Sunday, August 28, 2005

The tour guide told us about this elephant

A Thai elephant injured by a land mine six years ago is being fitted with a prosthetic foot.

When I was at the Hill Tribe village where we spent the first night, I jointed a large tour group whose guide seemed hell-bent on making the trip as depressing as possible, telling us many heartbreaking stories about miserable elephants. The first he told us about was this one.

He did lighten up later, though, and tired to tell us some local legends. But his English wasn't very good so all I really got out of it was that some hunter was befriended by a female spirit from a banana tree, and the whole story had something to do with why wolves howl.

Second resident dies at downgraded nursing home

This Associated Press story reports on two deaths at a Pennsylvania nursing home. Paul Miller, 80, and Sylvia Rodkey, 85, each died several days after they sustained injuries when their wheelchairs rolled down a steep driveway outside the facility. Both Miller and Rodkey were unattended at the time.

The state Health Department says that the facility has already had its license downgraded several times since an unsatisfactory inspection in May of 2004.

Strange bedfellows indeed!

World Net Daily and NOW are both very concerned about what an Islamic Constitution will mean to the women of Iraq. Prayers needed more than ever. And it's refreshing to see right and left sharing a common concern. The question is, can we all find a way to work together to protect the woman our soldiers have died for?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Quadriplegic woman to sail solo across the channel

Read all about it! Too awesome!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Thailand - Second temple

There were two identical five-headed snakes forming the sides of this walkway. They are even more beautiful and impressive than they seem to be in this picture. My guide, Oi, stumbled over explaining the snakes to me. I think she was thinking they were the seven-headed snake Lek told me about in the first temple I visited. So, sorry, can't tell you much about the snakes other than that they look really cool.

I really never did get a clear grasp of this snake guy, and Oi couldn't seem to get a grip on him herself to explain it. But he looks interesting enough. In a really alarming sort of way. Snakes don't seem to have the negative connotations to Buddhists that they have to Christians.

My guide, Oi, tried to explain the multiheaded elephant to me, but stumbled the way a typical Christian would probably stumble while trying to explain the Plagues of Egypt. So I'm not clear on the significance of the elephant, but I do know a cool looking piece of sculpture when I see it.

At a pagoda I was mobbed by these kids, who are studying to be tour guides. Their English teacher was with them but we couldn't understand each other so Oi, my guide, had to translate. This temple was the only place I went in Thailand where I was mobbed as a novelty rather than mobbed by people trying to sell me stuff.

You could see this shrine in the middle-distance from the pagoda where I was mobbed by the little kids. Oi, my guide, says that the statue is of some woman of particular interest to the Chinese Buddhists. I'm not clear on what she's doing in Thailand. That said, she is impressive and beautiful.

A whole troop of these fellows were holding up the temple. I'm not sure what they were representing, but they certainly are something to look at.

If you rub it right, this gong sings. Oi, the guide, and I both tried but couldn't make it sing. But occasionally somebody would manage, and the sound was eerie and beautiful.

My guide was very pleased with this shot of the golden statues. I didn't ask about them; as a Christian I'm uncomfortable in a Buddhist temple and really don't now what I ought to be saying or doing. So while it was a beautiful place where people are pursuing holiness, I really just wanted to get out of there.

Oi, my guide, is Buddhist and explained all the paintings to me. This shot captures the character of the paintings and the brilliance of the gilded and jewel-like ... What should I call the spaces between the frescoes? They were each different. But the Buddhist temples all had similar decor, with the gilding and the jewel-like effect that I was told was colored glass. It looks much to bright to be just colored glass. Perhaps it's backed with silver to give it that sparkle.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Elephants and lions on the Great Plains?

Fox News posted this story about how some folks are suggesting that we set up game preserves in the midwest and Texas with endangered non-native wildlife such as elephants and lions.

On the one hand, why not? It'd just be like a bigger version of the drive-through zoo. On the other hand, it'd be kind of hard to contain lions to a preserve. They'd be bound to find a way out and start munching cattle and sheep, if not the occasional person.

