Friday, October 10, 2014

A Tiger in My Arms Is A Good Thing

My Bangkok respite

Rain doesn't spoil view
Thailand is always a deep breath of joy for me. We always head for the Chakrabongse Villas, which once was the site for costuming entertainers for the royal family, whose healthy ornate spread is not too far away. The owner is heiress to the famous King of Siam, who was no Yul Brynner, but certainly established life in Siam for the rest of us whether on Broadway with Gertrude Lawrence or in the movies with Deborah Kerr. Bangkok today, old Siam, is a major city jammed with taxis in shocking pink, emerald and yellow, bright yellow and dark Red, and traffic is a nightmare and no one goes around asking “shall we dance?”. But around various corners you come across circular billboards with photographs of the King and Queen and praises given to them in gold letters with flowers and shaped shrubbery marking them with beauty. Especially now, there are offerings all over the place for the King’s good health. He had a gall bladder removed and that’s not easy in his ‘80ties. Interesting is, no matter what the politicians or military do, no matter protest or discomfort, all admire and respect the royal family and attend to their safety and well being.  Everywhere one travels in Thailand, there are monuments and billboards and offerings in honor of the royal family. 
Chaing Mai villas

2-month old Tigers

The villas where I stay, there are only 5 rooms, hang right on the wide and busy river that runs through Bangkok. I can stand out on the deck and watch barges, dragon boats, every kind of water vehicle (some with loud speakers emitting music, lectures or just announcing stops for the water taxi) brushing through the water once morning breaks. Across the way are stupas and temples that light up at night. And the garden of orchids, and tropical flowers gives a calmness that even a rainstorm doesn’t dismay. The villas are a respite for me, a glass of lemongrass tea with crushed ice welcoming at the door. Friendly faces welcome with “sawadee” and it’s like a home away from home. It’s also a place to repack and do some shipping and some shopping. Then it’s climb back on a plane to fly to Chiang Mai for a couple of days, where we stay at another villa, Rangsit Villas, which is owned by the sister of the owner of the Bangkok villas, who is likewise of the King of Siam line Incidentally, the King of Siam was the first to become monogamous. From him forward, no more concubines and extra wives. 

Chiang Mai was a bit of a let down, as the famous fun night market was on Sunday and we were there on Tuesday, so that was a disappointment. But the real reason we came back to Chiang Mai was to visit Tiger Town and to attend a down home cooking school to learn how to make sweets. 
A little rest on a 12 month old

 Massaging a big fellow

There are few things in life like touching, holding, massaging tigers. At Tiger Kingdom, which is a project seeking to preserve tigers (not turning them out into the wild) but breeding and raising them in captivity (a very luxurious kind of captivity), loaning (not selling) them to zoos around the world,  and allowing the public who dare, to enter the cages and spend some “love” time with the incredible beasts. If you dare, you can sign up to do three cages (small, medium and large), or the works, which, of course I do. (This was my second visit.) The tigers are trustworthy because they are hand-raised by their trainers, bonding with them, speaking to them, so that eventually they are at ease with humans. They are hand-stroked and petted continually, and when you are sitting beside one not knowing what to do next, the trainers says rub them hard so they will feel it, otherwise it’s like a tickle and they get irritated. Oh, of course, there are rules. Stay away from the face (they can bite in plate), don’t get loud, don’t put fingers and hands through the cages, etc.  I had no fear, and just couldn’t wait to get started.

Think I have a new career

It's a Good Life
To enter cages, which means ducking under a narrow gate that raises up, you leave possessions outside, but cameras are allowed. First was the round with the 2 month old babies, three of them, who wanted to play and tumble with each other and ignore the huge humans trying to get their attention. Few things are as soft as a baby tigers hair. And on the back of their ears are two large white spots. I watched these spots grow the bigger the tiger I was embracing. Next we pushed into the 2nd cage where 3 month old babies were housed and they were a bit less rowdy and okay with a few photographs. No, you couldn’t just pick them up and hold them in your arms. A nip would probably be something major. After the young ones we went into the cage of the year olds. Most of them had already learned a good way to pass the day was stretched in the shade sleeping. So the trainer encouraged me to sit down (on the concrete) at his tail, to move in closely, and then just lay down on him while massaging his stomach and legs. His paws are huge. And sometimes he raises one and the trainer says to grab ahold for a photo. I refused to grab the tail and hold it up. That seemed insulting. So I began to deep massage the young tiger, and soon my 15 minutes were up. 
  
Coconut shake in Coconut

On to the next level, the 2 year olds, who are, yes, a bunch bigger. This guy was on
My Favorite Sweets
his back, paws up, jaws slithered down, happy as a clam. I was told to sit down again on the concrete (it’s the getting up that is a killer), and began to massage his fat stomach as deep and hard as I could (Maybe this would be a career?). All of a sudden, the tiger began to moan and groan with delight, and So I laid across his side and worked the full 15 minute allotment. Then they said I could get sit and massage a couple more tigers that seem to get bigger and bigger every step. Finally the big daddy of them all, as gorgeous a tiger as I’ve ever seen, stretched out in peace. Once again, I’m sitting under his butt, and start massaging, and once again, i could hear little cries of joy as I got deeper and deeper into his stomach and side. It really was funny. Most people are too afraid to do anything but sit, have a picture for posterity, and move on. I practically fall on them as I’m so happy to be there at that moment with my favorite wild animal - it gets to be a spiritual thing, after awhile. I needed a special mantra. 



Fried Kale and Friends
Pounding Green Papaya salad
While waiting for the photos, I consumed a coconut shake in a coconut. Cold and delicious. And then we took off for town to find a shop where hill country needlework products were available. Then we stopped by a fantastic food market where we could finally indulge in some of Thailand’s sweets. Meanwhile all kinds of other foods were available and I was able to watch a lady making green papaya salad, my favorite. We also bought deep fried kale and greens, and fried bananas. Finally back at the villa, there were two lady chefs waiting to show us how to make my very favorite deserts (rice flower balls in coconut milk) and another gelatin-type ball made of a paste of garlic, peanuts, pickled vegetable, and palm sugar that we steamed. Then she showed us how to make the green papaya salad, and we each had to smash our own with the big pestle  (green papaya shredded, cucumber sliced thin, baby tomatoes, peanuts, garlic, string beans, and a sauce mixed from fish sauce, soy and palm sugar. It’s the best thing under heaven. 
Green Papaya Salad - Hurrah!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Audrey,
The Chaing Mai villas look like the perfect place for winding down a little bit and getting some rest. Your view of the river is spectacular!
Another cooking school and now you know how to fix sweets. Later in your blog you wrote about learning how to make Green Papaya salad. Are you planning to open a restaurant and serve exotic dishes and sweets from the Far East?
You swam with the sharks, held pythons and now you risked your life again at Tiger Kingdom. You had no fear and couldn't wait to get into the cages with the Tigers. The Bengal Tigers may have been hand-raised by trainers, but they are still beasts from the wild and can be very ferocious! If you had rubbed "Big Daddy" the wrong way, he could have taken your head off with a swat of his huge paw. You are living on the edge. Please don't try to make friends with a Cobra. We pray God will continue to protect you!
The Tigers are incredible, beautiful creatures. Even so, there isn't any way you could convince either of us to go into one of those cages.
Our dear friend, you are truly amazing and without question one of the most interesting women in the world!
We miss you and love you very, very much,
Geraldean & Judge