Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pattaya Trip, We "jump" off the tower

my wife on our balcony
We were late to rise our first morning in Pattaya having arrived at the hotel after 2 am the night before. The first thing we did before heading down for the free breakfast was to get the nickel tour by Don of what we could see of our surroundings from his balcony. His was on the opposite side of the hotel from us. All we could see of note from our balcony was straight down at the pool.

His room faced north, towards the direction of Jomtien Beach. At the time he pointed Jomtien out I still had no idea what that was. The most prominent things he pointed out—a large foliage covered ridgeline and a tall tower that seemed to loom from out of the top of the ridge right about where the ridgeline rose up prominently into a distinct mound of a hill.

Enthusiastically, he described the wonderful view of the sea and the surrounding city available from the top of the hill summit. He described three separate parks taking up real-estate along the ridge, one park facing out to sea and dedicated to a long dead Thai admiral, and the other two parks arranged further back along the ridgeline, one he called “Buddha Hill Park” and the other “The Confucius Gardens.”

But what really grabbed my attention during his visual tour was the tower, not because it looked all that spectacular, as it didn’t appear impressive from where we were, but because of the wires he pointed out that ran steeply from the near the top of it all the way to the ground. They looked like guy wires to me, but he assured me they aren’t. We were so far away that I could barely see them, much less determine their purpose. I really wasn’t paying much attention until he said that before we left Thailand we would hang by a harness from just beneath the spire at the tower’s tippy top and then slide all the way down one of those wires directly to the ground. Now THAT caught my attention.

We began speculating on who of us would have the guts to try such a thing. Don claimed that he and his girlfriend had already done it, so that was that. I knew I would do it, no guesswork involved there. So the question for me was whether or not my daughter and wife would try it.

I called them over and to show them the tower and the cables angling steeply to the ground, which were only faintly visible to us. Divine’s answer was immediate, “No way!” Janine wasn’t sure until I told her that Jenny, Don’s girlfriend, had already done it. After that, she too was in.
Looking down at Jomtien Beach
Days later, we finally got around to that part of our busy agenda, the part where we spent most of the day at Pattaya Park, the place where the tower is located. There are other things to do at the park, like the water park, but doing “the tower jump,”—which is what they call sliding to the ground in a harness from the top of it—was our first priority.

The cost for each per person is like $12 or $15, so we wanted to make the experience last as long as possible. We bought our tickets at the counter on the ground floor and took the elevator up to I think the 50th. I’m not sure exactly now. I believe it’s just below the revolving restaurant, but then again maybe it did revolve slowly and we just didn’t notice. That floor is more like a snack bar viewing platform. The cost of each ticket includes a free drink, so I grabbed a juice and we all claimed a large table to put our drinks and drop our bags. After that we all enjoyed the spectacular view, walking around in a circle to take in everything around us, all 360 degrees of it.
Forty-five minutes later and we were stoked to go up to the apex floor where we would select how we would ride back down to the bottom and then DO IT! There are three ways to go down: strap into a parachute harness and ride the wire down; or, you can step into a mini platform cage that tightly encloses your body and gives you something to stand on while you descend; or finally, the old lady way, an enclosed barrel shaped gondola big enough for several seated riders. As for me, there was no way that I was going down in anything but that harness.

A rider getting harnessed up
In the first video I walk around the entire perimeter of the outside platform, the apex floor. Looking straight down from over 500 feet up is a dizzying thing. Pointing the cam over the edge and seeing nothing but the ground below, you will see no suicide prevention devices, in other words, nothing to prevent idiots, intent on doing harm to themselves, from jumping if they have a mind to. This apparent lack of concern from the park owners about frivolous lawsuits once again reminds me of how messed up my own country has become, where businesses have to be so mindful of malevolent lawyering that fun stuff has become too cost prohibitive to exist anymore. Thank God for places like Thailand. On that note, you want to screw up a good thing? Put lawyers in charge of it. Case in point—the United States at present.
Nothing between you and the ground!
I decided to go first so that I could video everyone as they came down behind me. I handed over my ticket indicating I wanted to ride the harness. The boys stepped me into it and once all strapped in they took me to a hook where I could be dangled by simply lifting my feet off the ground. I’m pretty sure they do this mostly to give the person confidence in the rig more than anything else. I didn’t just dangle; I slammed myself hard just to make sure I was held solid. After the third time though, the Thai fellows in charge got a wee grumpy at my antics. ‘Sorry.’
"The barrel"

