color by numbers

mindless musings of a semi-creative guy

Fun Fact #4 – Pachyderm Pals

Have you ever hugged an elephant?

Seriously, have you ever hugged an elephant right around his fat, dry, hairy neck?  Then, gave him a kiss on the nose?

I have.

After I kissed his little trunk, I wrapped my arms right around this baby elephant’s neck and hugged him.  Then, I told him he was cute and that I loved him.  After all, he is an animal, and I love all creatures great and small – as long as they’re not trying to eat me, of course.

Brook didn’t hug the little (BIG) guy, but he did at least pose for a photo.

If you remember back in Fun Fact #3 last March, I told you about the market elephants we saw walking around on a daily basis throughout the city of Lopburi.  Well, we’ve since moved from Lopburi to the North side of Bangkok, and we don’t really get to see them anymore.  *Pouting like a 3 year old who lost his cookie.*  They’re technically illegal in the city and more developed areas, and because of insane traffic, the laws and fines are actually enforced around here.  I suppose it’s all for the better, as I would hate to hear of a poor elephant being injured or hit by a car as a result of them walking the congested, busy, dangerous roads in the city.  But, I do miss seeing them.

So, how is it then, that I got such an opportunity as this to be so close to my giant leathery friends once again?  We took a quick trip to the ancient city of Ayutthaya with our guests from the States (did I mention we had 2 visitors last week?  It was a blast!) before they had to head to the airport on their last day.  Ayutthaya is known for its ancient ruins, historic temples, and its elephants.  Our original plan for the day included riding the elephants on a historic tour through the city, but our time was limited.  So, what do you do when you don’t have enough time to ride the elephants, but you’re already there?  You play with them!  And hug them!  And feed them!  And get closer to them than any Zoo in the States would ever let you be!

This sort of practice is yet another thing that sets Thailand apart from the States.  If you want to touch the elephants, you can!

This one walked right toward me and, when told by his trainer to give me a kiss, he proceeded to do so.  He sniffed my head, blew stale trunk air right in my face, “kissed” (tapped) me on the nose with his trunk…

… and then stuck his trunk right down my shirt.  Insert your own clever joke here about how all men are the same, or something like that.  Ha!

See that stuff that looks like just a little smear of dirt that I’m pointing to?  That’s attached to a streak of slime that actually extends a few inches in either direction… and down my shirt.  Elephant kisses can get messy.  Yech.

But…. how many of YOU have ever been kissed by an elephant?  Yeah, that’s what I thought.  A little bit o’ slime ain’t no thing.  🙂

Have I mentioned yet how much I love elephants?  They really are magnificent creatures.  So gentle, so majestic, so interesting.  Their skin is unlike anything else I’ve ever touched.  Did you know that they’re actually quite hairy?  They really are very graceful and surprisingly quiet as well.  If you’ve ever watched an elephant’s feet closely as they lumber along, you’ll notice that their feet just seem to float silently up and down as they take each step.  Oh, and, as I’ve come to learn from my Thai friends, tame elephants are actually rather fond of humans.  This just makes me love these creatures even more.

So, who wants to come visit us next?  If you show up, I just may take you to hug an elephant…

Here’s my album on Facebook if you’d like to see a few more pictures from the day.

October 16, 2010 Posted by | Fun Fact, Just for Fun, Tasty Tuesdays | 1 Comment

Tasty Tuesday – It’s American?

When residing outside your country of origin, it’s pretty interesting to see which bits of your home culture are pulled out and used to identify you by the people in other nations.  Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes it can make you laugh, sometimes it can make you angry.  Whatever it is, it’s what they will use to create an identity for you and will help them know how to relate with you.

I find myself chuckling quite often when I read or hear poor English translations going on around me, especially when the language is being modeled after American English.  But, the best… oh, the best is when I find things that are labeled as “American,” and then I find myself completely and utterly confused.  Why confused?  Because there is actually no such thing back in the States!  And, just as soon as I come to the conclusion “oh, it’s just this particular restaurant/store/street vendor’s marketing strategy… they’re just trying to seem cool and exotic in order to sell more of _____ and _____,” that’s when I discover the same thing is being sold throughout the entire country.  My, my, my.

So, what’s an example of this sort of thing?

American Fried Rice.  Yes, I said “American fried rice.”  There is no such thing.  Americans generally do not eat much rice, nor is it fried when they do.  Sure, we like a lot of Chinese food (which has also been a bit Americanized), but it’s Chinese food – not typical American fare.  And, the combination of ingredients used to make this particular dish, are not something out of American cuisine at all.  Individual elements, yes – but, putting them all together?  Not so much.  So, what is it?  Look below.

