The Thai soccer circle was a lot easier to break into than the Korean circle. Last Friday I played my first game with the boys (boys, boys, it’s always boys) and shared with them the good news of women’s athletic emancipation.
This is P'Ton, who actually is not crazy contrary to this picture.
He loves to learn English and is housedad not only to the forty
orphans in the HELP Thailand house, but also to his own 2
daughters. Thais, like Koreans, are older than they look.
I’ve been pampered in Korea with turf fields and goals with nets. Here we play on dirt mixed with weeds with metal two-feet high mini-goals. No nets, no lines, and no smooth surfaces. The ball’s the same, though, as are the boys: incredulous and intrigued. When P’Ton, my soccer liaison (the Thai version of Gyu), went back on Saturday to play he said no less than five guys asked him where “Hlaine” was.
I miss playing with girls, though. Girls are undeniably slower, usually more scared of the ball, and less likely to play competitively, but they’re also smarter. Girls learn their passing game and their limits (sometimes too well), whereas playing with boys sometimes turns into a game of See Who Can Hold onto the Ball the Longest and Dribble around Everyone Else Even if He Ends Up No Where Near the Goal or Anyone Else on His Team. Like everything else, soccer comes with opportunity costs.
So I try not to take it too personally when they tell me I play soccer like a man. They mean well.
 The night before my birthday, the founders of HELP Thailand took me and the other workers out for a joint celebration for me and the other intern, whose birthday was on January 4th. We had dinner and an ice cream cake that said “Happy Birthday Kristen & Hlaine.” P’Ton has thence adopted the appellation for me.