Tag Archives: Elephant

Dead cats, working elephants, new schools, and other tidbits from Laos

It’s a public holiday here in Laos, so Mike and I are celebrating by working together at the kitchen table. Yeah, we really know how to do public holidays in style.

Actually, one of us does, anyway. Mike let me sleep in until nearly eight this morning and then woke me up with a tray loaded with cheesy scrambled eggs, grilled tomato, mango, dragonfruit, and half a cup of coffee (I’m just easing back into coffee after going off it overnight the minute I was afflicted with pregnancy nausea). So we had breakfast in bed together before we set up our two laptops downstairs and started typing away like disciplined little nerds.

Though if I really were a die hard nerd I’d be working on my consultancy, drafting the next chapter for this distance learning course instead of having spent the last hour perusing my email and google reader, looking at photos we’ve taken this last week, and now writing a blog post.

But this next chapter, you see, is on Wellbeing Economics (how and whether governments and managers should be paying attention to improving their citizens and employees wellbeing) and I feel clueless. So since it’s International Women’s Day I figure I should put off the hard work of getting less clueless until after lunch when I’ll be hot, and sleepy, and cranky because my back (which decided yesterday for no apparent reason that it wanted to really start hurting) is getting worse and worse throughout the day.

Yup, I’m a smart one all right.

But, today, instead of doing the smart thing I’m going to do the fun one and show you some of the things we’ve seen here in Laos this past week. I really wish I had a photo of what I saw yesterday afternoon but, alas, I was without camera when I took Zulu down the street to buy some Japanese eggplants from the woman who sells vegetables from a tarp on the sidewalk.

She had eggplants all right, and right beside the eggplants was a basket with two dead cats in it. The cats were crawling with flies, which the woman helpfully waved off with a coconut fond when she saw how interested I was in the cats. The flies rose up in a thick, dark, cloud, then promptly settled over all of the vegetables. I made sure to wash the eggplants thoroughly.

That was a first for me. I regularly see this woman selling birds (that’s what Zulu’s so interested in in the photo above), rats (sometimes dead, sometimes live), and occasionally dead bats tied in handy bunches. But I’ve never seen whole kitties for sale before.

So here are some images we did take this week of life here in Laos:

Palm tree at sunset from the deck of our house

Zulu, doing his new favourite thing (bringing a big clump of dirt into the house and chewing it to bits)

What Zulu lacks in leg length, he makes up for in ear size

Mike at a cafe on the Mekong on his birthday

Lanterns hanging above the Mekong

Checking out the construction around town on Saturday morning

Building roads and drains, the hard way

Burning rubbish around town – it’s going to get smokier and smokier throughout March as the farmers burn the rice fields after harvest

Rice fields on the way out to Phonxai

The brand new school that we went to see in progress together just two weeks ago – finished now and standing proudly beside the old school

The village surrounding the school

A working elephant alongside the road out to Phonxai

Is International Woman’s Day a holiday where you are? How have you celebrated it? And what cool things have you seen in the past week?

World’s Worst Elephant Mahout

Mike and I went on an elephant mahout training course yesterday.

Yes, seriously.

Here’s how it happened.

Last week we came back two days early from our time in Cambodia so that Mike could attend some important meetings in Vientiane – so he took those two days of leave this weekend instead. Given that we’d be in Luang Prabang, Mike decided it would be a good idea to pre-schedule some interesting things to do out of the house on these two days so that he would not be tempted out of habit to, as he put it, “fall into bed with my second wife, Madame Toshiba, when it is not her turn.”

(Madame Toshiba is Mike’s work computer and, for the record, she already gets more than her fair share of his attention.)

So that is how we ended up out at Elephant Village for the day, and when the owners asked us if we wanted to do the special package where you learn how to be a mahout and you get to swim with your elephant we said, “that sounds cool, why not?”

Perhaps if I had stopped to think about it for more than a nano-second I might have come up with a couple of potentially valid reasons why not.

Here’s one, for example: Mahouts ride elephants bareback.

Here’s another: Before they ride the elephants bareback they somehow climb up on them unassisted.

Here’s a third: There is no such thing as an elephant bridle.

And here’s the kicker: Elephants are very big.

But no – as in so many other situations in life I didn’t stop to think. Or perhaps more accurately, I knew that thinking might be wise, but I took one look at Mike’s hopeful, excited, face at the prospect of mahout training (he looked exactly like a Labrador Retriever who’s just spied someone with a tennis ball in hand) and knew I wouldn’t have the heart to say no, so I chose not to think. I can never figure out in those moments whether I’m being a great wife or an idiot.

They say you learn something every day, and here’s one of the things I learned yesterday: I’d be the world’s worst mahout.

It took two people to shovel me up onto our training elephant and things only went downhill from there.








I mastered exactly none of the commands designed to tell the elephant where to go and almost fell off the elephant’s head while it was merely walking in a gentle circle. Then I nearly lost my shirt over my head sliding down its neck.

Here’s another thing I learned yesterday: Sometimes I need to repeat an experience before I really learn my lesson, because later in the day I got back up bareback on an elephant – this time I wearing nothing but a bathing suit – and almost fell off again.

But here’s the third thing I learned: I might not particularly like riding the elephants without the aid of a howdah, but I sure do like swimming with them.