About to walk up the stairs to do my downward ride slide I began to notice a few butterflies in my midsection. Then my wife asked me for my wallet. That broke the nervousness as it gave me the opportunity to say something funny, “Oh I see, so if I die at least you’ll have my money! Good thinking!”
Just a reminder on the way into the cage
The attendants go at it quick, not giving you anytime to think about it. I stepped into the cage, I felt them hook my harness in, they told me to grab the handle above my head, the door in front of me opened, and then nothing but space beneath me. It’s an amazing feeling. I have to say the best part is right at the beginning when you are staring at death in the face, but you KNOW not really.
the view straight down on the way down
Once the ride starts all there is to do is to take it in. The only problem with the ride down is that it’s over before you know it. The ground started to come up at me a lot faster than what I was expecting. I began to wonder how I was going to stop and if it would be unpleasant. And I’ll warn you right now, it is not a smooth landing. You hit the end pretty hard, jouncingly hard. There is a guy at the bottom that catches you a little, but his primary task is to get you out of the harness quickly so that the next rider doesn’t slam into you.
Janine getting unhooked on the ground
All in all, it’s an amazing experience. If you are in Pattaya, you MUST do the tower jump at Pattaya Park!  Anyway, in less than an hour we take off on our next adventure, a scuba expedition in the uncharted scuba waters off of Claveria. See you when we get back...

your butt kind of rubs when you first drop
a few seconds from drop down
the audience at the top
the water park, the park's other major attraction

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pattaya Trip, High atop Admiral's Hill

Perhaps the best observation point of the Pattaya area is a hilltop park devoted to the memory of a famous Thai admiral described by the placard as being “The father of the modern Thai navy.” I won’t put his name here because unless you speak Thai it would be unpronounceable.

Well, what the heck—here it is: Admiral Prince Krommaluang Chumphon Khet Udomsak. See, I told you. The Thai language has to be one of the toughest there is. Having been born in 1880 the admiral is the contemporary of one of our own famous military figures, General MacArthur. The admiral’s park, way up there on the top of the ridge, splits Pattaya Bay and Jomtien Bay, providing sweet views of both.

I think Don and I ended up there at least three times. With us being on scooters it was a nice place to stop in for a quick break before heading on back to the hotel, especially after a trip to the Jomtien Beach side of the hill. The view of the surroundings up there changes all the time depending on the time of day, the cloud cover and the lighting from the sun.
I never got to see the early morning panoramas from up there or anywhere else for that matter; if you know me you'll know that afternoon and evening time is always more my speed. I am not a morning person unless I’m forced to be.

Pattaya sits on the eastern side of the Bay of Bangkok, thus, every evening the sun provides a spectacular fiery vision as it slowly plunges into the sea. Watching it dive every evening into the bay reminded me very much of my stint as a marine embassy guard at Monrovia, Liberia, where the embassy grounds sit high on a cliff overlooking the continuously crashing waves of the ocean. It was rare that I missed watching the sun set into the middle of the Atlantic.

One afternoon Don and I thought it would be a great idea to catch a sunset atop Admiral’s Hill, with my wife riding behind me and his girlfriend and my daughter Janine riding behind him. As the bike riding expert, he volunteered to carry the both of them. It wouldn't have been safe for me to try it.

Getting there, which means motoring up a very steep and winding knoll, was not a problem. The bikes had plenty of guts to get us up there with acceleration to spare. We know this because we were in a hurry to beat the setting sun.

We made it to the summit just in time with just over ten minutes to spare till the bottom of the sun hit the water's horizon.

Every evening it is the same up there; showing up at the hilltop park are a large contingent of tourists looking to see a gorgeous sunset from the best vantage possible, along with many locals intent on honoring the memory of their famous admiral, with of course the beautiful sight of the setting sun thrown in as a bonus.

We continued to pose for picture taking, or at least everyone else did, until the light was too far gone to take any more. In the meantime I had my girls move around all over the place on the large hilltop platform trying to capture them with as many different backgrounds as possible. Everyone else up there was doing the exactly the same thing causing many of us to jockey for position around each other for the best shots.

