Thursday, February 23, 2006

Burma Bound

Kate and I found ourselves in the most ironic of situations being that in order to go to Burma we had to go to Burma. Yes our Thai visa was running out and needed to be renewed and the Burmese embassy wouldnt accept our visa application unless we well... went to Burma. So off we trotted to the friendship bridge in Northern Thailand where we spent all of twelve minutes visiting Burma. I even managed to buy a shirt and some bootlegged cds in the process. Now back in Chiang mai we're applying for our Visa which in itself is pure orwellian intrigue. All the anachronistic questions are coming out.... Fathers name, colour of your eyes, skin, pubic hairs and last time you attended an anti military rally with secret camera and hidden infra red anti government lie detectors.
Some of you might be saying... isnt it wrong to visit a country run by a military junta with one of the worst humans rights abuses on the planet and boycotted by the majority of the world including main opposition spokesperson Aung San Suu Kyi who has positively told tourists to stay away.
All very valid points indeed, but there are also arguments saying that tourism in the proper manner, ie staying with local people and avoiding expensive resorts, helps spread the word about what is happenning to Burma ( You wouldnt be reading this blog if I hadn't considered going for instance ) and hence raises awareness both outside the country and for people within the country of the great western lifestyles and flatscreen tvs they're missing out on.
We were also offered a trip with some really interesting people from the Elephant nature park and our plan is to observe wild elephants and elephants in the logging industry in order to report on their conditions. All very commendable stuff and you can recommend me to the Nobel Association in Stockhom whenever you feel ready.
Our fellow adventurers include
1)Lek, Time Asia person of the year last year, and founder of the Elephant Nature park
2)Chas, founder of Ele aid and also founder of the Tequila society in a London University 20 years ago which has achieved notoriety by becoming the UK's largest Tequila consumer... God help us
3)His girlfriend... who I hope is not as crazy as him
4)Jeff, a canadian engineer stroke full time elephant volunteer who keeps chickens as pets
5)Chom, a karen speaking crazyman who's gift to english is Oh My god muttered at every possible occasion. he is our translater and the one being the homosexual in the picture below.(one on the right is)
6)Laura, a seattle born American but we won't hold that against her... being American that is
7)Kate and Myself.... what we're doing on the list I have no idea... presumedly Kate is the Team Journalist so there you have it... visas permitting we leave on tuesday.... not sure if Internet is monitored in Burma but I presume it is so expect wondrous praise of the glorious achievments of the burmese military junta in this the year of the fifth five year plan.
By the way I should add that the correct name of the country is Myanmar but that just doesn't sound half as dashing as Burma.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Hooray for elephants

What time is it when an elephant sits on your fence?
Time to get a new fence. Boom Boom
Yes not only are kate and I elephant handlers but we're joke tellers as well. Just one of the new skills we have learnt in our 2 weeks volunteer work with elephants. In our time here we have learnt many things. So listen up kids1) Elephants do very large poos. Unfortunately somebody, perhaps yours truly, has to shovel them up in a cart in the morning. They also like to scratch their bum on a branch afterwards 2)To feed elephants. In the animal olympics, elephants would win silver for food consumption shovelling an amazing 60 kilos of vegetable and fruit matter into that rather large gob each day. Should you ever find yourself in a position of feeding elephants the key is to place the bananas in the trunk as quickly and firmly as possible before your arm is ripped from your body. 3) Elephants make great soccer players. Yes if david beckham had four legs and a weight problem he would probably look a little like this fella below. Difference being this bugger is more talented. He is 6 weeks old and dribbling like a demon 4) Never trust a baby elephant. They may be the toddlers of the elephant world, but they know how to stamp on your feet, trip you over and give your bum a good shove. Like all young children they like to tell on you to mum should the game get a little out of hand. Lucky mums chained up for the night I say. Keynote. Try not to wear flip flops and look towards the camera when a 100 kilo baby is waiting for just the right moment. 5) sex education can't start too early in the Ele world. This young 6 year old boy called hope spent the morning trying to shag his Auntie who is old enough to be his grandmother, then followed up with an attempt on a young male bull 12 years his senior. 6) Lying in a hammock. Part of the thai tradition and an invaluable skill when it comes to studying the finer aspects of elephant behaviour. Accompanied with a Singha beer usually helps the research process. 7)Never allow a man like this to move into the room in the room next to you. I am now utterly convinced that snoring is linked to tattoos.8) It is perfectly acceptable behaviour to throw a full bucket of water into an elephants face. In fact they actually encourage it. What is not acceptable is turning your back on a submerged adolescent like the silly tourist in the picture. 9) Despite the cute cuddly, harmless appearance, elephants are dangerous animals. Every year 100 people get killed in Thailand alone. Not bad for a vegetarian. So there you have it. The knowledge garnered after 2 weeks working alongside these gentle but mammoth beasts. In fact theres nothing further to say except HOORAY FOR ELEPHANTS

