Familiarity can happen in the funniest places. There is a recreation center here on the hospital compound, and despite having the exact same equipment as American gyms, it feels foreign. This is partly due to the lack of women, which probably results in less mirror-flexing than in US gyms. The majority of the guys working out are Filipino, and they take a break between each set to grab their phones and text someone back home. As an aside, this method must work, because they’re all really buff. The end result is an atmosphere that’s a little melancholy, because you can sense that everyone would rather be wherever their texts are going.
After running on an American Cybex treadmill and listening to my American music, feeling very foreign, I wandered into the billiard room. At first I asked about playing pool, but they kept trying to send me outside to the large hole in the ground full of chlorinated water. Billiards? they asked; yes, I’d like to play billiards. There isn’t anyone else around, so the young Filipino guy asks if I want him to play. Three games later, I’m convinced that he just let me win the last one so I wouldn’t complain to his supervisor. It turns out that in the Philippines, the favorite sports among young men are billiards and basketball. He also mentioned whiskey and chasing girls, which is probably why he’s in Saudi Arabia paying off his credit card debt and child support. He asked about Kevin Durant, and why OKC traded James Harden. That, I told my new friend, is a question that has been asked over thousands of billiard tables; usually as part of a greater conversation about other regrets (like drinking whiskey and chasing girls). Throw in a juke box playing classic rock or Willie Nelson and we could’ve been anywhere between Eagle Pass and Fargo. Maybe next time he’ll tell me more about his six year old son, and maybe I’ll win two out of three.