Monday, July 29, 2013

last few days with Julie

After some last minute packing Julie drove me to the entrance of the park at 6am. I waited for the shuttle bus into Pak Chong, and when it arrived a nice guy who was also waiting lifted my bag up into the back of the bus. I felt bad because the bag was VERY heavy, and he was a small guy. Thai people are always willing to help, especially women and especially when it involved heavy lifting. Although sometimes it is insulting and frustrating when people are convinced they have to help you do something you are perfectly capable of, I just have to remind myself they are only trying to be helpful. When we arrived in downtown Pak Chong the nice guy helped me again with my back and I headed across the street to the bus station. The bus drive to Bangkok was uneventful. The most glorious part of the day was when I directed my cab driver to my hotel in Thai! It wasn't as awesome as it sounds. I basically just said "Sukhumvit soi hah sip" then when he asked "tahng loo-ang?" I unfortunately didn't understand and he repeated in English "expressway?" and I said "chai" and then later when we got to the toll-both for the expressway I asked "Tow rai? (how much?)" and he said "see sip hah." When we go to the intersection of the hotel I said "sai tee nee (left here)" and then said "tee nee" once we where out front! Woohoo!

So, feeling confident I went down the street to a fried banana cart I knew would be there and then headed to the Bo Bae market. I took the BTS and then a motorbike taxi. Unfortunately the market was a bust. I didn;t find any of the kind of thing I was looking for. It is a wholesale market and a lor of the stuff was more geared toward Thai customers I think. So I left frustrated, tired, and starving and went to Tesco Lotus' cafeteria for lunch. After lunch I just hung out in my hotel room enjoying AC and television. Julie and I were both exhausted from very little sleep the night before, so we went to bed early.

I woke up early Sunday and ran on the noisy hotel treadmill until I thought it might break. I got an omlette and rice and some banana muffins from Tesco for breakfast. After I ate Julie and I headed out for some shopping at MBK. I didn't buy much, but I did get myself a new dress. I am not good at shopping with people, so I think I'll go back alone later on. We also went to the huge store in Siam Paragon mall that sells EVERYTHING. You can buy tons of foreign foods and things from home there, as well as all the usual Thai stuff. We went back to the hotel and then went out at about 4:30 to Asiatique. Julie had explained it as sort of a night market, so I was surprised when we ended up at Asiatique, which is where we saw the drag show on my first night in Bangkok. After walking around for a long time looking at overpriced stuff we stopped at an Irish Pub and listened to live Irish music. I had a Guinness beer and it was sooooo tasty. Afterward we decided to go to a different night market that was near the BTS and was on a street with a bunch of sleazy night clubs. This was an interesting experience. Julie accidentally mixed up the BTS station and we ended up having to walk quite a ways, so my feet were aching. We walked up and down the street and were offered to see a "ping pong show" just about every 30 seconds. These are awful shows at these strip clubs which involve poor women doing degrading things. We insisted we weren't interested, though a few times when Julie said we don't want to look at women they cheerfully said "We have men too!!" It is a very different side of Bangkok. Julie also told me that when she got a massage at the hotel the first night the women who work there asked her if she had a boyfriend, and when she answered no they asked if she wanted them to arrange a Thai or Japanese man for her for the night. So, even if you aren't in Bangkok for that kind of thing, you can still find signs of the sex tourism industry.

Today I was tired from a long day of walking yesterday, so I slept in until about 9:30. I felt a little feverish all morning and mostly stayed in my hotel room. It was a pretty dull day, but Julie and I had dinner from the market together and beers at the hotel. It was a nice way to spend our last night. Our goodbye was a little awkward. We didn't become that close during the past few months, but we were still each other's only company the majority of the time, and when you see someone every day, it is weird to think you may never see them again. Anyway, I am happy for the opportunity she gave me and for her patience with me in the forest.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A perfect Khao Yai send-off

Friday was a day full of mixed emotions. It was sad that it was our last day in the park, but we had a lot of fun and I think we could not possibly have ended our time at Khao Yai on a better note. 

