Monthly Archives: October 2017

Thailand and Cambodia, Final

Final Update

After a week of waiting for test results, I found out I had Salmonella. Canadian Public Health is very responsible, and contacted me to see if they could trace the Salmonella to warn others about any possible health risks. I told them that I was really going to be no help to them at all.

I had been through the perfect storm for bacterial infection. There was really no way to know if the source of the bacteria was from food, from wading through flood water, from swimming in polluted rivers with elephants, from riding in open tuk tuks with flood water spraying all over you, from contact with children who lived in flooded houses, from not having adequate places to wash your hands before lunch, etc etc. I am surprised that everyone in my group didn’t get sick, but I have pretty much fully mended now.

There really is no treatment for Salmonella other than time, rest and fluids.

People are asking me if it was all worth it, considering I was so ill when I got home. They answer is, it was completely and totally worth it!

Getting away from the North American rat race for even a couple of weeks is food for the soul. The Thai’s especially are such happy and relaxed people. They work hard, and they play hard too, and they don’t bury themselves in stress like we do here. Sure, everyone is busy, but when you return from somewhere like South East Asia, you really notice how small and ridiculous so many of our stresses are. We even stress about being stressed!

In Cambodia, the people live a simple life. Many live in what we would consider to be a state of poverty, but they are happier than almost any westerner you might meet. If we could only learn to be happy with what we have instead of always clamouring for more, perhaps we could be as happy as they are.

 

Thailand and Camboda, part 8

Oct. 5th, 2017

Part way through yesterday it was becoming obvious that my feet were not going to allow me to stand on concrete for another teaching day. We would usually leave our hotel at 7am and not get back until about 5pm. The long days were getting to me and the swelling was getting out of control. The arthritis in my knees and ankles was screaming at me. I had been using acupuncture on myself frequently, but the last few days I had basically chickened out of even trying to use a needle on myself. The skin was so tight it would make acupuncture very painful.

I had been taking Advil, but it was beginning to bother my stomach.

This combined with the heat and humidity had me feeling pretty crappy by the end of the work day. I went straight to my room and put my feet up on the wall, but the inflammation barely budged. Getting upstairs for dinner was difficult.

I mentioned to a few people that I didn’t think I would be able to do another day. Truth be told, I had already made up my mind. If I had this kind of swelling I would not be able to get my shoes on to get on the plane, so I had to find a way to get it down.

Sleeping didn’t go well with the aching and burning pain, so I asked my room mate to tell everyone I would not be going to the school. It was a sad decision as it was our last day there. I wouldn’t get a chance to say goodbye to the children.

Our guide, Mai came to check on me before leaving for the day. She was always so kind and conscientious.

Missing my last day at the school with the kids was tough. We had planned to gift the children with toothbrushes. Thankfully my team mates were able to do that without me. The kids at the school were all full of such joy and mischief. They are much rougher than kids at home. They push and shove and hit each other all the time, but you never hear any crying or whining. The staff just let the kids run wild. They seemed to be keeping an eye on them in case things got too rough, but they never really got out of hand. I really felt like the kids had so much freedom that they were happier than kids at home. They didn’t have an adult constantly hovering over them, making up rules every 2 minutes about what way to use the slide, or how to get along with each-other. In a week at the school I heard only one little girl cry. She had fallen, and after a 2 second hug she ran off to play again.

One day, when it was a bad flood morning, we weren’t sure how many children would show up. My teacher came to tell me that 2 students had come in, so we could start teaching. When we went into the classroom, there was nobody there. Or, so we thought. They kids had climbed up into the rafters of the classroom and were soon giggling at the confused looks on our faces. The teacher just laughed at their little joke and waved them down to their desks. They scrambled down and we did some small group work with them for an hour and then worked with two older boys for another hour.

October 12, 2017

Coming home I had a bit of a let down. Not because I did not have a fantastic time, and not because I wasn’t happy to be home!

Only because I brought home some unexpected travelers with me!

The last day in my hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I started feeling unwell. I had fever and chills and diarrhea. Without getting into the gory details, I will say that the 35 hour trip home with 2 layovers was not the most pleasant. I was paranoid I was going to be found out and put into Chinese quarantine! You actually had to walk through temperature sensors at the airport. I took Advil to keep my temperature down and the only other solution that seemed to work was to not eat anything, or to eat as little as I could to stay on my feet, but not trigger my stomach. I didn’t really want food anyways.

My travelling companions (big love to them!) had gone out to the stores and gotten electrolyte powder for me to mix in my water bottle, and I pretty much survived on that until I got home.

I came home, greeted my family while telling them I was too disgusting to touch, had a shower and went to bed for about 10 hours.

The next day we pretty much went straight to the hospital, where they hooked my up with some iv fluids, checked my electrolytes, (which were low) and started testing me to find out what bugs were in my system.

Four days later, still not well, I was into my second round of tests, and still wondering what is going on in there. I could really only eat toast, bananas, and a little apple sauce. .

A week in, I broke down and risked half a cup of coffee. I hadn’t had coffee in over a week and I was past the point of caring if it triggered a relapse!  The doctors at the emergency room told me that the wrong treatment could be disastrous with these kinds of things, so I was pretty much stuck waiting to hear back from them before trying anything. Sigh!

Thailand and Cambodia, part 7

Oct. 2nd, 2017

Organized chaos is the best way to describe teaching at the volunteer school.

