Seven Elephants and a Wedding
Expression of this month’s thoughts will require some upfront thought. I think the second-most interesting thing to write about is the elephants during our honeymoon in Thailand. The third-most is our wedding. The most interesting is the fact my wife and I are already two fights deep, two weeks into marriage. At this rate, we’ll be pushing 20 before our first cheesy Christmas card together.
I should focus on the elephants. The way I would reconstruct and analyze our arguments might be entertaining to you, but unfair to her. But I do have to acknowledge the friction amid the deluge of smiling wedding pictures and sunny social media posts. I can’t write some flowery crap about how perfect the last two weeks have been when we were fighting two days ago.
At the same time, I would be remiss not to salute the delightful wedding. So here’s how I’ll structure this. One vague paragraph on the fights. One on the wedding. And then a few on the elephants.
When two people share time and space so closely, stuff comes up. Only 90 hours before the wedding, I reached a level of anger never felt before in this relationship or any other. I was daydreaming about calling it off and moving to New York to start over. (Don’t take that at face value. What I daydream and what I seriously consider are not even related. I have been an aggressive daydreamer since I was a child with my imaginary friend Wa-Shee Panda. I daydream about committing suicide or living in solitude or being a superhero or regular hero. I’m 32 years old and visualized myself as Superman fighting ISIS after watching “Dawn of Justice” on the flight to Thailand. I would retain my current looks, personality and clothes while having superpowers.) So that pre-wedding fight was intense. After the honeymoon, I spotted what I perceived to be a double standard related to it and brought up this observation with the honest intention of starting a productive discussion. For whatever reason, it didn’t work out that way. We are still learning how to be with each other, likely a never-ending process. But it will get better. I am neither embarrassed nor worried we had fights in such close proximity to the wedding and honeymoon. I am supremely confident. Everything we said in our vows, all the happy vibes and beaming affection, were true.
I was wrong. Up until the last minute, I expected the wedding to be a frivolous circle-jerk of a performance. But then I saw the people there, and excitement and joy dominated the rest of the way. It was such an incredible time that turned out to be well worth the trouble. I did black out, with my last vestiges of memory floating somewhere between feeding wedding cake to a person (neither my wife nor female) and having my shirt pulled off on the dance floor (neither my idea nor consent). Generally at other people’s weddings, I try to read social cues to determine the appropriate level of drunkenness for me. At my own, I assumed some folks were looking for me to set the pace. I felt a responsibility to make attendees comfortable enough to drink as hard as possible. This meant leading by example and hazing everyone in sight. I don’t know how many shots I took, but it was gruesome in retrospect. I have zero recollection of leaving the venue. It was my way of living in the special day forever.
I decided the elephant was my favorite animal long before my wife’s second-grade class introduced me to the children’s book character Gerald the Elephant. I can relate to having a great appetite and memory, and I am conditioned to love all fat things because that’s how Asian parents express love to their children — overfeeding them with the constant fear they are too skinny.
In one of the few things we have in common, my wife loves elephants too. We resolved not to leave Thailand without encountering them. In researching options, I read through many blogs, sites and comments that urge tourists to avoid riding elephants and thereby perpetuating their abuse.
This was news to me. I am no PETA activist. Those who pontificate about animal rights in one instance probably trample on them in some other. That’s what happens when you are the dominant species on a planet by such a wide margin. I don’t judge anyone who wants to ride an elephant.
That said, you figure something has to happen to this wild animal for it to allow people to sit on its neck for extended periods of time. The unsettling accusation is these tourism businesses essentially have to break the elephant’s spirit with various degrees of torture — piercing hooks, beatings, deprivation, separation of young.
We decided against patronizing any place that allows elephant riding. Again, I am no tree-hugger. But I do think in terms of costs and benefits. I don’t see much of a payoff worth the potential damage to the animal. If I needed the food, I would slit Dumbo’s throat and enjoy the buffet. Maybe even use his trunk as one of those oscillating workout ropes so as not to be wasteful. But beating the heck out of an elephant just to ride it does not seem commensurate. Your reward is sitting up there like a tool while moving slower than a Disneyland train.
At the sanctuary we chose, both the elephants and people appeared to have more fun than they would riding each other. Feeding these silly beasts was a truly invigorating experience. We were told to hold up the sugar cane or banana and say “Bon!” Then the fatty grabbed it out of our hands with its freakish, snotty, contorting trunk.
Later, when we were skinny-dipping in our private pool in Koh Samui, my wife held her hand above my penis and said “Bon!” as if to coax an erection. We have adopted this as an inside joke and don’t mind if you copy us because it’s hilarious.
We also got to slap mud all over the elephants and then wash them off in a river with buckets and brushes. These big lugs rolling around and sitting like dogs was positively endearing.
To me, riding these elephants would have added no value to the experience. If you absolutely have to try it, at least go bareback. Those chairs are not good for the elephant’s body and make you look like an even bigger tool.
Of course some discomfort is inherent when humans tame elephants or each other. But that doesn’t mean it can’t end in a kiss.
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