THE ELEPHANTS OF TRINCOMALEE
25 May 2018 | TRINCOMALEE, SRI LANKA
Tom and Lilly
THE TRINCO ELEPHANT MAN
TIGER LILLY GOES IN
It was a Jurassic Park kind of experience; Lilly was ducking under the 400 volt elephant barrier, while Tom-Tom the Sailor Man was holding the back packs containing cruiser survival supplies; water bottles, granola bars, the waterproof camera, snake bite kit, and of course our trusty iPad. As SOP for most any Yachtie expedition, we had done our due diligence. The day before we made a short reconnaissance of the general area in a three-wheeled Tuck-Tuck driven by a man who lived in the area. We waited by the roadside adjacent to a game trail, and were taken aback when two elephants emerged from the bush on a full head-down run, and were across the road in a flash - right in front of an oncoming dump truck! We had actually tried coming in through the front gate of the land-fill, but we were turned away by a very expressive little fellow with a lot of arm waving and lateral neck-bobbling to punctuate his rising staccato of Sinhalese - "FORBIDDEN!" was the only word he used which we understood. We had Googled "defense against charging elephants" but the results were pretty sketchy, and a bit conflicting. (But of course, the whole Wiki experience is based on the qualifications of the author, and one never knows their practical experience with the topic at hand). We had laid out an ingress / egress plan on the Google Earth eye in the sky. The lacings on our hiking boots were cinched in tight - just in case we had to make an elephant evasion dash, and now we were going in...
SNAKES? WHAT SNAKES?
We were in the tropical scrub-brush countryside, about 5 miles northwest of the town of Trincomalee, on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka. Just 7 years ago this area was very much in contention between the revolutionary forces of the Tamil Tigers, and the defending Sri Lankan Army. Both sides had used land mines and booby traps in the area, and the locals reported that the jungle surrounding the land-fill we were about to sneak into still had unmarked abandoned explosives. We reasoned that the heavy pachyderms would make great minesweepers, if we just stuck to the elephant trails all would be well, unless of course we encountered an elephant on the elephant trails - and that could be problematic... An additional upside of traveling the elephant trails, or so we reasoned, is that the elephants would likely keep them clear of the resident spectacle cobras, saw scaled vipers, and the Russell's vipers with which yesterday's Tuck-Tuck driver seemed overly concerned. Besides, Wikipedia claimed those guys were night stalkers, and were usually sleeping during the day. We certainly hoped that a knowledgeable herpetologist drafted that one...
This was likely not going to be a David Attenborough National Geographic experience. The local people HATED and FEARED the elephants, and the elephants returned the favor by regularly trampling the farmers' fields and terrorizing their families; QED the Government supplied electric elephant barriers - which just nipped and aggravated these huge intelligent creatures who apparently felt that they had been pushed just about far enough. They were mad as hell, and weren't going to take it anymore. When we think about it, the aggressive behavior of the Trincomalee elephants is really a very necessary survival behavior. We reasoned that since we looked different from the local folks, and since we smelled of sailboat winch grease and mildew instead of hot curry spice, we reasoned that the elephants would recognize us as friends and probably not hate us. We were two yachties walking around white in Southern Asia - what could possibly go wrong?
E OVER I
As is more often then not the case with unease generated through trepidation of the unknown, our emotions can in fact over-rule our intellect; and the 150 meter walk down the elephant trail to the landfill was uneventful but guarded. The vegetation was thick scrub bush with occasional large second-growth hardwood trees, and the trail was easy to follow. About half way in we began to see elephant dung, mixed with the ubiquitous plastic shopping bags they had ingested and expelled. (Later we found out each of the elephants had a resident mass of knotted plastic in their gut which did not pass. This could partially account for their unpredictable disposition and discontent with the local population, as nearly everyone walked with one of these bags in their hand - it was part of the national identity in Sri Lanka.) The landfill was located in a basin surrounded by low rolling hills and jungle; as the trail came down off a ridge and opened into the dumping area, we used the larger trees to screen our approach. Since antiquity the elephants of the China Bay region had called this shallow valley home. And then Man - in his arrogance - chose to usurp this elephant hideaway for his dump.
It was mid-afternoon and a busy time at the landfill. There were three or four tractor-pulled trailers with their attendant crews offloading trash. By the time trash gets to the dump in the Developing Countries of the world, it is pretty well picked through and of little value. However, the US Navy Hospital Ship Mercy was anchored in China Bay on a Medical Outreach Mission to Trincomalee, and their trash was noticeably clean and brightly colored - and being scavenged by some of the local villagers.
AND THERE THEY WERE
We could see out across the landfill to the far side of the clearing - and there they were, well away from the people, the elephants of Trincomalee. There had been an apparent effort made to separate out the natural trash from the man-made refuse, and a family of a half-dozen or so elephants were browsing on this purpose-made Green Pile. We would later learn that about 50 to 60 elephants live in the surrounding countryside and consider this basin to be their home; with matriarchal-ruled families of about 6 to 10 elephants coming and going from the dump throughout the day.
DRUNKS AND FOOLS...
We had not yet made our presence known, and we decided to try to work our way off the trail through the jungle to gain a better vantage point to view the elephants which were perhaps 200 meters away on a diagonal. (Apparently, once again our emotions over-ruled our intellect; and our joy at the initial sighting of these grand creatures caused us to ignore our pre-mission snake and land mine research.) For about 15 minutes we pushed our way along the hillside, using the head-high thick vegetation as cover - moving as quietly as two beached sailors, unskilled in cross country orienteering, possibly could. That is when we noticed that immediately below us, and no more than two boat lengths away, the tops of the smaller trees were gently swaying - yet there was absolutely no breeze. When the monkeys moved through the tree tops they usually were chattering, and the tree limbs whipped back and forth as they sprang from branch to branch, but this slow gentle sway was unsettlingly different... Unlike its larger cousin the African Elephant, the Asian Elephant is very much at home in the forest, and we wondered if a family of elephants were sharing our (actually their) little corner of the bush as they sought refuge from the harsh afternoon sun... Using standard US Marine Corps Field Hand Signals, augmented with the universal sign to "button that lip - NO FLIPPIN WHISPERING!" we retraced our steps back through the thick brush from whence we came. Lucky, it wasn't until we were doing the after-action recap and lessons-learned session in the comfort and safety of TIGER LILLY's cockpit the next day, when one of us raised the issue of getting snake bit in that thick brush. We classified our survival under the heading of God protecting drunks and fools, and since neither of us drink...
WALKING AROUND WHITE
We now had a decision to make. It was mid-afternoon and we could just wait in the bush until the dump closed at 1700, and then have the entire basin and the elephants of Trincomalee to ourselves; but that window of opportunity was pretty short - in the tropics it gets dark fast, and neither of us relished the thought of walking back out on the elephant trail in the dark. (Notwithstanding the fact that at this point we were still not aware that jaguar and wild boar owned the night in this area - along with the snakes.) Or hey - here's an idea - we could just get our intellect in charge of our emotions and just call it a day, and walk back out; but the Woman of Action - the Tough Chick - was having none of that. It was then that we remembered our status - we were walking around white, and we could go anywhere we dared, and do anything we wanted, with little or no consequence. So we simply walked out from the bush into the landfill, and were immediately surrounded by yelling staff members, and a stern looking fellow in cammies with an AK 47 slung over his shoulder...
IT IS FORBIDDEN!
They were all singing the same song as the little fellow at the gate, yelling that it was FORBIDDEN for us to be at the dump. That is, except for the fellow with the AK-47, he just stared at us. The lead man whipped out his cell phone and told us in understandable English that we were not to move, and he was calling the Big Boss. For the next ten minutes Lilly was surreptitiously (or so she thought) trying to nonchalantly point the camera at the distant elephants (who no doubt were curious as to all the man-made commotion on the other side of their refuge), while one of the guards was doing a two-step dance to block her view, and another held up his hands to shield her camera. In about ten minutes we saw a large white shiny late-model passenger van making its way through the muddy potholes towards us. It pulled up, the electrically operate-door silently slid back, and out stepped the Big Boss - Mr. Ketheeswaran Hoffman.
