2006 Thailand: Dub for Boasri Part II

I came back to the elephant camp after a few months walk-about and this is what happened…

Click above to see the full set.

Click above to see the full set.

The water tank was working well, being filled by the Director once a week or so. I couldn’t get too involved with the new volunteers and their duties, so I spent my days sitting in the shade of Pao’s cabana, directly in front of Boasri, eating lunch of sticky rice, fish, papaya salad and fruit. I made Pao eat before we drank beer. People would come by, I’d get up and pet Baosri once in a while, we listened to Carabau (a Thai rock band). It was relaxing and mellow and I was happy to be back at the elephant camp for my final week in Thailand.

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Three days out it was wet as fuck and I started drinking beer with Pao early and forgot to eat. Not surprisingly, I don’t remember much of what we did, which was probably not much, so once I got back to my room I passed out on my bed fully dressed and showered.

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Two days out, I stopped by the office and the assistant Aom and I both figured out we didn’t have any plans, but neither of us took any steps toward making any together. So I went back to Pao’s and drank some beer and had a good time generally hanging around camp shooting the shit and petting the dogs, but on my way to the hotel I swung by a large market on the main road to Tescos to get Carabau gear (t-shirts, CDs, etc), and as I was scoping out the live pets for sale, I heard Aom call out to me. Turns out she was was having her nails done right next to the pets. Total coincidence. We immediately ordered food, which was great and of course better than what I would have ordered on my own. For a proper Thai lady, Aom can drink her share. After a few beers we decide to go to a cool Karoke place set on a huge pond, with individual booths as little islands you walk out to. We polish off a small bottle of Sang Som and another 3/4 of a bottle before I head home after midnight. It was all very fun and romatic in an innocent way.

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The last day I had planned to have lunch with folks from the office including Giab, Nipon, Sri, and Aom. It was good to see my old friend and cook Sri, she was let go from her duties at the office so I hadn’t seen her since being back. The food was amazing and we had plenty of good laughs, until they said they had to leave and then the tears came and we all hugged goodbye. The hardest part of traveling is the good byes. Especially since there is a good chance I will never see my new friends again.

HOW DO YOU SPANK AN ELEPHANT?
A little buzzed I headed back to camp at about 5pm. I was immediately and excitedly ushered to the back of camp by Gat’s wife. She’s the half-Thai/half-German woman, who’s very attractive and the mother of “King Kong,” one of the children in camp. I turned the corner to see Mah, Mroy’s mahout and and an older mahout with long spears poking and yelling at Mroy. There was a big crowd around watching Mroy, bleeding and obviously distressed. I had no idea what was going on and could not image what the deal was, but I sprinted back to get my camera, and in passing Dacoon, who had tourists on Dacoon (the elephant), yelled to me “Mroy run into Camoon” and then gave me the ‘two-things-smashing’ hand kabuki complete with rolling and tumbling.

…And you thought there wouldn’t be drama on the last day of my journey.

Mah was essentially spanking Mroy for being bad, but used a lot of yelling and a bit of stabbing and prodding, not deep wounds, but it was frightening for all of us to see blood running down the scared beasts trunk and legs. I had to trust they knew what they were doing, and it begs the question, “how to do discipline such a young elephant that could have killed another elephant, mahout or tourists?” Mah, a young chubby Thai mahout, is a good man and truly loves Mroy. Like dogs resembling their masters (and vice versa), Mah and Mroy always did reminded me of each other, young, playful, curious, a little shy, stout and fun-loving. Normally, Mroy stayed in camp all day and night, so Mah and his girlfriend has the perfect little mahout set-up, with Mroy living right outside their hut.

THE CAMP WAS A FLUTTER
After the spanking, all the mahouts gathered around Mah’s place discussing what had happened. Apparently Mroy went after Camoon near the tourists station, chasing Camoon and his tourists into the shrubs behind Maun’s hut. It was never clear to me whether the tourists were injured, though I heard they were taken to the hospital. I got some photos of the group talking and then the reconciliation between Mah and Camoon, of course over beer and smokes. One of the most touching moments of my trip came about an hour later when Mah went back to check on Mroy. It’s obvious he loves that elephant and was struggling with how to handle him. He must have been thinking “What am I going to do with you, young bull?”

ONWARD
Not wanting to drink without eating dinner I got some food and we eat and drank at the mahout store in camp where beer is decidely cheaper than anywhere else. I hung out with my young buddy Pao, the large and touchy Maun, and Poy, the gay boy who was sweet and cute and would only say to me “Tony mow” (“Tony drunk.”) with those huge eye-lashing flapping. Maun and Poy showed me the new favorite rooster they were grooming for the cock fights*. It’s name: “Tony.”

