Harp and Story

Another Irreverent Look at Cultural Differences

Pull That Tooth, You Say?!

This is the last Thailand post, for a while anyway as we are headed back to Australia on Tuesday… and this time we are at the beach in Pataya sipping “Land of Smiles” drink (a delightful concoction served to you in a whole pineapple topped with one of those ubiquitous umbrellas) on the open air veranda of the hotel.  Two out of our three weeks at Bamboo School I have been ill with some undiagnosed ailment, first thought was Dengue Fever, then viral infection, then severe allergies with horrible sinus infection, then parasitic pneumonia; the good news is that I am recovering thanks in large part to our trusty blood electrifier and chlorite capsules and prayer.

Before I begin this post I want to say that I am sure there are many good and reputable dentists in Thailand.  This tongue-in-cheek tale, (pun intended), is in no way meant to impinge those good dentists character or reputations.  I would say to you who might be contemplating medical tourism of any nature just be sure and do your research to help you find the most reputable doctor/clinic for your particular need.

I wanted to get some dental work done while in Thailand.  I need two crowns replaced, plus a few other things and prices here are a third of what it would cost me in the States so I did some research and found a highly recommended dental clinic in Bangkok that agreed to see me on the 10th of February.  When I told my husband that I had an appointment, he looked at me questioningly and said, “are you sure you want to do this again?”  He was referring to my last and only other experience with dentistry in Thailand.  Well, I fell sick the evening of the 8th, rescheduled the appointment for the 18th and when I couldn’t even make that appointment, my sweet husband said to me, “it might just be for the best.”  I was disappointed to say the least.  But now to help fill in the story, let me tell you about my first experience with Thailand dentistry.  I was going to give you a comparison experience, but we’ll just have to settle for a one-opinioned point-of-view!

Two years ago when we were helping out at Bamboo School I had a molar that was giving me grief; as it was one of my “wisdom” teeth, my thought was to just have it pulled.  I asked our friend Cat to point me in the direction of a dentist.  She recommended a dental clinic at a hospital in Bangkok.  I called and made an appointment. We got up around 2a.m. on the appointed day so as to get into Bangkok before traffic built and everything came to a grinding halt.  Arrived at the hospital about 6a.m, had breakfast in the cafeteria and then waited in the lobby until the dental lounge opened at 9a.m.  I was impressed with the dental offices waiting room, very clean, nicely decorated and comfortable; the staff was courteous and helpful and had a decent command of the English language.  So far so good I thought!  Just a few minutes after 10:00 the assistant to the dentist I was scheduled to see came into the lobby and called for me.  I obediently got up and went to her when I heard my name called.  So many scriptures come to my mind as I write this, one in particular, “as sheep being led to the slaughter,” is the most prominent!

We walked down one hallway and I caught glimpses of spacious examining rooms with modern equipment and all the amenities that make a visit to the dentist a relaxing, put-you-at-ease type of experience.  But did we stop at any of these rooms? No! The large spacious hallway made a turn and we entered a slightly narrower hallway with still more exam rooms; the color had turned from a soothing tan and brown to a blue.  If you think of grades that you used to get in school with an “A” being the best, we had now entered the “B” grade.  The exams rooms were still nice, definitely not as plush as Grade A, but still good.  OK, I thought, I can still do this.  But alas, school was catching up with me as the hallway made yet another turn and once again became narrower and the paint a bit more dingy, the exams rooms smaller and more sparsely furnished.  Finally after one more turn the assistant showed me into my exam room.  School was never hard for me; therefore I rarely applied myself to diligent effort.  If I liked a class I did well in it and if I didn’t like the class I didn’t apply myself; I see the error of that kind of thinking now that I am in my elder years, but walking into that Grade “D” dental suite all the years of school folly caught up to me in one big whoosh.  Payback time!