THE ELEPHANT MAN
The TRINCO Elephant Man was bigger than life - almost as tall as Tom-Tom the Sailor Man, broad shouldered, with big hair, big chest, plenty of genuine gold bling on his neck and fingers, wearing an expensive pink silk shirt unbuttoned half-way to his naval, carrying the regal presence and the confident bearing of a man in authority, and he had a wonderfully engaging smile. He looked every bit the part of the Sri Lankan version of that 70's heart-throb Tom Jones; and we would not have been at all surprised to hear him burst into a Tamil version of Delilah! Here was somebody we could work with! Within just a few minutes Tom-Tom and Kethees were friends, Lilly was in the van reviewing family pictures with the Elephant Man's lovely wife Surgee, and we were both learning that there was much more to this situation than two westerners armed with a Wikipedia description of Sri Lanka and a couple of granola bars could even imagine. Over the next two weeks, after multiple guided tours at the landfill, brainstorming sessions back in Trincomalee in Kethees' CGL Office (Ceylon German Logistics Eco International), and the wonderful warm hospitality and spicy Tamil meals shared in Kethees and Surgee's home, here are some of the insights and information we gained about Kethees & Surgee, the Trincomalee Landfill, and the plight of the Sri Lankan elephants of China Bay:
- Nearly 35 years ago, when the Tamil Tigers ruled Jaffna (the capital of the Northeast Province and Kethees' hometown) in the ferocious grip of the Sri Lankan Civil War, Kethees father had him and his four other brothers and sisters declared refugees under the United Nations program to protect children in war zones. The family was split up by the administrators of the UN program, and the then teenage Kethees and his younger brother Georghie were put aboard an Aeroflot evacuation flight for Moscow. His other siblings were sent to Canada and Switzerland. After a brief time in Moscow, Kethees and Georghie flew to Berlin, East Germany - which was then still behind the Iron Curtain. In East Germany they were interviewed and selected for transfer to an orphanage in the free section of West Germany. Kethees well remembers his little brother and himself passing through the Berlin Wall to the border check-point and boarding a bus to a new life, a new school, a new language (they only spoke Tamil), and a new culture.
- As part of the UN resettlement program, the two Tamil brothers were granted dual Sri Lankan and German citizenship, and once they were old enough to leave the orphanage, they ventured forth into the German economy to make their own way in life. Typical of hardworking immigrants and refugees all over the world, Kethees worked as a janitor and restaurant cook in West Germany. While filling-in as a bartender, this big friendly gregarious man found he had a natural talent for the hospitality business - and he and Georghie started their own party catering service. Today, that business is the go-to catering service in Germany. If a Fortune 500 company wants a Caribbean-themed cocktail party thrown for their jet set European clientele, or a sit-down dinner for 3000 people at a convention, the flamboyant "Big Hair" brothers Georgie and Kethees are the guys they call.
- Kethees is the oldest son in his family, and the Tamil culture takes that station of birth-right very seriously. Although viewed with a general lack of understanding in the eyes of the Western World, throughout the Developing World of the Far East, nepotism is the fundamental strategy for economic survival, and the preservation of wealth. If you are lucky enough to be the first-born of a prominent family, the system certainly beats the rate of return on mutual funds; and if you are not the first-born, then the patriarch will make a special place for his siblings and extended family. Keethees had lived and thrived in Germany for over 30 years, and he was an up by the boot straps self-made kind of man. As a dark-skinned Hindu, He has known discrimination in predominately Christian white Germany, and as a Tamil minority in Sri Lanka he knew it there as well. But hard dirty work for small wages had softened his heart - he is a people-person and he never forgets the less advantaged. He was a widower in his 40's - but before breast cancer took his blonde German wife, she gave him two German sons. Keathees was German in everything but appearance and heritage, and he speaks the German language as his own. He was Tamil more by birth than life experience; but when his aging father called him to come back to Jaffna, to prepare to become the next leader of their clan, the dutiful son came home to a land and a substantial family business he really did not know.
- Subsequent to his return to Sri Lanka, his father passed away, and Kethees shouldered the mantle of responsibility as the head of his Tamil clan and the manager of the family businesses. Although his father had amassed his wealth through the cigar business, his eldest son was an innovative thinker with a vision for the future, and a drive tempered by hard work. Kethees bought the leases on all eleven landfills in Sri Lanka's Northeast Province with an eye towards recycling, and converting organic waste to electrical power. He aligned himself with CGL (Ceylon German Logistics), a leading German recycling company currently operating three similar recycling power plants in Germany (http://www.cgl-logistic-international.com). Along with his colleague Doctor Beate Breitwieser (a German engineering professor lecturing in Ecology and Recycling at the national university in Columbo) they developed a plan to centralize the collection and recycling of waste in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. Beate and Kethees are the Odd Couple of Asian recycling - she is a no-nonsense engineer with an eye towards the technical aspects of the business, while Kethees is the people-person, steady-strain businessman juggling the political balls, managing finance, and networking his way though the formidable Sri Lankan bureaucracy. When we met in June of 2018 Kethees was in the final stages of acquiring the permits to construct a $500 million USD ten-megawatt power plant at the Trincomalee land fill which would convert organic burnable waste to electrical power. The landfill had been cleaned-up and organized, and the power plant site had been graded and was prepped and ready to start construction; the equipment will be built in Germany, transported aboard a ship to Trincomalee Harbour, set in place on purpose-built concrete foundations at the landfill, and then enclosed in steel buildings.
- Like all complex business start-ups, Keathees had a bushel basket filled with problems: First and foremost he is a member of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. The majority of the country is Sinhalese (about three-quarters of the population), and these folks rule the majority political party, and hence the administration of the Federal bureaucracy; as with most governments in the world - to the victor goes the spoils... His project was experiencing the general bureaucratic inefficiency of the government, and as the months of multi-level ministerial approval drug on (with endless reports and studies required) the associated expenses continued to build. The violent Sri Lankan Civil War was resolved only seven years ago (the Tamil Tigers were defeated), and there is still plenty of discrimination in Sri Lanka against the Tamil people. Sri Lanka - like both the USA and the European Community - has an active element of organized crime, and the Sri Lankan Mafia would rather that they be running the waste disposal business. (Americans will remember Blockbuster Video's Wayne Huizenga who got his start with a shady background in waste disposal...) Then there are the Chinese - they are EVERYWHERE in Asia with an overwhelming presence. If there is money to be made, then they think that they should be the one's calling the shots and reaping the profits - and they are generally more efficient than are the locals they displace. The Chinese have a strong presence in the Sri Lankan parliament, and like their counterpart American lobbyists, they know just how to get the most for their money when buying a politician...
- With Kethees being quite German in his cultural attitude and work ethnic, his more laid back Sri Lankan relatives with which he staffed his business are another source of frustration - he needs First World performance from Third World workers whose lack of forehandedness and motivation was so much different than his work ethic. This guy gets out of bed in the morning on a dead run!
That first afternoon when we met Kethees at the Trincomalee landfill, he had just spent over twenty hours on a red-eye return flight from meetings with his business partners in Germany. On the flight back to Sri Lanka he had watched the Steve Jobs Apple Miracle movie not once but twice. His mind was running at full speed as he winged his way across Asia at 10,000 meters, wondering how the business principals Steve Jobs used to overcome his World Blocks, could be applied to the Trincomalee landfill recycling power plant project. In his mind's eye he was wrestling with the intricacies of motivating his staff, overcoming Government inefficiency, making a work-around on the Mafia and Chinamen problem, dealing with the well-meaning western tree huggers, solving the logistic issues of implementing a First World technology in the Third World country he now lived in, tracking down equipment and supplies delivered during his absence but not inventoried, and just keeping his project moving FORWARD.
And then Kethees gets the call that two damn-fool white people have just come down the elephant trail into the dump to photograph the elephants! Didn't they have any idea of the life-threatening situation they have put themselves in? Those wild elephants were a dangerous, unpredictable, and unwanted complication of holding the lease on the Trincomalee landfill; and two dead tourists on his facility certainly would not help him move his project forward. But foremost was his concern - as with most of the gentle Sri Lankan people we met - for the welfare of visitors to his country. Although the location of the dump had been established years before Kethees acquired the lease to this previously poorly managed facility, he had to figure out a way to minimize this elephant complication with no help from the local government - whose previous administrations caused the problem by siting their landfill in the elephant's home territory. The Federal Government was involved because the national identity of Sri Lanka suffered in the court of international opinion when pictures of their elephants eating plastic strewn garbage were circulated on the Internet. These images made the western tree-huggers crazy, and although he did not create the situation, it was Kethees who owned the problem. The Government chose the easiest and cheapest course of action by simply making visiting the dump by Westerners, and ANY photographing of the elephants at the dump strictly FORBIDDEN!