American fried rice is essentially rice stir-fried with ketchup and raisins, sometimes adding some mixed veggies (carrot, corn, and peas are the standard).  But, don’t worry, there’s always raisins.  Also, in the American tradition, your rice will be served with a fried chicken drumstick, a few slices of pan-seared ham, a fried egg, deep fried hot dog “blossoms,” and a small and strange looking pile of sliced tomato, cucumber, and white onion.  All of this is served with a cup of ketchup for your enjoyment.  (Other common variations include adding a handful of deep fried croutons or using bacon when ham is not available.  Check out this Google image search for more plates of American fried rice.)

Ummm…

This is American?  Apparently, many Thais my age and younger do believe this is an American dish… but, thankfully, the older generations know it is not so.  According to my research, this concoction was created by a collection of cooks during the Vietnam war, when certain areas of Thailand became a temporary home for loads of US soldiers.  They were trying to come up with something that would appeal to the Americans, as well as use local ingredients and cooking styles.  Perhaps you could say it was an early form of “fusion” cuisine…?  Today, this meal is sold all throughout the country (and has migrated to Malaysia, though the pork products are substituted with chicken due to Halal requirements), and is quite popular as a children’s meal.  You are not likely to see it on the menu at a Thai restaurant in the States, but if you do, don’t be alarmed.  It’s not really American, and you need not be confused.  (And, trust me, America has done the same thing to other foods that you think come from other places, too…)

So, now it’s settled.  American fried rice is not actually American.  I don’t need to wonder every time I see a menu anymore, and I no longer have to feel silly when a young Thai friend can’t understand why I don’t recognize a meal that supposedly comes from my own home country.  🙂

(In case you were wondering, no it doesn’t taste bad.  It’s just a lot of fried meat and the raisins take some getting used to.)

August 3, 2010 Posted by | Food, Fun Fact, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | 1 Comment

Fun Fact #3 – giant leathery friends

Wow!  It sure has been a while since we’ve seen a new fun fact around here.  If you’d like to to know what fun facts are all about, refer back to my first post here.  You may always click Fun Facts in the category sidebar to your right to find the collection of stories there (although it’s not very big yet… I’m gettin there!)

For today, I would like to introduce you to the biggest, leathery-est, gentlest giant friend I have in the world.  The market elephant.  That phrase alone just makes me grin ear to ear.  I’ll say it again.  Market elephants.  🙂  Here, take a look at one.

IMG_0180 sm

In our city, these guys walk freely down the road, at any given time of the day, usually with one or two caretakers in tow.  There are a few different pachyderms in our community, I believe – two large ones and two baby ones that I’ve seen.  The one in the picture above is the only one I’ve seen a carriage on, though.  Mostly, they just walk about, poking around with their trunks, being curious, and waiting for someone to buy a bag of veggies or fruits to feed them.

Quite often in Thailand, when a person decides that they would like to become a “mahoot,” or an elephant caretaker, it’s a job that they sign onto for life.  Mahoots may then travel around with their giant leathery friend, preparing and selling small bags of fruits or veggies to the people they meet along the road.  These bags of cucumbers, bananas, or sometimes sugar cane can be bought for a low price, then fed to the elephant.  The money made from selling the bags can be used to feed the mahoot, care for himself, and care for the elephant.

Now, what the customer actually gets out of the transaction is viewed in different ways by different people.  Some say that by sacrificing money to buy food for the elephant, as well as the act of actually feeding the creature, one can make merit to pay for past sins in life.  Others simply view it as a fun activity for either their children or  themselves.  I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to feed an elephant?  They’re so cool.  Here, check out a baby elephant at dinner a few weeks ago.

IMG_0182 sm

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of going for supper in the night market (other than being able to eat outside, and get a great meal for super cheap), is waiting for the elephants to come by.  They’re so quiet, so gentle, so intriguing to me.  Their eyes are so big and beautiful.  Their skin is such a strange texture.  They are just incredible creatures.  (And, their magnificence is part of the reason why it really irks me when, sometimes, the mahoot pinches the elephant’s ear in order to make him squeak for attention.)

Every time I see or hear one of these guys coming, I get giddy like a little kid.  Just the other night, we saw a small one staring down a car that had obviously chosen the wrong side of the road.  They stood nose to trunk for about a minute before the elephant decided to go around the vehicle.  The same elephant also wanted to taste my strawberry smoothie.  I, however, did not allow him to do so.  As a result of my moving the drink from his reach, the playful pachyderm proceeded to poke around my stomach and right hand with the tip of his trunk.  How fun!

Elephants don’t roam freely in all places, though they are quite common throughout the country.  So, if you really like elephants, Thailand is the place for you!

