The fastest way to find a cockfight in Ubud is to find yourself a man with a cock. (The double entendre, as Clifford Geertz put it in his seminal piece on the Balinese cockfight, is entirely deliberate: “For it is only apparently cocks that are fighting [in the ring]. Actually, it is men.”)
Such men are everywhere, squatting on street corners and loitering in garages, grooming their birds, whispering sweet nothings to them, bouncing them up and down on their feet to strengthen their legs for each upcoming bout. I found an old man with a particularly aggressive-looking bird, asked when and where the shit was going down, and was given a time, an address and a sly wink. It was happening three days hence.
I had a few reasons for seeking out such an event. The first was philosophical.
I have been writing about bullfights for almost five years now and have been accused countless times as a result of being indifferent to the suffering of animals. I was keen to test the accusation. Would I be able to justify the ugliness of the cockfight without recourse to the aesthetic arguments I have used to excuse the cruelty of the corrida?
The second was somewhat less intellectual and rather more embarrassing. When I was fifteen years old, my family visited Bali for the first time and took a day trip up to Ubud. By chance, the six of us found ourselves at a roadside shindig characterised by the shouts of a hundred swarthy gamblers and the too-thick smoke of a hundred impromptu barbecues. I fainted pretty much immediately—it didn’t even take the sight of blood—and for stupid, primitive reasons of pride was determined not to do so again.
Perhaps most importantly, however, I was itching to get off the tourist strip. With its high-end arts-and-crafts boutiques and Australian-priced cocktails, Ubud had changed a lot since my fainting spell more than a decade earlier. Kuta has always seemed pre-packaged. But Ubud was beginning to seem it, too.