Still like a silly sheep I sat in the dental chair – which reminded me of the dental chair and office I went to as a child, things not having changed much in 50 years – when I was told to, took off my glasses when requested, sat up for the bib to be tied around my neck, swished my mouth with water and waited patiently for the dentist. Presently she came in, a tall Asian woman with a good command of English.  “What do you want done,” she asked me.  I told her the “wisdom” tooth, bottom right was causing me grief and I wanted her to pull it.  She told her assistant to take an x-ray and she left the room.  The assistant came with a heavy lead apron that she placed over me, there was no protective covering for my neck, then positioned the film in my mouth and the camera against my cheek; she ducked out of the room to snap the picture, but had to come back in three times as the camera wouldn’t maintain its position and had to be readjusted.  Finally she got the picture she wanted and after a few minutes the lady dentist came back and said it was a bad idea to pull the tooth as the one on the top would lose its partner to chew against and all that was wrong was that I had a cavity or two.  She’d take care of the cavities and I’d be fine!  Maybe it’s a better analogy to say I was more like the frog in the hot water, with the temperature slowly getting turned up not yet realizing that soon it would be boiling!

I agreed to her plan of action, I had only known good, kind, benevolent dentists my whole life, I didn’t realize that there are dentists who enjoy inflicting pain on poor innocents!  What I am about to relate is true, every word of it, just as it happened, no embellishments, I promise!

The bib I was wearing was flipped up over my face so I couldn’t see anything; there was a round hole though, for accessing my mouth through which the dentist could work.  I was wondering about the anesthesia, when was that going to be administered when I heard the high-pitched whine of the drill.  You’ve got to be kidding, I remember thinking, certainly this woman isn’t going to drill in my mouth without anesthesia!  But that was precisely what she intended.  At that moment I deeply regretted every “D” I had ever gotten in school.  You could have applied yourself, Shirley, it was in you to do so, oh why oh why had I not.  Woe is me, poor soul, my rewards for being a slacker student – a “D” dental room in Thailand!  Take note kids, study, apply yourself, it pays off later in life!

“Why didn’t you just get up and leave,” you might be asking.  Well, I have wondered about that myself and it seems like when I am confronted with some kinds of difficult situations that involve the authority of medical people I just lose my brain and ability to think independently or answer questions intelligently.  It’s the sheep to the slaughter thing…

“Open your mouth,” she says, and I do.  In comes the drill, rrrr, rrrr, I am feeling it, things are getting sensitive, when suddenly she takes the drill out of my mouth and grabs my cheek with her thumb and fore-finger and begins to shake me.  “Relax your jaw,” she scolds me, “Relax your jaw!”  When I, under sheer force of will relax my jaw enough to please her, she goes back to her drilling.  It doesn’t take long before in an exasperated tone of voice she once again firmly grasps my cheek between her thumb and fore-finger and shakes me demanding that I relax my jaw!  I am not a violent person, but I did want to relax her jaw about then! 

Oh Father in Heaven, what did I get myself in to! I prayed as I valiantly attempted to obey her commands in an attempt to reduce further injury to my tenderized cheek.  Three times she stopped her drill and grabbed my cheek and repeatedly throughout the procedure she beleaguered me with her demands.

The assistant seemed to have forgotten what her responsibilities were as she neglected to keep my mouth suctioned.  During some part of the ordeal I was ordered to “not hump my tongue” which was an impossible task with my mouth filling up with tooth drillings and water.  The assistant finally realized her negligence and got the suction working – that helped, and soon the lady dentist finished her drilling, finished her yelling, and proceeded to filling. 

Tap, Tap, everything good?  I can make you a bridge, she said, you know for that hole in your mouth…

I dumbly shook my head yes, and consented to a bridge for that hole in my mouth, (Which BTW I don’t use, it never really fit right, but the price was good for all that that counts); I have got to learn how to say “no” to medical authority, maybe that’s why I usually avoid them… she wanted to do my crowns, but I was out of money, which is sometimes a good thing…to be out of money that is.

I was ready to get up from her chair; things weren’t good, but she’d had enough of me and I was finished.  I have often thought what it would have been like if she had actually done what I originally requested and pulled my tooth.  I guess they used to do it without anesthesia!

Was it any wonder then that my husband said, “are you sure you want to do this again?!”

Maybe that’s why I got sick, maybe God was looking out for me after all!