We believe that it is fair to say that most managers faced with the misguided wandering American yachties who were not only criminally trespassing on his property, but were forcefully arguing that they STILL expected to observe and photograph the elephants, would have simply removed the pests from the premises forthwith - and made the problem go away. He had every right to do so. But not Mr. Ketheeswaran Hoffman, he may be a Big Guy, but he is truly a gentle-man. It became quickly apparent to us that his foremost concern was our well-being as visitors to his country. He explained the aggressive unpredictable nature of these particular wild elephants. He told us of the leopards, and venomous snakes and wild boar which inhabited the hills and jungle surrounding the landfill. He recounted how the local villagers sneak into the dump in the evening and kill the wild boars foraging on the garbage by throwing them chunks of meat wrapped around fused explosive charges. Although this usually results in the side of the pig's head being blown off, occasionally the boars choose to charge the pig bombers - or anyone in the vicinity - with a lit bomb in their mouth... (With the mining of limestone prevalent in the area, there is plenty of unaccounted dynamite available on the Black Market - it is also handy for fishing on coral reefs...) Some of the villagers cross the landfill fence to burn the industrial waste in order to salvage metals. The resulting toxic fumes are quite dangerous, and not always visible. Well, all that practical reality took some of the wind out of our sails; we truly did not have a clue...
A FRIENDSHIP IS FORGED
When Kethees asked how we were getting back to town, first we apologized to him and his staff, and then said that we would walk back out on the trail we came in on, hike out to the highway, and catch the bus back to town. But Kethees would not hear of it - we were now his honored guests and friends of his family. He put us in his nice clean air conditioned van and gave us a personal tour of the entire landfill. We saw peacocks, mongoose, eagles, and storks. (If you have rats, you have snakes; if you have snakes, then Rikki Tikki Tavi the mongoose is bound to be around...) He had his driver stop as close to the elephants browsing on the Green Pile as was safely possible so that Lilly could take her pictures. When the bull of the heard challenged her, Kethees immediately scooped Lilly into the van, and the driver quickly backed away... We drove to the well-groomed entrance of the landfill and spent time studying the display of engineering diagrams explaining the intricacies of just how electricity is made from garbage. (Well, Tom-Tom studied the engineering diagrams; Lilly was busy socializing with the staff and learning about the people and their families - and of course swapping email addresses and pledging Facebook friendships.) We saw the large stalls where plastic bottles and cardboard were removed from the trash (by hand sorting), and packaged to be trucked across the country to Columbo for recycling. We met Kethees friend and ecology consultant, a young German man named Johannes. Johannes came up with the idea of creating a Green Pile out of the natural refuse which was safe for the elephants to eat, and kept well away from the trash pile. The daily challenge was to get the landfill staff to be vigilant when customers came to the landfill with mixed loads. That very afternoon the Sri Lankan Navy had dumped a mixed load on the trash pile, and of course the elephants immediately gravitated to the area which was full of plastic trash and bush cuttings...
Johannes and Kethees described for us the future ELEPHANT SANCTUARY that they envisioned establishing once the power plant was up and running. Since all the trash would be received and sorted inside an enclosed building (surrounded by an electric elephant fence), there would no longer be a need for acres and acres of landfill area. The CGL Operations Plan called for separating and burning the existing trash in the landfill (8 years of fuel was stock-piled), there were funds earmarked in their Business Plan for rehabilitating the environment, and their plan anticipated returning the majority of the basin back to the elephants for their natural habitat within ten years. It was all very inspiring, and not at all what we expected to find on our visit to the Trincomalee dump.
THERE IS A SOLUTION
When we returned to town with our new friends, we stopped at the CGL office in Trincomalee for some refreshments. As we sipped our fragrant Sri Lankan spiced tea, it was apparent that the President of CGL - like most executives - was wrestling with multiple problems. Kethees was still tired from the red-eye flight back from Europe, and the combination of his frustration with the permit approval process through the government bureaucracy, his staff which did not have the same drive or intensity as he had for the project, and his new-found American friends lack of understanding for the danger they had put themselves in, was palpable. Keathees knew he had a First World technical solution to the inter-related problems of waste disposal and recycling, wild life habitat degradation, and clean energy production; but Sri Lanka was not America, and his staff were not Apple engineers, and he was frustrated because he was not Steve Jobs... That is when Tom-Tom the Sailor Man described to him the process of "book ending" a problem - that is working it from both ends.
THE POWER OF CHILDREN
Kethees had a full-court press on his project from the top down, but it did not seem to be enough. Tom offered Kethees the possibility that perhaps the elephants and children of Trincomalee could team up to become advocates to help move his waste recycling and power generation project forward. Tom related the situation he found himself in during the late 1970's when he smoked cigars and did not wear a seat belt. It seems that at the same time, the children's TV program Sesame Street was telling his pre-school daughters that their fathers should not smoke, and they should wear seat belts when driving. These two little blond ragamuffins started double-teaming the Old Man; and reluctantly, over time, they wore him down and he succumbed to THEIR good judgement. Today Tom feels naked without a seat belt while riding in a car, and has not smoked for over 35 years; all because his young daughters got behind a good idea for the right reasons. We pointed out to Kethees that most all of the Sri Lankan bureaucrats who held his project's fate in their hands had kids. Kids love animals, they understood good ideas, and their innocent minds can clear away all the world blocks and why nots. Why not enlist the school children of Trincomalee to save THEIR elephants by recycling THEIR trash into energy for THEIR homes? If life deals you lemons, then make lemon-aid; if you find yourself with a heard of wild elephants between you and your project - then put those rascals to work changing the hearts and minds of your opposition...
We are happy to report that it is now the policy of CGL to conduct safe organized weekly tours of the Trincomalee Landfill. (However, the Government picture taking restrictions are yet to be sorted out...) Just before we left Sri Lanka, Johannes, the CGL ecological consultant, conducted the very first CGL Elephant Tour - to rave reviews. Western visitors don't have to sneak-in to see the elephants anymore - just present yourself at the CGL Office at #13A Main Street in Trincomalee and ask when the next elephant tour is scheduled at the landfill. Johannes also has set up a children's learning curriculum to teach the children of Trincomalee about recycling; and importantly, to learn by doing, right out at the dump. After categorizing and sorting the various types of trash, the kids actually pick through dried elephant dung to see what these interesting pachyderms eat (and what they shouldn't), create charcoal from brush waste and study methods of low tech carbon banking; then the highlight of their day at the dump comes when Johannes takes them on a tractor ride to see THEIR elephants. Once the electrical generating plant is up and running it will be the focus of the CGL Energy Tour. It is a good start, and a step in the right direction, and we hope it helps to bring these Sri Lankan kids - and their kids - a brighter future...
THIS IS NOT A DRILL
For us, our seminal elephant moment came when we were touring the dump one afternoon in the safety and comfort of the CGL company van. The largest heard of Trincomalee elephants we had seen thus far - over twenty - were feeding on the trash pile because someone had dumped brush cuttings in the wrong place. The elephants were congregated in the corner of the dump close to where we had initially emerged from the jungle. Kethees was upset with his staff and was discussing the matter, while Lilly was taking pictures of the herd. For no apparent reason (not apparent to us anyhow), the biggest bull suddenly trumpeted loudly, raised his trunk, and made a partial charge in our direction. Then he wheeled around and lead the herd in a STAMPEDE. HOLY SMOKE! We had never seen such a large and powerful mass movement of these huge creatures, triggered in just a split second, and they charged out of the landfill and RIGHT UP THE VERY PATH WE CAME IN ON! That is the moment when we fully realized the danger that the local people and Kethees were trying to make us understand. If we had met elephants on the path as we hiked in, we would have had a very slim chance of surviving that encounter...
What else did we learn through our elephant dump experience? After meeting and socializing with Tamil people we learned that reading Wikipedia, and thinking that one understands a topic may lead to serious misconceptions. The violent Sri Lankan Civil War absolutely shattered and scarred this lovely country; not only were the people of Sri Lanka traumatized (Sinhalese and Tamil alike), but so were the wild animals as the war raged across the countryside. The Tamil Tigers were the first paramilitary organization to use terror tactics in modern times (including suicide attacks), and they were as quick to use abject violence against their OWN people as they were to attack the Sinhalese majority. Many of the innocent refugees created by the Civil War were in fact non-combatant Tamil people. In touring the countryside around Trincomalee we saw first-hand how man and wild animals must compete for space to live. Much of the world looks neatly arranged in game reserves and villages on the Animal Channel or at Disney World; but the actual world isn't nearly so organized - the Animal Kingdom and People Land are not separated by an artificial river and connected by a magnetically levitated monorail... In the Developing Countries poor PEOPLE struggle for their daily co-existence with wild animals, often competing for space and for food. The reality is that in much of the world government resources for the management of wildlife are scarce to nonexistent.
