tiger in thailand

White Boys and Tigers and Planes, Oh My!

Thailand. The land of the elephant. My destination this winter break. A whirlwind of conservation and ecology. Here are my thoughts.

What does it mean for me, as an American kid, to come over and play Indiana Jones for three weeks in the Western Forest Complex? What If I’d just sent my $5,000 USD (~160,000 Thai Bhat) to the researchers at the station instead? If I really want to do some good for tigers (my program’s title was “Thailand: Tiger Conservation and Vertebrate Field Methods”), wouldn’t that be better?

I’m some newbie white kid who hasn’t put any effort into learning the language or culture, and I expect to be taught. Because that’s what I paid for, right? At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter to me if any tigers get conserved as long as I get to put Field Experience on my resume. I collect crap data, make pretty PowerPoints, and drink plenty of beer at night. I ride in the back of a 4×4 truck, camp in a tent, throw my toilet paper in the trash (how foreign!), and above all else, take pictures of everything. If I can squeeze an extra Facebook like out of a new profile picture of me hugging a Thai child, score!

Making you squirm yet? I hope so. Maybe I haven’t put it bluntly enough: how can I reconcile the idea of a conservation trip with its reality? When just getting me into the country and back produces four and a half metric tons of CO2 (greater than the global per capita yearly average of four tons), what can I possibly do to rectify that? I’ve taken time out of the schedules of the top researchers and conservation workers in the region so they can hold my hand as I get down out of the truck. It takes some serious hegemony to normalize that kind of experience.

That is where I was left in the middle of my trip to Thailand this last month, unable to reconcile my immense enjoyment of the trip with the foreboding sense that I was failing some greater moral imperatives. That’s not a fun position to be in.

The only remedy I see lies in conscientious future actions. It seems I’ve taken out a loan on the environment, and the only way to repay it is by ensuring my future actions reflect what I’ve learned.

What have I learned, then, and what do I have to offer? I’m not fully sure yet, on both counts. Still, I have some ideas. First, a cliché New Year’s resolution to shut off the lights, use less water, and buy local. Second, I’m going to talk about conservation issues more, both in my writing and in my everyday life. And third, I’m going to explore what it means to be sustainable in different aspects of human activity and report what I find.

Next up? You guessed it: sustainability in ballroom. I’m interested to see what I find

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