– Gameness til the End
Monday, October 1st, 2012
by Creepy Steve
HAAI JULLE! I do miss the excitement of losing money on the horses over a chops chutney or tikka chicken at the Britannia. Lamenting the loss of 10 Rand and consoling myself with a cold draught. In the words of Ballie Mike, “every horse I bet on ends up going blind and running backwards”.
Fortunately I have made the acquaintance two upstanding fighting cock trainers; Wichai with the stained teeth indicative of a long term beetlenut dependency and Jerm who is cross eyed enough to see around corners, “hey look at me when I’m talking to you damn it!”
There is little doubt in my mind that they are the veritable Nick Durandts of the sport. They have agreed to escort me to their next fight meeting. Finally I’ve found some legitimate exploitative animal sports based gambling entertainment. Well not legitimate in the legal sense of the word because gambling of any kind is illegal out here in Thailand, but sure to be damn fine entertainment none the less.
The creatures themselves are fine ferocious specimens with beautiful black and burnt sienna plumage. They weigh about 2 kg and are in the prime of their careers from the age of one year old to one year six months. The naturally proud owners explained to me that the cocks are valued from as little as 4000 Bhat (1000 rond) to as much as 40000 Bhat (10000 rond) and there in lies the risk that the trainers undertake because, yes, the birds do die. In a country where you can enjoy 3 meals a day and buy a pack of smokes all for under R50 bucks, this game is big money.
As in other forms of animal husbandry there is there some level of pedigree derived from the cock’s lineage and country of origin. With my limited understanding of Thai; Whichai managed to haphazardly explain that it seems this sport is popular all over South East Asia (Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, etc) and Japan. In his opinion birds from Indonesia are the best. The different countries breed birds for differing weight categories, the average seems to be around 2kg but the Vietnamese birds are the heavy weights coming in at over 3kg, shattering the tiny Asian cock myth. The match ups are arranged according to weight and height. Whichai and Jerm’s humble dojo is currently training 26 fighting cocks some of which were sourced from Myanmar and some mixed Thai / Burmese hybrids. The training seems pretty straight forward; one is enclosed in a circular mesh pen and another enclosed outside that, and the cocks simply chase each other around all day. I was hoping for a Rocky style montage but this game seems decidedly short on that kind of frivolity.
The appointed day rolled around on Monday morning with red eyes and stinking breath I cycled to meet them at the dojo. There were new faces hanging around whose names escape me. We proceeded to walk with the men carrying their cocks in cloth scarf things. When we arrived at the designated venue they informed us that there would be no fights there as the area was affected by mild flooding due to it being monsoon season. We returned to the dojo. I’m not sure if this would have happened had I not been there, but they decided to hold the match right there, in the dojo. I suspect they saw me as a very important visiting international dignitary.
This is a purely enthusiast-organized sport. There is no television exposure, no advertising as seen in Muay Thai and football. Two sports, which Whichai feels, have become the corrupt vessels of capitalism. The only media exposure it seems are Thai language magazines like “Fighting Cock” which has sections with titles like “Super Cock”. For reasons known by Buddha alone, some of the titles are in English. Advertisements for performance enhancing supplements, breeder farms plus the obligatory soft-core girly double page spread grace the pages in between articles.
While they were setting up the ring they put two 6 month olds to work on each other for amusement. The two featherweights were soon locked, grappling, necks entwined, biting and pecking at their opponent’s wings. The contenders for the first fight are thoroughly washed and given a little water, then the stumps where the spurs (the claw higher up on the back of the leg) have been clipped, are taped up. In the more serious versions of the game, metal spurs would be attached. Another breeder ambling past the dojo is informed of the flooding at the venue and hangs around to watch the fight. Alas there is no betting today, Jerm tells me that he does not approve of the gambling because it instigates fights among friends. Yet again in my life I face disappointment. I had hoped to witness two men’s cocks locked in mortal combat over a serious wager like the other dude’s mom, yet another desire that was not to be fulfilled.