CAN IT REALLY HAPPEN?
As their habitat is taken from them for agriculture in the surrounding countryside, the plight of the Asian elephants living around the Trincomalee Landfill is becoming more serious each day. To our knowledge, it is only the landfill operator - Kethees and CGL - who offer any sort of hope for the future of these majestic creatures. Our preconception was that the dump was the problem, when in fact it is an important part of the solution - IF the CGL ELEPHANT SANCTUARY can be made a reality. The CGL Landfill could become the only safe refuge in the region for the elephants of Trincomalee... Unlike the local, provincial, or federal levels of government, Kethees has a workable financed plan in place which will actually improve the plight of these wonderful animals, and benefit the entire community - if the bureaucracy doesn't bilge him out. Unfortunately, success is not a foregone conclusion...
Once again the crew of TIGER LILLY has been adopted by a loving local family in a strange land. In spite of an arrogant attitude that we are smart and privileged, and the world is our oyster, these gentle people took the time to educate us. Through the universal attributes of kindness, generosity, and love, we were taught by our Sri Lankan hosts that in fact we are all created very much equal - but some of us are just born luckier than others...
ANOTHER OCEAN WESTWARD
Next up: Lilly is almost trampled by a charging African elephant in Tanzania's Mikumi National Park while Tom-Tom the Sailor Man is describing (in excruciating detail as only one who is irresistibly drawn by the esoteric science of cartography would) the fascinating factoid that both the Asian and African elephant carry charts of their respective continents on their person wherever they go!
LILLY SEZ: Remember, elephants are people too!
If you click on the PHOTO GALLERY button and then open the ELEPHANTS OF TRINCOMALEE album we have several annotated pictures to go with this story. See you there!
You may have already heard about the elephants at the Trincomalee landfill - but now you know the rest of the story. The extraordinary people we meet, the wonderful sights we see, and the interesting world we explore while cruising under sail aboard TIGER LILLY...
Tom & Lilly
S/V Tiger Lilly
Tanga, Tanzania, East Africa
Many of you have asked, "What can we do?"
We think that this story would be a great case-study project for American students from third to twelth grade to study and lend support for these poor creatures. Perhaps you could pass on a link to the appropriate resource person at your local school system? Wouldn't it be great if school kids from across America could convince the President and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka with their emails of support that recycling garbage and trash into electricity is a win-win-win for the Asian elephants, the Sri Lankan environment, and the people of Trincomalee! Anyone reading this post with kids or grandkids in school may want to consider forwarding a link to this story to their teacher. The recycling of garbage into electrical energy - with a non-governmental finance plan in place - is, in our view, a no-brainer; and likely the only practical solution to the plight of these wonderful creatures... Unfortunately, because of bureaucracy, greed, and parochial interests, it is not yet a done-deal. As we said in the post - school kids could make an important difference on this issue; and also learn about the technical and political issues of the real-world of recycling in the Developing Countries around the Blue Planet. It would be a great student Hands Across The Sea project.
Who to contact:
President of Sri Lanka, Mr. Maithripala Sirisena email email@example.com
Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe email firstname.lastname@example.org
TEACHERS AND PARENTS: We pulled these terms and ideas out of our TRINCO ELEPHANT story for use in furthering the understanding of the issues presented. By studying this one situation, an understanding of many different topics and disciplines can be explored...
STUDENT VOCABULARY DRILL (select based on age/grade)
saw scaled vipers
Fortune 500 Company
Riki Tikki Tavi
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION (enlightening dinner table talk for children)
Sri Lanka Civil War
Emotions Over Intellect (E over I)
Walking Around White (WAW)
Ingestion of plastic in animals
Generation of electricity from waste
Court of International Opinion
Rehabilitating the Environment
Book-ending a problem
Carbon Banking (low tech - high tech)
The world is our oyster
Some folks are born luckier than others
Hands Across the Sea
LILLY sez: After reading what Tom-Tom the Sailor Man thinks is "enlightening dinner table talk for children" you will probably feel sorry for his grown daughters Jennifer and Dawn - and rightly so...
02 January 2018 | Clan Jeti Anchorage, Georgetown, Penang Island, Malaysia
Tom and Lilly
Almost every day we read stories in the international press relating the horror and hopelessness experienced by young girls, often barely teenagers, as they are abducted and thrown into the abyss of prostitution and forced drug addiction. Likewise, the human tragedies created by the refugee crisis of the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar (formerly Burma) is constantly in the news. Yet how many of us have any direct connection or understanding of these very disturbing human events? Cruising under sail in the Developing Countries of the world is not always swaying palm trees, and white sandy beaches. As sailors, we brush up against a world much different than Suburbia USA; the land of equality, the rule of law, and the economic opportunity we grew up in and take for granted. Sometimes we even immerse ourselves in this other world - and are faced with the stark and uncomfortable reality of raw poverty. After spending the last eight months in a boatyard in the backwaters of southern Thailand we were challenged almost every day by that uncomfortable fact of life; and found that under the guise of economic displacement, slavery still exists right here, right now, in the Twenty-First Century. This is the story of a girl and a woman who came together from different worlds - East meets West - who developed a bond of love, and who will never be the same again. This is the story of Dala and Lilly...
MODERN SLAVERY - Refugees are created by all sorts of horrid events: war, famine, religious persecution, natural disaster and the insidious poverty created by corrupt governments. We met Dala’s mom Mrs. So at the PSS Shipyard in southern Thailand, where we were hauled-out to conduct a major refit of TIGER LILLY. So (she only has one name) is a Burmese “guest” worker, and she is employed by PSS as a yard cleaner for the equivalent of about ten US Dollars a day. She, and her family of 4 children and a sickly husband, are economic refugees; her ten dollar a day cleaning job is far better than anything she could expect up in her home country of Myanmar. We are not referring to light sweeping and dusting, but rather heavy industrial clean-up; lugging large barrels of stinking marine bottom scrapings and trash, stacking heavy steel scaffolds, and working in a dangerous polluted environment six and sometimes seven days a week. There are no paid vacations or medical benefits for these Burmese laborers, and we often saw them working while sick or injured - no work, no pay, no food... So is a tiny thing at less than 90 pounds, and just under 5 feet tall; she has never had a day of school in her 34 years, and when her husband is sick and unable to work (often), she is the sole bread-winner for her family of six. But she is a mighty woman of character; she lives her life with her chin up, a smile on her face, a spring in her step, and a deep sacrificial love in her heart for her family. Truly a woman of substance.
TOWIE - Lilly’s first contact with So’s family was with the little boy who would come into the shipyard after working hours each evening with a rice bag slung over his shoulder and make his rounds; collecting anything not nailed down which his mom could sell to the scrap dealer. His physical presence was that which we would expect of a six year-old back in the States, but he was eleven years-old, and his left foot and right hand were deformed from birth - an Oliver Twist like fellow. But Towie always had a quirky smile and a twinkle in his eye for Lilly, and they quickly became chums as she escorted him around the shipyard and helped him collect scrap metal. When he and Lilly walked around the shipyard together, she always made a point to hold Towie’s deformed right hand and reassure him... Towie’s shy and withdrawn 16 year-old sister Som usually stayed home to cook for the family and take care of his little brother Mon. His 14 year-old sister Dala would come to the shipyard and fetch him for dinner each evening, and that is how Dala and Lilly met. Spirited Dala was obviously her mother’s daughter, and the combination of her striking beauty and intrepid personality were stunning. At 14 years-old she was already turning heads; and unfortunately the recipient of overt sexual comments from the men of the village and the crews of the fishing boats hauled-out for repairs. Dala was clearly headed for the Third World version of the “ME TOO” sorority - or worse, much worse...
