukam Rammathep amulet, believing that the spirit of Jatukam Rammathep had helped him solve a difficult murder case. The creation of this amulet by such an auspicious person, under the blessings of the Holy Pillar of Nakhon Si Thammarat, thought to be invoking spirits of great personage and Buddhistic merit created incredible demand. The substance of the Holy Pillar, the legendary policeman Khun Phan, and the proposed spirits Jatukam Rammathep, were put into physical objects, which then could transmit soul stuff to you. This is a logic of soul stuff.   My brief detour into the magical arts is not to ascribe them or their complex beliefs to the spirituality of Muay Thai in particular. One is not to exclude them either, as still there are amulet practices of blessing and transmitted soul stuff, including those of the mongkol and prajet, or the invocation of dieties in the Ram Muay to begin every fight. More important is not to locate any set of beliefs and practices as necessarily religious, but rather to look at these beliefs and practices to understand how the logic of soul stuff transmittability expresses itself in Thai culture...and in Muay Thai itself. Magic is part of its heritage, but that heritage is founded on much deeper, metaphysical ideas on how power works in the world, and between humans. And this belief, I would suggest, is embedded to this day in even the most secular-seeming aspects of Thai life. There is a Buddhist perspective which may say that because of karma and reincarnation everything we do is spiritual practice. Everything we do is an attempt to alleviate or ease the suffering of existence. In this spiritualization of the world and culture, the belief in the transmittability of "soul stuff", of unequal souls, also can be seen as universal and pervading every practice. Much as a Western philosopher like Foucault may see all our interactions transpierced with discourses of power, all sociability in Thai culture can be seen as practices of soul stuff. It's development, its preservation, its signification, and the ways in which everyone takes position in society in relationship to powerful personages (whether they be local persons of aura, or National) who exhibit soul stuff. It is a kind of religion of existence. Soul Stuff and Muay Thai We can leave aside magical practices for now, and think about how soul stuff and Muay Thai relate. The first and obvious way is that because Muay Thai is a public performance the job of the fighter is to express "soul stuff". That means knowing the cultural signatures of "soul stuff", being practiced in displaying them, including aspects of command and control, invulnerability and of course charisma. Perhaps no fighter in history displayed soul stuff more than Samart, who expressed a very Rama/Vishnu quality, a potent equipoise. You cannot thoroughly understand Samart's greatness without seeing just how much (read here:) he signified "soul stuff" within the culture. This photo of him with the vanquished and bloody (aggressive, Muay Khao great) Namphon, gives some sense of it. But the signatures of soul stuff in Thailand's Muay Thai, and even kinds of personal charisma are not only of one kind. A great, unrelenting knee fighter like Dieselnoi will have tremendous soul stuff. A great pressure fighter like Samson, or a complex style fighter like Chamuakpet (naming legends of the Golden Age). There are various expressions of soul stuff. And, unlike in Western conceptions of "great fighters", soul stuff includes many things beyond the fighter. Samart for instance did not fight up very much in his career. In a Western mind this may be something of a demerit when compared to other great fighters who did. But because soul stuff is transmittable, and governed by association, the fact that Sityodtong gym was so powerful to be able to dictate favorable matchups (or at least avoid unfavorable ones) actually goes to Samart's soul stuff. He is part of a local nexus of power. Sityodtong has soul stuff. Master Tui has lots of soul stuff. Samart has soul stuff. As much as we want to think about fights as being between two isolated fighters in the ring, the truth is that there is much more in the ring than that. All the soul stuff that brought these fighters into being, that is poured into these fighters, is in combat. (This is a big reason why Westerners do not quite understand the role of gambling in Muay Thai. It seems to them to be just a corrupt interference in "pure sport". But in fact it is a layering of the contest of competing powers, men with soul stuff outside the ring...for better or worse. Under the spiritual logic of soul stuff fighters are never just "them". They literally invoke deities with their Ram Muay. In their Wai Kru they evoke their teachers. All of their skills and ascetic practice in training is summoned, publicly, into the ring. Fighters represent and embody.) This is not fundamentally different than the spirit-logic of cosmic battle that governed warfare in the great Ayutthayian Empire 500 years ago. What has changed is "who" is seen to have soul stuff, fundamentally