I've not formulated an opinion, though my leanings are slightly in favor. There are already more tigers in Texas than anyplace else in the world. If it preserves endangered species and doesn't threaten the balance, why not? Lions and tigers and elephants are much bigger than the rabbits that overran Australia.


Thailand - Orchids and Butterflies and such

I visited a beautiful orchid farm, and took pictures of the flowers I saw all over the place. August isn't the flower season in Thailand, so I'll have to see what I see next time, when I'm there for an entire year.

I don't remember where I saw these, but they surely are lovely. I love the color and the form.

These were just growing over a wall along a roadway near the beach. It was noplace special, but the flowers were beautiful. The wind was blowing so I steadied them with one hand and shot the picture with the other.

These were growing at the whitewater rafting place. There were a lot of great flowers and plants growing there and I had a lot of fun walking around and checking them out while I was waiting for my ride back to Phuket.

These were growing in what looked to be some sort of drainage ditch on the grounds of the hotel in Phuket. Again, there were beautiful plants and flowers all over the place.

These beauties were growing on the grounds of the hotel in Phuket. I spent the time one day between breakfast and my pick-up just wandering the grounds and checking out the flora.

Look at them all. Aren't they lovely? The colors were vibrant and the whole atmosphere was very serene.

Here's a shot of the orchid farm that shows how they're grown, and how many there were.

This photo doesn't show the amazing yellow-green tint of these orchids. They were absolutely startling.

This tree was growing just outside the first village where we stopped to rest. If you recall the picture of me by the stand of bamboo, these were just across the trail from the bamboo.

These were growing next to the restrooms at the rafting place! There were so many beautiful plants there.

And let's not forget the butterflies I photographed at the butterfly farm inside the orchid farm.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A reminder of the need for DDT

DDT Ban Led to 50-80 Million Deaths.

The effect of banning DDT is like loading up a jumbo jet full of people -- mostly children -- every single day, and crashing it into the side of a mountain. Why are we tolerating this? Because people exposed to DDT might get cancer one day? Hello! The people who need DDT dream of living long enough to get cancer!

First temple

My guide, Lek, is a Buddhist, and he brought me to a temple that was dedicated to the monk who founded it. The monk died 17 years ago and his body is preserved in the glass coffin you see here. There was a biography of the monk and he was an impressive man.

The whole experience of visiting a Buddhist temple was awkward for me, as a Christian. I want to show respect for other folks' desire to pursue holiness, without giving the impression that I make no distinction between Christianity and other faiths. I dealt with it by behaving the way I'd want a Buddhist to behave when visiting a Christian church. I was quiet and respectful, asked first before taking pictures, and listened to what Lek was telling me about the temple, the monk, and so forth. I asked questions about various things and found commonality with Christianity wherever possible. Lek showed me the Five Precepts of Buddhism, and I explained that we have Ten Commandments.

And I prayed quietly that all the hunger for holiness will help the Buddhists to find their way to the Father, as I do in Korea when confronted with Buddhism.

My fear isn't being unpopular; it's that I don't want to teach other people of other faiths that Christians are jerks. I want to leave a positive impression of Christians so that they'll be open to the Gospel. And frankly I don't know what to do around folks who actually have another faith. I'm used to dealing with straightforward unbelievers.

Just a little of what was going through my head and heart as I visited this beautiful site and pondered what the appropriate Christian response should be.

So, enjoy the beautiful pictures.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Thailand Ride

For some reason, Lek always insisted on feeding me too much toast for breakfast. So this particular morning I shared my toast with one of the ubiquitous dogs. This fellow was very happy to have bits of toast fed to him. I mopped up the drippings on my plate first to make the toast tastier.

Here we have two of my favorite subjects: plants and poultry. The area around my cottage looked like Mom's living room had exploded. The plants all looked pretty familiar, but here they just grew out of the ground instead of growing in pots.

Here's the vicious attack goose that had kept me from exploring the town earlier in the morning. He kept pecking at my toes. I don't mess with geese, so I stuck near the rafting place and our cottage after running into this guy.

