He trains and then studies, often into the early hours of the morning. He has been living here for a while now, in a small space between two support beams that can only be reached with a ladder. There’s no hassle compared to the streets, you know what I’m saying? “You’re the first person to visit this week,” he says. I can get why, it’s a spooky place when you don’t know it. I hear him talk to himself as I go away from the entrance and from the white sky.
It’s less than an hour’s drive from the heart of the commercial capital, but the landscape is rural; rice fields and sugar palms stretch into the distance. Each year, during the hot and dry season, they line the road holding their hands out for donations of drinking water.Daung Thel Ni’s gym consists of a sheet of tarp draped over some bamboo poles.“There are some kids who cry because they can’t fight,” he says. The trainer carries him out of the ring and his brother offers a swig of water. They unwrap the bandages covering his hands in the hallway. Rubble is scattered along the train tracks, bordered by retaining walls covered in numerous layers of graffiti. Here by the parkway with the blasting trucks and the roaring cars, near the filigree arches of the Riverside Drive viaduct, here with the gravel crunching under my feet as I run down the railroad into this hollow mouth. They’ve always been there, resting low below the rowdy streets and the carving avenues, gulping the air from inside the earth, crawling through holes and cracks, living off the grid and off the books. Don’t you know they’re eating rats and human flesh? And one day they will spill outside and burn us all alive, and they will reign over our flatscreen joys and our organic delights. “They been coming less, lately, but you never know. From Jules Verne’s 1864 novel “Journey to the Center of the Earth” to George Gissing’s 1889 book “The Nether World,” literature was brimming with tales of people living in isolation or trapped under the surface, peaking in 1895 with “The Time Machine,” in which H. Wells described a fictional subterranean species called the “Morlocks.” But it was only in the 1990s that the first widespread depictions of real-world tunnel residents appeared in New York.Nevertheless, the setup leaves room for exploitation. This is where they live, deep into the depths of the city, way underground, lying in the dirt. Regular police ain’t bothering me, but Amtrak, they can be nasty.” Jon says he did prison time. A 1990 article by John Tierney was the earliest to outline the phenomenon, looking at people living in an abandoned train tunnel beneath Riverside Park, along the banks of the Hudson River. In 1993, Jennifer Toth published her essay “The Mole People,” documenting hidden communities residing in a network of forsaken caverns, holes and shafts across Manhattan.They dream of becoming stars like the current open-weight champion Tun Tun Min, the son of two farmers who now earns tens of thousands of dollars per fight.
“I don’t want to be anything like an actor or singer, I just want to be a fighter,” says Phoe La Pyae, or “Mr.Most of the boys are from poor families, and many have dropped out of school.They spend their days shadowboxing and jumping on tires to build up muscle.Daung Thel Ni says he wants to shepherd the next generation of Lethwei champions. Other trainers take a fixed percentage of winnings, but Daung Thel Ni says he relies on donations from his students.“Some clubs are biased,” he says, spitting out red blobs of betel nut, the stimulant chewed across Asia. “They can give me however much they want,” he says. Bloodied competitors mill around in between bouts in the hallway beside Tin Oo, a bald, boisterous man who works for the Lethwei Association, the sport’s governing body.