It was fully dark when we finally decided to call it quits. I was glad I didn’t have to contend with an extra body on the back of my bike going down that precipitous sweeping descent in the dark and felt relieved when we hit level ground again.

In short order however, I was ready to trade level for steep as we hit horrendously heavy traffic made worse by Don's insistence to drive through it like a bat out of hell. Even with the two girls on the back of his bike I had a heck of a time keeping up as he flitted in and out of cars and buses. Suddenly I heard Divine yell into my ear, “Hey! That police just blew his whistle at Don and pointed at him!”

“Whoa! He did? I didn’t see that.”

Turns out Don also did not see or hear the cop and blew right by the uniformed traffic officer. A few blocks down we got him to pause for a second and we got a chance to ask him about it. He was flustered and angry after having his girlfriend yell at him about the policeman while trying to concentrate in the thick traffic. At that moment it was obvious he didn’t really want to discuss it, but I suspected it was because he had three on a bike. I said as much and we agreed to find out for sure when we got back to the hotel.

Upon our return we asked a couple of the Thai security guards about the legality of three to a bike. We weren’t sure since we had seen so many locals doing it. Sure enough, they told it was against the law. They said that the locals know how to avoid the police, or that’s what they claimed. In other words, don't get caught and you are all right. Huh. Sounds very Filipino that! Anyway, I’m pretty sure that the cops just mostly turn a blind eye when their fellow Thais do it. Nevertheless, we decided that we wouldn’t try three to a bike anymore, unless we thought we could get away with it of course!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pattaya Thailand Trip, Giant Catfish at Stone Park

Million Years Stone Park has some HUGE Asian catfish stocked in its fishpond—more like a small lake actually. There at the fishpond, just like at every animal station in the park, visitors can spend a bit more money to feed the animals they are “experiencing,” in this case what appears to be the Mekong Giant Catfish. I’m not so sure that such willy-nilly feeding of their animals by tourists is such a great thing for the animals, but it sure was fun for us.

Researching those giant Mekong catfish, it’s a sad thing to consider that their days may be nearing an end. The ones at Stone Park seem pretty big but in their natural riverine environment they are known to grow more than 10 feet in length reaching almost 700 lbs in weight. That makes them the world’s largest freshwater fish. In the US we hear about 5 foot catfish occasionally caught, mostly in our southern rivers, and we marvel; yet there in that Thai zoo lake are probably thirty or more 5 footers (and longer) all in one place and quite willing to reveal themselves for a few food pellets. Unfortunately, these monsters cannot breed in lakes and ponds, only in rivers, so stocking them in ponds will not preserve the species.

There is a host of other fish to see as well, many fairly large in their own right; but they don’t generate much interest and even less excitement compared to the real celebrities of the lake. The stars of course being the mass of crowding giant catfish with their massive upturned heads and gaping mouths.

In observation mode, I noticed that there are two distinct “shifts” of fish consisting of “the giants” and “all others.” The giants (the catfish) come to the surface anytime pellets are thrown into the water, at which time “the others” in the interest of self-preservation either remove themselves or are forced to the perimeter of the mass of catfish giants.

Among “the others” are much smaller fish, some even fingerling sized, which I presume must be very quick, because once those catfish open their gaping maws to vacuum up the floating pellets there’s probably a pretty good chance that one of the fingerlings can get sucked down too. I kept watching to see if that would happen, but I never witnessed such a thing. I suppose all the stupid smaller ones get sucked down pretty quick—so it’s a question of survival of the fast and the smart when it comes to those little ones.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pattaya Thailand Trip, Janine & The White Tiger

After watching crocs and elephants for a couple hours we moved on to see what other animal gems were available for us to see and experience. The Thais are big on the experience part. They’ve figured out that they can make a lot of extra baht by providing “up close and personal” with their critters. Like I said in an earlier post, there’s nothing remotely like it back in “Litigation USA,” unless you want the thrills of scratching lambs and ponies behind their fuzzy ears in a kiddy petting zoo.

Million Years Stone Park has an old fashioned zoo set up with caged animals just like zoos used to have in the states back in the bad old ugly days. I’m glad those are mostly gone. I admit that I wasn’t very comfortable seeing animals in cages. Truthfully, I can’t even stand to go into pet shops as the sight of animals stacked up in tiny cages nauseates and saddens me—sympathetic reaction I guess.

