Thailand Update #3

Aidan writes:

Sawadee krap!  I send you all sun and smiles from the other side of the planet!

Today we dragged ourselves out of bed at 5:30 to go visit Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep on Mount Doi Suthep, just outside the city of Chiang Mai.  Still rubbing our eyes, we sped up the mountain, racing the sun.  After about half an hour in a truck taxi, we pulled off the road at a lookout point.  The view was breathtaking!  The lights of Chiang Mai glimmered in the bottom half of our view, mostly still asleep.  A band of thick heavy clouds cut off the rest of the city from view, and the clear, rapidly changing sky above it looked like Heaven.  I’m afraid I can’t accurately describe what we saw, but we took a LOT of photos! 

Hopping back into the truck taxi we sped up the last few miles to the Wat (temple).  Several long flights of stairs shot up from the vendors and stalls clustered at the end of the road.  On either side of the 309 steps, huge golden dragon/serpents greeted us.  From the top, we watched the sun rise over the clouds as we ate delicious pineapple, papaya, and dragon-fruit along with flaky, sweet-corn filled pastries.  We spent the morning on the mountain, exploring the bedazzled temple complex and drinking in the spiritual atmosphere of the heavily visited Wat.

Midday found us back at Eagle House One, our Chang Mai lodgings, for lunch and chill time.  Egg-fried rice is the best, by the way!  Then we got ready for classes.  Coolest thing about learning about Buddhism in Thailand?  Learning about it at a Buddhist Wat!  In preparation for our visit to the monastery and our meditation training, we talked about Buddhism, Karma in particular, in one of the 300 Wats in Chiang Mai.  After removing our shoes, we climbed the stairs to the colorful, mural-covered, gold flashing room where we gazed onto an open carpeted floor.  At the very end of the room was the Buddha statue…  make that plural:  I think that there were at least eight Buddhas looking back at us from under their eyelids, all in various positions.  They were all draped with winter saffron robes and surrounded by images from Buddha’s life.  Before starting to explore, we sat and quasi-meditated, listening to the bells on the roof ring as the wind stirred them.  I felt all the muscles in my back relax in those few minutes. 

After that we headed to Eagle House Two, and had a short class with Lisa under the partial shade of jackfruit trees.  Now, as I’m writing this, other students are getting Thai massages just down the street from this Internet cafe.  Even farther down is the food market where we picked up some snacks for the next few hours.

Let me tell you: for only being in this country four days, I feel like I’ve spent a lifetime here.  I can officially say that Thailand fills the requirements of the label ‘HOME’!  Sawadee krap! 

********************************************************************

Abram reports:

We spent a good bit of time at the Elephant Nature Park near Chang Dao.  What an amazing experience!  This facility was established by a woman who began caring for elephants at age 11, then went on to fulfill her lifetime dream of creating a sanctuary for the rescue and caring for injured and abused elephants.  At the Elephant Nature Park, the 37 elephants, ranging from babies to 75-year old adults, are not there to impress tourists or do tricks — they are healing.  And the organization’s mission includes educating people about elephants as well as caring for them, so we learned much while we were there, including the life story of the individual animals.

In Thailand, wild elephants are a protected species.  But domesticated elephants, often used in jungle logging operations, are considered livestock.  For this reason, owners can treat them however they wish — which includes beating and otherwise abusing them.  The students were shown a video of how elephants are “broken” into domesticity, which was painful to watch.  But the time they spent feeding, washing, and caring for the elephants was a pleasure and an honor.

Lisa comments:

“There is nothing quite like holding a pineapple in your hand and then having the four feet of solid muscle that is an elephants trunk wrap around your hand with the delicacy and precision of…  Well, there is nothing quite like it!  So making a comparison is impossible.  The only words I can use to describe it would be: amazing… terrifying… awe inspiring.  Yet the most amazing part about feeding the elephants, I found, was that these giants have an intelligence not immediately apparent.  I saw many of the elephants using sticks to reach obscure itches, and at one point when I took my sunglasses off, the elephant immediately made eye contact with me. The level of connection that took place during that moment surpasses my vocabulary and understanding of communication.”

It was a powerful educational experience for all.  Ariel, especially, found the time with the elephants moving.  She expressed a desire to return at some point, and perhaps fit the Elephant Nature Park into her life goal of caring for animals.

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