Saturday, February 07, 2009

Laid Low in Chiang Mai

I've been pretty ill. I think it was the food at the Elephant Nature Park, or maybe just all the elephant shit in the river water we were in.
I'll spare you the details but let's just say I'm purged. I'm glad my bathroom was pretty clean.
I spent all day yesterday in my room, drifting in and out of consciousness. I finally got up to try eating some food--yogurt with bananas, which I was able to hold down. Much later I shuffled down to the Seven Eleven to find some Gatorade. I was able to score some acidophilous at a pharmacy on the way.
It's horrible being sick so far from home. Tommy, my Irish pal, came knocking on my door yesterday morning, to make sure I was okay. That was very comforting. I think he wanted me to consider a trip to the hospital, but I think I'm going to be okay. He also told me the parade was about to start (I asked him), so I walked very slowly down to the square to watch it.
Unfortunately, it was rather disorganized, by Western standards. People would crowd in front of the floats or pretty girls with banners taking photos, which made the whole thing go very slowly.
They'd get shoo'd back and then there might be a very long wait for the next spectacle.
I kept going over to sit down on a bench, and after a while it became clear that further enjoyment of the parade was unlikely, and I walked even more slowly back to my room again.
I have a book that Meredith gave me, A Prayer For Owen Meany, which is quite good. Unfortunately, the print is rather small and the pages have turned grey with age, so it's surprisingly hard to actually read in the dim light of my room. But it kept me going yesterday, between bouts of sleeping.
It feels like a terrible waste of my short trip to spend a whole day in my room. Tonight is the fabulous Sunday Walking Street Market and I hope to be able to attend. It's right off of our alley way so I can do at least some of it.
I'd like to do some more shopping! I have a feeling that the things I've bought so far will mostly be seen as treasures back home. It's easy to become a little jaded here, as there is so much pretty stuff for sale, and so much repetition. I hope I can find some more treasures tonight.
Well, I'm uploading 28 photos, mostly just the elephants and parade. It's going to take a long time! So I'd better tell some more stories.
The elephant experience was bittersweet. Aside from becoming violently ill on the way home, there was an educational video that broke our hearts. It showed how domestic elephants are "broken" at about age three or four. They are forced into a log cage where they can't move and then tortured into submission. We actually saw this being done. It was appallingly brutal.
Apparently this has been going on for a thousand years or more. It takes anywhere from three days to two weeks for the males.
That means any trekking, any shows, the elephants have been subjected to this horror. The Park folks talked about those shows where elephants paint little paintings. I've seen this on Youtube. They said 40% of the elephants die from the training. And if you watch closely, the handlers have cruel barbed hooks hidden in their hands to force the poor animals to keep working. They were strongly against this sort of show, but said they wouldn't say yes or no to trekking.
Some trekking outfits take pretty good care of thier elephants (while some do not). And it's a way for the elephants to 'earn a living' where otherwise they might be abandoned and die.
But I'm pretty sure none of us who saw that video could bring ourselves to go elephant trekking.
Another horrible problem is 'elephant begging' where the mahouts bring their elephants into Bangkok or Chiang Mai to sell bananas to the tourists, so they can feed the elephants. The mahouts make pretty good money this way, but the elephants slowly starve. They can't get enough food. And the hot asphault burns their poor sensitive feet, and they are sometimes hit by cars. In fact, one of the elephants at the camp had been hit. His legs were really messed up.
I saw a baby elephant last week being led down the street here. It kept rocking back and forth, apparently a sign of distress. All very heartbreaking.
One hundred years ago there were about 100,000 domestic elephants in Thailand. Then years ago there were 25,000. Now there are about 2500. About the same number live wild.
I'm glad I had the experience, but it's hard knowing all this.
Maybe that's part of why I got sick.

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