5 12 2009

“Step aside for those who are ready to move,” the eighty-five year old woman said, and shoved Sunny back into the aisle of airplane seats. So began our introduction to Australia.

New Zealand is an incredibly happy place, filled with some of the friendliest people we’ve ever met. It was also empty; the entire population of New Zealand is equal to the population of Sydney. In addition, it was relatively affordable – not cheap, mind you, but doable. Finally, the weather there is like San Francisco – unpredictable, but cool, refreshing and enjoyable.

When we arrived in Sydney, the prices, humidity, crowds and pushy elderly made us sweat. What had happened to the little old sheep farms and $2 meat pies?

Luckily, Sydney is an easy city to fall in love with. If you haven’t been there, it’s worth it…the water, the views, the birds, the kookaburras sitting in old gum trees… Not to mention the Opera House! We couldn’t get enough of that Opera House. Be prepared for way too many photos to come.

We were also blessed with a variety of wonderful hosts in Sydney. Sunny’s friend’s sister and brother-in-law spent a day touring us around the city beaches and neighborhoods. Literally a whole day – the best personalized tour we could have hoped for. A cousin of mine treated us to oysters, lunch by the sea, and tea in his wonderfully cool air-conditioned home. Another relative took us through the Botanical Gardens. For the first time in six weeks, we got to spend time with people who are sort of like old friends, and it felt great. After five nights of learning to love Sydney, we decided to forgive the old lady on the plane, and move on.

We’re now in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We just spent three nights in Bangkok, where we continued to sweat. However, our dollar is suddenly lasting much longer, and we are eating amazing food. We’re also lucky enough to have arrived in time to celebrate the King’s birthday. We’ve actually gotten to know him quite well over the last four days, through street movies, posters, intensive decorations, and firework shows. Surprisingly enough, he was born at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts. So in a way, he’s like another old friend.

We’re also finally traveling somewhere that feels foreign, and new experiences are around every corner. Today, for example, we watched elephants paint. That’s what I said. Paint. We went to an elephant camp, where elephants are protected and put on display. Not sure if those two things cancel out each other. Our elephants did a little show, where they played soccer and the harmonica.

gimme that camera!

Next, five elephants come out holding a little paint box in their trunk, and they stood beside an easel. When this started, a hush fell over the crowd. The elephants then each had a brush placed in their trunk, and they began to paint. One would hesitate before he made each stroke, as if he was thinking carefully about what to depict. The one nearest us would scratch his head (with his trunk) in between strokes. The entire scene lasted for about twenty minutes, and the crowd remained silent. Sunny and I, on the other hand, could not stop laughing. The Thais were all very respectful of the elephants’ creative space, and we tried to keep our laughter down. But I dare any of you to sit in front of five elephants slowly painting on a canvas with their trunk, and not laugh. It is not easy.

The elephant titled this one "Red Flowers in Field."

"Hmm... how do I spell 'Pa' again?"

Their work was actually quite remarkable, and the most impressive painting was a portrait of the birthday boy, King Rama IX. The elephant painted  the caption, “I love my Pa,” underneath his work.

After he finished, the elephant started dancing and trumpeting “You say it’s your birthday…da na na na na…it’s my birthday, too!” while shaking his rump.

Okay-that last part didn’t happen. A girl can dream, right?

Literal vs Abstract



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