I was done having fun. Fun time was over.
Let me explain. We’d booked a full-day trip out of Chiang Mai. It began at 8 in the morning, when the van picked us up from the hotel.
We first went to see some elephants.
Elephants in Thailand are classified as livestock, due to their long history of being used to move logs, help with construction, and similar tasks. As livestock, there are no laws protecting them against abuse. This means that when you book an elephant tour, you should check what other tourists have said about whether or not the elephants are treated kindly. Our tour had excellent reviews, and I was satisfied that they weren’t maltreated. When we arrived, only one elephant, a younger one, was tied up. The rest were given free rein of the surrounding forest, but hadn’t wandered very far. I take it as a good sign when an animal has a chance to leave but doesn’t.
So we met the elephants, and went through commands with the mahout. Then we were allowed to mount (say “sungsung” and he bends a leg so you can use that to vault onto his back) and run through the commands: forward, stop, left, right. In practice the elephant ignored us and did whatever it wanted under the close supervision of its trainer.
Then we took a ride through the jungle, mounted bareback on an elephant. The trick is to sit right up behind his head, on the narrowest part of his neck, with both hands firmly planted on his head. That’s the stablest and most comfortable way to ride an elephant. I figured this out about five minutes from the end of the ride.
Next we went for a walk through some rice paddies up to a waterfall. The waterfall was pretty, the water was cold, everything fine so far.
However, it’s getting to be about noon and I didn’t really eat breakfast. That’s okay, still excited. We go to a village of the Karen people, and that mostly consisted of us walking around their souveneir stalls.
Okay, now it’s about 1:30. We finally eat, at a roadside restaurant. The food is extremely watered down; I’m not sure there was a single spice in what was supposedly Massaman curry. That’s fine, I’m hungry, I eat it up.
And now we still ahve the bamboo raft ride left. It’s 3:00, I’ve been in the sun all day, I want to go home. I don’t want to do some touristy, rickety bamboo raft ride that will probably result in me being thrown into the river. I have zero faith in the bamboo raft ride. It is just a touristy thing to pad out the day. The cool thing was the elephants and we’d seen the elephants. I wanted a cool hotel room, a refreshing beverage and some alone time.
Fine. I’m staying quiet, keeping to myself. I can bear up. No bigger. How long can a raft ride be?
An hour. It’s an hour long, on a rickety bamboo raft.
This is the point at which I was Not Having Fun.
Was I being ungrateful? Was this not in the right spirit? Was I failing to appreciate the unique wonder of this day, on this my trip of a lifetime? Yes, absolutely. Knowing this only deepened my bad mood.
Let me explain. For some people, a fun activity is still fun six, seven, eight hours later. I call this Endurance Fun, and I hate it. I can have fun for about five hours, then I am done.
I am a creature who needs a little retreat every now and then. Call it a human weakness, call it an animal weakness, whatever, it’s the truth.
So I’m sitting on the bamboo raft, reciting to myself all the reasons I’m grumpy, which is just making me more grumpy, but at this point it’s a vicious cycle. I want to be grumpy, and I’m mad at anyone who tries to make me not grumpy. Except the incredible bamboo raft ride pulled me right out of that funk.
First, it turned out not to be a tourist thing – or not merely a touristy thing. All up and down the river, Thai people were also riding bamboo rafts, and often pulling over to enjoy some refreshing, alcoholic beverages. Bamboo stalls lined the riversides, each with room for a table and five or six people. The stalls were connected by hanging baskets to the restaurant high on the bank; you wrote down your order, sent it up, and they sent down the food. My companions secured a drink or two for me, and suddenly I was feeling a lot better. The Thai people were friendly, and splashed at us, and we splashed back.
Then the storm hit, and my mood got even better.
The previous statement was not sarcasm; I love storms of all kinds. This is what comes of growing up in a desert: precipitation is exciting. And this was a real tropical storm. It blew in towards the end of our ride. Soon it was raining so hard that I felt like I was receiving endless hearty slaps on the back. The river level started rising. People abandoned their boats. The owners of shacks hurried out to pull back chairs and mats. Still the river kept rising.
We reached the end of our trip but it was too dangerous to drive. We changed into dry clothes and sat in the restaurant, watching the restaurant owners hurry to dismantle the stalls and save what could be saved. I wondered how great the loss would be; it seemed that this must happen frequently, especially during rainy season. Perhaps that was why the stalls were made of bamboo – cheap and easily replaced.
It as a little adventure, but also a reminder of the power and unpredictability and strangeness of the world. Since then, I’ve kept the bad moods to a minimum.