The Romance of Being a Wandering Fighter – Thailand
There is a certain romance to fighting in Thailand, wherein you train for some time at a Thai gym, traditional or otherwise, and you find yourself accepted by the gym and become part of its extended family. You travel with the gym, the Thai boys, and you fight for them and alongside them. It’s a beautiful thing, and I’ve experienced this. But this is about the romance of a different, less common kind of fighting in Thailand; something I’ve truly come to love. Of course there is much more to fighting than the romance of it, and I spend a lot of time writing about those things, but here I take on the feeling of the way of fighting I’ve found.
I’m lying on my back, looking up at an almost perfectly round moon, one night shy of being full. There’s a cable running across my line of vision, up high, from it hang alternating flags that are red, white and blue (Thai flag), and yellow with a red dharma wheel that is a Buddhist flag. We’re at a temple; behind me to the right are two monks, perched atop the steps of one of the shrines so they can watch over the makeshift wall that separates the ring from the rest of the festival, so that admission can be charged. This line of flags cuts over the top of the bleachers that reach up some 20 or 30 feet above me, straight up so that I can see the backs of all the men sitting on the top tier. Occasionally a few of them turn around, usually between rounds of the fight in the ring, and stare at me as as I lay on my mat in the darkness – they talk among themselves. These are the only audience members to be able to see me, from our little reclusive spot behind the bleachers, which is cut off on either side by parked trucks. Kevin and Jai Dee are laid out next to me on our mat, which is overlapping a few inches with the two mats of a few male fighters also on the card: one is wrapping his hands, one is napping. When we first arrived we’d put our mat down with a small gap between that mat and ours and the man in charge, who would be acting as my corner tonight, insisted that we connect the grass-woven mats. Closing that gap was really important, even though almost nobody else was around.
The Thai Way is traveling in groups. If there’s a truck headed to fights (or wherever), standard procedure is to cram that truck as full as possible with your entourage, which can include kids who will be working the corner, as well as family and neighbors. The groups can be big. The fact that I travel alone to fights, just me, Kevin and Jai Dee, is unusual. Add to that the fact that I’m a foreigner (as is Kevin, so we aren’t even traveling with a Thai chaperon) and it’s even more strange. Usually a western fighter is brought out to festival fights by their gym and kind of led around – this was my experience for years at Lanna. Even though festival fights were my favorite (and still are), I was guided through them more or less by my gym. The boys would tell me when it was time to wrap my hands, change into my shorts, get my massage and go to the ring. There isn’t usually any English spoken, so if you can’t read the fight program or hear when your name is being announced, you don’t even have any clue when you’re fighting. Showing up to a situation like this where you don’t know anybody, don’t have group “backup” or support, don’t necessarily have any idea when or who you’re fighting, you’d be a kind of the sucker at the table. Imagine a guy walking into the casino and everyone assumes he’s loaded because he’s a westerner, then he saddles up to the table looking confused and being by himself and nobody is even certain if he knows the rules of the game being played – a fool and his money will soon be parted, right? That’s a little bit what it could be like as a foreigner with no entourage in tow at a festival fight. And yet this has become somewhat common for me.
Because I now train either bare-fisted or with a thin gauze wrap, very minimal, I’ve grown comfortable wrapping my own hands for a fight. I know my hands now and they “need” very little. It used to be that I really longed for the superb, artful wraps of my expert corners – men with hundreds of fights, and having cornered a thousands times, tight layers of tape and cloth with unique techniques in how to pad; but now I grow quiet with my own simple gauze and a little tape. In the past when I would see my opponent wrapping her own hands I knew I was in for a fight. She’s done this many, many times before and wrapping one’s own hands demonstrates experience. I’ve become that girl. The old men who see me doing this give me enthusiastic thumbs up and a nod of approval.