Mr Sophara created and runs the 2 schools we volunteered at. I read something about him before coming, and I had assumed he would be a benefactor who still worked elsewhere, but he is there every day. He greeted us on arrival and did our orientation himself. He is very involved on a day to day basis. He took us on a tour of his village on our lunch break. They are all very proud of the improvements they have been able to make with help from companies like Bamboo.

Mr Sophara was raised in the village outside of Siem Reap. He became successful and decided to return to his home village and start a school. One school became 2 schools, serving over 200 children.

There are public schools in Cambodia, but the children must be able to buy a uniform, books and school supplies in order to attend. Many families are too poor to provide these basic items, and so their children had nowhere to go.

The schools we volunteered at were free schools. Anyone could attend and most of the supplies are donated, so there is no cost to the students. A little brother of one of the children wandered in without any pants one day, so uniforms and the like certainly weren’t an issue!

Children attend when they can, so they may not be able to come every day. Classes were always varying in size and in age, depending on who showed up that day. I had anywhere from 2 to 32 children in my class, aged anywhere from 4 to 17 years old.

They try to group the children into at least 2 levels. A basic and a more advanced level and they will seat the children in groups with others at their own level, so you can kind of figure out who needs help with the lesson and who has mastered it.

We had some staggered attendance, especially in the mornings. We had intense rain every night while we were there and there was lot of flooding. Some of the children were telling us that the water in their houses was up to their knees or up to their waist.

It didn’t seem to dampen their spirits much. They came to school anyways, always happy to be there.

A typical house in the village. Bamboo helps to build better houses and toilets in the villages.

October 3rd, 2017

Another day of teaching.

We had a fun night drinking cocktails in the pool. I developed a taste for Mai Tai’s. Cocktails, served at the poolside are $2.50. We have a running joke with our guide Mai. She is our “Mai Thai.”

There was even more rain overnight, so more flooding. Some streets were completely washed out. Many homes were flooded. The teacher I was working with said the water was up to his knees in his house, but he showed up to teach anyways. His resources were ruined by water as he rode his motorcycle to school, so I quickly ran off to the supply room to look for flash cards with the “oo” sound. There is a lot of improvising going on at those schools.

The older group in the afternoon wass more challenging, but still lots of fun. It was harder for me to step in with their lessons as much of the explanation was done in Kmer. (The language spoken in Cambodia.)

At one point when I was at a loss as to what we could try next, I asked the teacher if I could teach them a song. They love to sing, so I asked if they knew, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Most of them didn’t seem to know it. I started to sing and they caught on very quickly. The teacher wanted us to go through every word of the song and learn all of the words and their meanings. I wrote out the song on the board and we went through every word. We then spent at least an hour singing the song over and over again, stopping here and there to ask the children if they knew this word or that word.

There aren’t really walls between the classrooms. They are more like partitions, so you can easily hear what is going on in another room. The children were completely enthusiastic about everything they learned. Whenever they had and answer they would all shout as loud as they could. Singing was no different for them. By then end of the day, we had all three classrooms screeching “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” at the top of their lungs. My friends who were teaching in the other rooms had to give up their lesson plans for the day because all their kids wanted to do was sing along with my group.

The children loved it when I marked their work and drew stars on it. I couldn’t help but allow them to fix any minor errors to get a perfect score. It made them so happy. They all drew pictures for me. I had a stack to take home.

I went to the Cambodian Circus in the evening. This circus is staffed entirely by locals. The project trains young Cambodian kids as acrobats so they can have a career and improve their lives. They have traveled extensively. The performance was excellent. I have been to Cirque due Soliel and I think these kids could rival some of those performers.


Thailand and Cambodia, part 6

Oct. 1, 2017

Yesterday was a busy day of travelling. We took a small bus to the Cambodian border, stopping at the ATM and 7-Eleven.

Many of us have had trouble getting cash out of the ATM’s. We are all loaning money back and forth between each other depending on who can get cash. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to who can get cash when.

The other problem is that the ATM’s only give out large bills, and almost nobody can make change for us.

Buying snacks for the road lead to some interesting discoveries. I bought something that appeared to be Animal Crackers, but turned out to be some sort of chocolate filled cookie. I also got something that I thought was a chocolate-nut cluster, but is more like Count Chocula Cereal.

After the long bus ride and a long and hot processing at the Cambodian border, we took the tuk tuk into the heart of Siem Reap and were treated to a delicious dinner. Pumpkin curry is one of my favourite new dishes!

We had our orientation and I received some lesson plans for what were supposed to be teaching at the school.

I had almost no idea what to expect. All I knew is that there were 3 groups. Some of them repeat the same lessons as the previous group. They are grouped according to ability, more than by age and the teachers are unqualified volunteers. Many of the teachers are university students themselves.

After dinner and orientation, we explored the shops and had a few beers on “Pub Street.”

We didn’t stay out too late, as the next morning we were due to be in our tuk tuks, ready to head to the temples of Angkor Wat by 4am to catch the sunrise.

The sunrise did not cooperate. We had a downpour right before we arrived and the sky was cloudy. We got great photos anyways.

 

Our hosts had packed a breakfast for us, which we enjoyed while waiting for the temples to open.

Angkor Wat was the most difficult temple for me with all of the stairs. We stopped in the middle for photos and I received a blessing from a monk.

