My ebook: Journeys with the caterpillar

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Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
and Sumba, Indonesia
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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tretes, Indonesia: The setting for an epic contest between fighting cocks and Karaoke stars

Two weeks back, I reached the hill town called Tretes, halfway between Malang and Surabaya in East Java.  As I headed towards Malang from Surabaya, I noticed Mt Welirang, an active volcano. The mountain looks beautiful as you approach it, a perfect cone like Fuji with its skirt spread very wide.  Tretes lies in the middle of this skirt.

I noticed something unusual about Tretes. The town is the world Karaoke capital. Every house has been converted into a Karaoke stop. Young men and women from all over East Java come here, book a room in a homestay, turn on the Karaoke systems and dance all night. Some bring in their own disco lights. When I went out, I could hear 50 songs blending in the night, each with its own drowsy emotion. The muezzin has also given up on Tretes.
But Tretes is also the breeding capital for fighting cocks. Every house breeds cocks for fighting. Every house has a cock fighting gym. And even though they are used later for gambling which is illegal in Indonesia, breeding these cocks are not.  At my homestay, the family has seven male cocks and one female. Haryanto tells me, “A champion can be sold for 100,000 rupiah.” That's ten dollars and rather humiliating for a champion. Haryanto goes on, “His babies could sell for 25,000. See that cock. We have given him a wife. We are trying for their babies.” The cock had an irritated and arrogant look. The wife look silly, as if trying too hard to show that she is worth something too. Economic balance of power affects gender relations in chickens too.

So in this unique town which serves as capital for both Karaoke and cock breeding, the two protagonists can never make peace with each other. As night falls, and the music systems turn on one by one, the cocks fall silent. Quietly, they wait for their revenge. The singing and dancing goes on well into the wee hours.  Only around four in the morning, the songs begin to fall asleep one by one. But just when the young revellers are about to go to sleep too, the cocks wake up.  Each takes turn to let out a horrendous call, then again, and then again.

The karaoke people wake up and since they can’t sleep anymore in this noise, they start their karaoke systems again.  I decided I couldn't stay in that town anymore because it's just not possible to sleep in that town. The cocks and karaoke people will never be able to reconcile. I pack my bags hastily and leave.

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