Sunday, October 17, 2010

The First Year in Review

On the 29th of September, 2009  my nephew drove me to Whittier to visit with family. I said goodbye to my older brother and farewell to other relatives. That night he dropped me off at LAX, and at 01:00 I boarded a flight headed for Thailand. About 10:00 on 1 October 2009 I arrived in Chiang Mai.

Stopped in Taiwan to chang planes, they are serious about drug trafficing!

The past year has been utterly amazing; in many aspects it’s been the best year of my life! There have been deceptions revealed, mistakes, lessons learned, adventure, serenity, excitement, calm, respect and love. There have even been fleeting moments of humility! Gratitude, oh yes! I am so very grateful for my life today. May I share a few of the highlights? For the photo hounds, I’ll include the photobucket links relative to the last year.  The list is at the bottom of the article.

Morning Light - Northern Thailand

The first three months were spent teaching English in an Akha village north of Chiang Rai. The kids were great. The foundation was not. By the first of November I had secured this marvelous little house in Chiang Rai. I was enjoying in two totally different cultural experiences.

The Village People before school
I met this lady. Her name is Maliwan. She is a country girl with a big heart. Two days before Christmas I made an emergency trip to Nan Rong; she had been in a motor cycle accident. I met her family and some of her friends. From Isan I went to Phuket to finish my TEFL course requirements.

After I finished at Phuket I came to Chiang Mai to help the foundation open a school in Chiang Mai. By mid March I had terminated my relationship with the foundation, as had the four other volunteers.  Still, March was an amazing month! I enrolled in a Thai language course and there met my friend Mick Connolly who introduced me to the “Taste from Heaven”. Eating there surrounded by huge photographs of elephants we decided to take a day and go visit the park. I fell in love and the elephants and the project.

Artifacts at Wat in Chiang Mai

In early May I returned to Nan Rong and brought Maliwan back to Chiang Rai with me. We came as far as Chiang Mai by rail, stopping in Auttuya and Lopburi on the way North.
When you get to Lopburi, heed the signs!
By June I’d decided I want to volunteer with the Save Elephant Foundation (also known as the Elephant Nature Foundation). I am now involved in helping produce a magazine. Besides spending time with the foundation I’m putting a fair amount of time and effort into Thai language schooling. I’m really spending as much time in Chiang Mai as I am at home in Chiang Rai; actually I really love it!

Lek one of her baby elephants
Thailand is a wonderful place to live. The weather is warm; o.k. sometimes it’s hot and humid, but there is no snow shovel market here, not at all. Having said that, I’ve noticed a couple of contradictions that may be worth mentioning.

First Thailand has this love affair with the elephant, yet there is a history of elephant abuse here. It seems when the media objects then the officials clamp down, at least for a little while.

Nudity is illegal here. This aggravates me because I love photographing artistic nudes. I dare not even attempt such a thing here for fear of being arrested. At the same time there is a thriving, raging might be a better word, child pornography industry is Bangkok. (I suspect it’s also in Pattaya and Phuket, but I have no interest in verifying). For the past couple of weeks the Bangkok post has been reporting on this epidemic. A few days after the paper publishes the article, the nasty stuff is then reported to have disappeared. How was it allowed in the first place? Thailand is supposed to be involved in movements to stop child exploitation. More information could be found on if you are interested. also has some interesting articles.

Here there really is no freedom of speech, not like we have in the U.S. On the other hand the media isn’t controlled by the government in ways that’s obvious in the U.S. If you want to read nasty news about American officials, it would be available here in much greater detail than in the U.S. On the other hand if you want to read nasty details about the Thai elite, you are better off accessing the web from a site in the U.S.

The red-shirts and the current regime keep trading insults and accusing each other of all sorts of horrible things. Recent news is about red-shirts who were allegedly given weapons training in a secret camp in Cambodia. The official denial from the Cambodian government included text to the effect that such a thing would have been in violation of their constitution and therefore could not possibly have happened. I laughed so hard I spilled my coffee! Boy, I’m glad the American government would never come up with anything that ridiculous! You do know that I jest, don’t you.

O.K. enough ranting! Photographs are on line at I’m running sort on space and plan to remove some of the folders in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, here is the list in alphabetical order: - A day with the 46th Special Forces Association Includes “On do bus” and the first visit to Wat Rong Khun

Wat Rong Khun Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary The Chiang Mai Zoo

Akha Baby December 2009 – Part One. The Akha village and Chiang Rai December 2009 – Part Two. Nang Rong The Elephant Freedom Journey The Elephant Nature Park The Elephant Nature Park in September 2010 February 2010 – Includes Papa and Mama from the village. The old man was very ill and has since made his transition. Includes Phuket and Phnom Rung

Phuket Sunset Features the tree planting, and Antoinette Van de Water Includes the ENP and Carol Buckley Chiang Mai
Mick and two of his fans! My first visit to the Elephant Nature Park Includes Ayutthaya and Lopburi The Akha Village, Bangkok and a bit of Chiang Rai The first month in Thailand The rescue of Ar Sii (they changed his name) Red shirt demonstration in Ching Mai August 22d. Bangkok and the ENP

Nothing like a good mud bath on a hot afternoon! Street Elephants Tachileik Burma and Mae Sai Thailand. The photobucket people couldn’t handle the images of cigarette packages. I’ve never bothered to ask if they actually thought I was supporting a brand or if they were smokers who I offended. In any rate here they are:

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Chiang Mai Zoo

There is a shorter verison of this at asianelephantstories if you only want to know about the elephants. Photo’s from the day are at

There are shuttle buses. For 20 baht you can ride them all day long getting off and back on at your pleasure. The zoo property is green and well kept. It’s clean and features an aquarium, pandas, tigers and of course the venerable elephant! I miss my grandson (the last time I was at a zoo was with him).