We went up level by level until we finally reached the inner tower. The stairs to the inner tower were about double the size of a regular stair and very steep. Going up wasn’t so bad, but coming down was terrifying. I didn’t realize I was getting vertigo until someone below called my name to take a photo of me. Everything went swirling around for a minute. After that I stayed focused on just one step at a time until I finally reached the bottom.

After leaving the temple, we stopped for water and found ourselves walking on a path surrounded by monkeys. They were not the most friendly creatures. Of course we knew enough not to approach them, but one of them did charge at a girl in my group. It was really scary.

 

 

 

 

When we got to the next temple, Angkor Baylor, it was a smaller one full of beautiful carvings. I could see most of the carvings from the main level and decided to not go up all of the stairs to the next level.

The next temple, my favourite, Angkor Ta Prom, was the setting for the movie Tombstone. This temple was surrounded by huge and beautiful trees. The dilemma faced by Angkor Ta Prom is this. The trees have grown through the temple to such an extent that their roots are intertwined with the stones. The tree roots are holding the temple together. If the trees die ad the roots lose strength, the temple will fall apart. At the same time, the roots of the trees are continuing to grow into the temple walls and causing more damage.

This temple was a little more sprawling. We had a temple tour guide who kept a close eye on us so we wouldn’t get lost. When we were finally on our way to lunch we were all soaked with sweat and exhausted.

 

Here’s an interesting tidbit: On our way between temples our tuk tuks were pulled over by the police. Our guide said they were, “checking for licenses.” But it was quite obviously something else. I noticed our drivers were all handing money to the officers. One of my friends from my group questioned what was going on and I whispered behind my hand to her, “Shh, Bribes.”

Our guide, who I will not name for his own safety, noticed that I had figured out what was going on and surprised me by talking openly about the ongoing corruption of the government and the police.

He told us how rich corporations from Viet Nam and some from Cambodia as well had bought the government and the police and that those who spoke openly against them were still taken way and killed. Corporations will take a persons land, giving them a very substandard price for it and build a fancy hotel etc. If the person complains about getting kicked off of their land they usually disappear. I also heard from another one of our guides that people who live around the temples are routinely kicked off of their land to make way for tourists. They are only allowed to build their homes from easily torn down materials, so that if the government ever wants to move them, they can knock their homes down with little effort.

It is no wonder that people are so desperate to make sales in the market places, and in front of the temples. We are constantly approached by people trying to sell things and offering rides in tuk tuks.

Bamboo has hired a team of tuk tuk drivers to safely drive us where we need to go. There are scams everywhere and stories of people getting into tuk tuks and being taken off to places unknown. They then have to pay extra to be taken back to where they really wanted to go. Some drivers also take you to a different hotel than the one you ask for because the owners of the hotel give them a commission for bringing people there.

The worst part was the people selling in front of the temples. They were very insistent. Blocking your path and harassing you with every step. We had been asked not to buy anything from children anywhere in Cambodia. That was the hardest part. We had small children chasing our tuk tuks down the road trying desperately to sell us things. The reason we were asked specifically not to buy from children was because they want the children to be in school, not out selling things on the street.

We were told to just say, “No thank you.” and keep on walking. Never be rude or short tempered or touch anyone. It could be unsafe to be rude here.

After our temple trip, some of my group were more adventurous than I was and went off zip lining or to cooking classes. I sat by the poolside. The bar was open, cocktails were $2.50 and beer was $1, the music was playing and the next morning we would leave for our teaching project at 7am.

 

Thailand and Cambodia, part 5

Sept 29th, 2017

To start this post off, I will try my best to explain one of the harsh realities of this world. The elephants are in chains. It does not look pretty, and I think the psychological part of it is the hardest for people to accept. If it was a little rope, they might not feel so bad about it. We tie up dogs and other animals to keep them safe, and elephants are no different.

Of course, in a utopian world, there would be huge sanctuaries were elephants could roam free, but that is not the case. Most of Thailand is farmland. Most of that farmland is planted in rice that feeds people. The farmland is not fenced. The cost and labour of fencing the farmland would be far more than they could afford, and even if the land was fenced, there is pretty much no fence that would hold off a hungry elephant.

Our friends at Bamboo built a beautiful enclosure with 3 inch thick metal bars, hoping to be able to keep some of the elephants unchained, and one of the baby elephants, not even a year old, destroyed the metal bars just by playing with them. So there seems to be no realistic way to keep the elephants contained and safe other than by chaining them.

The chains are for safety. For the elephants and for everyone else. An elephant is not to be messed with if you don’t know what you’re doing. We were not allowed to approach any elephant unless the mahout was present. If an elephant is having a bad day it could toss you across the yard in an instant.
No fence will hold them. They would destroy crops and gardens and get out into traffic, possibly suffering injury and causing traffic accidents.
One day we met a baby elephant, only 9 months old, named Cucumber. When baby Cucumber grabbed your arm, you could not get it back from him. He could easily have pulled you over the fence and into his enclosure. At one point he came and tossed me 3 feet back just with a little push of his head over the fence.
Imagine an elephant as a gigantic racoon. Instead of getting the lid off your garbage can, he might just tear the roof off your house because he smells the bananas in your kitchen.

Now with the explanations over….

