MONGONG AND ME
You may remember that last month’s newsletter was actually sent from Bangkok, at the beginning of our amazing trip to Thailand with Mitch and Jeab, who actually invited us on their honeymoon. Richard and I love to travel, and this was is such a spectacular trip, I thought I’d share one of the most amazing parts with you.
In Chaing Rai, we traveled by longboat (a long covered rowboat with a motor and seats) on the Mae Kok River on a lovely day, with lots of fluffy clouds in a blue sky. This is the rainy season, however, so we know not to count on fair skies. After about half an hour of this pleasant river trip, we reach our goal: the Karen tribe village, and the elephants!! We disembark and climb the bank to find a small village, with a big wall sign telling the story of the village and the elephants. Elephants used to have gainful employment in the forests of Northern Thailand, but they are seldom used now. So, to preserve them, the tribes have re-trained them to carry tourists on elephant rides. We buy bananas and sugar cane to feed the elephantsthere are about eight of them in this staging area. With my usual enthusiasm, I walk right up and begin feeding them, until Thieu tells me a couple of them are in “must” and should be avoided, because they are emotionally unstable. Who knew?? Elephant PMS!!
Richard and I are introduced to our elephant, “Mongong” (as close as I can get to his name) and shown up a short ladder to a platform, which was level with the elephant’s back. On Mongong’s back was chained a wooden structure that looked rather like a rough-hewn bench. We seated ourselves on the bench, were handed umbrellas to protect us from the sun (and later, the rain) and we were offthough not exactly running. Mongong lumbered off, and our bench swayed from side to side. Mitch and Jeab were in front of us on their own elephant, and we got to see that there was a bamboo loop under their elephant’s tail, stabilizing the seat they were on. Ouch! It sure looked like it would chafe, but it didn’t seem to bother the elephant. Through village streets, past farms and rice paddies, we traveled, a large circle of about a mile. It rained a bit now and then, and the sun would come out. Slowly we came back around to the river, and we thought we were getting close to returning to the staging area. What a surprise when Mitch and Jeab’s elephant walked right down the rather steep bank, right into the water! Mongong followed, and we had to hold on tight, since there were no seatbelts. The elephants calmly waded into the water, almost up to their eyes. Mongong had his trunk in the water, and I flashed on movies of African elephants using their trunks to spray water over their backs. Mongong was well-behaved, however, and soon just the tip of his trunk came out of the water so he could breathe. We traveled about a quarter mile down the river, a little past where our boat was docked, and the elephants clambered back up the steep, gravelly bank, with us rocking and rolling above them. Back to the platform, we dismounted, and the trainer had the Mongong put his trunk on the platform, so I could pet him. What a thrilling experience! Mongong was calm, well-trained and a highlight of our entire trip. He and his Karen tribesman trainer obviously have a bond, working together to preserve both the tribe and the elephants.
Karen tribewomen used to be called the “longneck women” because they wore large brass rings around their necks to lower their collarbones and elongate the neck. Few women do this any more, and there are none here, although the ones we see here are excellent weavers and do gorgeous needlework. The next morning, across the border in Myanmar (formerly Burma) we see a mother and daughter with the neck rings.
Also in Myanmar, we see a large Burmese style bell-shaped temple on a hill, and it’s most notable feature is a seven-sided Wat with an alter for one day of the week on each of the seven sides. As we enter and remove our shoes, we are greeted by ladies in chinese-style “coolie hats” who offer to look up our birthdays in little books which must be perpetual calendars. I already know I was born on a Wednesday. Then, we make a donation to receive lotus, candles, incense, and a little live bird in a bamboo cage. We’re given detailed instructions, and we each go to the alter of our respective days. Each alter has a statue of a Buddhist angel, overlooking an alter for offerings, with a small statue of the day’s talisman animal. Wednesday’s is an elephant, and I remember Mongongit’s an explanation of our special connection. At the altar, we make a ‘wai’ with hands together in front of our hearts, light the candle and then the incense, and place them in the sand, put the flowers on the altar, take water from the bowl on the altar and pour it over the talisman animal, and then release the bird, to carry our prayers. This is a very moving ceremony for me. In this part of the world, all the offerings of incense, flowers, candles, gold leaf, the bird, etc. are made outdoors, in the open air, as are most prayers. It’s an occasion to stop and think about our relationship to Spirit and to nature.
The human race has made such beauty and such misery on this small planet we inhabit. We have such power, and so little awareness in our every day lives. The huge, gentle yet powerful elephants like Mongong are losing their habitat, the planet is heating up (shrinkage is obvious in the Alaskan glaciers) and we are still, as we have for many centuries, waging war, when there is so much good that we could do instead. When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?
If you want to see the whole trip, click here
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with over 25 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 11 books, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (New Page); How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free (New Page); The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley) and The Real 13th Step: Discovering Self-Confidence, Self-Reliance and Independence Beyond the Twelve Step Programs (New Page.) She publishes the “Happiness Tips from Tina” e-mail newsletter and has hosted "The Psyche Deli: delectable tidbits for the subconscious" a weekly hour long radio show. She is an online expert, answering relationship questions at www.CouplesCompany.com and Yahoo!Personals, as well as a Redbook Love Network expert and “Psychology Smarts” columnist for First for Women. Dr. Tessina guests frequently on radio, and on such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC news.