I slept in until about 8:30 (of course I woke up at 5:30 because of my internal clock, and heard the gibbons singing their hearts out). After waking I was luck enough to Skype with my parents for a while while packing up a bit. My dad always knows how to make me laugh, so the day had already started on a good note. At about 11am we left to have lunch at Heo Narok, we thought it would just be a lunch with the rangers of the search and rescue unit, but there were tons of rangers from all over the park there and a HUGE picnic set up. We were sat at the head table with a lot of park officials and I felt a little bit like royalty while the women rushed around handing out plates of rice and bringing plate after plate, bowl after bowl, of different foods. I had a bunch of different things. I also experiences some new, and very weird (no surprise here) Thai desserts. Julie and I both noticed a plastic carton containing some weird grey and white gooey gel-like disks and looked at one another nervously. We tried it though and of course it was something coconut flavored. If you ever have to guess what a Thai dessert is going to be like, you can make a pretty safe bet that it will either be coconut flavored or made of the weird yellow bean, and you can almost guarantee that it will be gooey or gel-like in consistency. Then Julie and I shared a bowl of a chilled dessert "soup" which had a very sweet coconut "broth" and little green jellies (tapioca maybe/probably?) shaped like tiny green beans. It was also weird. The best dessert I tried was the yellow cupcakes with shaved coconut on top. these too are not the consistency of regular cupcakes, but somehow also have a weird gooey quality to them. If you cannot tell I don't have a big appreciation for Thai desserts, which is fine because Thai people don't seem to have an appreciation for real, good quality chocolate. A cultural difference I am willing to accept (though it makes finding good chocolate difficult). We also had some fruit for dessert, and I am happy to say, Thailand has officially made me like bananas again, which I haven't enjoyed since I was very little, so yay! 

After many thank yous we turned down whiskey and left the picnic site to go see the waterfall. The walk is short, less than a kilometer, but it ends with quite a few incredibly steep and terrifying steps. It started raining during the walk, and Julie and I nearly slipped (despite the paved trail) a few times, making the descent even more frightening. Once we got there we realized picture taking would be problematic even if it hadn't been raining. the huge waterfall sent big clouds of mist at us and between that and the rain we were soaked within a minute. So, I carefully snapped a few photos doing my best to keep my camera dry, and we ran for cover just as the rain turned into an all out downpour. We tried to wait it out, but eventually gave up and a good thing too because the rain just got harder and harder on our walk back so that we were practically running out of the forest by the end. We stopped back at the pavilion to talk to the remaining rangers, who by now were pretty drunk. One of them talked our ear off saying things like: "we know you," "you, run" to me, "you smoke and talk on phone" to Julie (haha a great description of what they see of our free time I suppose), "this, my too, my family," ""we love you." Of course this was all drunken rambling, but it was a little bit heartwarming all the same. 

On the way home we saw an elephant! We have been so lucky this last month! Once we got back home I realized that in my carelessness I had gotten 3 leech bites on our little hike to the waterfall. I forgot about bug spray, and didn't tuck my shirt in, things I figured were unnecessary for a short hike on a paved trail. WRONG. I got a gnarly one in the belly button, one on my upper chest, and one on the neck (unconfirmed, but it feels like a leech bite). What better way for Khao Yai to say goodbye? After showering and continuing to pack we went to Jambee's house for dinner. On the way over we saw a monitor lizard, so I finally got a picture of one out of the water. Jambee prepared Moo Kata (the BBQ thing I had at a restaurant last time). We drank Leo beers and enjoyed a LOT of food. You should have seen the bowl of greens she had prepared. I learned many new Thai words, too bad I'm leaving soon, I'm just starting to pick things up. One the drive home we spotted a civet, and I got a halfway decent photo of it. 

So, it was an incredible day full of eating and wildlife/nature sightings. I cannot think of a better way to have spent my last day in the park.
 Heo Narok

 scary stairs!!

 monitor lizard!
 Moo Kata
the civet!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

packing again

Well, sadly my time in Khao Yai is almost up. We are leaving Saturday morning and heading to Bangkok. Even more depressing is that this week could not have gone worse. We spent Tuesday, Wednesday and today cooped up inside because of the stupid rain! So I didn't even get to enjoy my last few days with the gibbons. My last day with the gibbons was Monday and that was the awful day with E. Not a good way to end things. I guess this means I definitely need to find gibbons when my family is here visiting in a few weeks.

Tomorrow will be our last full day in the park and besides packing we do have some fun plans. We will be going to one of the waterfalls for lunch with some of the people form the search and rescue unit. I am not sure which waterfall. I was listening to the conversation between Julie and the head of the S&R unit, which was half in Thai and half in English so it was hard to follow, but I think I heard him say "Narok" which is the name of the big waterfall that I haven't seen yet. I will be happy if that is the case. Although with all this rain it would still be cool to go back to Heo Suwat and see how much bigger it has gotten.

