Thailand – Ties and Elephants

It was interesting watching a documentary on the Knowledge Channel about the illegal dealings and sale of elephant tusks. I was reminded of my experience in an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. The documentary was filmed in Africa. I got the shivers when I saw the burning of hundreds of tusks, representing millions of dollars (yes, millions!) when the population is starving and hundreds of elephants were killed for the precious ivory. I visited China just after 9/11 and couldn’t help but admire the art of ivory carving, the intricate patterns and the ‘balls within balls’, each one carved with incredible designs. How did they do it? Those carvers are true artists. I knew it was ‘verboten’ to take any ivory out of the country and the producers of the ivory were on the endangered species list: The elephants. One is not allowed to hunt them and kill them. So how do the artists get the ivory to do their craft, sell the items for hundreds of dollars to the specialty shops and these, in turn, offer them for thousands of dollars to an, apparently, international market? Very large specimens are priced at million dollars or more.

I am shaken to learn of the still ongoing killings. The tusks have become smaller since the elephants don’t live long enough to develop those earlier magnificent tusks. They are hunted, to this very day by illegal means. The hunters take the chance to get caught but the hope to get rich is stronger. The number of elephants worldwide is going down. If they were not protected in large areas and parks they would probably be a lost species already. And forever is forever.

Elephants playing soccer

Elephants playing soccer

My first personal encounter with elephants was in a ‘Sanctuary’ in Thailand. I watched them play soccer and cheered with the rest of the visitors when one got the ball across the field and it was kicked back by another. The elephants looked so very happy, ran back and forth like humans do and seemed to be smiling. I tried to snap photos and I think you’ll like this one.


image0-001Another incredible encounter was in the ‘Art Class’. Elephants were drawing pictures using their trunks. They looked at their teacher and chose colours as if they really knew what was needed. Did they, do they know? The combination of colours and designs were comparable to some of the modern human artists, some maybe even better. The paintings were about 30 by 40 inches and were sold for twenty US dollars and went like hot cakes. I was tempted to buy one too but figured it would be crushed in my luggage.

The most fun was when the elephants were told “it’s bathing time”. Boy, did they ever hurry and plunge into the stream running through the sanctuary! They helped each other with splashing and rinsing, they looked after the young just like human mothers after their kids.

There was also a lecture for us, the visitors. Sitting on crudely made rows of benches we learned that each animal drinks about 300 litres of water a day and needs tons of food. We learned that their memory is incomparable and life-long. No dementia. Once, not too long ago, the sanctuary had hired a new care giver. One of the elephants looked at him, recognized him as his previous owner, rushed towards him and before anyone could stop him, he trampled him to death. The elephant had been abused and mistreated by this man. Elephants never forget! And no, the elephant was not ‘put image0down’. He was part of the soccer team. At the end of the lecture the speaker asked for a volunteer to sit on the entwined trunks of two elephants. Nobody dared – I did! I felt a bit apprehensive – but looking into the elephants eyes, it seemed they ‘invited’ me to do it. They were behind a flimsy fence, trunks over towards me. One lifted me up and deposited me on their by then entwined trunks. Most of the other visitors snapped pictures, one also with my own camera.

The fitting end of our visit was a ten minute ride on a huge elephant through the jungle, down a hill side and then along the stream back to camp. Unforgettable!

When thinking of Thailand I think of food. I could live on their food. The spicy aroma is in the air. Another experience was an original ‘Thai Massage’. Would I have one again? No. It hurts. The fingers go deep – the therapists also ‘walk’ on you. Some men in our group liked it. Masochists! But then, the massage therapist was a light, beautiful young Thai girl.

One of the last evenings was spent wandering through a night market. I bought silk pyjamas for myself and an interesting tie for my son. The front of the tie was ‘let’s call it a traditional design’ but if the wearer moved it could happen that the tie moved as well and showed the backside, a beautiful nude girl, tastefully done. My son was required to wear a tie daily for his work. One of his co-workers saw the tie ‘move’ and asked “where the h… did you get that tie?” The true answer was “My mother bought it for me in Thailand.”

His friend was surprised but exclaimed, “I know that shop, it is right behind Sears in the Town Shopping Centre. But I have never seen a tie like that in ‘Tie Land’.

Hope You Are Not Superstitious #Ghosts

My new home

My new home

Waiting in front of the elevator door I heard people talking a floor below in the parking garage. The elevator door was being held open and made rattling noises as it tried to close itself. When it finally came up to the lobby I entered and said “Hi” to the friendly looking lady already on board.

“Hi, Miss”, she smiled, “my name is Marge and I am the caretaker of this building. Are you visiting?”

”No. I bought Mr. Bailey’s suite. I want to take some measurements before I move in.”

”Oh! Congratulations! It’s a nice place. I hope you aren’t superstitious. Well, I’ll be seeing you.”

With that she exited on the fourth floor. Apprehension built within me as I continued up to the eighth floor. I had just come from the lawyer who had handed me my keys. MY DOOR! While I was still trying to fit the right key into the lock the door beside me was opened rather abruptly. It made me jump. A tiny, pale white haired lady peaked around the corner and stared at me:

“Oh,” she said, “I thought someone was breaking in. Are you the new owner?”