The driver came and got Lek and me. Here they are. The driver is rolling up the truck sides so I can ride al-fresco, since the rain had let up by this time. Evidently a lot of folks make a living hauling tourists around, because these trucks were all over the place.

We had a ride of about an hour to the temple from the village. It was a beautiful drive. The road was a bit on the bumpy side but I didn't mind since the view was lovely.

A tour guide told us at one point that there are only about 4,000 elephants left in Thailand. I must have seen every single one of them because there were elephants all over the place. Here we're approaching another elephant camp catering to tourists.

My view from the back of the truck. I must have taken fifty pictures, figuring that some of them were bound to turn out nicely.

This shot of the river gives you a better idea of what it is we went rafting down! Imagine standing on a few bits of bamboo, ankle-deep in this!

This is a fairly tame stretch of road. Usually the ruts were deeper and the drop-off to the river much steeper. But this is a pretty shot. During this ride I often thought of P.J. O'Rourke's various writings on driving in third-world countries.

This picture shows how well the rural Thai people have adapted to the new realities of world travel. In the foreground, traditional rice paddies still being farmed. In the background, farmers haul tourists around in water-buffalo carts. I'm betting the big money is in the water buffalo.

More details on RU-486 deaths

Recent news articles have released the names and some information about two of the women who died of sepsis after chemical abortions. Chanelle Bryant, age 22, died in 2004. Oriane Shevin, a 34-year-old mother of two, died in 2005.

More on this story as it develops.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Thailand Pictures - Second Full Day

Day two dawned rainy, but it sounded a lot rainier than it really was. I guess that was because there was just so much leafy stuff for the rain to hit.

Lek fixed me a very yummy scrambled-eggs-and-toast breakfast and we set off up the mountain. Lek was hung over from the election party the night before, so I got a chuckle out of how Granny was outhiking the guide.

We had to wait a while at the elephant camp, but I had a good time there.

The Thai play a game -- I can't remember the name -- that's like a cross between volleyball and hacky-sak. Imagine hands-off volleyball with a lower net. A few of the tourists decided to give it a try while they were waiting for their elephants. They were pretty bad at first, but they got the hang of it after a while and had fun. It was fun to watch them.

It was also fun to watch the elephant who moseyed over into their neighborhood. Here he is with his home-made flyswatter.

I also fed some corn cobs to the elephant. He wasn't happy with the second corn cob. I'd taken it away from some chickens and they'd dragged it in the dirt. I guess the elephant wanted a cleaner-fresher corn cob. He was not happy with me. He seemed a lot closer to me when I was there than he looks in this picture.

We set off down the river. I was alone on my elephant, and she was first in line when we set off. Yikes! She was an Elephant with Attitude! She'd meander off to munch on something tasty and the guide would yell at her and she'd ignore him. At one point he hopped down off his elephant and came charging toward my elephant, brandishing a machete and shouting. "Is he threatening my elephant with a machete!?" No. He was just hacking off some snacks for her to get her moving.

My elephant had a baby who toddled along with us. He did a lot of swimming. At first we fretted about him, but then we noticed he was playing in the water and seemed to be having a lot of fun.

He also frequently stuck his head into the other elephants' butts, and sometimes gave them a little nip in the backside.

He also stopped sometimes for a snack. Isn't he cute?

Lek went by on a raft. This was a preview of what we'd be doing later!

We had a great lunch at the second elephant camp. Lek made me some fried rice. Yum! And more pineapple. Enough with the pineapple, Lek! I bought a bag and a belt from the two quiantly-dressed Hill Tribe women who were hawking goods. I didn't get any pictures of them because at the time they weren't quaint native women. They were very annoying salespeople interrupting my lunch.

Then we set off on the rafts. We were standing up to our ankles in the water. When we looked around, the other rafters looked like people just standing in a row and floating down the river. Our stuff was double-bagged and hung from tripods on the rafts. And down we went.