Right now I am sort of dreading packing everything into my suitcase. I haven;t acquired that much more stuff than I came with, but it still seems like a lot to fit into one bag and a backpack (or two). I hope I have extra space because I think I'll be going on a much needed mini clothes-shopping spree once I get to Bangkok. I am really sick of wearing the same 3 outfits day after day. Hopefully I manage to keep myself entertained in the two and a half weeks I have before my family comes for our vacation. I have plans to visit Kanchanaburi, near the border of Burma, which has some WWII historical sites and some nice waterfalls. I also plan on visiting Koh Samet, a small island on the eastern side of the Gulf of Thailand. It is apparently one of the drier places in Thailand, so I am hoping to have some sunshine at the beach and perhaps finally get a bit of a tan going before the end of the summer. In between I will be hanging out in Bangkok trying to readjust to life outside the jungle, working on grad school and GRE stuff, and eating plenty of fried bananas.

I get to see these goofballs in exactly three weeks!!! :D

Monday, July 22, 2013


If all the gibbon groups were like E, I would be VERY happy to be almost done here. It had been a while since we had followed E, and I had almost forgotten that I HATE (following) THEM. Today I was reminded of this fact. I was reminded in a muddy, sweaty, bloody fury of the agony that is involved in following E. Now, I can't fully blame the misery that is following E on the gibbons. It is their territory that contributes to half of the misery. It is full of steep ridges and valleys and lots of crumbly slippery mud (especially after a night of rain, like today). The trees are high, and there are a lot of vines and stabby palm plants (which I discovered are actually called rattan palms, but I don't think this name does them justice). The other problem is Elane. She is an absolute              ( fill in the blank, hint: starts with a B ends with an ITCH). Noi, the male, is perfectly habituated, but his mate, Elane, joined the group as an adult from somewhere outside the range of habituated gibbons. So she was never habituated, and her aversion to people has not lessened, probably because no sane person wants to run around E territory for hours trying to gain her trust. So, when she sees you she usually rushes away while you end up tangled in the spikes of a rattan while trying desperately to keep up.

Anyway, we hadn't even been planning on following E today. We were going to head back to M, and hope they had finished their two-day standoff with N, to do the leopard experiment. As we were leaving however, a ranger walked up to us, apparently ready to aid us with a playback. Yun had convinced someone else to help us for once, but hadn't notified Julie. So, not wanting to turn him away and set a bad precedent, since it is so stinking hard to get a ranger in the first place, we ran and got the playback equipment and headed off to E. This was a last minute choice on Julie's part, which had seemed reasonable at the time. After setting up the loudspeaker we set off in the direction of a male solo coming from the border of T and E. We arrived to find neither T or E (whose males are both black) but instead a white male singing his lungs out. We stayed a while thinking E might come, and sure enough Noi soon arrived to meet the white male. We don't know who the male was, a young white male had been seen with E on occasion but it was thought to be Naam, the juvenile of N (neighboring group) and nephew of Noi. We didn't think that this male was Naam though, so it is a mystery. When Noi finally lost interest in the white male, he rushed back to Elane. While trying to keep up I fell/slid on my butt at least three times. The worst of which involved landing directly on a fallen spiney palm frond and having one of the thorns driven deep into the heel of the hand I used to catch myself. I pulled it out and it hasn't stopped throbbing since. I am almost certain it is going to get infected because I was also covered in mud after this particular fall, and the wound is very deep but small. Once we caught up with the group, we thought we had gotten lucky because Elane clearly saw us, but didn't rush away. She apparently taught her fearful ways to her infant though because he/she took one look at us and swung away squealing. Of course mom and dad followed, and eventually we lost them all completely. So after trying to find them again for over an hour, we gave up and huffed and puffed our way out of their cursed territory. Thankfully, we won't be going back there again while I am here.

Also thankfully, all the gibbons groups are NOT like E. Many of them have easy territories and all of them (that we study) are well habituated. This is why I am not happy to be almost done here. I am very sad to be leaving behind silly William who loves to sing like he is big and bad but is actually a huge coward when it comes to real confrontation (sounds like some people right?). I'll miss the precious little M infant with its fluffy gray butt. I'll miss Baak, the worlds worst singer, who considers quantity more important than quality when it comes to great calls. I could go on. In a nutshell, I will miss most of the gibbons, and it is so sad to think we only have three days left in the forest (and that is if it doesn't rain!).

So, here are some pictures of two groups of gibbons I DO like. These were taken during the longest intergroup meeting I've ever witnessed. For a full twenty-four hours (at least) M and N sat at the overlap of their territories and gently antagonized one another. Overall though it was fairly peaceful, a little bit of chasing by the males and some singing, but mostly just sitting around near each other in some sort of battle of wills over who would give up and leave first.

