Hi everyone! Sorry for the delay in getting this posted again, but I figured since last week's post was in the middle of the week as well, it wouldn't seem as long of a wait.
So once again, we've had a bit of turnover in the volunteer house this week. Naomi and Kiera left to travel around down south in the islands for a bit before heading back to Ireland. Pretty hard to believe that it's already been a month since those two arrived at the house. We've had four more volunteers move in to the house since I last wrote, so just meeting and getting to know everyone has kept me busy these last few days. NoMi (I think that's how you spell it...pronounced NoMy) was the first to arrive last Wednesday. She's another Australian, and get this- she's a circus performer with Cirque Du Soleil, has performed all over the world including in Ireland, France, even India for a year. She does all of the aerial acrobatic stuff (trapeze, all the crazy swinging from ropes/sheets, etc.)...she tried to convince me to go bungee-jumping, but let's be real, she's coming from a slightly different perspective as essentially a professional bungee jumper...So the other international arrival is an engineering student from Ireland named Dermot. Some of you faithful readers may be asking "He's back???"- Well, you are remembering correctly- a previous volunteer in the house was also named Dermot, and was also from Ireland. Raise your hand if you have ever met anyone named Dermot before...how about living with two in one summer? Turns out that this new Dermot is now my roommate- a bit of a bummer that I had to give up my solo room, but he's a very cool guy and easy to room with (I did reserve the bottom bunk before he arrived, though...I'll compromise on a lot of things, but immediate proximity to a fan at night is not one of them...). The other two newbies are both American, Eva from New Jersey (goes to Princeton) and Jean from Boston (goes to Hampshire College). Again, both very nice, very artistic and creative personalities which is a lot of fun, and it was nice to have a couple more Americans in the house for the 4th of July (more on that in a bit...I'll go through my weekend chronologically). Anyways, it's quite interesting to meet such a diverse group of people, and I'm learning a lot from it. No Mi, for example, has studied all sorts of crazy things like Chinese massage/medicine, eye analysis, star interpretation, etc. Some of the stuff is questionable ("are you really going to tell me that pressing this spot on a pregnant woman's ankle will lead to birth defects?") but it's all really fascinating.
So Friday night we had a fun group dinner with the whole CCT crew at a Melting Pot-style Thai restaurant. We basically cooked everything in boiling water/broth in a big clay bowl, and just threw in everything from vegetables, tofu, mushrooms, to chicken, beef, shrimp, fish, etc. to make one big stew. My clay pot was doing a little Leaning Tower of Pisa action, which had me a bit nervous with the flaming coals underneath and the boiling water inside, but luckily I managed to keep it under control. After a chill night following dinner, I got up Saturday and decided to head out to a place called Tiger Kingdom. It's almost a zoo-type of attraction, but mostly holds tigers (hence the name, but it's got a few lion cubs and some random parrots flying around). The only person I could get to go with me from the house was Jean, which was a bummer for the rest of the house because it really was such a fun and unusual experience. The deal with Tiger Kingdom is that you can go into the cages and actually play with the baby tiger cubs, and snuggle up with the big adult tigers (they encourage you to not get too playful with the big boys, and you sorta lose any sense of playfulness when you're next to paws that big...). Anyways, we started out with the little baby tiger cubs. I'm pretty sure they were only a few months old, so they were just like the size of a puppy, and actually had more dog-like personalities than cat-like. They were extremely playful and happy, some were pretty mischievous. You can see in this picture to the right that the little guy tried to taste my hand. At one point, I was playing with one little guy when another came over and they started all-out wrestling on my lap...it was really cute but I was trying to keep my hands and feet away from their teeth and paws...Actually, right before we were about to leave the baby tigers to go visit the big ones, a guy working their came over and was talking to me as the tigers were wrestling on my lap- he kept saying "look at how they go straight for the neck! And do you see how padded their paws are? That's for stalking their pray silently- they're natural-born killers!"...Thanks, mister- funny you mention that, cause I'm just headed out to put my face next to the teeth and claws of a full-grown version of these "natural born killers..."
So yeah, after that little play group, we headed over to the cage with the big tigers. To be completely honest, they weren't as much fun as the little ones. Some people have since told me that they think they might drug the tigers up before letting people in, and as much as I would like to think it's not true, I guess it's entirely possible. They were sorta just lying there, though they were awake and alert, and even liked to get their bellies rubbed. It was a bit sad seeing these huge beasts (these "natural born killers") locked up in these cages, and as nice as the facilities were, and as well-taken care of as they seemed, there was just something not right with it. With my deepest apologies to PETA, though, I have to say I was nevertheless still extremely glad I went. They are absolutely gorgeous creatures, and seriously, how cute do the tigers always look in zoos? And yes, they are as comfortable and as snuggly as they look.