In the same zoo area are several animals with handlers where for a fee a visitor can pose with full sized fully toothed tigers (not sure if they let them keep their claws). There is an Asian bear as well, but that poor thing is so neurotic that I couldn’t stand to be around it. It constantly rocks and twitches like a mad man in an asylum. I felt horrible for it. I hurried by it hardly looking up, sort of like passing the bum on the street with puke on his shoes.

But then there is the white tiger, the star of the zoo and the primary subject of this post; well, him and my daughter Janine. At first I thought the huge white reclining tiger was just a stuffed display, it was deathly still, not moving a muscle. Then the handler poked the giant white beauty into elegant motion, which I think startled us more than it did the tiger. Impressed, we immediately decided to hang out there for a while. It’s not every day you get to see something so special.

Soon we began daring and prodding Janine to go up and pose with “tiger white, burning bright.” She was torn, torn between self-preservation and the intense need to take advantage of a super photo opp. I laughed; knowing full well that these days, with her, the photo opp side of her brain ALWAYS wins out; but this time, not quite. She was very willing at first, but as she approached and got the full effect of how truly enormous that cat is, fear began to get the better of her.

The handler is a hoot. In the video he plays off her terror, going out of his way to make it even worse by poking some skin-crawling toothy growls from that gigantic head. My daughter wasn’t impressed in the least at his attempts at mirth, but the rest of us thought it was hilarious. I love it when Janine smacks the handler like he is her misbehaving big brother.

Our very own Cynthia, obviously a naturally intrepid soul, goes first to show her “little sister” the way. Once her older gritty buddy does it and survives unscathed, Janine decides that she too can manage it.

Her first time modeling with “Big White” was nice but I wanted something more dramatic, something that included those huge meat rending teeth. So, for an extra 3 bucks, the comical handler with his continuously pushy manhandling manner, agrees to make it happen.

Until a few moments ago I didn’t realize how scared to death Janine must have been the entire time. I thought perhaps she had come to grips with the idea of being so close to the tiger, because in the moments that she smiles so wonderfully for the photo taking no one would believe she is anything but relaxed and happy to be there. But looking again at the video, I discover a look of sheer terror that pops out from behind the brave façade. So determined is she to make the pictures happen with the tiger that she is able to conquer that visceral fear and go through with the ordeal. Thus, I suppose the moral of her story would be, “if you want an act of courage from Janine, point a camera at her!”

Janine’s intense fear aside, I’m sure that tiger is about as safe as a tiger CAN be in that situation. For one thing the chain holding it to the platform is short enough to keep the animal from easily spinning around at the person sitting in a pose at its rear haunch, especially with it strategically forced to lay with its back to the posing person. I notice too that just like with the elephants, the handler is ready to instantly intercede if need be.

I’m sure also that the tigers, especially those used for picture taking, are all born in captivity and have been around humans for their entire existence. In fact, breeding tigers for zoos and shows throughout Thailand and even throughout the world is an industry in that country.

In fact I got to see an example of a “tiger cub mill” a few days later when we visited another zoo park called Tiger Park. There they have an entire building devoted to displaying their cubs where you can pay to bottle feed and cuddle tiger “kittens.” I didn’t do that but I have some awesome footage of a young but very aggressive tiger cub trying to attack me through its cage bars. One look at those bared claws and I was grateful as can be to have that cage between us. Check out the video below. Imagine a full sized hungry or angry one coming at you!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pattaya Thailand Trip, The Croc Shows

A half hour after first discovering the elephant yard way in the back left corner of The Million Years Stone Park, the sound of traditional Thai music began to play loudly from loud speakers behind us. We knew from the schedule that it meant that the next crocodile show was about to begin. Not about to miss the show we immediately answered the call and headed to the indoor crocodile arena immediately abutting the elephant yard.

The crocodile show arena is basically a long shallow swimming pool with a smoothly tiled irregularly shaped island barely rising above the water level in the middle. Our first goal upon entering was to get into some seats that would provide the most complete view, preferably high and in the middle; being some of the first ones in there, that was not a problem.
Essentially, the show consists of a young strapping local lad having his way with several crocs for about 25 minutes. He manhandles them, pulling the larger ones around by their tails with one smaller one he actually picks up, cradling it in his arms.