I find the venue, find someone to corner for me (or meet whomever has been asked to help me by someone back home). I wrap my own hands, and try to explain to the men who will be in my corner how I fight, my style, so they know what they’re working with – don’t be telling me to kick and kick and kick. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’ll get an oil massage or not, which is really only because I’m a woman and it might be considered impolite for grown men to do this for me. Sometimes my corner will go find some kids out of the crowd, or just any other young woman who knows a thing or two about Muay Thai, to do my massage so the man in charge of my corner doesn’t have to. It’s a game of just making it all work – largely improvised and different each time. But here’s the thing: the chaos of this kind of improvisation used to throw me for a loop. When I was fighting in the stadia of Chiang Mai, all kinds of “unexpected” events or small changes might freak me out: my corner not wrapping my hands until it was a rush to get into the ring; the boys who were meant to “take care” of me being completely used to the process of going to fights, to the point of boredom, so I felt like they didn’t care about me or my fight… and they kind of didn’t, but I still thought at that time that everything was important; or having items forgotten – oil, a handwrap, tape, the mongkol… and inevitably there was always something missing. But now this kind of chaos is expected and it doesn’t feel important at all. Somehow, before, anything that was wrong was a distraction; now, because something always goes wrong I just focus on the most simple elements. One handwrap? Sure, split it in two. No tape? No problem, tuck it in or find some to borrow. Cornermen who I don’t know not paying any attention to me until I’m actually walking to the ring? Right as rain, honestly. Because everything has been paired down and simplified. It doesn’t read as chaotic anymore, it’s just noise, a buzz around the very basic patterns of fighting. Just pure fighting.
In this way, I’ve become something of a Ronin fighter. Kevin and I just finished watching an Anime called “Noragami,” which translates to something like “stray god.” In the show the different gods have regalia, which are divine instruments for the use of the gods in battle. But they’re also sentient souls, named and dedicated to one god – the god who gives them their name.
But a Nora is a regalia (weapon) with more than one name; they’re seen as tricky because they may serve more than one master, but they’re also very powerful and able to do things that the normal, single-master regalia cannot do (due to the limitations of rules, really). I definitely identified with the Nora, because as a fighter who goes out on her own, without her gym and without a corner at times, I’m something of a rogue spirit. It’s romantic in some sense, in that I have this freedom to fight as much as possible, beyond the interests of a single gym and its resources, and because I speak Thai and can discuss fights with promoters directly, tell the men who are cornering for me what to expect from me, etc, (I mention knowing the language a few times in what follows, its an important dimension to this possibility). I also have this capacity to “serve” the investment of anyone who is hosting me. A promoter wants me on his card, he can book me and I’ll show up and fight pretty much anybody. S/he wants to put money on me, I’ll fight to my utmost and can make money for that promoter, my corner, and anyone else who is keen to bet on me. But it’s not all romance; as a Nora there is a “tsk” and head shake that comes from fighting with more than one name (when I fight up North, Lanna uses their name on cards; when I traveled with O. Meekhun they used their name; when I fight anywhere else or give my name to promoters myself, I am always Petchrungruang) because it’s not the strict devotion that is expected of contracted fighters. (I’m not contracted, though I am always respectful.) This moral component is perhaps best captured by the English word stray.
In Thai culture you are largely the sum of who you belong to, not just your family, but your clan, your baan (“home”). You do not willingly disconnect yourself without consequences. You are woven from local fabrics. But you are also what you appear to be, your image is a real manifestation of you. Images, displays and surfaces have power, they are the foundations of belief.
The stripped-down, super simplified way of fighting where I just show up and get in the ring feels amazing in many ways. I’m not waiting for my team to get me ready, which even though I truly love my home gym and feel very much a part of them, is often an emotionally painful experience because I am simply not (and never will be) treated the way the boys are – the boys of Petchrungruang are its future, its economy, they are hopefully to become big Bangkok fighters. It’s awkward for the gym to deal with me, because they are somewhat traditional and only have the youngest boys help with my massage, but I’m also too old for them to treat me like a little kid who they can guide around everywhere. So I’m kind of ignored, which only feels bad because I want the attention you’d expect if there was a lot of importance placed in the fight. But that’s not how it works here; my gym will put money on me and not even tell me – that money is faith, it’s belief in me, rather than the “you’re going to be great!” pep-talk that my western brain so badly wants and simply won’t ever get. So it’s nice to not expect it – to not even desire it – because my corner is, in these far-away fights, comprised of strangers. By being this rogue fighter, I’m in charge of myself and any help that’s offered to me is simply appreciated. I’m very self-directed because of this independence, and that feels good to me. I can bring good reputation to my gym by fighting hard, by winning in the outlying provinces, by impressing the promoters and gamblers so they remember me and want me to fight again. And I can bring money to the gamblers and promoters who put their financial faith in me. But I have to win.