Jumbo Express

We're not going to stop at saving elephants.... we're going to save the whole world. Yes dear reader, your valiant heroes are roaming Northern Thailand hellbent on helping the needy, sick, poor and humourless. It's called the jumbo express, a creation of lek, founder of the Elephant nature park. (pictured below) Yes Lek and her merry band of volunteers climbed aboard a couple of pick up trucks, weighed down with essential medicines and one doctor to bring the message of goodwill towards common man and woman. Two days visiting schools, villages, not to mention interesting caves and souvenir stalls. In fact at the main village we visited we were the first medical personnel (that is what we now refer to ourselves as) to visit the place in 2 years. Yes, there we were handing out de worming syrup to the under twelves in true communist revolutionary fashion. It's all about winning the hearts and minds of the young ones comrades. The truth of the matter is, our leader lek, the true visionary, has been accused of only caring for elephants. So to rectify this, we set off to villages in order to pretend that humans are just as important as elephants... which of course we all know they're not. It's all part of the great propagandah plan to convince the Thai people that bashing an elephant over the head with a sharp metal stick just aint volleyball. It was truly an international effort with representatives from Pakistan, India, New Zealand, Canada the large country below Canada and Denmark. (Although I'm not sure if its politically correct to mention Denmark at the moment but bugger it) If it helps there were no fundamentalist christians aboard, in fact the religions represented were Buddhism, follwed by hinduism then Islam and finally atheism. But you probably dont care about that. All you readers really have to care about is the fact that smug Ed will be home in 6 weeks, jobless, depressed and unable to fit into society. Serves him right I say for taking a year off whilst the rest of us have to pay off our mortgages.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Elephant woman

Move over Jane, meet Tarzan's new queen of the jungle, Thailands first female mahout and elephant tamer extraordinaire. Yes here she is captured in action... Please note there was no photoshop involved in bringing you this vision of our swashbuckling hero riding high across the raging torrent beneath her. Now some of you out there might be saying that's not very PC of Kate Browne the elephant woman riding atop that poor sensitive creature with the largest brain on the planet. But no.... In actual fact Elephant woman Browne has the high moral ground as some will notice she is riding on the head and not the spine, which is very weak. You may also notice she doesn't have in her hand a huge metal spikey stick in which to shove into the elephant's eye. Even more unusually the elephant she is riding is rather plump, reasonably happy and in much better shape than most of the 3000 elephants remaining here in Thailand.
We are currently in the middle of 2 weeks volunteer work at the Elephant Nature park just north of Chiang mai.
Those Elephants which have been mistreated, or injured, sick, dying or all of the above, may be lucky enough to come to this park where they can roam around free, with as many bananas, pumpkin, tourist love and mud baths as they can possibly want. It's florida for Elephants. Yes, Elephas maximus has a rough ride over here and is a species well on the endangered list. Only 30,000 Asian Elephant's remain. Most of them are slaves to us humans as very little are free to roam in the jungle.Here in Thailand, with logging banned in the late eighties, many elephants were out of a job so working for tourists became the only chance of survival. Unfortunately animal welfare, isnt as popular as Jackie chan movies and the way these beautiful intelligent creatures are treated is awful. Every elephant that gives a ride to a tourist has been beaten into submission, probably dragged away screaming from it's mother 4 years too early, and made to work long hard hours on very little food for a bunch of backpackers to get their happy snaps. Tourists are given rides on the elephant's back which is far too weak as opposed to the neck, head area. Most Foreigners remain completely unaware whilst they are here as to the suffering of these animals.... until now. Because instead of looking like a goose riding high on an elephants back, you can visit a place where elephants roam free, recieve medical help and more cucumbers than you can shake a trunk at. Along with some Brits, Canadians, a few too many Americans, Kate and I are spending 2 weeks building muck holes, shoving up to 60 kilos of pineapples into that trunk, and generally being holier than thou animal friendly crusaders fighting for the good of the common asian elephant.
But what about that Elephant trunk? We have learnt much indeed. In fact it has more than 40,000 muscles and let me tell you.... these creatures are very powerful. People( including that all important tourist) get killed every year from Elephants. Not surprising really considering the way we treat them. Yes not only are we saving the elephant... we're risking our lives doing it. One slip and 4 tons of half digested vegetable matter could land on us at any moment.
Truth be known, it's very easy here. In fact for the volunteers it's more like an eco tourist tour. The work we do barely contributes because lets be honest here, aside from a few facts about it's trunk, I know bugger all about Elephants. ( other than the fact they're very large). Our biggest contribution though is money, 6o kilos is a lot of pineapple to purchase, but also we are here to spread the word and that's what I'm doing now. So rich foreigners who like to read blogs, come to Northern Thailand and visit this elephant nature park. If you can't make it this year, make sure you're all superior at the next dinner party when someone brags about riding an elephant.
In case you're wondering why the silly bugger is blowing dust everywhere, it's actually sunscreen elephant style. They have very soft skin you know.
They do like it awfully much when you throw water all over them. The key is not to be too close when they roll over in the water. HOORAY FOR ELEPHANTS