Can we all take a second to notice my proud representation of the 'red, white, and blue' on our glorious nation's birthday? The colors were poorly represented among the other American volunteers on Saturday, despite my encouraging, so I can only hope that everyone reading this put on a better performance, wherever you were (the red and white combo on your awkward farmer's tan doesn't count...).
Look at that transition into Saturday night...So of course I've been waiting to indulge in some good ol' American folly for quite some time. We got a whole group from the house to come out to this stadium in Chiang Mai where the American Consulate was hosting a 4th of July party for Americans and guests, complete with raffle prizes, carnival games, and of course, water-melon eating contests (ps. I was one number away from winning a free trip to anywhere in the U.S.)...Of course, I made a bee-line for the hotdog stand. Unfortunately the only burgers available were courtesy of McDonalds, but they did have some amazing BBQ ribs. Also, they felt a need to feature a musical playlist consisting entirely of serious country music- we're talking deep south. Do we try to promote these stereotypes abroad?
So Sunday I continued with the animal theme of the weekend. I didn't get my fill of elephants during my whitewater rafting day a couple of weeks ago, so Katie and I decided to do a whole day of elphant riding/education. We got up early for our full day adventure (got picked up before 8:30 am), and drove about an hour outside the city to a park/center out in the mountains where they kept and trained elephants. We started the day off with a bit of a hike through some rice fields to where they actually kept the elephants, and were issued our sweet "elephant-blues" as they call them- you can check out this latest Thai fashion in any of the accompanying elephant pics (just wait till you get to the pics after they issued us our jungle hats). Once in our uniforms, we started on getting aquainted with all the elephants (basically fed them lots of bananas to try to make friends). We then got a bit of a crash course in training/controlling elephants. The awesome thing about this place/day was that we each got our own elephant for the day, we rode them bareback (on their necks, legs up behind their ears, just like actual mahouts) which was so much more legit than riding on a little platform on the elephant's back like I did a couple of weeks ago. Since we had our own elephants, and were basically on our own in terms of controlling the elephant throughout our afternoon jungle trek, the morning was spent getting acquainted with the elephants and learning the different commands. It actually was an amazing feeling being able to control such a huge creature- granted, I only had the basics down, and my man Ham Moon (my ride for the day) was not particularly obedient, but hey I now officially know how to make an elephant go forward, backwards, turn left, right, and stop. I even know how to get them to lift their front leg up for me to use as a step to climb on top of its neck. But yeah, I'm pretty sure they gave me the difficult elephant, not sure if it was on purpose or not. No one else's elephant seemed particularly interested in all the bamboo and leaves on the sides of the path through the jungle, but my guy couldn't stop. One funny thing, though- the guy leading us through the jungle told me that all of the females in the camp refused to mate with Ham Moon- they would all kick him whenever he got close. After a few hours of tugging him off bamboo shoots, I could kinda see why. I'm sure he's that obnoxious guy in the camp who would hit on anything with a trunk (PS Ham Moon is the one with the tusks in the pictures). Anyways, we finished off the day with a nice bath for the elephants in a pond they had back at the camp- obviously we were getting wet, but it was all good after getting caught in a straight up monsoon for the previous couple of hours in the jungle. It actually made the trip a bit more interesting (again, these elephants were navigating some crazy dificult terrain down very narrow, very steep, very slippery paths, over big rocks and everything), and made for some really beautiful views of the rain coming down in this jungle valley. Despite my sore legs and a few extra mosquito bites (I think the malaria risk is only slightly higher in the jungle...), I really was so glad I decided to go back and spend a whole day with elephants. It was such a cool experience having my own elephant for the day, learning to control him myself, etc. And I really can't say too much about how amazing these animals are- there was one really old mahout at the camp who had been working with his elephant for so long that sometimes he would just sleep on the elephant's trunk at night, and the elephant would just stand there and hold him up for the night.
Alright, So I guess that's about it for this week. Time to head back home (in the rain of course- which ps is getting a bit old- it was cute at first I guess, but since Sunday it absolutely poured for literally 48 hours straight. I've never seen anything like it). Oh well, I guess I'm getting an authentic experience? So plans for this weekend are still a bit up in the air, but hopefully I'll be back next week with some more fun stories/pics. Hope you all had a fun 4th of July!