I have affinity for the wandering, homeless, and thoroughly ethical fighter. The romance of it is captured perhaps best the incredible Zatoichi series (above) which follows the adventures of a blind swordsman as he journeys across Japanese countryside, from village to village, encountering a world ruled by local powers. I watched these films at length long before I thought to come to Thailand, and it makes a remarkable coincidence (or perhaps none at all) that I find myself in the Nora position at times, traveling out to fights, fighting at very high numbers, now often with very little support present. There is something incredibly sympathetic about the Ichi character.
I am coming back to my mat, turning to accept congratulations, and alternately have my makeshift corner start messing with my wraps, picking at the adhesive that stubbornly clings to the gauze underneath. A grandmother is grabbing my bicep and working her way down my arm in a combination of disbelief and wonder. Perhaps she bet on me. It is not uncommon for people to want to touch you after you have won, to – it would seem – rub off some of the merit, the glow of what makes victory, the luck of who you are in that moment. If you win a raffle, people might gather around to touch you and glean some of that luck. And you can share it – there’s no risk of it being “rubbed away.”
The Beauty of Gambling
In many circumstances in Thailand promoters will book westerners on their cards for novelty and interest. In cities like Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Bangkok (or perhaps the Islands), a non-Thai on the card is expected to sell tickets. For some it’s simply that tourists want to see a Thai vs. Westerner fight, maybe their own countrymen; and for some the promoter knows that booking a westerner from a gym means all the other westerners at that gym will buy tickets to come support. But out in the countryside, the novelty is for Thai gamblers. Kevin and I are often the only westerners at all when we walk through the huge crowds of festival fights (see the video below). So, booking a westerner as novelty is one level of fighting out in the countryside or stadia far away from my home gym. But putting money on me is a different thing entirely. It’s the promoter putting skin in the game, so to speak, and ensuring a tough fight. Gambling is complex in Thailand, but it’s of incredible importance and it’s the heartbeat that pumps blood through Muay Thai across the country, especially in the provinces. There are the odds, which is how the crowd bets on fights, but there’s also the “side bet,” which is basically each side in any given match saying, “our fighter will beat your fighter.” If you want to put 10,000 Baht on your fighter (about $280 USD), then the opponent’s side has to agree to that sum and match it. It has to come from legitimate belief that your fighter can win, otherwise you’re just handing someone money. Coming out to these fights without my gym, without a corner, without some kind of representative, the side bet is tricky. Part of the pressure on me to win is that, whatever happens in these fights out there, that’s what the promoter and the gamblers will remember; it either opens a door or closes it. And by not having my own gym present, which knows that I have good days and bad days, knows my strengths and has built belief in me over the course of almost two years now, when I come out here alone that belief has to be sprung from “reputation” for the promoter to put down money on me for a side bet. He or she has to believe, “I think my fighter can beat yours.”
I wrote this on Facebook, describing events preceding my last fight:
The importance of the side bet. So about 30 minutes before my fight my opponent comes to my mat with her coach to size me up. This means we literally stand up next to each other. She was a good size, taller – Thai girls are really good at slumping down and looking smaller in these moments, it’s a skill and a hustle. She had a few kilos on me. 10 minutes later the promoter comes to the mat and starts talking about the matchup and that my opponent is demanding a 5,000 baht side bet. They won’t fight without it. Kevin and I look at each other, we don’t have 5,000 baht (about $150), and even if we did we couldn’t bet it in an uncertain festival fight where you don’t know how the refs will line up along local ties. We’re afraid the fight is going to be called off. No, no the promoter tells us, he’ll put up the sidebet. He just wants to tell me to fight “dem” (full, ie really hard). Yeah, no problem. That’s how I do. I guess she thought she had some easy money. I love this shifting aspect of festival fights.
There is something so beautiful about this. The attempted hustle on her part, the weighing of my reputation. People talk a lot about “fairness” of fights in the West. Fair, transparent judging, making sure everyone is within a kilo after huge weight cuts, so many mechanisms of “fairness”. But when you fight a lot, especially in these circumstances, you realize that there are advantages and disadvantages everywhere, every time, and in many variations. Weight is one of many aspects involved in trying to make a fair fight, by which we should mean a competitive match up. In these Ronin fights for me there can be judge or referee bias, so you are fighting uphill, no big deal – you have to control the fight more demonstratively. You may unjustly lose, no big deal (if you fought the fight you wanted to), it happens. This world of fighting is closer to Fight Club than it is to some internationally sanctioned tournament that produces a trophy or a belt. The weigh-in is to convince gamblers that there’s an attempt at making a match even; this may be required for both sides to make the side bet, but if both sides are convinced enough in their fighter’s abilities, then the weight can be disequal. This is fighting. You go, you see, you fight.
