PETALING JAYA, Malaysia - Hundreds of hopefuls turned up for a singing competition here, crooning for hours under the scorching sun.
They had come from Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia to join their Malaysian rivals and sang from cages.
They were taking part in the burung merbuk (zebra dove) ASEAN Mini Singing Competition at Kampung Medan yesterday.
The winner for category A was the most valuable bird a one-year old called "Raja Puchong" and valued at RM150,000 (S$60,142).
Its owner, retiree Soo Chun Kong, 60, said he bought it from a breeder in Tha Chana district in Thailand.
"Raja Puchong has previously won several competitions in Thailand such as the Prince Cup."
Soo, who owns more than 50 birds at his home in Puchong, said he had been taking part in these contests for more than 30 years.
The birds, in their cages, were hoisted up on poles set up throughout the field before the judges walked around, listening to their melodious voices.
Judges stopped at each pole, listening to the birds belting out their tunes before deciding on the number of points to be given for each performance.
The birds were judged on four criteria angkatan (prelude of the song), jalan (flow and clarity), air suara (melody) and kong (the ending of the song).
Winners were given trophies at the end of the event.
Karate instructor Jason Tan, 60, said the regional competition was equivalent to the "World Cup" for bird singing.
Tan, from Singapore, fell in love with the singing of these birds when he was 12 but only began entering competitions at the age of 40.
"It's only in this region that this is very popular.
"It is an expensive hobby, as the birds can be quite pricey. But it is a great way to fill time, especially for retirees," he said.
Chandran Kanavel, 61, who owns 20 birds, got his first zebra dove at the age of eight.
He trains the birds by hoisting their cages to the height of the poles to get them used to the environment of the competition and to practise singing every day.
"It is also a good way to make some extra money," said Chandran, who is from Kampung Baru.
Chandran once sold a bird for RM70,000 after training it for several years. He had bought it for RM1,500.