Day 8 – What do WWII and Elephant riding have in common? (A: Thailand)

January 17th, 2010 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Today came in two parts: heavy and light. Climbing onto our palatial bus covered in Finding Nemo characters on the outside and dressed in decorations paralleling Arabian Nights on the inside, it was difficult to not wake up to the surroundings. We were briefly educated on some Thai war history, but it was not until we visited the River Kwai bridges, museum and graveyard that we truly grasped the significance of Thailand in World War II. As part of the Death Railway built by Allied P.O.W.’s in World War II, the black iron bridge connects Thailand and Burma. It was this bridge that after being built through the suffering of mankind was a prime bombing target for the Allies. Over 60,000 died building the bridge. Although it has been rebuilt, most of the P.O.W.’s who constructed the original bridge were Australian, Dutch and British, and were put through horrifying conditions during their time under Japanese rule. Punishments named “The Jesus Treatment,” or “Tokyo Baseball” were some of the captions beneath the graphic photos in the JAETH (Japan, England, Australia, Thailand and Holland) war museum that extract a certain and undeniably heart-wrenching sadness for the human race. The grief for lost lives in the fight for freedom and the pity for the empty conscious of the powers that were are some of the more overwhelming feelings. The Don-Rak war cemetery is just down the road from the bridge site. In it is a beautiful design of flowered graves, kept and cared for. On each of the plaques is a unique phrase the family of the deceased chose: “Just Sleeping,” is my favorite.

After a history lesson that brought the sentiments from Pearl Harbor or September 11th a bit further from home, the day lightened up into a lunch buffet, bamboo rafts and elephant riding. Contained tragedy, easy escape: the new century way. Of course, though, it was as fun as it sounds. The bamboo raft was something one of the students mentioned “fun because we can’t do this in America. There are rules.” As water bubbled up from beneath and sifted through the bamboo logs, the raft was reminiscent of Tom Hanks raft in “Cast Away.” After lolling down the river listening to old, Korean woman sing in the raft beside us, we carefully crept back up the bamboo slide (not steps, slide) and made our way to the elephants. Enormous and cute at the same time, we sat on their backs and took turns cracking up as we jostled back and forth in disbelief that we were, indeed, riding elephants.

Our 14 hour day is now coming to an end, only so the night can begin. Where will Bangkok take us now?