We are all in a contest of who can shout the loudest. In Thailand there is a bird that lives its life in the cage of its enthusiastic master. It is called the Nok Krung Hua Juk – the Cage Bird Head Mohawk (a loose, literal translation as close as I can figure).

As I walk down a small, busy soi with my friends and colleagues Sam speaks to me in sincere elucidations. I step aside as a pickup drives past, dodging the Thai kids playing football on the street, the motorcycle scooters cruise past and I take a moment to covet the cool wind that one enjoys on a motorcycle ride in the Bangkok heat. Sam’s speech pauses and his eyes dart leftward as he makes the translations to English in his mind – he tells me about this eccentric and bemused local bird. His father  from the South of Thailand used to own one he tells me. It has since been given to Sam’s friend owing to the erratic, high attention, maintenance required of those who indulge themselves in the fringe hobby which gives such high value to the bird. “10 000 baht”, Sam goes on to say when I ask him of the birds value. “In my home town you see the owners on their motocycle with their bird-cage in one hand” Sam tells me. These birds take part in the sport of Bird Shouting – where they are pitched against each other in featherweight exhibitions of their vocal prowess.

A lucrative and more or less illegal gambling ring of old men and bird hobbyists surround the cages as they ‘shout’ at the top of their lungs – both the old men and the birds – aiming to see who can shout longer and harder through their wooden cages.

“What do you call it? Ha ha – like walking your dog – walking their birds? But it’s on a motorcycle so – riding their birds?” Sam muses as he explains some of the nuances of the business. “They need to improve the bird’s voice” he says. “They have to get used to all – all the … all -”
“all the noise and busyness going on around them” I complete his sentence, his 2nd language momentarily failing him.
“Yes, so that they can improve their voice”

The gambling rings in Thailand are a sight to behold. The best example I’ve personally witnessed being those old laughing and jeering, cheering men of Lumpinee Boxing Stadium who watch and gradually get louder and more cacophonous as the Muay Thai fights edge closer to their final-round conclusion. Many who visit the iconic fighting stadium for the first time note that it’s almost more entertaining to watch the boisterous, leather-skinned gamblers than to watch the two bare-chested men in the middle trade teeps and jabs and knees and elbows, jostling for position with the noise of their own heart pounding in their lungs harder than the stamping feet of the crowd, or the drone of the gyrating ceiling fans.

Well the birds, the Nok Krung Hua Juk-s need to get used to this commotion otherwise they’ll lapse into a quiet and shameful silence as their foe shouts them down and their pleading owner counts his last handful of cash disparagingly.

Then it struck me like a Muay Thai knee, as I listened to my colleague Andrew and a yellow-toothed old Thai banter about property prices behind me and the birds chatter at each other across the soi – I realised that we are all somewhat like this Nok Krung Hua Juk. We all need to find our voice in the commotion that would unsettle us and quiet our resolve. I have been like this bird repetitively in my life. Now more than ever – because now I must return to my home country and start the next phase of my journey unto an occupation doing something I deem meaningful.

This time in South East Asia and the hard and noisy years before have been my time on that motorcycle with my Master – the time draws ever nearer when I must enter the ring and use this voice my experiences have given me. I’m sure we are all the same in this – we need times of commotion and noise to give us a voice. We also need a trustworthy master to take the handle bars and guide us through the noise and then when we are loud enough, to put us toe-to-toe against the sort of challenges that make lives worth living, and metaphors worth making.