 

An Irreverent Look at Cultural Differences

Toilet Training   

This is quite a departure from what I normally write, but please allow me this little retreat with good humor, we’ll get back to the serious stuff, soon, I promise, maybe after I tell you about dentistry in the developing world first, but for now just in case you might be thinking we are laying around on some beach somewhere sipping margaritas…

For some time I have joked about publishing a book on bathrooms around the world.  My obsessed interest in this subject started with my first trip to China.  I had absolutely no idea that not all toilets were the traditional sit down kind like is common in my home country of America.  You know the type – a stool about knee height with a wide enough lidded hole that you can properly sit on and spend a comfortable amount of time waiting to complete what you came into the bathroom to do.  A handle to push that flushes away your business and a lid to put down that covers the hole up – that’s my kind of toilet.  Anyway, was I in for a shock when I discovered that not all toilets are the same.  Walking down the Chang ang Lu in Beijing we stopped in at a fancy hotel to use their bathroom facilities; I opened a door to a toilet stall and what met my surprised eyes was a hole in the floor surrounded by a ceramic ring.  How was I supposed to use that thing? And another thing about toilet culture in other countries is the lack of toilet paper.  You either have to bring your own or pay someone for a few sheets of generally pink or blue scratchy stuff that is supposed to pass for soft and absorbent?

In the years since we started traveling abroad I have encountered many different toilet situations; from straddling a tiled trench watching all the remains of previous toilet goers pass between my feet when our guide pushed the flush handle, (before I was finished, mind you!), to sitting on the “throne” in Tokyo, Japan’s International Airport deciding which music I wanted to listen to as I studied the control panel of the toilet chair; water music, anyone?  I think the selections were meant to help cover up your own body noise!

By far and away the most common toilet in countries that we seem to travel to are what is referred to as squat pots.  Unlike China’s hole flat on the floor with a ceramic ring around the hole; squat pots, where we are now in Thailand, are raised affairs usually one or two steps up then a ceramic bowl, similar to a men’s urinal, but lying flat on the raised platform.  There are places on the side of the pot for you to put your feet and after having assumed the position you squat.  This is fine for people with good knees!  All the rest of us plan on groaning a bit!!

Our hut at Bamboo School has an in suite bathroom this year, a new addition since our last visit.  No more having to run to the toilet block in the night hoping there aren’t any night creatures lurking about waiting to take advantage of your vulnerabilities!  Bamboo School does have a western type toilet, but in our hut it is the squat pot.  I will use a squat pot when I absolutely have to, but it is not my preferred choice!

Our hut's in suite bathroom at Bamboo School.
Our hut’s in suite bathroom at Bamboo School.

Squat pots come with a reservoir of water (a bucket in our bathroom) for personal hygiene and flushing.  The standard method is to take a dipper full of water and splash yourself to clean up and then a dipper full or two of water to pour into the pot to flush. I’ve never gotten into the whole wet bottom, wet knickers thing; Steve, my husband, says you dry rather quickly, but it all seems a bit squishy to me.  Anyway, this year I am forced, because of sheer practicality and convenience to adapt to the new set-up.

The cement walls of our in suite bathroom are fairly close, this is a good thing as you can steady yourself by leaning your hands on the walls while you are in the squatted position.  The other morning I went to use the facilities and not realizing the ceramic pot was wet from a previous flush – guess who – for it is quite common when pouring the dipperful of water into the pot that some gets splashed around the stand-on portion, I stepped up to assume the position and swish, swoosh I slipped off the pot… Ow!!  Ceramic is slippery when it is wet!  The fall came at a really inconvenient time as boiled morning glory with rice, a favorite dish of the kids here at Bamboo School, is a powerful laxative for me…  While I was trying to clean up Steve came into the hut and noticing my struggles said, “why don’t you just splash a little water up there?  Look, when I’ve got to poo I take off my pants and jocks that makes it way easier.”

“But,” I retorted back, “you get your hands all yucky.”

“Just wash them really good after,” came back his reply as he left the hut and me to my situation.

I was getting short on toilet paper anyway, which is another thing, most of the toilets around the world have posted signs warning you not to flush the paper; when you have flushed the paper down with all the rest of it all your life it is a bit of relearning to get use to putting the used paper in the bin instead of the toilet!  At Bamboo School it is no different, all waste paper goes in the bin to be carried out to the burn pile on a daily or whenever I feel like it basis.

I am getting better at the whole squat pot thing; sometimes I forget the protocol, usually when we’ve had morning glory and I’m in a bit of a hurry, but mostly now there are two dressings in the morning, one before breakfast and one after.  I still haven’t gotten to where I am comfortable with the squishy, wet knickers thing, so it’s good to have a towel around, you know, for finishing!

The System Is Up and Running!

Steve prepares the tray for the grow beds.
Steve prepares the tray for the grow beds.

Grow beds are painted and waiting.