 M group: Rung, Chikyu and infant
 Malai (white) and mom Rung
 Malai and Rung
 The entire N group was in the same tree! (Claude isn't in the photo because he was further)
L to R: Hima and black infant, Nan (young juvenile), Nithat (black) and Naam (older juvenile)
 Hima and infant
one with both their faces for once!
Hima yawning

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A 35-hour birthday

Well, I spent my third birthday in a row abroad. July 17th, 2011 was spent in Nice, Cannes and Saint-Paul in France (though it was more adequately celebrated with an apricot tarte and champagne the next day back "home" in Grenoble). July 17th, 2012 was spent on a bus from San Jose to La Suerte biological field station in Costa Rica and later in the forest at the station. That day I saw my first wild capuchin monkey; the alpha male, and swam in the river la suerte. Again, my professor arranged to have a celebration for me the next day, because that day had been a little busy. So on the 18th we enjoyed some yummy cake made by Rosie, and my professor Chris bought me an Imperial (beer of Costa Rica), my first drink as a 21-year-old.

Although I am incredibly lucky to have spent my birthdays in so many amazing places, it is always a little bit bittersweet to realize all the people I really want to spend time with are thousands of miles away. While being away from friends and family is a definite drawback of a birthday abroad, this year I experienced an excellent advantage. That is, a 35-hour birthday. So, if you plan to be away for your birthday, I say do it as far as possible from your home country. Korea or Japan would have been even better (37 hours). I was able to celebrate my birthday from the start of the 17th in Thailand to the end of the 17th in Michigan. In fact, some people not quite sure about the time difference sent me birthday wishes even earlier, and inevitably there were a few late ones (including my own awful sister LAURA! hehe), so my birthday was even extended beyond the 35-hour window.

My birthday started a little sad. Going to bed Tuesday night I was bummed about being away and only having Julie to celebrate with. I was also dumb and had not told Julie in advance that my birthday was coming up, because I felt weirdly self-involved bringing it up. I woke up at 5:30 (late oops) feeling a little bit better. I found Julie on the porch and saw it was raining. We complained about the rain and then I told her today was my birthday, and she of course wished me a happy birthday. We sat a while to see if the rain would let up, it didn't really, and no gibbons were singing. I also think Julie thought it would be nice to take the day off for my birthday so that I could Skype people and we could go to town, so that it what we did. I went back to my room and was lucky enough to catch my sister and my mom on Skype before they left for their swimming class. I went back to bed briefly and then at about 9:30 we left for Pak Chong. We went on our last grocery trip to Tesco Lotus and I bought some much needed food. We headed back to the park, and a short while after unpacking our groceries Julie surprised me with a cake and 22 candles that she had picked up at the store. I blew out the candles and removed them quickly because wax was dripping everywhere and we decided to eat the cake later on. 

In the evening we heard there was an elephant at the visitor center so we went to check it out. Sure enough a lone bull was wandering around eating whatever he pleased right next to the visitor center and park restaurants. There have been a TON of tourists in the park this week for some reason, so there we a lot of people taking pictures. Eventually we wandered down the road and into the forest to eat in peace. When we returned home I made green curry and coconut soup for dinner and then Julie and I cut my cake. We shared it with the head of the search and rescue center and the lady ranger who lives here with us. The head of the search and rescue center gave me a little hornbill magnet as a gift. 

In the morning Julie and I went to W and FINALLY successfully recorded a leopard stimulus from them. Just in time too, because when they finished their song a ton of tourists showed up with their guides to see them. This is the problem with making the gibbons sing, you attract tourists. It is funny though when we are playing gibbon songs from the loudspeaker for a playback and tourists go toward it expecting to find actual gibbons. 

Anyway, this experiment was really exciting because the gibbons sang for about a half hour when they saw the leopard. Then they started to move away, but the female returned and started to sing again, causing the male to join her. Then, when they were finished and she had finally moved high enough into the tree not to see us remove the leopard, we took it away. This was, to me, the most interesting part of the whole thing. When she noticed it was gone, she began to sing once more, and the male came closer and they both nervously scanned the ground and the canopy. I think this, more than anything, shows their level of intelligence. They have the capacity to understand that the threat could still be there even if they can no longer see it. This at the very least puts them ahead of human babies who think that once something is out of sight it is actually gone. I also think that their reaction is something most people can relate to. I don't know how many times I've seen a creepy bug or spider in my room and become even more afraid once it was out of sight. The element of surprise, the danger of not knowing where or when the threat might appear again, is a frightening thing. So, even if the gibbons can be convinced that a backpack covered in a fake leopard fur is a real leopard, they aren't entirely unintelligent.