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Flower power

Every year Chiang mai holds the annual flower festival which we flukily happenned to arrive in the middle of. There are elephants, giraffes, kings, garudas, and all sorts of dragons made out of flowers. All very colourful and very popular with all the all thai families out on their sunday stroll , not too mention tourist families like Kate and I. The big question on everyones lips though is the flower representations of the king. Are they up to scratch? As one can see from the above picture he is without his trusty companion, the camera which he usually likes slung around his neck. Now the king is no laughing matter here in Thailand where one has to stand up for the national anthem at 8.00 in the morning and before every cinema screening and most nightly TV news bulletins . The king is everywhere and seems to be a avid photographer as seen in virtually every photo clutching his SLR Canon. Sorry you nikon users but maybe with the digital age he has swapped to nikon, though as yet there are no official photos with him and a digital camera. Maybe he prefers old SLR cameras, not being too worried about procesing fees cause lets face it, its not really photography unless you're down and dusty in the darkroom with your kingly arms in a pool of chemicals. He's the king he can afford to shoot film willy nilly. Personally I think it's good the king has a hobby, and he seems to love capturing the moment of his subjects out doing their daily things. Although brought up in an unpretentious life-style H.M. King Bhumibol is no ordinary person. By example he has led his Kingdom with great Majesty Dignity and Respect. He has earned his subjects adoration by personally helping them in many ways (witness the numerous Royal Projects Hill tribe Development Irrigation Farming and Flood Control scheme) often from the Royal Privy Purse. The King has visited each and every one of his nations seventy three provinces listening to his people, eating with them, walking with a camera and maps under the hot sun with them guiding him with suggestions and advice. He is the world's only monarch to hold a patent, holding several patents on rainmaking since 1955: the "sandwich" rainmaking patent in 1999 and lately the "supersandwich" patent in 2004.
H.M. King Bhumibol is at one with his subjects and they love him for it. He is the King of Thailand; they are the people of Thailand. Together they are the light of Thailand.... so stand up you disrespectful foreigners.

Death by coconut

According to some experts, 150 people die every year due to falling coconuts. (Which is apparently 15 times the amount of people who are main course for sharks). When the coconut palm, which is on average is 25 metres high, lets drop it's 2 kilogram coconut, it hits your soft sunbaking skull at about 80 kilometres an hour, or for the physics inclined, a force of about 1000 kilograms. Interesting stuff to consider whilst relaxing in a coconut grove as kate and I have been doing for the past week in Koh Chang, on the Gulf of Thailand. Yes paradise is full of traps for the unwary, which is why we have been extremely alert, whilst sipping fresh fruit juices, and snorkelling with colorful, yet dangerous tropical fish. We have also been on our toes when our delicious BBQ seafood was served, salmonella being the big killer worldwide. In fact it's so dangerous here I have taken to wearing a helmut. Yes paradise is a very dangerous place, what with mopeds crashing into stray elephants, people choking on fishbones in red curry sauce and and all those hammock accidents, we decided that after a week here it was time to leave for the relative safety of Northern Thailand. The fact that half of the Island was populated with swedish people as well was a bit scarey. Very curious thing this. Our resort was more like Stockholm by the sea, than anything resembling Thailand. When the tsunami hit, sweden had by far the most tourist casualties of any country which I thought bizarre at the time, but I can confirm that there are a hell of a lot of swedes here. Swedes with families, swedes with thai girlfriends.... all possible varieties of swedes...well you can't blame them, it's probably minus 30 back in their homeland now. I just hope they're careful of the falling coconuts.