THE SHACK - Absolutely incapable of minding her own business, Lilly invited herself to their home one afternoon after work. We had seen pythons and cobras in and around the PSS apartments where we lived across the road from the shipyard, and feral dogs regularly maraud the outskirts of Chebilang. Lilly was very wary as she followed the over-grown narrow foot path through the low jungle scrub that led to Dala and Towie’s home. The family of six lived in a two-room tumble-down shack built of industrial scrap and tree limbs on the edge of an extensive mangrove forest. They have no running water, no electricity, the roof leaks during the monsoonal down-pours, and the area is infested with snakes and rats. Conditions such as these are reality for refugees all over the world... Lilly was welcomed warmly by the entire family and invited to share in their dinner - no one (much less a foreign yachtie woman) had ever come to visit them. And thus began a wonderful relationship between So’s family and Lilly.
A TOUGH LIFE - So’s children are exceptionally close, and especially Towie and Mon. They have no other playmates because they do not go to school, and the local Muslim kids persecute them horribly. We have seen this intolerance in Muslim communities throughout Indonesia, Malaysia (both Islamic theocracies), and southern Thailand which is about 90% Muslim. Up in Myanmar, the majority Buddhists are pushing out the Muslim minority - the ancient hatreds go so very deep... As the children of Burmese temporary immigrant workers, none of So’s children had ever attended school. Life is not easy for them, and they live an isolated existence between the mangroves and the shipyard. Lilly took all four of So’s children to a run-down playground in Chebilang - it was their first such experience, and they did not know how the rusty swings or teeter-totters worked - a pretty emotional situation for Lilly... But they quickly learned, and had a great time. Lilly had to get up on the trampoline (at 59 years-old) and teach them how to do a drop-seat swivel hip... She taught Towie how to ride a dilapidated bicycle with warped rims; and last seen, he was enjoying his new-found freedom on two wheels. One day Lilly heard Dala scream, and saw little Mon being taken by the hand and led out of the shipyard and into the village by a stranger off one of the fishing boats. Lilly jumped on a motor scooter and gave chase. The five year-old was being kidnapped for God only knows what nefarious purpose, and Lilly challenged the man right in the middle of the village, and then scooped up Mon. There was quite a joyful celebration by So and her family when Lilly brought him back home.
MENTORSHIP - Lilly and Dala hit it off from the very start; Dala became Lilly’s shadow, and Lilly became her mentor. Lilly knows hard work and sacrifice; as a young woman she was a pioneer in woman’s athletics (she was one of America’s first professional women triathletes), she raised a son as a single mom - and educated him to the university level on her own, and she founded and operated a very successful carpet cleaning business. Lilly had a lot to give Dala, and Dala was an energetic protégée with a sharp mind. In the nearly 7 months they were together their friendship (and Dala’s command of English) blossomed. But Lilly was disturbed that neither Dala nor her brothers or sister were getting any formal education, and she knew that in their case it would lead to a life of back-breaking poverty - or worse. Teenage sisters Dala and Som were very much at risk as they grew up poor and pretty in a world full of predators (with zero legal protection for immigrants), and Dala was a spirited and lovely young woman - just what the sex sharks were looking for. As Lilly and Dala worked on TIGER LILLY projects in the shipyard together, they went into the village each day to pick-up lunch, and Lilly was a first-hand witness to the persecution (and thinly disguised danger) which pretty Dala suffered from the local men - usually while keeping her head held high, and turning her back on the cads who brazenly called out to her...
A THAI ANGEL - Lilly was convinced that something had to be done - and it needed to be done before TIGER LILLY left the boatyard and sailed away from Thailand. (Since Lilly was convinced - THAT made it Tom-Tom’s problem to solve...) Who can better understand what a profound difference an education could make to a person’s life than a person who lacks one? But Mrs. So did not have the resources, or a plan, to make it happen for her children. And then our Angel Auntie Aor (pronounced like “Awe” as in AWESOME) appeared...
Auntie Aor is Lilly’s particular friend - they hit it off the moment they met in Satun at Auntie’s Gleam Resort. The Siri family are leading lights of the southern Thailand region - Tom-Tom calls Auntie Aor “The Queen of Satun”. We were privileged to be adopted by them and to have the titles “Auntie Lilly” and “Uncle Tom” bestowed upon us by this wonderful family. Although born into a family of means, Auntie Aor (Sirikul Limsakul) has a heart of gold, is modest to a fault, and she actively pursues a life of giving - starting each morning at 0430 when she prepares breakfast for the local Buddhist monks. She is a highly educated person. She received her first bachelor’s degree from the beloved King of Thailand when she was 21 years-old. (In those days the King conferred all the university degrees on Thailand’s graduates.) She went on to earn additional degrees in the United States at Lamar University in Texas, and her Masters in International Law from Temple University in Philadelphia - she is an extraordinary woman!
FRIENDS - Lilly and So became great friends even though neither could speak the other’s language. As we say in the Navy, they both came up through the hause-pipe (a tough life). Because of the language barrier, we asked Auntie Aor to meet with us and So to try to untie this Gordian’s knot and make a plan. In addition to being a lovely multi-lingual problem-solver, Aor is a practicing lawyer and could steer us through the legal rocks and shoals. Understandably, Mrs So had all she could do to just keep her head above water and feed six people, and she had no idea how to advance her children’s station in life; the situation seemed absolutely hopeless to her. But she fully understood the practical reality that without an education her daughters’ likely fate (there were no choices) was to become prostitutes, or to spend long hard hours at menial labor - or first one, and then the other... She knew that at 14 and 16 years-old, Dala and Som were so very vulnerable, but what’s a mother to do?
THE PLAN - After some serious discussion between the crew of TIGER LILLY, Auntie Aor, and Mrs. So (and not a few tears), several phone calls back to Myanmar to determine what was possible (60 minutes of cell phone time between Thailand and Myanmar costs So almost a day’s pay), and a heart-wrenching and courageous decision by Dala and Som, we were able to collectively come up with a plan: The girls would return to So’s home in Myanmar (to a small town east of Rangoon); her sister Khuntoh would become their Legal Guardian; and Som and Dala would take vows and enter the local Buddhist nunnery to be educated. TIGER LILLY committed to fund the repatriation of the sisters to Myanmar, and a return trip for So to escort them on their journey. Auntie Aor (who already was sponsoring and mentoring homeless Thai girls in Satun) agreed to manage any funds that could be raised to provide for Som and Dala’s ongoing educations. After they receive fundamental reading, writing, and math instruction at the nunnery, they will need additional training to become employable. As Myanmar comes out of its dark time, tourism will surely become a major industry in this beautiful country with a rich cultural heritage. There will be a place for educated and personable young women like Som and Dala to make their mark.
TODAY - It is so heartening for us to report that in early November 2017, after a 38 hour four-bus journey from the town of Satun in southern Thailand, to the little village of Koh Pun, east of Rangoon, Myanmar, the girls have been interviewed and accepted for entrance to the Mueri Haa Ra-Rong Pun temple school. They traded their thread-bare street clothes for robes, and they sacrificed their long beautiful hair to become eligible for enrollment in this safe haven for children. How many teenage girls do you know that would make such a sacrifice? This was a very tough decision since the next day their mother would leave them and return to her job and the rest of their family at the PSS shipyard in Thailand. The sisters and their mother have never been separated, and this courageous change was a tough decision for all concerned - including Lilly. The last report we received was that the girls were happy and doing very well in their studies, and they were enjoying being around other kids at school.
This miracle became reality because three heroic women, from three completely different walks of life - a Burmese laborer named So, a Thai queen named Aor, and an American yachtie named Lilly - came together, and worked as one to change the world they live in - against some very difficult odds. We have read recent news stories that predict that 2018 will be “The Year of the Woman” and we think that this lifting-up of two young Burmese women is exactly the kind of thing that can happen if someone takes the time and effort to get involved. It takes so much more than money to make this happen - first, people must care for one another... This is the story of the magic of mentorship, the power of prayer, and cooperation across cultural lines and international boundaries.
LILLY SEZ - The sex sharks are not going to get these young girls. My prayer for this Christmas is that both of these lovely sisters stay safe and have a bright future, that they may have the opportunity to make a positive contribution to their world - and then to lift up others. That is exactly how it works - we just pay it forward.
Ladies: Think about Som and Dala, pray for them, then SHARE DALA’s STORY so that other women will join us in prayer - and become part of this wonderful Christmas miracle...
Lilly & Tom
S/V Tiger Lilly
Penang Island, Malaysia
TIGER LILLY - SINGAPORE IS SPECTACULAR!
03 November 2016 | Singapore, Southeast Asia
Tom & Lilly
We just returned to TIGER LILLY after a four day tour in Singapore - and it was a most enjoyable experience.