After a lovely kayak trip up a local river, we said goodbye to our host family this morning. We were all so sad to leave them. Baa Uhn hugged me tight and Tah looked so lonely as we pulled away. On the other hand, I am sure they will enjoy having their house back. I am told they have about one week off before another group comes to stay with them.

All of the work of cutting grass for the elephant, replanting the fields, taking the elephant to bathe and cleaning up the yard after the elephant would be done by only 1 or 2 people until the next group arrived to help out, so I think that it must really be a help for them to have the volunteers coming. Part of our fees also go to the program, to help with the needs of the elephants and their families. Bamboo builds houses and sanitary toilets for people and runs animal welfare programs.

The expense and the labour of keeping even one elephant is almost impossible for a family. Without programs like Bamboo, and others, including some that are run by the government of Thailand, the elephants and their families would be forced into very unhealthy situations – begging, performing tricks and taking tourists for rides in the hot and dangerous streets in the cities.

When an animal becomes a commodity it is always at risk. The more expensive it is to keep the animal, the more money it must earn. Even our “voluntourism” could be counted in the same light if it weren’t done through a reliable and ethical company. We were given a crash course in elephant welfare and how to interact safely with elephants. We worked our butts off helping to provide for the elephants. I have no doubt that anyone who didn’t toe the line or pull their weight in this program would be packed into the nearest tuk tuk and sent home. I left our program feeling good about the effort we put in to improving things.

Thailand and Cambodia, part 4

September 28th, 2017

Hop Tim

Another elephant walk this morning. Hop Tim seemed more relaxed today. Woi said she was happy.

Maybe it is because of the bananas I brought for her. Hop Tim was at the back of the yard, so I had to walk past all of the other elephants to get to her. Trunks were reaching out to me from all angles trying to steal my bananas, so I had to hide them under my shirt to get them to my elephant.

An elephant can pick up something as small as a grape. I have seen one do so. It is amazing to see the things they can do with their enormous trunks.

It seemed even hotter than usual today. Even Woi commented on it. He talked more about how he would like to come to Canada to see snow. He asked how tall I was. He is probably about 5 foot 4 or 5. There was a guy with our group who was about 6 feet tall. Woi thought he must be a basketball player.

Hop Tim seemed to listen to me more today. Woi left me more on my own with her, letting me lead her down the road on my own. He was always there to step in if she started dragging me off the road into someone’s rice field. Hop Tim really enjoyed it when I splashed cool water on her head. She leaned right into me for more.

We shared the river with a herd of water buffalo today. The hierarchy of the animals became apparent when the elephants started growling at the buffalo. They cleared out very quickly.

I opted to ride home from the river in the truck today. After feeling unwell yesterday, I didn’t want to chance it. Several others did the same. When we got into the truck the mahouts rode their elephants home. I think they were relieved that we wanted to ride in the truck, so they didn’t have to walk all the way home too.

Here is where I will explain why we did not ride the elephants. Riding elephants doesn’t appear to cause them much harm. Although when they pile people on in those big baskets, it is too heavy for the elephants. As strong as they are, elephants are not designed to carry heavy loads on their backs. They are built more like bull dozers than dump trucks, but that is not the main reason that animal welfare folks are advocating for people to stop riding elephants.

In order to train an elephant to accept a human on their backs, elephants are subjected to a very torturous training process. They are locked into crates that they can’t move in and kept there for days. They are then beaten until they finally stop struggling against the idea of a person riding them.

If people keep riding elephants, this horrible abusive process will continue. If you are ever a tourist, no matter how tempting, please do not encourage this practice by having an elephant ride.

When we got back to our house, we kissed our elephants good bye. An elephant kiss is rather large and messy. My T-shirt was stained with a big green slimy thing. Good thing they tell you to bring old clothes that you can throw out when you leave. I tossed my running shoes on the way out as well.

We had a bit of a longer break before going off to plant bamboo. We did it the old fashioned way, digging trenches and covering over the shoots with hoes. With so many hands, we planted half of the field in just a couple of hours. I can’t imagine how long this would have taken the family to do on their own.

It was to be our last night in the elephant village, so we were all set to celebrate.

We showered, relaxed, and managed to buy out every beer in the village. We had a fun time with our guides and some of the neighbours. Tah, one of the people from the house, played guitar. He was looking up songs on his phone and trying to get us to sing along. We managed to get through a very off tone version of “Zombie” by the Cranberries.

Today was also a Buddha day. Apparently there is a Buddha day almost every week. It has something to do with the moon cycles. Baa Uhn, the lady of the house, was placing offerings on her altar this morning. Every house has an altar or shrine set up in the yard, and on Buddha days and holidays they place offerings there. Most of Baa’s offerings were almost immediately pilfered by birds, chickens and dogs, but no one seemed to care.

Part of Buddha day involves setting paper lanterns alight and floating them off into the sky. Some of them have some sort of fireworks attached, so there were explosions off and on all day.

We talked about how we wished we could set off a paper lantern. At this point it was getting late and all the stores were closed. Even still, the next thing we knew, our hosts Gun and Tah had paper lanterns for us to light. They had gone and woken up some neighbours to get some for us.

We set them off from the back yard. They seemed a little on the unsafe side, but we all wrote our names on one and we set them all afloat with our wishes and cheers.

In the morning we were going to go kayaking and then clean up the house and yard before heading back into Surin.

