Sunday, April 13, 2008

Pai Eating Sharks!

To view photos from Pai, click here.

I rolled into Pai from Chiang Mai on March 10th, after a 3 hour voyage by mini-bus involving hair pin turns, squealing tires and dazzling, precipitous scenery. I stayed about 3 km from town at the Sun Huts, highly recommended by my previous guesthouse in Chiang Mai. I was extremely excited that there was not only toilet paper in the bathroom but a bed with a REAL mattress even! That’s what you get when you pay the big bucks in northern Thailand (350 Baht or $11/night). A little too rich for my blood, so I later moved to Pravee’s House with Ada and Cait for a more economical 200 Baht a night. It was a safe and clean little place (this is all I ask for in Asia!) where I learned to co-habitate with several fly/mosquito hybrids living in my bathroom!

Pai is a small town of only 3000 consisting of mainly Internet cafes, sleepy restaurants and many, many choices for a Thai massage! It was nice to keep bumping into the same people over and over again. Every night the Thai ‘house band’, stationed in a bar in the nucleus of the town, played covers by The Eagles and Cat Stevens. With their straggly, long hair, faded bell bottoms and rock and roll t-shirts, they looked like they walked right out of the 70’s. Of course the image would not be complete without lit cigarettes and cocktails within easy reach.

Cait decided she wanted to take a 3 day Reiki course which left Ada and I wondering what we should do to keep ourselves busy. We decided to partake in a yoga class at a swimming pool called Fluid. The class took place in an open air beach hut, so every time I came up from a down dog, I caught a glimpse of the mountain peaks poking up at the sky or someone swimming laps in the pool nearby. It was there that we just happened to meet an instructor from Seattle, Tammy, who was free to lead us in some private yoga classes!

We coined our endeavour ‘Ada and Tracey’s Wellness Retreat’, which consisted of yoga at 10 am and 4 pm every day, one Reiki session with Cait’s Reiki teacher, Libby, Thai massage, swimming and not eating any sugar or wheat (this was not an easy feat what with the banana pancakes and coconut shakes beckoning us at every turn). The education I received from Tammy during our retreat was invaluable. She made sure that every vertebra was where it was supposed to be and not only gave us a great physical workout but challenged our minds and helped to enliven our spirits. The Reiki session I had was downright trippy. I saw beautiful, radiating colours and felt a weight literally lifting out of my right leg. Then there were the massages – oh the massages! I was stretched, cracked and tenderized in all the right places. They had me in positions I didn’t think were possible and I always left there feeling like I could fly! All for just 150 baht ($5) a session!

After all the yoga, wellness and goodness, we decided to move ahead with our journeys...Cait was heading towards Bangkok to deal with the red tape she needed to for teaching in Thailand and Ada and I took a minibus to Chiang Mai to catch our flights to Phuket and Bangkok respectively. I must say that Bangkok was a better experience the 2nd time around as I knew what to expect and had the company of Cait! We walked the streets searching for cheap food and drink, pissed off tuk tuk drivers, tried not to get ripped off and somewhere along the line, planned a border crossing to Cambodia!

Our last night in Bangkok, on the way to a movie in Siam Square, I was disgusted to see 2 restaurants that exclusively served shark fin soup. They had prominently displayed the dried shark fins in the windows of the restaurants to draw people in and by the looks of the interior, it was actually working.

Shark fins are obtained by a process called ‘finning’ - fishing the shark out of the sea, cutting all 4 of its fins off and throwing the rest of the shark, still alive, back into the ocean. Without its fins, the shark is unable to move, sinks to the ocean floor and either bleeds to death, suffocates from lack of oxygen (gained only by swimming) or is eventually eaten, defenceless, by other predators.

Shark fin is considered a delicacy in mostly Asian countries. With the recent trade and industry advances in China, the biggest consumer of shark fins, there is even more of a demand for this expensive, flavourless ‘delicacy’ that really only provides a gelatinous consistency for the soup. It is thought to give the consumer some sort of vital health but on the contrary, high levels of mercury have been found in shark fins, rendering them toxic to ingest.

Finning has contributed greatly to decreasing shark populations from 50% to 90% in some areas of the world over the past 50 years. It is estimated that 10-100 million sharks are slaughtered each year but a solid number cannot be obtained since so much of this fishing (long line) is done illegally in protected areas and may also be tied to organized crime.

People just don’t have the same sympathy for sharks as they do other fish that are not perceived as threatening. Steven Spielberg has not helped their case by churning out the blockbusting Jaws Quadrilogy - bloodthirsty shark with a taste for human beings. I don’t know about you, but I can’t so much as dip a toe in the ocean without thinking a fierce shark awaits close by to have a nibble. The whales definitely have a leg up, or shall I say ‘fin’, on sharks. ‘Free Jaws’ just does not have the same ring to it as ‘Free Willy’.

Canadian photojournalist, Rob Stewart, released a documentary about this very topic called Sharkwater. Check out the trailer for it here: You can also watch Rob Stewart talking about the movie on The Hour here:

I believe this is a very important and worthy topic that we should all be educated on but I didn’t plan on this blog turning into a ‘Save the Sharks’ campaign, so I promise the next instalment will entertain with corruption, drama and intrigue, namely ‘Cambodia’!

If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.

- St. Francis of Assisi
From beasts we scorn as soulless, in forest, field and den, the cry goes up to witness, the soullessness of men.

- M. Frida Hartley
Ever occur to you why some of us can be this much concerned with animals suffering? Because government is not. Why not? Animals don't vote.

- Paul Harvey

1 comment:

darcy said...

Hey Trace..
I love hearing about your travels.. keep em comming! Being a fish lover myself, It makes me sad to think of cutting the fins off my beloved little fellas to have them sink to horrible death.
Keep speading the word and it will make a difference. :0)

Happy Travels.. ycrad