Posted by: facetothewind | June 12, 2013

We now rejoin the northern hemisphere summer already in progress

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Continuing on the big journey, I left the gray and cold of the New Zealand winter for sunny Thailand. You know what I love about a long international flight? It’s a chance to sit in one place without Internet and be fed and wined while I watch movies. So when they tell me it’s a 14 hour flight, I’m like, “Is that all? Bring it on!” I can watch about 7 movies on a flight like that. I can drool on myself while slumped in my seat with earphones falling off my head. Good times.

This is the 747 on Thai Airways. I had pretty much the whole rear of the plane to myself. I swear there were only about 100 people on the entire jet. Bad news for the environment! And bad for the airline but when you’re stuck, what can you do except kick back and enjoy the ride? I had 4 seats to lounge on and they kept pouring me more wine and beer. I ate Xanax and watched Goldfinger, Planet of the Apes and some dumb English romantic comedy called I Give it a Year. Small things like watching Goldfinger delight me. Man, wasn’t Sean Connery a babe?

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And then of course there was Pussy Galore. How can you not love Pussy Galore and her crack flying crew. Don’t you wonder what her middle name was? And jeez, this movie was released in 1964, the year of my birth. It’s a timepiece with a mixed message of women’s liberation and subjugation. Pussy is in charge and she’s tough. But 007 has to seduce her against her will and finally she surrenders in a haystack and then she is magically converted from evil to good. You even get to see the original Colonel Sanders signs in it.

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Touchdown and now I’m in Bangkok doing the usual medical stuff. Just a refresher for those of you new to my life, Thailand is where I come to get decent medical care. I cannot afford medical insurance in the US and so I get on a plane with Pussy Galore and hours later I land in medical heaven.

Here’s how the day begins on the back of a motorcycle taxi driving on the left side of the road. Often the motorcycles will drive on the right side (which here is the WRONG side). For a moment all seems right until you realize that to avoid traffic they’re heading into oncoming traffic and the only thing between you and the grill of another car is a skinny little Thai guy who won’t make much of an airbag upon collision. It’s best to just close your eyes or busy yourself with the scenery rather than to try to tell a Thai taxi driver to slow down. The ride to the hospital costs $1.50 USD.

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Then I arrive at Bangkok National Hospital and the guards in white salute me. I don’t know why they do this. I’m in tatty old shirt and shorts and arrive on a motorcycle, not in a Bentley. It’s not like this is a military hospital, but they salute. And when in doubt you smile. I think they’re appealing to an upmarket crowd who get a little tingle in their dingle if someone salutes them. OK, I felt the tingle but it could have been the vibrations from the motorcycle engine.

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And just in case you are provincial enough to think that America has the best medical care in the world, think again. Yes, America has the best medical care in the country. Look, the richest people in the world, the Saudi Royal family, can afford to go anywhere they damn well please for medical care. And where do you think they go? Bangkok. So here is Bangkok National Hospital where I go when I’m feeling flush. It looks like a fancy hotel without the piano.

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I register at the front desk and they ask me what I want today and I say, to see a dermatologist, an orthopedist, and I need a blood test for various things. Oh, and I need to see the dentist. Within minutes someone resembling a Thai Pussy Galore is escorting me in high heels to my first appointment. By minutes I mean less than 5. I get another salute at the top of the escalator and then then I am handed off to the internist. I sit down, open the paper and before I can finish the first paragraph they call my name, “Mister David” and then I’m chatting with the doctor. I ask how much it costs for a cholesterol and testosterone test. She has the exact figure and tells me. BTW, the doctor’s consult is $15 USD.

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Next stop, the Dermatology and Beauty Center. Good lord, I hope I don’t have to call her by name. (And we thought German words were long.) I just flash her name on my appointment card and within minutes I’ve learned that Chara is a man and I’m on the table with a team of people towering over me and chattering in a language I don’t understand discussing my issue. Today, though, I got priced out of the deluxe hospital and so I took a walk up the road past the steamy woks cooking lunch on the street to another hospital: Bangkok Christian. I got a second opinion. BNH wanted to charge me 30,000 Thai Baht to do all my derm work. That’s close to $1,000. At Bangkok Christian, I had all the work done for about $200 USD.

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The doctors all speak perfect and complete English and were mostly trained guess where? The US. The nurses and admin staff all speak really good basic English as well. Then there are the copious other staff who just smile at you. Anyway, half a day at the hospital, a couple hundred dollars later and I’m heading out for a motorcycle taxi with bandages flying in the wind. Navigating the Thai medical system wouldn’t be for everyone for everything. You have to have a little taste for adventure and a burning desire to save money. If you don’t mind comparative shopping with your health care costs and you like Thai food and a good Pussy Galore movie, come on down. You’ll have a little chuckle at the cashier at the end of the day, if you can smile without popping your stitches. But if you love a good mystery regarding doctor’s charges, savor some insurance claim denials, and enjoy long waits for specialists, best to stay stateside.

