It's time for Vacation Travel Tips, the feature whose motto is: "Don't let your summer vacation fun be spoiled by a grenade attack!" This year my No. 1 tip is aimed specifically at those of you who are planning to take your sum-mer vacations in Thailand. The tip is as follows: Watch out.
I'm not saying don't go to Thailand. Thailand is a lovely country; in fact, the word "Thailand" means, literally, "land of Thai." I have never personally been there, but I have seen several pictures of it in National Geographic (unless that was India). Also, I often eat at my local Thai restaurant, where I always order an entree called "volcano chicken," a traditional Thai dish made from a type of chicken that is extremely spicy. On Thai farms, this chicken has to be kept away from the other animals, because every now and then it goes "Cluck!" and bursts into flame. So you should never eat it without beer.My point is that I love Thailand, and you should definitely vacation there. But you should be aware of an alarming Associated Press news story, sent in by alert reader Brian Kinney, concerning a tragic incident that occurred in Thailand because of gangs fighting over - I swear I am not making this up - bat dung. According to the article, some villagers in an area northeast of Bangkok had been "gathering bat dung in a mountain cave," and when they emerged from the cave "with seven sacks of valuable dung," somebody threw a grenade at them. The story states that Thai police "believe rival dung gatherers were behind the attack." Unfortunately, the story does not answer any of the questions that immediately spring to mind, namely:
1. Is there a rock band called "Rival Bat Dung Gatherers"?
2. Why not?
Seeking to "get to the bottom" of this story, I made an intensive effort to contact the Thai authorities by looking up "Thailand" in the Greater Miami telephone directory. There was a listing for "Thailand Honorary Consulate," but when I called it, I got one of those automated answering systems, which offered seven menu choices, not one of which, if you can believe it, involved bat dung. (There also was no choice for Volcano Chicken.)
So my advice to you is: Go to Thailand! Have fun! But under NO circumstances should you do anything that might give gang members - who could be lurking anywhere - the impression you are planning to gather bat dung. Wherever you go - restaurants, markets, hotels, temples - every few minutes, you should turn to your traveling companion and remark, in a loud voice: "I have no intention of gathering bat dung!" If you have no traveling companion, make a puppet with your hand and talk to it. (Secretary of State Madeleine Albright does this all the time.) Otherwise, have a great time in Thailand, and don't worry about a thing!
Our next Vacation Travel Tip comes from an article in the April 1998 issue of Discover magazine, which was alertly sent in by many readers. The article concerns important research being done at the University of Western Ontario by an insect scientist (or, technically, an "insect scientist") named Stanley Caveney, who is studying an amazing insect called the skipper caterpillar. According to the article, the skipper caterpillar has the ability to shoot "fecal pellets" a distance of - get ready - SIX FEET. The purpose of this ability is to evade predatory wasps, which locate the caterpillar by zeroing in on the smell of feces. Dr. Caveney has determined that the skipper caterpillar has a sophisticated launching mechanism in its rear end (or, technically, "butt") that involves a buildup of blood pressure until, as Dr. Caveney puts it, "the whole thing explodes, firing the pellet through the air." I bet you're thinking what I'm thinking: Wouldn't it be terrific if we could train these caterpillars to serve as fiercely loyal watchbugs, protecting senior citizens in high-crime areas?
MUGGER: Hand over your money and your dentures!
SENIOR CITIZEN: Get him, Rex!
I think "Skipper Caterpillar" would be a very strong concept for a children's Saturday-morning TV cartoon show, with numerous spin-off merchandising possibilities, including an action figure with Realistic Launching Action. But that is not my main point. My main point is this: If you are planning to take your summer vacation in an area frequented by skipper caterpillars, watch out. I tried to find out where these areas are by contacting Dr. Caveney, but - incredibly - the University of Western Ontario is not listed in the Greater Miami telephone directory.
So your best bet is to assume, no matter where you are, that at any moment you could be hit by a high-speed caterpillar doot, followed, seconds later, by predatory wasps. Other than that, have a fun, fun, fun summer vacation, always bearing in mind that "The Fecal Pellets" would be an excellent name for a rock band.