Chang is the Thai word for elephant. Changs adorn almost everything you can imagine in Thailand and are often in Buddhist places of worship, there is even Chang beer, and Chang water. On New Year’s Eve day I even rode a chang. I was a little saddened to see how they were treated at the “ranch” where tourists like myself came to see them. An animal that is held with such prestige in Thai culture was reduced to kitschy dances and large amounts of time in chains. Riding on their backs was exciting, but I couldn’t help but feel for them. My trainer wasn’t the kindest to the chang we were on so that may have skewed my perception. Yet, it didn’t seem natural in that the chang seemed out of its environment. Obviously it’s not natural for any animal to be “trained” but this was different than riding a horse, watching dolphins at Sea World, or even playing with cats and dogs. Maybe its just about positive reinforcement and giving the animal its space. Is this an example of how demand, likely foreign, has reshaped or changed what the very nature of Thai culture is about and if so, what other things like this might exist today in Thai society? However, I’m still very happy to have seen them and spent time with them.
New years was made special by the excitement alive on every corner of ChiangMai. The sky was filled with man-made stars (the Thai word is chrom) burning orange floating amidst a barrage of fireworks. The streets were filled with small festive vendors, delicious food, Thai beer, and thousands of happy people ready to welcome in 2012 with open arms. When the countdown began I was at the city center with two new friends where a pyramid lit up with the time. When the clock struck New Year fireworks erupted and we toasted the neighbors that happened to be English. The rest of the night we wondered the city stopping at any place that interested us while taking in all ChiangMai had to offer. At one point we stopped along the canal to simply watch it all unfold. The streets were packed but when a person wanted to light fireworks the crowd would stop to watch, some fireworks were so large they set off car alarms near by. It was something special. I wouldn’t have rather been anywhere else.