Personally, I would take a fight like this over 99 out of a 100 championship fights in a big arena, with belts or other pieces of public glory on the line. This kind of fight feels alive to me; it feels connected, even though I’m going out as a satellite. It has no hype. It is just fighting. And honestly, there is not much difference in the difficulty of the fight. I’ve fought World Champions in a hidden festival or a out of the way stadium, and on big shows. It’s the same fight. Yes, one gives you public acclaim in the West and attaches a belt or top event victory to your name on websites, and the other spreads your name through a grapevine of Thai murmurs. I prefer the latter, really. Nothing against those that hold belts, and fight big shows. I’m sure those achievements are very satisfying and worthy honors that last a lifetime… but this post is about the Romance of another path, the path of the Wandering Fighter. “Good for you… not for me.” In truth, in Thailand fights for titles and belts is about who you know, they are arranged by the connections your gym has, contacts with organizational promoters – usually in disregard to rankings – I’m not really connected in that way; but in my world contacts are often direct, with the promoter speaking directly to me to book me on their card. I love that; and that’s why these promoters will put their own money down for me, even though I’m a Nora. That’s why I can approach the ticket gate of a venue I’ve never been to before in the middle of nowhere, and tell them I’m a fighter in order to get through, and someone will inevitably already know my name or have seen me fight somewhere else before. That’s my “title.”
It is not uncommon for female Thai fighters to fight under multiple names (I assume males do, too; but I don’t follow them as closely). Sometimes they have a home gym name, but also a Bangkok name. Because they may be contracted they may make up a name for a region of fights, or even a particular fight, to hide their identity for match-up purposes or to avoid paying part of their purse to their contracted gym, or even just to be able to fight “off the books”. Names do shift in the female fight scene. A name reflects status and the context you are in.
What cannot be left out is my appearance as I travel into the provinces. I’m never completely sure how I am seen, but I can tell you that I am starkly out of context. I walk into an Amazon Coffee when on the road and the teenage girls behind the counter talk loudly among themselves, not realizing I am understanding them. My sak yant are not just decorative, and among believers it must look like I am walking around fully armed, as in, weaponized. I have sak yant on my hands, which is an extreme placement, no doubt looked down upon by any with social standing – or with concern. And when I take my sweatshirt off, and stand there in my fight top, getting my massage, I am covered with very powerful images: a Sangwan Rahu (a dark deity) on my chest and two large Tigers and Takroh (authority and protection) on my back. The Sangwan is something almost exclusively tattood on males, and it is a little Old School. Beyond this I am incredibly muscled for a female. I really don’t lift weights much, the sum of it comes from just pounding the pads and bag, and lots of clinch, but naturally I gain muscle easily and I look like no other female seen in these areas. Possibly socially nefarious (tattoos read like how they might in the 1960s in the west), and magically incanted. For a long time I had a very hard time accepting the stares I would generate. They are rarely complimentary. But you do not commit to this way of life – not only my training, but also my spiritual path via sak yant – without owning what you have become and are becoming. I just must look unbelievable… and as a Thai-speaker I’m probably even stranger. I can’t count how many times I’ve uttered even the most minimal Thai and the response be utter shock. If there is a Romance in this, it is that I carry with me not only the appearance of how hard I train, in my physique, but I also carry with me the marks of the kinds of superstitious beliefs that mean something in the provinces; and they mean something to me. I am ultimately alien, but not only because I am farang. I am alien in almost everything that I appear to be, a complete anomaly. And when I fight strong, in my clinch style, all that armored imagery and physique looks like it comes to fruition.
