Cultural norms are changing across societies but there are times we still encounter something that grates. Overall we had a great day exploring Ko Samui on an excursion organized by the ship. There were two events, though, that ranged from troubling to sad.
To the ship’s credit, they no longer organize elephant rides and the Thai government is, we are told, much more rigorous about enacting and enforcing regulations governing the way elephants are trained, handled and cared for. That’s good.
But it was with very mixed feelings that we watched the show with the baby elephants dancing, playing soccer, and twirling hula hoops. One the one hand they were adorable and there was something special about being able to touch and “pet” these gentle, intelligent, and beautiful creatures.
But you couldn’t help but feel the wrongness of them performing for our pleasure. Everyone there was complicit in stealing their dignity — at least that’s how it felt. It was just part of the program but not part I felt good about.
The last stop was worse. A stop at a coconut plantation where short-tailed macaque monkeys are used to climb the trees, puck coconuts, and throw them down. Some can pick 500 in a day. They are put to work at age 3, worked for ten years, and then kept as breeding stock until they die a few years later. Not much of a life. No one talked about government regs to protect them.
The macaques weren’t warm and cuddly. But then when you’ve got a chain around your neck and are staked to a rope for most of your life you might be cranky too. Part of me wouldn’t have minded seeing one of the monkeys drop a coconut on the head of his handler. It just looked cruel.
We took no photos. We just couldn’t bing ourselves to get into the idea that we should be excited about coconut picking monkeys. We got back on the bus instead.
Ok. I know that things are unlikely to change just because I got back on that bus. I know that as long as there are folks who want to watch the elephants dance it will continue. I know that putting dinner on the table in a country where poverty waits around the corner captures folks attention more than a chain on a monkey. But still….
Change has to begin somewhere. If we don’t take that picture. If we get back on the bus. If we tell the organizers this didn’t work for us. Each act, leads to another. And change happens.
Lama Geshe, the Lama at the monastery in Pangboche, in the Himalayas shared this wishing prayer with us:
“A request to all sentient beings on this planet…
Give up all intention to harm others from your heart
And do your best to benefit them all
If each and everyone feels the universal responsibility to do so,
We will all enjoy the feast of peace!”
That, I think, says it all.