A little bit of Bangkok goes a long way…

It is not a pedestrian friendly city and I’ve never seen anyone in a wheelchair. I’ve never seen anyone in a phone booth either so of course they had to put on right in the middle of the sidewalk. Why? Because it’s Thailand.

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It’s not pedestrian friendly unless you’re a peacock out for a stroll.

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And here is my hotel room for $20 USD. I know it looks like Sheena Easton’s boudoir circa 1984 or something. The mattress is hard as a slab of marble which is why I use 1/3 of my luggage space toting around an inflatable sleeping pad. Traveling in Asia rule #1: Bring a sleeping pad.

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And now I’m at this moment listening to end-of-the-world-loud banging and masonry drilling on the wall next to me. It’s enough to vibrate me off my chair. Traveling in Asia rule #2: Bring earplugs and sleeping pills.

There really is no peace in Bangkok. Thais are by nature noisy people. “It’s too quiet in here, I can’t sleep” is their credo. As much as I love the food and the medical care here, the city is really a pretty dreadful city strangled by car and motorcycle traffic with the garbled roar of tuk tuks permeating every steamy alley. It’s tolerable only in a monsoon and I’ve enjoyed a few since I’ve been here. The city is cleansed and for a moment nature overpowers all that is manmade. Streets flow with water, frogs make strange moaning noises in filthy ditches and the smell of fish and feces and pine cleaner are washed away. The white noise of the rain pouring down on tin roofs calms the nerves of this city and people duck for cover under street vendor umbrellas.

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And I slip into a cozy little open air restaurant for a $2 cocktail and $3 dinner by myself.

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Don’t ask for any complicated cocktails in Thailand. The Thai drink menu is set at about 1978. Above I’m drinking a screwdriver — OJ and vodka. Nothing can go wrong with that. The martini craze in America? Never heard of it here. Once with Sebastian, we ordered a greyhound which they called a ‘gayhound.’ I watched them behind the bar furiously flipping through bar recipe books to no avail. I beckoned them over and said, “It’s just grapefruit juice and vodka,” thinking that was so simple, how could it go wrong? It’s one of my favorite cocktails — simple, fresh and not too sweet. Well, what arrived was purple and painfully sweet. It was grape (fruit) juice and vodka and tasted like cough syrup with codeine.

So Traveling in Asia rule #3: Don’t get all fancy pants with people here. Order what is on the menu and don’t tinker with it or you will get the Asian food surprise like this…

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I asked for a chicken sandwich. It was not on the menu but I wanted something with bread instead of rice. Mea culpa. So I got a piece of bread with tomato slices. So far so good but then it gets weird: hard boiled egg slices go on top of that and then pieces of chicken curry are spooned on top of it all and of course a little flower garnish to accent the French fries which are battered in rice flour. It was ALL wonderfully delicious and I’m not complaining — Thai people know how to cook. As Masaya says, Thais are all about finessing the sensual arts: eating, massage, looking pretty and having lots of sex. But they’re not about connoisseurship or producing anything with exacting detail on time. Leave that to Westerners (and the Japanese).

OK, sigh. It’s a bit lonely traveling by myself, but after all the ugliness of the S&T divorce in New Zealand, I have to say I’m enjoying being in an empty hotel by myself surrounded by a language I don’t understand. I am wonderfully immune to all bickering here. I am discovering perhaps for the first time the beauty (not yet the joy) of being alone. As the years click by and the various friends and lovers issue forth and recede in my life, I think Johnny Cash nailed it with his song, I Still Miss Someone. Sometimes I don’t know who I’m missing, but someone for sure.

The monsoon is now raging outside the hotel and has drowned out all other noises. I’m thoroughly enjoying being warm again and in a place where I can afford a cocktail. This is the beauty of Thailand.

I leave Bangkok Friday. Next stop: Chiang Mai and Pai.

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Responses

  1. Wow, having been with you in Bangkok a few years ago, I know just how overwhelming, hot, steamy, and noisy that city is. What I didn’t know what how a monsoon calmed everything down. Sounds like Florida, only more so. I miss Thai food and the way everyone takes a second to acknowledge each person’s humanity — make eye contact, make human contact — before speaking. Just last week I broke out a beautiful gray-blue Nepalese scarf I bought in Pai a few years back. I love it. Please bring me more…

  2. Great prose, photos, and personal insights. I love staying in hotel rooms by myself. It is the ultimate in enjoying my own solitude -very rewarding. Have a good time in the phase of the journey. Love, Nancy


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