a question of changing culture and values. As to the practice of Muay Thai itself, in the training kaimuay, and in the ring, one has to grasp that the fighting art and the fighting sport cannot be completely separated. Traditional kaimuay are technical houses of the inculcation in soul stuff. One is learning the practices which will give you power in a physical contest, but a contest which ultimately is also a spiritual contest. The techniques of a particular kru, the styles of a particular gym name, are a practical knowledge of Thai combat power. And the conditions of its practice are necessarily those of discipline and ascetic self control. The fundamentals of posture (ruup), timing and balance are meant to create liberty in the fighter, and its presentation to the judges and audience. Specific techniques, ways of blocking, attacking, avoiding, punishing or damaging, controlling, frustrating, overwhelming, are a kind of complex grammar of soul stuff. You display that you have more, and in defeating your opponent, in some sense you take some of their soul stuff as your own. And, as fighters share the ring with you, they too can gain soul stuff through proximate association (if you have a great deal). For deeper dives into this here I write in some detail about the social conditions of Thai training practices through the thinking of the sociologist Bourdieu: Trans-Freedoms Through Authentic Muay Thai Training in Thailand Understood Through Bourdieu's Habitus, Doxa and Hexis, and here I write about how the philosopher Agamben's study of 13th century Franciscan monastic practices help explain the rule-following power of Thai gym training for Westerners: Thailand's Muay Thai Gym, Authenticity and the Escape from Capitalism | Agamben on The Highest Poverty The importance of this insight into soul stuff and its transmittability is I believe that it unlocks much of the question about the religiosity (or spirituality) behind Thailand's Muay Thai. Often it is simply dismissed altogether because it does not seem reducible to the few obvious, formal rites that surround Muay Thai fighting. And, the magical practices of its past do not seem to embody most, or even much of any of Thailand's Muay Thai as non-Thais experience it. I suggest that the logic of soul stuff is so prevalent, so shoots-through Thailand's Muay Thai, even in its most secular and commercialized expressions, its so omnipresent it is almost impossible to see by Westerners (and others) who can carry different cultural view of power. It though is something that is much closer to a Chinese metaphysical concept of Yin and Yang, a base assumption which explains many diverse practices, whether they be spiritual or quite secular, woven into the perspective of a culture and how it bonds together. And, as the historian O. W. Wolters argued, these beliefs lay at root beneath very diverse cultures all across Southeast Asia, spilling well over any particular country's barriers. And...if you kept the logic of "soul stuff" in mind you would get a better sense of what the difficult training in Muay Thai is truly focused on...the melding of the spiritual and the martial going back perhaps 2,000 years, as it is expressed and conceived in today's contemporary culture, and as the art of Muay Thai itself has come to embody it over the past 100 years or so.   For a the primary source on O. W. Wolter's concept of "soul stuff" read here:            
    • SJC74 - Here's my recent January 2023 experience training for one-week at 'Santai', and one-week at 'Boon Lanna', both gyms located outside/south of Chiang Mai city center. TL;DR, I'd pick Boon Lanna Muay Thai for one-month dedicated training with minimal life outside of training, eating, recovering, sleeping.  Context: I spent early October 2022 to early January 2023 in Northern Thailand; 2.5-months in Pai, 1-month in Chiang Mai. I learned Muay Thai basics at Wisarut Gym in Pai at a relaxed pace. I wasn't killing myself during that time, but was able to develop a baseline foundation for the sport and improve general fitness. After leaving Pai in second week of January 2023, I went to train at two gyms outside of Chiang Mai, Santai and Boon Lanna. I did not train at Hongthong, but I did stop by in the midafternoon to see it. Here's my two cents as a beginner. First thing to note, and arguably the most important consideration is how far from old town Chiang Mai you're comfortable being. The best gyms in CM are a ways away from the nightlife/tourist action happening in the city. You'll need to plan logistics accordingly. Having a motorbike, accommodation, quick food/grocery options, social life requirements, touristic desires etc. are all considerations that need to be made. There are a lot of gym options in and around Chiang Mai. Hover over the greater city on Google Maps and search 'Muay Thai Gym', and you'll see many of the options. Most have websites and/or facebook pages to glean information from to get general vibe of the gym, while others have a sparce internet presence that requires an in-person visit to get the scoop. I visited four gyms in total, but only trained at two.  