Thailand

Of Elephants and iPhones

Written by Mark McElroy

We are outside of Bangkok, riding elephants.

The mahouts, or elephant masters, steer elephants to a two-story tower. Elephants pull up. Customers get on. Elephants stroll the overgrown cement trail, cut through a shallow lake, and return to the tower. The entire loop takes forty minutes; the entire trip costs just ten dollars.

Our mahout, perhaps 21 years old, has a dome of slick black hair, a broad and sincere face, and a supernaturally white grin common in a nation with an abundance of inexpensive dental care.

“Where from?” he asks.

“USA,” I say.

He nods. We ride on in silence, the elephant swaying gently beneath us.

About half-way through the ride, he pulls a box out of his leather bag. He shows us a dozen or so fake ivory trinkets: buddhas, elephants, rings. “Food expensive,” he explains. “Elephant eat a lot. Buy to help elephant?”

We decline, which neither surprises nor upsets him. After we lumber through the lake, he turns to face us. He pantomimes operating a camera. “Take photo?”

Clyde hands his phone to the mahout.

The young man takes it, preparing to snap yet another photo of yet another tourist yet another time. Suddenly, though, he pauses, breaking out into a wide grin. “iPhone 6?

We nod.

“iPhone 6!” He cackles out loud, tapping and swiping. He snaps the photo. He checks the results. He swipes through our photos. He checks out Clyde’s apps.

He hands it back to us, giggling like a schoolgirl. “iPhone 6!” he exclaims again. “It my first time to see!”

About the author

Mark McElroy

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