I was looking forward to a little more privacy. I would be sharing with only 1 room mate instead of 3. I was really looking forward to air conditioning and wifi, and a real bathroom, but I knew I would be very sad to leave our friends in Ban Kha Klang.


 

Thailand and Cambodia, part 3

Sept. 27th, 2017

Elephant temple, under construction.

I had wifi today for about 20 minutes and was able to send a quick message home!

We cut bamboo grass again today. We got the job done in about half the time. We are all getting pretty damn good with those machetes!

Afterward we went to a store for snacks and much needed Gatorade and beer! Then we went to the café for a real coffee! (That is where we had wifi.) We have only instant Nescafe in the village.  I was actually finding I preferred the instant hot chocolate to the instant Nescafe.

I had a Thai massage after lunch. They brought the massage therapists right to our house. They also brought a load of children with them. Most of them are grandmothers. In rural Thailand, most of the parents are off in the city working and they leave the children with the grandparents. The kids played and watched TV while we got our massages.

My therapist was brilliant. I asked our guide Mai to explain to her about my club foot surgeries and arthritic knees. I was a little nervous. You hear stories about Thai massage therapists turning you into a pretzel and hurting you, but my therapist totally adapted to my needs. She was very intuitive.

I am sure I had a very toned down version of true Thai massage, and yes, it can hurt when she first digs in to a new area, but if you breathe through it and allow your body to accept and shift with the change she is trying to achieve it is soooo worth it.

I had acupunctured my knees in the morning before work, but they were already very painful again. After my massage I could walk without pain once more.

Our cook May makes the most amazing food! She takes the spice down a notch for us westerners, but there is always soy sauce and chilli peppers on the table. All of the food is based with rice or noodles. We have had many different curries, including pumpkin and coconut. All were incredibly delicious. Who knew that the Thai’s make a version of Mac and cheese? It is actually more of a sweet and sour spiced version without any cheese, but it was also delicious. I also had the best spring rolls anyone has ever tasted!

In the afternoon, we made paper out of elephant poo! It was purple. 🙂

Elephant graves

We also saw the elephant grave yard. People bring their elephants from all over the country to bury them in Surin. Elephants are very honoured in the culture here. The domes are shaped like army helmets in honour of how the elephants used to help to fight in battle, and how they have helped the Thai’s to keep their independence as a nation.

We saw an elephant temple that has been under construction for 4 years. (Or, “see” years in Thai.) There was a cave under the temple full of statues and old tools. We went to the elephant museum and then to a local market. We wanted to buy bananas for our elephant walk tomorrow.

I had the most amazing little cream filled doughnut. It cost me 5 baht. That’s about 2 cents. I spent 10 baht on some bananas for Hop Tim.

I noticed while in the market that I was sweating quite profusely. I mean more profusely than you always sweat when you are in Thailand. I knew I needed to pace myself with the heat. I would break often for water and shade while working. Hydration is a serious issue here. We all made sure we were downing at least 10 to 12 bottles of water per day, plus Gatorade, plus Chang beer in the evenings.

Today I didn’t make it to the Chang beer. I started feeling headachey and dizzy. A cold shower helped only briefly. All showers in the village are cold. We have no hot water. Sometimes we have no running water at all. There are barrels of water everywhere in case the water runs out. The rule is, if the barrel is running low while you are having a pee or a shower, refill the barrel just in case.

So, there is no hot water, but you wouldn’t want it if we had it. You have your shower and before you can finish dressing you are soaked in sweat again.

My cold shower was not even cooling me off as much as it usually did. I made my T-shirt into a big ice pack and iced my swollen knees and ankles, letting the cold water drip down my legs. That helped a bit.

I had a bit of dinner and couldn’t finish, so I realized I was pretty overheated. I am very grateful that the Bamboo website recommended bringing several zip lock bags. I took a large one and refilled it with ice. After a couple of hours lying down alternating my ice pack from my head to my neck to my feet etc. I felt better. I took another cold shower just for caution.

I just hoped I could get some sleep and be up for the elephant walk to the river in the morning.

We also had to plant bamboo. Hopefully the last of the physical labour for this trip!

You can’t help feeling a bit wimpy next to the Thai’s. They are small and wiry and incredibly strong. You see people, even kids, on bicycles hauling huge loads.

People are always outside under their huge awnings. We eat outside, cook outside etc.  So you see everyone about their business.

They have a very healthy work and play balance. They seem to be very fun loving and when the work is done they relax outside, often lounging in hammocks, playing guitars and of course cruising around on motorcycles and scooters.

It is hard for us to get used to seeing 2 or 3 kids riding to school together on a motorcycle. (2 or 3 kids, 1 motorcycle, no adult supervision. The kid driving the motorcycle often looks about 10 or 12 years old.) There are kids running all over the place on their own. Some look no older than 3 or 4 years old. It seems that everyone keeps an eye out for them.  The people from our house will often call out to the children asking them if they have school today and wondering what they are doing.  I was in Thailand for 5 days before I heard a child cry. I think that they are so free to run and play that they are happy. No one has told them that they should want an Ipad or a phone or the newest clothes or whatever, so they just run around, playing with sticks and flattened old soccer balls having the time of their lives.

I made it to 10pm after I got myself cooled off. We have noticed that the locals go to bed ad 8 or 9pm and will often sleep for 10 hours or more. No wonder they seem so happy all the time!