Ring side seats, the birds are in and the fight is afoot. There are none of your post hockey practice men’s change rooms flaccid sloppy sword fighting antics here. Necks extended, muscles taut, plumage flared, talons poised to tear their opponents fucking throats out. They run and leap at each other with the flurrying engagements happening mostly off the ground, the action is super quick. The cock’s most effective move seems to be biting their opponents crest while simultaneously clawing at the chest. At one point in the fight a cock had managed to bite on to its opponent’s tongue, probably a freak occurrence. The bouts last 25 minutes. I am close enough to hear the cocks strained breathing from fatigue. I have to say that this blood sport despite it’s diminutive scale is big on thrills and I do little to suppress my excited cheers of encouragement. After 17 minutes the fight was ended prematurely by one of the trainers who notices that a cock has sustained an eye injury. A half blind cock is about as useful as an erection in a nunnery and has to be gotten rid off. They scrutinize the eye under a magnifying glass and apply a drop of white liquid squeezed out of some plant and then some antibiotic ointment. The cock’s faces and crests are bleeding a little and Jerm uses a feather to clear the blood out the cock’s throat and mouth. They are washed again and returned to their enclosures.
Is it legal? I don’t know and couldn’t be bothered to find out. Why don’t you have a stab at conducting interviews with Whichai and Jerm? Gambling is illegal in Thailand, however a special permit can be arranged if the event is part of a cultural celebration. Many things are illegal but openly practiced in Thailand. The cock fighting itself could well be legal as it has been practiced for centuries, there are sacred fights that somehow have a place in the mind boggling intricacies of Theravada Buddhism.
I do anticipate; if not a wave of backlash at least a comment or two from the liberal tree-hugging, cause-latching element of Mahala’s audience on the cruelty to animals theme. “Oh it’s inhumane!” Let me pre-emptively respond: They are not human they are fowl. The good lord knows that 98% of the world’s chicken population are grown at a ridiculously enhanced rate, reach maturity to be slaughtered in vast mechanized abattoirs. Consider that the next time you’re deep throating a streetwise two.
I had hoped this could be a superficial and entertaining article, an opportunity to showcase my wit through dubious innuendo, double-entendre and gratuitous usage of the word “cock” which appears 17 times in the piece. I now find myself caught in the predicament of having to try draw some conclusions and justify this gibberish. I just wanted to be like my hero Kenny Powers in season two of East Bound and Down, for crying in a bloody bucket.
Professions have codes. Doctors “do no harm”. Police “serve and protect”.
I found myself sitting alone in a ghastly karaoke bar/brothel watching a nature program which was dubbed in Thai, not that I could hear the narration over a patron’s wailing rendition of some popular Thai-country song. The show depicted a flock of penguins on an ice flow, warming their eggs under a fluffy fold of flesh at the base of their abdomens. The parents do a delightful little shuffle to transfer the egg to each other taking shifts keeping it warm. After the correct gestation period a tiny head and beak emerge from the egg, the furry body and wings follow. Aah a baby penguin the very definition of adorability. A tentative waddle urged on by mom, warm fuzzy feelings, alas this little fellow seems over confident, it strays a little to far ahead of mom. With out explanation certain adults of the flock take it upon themselves to charge into the delicate little guy, sliding across the ice, beak first into it, in a melee they make short work of the once active baby penguin. It gets worse the mother continues to try care for and warm the now limp carcass. One could be forgiven for experiencing the degrees of separation oneself; shock, grief, depression, rage.
“You there with the cameras! Do something you fucking callous bastards!”
That old maxim of germalism: “objectivity”. Thou shalt present the reader with facts not subtexts and opinion, you are there to report the news not to interfere with it. It seems I am forced by the liberal tree-hugging, cause-latching element into presenting an opinion in order to protect my reputation. I also face a moral quandary as to why I’m I aghast at the televised death of the baby penguin yet enthralled by two cocks being forced into a fight. Would I want to watch an organised dog-fight?
With out further adieu my conclusion reads thus “nature is savage” but “human nature is not only as savage but perverse as well.” While it’s instinctual for the cocks to fight or the penguins to kill one of their own young, it’s our inclination to turn that into a spectator sport or a nature program for our entertainment.