He continually splashes water up on the central island making it easier to slide the huge reptiles around on it. It also needed to be slippery when wet to allow his body to easily slide on it during portions of the performance.
He starts out at the far end with a medium sized croc, arranging it so that it faces down the middle by pulling its tail around. The brave Thai, dressed in what looks to me like orange pajamas, demonstrates throughout the show his indifference to any threat posed by the crocodiles, even when he does death defying things like putting various body parts in the reptiles’ wide-open mouths.

I know there must be some kind of technique to keep from being chomped on by those things. I mean I SAW what one was able to do to the half a chicken that I dangled on a rope only a short time before. That time I knew its intentions but still I wasn’t fast enough to keep it from happening. Yet somehow this guy is able to place his hands, and even his whole head, deep into those gaping mouths rimmed with menacing teeth and every time retrieves hands and head without harm.
It probably has something to do with keeping the show crocs so well fed so as to prevent them from unauthorized feeding, but I have to believe there’s more to it than that. Surely a crocodile’s instinct to bite down is overpowering when tempting bits of body are dangled right inside its mouth? It seems self preservation instincts alone would surely dictate biting behavior of any wild animal and you cannot get any wilder than a pea-brained crocodilian.

One deed performed by the death defying fellow was extremely fun to watch. First he arranges one of the big crocs at one end and somehow makes the animal hold its mouth wide open. The guy then goes all the way to the other end of the island, and after plenty of dramatic buildup backed up by the proper stage music and remarks (in Thai) by the emcee, he runs at the gape mouthed critter full speed. After five or six sprinting steps he drops to his stomach and goes into a spine-tingling seemingly out of control slide into apparent certain mayhem.
Another act of daring do is when he performs the old tried-and-true head fully into the crocodile’s wide-open mouth bit. I don’t care how many times I see that; I get chills, especially when he does it with the monster croc. The danged thing is a giant. On the second time he yanks his head out from between all those teeth lined up in those bone crushing jaws and as he does so the croc actually seems to try to snap his jaws together. Holy mackerel but that IS a good trick.
Later in the week we went to another park that also had a crocodile show and it pretty much went the same way as at Stone Park. The one notable difference though is the addition of a beautiful young lady who also has the nerve to place her pretty little head between jaws of a giant croc. What a gal!
I have video of much of this but YouTube is loaded with clips of Thailand crocodile shows I see. Check them out. I see there are even some showing the crocodile actually biting the performer. I think I'll skip those.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Pattaya Thailand Trip, Elephants being Elephants

I don’t want to overdo the whole elephant thing so I’ll let this be my last on elephants for a while, at least for the ones I met at The Million Years Stone Park. Be warned though, I’m not completely done with them. A few days before our departure from Thailand I had another very personal encounter with a couple more. That was an incredible one-of-a-kind experience but we’ll save that for another day.

Janine, my lovely stepdaughter, had the adventure of her young life during our trip to Thailand. For her, as for all of us, it was more like a series of adventures. She surprised me in that I never would have given her credit for having the guts to do and try some of the things we put in front of her, but every single time she rose to the challenge.

For instance, I would have bet that she’d never go for allowing herself to be lifted from the ground by an elephant in its trunk, but she did it as you can well see in the first embedded video. Still, I’m not sure if she did all the adventurous things that she did because she wanted to try them or because she saw them as really cool photo opps for her Facebook page. That girl DOES like to be on camera. Proof of that is the ferocious white lion she modeled with less than an hour after she let that huge elephant boost her up.

I’ve watched the video of the elephant lifting my girl up at least a dozen times, not so much to watch Janine, although there is that, but to see how cautious that huge animal is around her, how totally self-aware it is. I mean look at how careful it moves around her. Sure, the trainer is there, but in reality he is only serving as a reminder to his huge protégé to watch his step. One lapsing moment with one of those giant feet, one careless swipe with that monstrous proboscis and my girl is either dead or horribly injured. Yet that was never going to happen. The animal was obviously enjoying himself and completely conscientious in controlling his giant parts around her. The more I consider it the more amazing I find it.