LILLY SEZ: We had a GREAT time seeing the sights, meeting the people, eating in restaurants, sleeping in a real bed, enjoying the comfort of air conditioning, and just playing tourist! I liked seeing that Singapore has a population of energetic young athletic people exercising - or at least they were dressed in Lycra and looking the part. There were actually a few roadies in town zig-zagging their bicycles through the busy streets of the Central Business District - but starting and stopping every couple of blocks at the traffic signals must be very frustrating.
TOM REPLIES: I certainly did enjoy our visit to Singapore - one of the great seaports of the world, and visiting this unique city-state was on my Bucket List. But Lilly, we are NOT rosy-skinned, rolley-polley flippin tourists, we are seamen on shore-leave! Every five years or so it is probably beneficial to leave the boat for a short period, and have it reaffirmed that I NEVER WANT TO LIVE ASHORE! It was so good to return to TIGER LILLY and get out of that damned air conditioning... And oh by the way, the MAMILS in Singapore (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) - look just about the same as those in the States...
LILLY SEZ: Tom-Tom wants to die on the boat, but he comes from long-lived genes, and the chances are pretty good that I will be selecting HIS rest home! I really do love the wide open spaces of the Great American Desert, and I can see us retiring to the dry heat of New Mexico once we swallow the anchor! Hey Maria - be sure to keep his AC on HIGH, I am off to the pool!
And so it goes friends - the Ying and Yang of marital bliss aboard TIGER LILLY...
Singapore is a First World city-state at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, and it is home to some 5.5 millions of people - packed (stacked?) into only 269 square miles; and over 20% of the land area has been reclaimed from the sea. Singapore's icon is the Merlion which is half lion (an animal not indigenous to the region - but it certainly does represent Singapore's strong business acumen), and half fish, which reflects the island's initial habitation as a fishing village. The evolution of this small island in just a few hundred years from a native fishing village scratching out an existence surrounded by a swamp and impenetrable jungle, to a Malay Kingdom ruled by a wealthy and powerful Sultan, to a crown jewel in the mighty British Empire, to today's First World city-state is quite extraordinary - and unique in the history of the world.
WHAT WE THOUGHT OF SINGAPORE:
CLEAN - This huge city is swept up, picked-up, and painted-out; when we rode a transit bus through the outlying communities, they were just as clean and squared-away. Of course, the cost of this order is some loss of personal liberty. You may recall the incident a few years ago when an American teenager earned himself a canning for spray-painting graffiti (which was notable by its absence during our visit). There was a lot of liberal hand-wringing regarding this youngster's fate back in the USA, but we supported it.
SAFE and ORDERLY - Anyone, man or woman, can safely walk the streets of Singapore at any time of the day or night - and the police keep a low (but very effective) profile.
HARMONY - The population of Singapore is multi-ethnic salad bowl, and it appears that race or color does not seem to be a common basis for discrimination: 3/4 of the population is Chinese (with most signs in both Chinese and English); Malay (up until 1965 Singapore was part of Malaysia, and today many Malaysians cross the border each day under special work visas), East Indian (anywhere in the world there are shops and merchants, East Indians are likely to be found running them), Arabs (millions of barrels of crude oil and refined products are transported through the Singapore Harbour each day), and various other cats & dogs and ex-pats of the international business community that make the money flow. These folks are all living together on a very small island, yet they seem to maintain their own special identity in places like China Town, Little India, and Arab Street. The remnants of the former British Colony are epitomized by the Victorian Raffles Hotel.
Tom-Tom the Sailor Man and his consort Tiger Lilly visited the Long Bar at Raffles to partake in virgin Singapore Slings, eat peanuts, and of course, to see and to be seen in this paragon of power and influence. As you can imagine, Tom-Tom was in the persona of Commodore Hornblower of the Royal Navy, reliving the Golden Age of colonialism; while Tiger Lilly accosted the nice Australian couple Howard & Gaynor at the next table, exchanged email addresses and pledged eternal Facebook fidelity. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves...
VIBRANT - Singapore is the busiest seaport in the world; it is the gateway between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It is an international hub of finance and business. The office towers of the world's big banks define Singapore's downtown skyline, and this place absolutely BUZZES with capitalism. At the consumer level, tens of upscale malls seem to dominate the retail scene - the multi-level malls get the most stores on the smallest footprint (sans the usual acres and acres of asphalt parking lots); this seems to be the way to go in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world.
PROSPEROUS - With an average per capita income of $61,400 USD, Singaporeans enjoy a very high standard of living. However, just recently we read an article on the BBC site that ranked Singapore as having the highest cost-of-living in the world. Tourism is a $7 BILLION USD industry in this little country - absolutely amazing! We tried to contribute as little as possible to this statistic by staying in an Airbnb room (double bed, private shower & toilet, air conditioning, central location) for $63 USD per night - which we were quite happy with. How cool are we, using Airbnb and the Internet to get a good deal - thanks to Gen-Xer James of S/V Mahiti who provided adult supervision with the Internet and app download.
ATTRACTIVE - Singapore has been planned and engineered to a tee, with seemingly seamless transition between living spaces, mass transit, working spaces, utilities (finally a Southeast Asian country where the tap water can be safely consumed), entertainment, and fantastic recreation facilities. We LOVE the modern and varied styles of Singapore's architecture, with the use of art, form, and color in their predominantly understated conservative neo-Asian style. (We just made up that term, but it seems to fit...)
CHILI CRAB EXTRAVAGANZA
In the tourist literature much is made of "Singapore's signature dish, the Chili Crab" and the town was plastered with attractive eye-level pictures of this colorful dish. After walking around town for two days and looking at dining scenes of the delectable chili crab, we came to the conclusion (sub-liminal suggestion?) that we could not live another moment without eating one.
LILLY SEZ: "WE?" I was resisting these expensive, difficult-to-eat, spider-like creatures quite nicely, thank you very much!
Through an oversight, we had inadvertently let our on-line subscription to the "Lonely Planet Restaurant Guide To The Orient" lapse. Of course, one would not expect our $63 USD per night hostel-like room to come with a concierge (and if it did, smart money would not listen to a $63 dollar concierge anyway); so we went into the Cheap Charlie Cruiser restaurant selection mode, and were pretty much on our own in un-surveyed waters - so to speak. Knowing that real estate in Singapore is dear, and reasoning that since the most expensive restaurants were located on the top floor of tall buildings - Tom-Tom cleverly focused low, and looked for a sea food restaurant in a basement. As luck would have it, we found such a place right next to the Singapore River - the Jumbo Seafood Restaurant. The first clue should have been the "market price" sticker on the menu next to the picture of the Chili Crab, but the lovely lady handing out the menus assured The Captain that her crabs were the best, and sweetest, in town; and besides she was so very pretty with long shiny black hair, lovely almond shaped eyes, a complexion that reminded one of cream in your coffee, and a tasteful red silk dress with a delicate neckline. We said, "What the heck - you only live once, let's eat her crabs!"
LILLY SEZ: That "delicate neckline" sported a pair of store-bought double-dees, which she skillfully, and seemingly accidentally, brushed against his forearm (being only about 4 feet tall), and Himself actually began drooling. It looks like I will be getting "lucky" tonight...
Little Miss Suzy Wong demurred with a practiced eye flutter and informed us that she was "so-sorry" we did not have reservations, but we could be immediately seated at one of their large round tables in their public room - so we accepted. We were shoe-horned into a dark back room where some nefarious looking characters were already seated. After perusing the pictorial menu, we decided that perhaps a single crab was not enough for the two of us - so we ordered a chili crab and a pepper crab; to enhance our dining pleasure through both diversity and volume.
LILLY SEZ: According to the conversation I inadvertently heard while Hot Shot was checking out the Chinese waitress and telling me sea-stories about some floating restaurant in Hong Kong (which happened 40 years ago) those "nefarious looking characters" were in fact medical doctors - surgeons to be exact...
While waiting for our dinners to arrive, who should be seated right next to us but THREE of the loveliest young Air Taiwan flight attendants a sailor ever did see! (Note: Unlike US based equal opportunity air lines which are dedicated to taking all the fun out of air travel by hiring grandmothers and homosexuals as flight attendants, Air Taiwan still goes by the tried and true hiring practice of selecting their girls on looks and age.) They were absolutely delightful "Hello Kitty" versions of the lady out front handing out the menus, and we had a most convivial dinner conversation with these charming young ladies.