Grow beds are painted and waiting.

Steve is making the siphon valves for the grow beds.

Steve is making the siphon valves for the grow beds.

The first washed gravel is put in the grow beds.

The first washed gravel is put in the grow beds.

Working on the plumbing.
Working on the plumbing.
Setting up the fish tank.
Setting up the fish tank.
The System is complete; Momo and Steve check it out
P Tong brings 200 fish for the aqua-ponics system.  Momo Cat and Steve look on the newest acquisitions. Steve and Momo talk fish with Tong. 198 fingerling Talapia swimming happily in their new home.
The girls finish the trellis for the cucumbers.
The girls finish the trellis for the cucumbers.

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Thank you Bamboo School!  We are looking forward to our next trip to Thailand!!

Putting It All Together

We went to Bangkok yesterday, always a long and tiring journey. We did find the few needed items to finish putting together the aqua-ponics system for Bamboo School.

Bamboo School boys level the hillside for the aqua-ponics system.

Bamboo School boys level the hillside for the aqua-ponics system.
Cleaning the glue out of the IBC totes - GO Girls!
Cleaning the glue out of the IBC totes – GO Girls!

The boys had leveled off the hillside on Sunday and the girls had worked on scrubbing out the IBC totes.

Momo Cat and Matthew scrub out the fish tank.
Momo Cat and Matthew scrub out the fish tank.

Matthew and Momo cleaned out the last of the glue in the tote for the fish Tuesday morning before we left for the city. Steve is plumbing today and the boys who are not in school, (they arrived after the Thai government school began their semester and Thailand does not allow for late arrivals), these boys are carrying up gravel from a pile at the clinic and then washing it here by the bathroom block before it gets put in the cut-down totes.

Conagee and Matthew wash gravel for the Aqua-ponics grow beds.
Conagee,  Matthew and Eric wash gravel for the Aqua-ponics grow beds.

I think maybe they wish they were in school after-all!

The grow beds are almost ready for gravel.
The grow beds are almost ready for gravel.

Coming back to the school last night from our trip to Bangkok, about 1:00 a.m., the entire rear, passenger side, (for those of us who drive on the correct side of the road that would be the driver’s side rear!), wheel assembly flew off the ambulance. We felt a bump and then heard a grinding, knocking noise and then like a flat tire and within milli-seconds the axel was dragging on the road. Thankfully, we had slowed down for a very rough railroad crossing so our speed was maybe 35 when the tire left the car. Cat was driving and managed to drag the car to more or less the side of the road. At first we thought we had a flat and we’d just change the tire, but upon closer inspection two of the lug bolts that hold the wheel to the axel had shired off. Steve went looking for our missing parts and much further back up the road he found the wheel with tire still inflated, and one of the lug bolts with the nut still attached. Cat is going to have to get a new rim, for that one is pretty damaged. The truck skirting got pulled in and dented up when the tire made its escape as well. Soon two Patrol Police pulled up on their motorcycle and then two policemen in a Toyota Hillux came and stopped before the railroad tracks providing a road block for us complete with flashing lights. Cat, even after all her years in Thailand doesn’t speak fluent Thai and we don’t speak Thai at all, so it was quite amusing trying to communicate what happened. The police thought Steve was the driver and had fallen asleep at the wheel – one officer gave him an “energy drink” to wake him up. Steve kept trying to tell him that he didn’t need it, but they were insistent, so he finally drank it. Uug! That satisfied them. Cat called Tooey back at the school and she ended up speaking with the policeman in a three-way conversation; Cat telling her the story, she translating it for the policeman and then telling Cat what the policemen were saying. The long and the short of the night was: Tooey drove the other ambulance down to pick us up and the police called a “tow truck” to take our car to the police station. The tow truck was a Mazda pick-up with a lift mounted in the bed. It did the job, we were thankful. We got back to Bamboo School around 4:00 a.m. Didn’t get up for 5:15 worship this morning though!

Today’s trivia:  Malarial mosquitoes only come out between the hours of sunset to sunrise, that’s why we sleep under mosquito netting in malaria infested areas of which Bong Ti is one such area.  Some varieties of daytime mosquitoes carry denge fever and chickkundungyah (sp) fever – neither one of which would make your day!  Have a good one!!

Our Home Sweet Home at Bamboo School.
Our Home Sweet Home at Bamboo School.