The second video “Elephants being Elephants” is a compilation of clips that I took there at The Stone Park Elephant Area. At the start you can see all of us just chilling out on the picnic tables completely content with just watching and observing.

In the far background are a couple of elephants with huge top mounted passenger seating. I was interested in giving that a try until I learned they wanted over $15 per rider. That seemed a bit steep to do something that didn’t look all that thrilling.

In video #2 I wander over to the far group of elephants when it seems they are becoming oddly active, or how about “active in an odd way.” The big one is rubbing his chin and tusks on the adolescent’s back and hindquarters. At first I think the two of them are doing some strange affection ritual and then much later, after I view the video about a dozen times, I realize that the small one’s back right leg is caught in the larger one’s chain. The big guy is so intent on getting the smaller one to stop yanking on the chain around his leg that he even ends up pushing one of his tusks up the little guy’s butt. If you listen carefully you can hear me giggling because it looks so weird to see that. At the time I didn’t notice that the little one’s leg was caught and I thought it was some strange sexual thing or something. But no, there’s no odd hanky-panky going on, they are simply trying to disentangle themselves.

At about 1.30 into the video one of the mature ones is entertaining himself by standing on a relatively tiny performing platform on all four legs. I have a bad habit of prattling on as I observe what I’m recording so pay no attention to my remarks as you watch, okay? In fact, go ahead and turn off the sound!

The one balancing up on the circus platform, even with one leg trapped to the ground by a chain, does a pretty good job up there. He changes position and when he decides to go to three legs he even alternates which of his three legs to stand on. It’s impressive to see this animal do this behavior with no apparent prompting from a handler or trainer. He just seems to be having fun, perhaps killing time like any human might. He even does something I’ve never noticed elephants do before on TV or film when he seems to be kicking his own swinging trunk with a foreleg. Now THAT is funny. His two companions to his front and back are both very interested in watching him perform and seem to be encouraging him as they reach out with their trunks and heads to touch him.

At just over 3.0 the smaller very active one appears to be purposely trapping the big one’s rear leg to the ground with one of his own rear legs, almost as if they are doing some kind of elephant Indian foot wrestling like we used to do as kids in the yard.

I pan back to the right where the one on the platform is still up there, but now he’s got just his rear legs on it putting his massive butt high in the air. The other one with his head in the sun facing away takes a moment to throw a chunk of pineapple plant over his shoulder at his buddy on the platform and hits him right on the tail. It’s a great no-look shot and right on target. Amazing.

At 3.40 the little one in the middle decides to sit down on his haunches, sort of rolling over on the side of one rear leg while the two bigger ones at his sides come over and butt him gently with their heads. You can hear me marveling at the silliness of it. Then he completely rolls back so that he’s sitting on the ground fully on his butt propped up on only his two front legs, at which point I exclaim, “What! What is he doing?” Evidently this action is forbidden and causes one of the seated handlers to get out of his chair and come over to put an end to the peculiar behavior. At the Thai man’s approach the little fella immediately gets back up on all fours.
Is there any wonder I’m so captivated by elephants? I wish they came in much smaller sizes. I’d LOVE to have one!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pattaya Thailand Trip, Stone Park Elephant Soap Opera

I love this video of The Stone Park elephants feeding. We had just finished spectating at one of the many crocodile shows in the croc arena just up from the elephant grounds. It was later in the afternoon; most of the other visiting tourists had moved on to other parts of the park. We were happy to just sit rest and enjoy watching our big buddies as they ate and socialized in the shade of their supersized umbrellas.
My up close and personal introduction to elephants has caused me to look into them more closely. One of the things I learned is how different Indian elephants are from their African cousins. They are so distant on the taxonomic scale that they are actually classified into two different families.

Asian elephant species have the most variation within the order, Thai elephants basically coming from the Indian elephant species. Asian elephants are decidedly smaller than African elephants. Asian elephants’ ears are about half the size of their African counterparts. And one difference I learned about between them that I certainly captured in my videos is the Asian elephants’ greater penchant for making more use of their feet. I definitely saw an example of their deft footwork while observing them using their tootsies to dexterously tear apart whole pineapple plants into bite sized pieces.

factoid about elephants is that they can and will eat just about any plant. It makes sense that the park would feed them the pineapple plants. Once the fruit is harvested, what else could such a substantial farm waste product be used for other than as a very difficult to compost item? Making them into elephant food is perfect.

