(In case you weren’t looking because it was a Tuesday, Ryan posted yesterday here.)
I have a friend who, upon discovering something great – a movie, a restaurant – simply will not rest until you too have tried that same thing. He prefers to be present as you are trying the thing he has recommended, looming with a mile-wide grin so full of hope and good will that you simply can’t break it to him that you don’t actually think Dane Cook is all that funny.
I’m not like that. I occasionally pass along recommendations for books and movies, but at the end of the day, I’m not all that invested in ensuring that other people experience the things I experience.
There are, however, two related exceptions to that rule.
The first is the developing world. If you’ve never had the chance to experience the chaotic freedom of Latin America, Africa, or Asia, I insist that you travel to one of them in the next 36 hours. There’s just honestly nothing like it. I’m grateful that we live in a place where there are federal agencies charged with ensuring that our meat doesn’t have leprosy, but sometimes it gets to be a little much. I’ve written about this before, and I’ll write about it again. And again and again.
The second exception is really just a specific example of the first. One day during our vacation in Thailand Melissa and I found ourselves at a tourist attraction by the name of Tiger Kingdom, whose business consists of charging tourists for the privilege of being locked in a cage with several live tigers. This is the sign that greets you at the entrance of Tiger Kingdom.
I’m sure I’ve never experienced as many intense emotional swings while reading a single sign.
“Whew, the tigers are hand-reared and very well-trained.
But yikes! They’re wild animals and need to be respected!
Oh, but they’re playful and will want to play with me! Fun!
But apparently playing often entails biting?!”
I don’t read Thai, but I’m guessing the Thai portion of the sign reads something like this, “We just wrote this sign in Thai to keep up appearances. No Thai person would come near these tigers.”
We forked over our money, signed a waiver the size of a post-it note and took our place in line outside the tiger cages, where we we saw this sign:
I am not going to lie: I was a little nervous during our wait. I’ve seen every existing TV show and YouTube clip that depicts animals attacking humans. (This one is particularly relevant.) Seriously. I’ve seen them all. And from my studies I’ve concluded that it happens fairly often. I’m pretty sure Sigfried and Roy’s tigers were considerably better-trained than the ones at Tiger Kingdom, and we all know how that worked out.
That’s the exhilarating, terrifying thing about the developing world: you know that you’re on your own. You’re not under the impression that some bureaucrat has been there before you and checked to make sure the tigers are properly fed and checked for rabies and don’t have pieces of sunglasses between their teeth. It’s up to you to assess – and bear – the risks of your actions. Which is kind of awesome. Until the US Embassy ships your left foot and a few fingers home for your decidedly closed-casket funeral.
Once the time came we were ushered into a large enclosure by a Thai adolescent carrying a short bamboo stick. It’s a well known zoological fact that tigers are powerless in the face of bamboo sticks, so that made me feel better. It also made me feel better to think working at Tiger Kingdom is the Thai equivalent of working at Lagoon, so I knew this kid had to be incredibly well-trained and certainly took his job very seriously.
If you EVEN THINK ABOUT lunging at me with that massive body that is a killing machine honed to perfection over millions of years I will whip you in the face with my little bamboo stick.
Inside the enclosure were four full-sized adult tigers. One tiger would have been one thing, because at least that way you could have kept your eyes on him at all times. But four? The good folks at Tiger Kingdom don’t just want you to see the tigers up close. They want you to pet them. And once you’ve petted them they want you to lean against them. And once you’ve leaned against them they want you to lie down on top of them.
In a process I still don’t entirely understand, somehow my fear of disappointing our Thai chaperone became greater than my fear of having my chest cavity punctured by a 4-inch incisor, and I meekly obeyed all of his increasingly dangerous orders. Every once in a while the tiger’s tail would whip me or he’d twitch and I would briefly, literally die, my spirit watching in horror several feet above my body.
“You guys all owe me $100.” “What, why?” “I convinced a guy to lie down next to a tiger today.” “No, you didn’t.” “Yep. It wasn’t even that hard. He just obeyed my order to lie down on a tiger. Unbelievable.”
And then we went and saw the babies, Lolo and Lulu, who were about 2 months old. Baby tigers are lethally cute. Honestly. Melissa held one like a baby – which, I infer from the fact that she repeated this phrase over 300 times in the next 24 hours (“I held a tiger cub like a baby!,” accompanied by cradling motions), is way better than holding one in any other position – and still hasn’t gotten over it.
And suddenly, the motives behind this made a lot more sense.
America is the worst.
(For some bonus snake-holding pictures that are amazing in their own right, go here.)