A few weeks ago I spotted two roosters cruising on the back of a motorcycle. At first I thought the owners were just taking the birds for a joy ride (not kidding). I asked around and learned that the roosters were on their way to a practice sparring match. My curiosity was immediately raised.
A mere five minutes from my house is a shabby piece of property that could easily be referred to as ‘rooster central.’ I stopped in to find out who all of the roosters belonged to and proceeded to make an appointment to meet up with the owner at 5 pm the following day.
Prayat greeted me with suspicion and seemed more than confused about why a female foreigner would be interested in chatting about roosters. I stood on the property surrounded by roaming chickens, caged roosters, garbage, and staring faces coming from the many tin-walled houses on the lot. I felt oh-so-very out of place. After an extended and uncomfortable silence, I started asking questions.
Prayat is the proud owner of eight chickens and six roosters. The roosters range in price from 500-2,500 baht (11-55 US Dollars). His champion bird (the most expensive one) has won four fights this year. Prayat usually makes about 5,000 baht (111 US Dollars) per fight. He took the champ out of his cage to have him pose for some photos.
Prayat and his friends have practice fights every Saturday. They have a one-metre high piece of hard but flexible foam material. It reminded me of a camping mat. It is unwound to make a small ring which is about three-metres in diameter. The ground has 100-year-old-looking ‘Astroturf’ on it to provide the animals more traction.
I learned that they do not fight the animals to the death nor do they attach razors to their feet. Prayat tells me, “some people in Thailand box roosters with razors. We do not. It is too expensive to lose your bird.” A match consists of ten rounds. Each round lasts 20 minutes with a 20-minute break in between. Most roosters only fight for about four rounds. “When the rooster stops boxing or jumps out of the ring, he is the loser.”
I asked if the roosters peck at each other with their beaks during a fight. (How am I supposed to know?) Everyone laughed at me long and hard. Prayat explained to me, “they kick each other with their feet. That is why we wrap (athletic) tape around them.”
He attends a formal fight about once a month. There are rooster-fighting stadiums within Bangkok and in the countryside. Prayat states, “About 300-400 people attend. It lasts from 9 am-6 pm. The stadium makes money by charging ten percent on all bets. Whether you win or lose, they get ten percent. When two super champion roosters come into the ring, over one million baht can be riding on the fight.” Rooster fights happen in Bangkok about three times a week.
Rooster fighting is not something you hear about in general conversation. It is not listed in tour guides, nor does it get much press. When asked about problems with the police, Prayat told me, “they know about it. We don’t have trouble with the police. They come and gamble on the roosters, too.”
When I asked why the roosters like to fight each other, I was chuckled at again and told, “when they see each other, they just want to fight. That’s why they are in these cages. Some of the roosters here also like to box people. It hurts!”
As I stood talking to Prayat, a man tended to a rooster who recently got beat up in a practice round. He painstakingly washed the bird and hand fed fruit to it. Sitting in front him was a bottle of Betadine, penicillin pills and injections, and a bowl of water. He appeared tragically hung over and very fond of roosters. Prayat said, “he is our rooster doctor. He loves the birds.”
Prayat bragged, “this year I have won many many fights.” He wouldn’t give me a financial figure though. Like most people who enjoy gambling, he likes to talk about his profits, not his losses. He lives in a small one-room apartment with a rent of 2,900 baht (64 US Dollars) per month. During the day he sells coffee at the local market and claimed to average about 700 baht (15.50 US Dollars) per day profit.
He tells me, “I do rooster-fighting for fun. Not for the money.” I would wager that Prayat is losing more than he is winning. Given his income and the number of gambling wins he claimed, he should be living larger than he is. I was invited to attend a rooster-fight with Prayat and friends. “Bring a bottle of whisky!” they said. I told them I would think about it.
The men then brought out two roosters who performed a two-minute sample fight for me. They kicked like mad at each other the minute they were placed on the ground. Prayat put them back in their cages and covered the pens with cloth so that they could get a good night’s sleep.
That night a friend asked me what I had been up to during the day. “Hanging out with the rooster-fighting guy in my neighbourhood,” I replied. “Gasp! How could you?” she asked. My answer was and remains: “It is what it is.”