How Unique this Is
I’m not sure if anyone has fought like this in Thailand, and if they have they are very few, and they’ve left no record other than a few stories told to friends – it’s one reason why I write. There is a constellation of qualities, relationships and capacities that all allow this way of fighting to exist – for me. Firstly, I have the blessing from my trainer and the owner of my gym (Pi Nu) to find fights for myself outside of Pattaya. Without that, I would be disrespecting him with this kind of promiscuous fighting. This is extremely important. I asked him if I could use his name when I fought around Thailand and at first he was hesitant, he didn’t know me yet; but now that I’ve established myself, he’s proud of me and proud of my reputation being connected to his gym. That took time; that was earned. And he still is proud of me when I lose. But in order to make these fights possible I also have to be able to talk directly with promoters, to follow the women in weekly magazines who are around my weight class to ask for as opponents. So speaking Thai, and just as importantly being able to read and write it opens this world to me. Often these venues are hard to find, as they’re temporary rings set up in fields or on temple grounds. Being able to find them with a rented car requires GPS (the godsend, without which this would not be possible), LINE texting in Thai, understanding what people are saying to me when I hunt for directions, etc, is essential. Even 5 years ago I’m not sure this would have been possible, technologically. And small things like being able to hear my name on the loudspeakers, so I know when to get ready on cards that are shifting their order of fights over and over; being able to read the program, and ask questions, all of this is important when not having a Thai buffer when we arrive at these rings. These things remove a thick layer between myself and the fight, make it feel purer for me. A simplified version of fighting.
And of huge importance is having learned the ropes of traveling for fights after my GoFundMe 1.5 years ago that allowed the possibility of renting a car and driving to other provinces in order to keep fighting. First and foremost was just being able to afford traveling to fight, to rent a car, to stay the night in a local hotel. This was how I got my name out there and made connections with promoters outside of Pattaya. And that was made possible by people who follow my page believing in me and supporting what I do; without that support none of this would have been possible – now this site and my fighting is supported monthly on Patreon. Everyone who contributed to that created a long lesson for me in “How to Travel to a Fight”, social and pragmatic lessons taught in small steps. Everything from how to get to where I’m going to how to build relationships around promotions. Now when I go to fights I will often leave with a phone number that can lead to future fights, sometimes not even with the same promoter but someone else in the stands excited by my fight and who wants me to come to their province, their promotion, which is how I met Madam Khem, who is my Isaan manager now and one of very few big female promoters. She’s amazing.
I do not believe you can achieve this, especially as a female fighter, out of a single gym, home or Thai family. The deeper you settle in the culture of a traditional gym, as a woman, you take the role of a woman. The expectations change for you.
Mai Mee Baan – The Homeless Ronin
The expectations change for you. You have to constantly struggle against the stagnation of belonging, while proving that you belong out of the respect and devotion you give. Female fighting is not lucrative, and women are more or less expected to stop fighting almost as soon as they can. Even as a man in a gym, where you fight, with whom you fight, and an what shows you fight all depends on the connections of your gym – for a western female this can be even more so the case. I do still get fights through my gym, including out in the countryside because some of the men who are peripheral to my training (avid gamblers Small Man and Chicken Man who live at the chicken farm attached to the back of the gym) will book me for fights in Isaan, even if they don’t come with me. So those connections are very important, they are part of the extended reach of my gym. But because I have my own relationships also, those that have arisen from fighting itself, the possibilities are much wider – it’s who I know as well.
Just after my most recent fight up in Pak Thong Chai, where the promoter had put up the side bet for me when my opponent demanded it (thus earning him 5,000 Baht – $140 USD), he said to me after the fight, “I have your number now so I can call you to book more fights.” I told him that was great, that I’d love to come back anytime and next month is pretty open. That seems great, this is exactly how I make connections in order to book fights at a high rate. But here’s the second element: it’s probably slightly uncool for him to cut out Chicken Man straight off like that. That’s who made this fight for me in the first place, even though he totally passed me off by not coming with me as my corner. It’s nothing nefarious at all, but in terms of how things are done, I suspect there’s something slightly off about cutting him out to book with me directly. It’s part of being a Nora fighter and it is, in essence, further severing me from my gym rather than tying me back into it. I suspect that this is possible in part because I’m not Thai – there’s a looseness in the rules which allows behaving in a way that is outside of one’s own custom or social parameters. When I arrived back at Petchrungruang the next afternoon, driving back from Khorat the morning after the fight, having a nap and then heading straight back to training, nobody at the gym was surprised to see me. But everyone knew where I’d gone and most of them knew the name of who I was fighting; they wanted to know how the fight went, what round I’d won in, was there a side bet, etc. I was filling them in on all these things that should have been shared experience in a normal situation. And while their not being there is slightly unsupportive of me (they could have driven out to corner) – and me going alone is slightly like the semi-stray cat strolling in – there was still this feeling of pride; like I’d gone out and represented them well and brought the name esteem. But because of the negative qualities of being a Nora, which I’m only really able to do because I’m so strange (a western woman who wants to fight all the goddamn time), I have to make doubly sure that I show the qualities of respect and affiliation to the gym. I deeply value my home gym, as well as other gyms that have helped me develop. I am loyal to them, and in the end their respect is a decisive aim for me. It doesn’t really matter what is said or thought, as long as my gym and my trainers appreciate me.