So, that pretty much sums up my birthday. It was a great day. Although I have promised myself that I will be in the USA for my 23rd, who knows, I will probably end up breaking that promise to spend my birthday on yet another continent.

 my cake! A bit smooshed from the drive back

 They have such tiny eyes!


 Rung: female of M group
Malai hanging (juvenile of M) and the black infant on the left

Monday, July 15, 2013

Binturong sighting!

Today was a great day in the forest. Though it started off slow, M made themselves difficult to find so we trekked all over one half of their territory only to find them on the other side of the river. I didn't really mind this so much, because the M territory is great. The forest is very open and clear, so you aren't hacking your way through, it reminds me a little bit of a Michigan forest. It also isn't too hilly, but it is very muddy in some places, mostly where elephants have come through and stirred things up leaving big footprints that fill with water the day after it rains (such as today). Anyway, eventually we stopped at the river at a place where M could cross and scanned around for them. We waited a while in case they sang or came to cross. No one was singing this morning, and neither did M, but while we waited I spotted a tiny lizard in the water (we deduced it was a baby Chinese water dragon due to its similarity to the adult one we found before). So we got a few pictures of him and got to see him scamper/swim away from us. After several minutes with no sign of M we moved on to a place downstream where they also like to cross. This time we spotted them. Again, we waited for them to come closer (the river was much too high to cross after last night's rain, even with our over-the-knee rubber sock/boot things). Again, I spotted something! I guess I was on my A-game today. This time it was a terrific find: a binturong! This is a very rare animal to see, so we were incredibly lucky. Julie had been dying to see at least one while here. We watched him from across the river as he trotted along the bank and then carefully ascended a tree and used it to cross the river. After crossing he found a comfy spot on a branch and lay down and stare at us while we snapped photos.

So that was the highlight of the day, now enjoy some photos!

 My friendly sambar deer neighbor. Just read on Wikipedia that pregnant and lactating females and adult males have the hairless, oozing patch you can see on her neck. It is some sort of gland apparently. There are always flies on it and it makes me feel bad for her.
 What much of M territory looks like
 Baby Chinese water dragon!

 He was moving too quickly to get good photos at first. I have a great video from Julie, but it is too large to upload.
peeking at us
 "Oh, hello there!"
"What are you looking at?"
Just relaxing.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

sad news.

Well, if you haven't realized it by reading this blog, I will tell you; our research is going painfully slow. We keep running into obstacles; mostly rain and lack of rangers for playbacks, and of course the uncooperative gibbons! If only we could tell them where to go and how to behave so that we could do our experiments in a timely fashion. I can say though, if there is one thing I will take away from this field experience, is that you cannot EVER predict ANYTHING; not the weather, not the gibbons' behavior, and certainly not the ranger's "busy" schedule.

So, what I am trying to say, is that Julie, after 8 months stuck here (5 without an assistant because of delays in my arrival) with minimal success, is fed up, and understandably so. She decided, considering the rain is just going to become more frequent in August, that it is best to just pack it in, have a serious talk with her advisor about the projects logistics, and to try again next year. This means we will only be at the park until the end of the month! So I only have about two weeks left with the gibbons. This realization hit me hard, especially today while we followed the M group, whom we had not yet done an experiment with and I had only seen for a few minutes once before. I realized this group would probably have become my favorite (W claims that title now, probably because of the many HOURS spent following them). The M group uses a lot of low trees in their territory, and their territory is relatively clear and easy to hike in. So you can see the gibbons easily and don't have to hack through spiny palm plants every few minutes! Not to mention the juveniles are awesome! The older one comes down really low and is very curious. The young one is just now spending all its time off mom, so he/she is very active and playful, but still tiny and cute. Anyway, it is sad to know I won't be able to get to know them much better.

This also means I will be starting my vacation 2 weeks early. Though I decided I will spend some of this time cooped up in a hotel room with free wifi working on grad school and GRE stuff. This is sort of a bummer because it means I'll have to spend more money that I had hoped. On the bright side I will get to explore Thailand even more, and maybe work on getting a tan finally!

Here are some photos from this week!

 elephant footprint!
 N female (Hima) with her black infant peeking at us
part of N group: Nithat (main male) grooms Hima with infant
 A tree growing on a rock!
After some research we figured out we've seen three types of hornbill in the park. This is the oriental pied hornbill (the one we've seen most often), we saw great hornbills this day, and this day we saw plain-pouched hornbills.

a male deer visited my window this time!
found a porcupine den in the forest!
there were two of them sleeping in this hole under a tree
I think I see a different AWESOME kind of fungi every day
W baby following Sari (mom)
W infant again
Sari and infant both looking surprised.
I love this infant!