March 19, 2010 Posted by | Fun Fact, Thailand | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fun Fact #2 – Beware the Snatchers

Monkey see, Monkey do, Monkey does the same as you

Monkey see, Then takes two, Monkey always wins, not you!

DSC04864 smaller

Monkeys here in Lopburi are unlike any other primates you’ve met, I guarantee it.  They have a certain sense of entitlement, this way of life which requires the humans in their city to serve them and provide their every need.  They reside primarily in “Old Town” – the ancient sector of the city which houses numerous ruins of temples, royal residences, and even a former palace – where they run free and frolick among the buildings and powerlines at will.

Let’s say you are a merchant in the fresh fruit market in Old Town.  You are on your way to your evening post with a truck full of tomatoes and limes.  You are stopped at a traffic light for nearly 15 seconds when the critters spy you on their road.  They proceed to swarm your truck, eating whatever and however much they want, as well as throwing some of your produce at passers-by and other vehicles just for the fun of it.  They just might even rip off a piece of trim from your passenger door, too, and carry it away like a sword.  What do you do?  You get out and yell at them while waving your arms to scare them away.  Bad move!  You must do nothing.  The monkeys are considered sacred, and therefore protected and free to do as they please.  You are allowed to do only… nothing.

You are walking back from the market after buying your meal for the night.  Your plan is to take this food back to your home and feed both yourself and your family with it.  Oh, and of course your food is carried in a plastic bag, as that is the most convenient way, right?  Bad move!  If there are any monkeys nearby, they will hear or see your plastic bag, and automatically assume there is food inside (even if there’s not!).  And, what do monkeys do when they know food is around?  They take it.
You are now a tourist walking about the ancient ruins looking not only at the history surrounding you, but also the monkeys running about.  You are so excited about it, and think they are just so cute that you begin talking to one while bearing a wide-toothed grin.  Bad move!  Most monkeys will see teeth as a sign of aggression, so they just might retalliate against your kind words with some rather unkind actions.

Now, why do I tell you these things?  Well, because we would love for many of you to come visit us here in Thailand someday, and who knows, we just may take you to visit this city of monkeys on your trek through the country.

So, let’s review…

1.    Let the monkeys do whatever they want.  You are not allowed to punish them.
2.    Do not carry anything you actually want to keep in any sort of plastic bag, whether it’s food or not.
3.    Do not smile at the monkeys.  They are not cute.

Anybody ready for a visit?

September 4, 2009 Posted by | Fun Fact | , , , , | 1 Comment

Fun Fact #1

Ok, so there are little things every day that may seem strange to you, as to myself, but there is usually an explanation for them. That is what these posts are going to be for. There are times when I am a wee bit sad that this is not my first time living in the country of Thailand, as I have forgotten many of things that are indeed strange and unusual at first sight for a Westerner such as myself. Thankfully, I am surrounded by a group of fellow language learners who are going through their first processing of this place, and I can be reminded of what is new and different for them.

So… every time you see a post titled “Fun Fact,” be ready for a short glimpse into something that makes life in Thailand entirely different, entirely interesting, and entirely new! Without further adieu, I present you with your first Fun Fact in History… well, kind of.

2705 Larkin StairsBrook and I were recently at the OMF Home in Bangkok, where we were staying in a room a few floors up. This meant many stairs for us to climb each time we needed to retrieve something from our room. There turned out to be one certain place that Brook would always catch his toe as we went up, and upon closer inspection, we discovered that the first step after the landing was half a tile higher than all the other stairs. Upon mentioning this as a joke to a staff member in the OMF offices, we were surprised to find out that this was, in fact, not a mistake, rather it was quite intentional.

You see, in Thailand, everything is done for a reason. There is a saying “to be Thai is to be Buddhist,” so many everyday practices have some sort of mystical or superstitious background in them. The building of this particular staircase is one such practice. There is much belief in the existence and activity of spirits in Thailand, as well as their ability to dwell among buildings and residences. These stairs were built slightly “off” as means of deterring bad spirits from successfully entering the upper part of the building, a means of throwing them off or confusing them. At the same time, it was not so obvious that a spirit (or the people travelling them each day) would notice it straight away. The same is intended by landings and turning staircases, as anything other than straight could also help deter any unwanted presences in a building. Now, for those of you who may be wondering, our organization did not particularly do this when setting up their offices in this building, rather, it is just simply the way things are built, just the way things are done.

So, if you ever visit Thailand, take note of the stairs upon which you walk. Is there a landing halfway to your destination? Are all of the stairs the exact same height? Could there be one or two tiles that seem out of place in a mosaic pattern? Who knows what wonders you will find when you observe even the smallest of details!

August 5, 2009 Posted by | Fun Fact, Thailand | , , | 4 Comments