Saturday, July 4, 2009

From Indonesia to Thailand

After leaving my last ELF project presentation in Surabaya I embarked on my SE Asia Holiday adventure. So far it has been amazing. I started in Bali for two days of diving with my favorite group, Bali Scuba. They took me up to Amed which is along the east coast of Bali, north of Sanur where I was staying but still south of Tulumben where I previously saw the U.S.S Liberty wreck. In Amed there are some great coral walls but what made my diving here unique was jukung entry into the water. There are a couple of ways to enter the water when diving, one is a shore entry where you swim out, with all your gear on, to the point you drop down, and the other is a boat entry where you enter either by a big step off or a backwards roll wearing all the scuba equipment. A jukung boat is a Balinese outrigger canoe made from a hollowed out log and the rigging made from bamboo. To dive in Amed, we rode on a jukung out to our dive site. Once there we entered the water with only fins and mask and put the rest of the gear on in the water.

The second day of diving consisted of going to Nusa Penida, an island off of the south east side of Bali. There we went down to see the huge mantas at Manta Point. They circled and hovered over head like giant spaceships. It was eerie but beautiful. Our next dive was in search of the Mola Mola, sun fish, but once again, this special fish didn't come to greet us but many others did including sharks.

From Bali I went to Singapore for a one day stop over on my way to Thailand. It was a burst of high tech modern culture. Having lived in Indonesia for so long, I had kind of forgotten how much fun it was to ride subways and stroll around highly developed shopping plazas. Although I wasn't interested much in lingering in this type of environment, it was refreshing. I stopped in Little Italy for lunch and reveled in the smells of all the Indian spices. On my second evening there, I walked into a supermarket and was amazed at how many choices of cheese there were.

On June 30th, I met 4 other teachers from my ELF program in Bangkok. We spent a full day there looking at the palace, gilded temples and statues, the reclining Buddha, and viewing the city from tuk tuks and a water taxi up the river. I never thought Bangkok would feel so clean. I heard stories about the pollution, the noise and the traffic but during the time we were there, it really wasn't that bad. Furthermore, compared to Banjarmasin and Jakarta, this large city was a sparkly gem! Even smoking indoors isn't allowed in Bangkok and it made a huge difference when we all went out our first night there.

From Bangkok we headed up to Chiang Mai where I am now. It's been great here too. So far we've learned how to cook Thai food at the Thai Farm Cooking School, we've walked along the streets looking at temples, eaten great food and yesterday we did a day long tour including an Elephant ride, hike to a waterfall, visiting hill tribes (which was set up as a bizarre living display of tribes from Myanmar now living in these northern Thailand mountains). We ended the day getting drenched while river rafting.

The Elephant ride was probably the greatest adventure. I shared a ride with Kendra and Katie, sitting in this metal rack seat that had a padded plank, all securely strapped to an elephant. It was pretty high up and felt a little dangerous, especially since our seat didn't' have a metal safety bar to hold us in. The ride down the hill was the most disconcerting as the elephant's weight shifted forward also pitching our perch forward. We held on tightly to the sides of the seat in order to keep from sliding into the muddy path. Once down the hill, it was much easier but our elephant, named Mei Ai (I'm not sure exactly how it was spelled) was a little ornery. She didn't want to follow the rest of the group, she kept stopping and it didn't help that at one point the trainer jumped off walked away (we think to use the restroom) leaving us up there. He did return but we couldn't stop laughing about it. At one point it seemed like Mei Ai was laughing with us.

As it turned out, Mei Ai was pregnant. We were told that she was 2 years along and that she will be giving birth in another year however this information demonstrates an entirely different perception of time that we are accustomed to in western culture. The gestation period of an elephant is closer to two years, not 3. But no wonder she was reluctant to carry us around! I think this experience was representative of the hardest part about being in a foreign country where the customs are so different than mine. First off, we really don't have many elephants in the U.S., but even so, rides on a pregnant animal seems strange and cruel. Encountering different standards for treating animals and human rights without getting too emotionally involved has definitely taken its toll on me this year.

Aside from my constant underlying battle with my personal judgements, so far Thailand has been refreshing and comforting with more food choices, a comfortable degree of cleanliness and lots of great vacation activities beckoning our money. Despite my disagreeing with some of the ways things might be here, I can tolerate it much more easily having lived in Indonesia for so long.

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