March 20, 2018
Chiang Mai, Thailand
One of the fascinating parts about living here is discovering the different variety of fauna that surrounds me, as opposed to what I was used to seeing back in the States. I was introduced almost immediately to some of the indigenous wildlife after arriving last year on New Year’s Day in Bangkok.
Into the Wild
My friend arranged to take me to a temple complex outside the city where we dined with the crowd and then walked around. There was a large pond formed by a stream that had been dammed up, and I was gazing down into it, watching the large carp who were feeding on pellets being tossed at them. Just to my left I spotted a good-sized snapping turtle floating lazily with his beak just breaking the water’s surface.
None of this was really new to me. I’d seen snapping turtles while growing up in Florida. I’d seen big fish in ponds, though never this amount at once. It looked as if you could walk across the water by stepping on the backs of the carp, they were so thick.
What I didn’t expect to see was a seven-foot monitor lizard to clamber out of the water and up the bank to the walkway.
This was cool. They walk quite the same as the alligators that I had seen as a boy. It seems a little cumbersome for them, and I do believe that they are much more graceful in the water. The monitor lizard pushed himself up off the ground, keeping his legs bent at an odd angle to do so. For some reason I was reminded of the plastic legs that we used to attach to the segmented bodies of Cootie toys.
I watched as he lumbered towards one of the temple buildings, only to freeze in place, then slowly retreat back to the water as a group of three worshippers appeared around the corner of the structure. Evidently most monitors are a bit shy.
Same Same, But Different
Later, when I had settled into my digs at my training course up in Chiang Mai, I began to see (and hear) other unfamiliar creatures. Birds that I didn’t recognize. Birds that I DID recognize, but were different than the ones I’d seen before. Like chickens.
Usually, when we see chickens in the States, they tend to be more squat and plump, probably based on the breeding and the diet. Here, the chickens stand a bit taller, and are scrawny. You can tell the difference when you order some fried (or roasted) chicken at the food stalls. The pieces (drumstick, wing, etc.) are pretty small in comparison to the ones you’ll find at Popeye’s or Church’s. But the taste of the chicken here is so much better.
Not Quite Godzilla
But before I digress into a story about food…let’s get back to lizards. This place is overrun with small gecko-like lizards.
Some nights, the outside walls seem to be moving because of the amount of these little buggers running around. And they’re fast. Their movement is almost worm or snake-like.They wriggle when they run. I sometimes find them in my room, which is cool with me, because they are voracious eaters of bugs. I just wish they’d do a better job of getting rid of the pesky ants.
Some species of these creepy-crawlies grow larger. There’s a type of lizard called a “To-Kay” by the Thai people, based on the sound that they make.
It’s a very distinctive call. Starts out with a loud “tik! tik! tik! tik!”, then a pregnant pause, followed by a much louder “Toh-Kay! Toh-Kay! “Toh-Kay!” The interpretation of the sound is subjective, of course. The first time I heard it, at about 3am, I thought for sure that it was some kind of bird yelling “Fuck-You! Fuck-You! Fuck-You!” I couldn’t figure out why a bird would be awake to curse loudly at 3am, but every night, that damn thing would be waking me up. It was a few weeks before I asked someone about the bird, and was informed that it was, in fact, NOT a bird, but a lizard. The 3am began to make a bit more sense.
To-Kays can reach lengths of 8″ or more, and from what I’m told, are quite valuable if you find one big enough. I’ve also been informed that they will bite if provoked. I had one invite himself into the vent window in my shower last year. Startled me a bit.
I’ve also been startled (at first) by large, muddy water buffalo standing across the street from me as I got ready to leave for work. Now they seem commonplace.
A local farmer will lead them into the neighborhood to graze on empty lots. Sometimes he’ll tie them up alongside the street, and I’ve almost run into them on my motorcycle at night, because those suckers are nearly impossible to see in the dark. Almost always visible, though, are the large piles of bovine shit they leave behind in the middle of the road.
During rainy season, I’ll regularly see large bullfrogs peeking out of the watery rice fields, and smaller frogs leaping great heights and distances trying to make it across the road. It’s always a pity when they jump right in front of a passing vehicle. Last year, I actually saw a fish “swimming” on the street surface trying desperately to make it to the ditch where there was water.
My students know the words “rabbit” and “squirrel”, even though I have yet to see a (wild) rabbit or a proper squirrel here. (But then, my kids also know the word “snowman”.) Mainly the rodents I see here are rats. Rats are everywhere. In the cities, I’ve witnessed black, plastic garbage bags moving as if possessed by demons. But it’s always a rat or three scurrying around inside. Cockroaches are ubiquitous as well. If you’re a squeamish person, it’s probably best not to walk around at night.
Some of the spiders here are frightening as hell. One species, the huntsman spider, can grow to the size of your hand. I’ve been told that they are harmless to humans, but I believe that is bullshit. I’ve had to kill a few of them in my room, and even though they were much smaller than the advertised “large” size, they still nearly gave me a heart attack.
Planet of the Apes
During my school break back in October, I visited southern Thailand for a couple of weeks. One of the places I visited was Hua Hin, about two hours south of Bangkok, on the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand. While there, I decided to hike up to a popular viewpoint overlooking the city and the water. As soon as I got out of the main commercial/residential area of the town, I was startled to see troops (also called missions, tribes, or cartloads?) of monkeys sitting along a long concrete wall.
This was my first experience ever seeing monkeys in the wild. Most of them were about the size of a small dog or a large house cat, though a few of the males were noticeably larger.
Not knowing their nature, I was a bit wary, having heard stories of monkeys throwing their shit at people. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. They are, however, perverts. I witnessed some behavior that would be better suited to a hard-core porn website.
Later, after I had finished taking pictures from the various viewpoints, I saw a large male sitting on the steps that I needed to take to get back to the entrance. I didn’t know what he wanted, and I had no desire to tangle with him. So I simply waited, and made sure that my phone was securely in my hand, since monkeys are notorious thieves.
And sure enough, larceny was on his mind. After about thirty seconds of me watching him, he turned his back to me and loped up towards a small group of Chinese tourists who were on their way to the photo op spots.
One of the ladies was clutching an iced-coffee she had just purchased at the stand near the entrance. Two seconds later, she was clutching only the plastic holder, as the klepto-monkey had jumped up and snatched away the cup of icy espresso. Guess everyone needs their caffeine fix.
Pachyderms on Parade
I was privileged to enjoy an experience with the larger, more majestic wildlife, namely elephants. My friend from Chicago visited me, and we booked a visit to a cruelty-free elephant sanctuary where we were allowed to feed, bathe, and play with the beautiful creatures.
Many people come to Thailand or other Asian countries and pay for the experience of riding the elephants or watching them perform tricks like painting and such. What these people (hopefully) don’t realize is that behind the curtain of fun activity for humans is the horrible treatment of the animals, as they are beaten, chained, and gouged with bullhooks in order to train them to perform.
Fortunately, the information is becoming more widespread, and a few elephant camps are changing to cruelty-free, no-riding sanctuaries as the demand for these grows and tourists are voting with their wallets.
I had intended to use this post to talk about the dogs and cats here, but my word count is already past 1,600, and I’ll have lots more to say about that in a separate post.