If you’ve ever seen a pineapple plant you’ll know how tough and stringy the long leaves are. These leaves also have sharp serrated edges leading up to a hard needlelike point at the end. I certainly wouldn’t want to work in a field of them without some long protective gloves, yet the elephants tore into them as if munching on soft mouthfuls of clover.

Notice in the YouTube clip the way they nimbly use the very ends of their toes at times to hold the tough plants down to the concrete floor as they use their proboscis to tear off individual leaves. As I said above, Asian elephants have a remarkable predilection for using their feet.

But the reason I love this short clip so much is the interplay between two of them especially--the large one on the left and the smaller happy-go-lucky one in the middle. I just showed it again to my wife using the following narrative:

Grumpily, the large elephant on the far left complains to any who will listen, “Hey! Why am I the ONLY one out here without a pineapple plant to munch on? Come on! I’m HUNGRY! Gimme some! Someone, ANY one!”

The large hungry fellow walks over to the little one, bumps him on the hindquarters and asks, “Hey little man, you gonna eat all that?”

All the elephants ignore the big one and continue to tear apart their pineapple plants. Some of them like to tear one, two or three leaves off at once, and then wave them around, sometimes slapping the hard long leaves against the top of their head or flapping them against their sides before popping them into their mouth.

The big hungry guy is beside himself in frustration. He paces about, crosses his legs once, backs up as far as his chain will allow before approaching the smaller elephant again, continuing to ask for some afternoon “roughage,” “So dude, come on man, I KNOW you can’t eat ALL of that. Give me SOME! Please?”

The big fella reaches out as far as he can with his trunk but cannot quite reach the plant. The smaller one is obviously younger but he’s not stupid; he keeps the plant just out of reach.

The hungry one backs off and tries to talk the far elephant into giving up some plantage but to no avail. That one completely ignores the request and blithely continues to tear and munch away at his plant.

Aggravated and obsessed, the big fellow continually jabbers away at his companions, asking them to share. FINALLY, the smaller one takes pity on his big brother, grabs his own plant by a single leaf and lifts it high. He waves it side to side in front of him and releases it just at the right moment so that it flies behind him up the left side of his body toward his famished friend. The little guy finishes up his little act of mercy by trying to use his left hind foot to push the plant backwards toward the larger elephant who immediately takes the opportunity to reach out and grab the object of his desire.

 With great gusto he puts one foot on the plant and ravenously begins to pull it apart and devour the individual leaves. At this, the charitable little guy goes over to the even larger elephant to the right and tries to socialize with him, but the bigger one is not interested. In fact, so determined NOT to socialize he even walks away from his own pineapple plant rather than submit to the advances of the playful adolescent.

While that is going on to the left, the far elephant, failing to pay attention, allows his plant to get too close to the supposedly hungry big one, who sneaks over and snatches away the unattended plant. Evidently he thinks that the pineapple plant is greener on the other side of the concrete! Now, he has TWO pineapple plants. That'll show em.

Like I said, I never got tired of watching them. Who would have thought that elephants have the same foibles as we do!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pattaya Thailand Trip, The Elephants, Part One

Reluctantly, we moved on from the crocodiles. Continuing up the walkway, soon all thoughts of the scarily cool reptiles behind us vanished, instantly replaced with the remarkable sight of a yard full of pachyderms of the elephant variety, in this case the Asian elephant.

I have never been close to an elephant before and certainly have never touched one, but there below us at the bottom of some concrete steps through a gate I could see people, other tourists, being allowed to touch and interact with elephants as if at a child’s petting zoo. Yes! I couldn’t wait to get closer to check it out. The excitement generated by seeing the elephants completely took my mind off the aching in my feet, for by then, I was feeling a bit foot weary due to my chronically bad “dogs.”

With eyes wide we enter the gate at the bottom of the steps to be among the elephants.
I don’t think anyone there could take their eyes off the elephants. Truly, they have to be one of the most intriguing animals alive; and it’s more than about their gigantic size, they have so much personality, obvious intelligence and natural charisma. How can you not be drawn to them?
The younger ones always seem to be smiling, but all of them have an air of playfulness.
Near the bottom of the stairs I put my cam on video and moved to get some closer shots of the awesome animals before me. It was hard to believe that the park would allow visitors to get so close to such potentially dangerous critters. I know from reading that all elephants are wild no matter how trained and tamed they might seem. I’ve also seen tape of captive elephants suddenly going rogue, attacking people and so forcing authorities to destroy them.

