Elephants (Chang)

Sal wanted to see elephants.  She wanted to touch them, feed them, wash them and maybe ride one.  What can I say?  Sal has a bit of ‘tourist’ in her DNA.

Me?  Not so much.  I tend away from what I perceive as tourist-oriented fare but, to be fair, seeing elephants au naturel like we see whales or seal lions back home ain’t gonna happen.  Ya wanna see elephants?  You pretty much have to go to the elephant store.

Again, to be fair, Hutsadin is not quite an elephant retailer but, of course, the show and tell is pretty much tourist oriented.  The saving grace?  The elephants!  They are cool.  They are interesting.  They need Hutsadin and Hutsadin needs money to keep them and so it was all good in the end.

We got up early, hit the Hua Hin commuter traffic and blasted like bats out of hell towards the soi that was our destination.  The route takes you through the most dangerous intersection you could imagine.  Of course, we have been through that death-trap on several occasions, the latest time being last night (got lost again, ended up there).  But, I hate it.  Traffic in all directions.

On arriving at the confluence of way too many streams of traffic, I took the outside line, raced up between oncoming cars trying to turn against that flow and spotted my saviour.  The saviour was in the form of a big truck.  When THAT guy threw himself against the never-ending mix and flow to force his way through traffic, I intended to use him as a shield.

He was starting his  budge-in to the maelstrom before I got there.  So I accelerated.  Sally gripped my sides.  I heard a quiet shriek.  To her mind, I was simply going to drive into the side of the turning truck.

But, I did not.  Instead, I swung with it.  The bastard swung further than I thought he was going to so we got a bit close but, by then, I was back to a reasonable speed and simply manoeuvred around him.  We were through the turn but on the wrong side of traffic.  Problem: we were now driving the median line between the two opposing traffic lanes and needed to get back to curbside.  That exercise was a smidge scary but we did get through it and then headed out to the elephant sanctuary.

When we arrived I noticed that I had been gripping the scooter handle so tight that I couldn’t, at first, open my right hand to let go.  But, it came away soon enough.

The entrance is attractive in a heavy-Buddha-esque kinda way.  Which makes sense.  The patron of the sanctuary is a faithful (and wealthy) Buddhist who believes taking care of elephants in this life helps him evolve higher in the reincarnation chain and, instead of being a wealthy Thai in the next life, he may be granted the next highest standing as a Buddhist monk.

Bit of an odd juxtaposition that: a wealthy businessman aspiring to being a poor monk.

Elephants are pretty interesting and so are the white ex-pats who volunteer to attend to them.  The businessman pays a number of Thai people to be ‘staff’ but the Thais don’t understand or value the purpose of the project.  They do not share the enthusiasm and that shows up as their not coming to work, not doing the job, not always treating the animals right and NOT following policies, procedures and good elephant management practises.  The ‘whites’ are educated, have faith in medicines and KNOW what is good for the elephants while the Thais simply ‘do the job’ and not very well.

Result: a double complement of workforces.  With that, the work gets done.

Our volunteer was a hard, matron-like English woman who would be the type to make everyone shower in cold water and hike up mountains (in the dead of winter) to help build character.  But she loved the elephants and seemed to know a lot about them.  The first hour was an interesting talk.

But, by far, the best part was simply hanging out with the elephants.  There were six of them.  One male, five females.  And, in keeping with the times, our guide showed some disdain for the male.  Seems males go into ‘rut’ or ‘season’ and glands open on their necks and ooze some kind of musk.  She found that disgusting.  She then went on to say that, when the males were in this condition, the staff simply put them out in the field as much as possible so as to let them ‘work that out’

“Doesn’t a male kinda need a female partner to do that working it out thing?”

“Well, maybe, but he isn’t getting one!”  She snapped.

David’s elephantine alter-ego (Sadly, his (the elephant’s) ex-mahout allegedly cut off his tusks: worth $75,000 CAD–or priceless if you happen to be a male elephant.)

Yikes! I dunno . . . from then on, the male was my favourite and I gave him the most bananas.  And I pitied her poor husband.  Mind you, I might be identifying with them both somewhat too much . . .

One thing is for sure, I was on our ‘marm’ every time she disparaged males, the male elephant, musk, glands, men, me, puppy-dog tails or slugs and snails.  We had a ‘thing’ going on.

Sal said I was fine.  Polite and nice.

I am going to have to move on and get past this . . . 


Anyway, the elephants were all rescue animals.  One had once had an untreated broken leg that healed improperly.  Another had been severely maltreated and beaten.  Another was an orphan and didn’t get the right postnatal care, nor the proper teachings from a herd that they apparently need, and so on. And all this – plus their natural intelligence – formed their personalities.  Each was a character.  And each one was a very, very distinct personality from the others.  It wasn’t long before we were ‘relating’ to them on an individual basis.  It was pretty neat.

The male liked me.

How to serve an elephant a drink . . .

The whole thing is tourist priced and silly but the money goes to the elephants and some Thais workers so it is much easier to spend freely.  The volunteers are truly generous and not just in their volunteer time.  They do a lot.

They do a good job.

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