Santai: I trained here 6 sessions total, once per day monday to saturday mostly in the afternoon. This was the busiest gym in Thailand that I trained at thus far, with an average 30 students per session, and 6-8 instructors. This is a good gym if you want to sleep, train, and be social with other students and not have too much of a life outside of training. People spend months living and training there together, so naturally the "family" like feelings evolve amongst students and trainors. Everyone was friendly, but I kept my head down and didn't socialize too much beyond basic pleasantries. A months time is long enough to develop stronger relationships if that's what you're seeking. English was common enough amongst students and trainers to make communication easy and clear. Despite the gym being a bit small for the large number of students, it's equipped with three rings and many bags. Because of the many people, it was lacking in the sanitation department; it felt a bit dirty for my personal standards, but keeping in mind that I've been a long time mild germophobe so learning Muay Thai has been an exercise in acceptance for me. Standards and personal comfort vary of course, I'm just saying it could use a good powerwash and mop.   The general class routine was: run/skip rope, group stretching/shadowboxing technique, padwork, bagwork, clinching, stretch/cool-down. While you're going through group stretch, the woman who handles office/paperwork affairs and the two old-head instructors list names on the whiteboard for padwork assignments. Each pad holder had 3-5 names underneath them and each student would get 3 5-minutes rounds with them. It seemed like the newbies were assigned to go first and each day you'd be with a different pad holder who would work you in different ways, while evaluating your skill level. The two old-head instructors would walk around with their sticks whacking stick correcting form of folks working a bag. You're sort of on your own after padwork, so you'll want to come prepared with a few combinations you want to practice on the bag, otherwise you might be a little aimless and unfocused; at least that was the case for me as a newbie. Overall, this gym was a 6/10 for me. I'm grateful I went and experienced it for the sake of gym comparisons, but I wouldn't return here. Keep in mind I'm rather introverted and would prefer to train with Thai's than foreigners. It was 70/30 foreigners to Thai's training there. I stayed 10-minutes down the road from the gym. There's a main street near gym with accommodation, restaurants, and locals-only night markets. Odds are the only other westerners you'll see around that area are also gym goers. I think someone could quickly improve their skill level dedicating one-month to training here, just don't expect to do too many tourist activities outside of training, eating, recovering, sleeping. Students and trainers fight out of the gym and seem to be in different promotions weekly. If you want to fight, that's definitely possible here.  Boon Lanna: The monday after Santai I moved accommodation down the road 20-minutes to a place near Boon Lanna Muay Thai where I also trained for 6 sessions total, once per day monday to saturday mostly in the afternoon. This is the former Lanna gym Sylvie trained at. She mentioned it's a different gym now than it used to be, so I can give an update to what it is like now. This has been my favorite gym to date. The new owner, Master Boon, sponsors Thai fighters from the Hilltribe, so when you train here, you're mostly training with them. It was 80/20 Thai to foreigner ratio and an amazing experience. Sylvie recently wrote about gyms having golden years where there's a bunch of people training/fighting out of a gym an times are good, and other times when the same gym has dried up and it's a shell of it's former self as people move on. This gym seems to be in early stages of new golden period as Master Boon and his female partner seem motivated and have a good thing going. They are currently having new student housing built on the property attached to the facility. The existing facility is very nice, very clean, wide-open-air facility. There was only one non-thai living there, a Canadian, the rest were Hilltribe boys/men. My technique, confidence, and general understanding of the sport improved significantly in only a few sessions as they paid a lot more attention to me. After light conditioning and shadowing boxing, every session began with light sparing where Master Boon selected matchups, randomizing opponents for 3-4 round. Sparing against the Thai boys was very helpful, but at ~185cm (6-foot) felt strange punching and kicking a literal child. These kids were tough and strong though, and I saw in advance pictures of them online bloodied up smiling after a fight. We both knew that I couldn't hurt them, and we both knew they could wreck me any second, which actually helped me feel relaxed in a way I've ever never felt before. After sparing, padwork, then bagwork. Both of which I felt like I received ample and helpful guidance for improved power and technique. Everyone was patient with me which was appreciated. I'm a slow learner. Classes end with 45min-1hour clinching, which I did not do, opting for strength conditioning with a few others instead, concluding with abs, stretch, cool-down. Sit Thailand MT Gym: This gym is closer to old town, next to airport. Has accommodation nearby, I dropped in mid afternoon just to see it, no opinion. Lookup 'joelxthewolf' on instagram. He documents his training/fighting out of that gym and you can get a sense of things from him. Looks legit.  