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I met up with Chantal Ughi at her current gym, Keatkhamtorn, about 20 miles outside of Bangkok.  Past the threshold of shoes lining the gate, scattered as if their wearers had simply walked out of them, the bags hung heavy and still, the sound of a TV blaring through the empty space.  A man met me at the gate and smiled – the Thai version of “hello”, “can I help you?”, or practically any other phrase – and I said I was here to speak with Chantal.  He just kept smiling, not understanding, so I attempted the name with a few different tonations and eventually one caught him and he said, “ah, England?”  I assumed this meant that he acknowledged speaking English and he led me to the back of the gym.  I saw Chantal sitting at a bench-table in a kind of cafeteria, chatting with two young men in English.  She welcomed me and I sat down next to her, the man from the front gate brought me a glass of water and Chantal and I began to talk.

Chantal is very soft spoken.  Her tall frame hangs around her and kind of pulls her down into herself as she sat cross-legged, her long, willowy arms stretching out every now and again to rake her fingers through her still-damp hair.  It’s difficult to hear her over the TV and I’m amazed at how this shy woman is able to advocate for herself so effectively as she is able to (mostly through Facebook and YouTube, so far as I’ve seen) because she seems almost as if she wants to disappear.  After a little while of talking about the “slow season” of fighting in Thailand  and the difficulties of finding opponents (we’d both had fights cancelled in the past weeks), we move into the main gym in order to film the interview.

A Thai man, who Chantal seems to know, but not incredibly well, is curious to know why I’m there and if Chantal is going somewhere.  She tries to explain, in English, that I’m here to interview her.  He sees my camera and plucks it out of my hands, motioning for us to stand together for a photo.  Chantal smiles, very generously, and says to him that this is not right, that we’re doing an interview.  It goes back and forth like this for a while until a man steps out from behind a bag and offers a little translation help.  I’m not sure how much is really understood in the transaction, but the Thai man nods and goes on his way and the man from behind the bag resumes his punching.

We step into the famale ring, the mat still darkened in patches from sweat.  The light is dim, as a gym at night should be, and the mosquitos make themselves known immediately.  Chantal spritzes herself with what I assume is insect repellent out of her bag and adjusts herself in a manner that is partly professional (a model or actor preparing for the camera) and partly nervous.  She asks me what I am going to ask her.  I click open the lens of my camera and push record before answering her, “What I want to know is…”

For an interview with Chantal Ughi by Laura Dal Farra: http://www.mymuaythai.com/archives/two-evenings-with-chantal-ughi/

And for video of Chantal’s fights: http://www.youtube.com/user/ullamoon

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