I recently wrote a post about the mistreatment of elephants in Thailand, so I thought I’d balance that out by recalling a time an elephant got a bit of revenge on us humans. Apart from the ones that work in logging and those forced to carry tourists around a little loop in the jungle all day, there are also elephants who are marched up and down the busy streets of touristy areas in Thailand’s cities, in the hopes of enticing visitors to spend money on photos, bananas and in some cases a quick ride. It was one of these elephants that managed to get a little payback.
It happened in Chiang Mai. I was sitting in a small bar in a side street, having a beer with some friends. One of those friends had just been forced down onto the floor by a tiny, wrinkly masseuse who then proceeded to twist and jerk him into various unnatural positions until his spine had been completely pulverized. As we were dragging his limp body back onto his barstool and trying to comfort him with the fact that bones do grow back eventually, an elephant suddenly appeared and strolled into the bar.
This owner of this particular establishment had decided to save money on doors by not even bothering with a wall in which to install one—the whole side facing the street was open, leaving just enough room for a smaller elephant like the one that had just appeared to come in and join us. A short time later—carefully calculated, I’m sure, to be just long enough to allow whoever was in the bar to get attached to the bar’s new oversized patron—a banana vendor just happened to pass by and notice how hungry the elephant looked. And did we know that elephants love bananas? What a lucky coincidence!
I’m pretty sure with a bit of haggling, we could have bought a whole elephant for the price of one of this guy’s bananas, so we simply suggested he feed his own animal. He was dumbstruck. How could we possibly think the two of them had ever met before? As he was busy insisting that he was merely a poor banana vendor who had never seen this animal before in his life, while we were pointing out that the thin bamboo cane he was carrying was a bit of a giveaway, the elephant decided to do what most visitors to a bar do at some point: take a leak.
Unfortunately the bathroom, unlike the bar, did have an actual door, so he did what I’m sure at least a few previous patrons had done and simply used the floor. For what seemed like several minutes, he did his best impression of a fireman who had turned his hose on full blast and kept it going until it completely flooded the bar. When he was finally through, a good centimeter or two of elephant piss covered the entire floor.
As we were all trying our best to balance on the bar stools with our legs drawn up well off the floor, the elephant handler banana vendor said something we couldn’t understand. The cheerful tone he used suggested something like, “Sorry about that, guys! Have a nice evening!” Then he called the elephant he had never seen before in his life by name and guided him back outside and down the street to the next bar. The owner of our bar grabbed a broom and started sweeping the piss out into the street. That did nothing to get rid of the smell, so we quickly finished our beers and left.
This particular elephant was quite small, so he couldn’t have been very old. That meant he had only recently been put through the phajaan, the week of torture designed to break these animals and prepare them for a life of servitude. Given that, drenching one bar in urine isn’t really much of a payback, but I’m sure he was thrilled to get any revenge at all.
Unfortunately, since it is a near certainty that the bar owner gets a commission from the handler to offer up his patrons as potential banana customers and actually seemed pretty used to having his bar washed out in this manner, the elephant basically only got this revenge on me and my friends and not on any of the people directly responsible for his life of slavery. That said, this happened a few days before we set out on our jungle trek, which did involve a short elephant ride. I don’t remember the timing exactly, but it’s quite possible we had signed up and paid for the trek just a few hours earlier. Perhaps the elephant knew.