”Yes”, I replied. She looked at me with her steel blue eyes and exclaimed:

“Congratulations! You bought a beautiful place. I just hope you are not superstitious.” She was about to withdraw when I stopped her: “Wait a minute, why did you say that? You are not the first one to make that comment. What is this about?”

Coming a step closer she confided in a low voice: “Two women died in there, mother and daughter, first the mother, then a year later the daughter, in the master bed room in the same bed, on the same day, at the same hour.”

She explained that the widower, a man of over ninety, had never used the room again and had slept in the back bed room. A grandniece was his only family now. For several years after moving into a care home he did not want to sell the apartment which held so many memories for him. His grandniece brought him to visit it occasionally. When he was ninety-four and not well she persuaded him to let it go.

So that was it! I had met the grandniece when she sold all the furnishings. Her aunt had been a painter. The walls had been covered with her work. All the paintings were sold except for one, a rather large one of oriental lilies in soft pink, green and lilac tones. I did not think it valuable enough to pay the price she was asking but told her to just leave it so something of her aunt’s beauty loving soul would remain.

View from the balcony

View from the balcony


With mixed feelings I entered the apartment. I walked up the long hallway towards the kitchen, stood a moment in front of the sink and enjoyed the view out of the west facing window. I turned and went into the living room. My heart soared! The room was bathed in sun light. It was large, very bright and absolutely gorgeous. The front wall was glass from floor to ceiling. To the left was an oversized sliding glass door to the large balcony. I stepped out and felt as if I was in a dream. The ocean shimmered and glistened, a light breeze curled the silvery water slapping against the rocks of the Seawall. Tug boats, sail boats, fishing vessels and the cries of many seagulls enchanted me. The outline of Vancouver Island was barely visible.

To the west a lighthouse at the end of the mountain range on a high rock jutting out to sea looked solid, trustworthy and eternal. It blinked at me. At least I thought so… I inhaled the salty sea air deeply and understood why the old gentleman could not let go of this place after he lost both the women he loved.

“No”, I said aloud, “I am not superstitious.” I thought it kind of him to let them die at home and not in the hospital. The daughter, sick already when the mother died, might have cried herself to death on the first anniversary of her mother’s passing. I wandered into the front bedroom, the room in which they had both died. There were the lilies, the painting that did not sell. I looked at it, talked to it, promised to love this place just as they did. The flowers seemed to grow towards me, reach out to me. Yes, I thought, I can handle this, it is alright. I’ll respect their spirits.

It was fall. I had lived in the apartment for more than a year. One dark evening, I decided to bake a cake. Standing in front of the sink I was mixing the dough with a hand mixer when I heard the happy laughter of two women behind me in the hallway. A cold chill ran up my spine. I just knew I was not alone. I slowed the mixer and turned it off. Ever so carefully I turned around and willed myself to walk down the hall to check the entrance door. The dead bolt was in place, the safety chain was on. Nobody could have come in. I opened the closet doors when it dawned on me: “It must be them.” So I started talking to them, soothingly, and hearing my own voice helped me to calm down. I felt terribly alone, yet not alone. On unsteady feet I went back to the kitchen and continued mixing. After all the ingredients were added I filled the cake form and put it in the oven.

There! There it was again, this time close to my kitchen entrance. Now it was more like a giggle, a secretive chuckle and I heard quick running feet right behind me. I hunched my back and felt my hair stand up, I wanted to scream. Heavens, I was a grown woman. “Come on, Giselle, be realistic! Your mind is playing tricks. You are overtired.” Again, I willed myself not to lose control of my actions. Slowly I turned and tip-toed towards the living room where they had gone. I talked to them again before I switched the light on. There was nothing, absolutely nothing. But the room seemed grey, strangely quiet and empty. The painting with the lilies now in the living room appeared darker than usual. The clock on the book shelf showed nine thirty. My heart was racing. My skin had goose bumps, my scalp prickled.

An hour later when the cake was done I went to bed in the room in which they had died all those years ago. I had a water bed and I was happy it had a box under it tightly hugging the floor. Did you think I felt safer because nobody could hide under the bed? You betcha!

When I left my apartment to go to work in the morning, my neighbor with the steel blue eyes yanked open her door:

“Giselle, have you heard? Mr. Bailey died last night around nine thirty.”

I felt faint. “Oh my God”, I whispered more to myself than to Mrs. White. She stared at me “Why are you so shocked? You didn’t even know him!”

It seemed impossible but she turned even paler than she was when I told her about my experience the night before, exactly at the time he died. She whispered: “I told you. I warned you. But you thought you were not superstitious. You even told me you could handle it. You see? I always believed there is more between heaven and earth than meets the eye.”

Acrilic, paid 350.00They never visited me again. I lived peacefully and happily in the apartment where they died for nearly twenty-five years. The painting with the lilies has been with me ever since. I had tried to sell it, but it never sold. I am looking at it while writing this…