I pass quickly over the first week here, as I spent it in a (very nice) hospital room equipped with a brigade of nurses, minibar, plasma TV, and pull-out bed for Roy, all for the munificent cost of about $175 a day. The most exciting event of the week was the discovery that, when drugged into a pethidine stupor, I spoke perfectly fluent, idiomatic Japanese for about fifteen minutes. I have no recollection of doing this, but the doctors pulled
I was finally sprung from hospital, whereupon we returned to the hotel and signed up for a tour of The Tiger Monastery—an amazing sanctuary for Really Big Striped Felines. The usual tour consists of a walk around the compound, followed by a distant viewing of tigers frolicking in a pool of water. However, somehow we were selected for an unusual hands-on tiger experience. The two of us must have looked so shell-shocked from the hospital stay that the tour guides figured the concept of tiger-washing would probably not faze us in the least.
The monastery is located in the north of
After 45 incredible minutes tiger-cub handling, we were led over to a group of three-month old tigers, and we proceeded to walk our very own feline down to the swimming hole. Tigers of that age consist of 150 pounds of solid muscle. We started off on an equal footing...
...but in a few seconds, the tiger was actually walking me.
Between the two of us, though, we managed quite well.
When the group released the tigers into the water, the handlers instructed the ten of us to stand in a line on the shore. They then explained that should the tigers try to break through the line, we were to stand tall and steady as a tree, grab the tiger by the head and shoulders, and turn it around. This obscure factoid may come in handy for some of you one day.
The tigers certainly enjoyed their little dip.
Weirdly, the handlers all carried poles sporting Stop signs (in English). Who knew that tigers could read English?
At one point, a couple of the cats decided to charge the line. I did an Oscar-winning sapling imitation while
The tigers walked us back to their enclosure, and at that point, we were given a lecture on How To Wash A Tiger.
Listen up, folks, because you never know when you might need this bit of information. Beginning at the tail, you hose down the animal with one hand while brushing dirt off the fur with the other hand. Clearly, it’s easier to wash Cormo fleece, mainly because it lacks teeth and claws. Also, it is difficult to spin tiger fur, especially if it’s still attached to the animal.
Here's a close-up of the tail-washing process.
Then proceed up the body and finish with a through face-washing.
We repeated the walking/swim experience with year-old tigers, which are rather larger than the three-month-old cats and have Really Big Teeth.
I indulged in a bit of meaningless conversation with our companion—you know—Nice Kitty! Great Teeth! Humans Taste Terrible!
The experience was surreal and indescribable.
On the way back to
We visited the tiny, poignant museum and read the terrible history of the
Tomorrow we are off to