Bangkok Stories: Prize roosters are turned into fighting cock consommé

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I had to step over a dead pigeon on the pavement the other day, and felt a rush of dread. The papaya seller at the corner saw my reaction, and told me not to worry: it had been zapped by the high-voltage wires overhead, he said, not avian flu.

Since the disease spread from domestic fowl to humans, 18 people have died in South-east Asia. Few cocks crow at daybreak any more, because more than 14 million chickens in Thailand have been slaughtered, and there are dire warnings of what will happen to people if a mutant virus combines with swine fever. But nobody in Bangkok is wearing gauze masks or avoiding public places. One of the few pieces of advice we have been given is not to eat chicken wings if they smell off - as if I would.

Bangkok's fighting-cock breeders took a robust attitude when told their birds would have to go. Rather than hand them over to be dispatched, the men slit the throats of 20 prize roosters, tossed them into a pot and turned them into spicy Tom Yam Gai soup, which they consumed themselves.

To the Bangkok International Film Festival to see Oliver Stone, the provocative multi-Oscar-winning movie-maker who is here to shoot elephant battle scenes for his historical epic about Alexander the Great, receive a "career achievement" award. The trophy, called the Golden Kinnaree, left him looking a bit puzzled: it depicts a mythical half-woman, half-bird creature, said to have descended from Thai heaven.

A crowd of gawkers turned out to see Stone, Colin Farrell (who plays Alexander) and Val Kilmer (Philip of Macedonia - his father), though there was some disappointment at the absence of Angelina Jolie, who plays Olympias, Alexander's mother. This was the only opportunity for fans, since Stone has closed his up-country movie set, and won't allow even the actors to have cameras around the elephants and mahouts.

Not everyone was at the festival to cheer, though. Konstantine, a backpacking Greek in Bangkok during his gap year, was enraged by rumours that the film would highlight Alexander's sexual taste for young soldiers. In his view, this was a historically inaccurate slur on an ideal of Greek manhood, and he wanted to tell the director so. Before the bouncers moved in, he managed to yell his devastating put down: "Oliver Stone's Alexander is not so great!"

With Valentine's Day coming up, I was window shopping on a street near the Chao Priya river, peering at trays of sapphires and carved jade. One display in particular caught my eye. In a dusty shop called "House of Gems" there was not much sparkle, just rows of coprolites on cotton wool.

Coprolites, in case you don't know, are petrified dinosaur dung - stone cold shit, if you want to put it more crudely. They come in yucky brown or beige, yet they are somehow still exotic. I went in, wondering what kind of message it would send if I gave my beloved a load of this stuff.

The proprietor, Boonman Poonyathiro, who also has a couple of petrified saurian eggs, doesn't encourage buyers to think of his wares as joke gifts, although some types of coprolites cost as little as 5 baht (7p) a gram. That grade looks a bit like rubble blended with the sweepings of a dog show. One distinctive blob was dropped by a distant cousin of T rex that used to roam in the North-east of Thailand, a carnivore called siamotyrannus isanensis.

Some rural Thai farmers believe coprolites are the preserved dung of Lord Buddha's holy cow, and saw them into bits for magical amulets, but Mr Boonman prefers to call them fossil specimens; palaeontological evidence of diet. And they are guaranteed odourless.

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