The first stop is to see a magnificent bull elephant. He happens to be in a small pen on the side of the road. Zoo goers are allowed to feed him. You can purchase a small bowl of food for 20 baht. The bowl consists of a few cucumbers and a piece of sugar cane. This isn’t street begging, but it certainly leaves the uninitiated with the impression that it’s o.k. If I can feed this elephant, why not the baby on the streets of Chiang Mai? At least this one isn’t in danger of getting hit by a truck, but his life must be really boring!

A Ka Sit, age 26, Chiang Mai Zoo 
The first thing I noticed about this elephant was is tusks. They cross and are protected with some sort of padding. I guess he’s safe from poachers there in the zoo.

The next thing I noticed, right next to where they sell the food to feed him is a display case of Ivory. I don’t know about you, but that made my skin crawl. I walked off and had to go back later just to get a snap shot (prove to myself what I’d seen).   Oh I guess this qualifies as a JEAM entry.

Ivory for sale next to a living Tusker.  Ironic?

The next stop was the panda exibit. I have to brag for just a minute. I’ve been studying the Thai language and am getting to the point where I can read just a tiny bit. The sign outside the Panda exhibit states that adult admission is ๒๕๑ baht. The corresponding sign in English advises that the foreigner price is 450 baht. So I pointed at Thai sign and asked in my definitely not fluent Thai if the price was not in fact 250 baht. That ticket and two more were purchased at Thai prices just because I could read a little, smile and ask. The pandas are kept in pretty small areas, much smaller than the national zoo in Washington D.C. Chiang Mai has two pandas; the locals are proud of them, especially the young one who was born here.

Panda, Chiang Mai Zoo

After seeing the pandas; I had a much clearer view than in D.C. it was off to the Aquarium. The aquarium is pretty cool and if you can read and speak a little you too can get in for Thai prices. Paying foreigner prices would be worth it if you are into sea life; I am. My favorite moment had to be when 15 or 20 apprentice monks came through the underwater tunnel. Typical teenagers they are; all in a hurry.

The lens was fast enough for the fish, what can I say?

I saw two tigers! They are beautiful animals. These two were pacing and seemed to be inviting me in for lunch, their lunch that is. I doubt that these cats were drugged. There were a few leopards in neighboring enclosures. Back on the shuttle and off to see the elephant habitat.
The elephant habitat is small but seems to be well cared for. It’s certainly clean. I saw another bull and one cow. This bulls tusks were also impressive. The two are obviously friends. I loved the moment when she placed her trunk between his tusks and snuggled with him.

Elephant snuggle at the Chiang Mai Zoo
The enclosure has a gazebo or sorts. As I was leaving the bull went to it and rang the wooden bell; one of his elephant toys no doubt. While these elephants seem to be healthy it was hard for me to stay and watch them longer than necessary to get the photos. They are too confined and without much stimulation.

I walk by the ostrich enclosure. Something tells me that it’s not a good sign that some of them are missing huge amounts of their plumage. I know nothing about the ostrich, but I’m thinking this can’t be good.

Is this wrong, or is it just me?
I stopped to see the giraffes. There are three of them and a zebra in an enclosure. The sign says it’s O.K. to feed the giraffe, but not the zebra. One of our long necked friends was down mooching from the tourists while the other two hung out in the back with the zebra.
What a face!
As the tour bus made it’s way toward the exit we came across elephant ride station. Are these elephants kept with the two in enclosure? I would hope there are at least two enclosures since there are definitely two bulls, but who knows. Elephant rides are far from the worst that these creatures have to endure at the hands of mankind, but frankly I was surprised to see them at the Chiang Mai zoo. On second thought after having seen the elephant feeding station and the ivory for sale, I really should not have been surprised at all.

Elephant Rides at the Chiang Mai Zoo

At the end of the day, the Chiang Mai Zoo is not perfect, but it’s far from the worst zoo I’ve seen.

Abundant Blessings!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Carol Buckley Fights Back!

Carol giving an elephant pedicure at ENP
Some years ago Tara, an elephant was rescued by Carol Buckley who started the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee so that Tara would always have a safe home and so that Carol and Tara could always be together.

Anyone who knows anything about the people who actually give a damn about elephants knows that Carol Buckley has been given the raw deal of the century. I won’t go in to details, but can you imagine having your child held hostage? That must be exactly how Carol feels. How does Tara feel? Her human mother is not allowed to see her. How awful! How can these people do these things and then claim to care about anyone or anything except their own agenda; an agenda which is just about as sleazy as anything I’ve come across in recent years ? Now the court can decide on just how sleezy these people are agenda which is anything but honorable.

Carol has filed her lawsuit. Please read the story at

My thoughts and prayers are with Carol and Tara.

Abundant Blessings!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Black Butterfly

This is a true story; I care not how you interrupt, just know that what I write what is true. We went to BLES for the weekend and while I was there Katherine Conner, the founder of BLES mentioned that there was a connection between Boon Lott and the black butterflies. I asked her to explain.

Katherine told me the story of Boon Lott’s passing. When he died Katherine was holding his head in her lap. As his heart stopped a black butterfly appeared and rested on Boon Lott’s heart for about 15 seconds or so. The butterfly moved on to Katherine, resting on her arm for another 15 seconds or so. Since that time, when she thinks of Boon Lott the butterfly appears and gives her great comfort. She knows.

I’m 66 years young and have never, never had a butterfly come and rest on me. Imagine my amazement and the amazement of two other people who were there when, as Katherine is telling the story, the black butterfly comes and rests on my ear.  I don't know how long he was there, but it was at least a minute. His message to me was simple: Listen!


There will be a longer article about BLES in the next day or so. I just couldn’t wait to share this with you.

Abundant Blessings,