Thailand and Cambodia, part 2

Tuesday Sept 26, 2017

Today I swam with elephants!!!!!!!

But first…

It is morning on my second day at the elephant village. The last 36 hours had been so full of firsts I don’t even know where to start.

The train ride from Bangkok to Surin was fascinating.

All along the tracks there were people living in makeshift homes and operating their businesses. Even in the middle of the night there seems to always be something going on here. There are cooking fires and people sitting out eating at nicely set-up little dining areas.

They may be living under rusty tin roofs and tarps, but inside, everything is tidy and well set-up; table cloths and all in some places.

I slept for most of the train ride but my body is still on Western time. So I keep waking up in the middle of the night. I think I am hungry and I am having trouble eating enough during the day. It may be because of the time change and may be because of the heat, I am not sure which. All of the food we have been offered is delicious.

Tuk Tuk

We arrived in Surin at 4:30 am and took the tuk tuk to our hotel. Whipping through the streets in the middle of the night there was still plenty going on. People were already setting up for market for the next day.

I can’t say that I am culture shocked because I did my homework before coming here, but it is still amazing to see the differences between here and home.

When I see whole families crowded onto a single motorcycle, with little ones perched on the gas tank and baskets and bundles hanging off the sides, I cant help but think of the article I read only last week about how schools back home want to ban kids from doing cartwheels because they might hurt themselves.  Or about how we strap our kids into car seats until they are almost ready to go off to university.

The transport from Surin to the elephant village.

Much of this was observed from that back of our open bus. I love the buses/trucks they have for us.

They are basically two benches down the outside of a pick up box. They have a roof and the sides are a metal frame. There are tarps to roll down the sides in case it is really rainy.  The hired truck that brought us from Surin to Ban Kha Klang was bright orange and blue and painted and decorated throughout. Many drivers replace the knobs inside their cars with crystal shafts and fancy colourful knobs.

The farm truck. Started via hand crank!

My favourite vehicle is our farm truck. It is some ancient beast that starts with a hand crank. It seems to have been patched together from pieces of this and that, including pieces of a British flag. There is no floor on the driver’s side. We fill it with bamboo and whatever else we need. There don’t seem to be many worries about whether or not a vehicle is licensed.

Stray dogs, cats and  chickens are everywhere and we are awoken by choruses of roosters at dawn. There is an attempt by our friends at Bamboo to neuter and spay the dogs, but it is overwhelming. To try and describe it to people back home, there are probably as many stray dogs and chickens here as there are squirrels running around in Guelph and you pretty much treat them the same way. If you ignore the dogs, they may pass near you, they may see if you look like you are going to drop some food, but do not approach them if you want to keep your fingers. The chickens are just sort of annoying. Running out in front of cars or sitting in the kitchen out back when I want to make breakfast. You just shoo them away so you can get on with things.

We all crashed into  bed at 8pm last night. (Monday night. Our first night in the elephant village.)

Who knew that cutting bamboo grass with a machette in 35 degree heat (I bet it is at least 40 with humidex) could wear you out so much?

I had to take frequent breaks, but I was pretty proud that I kept up with the young-uns. They are all in their 20s and 30s.  I think I have lost 5 pounds already. Who needs a gym?

The reward for working so hard was all worth while when we got back in our truck and drove through the sanctuary. Elephants everywhere! Elephants have been known to live almost 200 years!

We met Nicole, a beautiful 17 year old mamma elephant and her baby of 9 months.

She took lumps of sugar cane out of our hands and rubbed her trunk up and down our arms. I got to scratch her wee baby’s butt. Turns out elephants love having their butts scratched, just like dogs. The little guy backed right into my hand. Don’t tell Fern!

It has been pouring all night and is starting again. The elephants will not have to spray us. We will be soaked in seconds.

Off to the next adventure.

 

Evening, Tuesday Sept 26th

Yeah. I can’t believe it either. It is just after 9pm and it is a miracle to still be awake.

I had to push myself to stay up with the young peeps for a Chang beer. One Chang beer is probably about 3 regular beers! (Chang means elephant.)

I wanted to try to switch my hours around to Thai time. Last night I woke up for 2 hours or more in the night and with the pace we’re keeping I need every ounce of sleep. A few ounces of beer won’t hurt either.

My blisters are asking me why I am still awake too!

Reiki in Thailand

This morning we swam with elephants, but before that I had a beautiful experience with our host family. I believe that Baa Uhn is the mother of the mahout that lives here. Baa means auntie, and everyone calls her Baa, so it is a bit confusing. She had a toothache. The whole side of her face was swollen and she was having trouble eating. Our guide, Mai said she is afraid to go to the doctor. I asked if she might want to try some acupuncture or Reiki. She looked terrified as acupuncture was explained to her, but agreed to try some Reiki.

She got comfortable and I sat beside her. With Mai interpreting, she looked startled and said that she could feel the heat of the Reiki. She asked how this was happening and I tried to explain as best I could. She eventually drifted off to sleep as most people do when receiving Reiki. I explained to Mai that the Reiki would help with the pain and inflammation, mostly by helping her to relax, but she should still go to the doctor and have the abscess looked at.

When I finished she tried moving her jaw and she said it felt much better, and she could open her mouth again. She ran off to find a gift for me. She brought me a little piece of crystal or resin I think. It is like a little clear stone with some sand and sparkly stones inside. She used to make jewelry at the markets and this was a leftover bit. I told her I would make it into a pendant and always remember her.