Why Fight Like This?
The first and most obvious answer is this: I believe that this is the way one becomes the best fighter she can be… fighting a great deal. I mean this not only in terms of performance in the ring, but also in a deeper way. We all discover things about ourselves as we push through marital arts, and in the fights we have, and there just are things about you that you will not discover in 20 fights, or 50 fights. For me, after 70 fights, after 100 fights, after 130 fights. Extended losing streaks strip away surface things, extended winning streaks nourish and solidify. I’ve uncovered things within me that I just could not see without going through it – unless you’ve been there you cannot know. You may think you have it down at whatever point you are at – what fighting means, what fighting is about – but there is more. I fight like this to get to the next layer.
Another, perhaps less obvious answer is that this is just a privilege to be able to fight in Thailand, the home and cradle of Muay Thai. Each and every fight is precious. And every time you fight it changes you. There is nothing like it. We all have a very limited time to experience these things – even someone like John Wayne Parr, who has retired a few times, realizes that there is nothing like a fight, and every fight is golden. When you stop – and we all do stop, eventually – it is finished. So I am determined to experience fighting as much as I personally can. This is time you cannot waste. You will never be at this place in your life again. Like a person who lived through the Depression and as a result continues to hoard every piece of aluminum foil long into life, I remember how incredibly hard it is to find a fight – especially at my weight – in the US. I remember fighters like Amy Davis who had to go years without opponents, and I refuse to not honor that reality. I will fight because fighting is extremely valuable, and it is limited. I want to see what is beyond the next bend, and I want to report it to others. If you draw the map others can explore it and expand on it.
I Do Have a Home, I Return To It
With all this said, I am not a mai mee baan fighter; I’m not homeless. I have a home in Petchrungruang and I am strongly devoted to it. Additionally, gratefully, I also feel very much a part of it. What I do is uncommon and if I were a Thai boy would simply not be allowed. But for all the dismissal I face for not being a Thai boy, I also have liberty because of that.
Nobody wants to see the Zatoichi episode where he settles down and stops roaming. As much as it feels sad to see him walk away from what appears to be settling, that is his way; he’s got to ramble on. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t experience real connections – he would draw his sword to protect the people he has met along his journey who he truly loves… but he won’t lay down his sword because it would end the world of Zatoichi. But even I have more of a home than a Zatoichi. Being a stray is not unburdened and it’s certainly not uncomplicated. But that doesn’t mean it’s disconnected or disloyal; you can be respectful and self-directed at the same time. It’s hard for me to communicate that both of these tendencies exist within me at the same time. I can be respectful and loyal, while I’m still reaching for the freedom to become what I can be. I know Pi Nu feels my loyalty and my gratitude, and for me that’s all I require. Pi Nu, has shaped me and helped me evolve in a way that makes me feel indebted to him. But in the way you may feel indebted to your parents, to a mentor – the kind of debt that cannot ever be repaid other than in the continued desire to try to repay it. It took Pi Nu a while to see what I am, and a little longer to accept it, and now to actually embrace and advocate for it.
Thank you to everyone who champions me on Patreon.
A Little Video
Below are two videos to give a feel of what I’m talking about. The first is footage of me walking out to my corner through an enormous crowd of gamblers at my last fight in a festival in Pak Thong Chai in Nakhon Ratchasima province in Isaan. The second is a few kilometers from the festival, driving home the following morning. The wind on the microphone makes it all seem more eerie than it was, but in a way it really is other-worldly, attached by the string of a GPS signal, so we can know where we are going, surrounded by farmland and gravel roads.