Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bowling in Bangkok

Here's a subject I know a fair amount about. There are probably 20 different alleys in Bangkok, and most are quite modern. Probably more modern than the average alley in the States, actually. There are even alleys in the boonies, like Udon, HatYai, Korat, Khon Kaen. Surin, where the average denizen grows jasmine rice, used to have one.

You can bowl a game for as little as 30 baht (about $.75), depending on where you go. The most expensive I've seen is about 120 baht, at Major Bowl, where they've got the black lights and a DJ (and crummy lane conditions!).

The differences? Well, the Thais seem less restricted by concepts of the "correct" way to bowl. There aren't so many really great Thai bowlers, so there's nobody to really mimic. No reference points. Thus you can go to a lane and see an amazing variety of styles, and I'm not just talking about newcomers. My favorite is the guy at Columbia Bowl (Rangsit) who goes through these Tai-Chi moves as part of his follow-through...he releases the ball and finishes in something like a flamingo position after another couple seconds of gyrations.

You'll see plenty of backspins here. There's that "helicopter" style that started in can actually be effective, as much as I hate to say it. You see lofters, who might do better if they took up shot-putting. There are fairly experienced bowlers who have concluded that a "brooklyn" shot is a more efficient way to strike. And of course, the teenage boys, who would rather generate a radical curve than a high score...they place their arm in a corkscrew formation and "unwind" as they approach the foul line.

There's a coach at Ramkhamhaeng who actually trains his bowlers to come to a near full-stop at the foul line, raise the ball to a perfectly vertical position over their heads (their backs are roughly parallel to the floor), and only then begin the can see his students ("casualties" might be a better word, as I've yet to see one of these guys come anywhere near winning a competition) all over Bangkok. Word is, that coach was actually a decent bowler himself, and his style was quite conventional.

In the States, bowling is often thought of as a working class sport. Quite different in Thailand...a good ball costs about a month's wage for an average Thai, and a couple games could easily be a day's wage. You go to the lanes to be seen and socialize. You'll see a lot of very well-dressed (with the exception of the shoes, of course) women who toss the ball, turn around and giggle without bothering to see whether the ball actually hits the pins.

Of course, the issue of broken fingernails prevents a certain percentage of women from playing at all.

I recall bowling at Rangsit next to this Thai guy who proudly told me he had already thrown 27 games that day...with his wife holding the baby all the while.

Sometimes the whole extended family shows up. That happened today...about 12 family members, most of whom didn't bowl, on two lanes. There's the stroller and the toddler. The pregnant woman wandering around the facility in the altered state that pregnant women find themselves in. Constant flashing of the camera. Abundant applause for strikes and spares. They brought their own food in plastic containers.

Gambling is another issue. We're not talking about little wagers between bowlers...we're talking about guys who supplement their income by eyeballing the lanes for splits, and then offering odds to the bowlers. On a league night at RCA or Ramkhamhaeng, there might be 6 or 7 of these vultures on the prowl. You don't even need to verbally communicate with them to place a bet...the odds on a particular split are usually the same for everybody, so you just hold up your fingers and tell them how many baht you'll wager.

Being a logical sort of guy, I'd never place a bet with these gamblers...if they didn't profit, you wouldn't see them at the lanes. They know what they're doing, despite their easygoing demeanor and big smiles. Personally, I can't stand them...they got quite nasty when a former member of my team (a gambling addict, admittedly) fell into debt with them. He dropped off my team and I haven't seen him for several years now. You might consider calling the police to clean these guys off the lanes (after all, gambling is illegal)...problem is, a lot of these guys ARE the police.

One word that isn't frequently associated with Thais is "competitive". They've got this game called "nine-pin strike" where (if I'm not mistaken...I only played once) a one-pin leave counts as a strike, so it's fairly easy to walk away from a competition with a 300 score and a few thousand baht...a high skill level isn't essential. In the leagues, handicaps are quite high, so even the crappiest of teams can win on a given night. In my own 18 team league, the members of the team that finished SIXTH all receive trophies. AND there's a "booby prize" for finishing second to last. AND, since no team is allowed to win more than one prize, there are still trophies remaining for high game, high game handicap, high series, and high series handicap. Virtually everyone walks away from awards night with a goody in their hands.

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