I went overboard in the first rapids. Then we ran aground and had to fight to get it loose. We ran aground a second time in a rougher rapids, and as we were struggling to get it loose another raft came bearing down on us. "Off! Off! Off!" We scrambled off the raft and watched the other raft go under ours. Their tourists ran across our raft to stay on theirs, except for one guy who ended up with us. The guides chased us ashore and we rushed along among the rocks and rough foliage as the guides freed our damaged raft and rode it the rest of the way through the rapids. "Our stuff! Our stuff!" Our money, passports, and cameras were on that raft! Yikes!

But the guides got it to a calm spot okay and we all waited while they patched up the raft. We made it to the next village, where Lek and I got off for the night.

This village looked like Mom's living room exploded! Beautiful plants all over the place.

I had a nice cozy room. This one had electricity and glass windows. It was a chilly night so I closed the windows. Very pleasant!

I had another great dinner and chilled out for an evening. It was a very nice mix of adventure and rest.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Thailand Pictures - First Full Day

Though this is usually a "causes" blog, I figured it's a good place to share my Thailand pictures. Do go to Thailand! It's a wonderful place and their economy can use the boost from tourism after the tsunami.

First stop, the market! Here's where my guide and I went to get supplies for our trek in the mountains. I'd seen fried pig faces for sale in Seoul, but this was my first time to see fresh pig faces. Another stall was selling various innards. Different strokes for different folks.

To the right, some delicate snow-white mushrooms that made my mouth water. To the left, some sort of wasp nest, from the looks of it, with live wriggling larvae. I'm guessing they're an acquired taste. But then, I was drooling over the fungus.

On the mountain top with Lek, my guide. I was the only tourist in my group, so I had Lek all to myself.

How's this for some gorgeous landscape? By the end of the first half hour of tooling around northern Thailand in the back of an open trek-tour truck, I was in love. And I fell more in love each passing hour.

Here's one of the tourist lodgings at the village where we stayed. Our tourist lodge, to be specific. I'd feared that there'd be a "human zoo" element to visiting the Hill Tribes, but there was none of that on this hike. The folks in the village were just ordinary folks living a simple life in an isolated area, who'd noticed that they could forge a mutually beneficial relationship with tour guides and tourists, and decided to take advantage of the situation. They built lodges for the tourists, offered drinks and a few souvenirs for sale, and otherwise behaved like anybody else who happens to live in a town that tourists pass through.

Here you can see that the sleeping quarters are clean, comfortable, spacious, well-aired, and complete with mosquito netting. I had the room to myself, since Lek had his own private room just off his private kitchen area.

Here is Lek in his kitchen, with one of the local guys who helped him. The stoves appear to have been clay buckets once, and are painted with bright scenes under the soot. The floor is soft and comfortable, because it's made of split bamboo. They simply split the bamboo open and lay it flat, then tack it down over a row of bamboo support slats. I'm guessing that they have to replace it fairly often because it gets burned by coals that fall out of the stove.

Lek's regular job is as a chef in his brother-in-law's restaurant. So I had my own private chef!

And here I am on the porch of our lodge, enjoying the dinner Lek cooked for me. Rice, curried chicken and potatoes (yum!), sweet and sour chicken and veggies (yum!), tofu and veggie omelette (yum!) and half a pineapple (yum!). Pineapples were selling for 15 bhat each (about 30 US cents) in the market. And these were the northern Thai pineapples -- very sweet and juicy, without the tartness or acidic aftertaste of the southern pineapples.

The folks in the village were having a party that night, because one of their own had just won an election. Each family has a solar cell that charges up a battery all day. They use it for light at night -- and evidently to operate a CD player, because the music was going until the juice started to conk out. Then they switched to singing. But it was a pleasant sound to fall asleep to. I slept like the dead, comfortable and cozy.

By the way, the toilets are flush toilets; you just flush them with a bowl of water you bail from a large tub of water kept handy. They were squat toilets in little outhouses. I've been trying to research exactly how sanitation made its way through the mountains; I suspect the royal family's efforts to help the rural folks to thrive played a part. The running water and flush toilets system depended on hoses and cisterns, and was primitive, but very effective. All I'd want to do is add a solar water heater for showers, and a bamboo floor for a shower area.

This was a very pleasant, clean, friendly place where nobody got in anybody's face. I want to go back.