LILLY SEZ: Ladies, it was just too pathetic for words, Grandpa missed his mouth and put a crab leg right in his ear as he attempted to inconspicuously look, smile, and eat at the same time... Luckily, the restaurant dressed him out with one of those ridiculous looking paper sea food bibs; which Miss Suzy Wong was only too happy to tie for him - while working her double-dees across his shoulder... I think that the average age of the young Taiwanese flight attendants was perhaps 19; and yes, they did all have genuine "Hello Kitty" cell phone covers, which of course they never once put down during the meal...
When the $203 SD ($150 USD) bill came Mister Man of the World, swallowed hard and cheerfully paid the bill - while trying to divert Tiger Lilly's attention from the credit card slip - which of course did not work.
LILLY SEZ: OK, been there, done that, and I didn't even get a chili crab tee shirt for $150 flippin dollars!
SINGAPORE's QUALITY OF LIFE and the roll of GOVERNMENT
As Americans travelling the world, we have seen first-hand several ways the United States could increase the quality of life of its citizens by adopting elements of other First World economies which are actually working - today. In the recent past we have reported to you on the wonderful culture that the Australians have created through a national medical care system, a practical minimum wage that a single person can live on, and government-funded post-secondary education. Australian students have access to low interest student loans which do not have to be paid back until their incomes rise well above $50,000 AD. Australian society benefits from a trained and educated young work force not financially burdened by student loans early in life. Likewise, during our visit to Singapore we witnessed the actual results of several government policy issues which SHOULD be a part of the national dialog in the United States during the current election cycle - but sadly are not. Here are some of the effects of government policy we observed first-hand during our short stay in Singapore:
Mass Transit - The bus and train system in Singapore moves millions of people each day in safety, comfort, and efficiency. Inefficient private vehicles are discouraged by a tax and quota system. This is the sort of government policy that can actually make a difference - in the short and medium term - to improve any urban environment now. While we were in Singapore we did not see a single teenager (or his daddy) out cruising the roads in a huge jacked-up, vee-eight powered, four-wheel-drive pickem-up truck...
National Medical Program - Medical care for its citizens is an integral part of Singapore's high standard of living, and it is a critical element in providing the energized workforce that this country needs to compete successfully with the larger countries of the Global Economy. Universal medical care is not only a quality of life issue - it makes good business sense by improving the labor force.
Guest Worker Programs - Singapore has an effective guest worker program to obtain the needed demographics for their labor force, and prevent the country from being straddled with the liabilities and disadvantages of illegal immigration. People come from all over the world to work in Singapore - to their personal advantage - and then they return home. It's called a win-win...
Border Protection - Like Israel (after which the Singapore Government has chosen to pattern their defense forces) Singapore is a thriving secular country surrounded by large Muslim theocracies. They take their defense very seriously; and in fact, as we write this post we can hear the FA-18 Hornet fighter aircraft of the Singapore Air Force overhead on training exercises. They understand that they must be strong to maintain their national security (and to keep good relations with their neighbors) in an increasingly dangerous world.
Business Policy - Singapore is home to thousands of multi-national corporations because it is stable, and it provides a healthy and vibrant environment in which businesses can thrive. Business is not a dirty word in Singapore, and importantly, the fruits of business are used to provide Singaporeans a very high standard of living. It is all about balance in government policy...
Leadership - The vast majority of the Singaporeans we talked to are very proud of their country, and they all expressed a belief in the strength of character and the morality of their leadership. They did not all agree with all of the Government's policies, but there is a strong consensus endorsing the quality and the honesty of their leaders. It was refreshing for us to hear this confidence voiced by the citizens of Singapore.
WHAT's NEXT for the crew of TIGER LILLY?
The Sail Malaysia Rally is coming together to cruise up the west coast of the Malay Peninsula, and based on our very positive experience with the Sail Indonesia Rally we have decided to participate. We intend to settle-down for a year or so on the Malaysian island of Langkawi; this island, just south of the Thai-Malay border, is an international resort area, and a Duty Free Zone. We plan to do some much-needed boat maintenance, and to tour parts of Southeast Asia. Well, that's the plan, Stan!
Since our private helicopter is currently grounded for routine maintenance, we hooked some pics off Google Images and included them in this post so that you could get a bird's eye view of this spectacular place called SINGAPORE. Please don't call the Internet Police on us! Check out our Sail Blogs PHOTO GALLERY for some pictures of SPECTACULAR SINGAPORE!
Here's a thought for some of you adventurous souls: Next year, rather than visiting Disney World for the umpteenth time, or going to sit on your in-laws couch in Des Moines, why not consider an INTERNATIONAL vacation of a life time? Fly to Singapore (depressed oil prices have reduced air fares); then zip over to the Indonesian Archipelago to see the Komodo Dragons, take the ferry to the north shore of Bali to experience the Lovina Festival and their unique Hindu culture, and hop a fast-ferry to the Kumai River in southern Borneo to see the wonderful orangutans. Finally, fly back to Spectacular Singapore for a whorl-wind wind-up in a world class city. See TIGER LILLY's recent Face book posts for some unique possibilities to expand your horizons. Hey, at least think about it...
It is all part of the places we go, and the people we meet while cruising under sail in TIGER LILLY...
Tom and Lilly
S/V Tiger Lilly
Puteri Harbour, Johor Bahru, Malaysia
TIGER LILLY - BORNEO ORANGUTAN
02 October 2016 | Kumai River, Borneo
Tom & Lilly
We took a guided boat tour up the Sekonyer River to southern Borneo's Tanjung Puting National Park - the orangutan's were absolutely FANTASTIC! We saw orangutan - wild in the forest and at park feeding stations, gibbons - the acrobats of the jungle, proboscis monkeys - an entire troop of these Jimmy Durante look a-likes flew out of the tree tops and into the river as we passed them, and of course the ubiquitous macaques. We prefer to take TIGER LILLY up tropical rivers and explore on our own, but unfortunately foreign yachts are not allowed in the park; however, we likely saw much more with our guide Andi than we would have on our own. The three day tour aboard the Klotok Kelimutu (riverboat) with five other couples from the Sail Indonesia Rally will certainly go down as one of the highlights of TIGER LILLY'S world cruise.
TIGER LILLY - DRAGONS LIVE HERE!
24 August 2016 | Rindja Island, Indonesia
Tom & Lilly
The soft light of dawn bathed the cloven hills of Rindja Island in an amber glow as we picked our way through large lava boulders in a deep ravine. A remnant of the cool night breeze drifted down the hillside, and we followed our guide Sofina with attentiveness, and a subliminal expectation of adventure. We were here to see the Komodo Dragons; but these bolder-strewn hills, covered in a course, thick, thigh-high grass, are the habitat of a few other nasties as well. Javan spitting cobras favor the grassy knolls and wooded ravines. Emerald tree vipers tend to drape themselves on tree limbs; and the green death awaits the inattentive bush bird (or yachtie) who ventures too close. The bad-tempered white-lipped pit vipers, hopeful that a young Macaque monkey will scamper into striking range, lie in ambush amongst the grey boulders.
We were like fish out of water in this harsh and unforgiving environment, and our primary defense is Sofina's watchful eye and keen bush sense. (Poppa, Mum, stay close please.) He carries a well-worn two meter long forked stick to push against the shoulder of an aggressive dragon. Sofina, nearly toothless from a lifetime of chewing betel nut, told us before we left the Ranger Station that the Dragons have very poor eye sight, and their primary sensing organ is their long, forked tongue. Our guide, and protector, who has spent all of his 41 years living amongst the Dragons, thinks that as he presses the forked tongue-like stick against the shoulder of one of these huge reptiles that they sense that a really big Dragon must be attached to it, so they back off. That's the theory anyway: walk softly, but carry a big tongue! Visualize this: the only thing between you and hundreds of kilograms of bacteria-laden razor-toothed carnivorous lizard is a slight quiet-spoken man, whom you have just met, with a theory on animal behavior - and a 20mm diameter stick in his hand. Now that's an example of faith...