Yet here in front of me were ordinary people walking right up to them, touching them, feeding them, and interacting with them. I’m sure no park, circus or zoo in the US would ever allow the public to do anything similar; their corporate lawyers would never allow it, afraid of some stupid bit of litigation. No, you have to go to places like Thailand to have these kinds of experiences these days. In many ways, some of the best aspects of life in the US, the exciting adventurous ones, have been destroyed by lawyers, legislators and litigation.
Hot chick, VERY hot, offering her fruit to Jumbo.
Then again, looking at the video again (for like the 20th time), I notice that all the elephants are made completely safe by two things. There is the constant presence of handlers for one thing; the other safety device being the strategically placed leg chains that allow an elephant to get no closer to people than their trunks will reach. Of course that doesn’t stop people from getting close to the elephants.
One of the steely-eyed handlers
In the first video notice the stern faced handler in the pink shirt. He is in charge of one of the larger elephants, I believe the same one that they use to make posed shots of people being lifted high in his trunk and standing under his whiskery chin. The second embedded video shows my girl Janine bravely doing exactly that. I’m glad not all the other trainers act like this pink shirted guy. To me, he just seemed to be meaner than necessary. About 1.40 into the movie he roughly pokes his large charge in the leg with his heavy wooden stick and then acts like he’s about to take a big swing at the big fellow.

Pink Shirt gruffly poking with his stick.
I was disappointed to see him do that. But, I’m not an elephant guy, so maybe that kind of apparently severe handling is necessary to keep them in line. And it’s true that as I observed them, many of the elephants seemed to get fidgety and even edgy. I can’t really blame them though, being all locked up like that by a short chain to the ground. I’m sure I would act up a heck of a lot more than what I was seeing THEM do.
The elephant wasn't eating the bananas immediately offered by people which made the handler angry.
Just over 2 minutes into the first YouTube vid Divine shows up with a basket of little bananas she purchased for us to feed to the elephants. She hands it to Janine who stands there until the handler in the green shirt—who, by the way, seems a lot kinder than pink shirt, much to my delight—subtly prompts his moderately sized elephant to come on over and have some of our bananas.
My wife shows up with a basket of bananas
Janine at this early stage in her association with the huge animals is too timid to try it, so, once again, just like at the crocodiles, she hands off to me and takes the camera instead. After watching me feed him a banana or two she got up the gumption to give it a try. I can’t blame her for being timid; the first time that proboscis comes at you it’s an eerie thing, kind of made me want to back up.
Strange to have that thing coming at you, like its got a mind of its own.
There is obvious communication driven by a high level of “smarts” going on in that giant brain. Watch ours as Janine nervously approaches him. He WANTS those bananas and signals that desire by repeatedly pointing his trunk at them followed by pointing at his mouth. Being near them, you can “feel” their intelligence, it’s hard to explain. It must be how the Green Peace folks feel after being around whales. Come in contact with them, feel their astuteness and you want to protect them. How anyone could kill one for “sport,” or even for food, is beyond me. We might as well be harvesting each other. I’m just glad the Japanese never developed a taste for elephant meat!
Elephants have to be one of the weirdest and coolest animals on earth.
Our elephant did something strange with the bananas we gave him, although I didn’t pick up on it immediately. He takes each one, crushes them by curling his trunk around it before popping it into his mouth, I think as a way of pre-chewing them. At first I thought he was just playing with his food before I figured out why he didn’t simply pop each one directly into his mouth.
I let him go for it and he tried to pick up every one in one try. Funny thing.
I spent a lot of time with the elephants. I literally could not get enough of them. I have more I want to talk about when it comes to these amazing beings but I don’t want this post to run on and on, sooooo… I think I’ll post in two or three parts. I’ll post the next one in a day or two with more pics and video. See you then.
The handler/trainer suddenly signalled these two pose like this. Pretty cool.
It was nice just sitting back and watching them while having cold drinks.