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The elephant handler asked if I wanted the elephant to "shake".

I said, "sure!"

Direct link in case embed fails:

It's about time I posted some rich media. At the moment I have 16gb of pictures and videos, almost none of them online.
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I'm now on my fourth day in Thailand. We spent our first two days in a small northern city called Chiang Mai, and the next day in a tiny town called Pai (pronounced “buy”). Chiang Mai might seem chaotic and third-world to an American fresh off the airplane, but it seems cleaned-up and reasonably organized to me. The internet is actually fast enough to run skype. On our first full day there, we took a tour called Flight of the Gibbons, which involved an insane number of zip lines and rappels between various trees in the jungle. I got some great first person and third person videos.

[ profile] pyrokitten_mew described Pai as similar to Berkeley, and she wasn't far off. I would instead describe Pai as more Berkeley than Berkeley... it's basically a rural Haight-Ashbury. Pai for whatever reason became a magnet for hippies, both domestic and foreign, and they've all settled in. Even though the downtown is not strongly Thai in flavor, it feels more authentic than a place like Vang Vieng, where the locals are in the business of extracting as much money as they can from visiting frat kids. Pai is hippies selling to hippies. The rumors of a bar callled “Buffalo Exchange” (with the same logo as the Haight St thrift store) are true... I have the pictures to prove it.

In Pai we signed up for an elephant ride. One particular business caught my eye because they let you ride the elephant bareback and “play” with the elephant in the river. It turns out that you climb onto a trained elephant by stepping onto its raised front leg and then hoisting yourself up by grabbing onto its ear. Apparently this doesn't hurt them. What's an extra 75 kilos to them? Elephant hide is very thick and covered in hair like toothbrush bristles. The skin is stretched so tight over its skull that the top of its head feels like a hairy rock. However, the back of the neck is warm and soft, and you can sit there. My friend visiting from the US, a pampered first-world princess who would not be offended by the description, bowed out early. This put her in an excellent position to film me “playing” with the elephant in the river, which consisted of the elephant dousing me with trunkfuls of water and playing the role of a rodeo bull while I tried to stay on. There are videos that should make it online at some point.

Chiang Mai has an organic restaurant called Blue Diamond. Even though it's mostly Thai food, it's the taste and atmosphere of home. This is not surprising, given how often I eat Thai food at home. They make their own ice cream, including hard-tofind flavors like lemongrass and dragonfruit. They sell Goji berries. It's full of *interesting* expatriates, as opposed to the other expatriates. The other expatriates consist of unattractive middle-aged foreign men paired with young slender Thai nymphs.

Long bus rides -> More Blogging.
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We wanted to get a massage shortly after arriving in Thailand. However, it was late, we were tired, and the recommended massage place was all booked up. We decided to try a place that looked semi-reputable and was on our street. The guidebooks recommend finding older masseuses as they are likely more experienced. My masseuse ended up being an aging ladyboy in heavy drag makeup who didn't really pass as female. I had ordered a Thai massage, which is generally heavy and full-contact. I didn't relaize just how full contact it was. He sat on me, pulled or pushed on various limbs with his full weight, and generally contorted me in various pretzel forms. The massage was decently good but intense. All the while he kept making comments like “You big strong man”, “Big leg muscle”, and “Nice tall man” in a bouncy high baritone voice. At one point he sneezed directly onto my leg, then giggled and said “Sorry... is ok?”
mattbell: (Default)
According to a woman I met on the plane, Thailand has the Thai Mafia, the Chinese Mafia, the Russian Mafia, and the Government/Mafia. The guidebooks are quite open about it... eg “The Songthaew Mafia (a taxi-like system) has done everything possible to stop the excellent new public bus system, and to this day there is very little information on it”) I asked the hotel owner for the bus map, and he said there are no buses. He said there was also no songthaew mafia. So if I'm found floating dead in the moat around the city, that''s why. I just wanted to take the bus.

De corrupting a government seems extremely hard... once there is corruption at the top, it spreads all the way down to the local level. After all, if the leader is fleecing the system, why shouldn't you? Once corruption is ingrained, it's very hard to change. As a result, even if the country elects an incorruptible leader (which they've had a lot of trouble with), it's very hard to actually fix the lower levels. It seems like even a large army of incorruptible followers to fill appointed government positions isn't enough, as there would still be many corrupted elected officials at the lower levels.
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A lot of people here have been taught to speak very polite English. This has led to some interesting mistranslations.

Hotel clerk: “Maybe I want your passport.” (I assume he meant to say “May I have your passport” It's common for cheapeer hotels to hold your passport hostage until you pay, though shadier hotels will hold it hostage for other reasons ).

Me: “Maybe not.”

Hotel clerk: “Then maybe you want to pay me now?”

Well, when you put it like that...


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February 2011

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