Day Tripper, Part II
I splurged on a “VIP” bus for the 2 hour ride to Nong Kaen. So what does VIP mean? Larger upholstered seats that recline with a massage option, more legroom, no local stops, no herding in as many people as possible, crisp AC and a cozy blanket. All for a mere 60 baht more than the regular air-conditioned bus. My comfortable ride would take me back into the Northeast provinces of Thailand. From Nong Kaen, I caught a local bus to Ban Kok Sa-Nga (or King Cobra Village), about an hour further North. The village’s claim to fame (or at least consistent highway markers from the bus station) is its snake boxing and variety show. I was a little hesitant about paying the village a visit, knowing I would most likely be offended by what was on display. Curiosity got the better of my judgement.
Getting off the bus I was glad to see a welcoming committee, 4-5 young ladies who make their dough motorbiking wandering visitors to the village, about 2 km from the bus stop. After easy price negotiations, I had a round trip ride by one of the young ladies who couldn’t be more than 12. The show was in full swing when I arrived so I headed to one of the few English words most Thais understand: toilet. The crowd in the bleachers surrounding the the small stage were filled with Thai tourists. My burnished blond mess of hair always a bit of a distraction, I attempted to sneak in unnoticed, thankful there were more interesting sights to see onward. But no, it seems I was part of the sideshow atmosphere.
Expectedly, the snake vs. man boxing match was rigged. Much to my disappointment, the man was the victor in all bouts. The bouts, which lasted about 3 or 4 minutes, consisted of the men pushing and tapping the poisonous snakes til the snake lunged. They went back and forth a few times like this and then the snake was put back in his basket. There were several matches, two with adult men fighting large snakes and two, even more disturbingly, with young boys and smaller snakes.
I began to cringe watching the low budget spectacle, pitied the poor animal whose fate delivered him to the King Cobra Village. As if all this ridiculousness wasn’t enough, after all the matches the men, draped in their snakes, began to shimmy and grind to the sultry tunes the ringside announcer switched on. Next thing I knew they put the heads of their snakes in their pants!
Of course, cheers and applause erupted from the small crowd. I knew I couldn’t stand the show for more than 30 seconds but then it ended abruptly… on that very high note. The men then walked the floor letting fascinated children cop a feel on the snakes.
They both soon headed right for me and would not be satisfied until I allowed the snake to be draped upon my shoulders. I pretended to be deathly afraid of snakes so they’d relieve the snake of its duty quickly. Being the militant vegan I am, this stuff isn’t entertaining, it’s sad and angering. And I half-regret participating in it. (The other half appreciates kitsch in all its forms.)
After the show I strolled the villages grounds. They had some caged snakes and monkeys. Seeing caged monkeys is particularly depressing. Given the characteristics of their natural locomotion, their habitats are expansive. A caged monkey is never in a natural state. It paces; it’s visibly angry… and rightfully so. I wanted to photograph this monkey and its cage because it evoked an emotion in me that I wanted to capture. However, as soon as I took out my camera and pointed it towards the monkey, he made a face at me that showed me the extent of his rage. And he yelled at me. Never before have a received a communication so clear from another species. It was an intense moment.