By that afternoon the swelling on Baa’s face had gone down and she seemed back to normal. She was always bowing and thanking me after that, and if she ever saw me trying to cook breakfast or do my washing, she was there helping me in a flash.

Soon after

The rain stopped and it got very hot again. 10 elephants, one for each of us, showed up in our back yard.  We went out to say hello. They were quite enthusiastic about seeing each other, so we had to give them some space for a while. Our guides told us the grunts, trumpets and growling sounds they were making were all happy noises. Some of them sounded a little intimidating.

We had been given strict instructions about how to interact with them the night before, so we were all pretty cautious.

When it was time to go, we were all to pick in elephant to walk with. My elephant was called Hop Tim. Her Mahout was Woi. Hop Tim was several months pregnant. She will have her baby at the end of a 2 year pregnancy.

I approached and Woi suddenly just handed me the rope looped around her ear. It took me few minutes before I settled into that experience. That is some big puppy to take out for a walk.

The mahouts stayed with us, one of us on each side most of the time. They are constantly talking to the elephants and making clicking and humming sounds. Elephants do not see very well, but they can hear everything, so you have to try to stay in front of their shoulder, or make sounds so they know where you are. The mahouts are always shouting up and down the road to each other and occasionally bursting into song, so it is a noisy and exhilarating experience.

I learned that ma means come, but later today I learned that it also has 4 other meanings! Thai is all about tones, and the same word can mean something completely different if you don’t get the tone right. My tone must have been off because Tim pretty much ignored me and chowed down on trees, sticks and grasses all along the side of the road. The elephants eat so much, I am surprised there is any vegetation left in Thailand. All of our bamboo grass from yesterday is pretty much gone. 12 of us worked for 3 hours cutting grass for our 1 elephant and her friends and it is done. We will head out in the morning to cut more.

Woi and I tried to understand each other. I think he understood that Canada is north of the United States and that we have snow. He would really like to see snow.

The walk to the elephant pond was about an hour each way. By the time we got there I was drenched. I didn’t even bother taking off my pants to go in. I just wanted to get cooled off.

You may think swimming with and bathing an elephant is all fun and games, but it is a lot of hard work. Our job is taken quite seriously by everyone here. The elephants need to be properly bathed to keep their skin in good shape. There was a lot splashing and scrubbing. Plus you had to keep your attention on the mahout for safety. He would tell you were to stand and when to get out of the way. Sometimes the elephants will suddenly want to lie down in the water or roll over. You also have to be conscious not to let yourself get caught between 2 elephants. Their playfulness in the water can be very dangerous.

I was pooped by the time we were done, but there was still an hour to walk home. Luckily Tim had some extra water in her trunk and sprayed me off for the first bit. An elephant can store up to 4 litres of water in their trunk.

After I said goodbye to Tim I headed straight for the freezer and made myself an ice pack for my knees and ankles.

We had some delicious lunch, served by our hosts and about an hour to rest. For some reason, our guides wouldn’t tell us what our afternoon project was. If we had known we might have run away.

We learned that we were going to mix and pour concrete at a school. Thailand has cell phones and flat screen tv”s, but all labour is still done by hand. I saw a man cutting down a huge tree with a hand ax today.

There is no farm equipment besides the odd little 2 wheeled tractor and cart. You see women sitting in front of their homes spinning thread and weaving fabric. They really appreciate all donations of clothing here.

For our concrete adventures, we used baskets to carry sand and rocks, and mixed with hoes and shovels, pouring concrete by the bucketful. We had a hand pulled cart to haul things around.

The school was closed for the day, but many children came by to watch us work. One little girl hung out with us for over an hour. She and I had a game of patta-cake on one of my breaks.

I had several packs of gum that a friend had given me. Our guide Mai said it was a good time to give some to the children. They all lined up and waited for their gum. Each one bowed and said thank you, (kopkun ka) and then ran off to enjoy.

Thailand and Cambodia Tour, part 1

The next few posts here are going to be from journals I kept on my trip to Thailand and Cambodia (Sept 24th, to Oct. 7th, 2017)

I suppose to start at the real beginning of this story we have to go back to about February or March of 2016.

One night I was scrolling through my phone before bed. I saw an ad with a girl kissing an elephant. It said something to the effect of, “see Thailand for less than $100 a day!”

I thought to myself, “I can do $100 a day!”

I clicked on the ad and kept on reading. I was hooked in less than 5 minutes. Swim with elephants! Stay in a rural village in Thailand. Teach English to kids in Cambodia. Volunteer on local projects and give back to communities!

I had not been on a vacation in almost 20 years. A trip to the family cottage for a few days has been the extent of my holidaying.

I had been tempted to do a few different things. I had friends who ran retreats to Hawaii or to South America. I had seen trips to Egypt, and all kinds of amazing locations. I had often looked at those trips and thought, “That looks nice, one day I will do something like that.”

I had never had any specific longing to go to South East Asia before.

I have never had much of a desire to go on an all inclusive, luxury vacation. I will probably do that one of these days, but I have always felt that if I was going to go to a foreign country, I would like to meet the local people in their own environment, not just in some luxury resort, where all the money I spent would go to a wealthy hotel owner.