As we diverted from the ravine and entered a dried creek bed, quite suddenly the sweet aroma of the dew-laden grass was displaced by the unmistakeable smell of death. It hung like a pall over the tropical scrub-bush. We had already seen the young "house lizards" which skirted the periphery of the ranger's quarters in anticipation of a hand-out; but we were eager to come into the presence of a full grown Komodo Dragon in his natural environment. As we stood atop a large bolder and peered down into a putrid depression of muck and black slime, just a few meters away a young "teenage" Dragon was ripping the decaying flesh off a very ripe water buffalo carcass. The stench was quite powerful, but we stood in awe and watched this holdover from the age of the dinosaurs tug and claw, rip and gulp, and utter deep guttural hissing epitaphs at the human invaders to his kingdom. The young Dragon occasionally stopped his feast to raise his head and "taste" us with his long pink forked tongue, and then returned to stripping the tough hide from the water buffalo. We were mesmerized buy the power of this young fellow. Nearly defenseless, we became very much aware that in this place we no longer enjoyed a perch at the top of the food chain; we were clearly on the menu...
Sofina told us in his broken English that old or sick buffalo will seek whatever water is available - and the Dragons instinctively know they are in a weakened state. (An obviously intelligent person, he had to communicate in his self-taught English, as we cannot speak Indonesian.) Our young Dragon seemed to assess the tall, bald, Sailor Man peering at him from atop the boulder. Perhaps that hitch in the old man's gate as he moved amongst the rocks foretold of a day - not far off - when he too would be ready to be taken... We watched for several minutes - this is exactly what we came to see; we wanted to experience the sight, sound, and smell of this wonder of the natural world. Just before we reluctantly departed, we noticed that the young Dragon seemed preoccupied, and was lifting his head and sensing the air behind us. Sofina told us that we must be very careful as we worked our way back along the creek bed; it is common for several Dragons to feed off a single carcass. If a Dragon comes down the narrow steep-sided creek bed, the traffic is only going one-way - his way! Sure enough, we were just out of the creek bed, and no more than perhaps 50 meters up the ravine, when we met the Grand-Daddy Dragon heading right for us on the trail - and we were between him and his next meal. Crossing his bow was not a good option, and after a bit of scrambling, we gave way and took up station on his starboard quarter; we would follow at a respectful distance and see how the situation played-out between Grand-Daddy and the Teenager.
By the time we had retraced our steps and returned to the buffalo carcass, the Teenager was making his exit and cresting the creek bank; only to have been replaced by a third Dragon, a mature adult, and he was now in sole possession of the buffalo. With his blunt head buried in the bloated abdominal cavity, his powerful legs and splayed claws anchored the heaving carcass as he ripped flesh and crushed bone. We watched in anticipation as Grand-Daddy approached the just slightly smaller adult Dragon. Safina was now keeping us well back; he warned that if the Dragons decide to settle this with a fight, they are capable of moving very fast for short distances, and there was no-telling what exit route the vanquished may take. The two bulky adversaries were head-to-head and shoulder-to-shoulder on top of the disputed buffalo carcass as they sized-up each other. They were braced-up on their powerful forefeet with splayed claws ready to do battle in an instant. However, after a bit of head shoving and grunting, they somehow came to the mutual decision that Grand-Daddy would take his meal later; and he ambled off, down the creek bed to his nap in the morning sun.
There is plenty to do and see at the Komodo National Park, a designated United Nations World Heritage Site. We anchored TIGER LILLY at five different places at Rindja and Komodo Islands - with each one prettier then the last. Rather than making day trips from Labuan Badjo, Flores, as do the tourists, like a turtle, we brought our home to the park and lived here day and night. By being here around the clock we had the opportunity to see Asian red deer, large flocks of bats, huge manta rays, brilliant blue backed kingfishers, sea turtles, Macaque monkeys, spinner dolphin, wild water buffalo, beautiful coral reefs for snorkeling, wild boar on the beach, and of course the iconic Komodo Dragons themselves.
LILLY sez: OH MY GOSH - we loved visiting Komodo National Park and seeing the Dragons! We hope that our experience has wetted your appetite for learning more about Indonesia - there is so much to see, and so many new things to learn here. For an enjoyable read, and lots of insightful information about this area of Southeast Asia, pick up a copy of Lawrence Blair's excellent book "RING OF FIRE". He and his brother Lorne spent years travelling extensively through Indonesia, living with the native people, and learning the ancient ways of these exotic islands. These modern-day adventurers cum academics lived with cannibals in the western mangroves of Irian Jaya, sailed with the Makassar Pirates of Celebes, made the first underwater films of the famed Banda Sea pearl divers, and delved into the spiritual nature of the Hindu Mystics of Bali. Their work was also the subject of a PBS video documentary of the same name. We enthusiastically recommend "RING OF FIRE" - this book has certainly brought an added dimension to TIGER LILLY's cruise through the Indonesian Archipelago.
We hope that one day you will have the opportunity to come and see this amazing place for yourself...
Tom & Lilly
S/V Tiger Lilly
Gilli Banda, Indonesia
TIGER LILLY SAYS FAREWELL AUSTRALIA - HELLO INDONESIA!
22 July 2016 | Fannie Bay, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia
Tom & Lilly
Three weeks ago we were anchored off Airlie Beach, Queensland when we decided to sign up for the Sail Indonesia rally; today we are at Fannie Bay, Northern Territory and are ready in all respects to sail for Kupang, West Timor, Indonesia. We will go into the Darwin Sailing Club this morning, clear Australian Customs and Immigration, and be on our way on the ebb tide this evening.
It took an intense 1500 mile passage to get here - we call it the CAPES - CORAL - CURRENT run up the Tropical Queensland coast, around Cape York and through the Torres Straits, and then across the top of Australia.
Without much of a break we went right to work in Darwin.
LILLY SEZ: You can sleep when you are dead Tom-Tom!
Our Pre-Sail List included: repairing the refrigeration control system, dumping and flushing the potable water tanks, scrubbing the underwater hull, applying for Indonesian visas, loading-out 4 months of provisions / stores / spare parts / fuel / potable water / consumables, and finally Southeast Asia inoculations for all hands.
LILLY SEZ: I feel like a pin cushion - but my shot-card is up to snuff!
Darwin is completely different (but interesting) from the Queensland region we have grown to love. Darwin, and Australia's Northern Territory, has both the social culture and the topography of "Alabama meets New Mexico in the tropics"; but we were here in the voyage prep mode, and the town met all of our needs. Apparently, we are Queenslanders at heart!
It has been a hectic time getting ourselves and TIGER LILLY ready for an extended cruise, but it is done, and we are ready to sail. (Don't forget the toilet paper Lilly!) Super-Shopper Lilly and all of our stores and provisions are inside the life lines. However, the weather forecast for our passage across the Beagle Gulf is light and variable - very typical for this corner of Australia. We will have to work hard to keep TIGER LILLY's twenty tons moving; but hopefully the light air and easy seas will keep Lilly's mal-de-mer down...
LILLY SEZ: It is certainly a bitter sweet experience to depart this big beautiful Land Downunder called Australia. We will miss the wonderful Australian people who have warmly received us, and shown us so very many kindnesses. Australia is a beautiful country, and the Australian culture is the nicest we have experienced anywhere in the world. Anywhere. We encourage everyone - and especially Americans - to come and see a First World country where people of all colors and backgrounds seem to get along together. This country is a land of opportunity for the economically disadvantaged, and a guiding light for freedom in this part of the world. (Bernie described Australia pretty well during his recent presidential campaign when he described what America could become.)
But it is a sailor's lot to say farewell; moving forward is the style of cruising we prefer. Like delicate sea birds, always on the wing - we lead a dynamic lifestyle at the interface of sea and sky. Chasing the horizon is what we do...
The voyage up to Kupang is only about 500 miles, but culturally it is a world away from Australia. We are headed towards South East Asia and the largest (by population) Muslim country in the world; just when many people in the United States are talking about building walls... Sailors who have cruised the Indonesian Archipelago have wonderful stories and warm memories of the friendly Indonesian people and their many beautiful islands.
We are eager to be sailing into a new adventure. In general, our Indonesian cruising plan is to sail from Darwin to West Timor, then west across the Indonesian Archipelago some 500 miles to the mystical island of Bali (early September), northwest some 400 miles to the south coast of Borneo (to see the orangutan), and finally 500 miles west and across the Straits of Malacca to the bright lights of Singapore. In November and December we will cruise the west coast of the Malay Peninsula up to the Malaysian island of Langkawi - arriving in time for Christmas. We are excited about cruising the waters of Southeast Asia, and we will check in on Facebook as Internet access permits.
SEE YA! WE ARE OUTA HERE!
Tom & Lilly
S/V Tiger Lilly
Darwin, N.T. Australia