After a while and many beers we decided to go to karaoke, I wanted to say goodbye to the band I watched so many times at the bar in front of the karaoke place, and we thought there might be some volunteers hanging about. Apparently there was a going away party for me, for as I approached Ahnon was Singing “World World World” his favorite song. It was such a remarkable coincidence I had to join in. The mahouts arrived and so did more beer, some Sangsom, then Hotel California and that was the end of that. The band was off for the night, so I never did get to say good bye to them.

Of course I woke up hellaciously hung-over, and had to pack and get my shit together in a flurry. I drove to the office and we split immediately, so I never had a chance to go back to the camp and say a proper goodbye, which I’m bummed about, though you know I hate goodbyes so in a way it may have been for the best as the tears would have been rolling. At the airport I eat a crappy meal and got an hour long foot massage, which was nice. 18 hours later I was home.

And that’s the end of that story. Time to start cooking up a new batch of blather.

*
ON COCK FIGHTING
I would turn to Maun and ask “with razors?” His eyes would get big and with a smile and he’d nod give me the creaking throat slash kabuki sign. Every time, without fail. “Razors?” ¬†Creaking throat slash. I could only imagine all the blood and gore, but I was excited and honored to be given this access to the secret den of cock fighting.

I didn’t want to see cock fighting for the gore, nor because I believe it is right, which it’s not, but because it was a rare opportunity, especially with permission to take photos. Access. After a few false starts, the day finally arrive that Maun and I were going to check out some “chicken wrestling.”

We left the camp on my motorbike and got exactly 50 yards down the road (welcome to Thailand), pulling up to a ramshackle outdoor living room where we met a young, large Thai guy in sunglasses. It’s very Thai to have a big push-off and then stop a minute later. It’s the Thai version of a clusterfuck. After snacks and drinks the three of us finally left, pulling up to a normal house a few minutes down the road. I was really anxious, taking in every details as if I had set my memory on “film in high-res”.

We got off our bikes and walk behind a house to an outdoor area with lots of cocks crowing under bamboo cages. Around the corner, a small rubber pen was set up inside a concrete building. Holes in the walls let in sunshine that filtered through clouds of cigarette smoke. It made for some cool photographs, though at every moment I was waiting for them to tape the razor-sharp metal talons onto the cock’s legs and then the blood would start flying.

“Razors?”

Big eyes, smile, “creeeeak”, hand to throat.

With taped-up talons, they let the cocks go at each other for a long time, longer than you might think. (Cardio training perhaps?) They then rested the cocks and let them go at it again. There would be a flurry of activity at first, lots of leaping, and lots of heads getting lodged under wings. None of the cocks seemed to be hurt in any way expect for missing feathers around their heads and necks. The trainers would shout at a particular lunge or flurry as if it would have been a fatal blow. I couldn’t tell what was happening, really.

After about twenty minutes Maun turned to me and said: “Okay, we go to cock fighting now. No camera.”

O…kay. Seems we were just at a training area, a cock fighting gym if you will. Now we were on to the real deal!

A five minute ride down the road and we’re walking behind buildings and through brush, a thrilling air of secrecy, like entering an opium den, settling around us. The pen for these fights was outside and as we arrived two cocks were going at it. I looked quickly for the razor talons, but they weren’t on.

I kept asking Maun “razor?” He’d give me his motion and then nothing would happen. I’m not sure why I was pressing for that so much. I guess I was thinking “if I’m gonna watch, I might as well watch the real thing.” It was like going to a bull fight with rubber knives.

The men were very serious about their business and like Muay Thai, they would all yell when there was a flurry of action. Again, they seemed to know when a particularly lethal strike had happened, like keeping score. Once the cocks were completely exhausted they would end the fight, and while everyone seemed to know who was the victor, I hadn’t a clue. One fight lasted maybe 20 minutes.

It was interesting to watch the men groom their cocks, using melted straws to attach missing feathers. Maun and his friend were grooming their cock and sizing him up with several of the other roosters. They were constantly trying to get an even match-up and once one was made the other men would come and size up the cocks before placing their bets. After one more fight and more grooming Maun said it was time to go. I tried to say it was okay, if they were going to put on the razors (grin, throat slice), but he just started to leave and I had no choice but to follow.

I don’t think they put the razors on the birds at this level. Otherwise they wouldn’t have any roosters left to fight. I still won’t say it’s not cruel or barbaric, but at least these guys don’t send their cocks to the death at every turn. I never found out if they eat their roosters if they loose in a to-the-death cock fight.

EPILOGUE
I’m watching TV in Siem Reap, Cambodia when on comes…”The Slasher Cup 2006!” Yes, televised, real-deal, metal talon cock fighting. The longest fight I saw lasted about 12 seconds. Once a cock went down, the referee would pick him up and try to get him to stand 3 times, if the injured cock failed to stand the other cock was declared the victor. I’m sure the rotisserie chicken out back was excellent…