Current Story: "Manila to Shanghai'd"


February 27, 2012

(AUTHORíS NOTE: This may read like an article from one of those old 1950ís Menís magazines, yíknow the ones with a knife-wielding guy (probably square-jawed, blue-eyed and bare-chested) in a life or death struggle with some vicious creature as a woman in a barely buttoned red shirt (The shirt must be red, itís the law) watches helplessly from sidelines? Yeah, like that except this is something I actually went out and saw.)

Guam is home to many unique cultural quirks not found elsewhere in the United States and as a wayfarer visiting this semi-exotic land itís my duty to take in as much of the local culture as possible. Some days that means a trek through the hills and jungle in weather so hot and humid at journeyís end it looks like Iíd had a swim. Others it means eating local delicacies like the red rice, kelaguen, finadene or Spam. On Saturday night it was taking in a cockfight.

Cockfighting is legal on Guam as itís a part of their cultural heritage. You can thank Spain. As conquerors, much like a prostitute that leaves you little gift that keeps on giving, they spread Catholicism, mid-day siestas and cockfighting around the world. This makes sense, because after all that penance and napping you really just wanna bet on birds fighting to the death. And thatís the story of cockfighting. So as you can see I wasnít out watching a brutal display of animal cruelty- I was being multicultural dammit! And isnít that what itís all about? Not passing judgement on others in their traditional way of life and/or forms of gambling? (And on that note, next time Iím in New Guinea Iím going to try the long pig because who am I to judge?)

This multicultural event went down in Dededo, a northern Guam village thatís home to the biggest portion of Guamís Filipino population. The cockfight took place within a large open-air, metal-roof in an octagon surrounded by bleachers.

Inside the octagon the sabongeros hold their little winners, pumping them for the big fight. Theyíll put their cockerels almost beak to beak, the birds puff up their neck feathers and snap at each other. But alas, they're just out of face biting range. Sometimes one will be set down to stretch his legs, another gentleman slowly swung his cock around because I guess dizziness makes great fighters. Each cock wears a spur, a scythe-like blade attached to the ankle, but its covered to keep from gouging the sabongero.

While watching this display of pre-game athleticism barkers get up and shout the same phrases incessantly so people knew where to blow their cash. I understand most Filipinos just fine but these guys were like auctioneers with heavy accents. The rapidly repeated cries of ďĎplay-sa-yo-bayĒ (ďPlace your betĒ) rang out throughout the arena, as well as a few others phrases I learned but didnít comprehend. The finer points of gambling were lost on me as I showed up with only $45 and the minimum betwas $50. That was surprising given that Dededo is the poorest village on island, but hey, itís the cockfight. The betting went on for ten minutes between each and every fight.

Then without announcement the sabongeros put their cocks down and the fight begins. Every one goes silent. A cockfight is flurry of feathers, kicking and biting. The initial attack is the most active part of the fight. The birds may spring up and attack mid-air, or one leaps and the other slides beneath him, to catch the other cock as he comes down. The entertaining acrobatics are brief. After the first real engagement and first blood is drawn the fight is decided. One bird is on the ground, unable to stand up while the other keeps clawing and biting. To me, the fight is over at this point, the winner is obvious.

Of course, Iím not a cockfighter. Itís not over. The ref picks up the two birds and holds them face to face. The cockerels snap at each other so the ref sets them back down to continue the fight. The previously maimed bird flops over immediately and weakly continues to struggle as the other bird jumps on him and gives the avian equivalent of a curb-stomp.

The ref breaks them apart again, holds them face to face, they snap and back into the fray they go, ad nauseum until one is definitely dead. Total fight time is less than a minute. Itís actually kind of dull to watch. Itís described as being a bloody violent thing, which it technically is, but seeing it, blood doesnít fly everywhere and the birds are small so itís like watching a scaled down fight vice say, Pacquiao vs Cotto, and the violence doesnít have the same impact.

The two birds are taken out of the octagon, a guy with a broom sweeps up the feathers and back to another long betting session. I was there for an hour and saw less than ten fights. I would have left sooner but it took so long to get out to that part of the boonies I felt it would have been a waste to leave any sooner. So yeah, I can now mark Ďcockfightsí off my cultural to do list.

Now what was good at the fight was the food. There was a lady selling fresh Filipino cuisine, made sense since everybody but me was Filipino, and I had my fill before leaving.


Manila to Shanghai'd

Mariveles, Bataan Province, Philippines

This metal 'Soldier's Grave' is part of the Death March Memorial at Kilometer 0, where the march began in Mariveles. An identical sculpture is on Corregidor as well. We found this by accident, we were driving to the bancay boats to get to Corregidor when we missed our turn. I noticed the Death March marker we passed said "2 km" on it, so I asked our driver if he could go another two kilometers before turning around. Sure enough two kilometers down the road, across the the beach and nestled in a quiet little park next to a Jollibee fast food restuarant was the Death March Kilometer 0 Memorial Park.

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