When we visited Ayutthaya we took an elephant ride. The old city, now a world heritage site, was the capital of the Thai Kingdom from the 14th century until it was sacked by the Burmese army in the 18th century. High on the back of the elephant, beneath the ornately decorated sun umbrella, with my own mahout it was easy to imagine times past when festivals included large processions with hundreds of ornately decorated elephants and all manner of other (to the western eye) exotic creatures.
There’s quite a debate about the ethics of riding elephants. These links present both sides of the story. Would I do it again? Knowing what I know now, maybe not. Would I visit an elephant park if I had the opportunity. Yes, more than likely, especially if it promoted elephant welfare. Such things are never clear cut, not for me anyway. As a tourist how can I possibly assess the rights and wrongs of the traditions of another culture? From what I could figure out, the mahouts where we were took their responsibilities seriously.
Begging or not, legal or not, I was charmed by this baby elephant when he interrupted my breakfast in Nong Khai. It’s true what they say – its trunk was incredibly supple. He took the bamboo from my hand with all the force of a baby’s breath.
And the Saa Kaew Ku Sculpture Park sculpture park in Nong Khai, I blogged about it back in March, features a spectacular elephant statue. As I said then I often think about his dismissive attitude to the yapping criticism of the dogs baying at his feet.
So it was hardly surprising that when I saw an ornamental elephant for sale at Siam Paragon, Bangkok, I was tempted, but instead I admired him and I left him on the display shelf. He was too ornate for me. When it comes to design my tastes are towards the plain end of the spectrum: the classic look in clothes, no ruffles or lace; my furniture is wooden or leather, more country than shabby chic. It’s the same with my jewellery, one or two good pieces – definitely no bling. “Nothing Fussy” as my mother used to say. Anything I have on display in my house is there for a reason. Whether it’s kitch or artisan, mass-produced or custom-made it has a story attached to it; about where I’ve come from and where I might be going.
Generally when I travel I don’t spend a lot of time shopping but I do like to bring something home that reminds me of where I’ve been and the people I’ve met, a memento of my journey. What better than an elephant to remember Thailand? As the days went by and our departure approached I coveted him more and more, never mind that he was too fancy. His very fanciness would be a reminder of things Thai, I thought. And so I caught the sky train back to Siam Paragon on our very last night, just before closing, to claim him for myself.
Buoyed by the promises of the shop assistant that he would survive the long haul flight to NZ, I carried him home in my day pack. He sat at my feet throughout the flight. And I lugged him around Darling Harbour, Sydney while we filled in the six hours before our connecting flight to Wellington, NZ.
Now every morning I admire him and the patience, not to mention deftness, of the crafts person who hand painted his attire.
As I’ve mentioned before, in Buddhist tradition elephants are revered for their strength. White elephants even more so. According to Buddhist teachings, Maya, the mother of Buddha, dreamt that she was visited by a white elephant holding a white lotus flower in it’s trunk before becoming pregnant.
Incidentally, in Thailand all white elephants are considered the property of the King.
He reminds of me not only of my past adventures but of the importance of courage. And we all need courage, some days more than others.
For more posts on the theme of decoration visit Ailsa over on Where’s my backpack