Hongthong: Drove past. A bit closer to old town, but still outside a ways. Fighters often on local promotion. Sizeable open-air gym. No opinion.  Like I said, there are many others to choose from. Get a motorbike on arrival and spend your first day dropping into several to get a feel before commiting. Manop. Buakaw's Banchamek Gym, Chiang May Muay Thai, Santai, Sit, Hongthong etc. Be prepared to be on the road all day for that, Chiang Mai is surprisingly quite big and spread out.  Here is the average weather forecast is for July in Chiang Mai: "This month is known as a warm month. The average maximum daytime temperature in Chiang Mai in July lies at 31.7°C (89.06°F). The average minimum temperature is 24.0°C (75.2°F) (usually the minimum temperature is noted at night). The amount of rain during this month is high with an average of 145mm (5.7in). It rains an average of 19 days of the month. The sun will occasionally show itself with 121 hours of sunshine during the entire month." Something to consider. I should have taken better notes during my training, but didn't, so these are just some of my recollections/feelings. Ask away with any questions, I'll be glad to give my two cents. I am now training at a small gym in Isaan and plan to be more diligent and methodical with documenting my progress and experience. I'd like to post and participate in this forum more. Thank you Sylvie and Kevin for the platform and second hand push to do so, and all the info you've provided over the years- it's been very helpful for me on this journey and I'm having so much fun. 
    • thank you 😃   can you point timestamps? i think you are right and i'm trying to improve it, specially when i get tagged i "panic". It's getting a little better. About everything else, i guess i'll have to try to discover if it's my thing. I don't know if it counts but because we are a bit silly and unskilled i already experienced some damage.. in the end i'm in the rain and ready to get wet, soon i'll see, whatever happens, happens, maybe i'll drown, maybe not!
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    • It is recommended that you should rest 1 month approximately, after having an eye surgery. I know that you are very very keen about your training. That's the best spirit in you. But at this time I recommend you to rest at least 1 month and if you fear that you may not forget Boxing, I recommend you 2 read books and blogs about Boxing. That'll help you keep in touch with Boxing.
    • Sparring was each day, it's part of the training, also each day you go the bagwork and the pads, so i don't know where you got that idea from.  You never go  without hiting the pads or having spar in the Thailand, unless you're in a really bad comercial gym, but the spar there is way different than in other countries, you develop technique there and go sparr without power, by either legs, hands or clinch, depending on the day . As for technique, they always correct you and try to teach it the correct way, they made a good amount of adjustments in my kicking techniques, sweeps and clinch while i was there, i didn't go into such small details because it would take a whole book to write about how much small things they see and try to work on that. Also i don't think you fully read what i wrote in the blogs, because i don't really remember now all the things i wrote, it was a long time ago, but i went on and re-read the first day i wrote, and it already said i did a lot of pads and clinch , knees and elbows , so i don't know where you got the idea that i didn't do pad work. 
    • Hey mate sorry for bumping old thread, im thinking bout going to Manop for 3 months in nov-dec-jan. Everything you described in your posts are what i'm looking for, but there was some things bothering me.   1) From what I read you barely got to spar? Sparring is a huge deal and important for me.. Why didn't you get to spar in the beginning? 2) You seem to spent ALOT of time hitting the bag, why didnt you get more pad-time in the beginning of your training? I really don't know your level and it was hard to tell from the fight 3) (Probably most important) How are they on instructions? Do they correct your technique? how much do they emphesise on that? Do they teach you proper form, sweeps, techniques, tricks, etc? cause from your posts it seemed like you were on your own pretty much the entire stay     Cheers!
    • I'll recommend Elite Sports, Yokkao and Fairtex.
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