Not to mention that, I have spent the last 20 years raising three kids, going back to school and running a business. I didn’t have the time or the funds to go on fancy vacations.

Something different happened inside of me when I saw the ad for this trip. I felt a tug in my heart. The more I read, the more I knew I had to go on this trip. I also knew that I had to do it on my own.

When I ran into the next room to tell my partner, Wayne, that I HAD to do this trip, needless to say, he was a little surprised. Right before bed, I was having this epiphany and he was probably in the middle of brushing his teeth. I remember him saying, “Thailand? Could you start with something a little smaller? You haven’t really ever travelled and you have to start with Thailand?”

I like to say that I had my mind made up in 5 minutes, which I did, but my mind was made up, with several conditions. First, I had to find a way to come up with thousands of dollars. $100 a day for 14 days, plus I knew the flights would probably be more than the trip itself, and I was correct. Plus, missing work for 2 to 3 weeks. Financially alone, it was a lot to work out.

Then there was researching Bamboo, the company offering the trip. I spent several weeks making sure they were legit. I researched them on independent review sites. I followed their facebook and social media groups and asked questions. It seemed everyone loved Bamboo and they really were doing positive things for the communities they were working in.

Then, I had to work out how long it would take for me to make the extra money, and what time of year would be best to go. My arthritis was definitely telling me that I should try to avoid the rainy season, and I would need to try to take off the least busy time at work. Not to mention coordinating around my kid’s sports season!

I first thought I could try for spring of 2017, but eventually had to postpone until fall, and the preparations began!

Getting Underway

This is where the hard part began. I had planned and prepped for months. I had all of my details figured out. Or, so I thought. Being a first-time traveler, I was a little nervous of negotiating my way through airports etc. I had a layover in China on both the way to Thailand and again on the way home from Cambodia. My biggest comfort was that Bamboo was going to pick me up from the airport in Bangkok, so there was no need to negotiate getting myself from the airport to my hotel. In fact, Bamboo arranged everything from the moment I landed in Bangkok. They really are an excellent tour company!

Maybe it was a combination of first-time traveler jitters, or maybe it was the crazy stress that was going on in our lives in the weeks before my trip. I remember my car broke down 3 times in the month before I was to leave. The dog needed surgery on her eye, and then also had some sort of urinary health problems the week before I was leaving.

There were also positive stresses. My son had spent 7 days trying out for 3 different volleyball teams and ended up getting offers from the top 2 teams in the province. I was so proud of him, and excited for the coming year of tournaments, but it sure was a lot of extra coordinating just before I was to leave!

Maybe I should have stuck with the date in the spring! With all of the activity and busyness, I made a tiny little error on my flights! I read the document wrong. I was to leave on Sept. 21st at 1:30 am. Sept 21st was a Thursday. I go ready to go to the airport for the evening of Sept. 21st, , but I should have bee there on the evening of the 20th!

I didn’t realize my mistake until the Thursday morning when I was trying to check in online. My flight had left the night before.

I can’t even begin to describe the emotions that ran through me as I realized my mistake. Disbelief, Shock, Embarrassment, Overwhelm, or Devastation could be a few of them, but the travel company I booked through was quick to correct the problem, and I had all of my flights rescheduled, free of charge within the hour.

Now I just had to get in touch with Bamboo and tell them about my screw up. I had new flights, but now I was going to be arriving 2 days late for the trip. It was the middle of the night in Thailand, so I had to wait for several hours before hearing back from them.

Bamboo was amazing and arranged for a staff member to pick me up at the airport. I would be transported somehow to meet up with my group who would have left Bangkok by the time I arrived.

My Journal

Monday, Sept. 24th, about 7pm – on the sleeper train from Bangkok to Surin

So, missing my flights seems like it worked out for the best.

There is always some reason or some synchronicity sneaking into things.

There have been so many glitches in my life over the last few weeks. The glaring need to simplify will not be squashed any longer.

Even down to the monitor in my seat on the 15.5 hour flight not working, or the customs agent in Bangkok airport not wanting to let me in because I didn’t have the exact name of the hotel where I would be staying. All of these things have been telling me that I need to slow down, relax, and take more time to think. (Btw, always print out your receipts, itineraries etc. And don’t be afraid to ask for alternatives. That is what saved me from being detained for hours at the airport. I ended up sweet talking the customs agent into letting me through because I had my receipts and itinerary printed out for my trip.)

As far as things working out for the best, because of my screw up, I had an extra day at home to relax and get more organized for my trip. I had time to read some more about the culture etc before heading away.

When I got here I had a personal guide to lead me through my first day in Asia. (After a much needed shower and nap)

Heidi was fun, knowledgeable and approachable. We had dinner together and went for a walk on Khoa San Road.

I got a personal tour, and got to meet some of her friends who worked in the shops and stalls.

I also met one of the youth groups on tour with Bamboo. A bunch of fun loving Aussies and New Zealanders packed into a bus on the way to the train station.

And come to think of it, 7 hours on a sleeper train instead of 6 hours in a bus doesn’t sound so bad! The train is leaving the station now.

 

Who Is Bonnie?

Bonnie Adam is a Registered Acupuncturist, a cupping therapist and a Reiki Master and intuitive healer. She also teaches a variety of workshops including Reiki and cupping therapy.

"Follow your healing pathway."

More about Bonnie.

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