January 24 -Week two in Thailand – and sometimes I have to “pinch myself” to realize I’m really here. Most of my weekdays are spent between our two hotel rooms, but a few steps outside the hotel and it’s Asia for sure just crossing the street to the other hotel where the kids’ conference is and where we all eat lunch together. I got a real reminder of where we are tonight as I walked around the corner and down the street with Eric and the “we hope she falls asleep on this walk” Elsa: Eric pointed out the elephant across the street standing on the sidewalk in between motor scooters! The elephant drivers, called (I’m probably butchering the spelling) “mahouts,” put red lights on the rear of the elephants so other traffic can spot them at night on city streets.
Actually we don’t see that many in town. Last Saturday was a different story when we toured an elephant camp. Part of the package was a one-hour elephant ride, followed by a one-hour raft ride on the river, then a bull cart ride to the resort where we ate lunch. Er and Ev rode one elephant, and Em and Elsa and I rode another. Picture yourself perched about 12 feet off the ground atop a moving, swaying conveyance with nothing but a rope tied across the front of the seat to keep you from slipping out. Now take away the use of one hand (Em holding Elsa, me holding an umbrella over Elsa while she ate and then slept in Em’s arms) and try to find a place to grip with your other hand that will allow you to sort of keep from sliding forward right under said rope as the elephant heads downhill! Did I mention there’s no good place on the elephant’s back to put your feet to help brace yourself? I think you get the picture – and see the photo illustrating our plight. Our mahout kindly took the low road in a couple of places (still involved quite a bit of downhill) after he saw our predicament.
I had to laugh at – and you can understand why I couldn’t get to my camera to photograph – the Coke “billboard” on the side of a raised hut about 50 yards from another raised hut selling soft drinks for the elephant riders. Coke, hand-woven hats, bags, bracelets – the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the “wilds” of Thailand! Women and children stand in the river trying to sell their handmade items, and we saw a guy standing in the river selling cold drinks from a floating ice chest (again, I couldn’t get to my camera in time and thought it might be rude anyway to take a picture). We also visited an orchid farm – incredibly beautiful – and (by popular vote of the linguists on the bus who did NOT want to get back in time to add another seminar to their day) an elephant dung paper manufacturing facility. Yes, you heard me right. The paper is beautiful, by the way.
On to the inspiration in this peregrination. One part of every morning has been an hour or two with Ev and Elsa and four other Third Culture Kids and their caregiver over at a playground at a hotel on the next street. Two days ago I was talking with the nearly ten-year old girl in the group about their family’s plans after this conference. She said they were going to try to have a few days of vacation. Their planned vacation last June was cancelled when her mother contracted typhoid and dengue (sp?)fever and had to go to the hospital. A second trip got axed when they ran into visa problems. She rattled off all their problems quite casually. Are these the kinds of hassles you dream of having to deal with, or more appropriately, ever have nightmares about? This is just part of the reality for families like our “kids”, a cost they assume in doing the work they’re called to. That’s why I came here: to lighten the load a bit for Er and Em and their colleagues at these conferences, or at least to give them one less concern to deal with.
So if/as you think of it, please lift up the folks who are now traveling after the first conference, either to home assignment (wherever home is) or back to their workplaces.
I’d also appreciate a lift-up for my arthritis in my neck issues (I’ve had almost daily headaches here in Thailand) and my peanut sensitivity. Peanuts or peanut oil are nearly impossible to avoid in food here, and my hands and feet have been itching like crazy for the past week despite me giving up eggs in the morning and stir-fried everything.
Third point to lift up: the language survey Er and Em hope to do in early March is waiting on approval from the local language commission, and with Chinese New Year looming, the final decision may be delayed till just a few days before they need to leave. They also need to find housing in the smaller town from which they’ll be doing the survey.
Lastly, if you’d ever like your own adventure – the February conference coming up is an annual event with about 100 kids needing care while their parents attend . . . . Next year YOU on an elephant?