Weather Boom Belgium
Photos by Chris van der Meijde
Boom could see his breath in front of him. It was cold in Belgium, the temperature hovering just over freezing. Boom had never felt cold like this growing up in Thailand, hadn't lived in cold weather until he moved to Canada back when he was 23. For the four other Thais with him, though, a white winter's day was a new experience.
Then again, almost everything about the trip to Belgium was a new experience for these men. It was early March 2016, and the five Thai men—four boxers plus Boom, their liaison, interpreter, and cornerman—had just arrived in Brussels, heading to the city of Turnhout in Antwerp. For three of the five, it had been their first time on a plane. For all, it was their first glimpse of Europe. The fighters were scheduled to step into the ring less than a week later, competing in the martial art of their heritage, fighting with foreigners on the foreigners' home soil.
The entire journey so far, from the first trip to Bangkok for Belgian visas all the way to landing at the Brussels airport, had been exciting for the four fighters. All of them—Silalek, Jom Wo, Senrak, and Rittidet—were born and raised in Thailand's impoverished, rural northeastern region of Isaan, a place known for producing the majority of Thailand's fighters. They weren't sure what to expect in Europe. How would the foreigners fight? Where would they train? What would the weigh-ins be like? Would the food be edible? Seventeen-year-old Senrak, the youngest of the bunch, hoped the food would be as good as what they were given on the plane. When dinner was served, he took out his phone and snapped pictures for Facebook. His friends back home wouldn't believe what it was like to fly internationally.
Boom told them a little of what to expect. The fighters trusted him; Boom was also a professional fighter from Isaan, but knew what the West was like from his nearly six years living in Canada. "It might be cold in Belgium, " he told them.