Another Day In Paradise…Not
• Sheraton Dongguan Hotel
• Cinese Hotel
• Gladden Hotel Fenggang
• Metropolitan Hotel Dongguan
Lek is complaining. “You haven’t come over for my birthday for ages! Will I see you this time?“
It’s true. In all the years I’ve known Lek and her family, I’ve probably only attended one, and that was years ago.
“Mmmm, okay, maybe this time, seeing it’s a public holiday.”
“Great. Come early, as I’d like to go to the temple to ‘Tum Boon’ (make merit – this involves giving some food and a donation to the monks and needs to be done before their midday meal). You can buy us lunch after that.” I laugh. She laughs too.
“Okay, done. I’ll be there early.”
Now Lek’s actually quite a good cook, and I’ve had a few meals over at her place. I think she was just looking for an excuse to go out, and I’m it.
I get up to her place reasonably early on the appointed day. There’s a whole pile of footwear outside her front door, so I expect a bit of a crowd. Yup, her son is back from the military, and his girlfriend is over too. Her daughter is also there, and a couple of kids from next door who’ve come to watch the latest programs on TV. Lek comes out of the kitchen to greet me. I indicate the crowd of kids. “I’ve had the small satellite dish installed,“ she smiles, ”and it’s better than paying a monthly fee for the local cable services, which is hopeless these days. It’s a one-time payment, and will pay for itself in less than two years.” Mmmm. Local Thai programming only, no English language channels. You get what you pay for, but she’s happy with it.
After I get that, she brings the food out. It’s already been put in a multi-layer food carrier, and joins a small Buddha statue and a bouquet of flowers on the table.
“Do you have an envelope? I’ve run out.”
“Yes, I usually keep some in the car. Hang on.” She puts in a couple of hundred baht notes. This is for the donation to the temple.
Lek is a bit worried about the rubber trees on her plantation. There has not been any rain over in Chonburi for some months now. She admits to not having been there for a while, too, as her mother next door is not too well and is now bedridden. It was just over a year ago that I remember seeing the mother feeling her way around the next-door compound (her mother is blind). The wheelchair became a necessity a few months previously, fortunately provided by the village fund. These days, Lek says, she needs the adult diapers all the time and hasn’t the strength to get up anymore. It’s distressing, and the cost of the diapers can run up to quite a bit.
“We’d better leave before the monks want to start their midday meal,” says Lek, as she hurries her daughter up. Her son will take the motorbike and meet us later for lunch with his girlfriend. We load the stuff into the car; last to go in is a plastic bag with nine fish fingerlings, then off to the temple we go.
“It’s a small temple. I always try to look for the places that need the charity, not the bigger ones that already have too much.” We are ushered into the main pavilion; we’re the only ones at the temple apart from the monks. When all is ready a monk comes in to receive the food and donation. When asked why, Lek simply says, “It’s my birthday.”
The Buddha statue is being donated for a different reason. Her daughter suffers from severe migraines, so its donation, coupled with the monk’s chanting, is hoped to relieve the suffering.
I get a severe cramp in my left leg from trying to sit it out.
Once out of the temple, we head for a nearby klong (irrigation canal). Lek reasons that this is the better place to release the fish as opposed to the pond in the temple as the fish would be free. We walk down the embankment, where Lek and her daughter open the plastic bag and release the fish. One comes back up to the surface for a moment before submerging again. “Look!’ exclaims Lek. “It has come to say thank you for being released!” And off she goes to the nearby sala (Thai-style gazebo) to dispose of the plastic bag. She has a smile and a few quick words with the two old ladies resting there; I smile too because I have noticed the spontaneous camaraderie in the rural communities that is all too sadly missing in the capital.
“Off to lunch! Your treat!” I grin.
We meet up with her son at a local ‘suki’ restaurant. This is very popular with the locals and can be found in practically every shopping center. It consists of a large pot of clear soup, to which you add your choice of fresh vegetables, meat fish, dumplings – and once cooked, is dished out to one and all, the cycle repeated until everyone is sated. It is also quite an inexpensive meal for a large party.
The kids want to go off on their own after the meal, so I tell Lek I’ll send her back before I go see another friend in the same area. When we arrive back at her place, her nephew next door comes out and has a quick word with her. She looks at me. “Wait a minute” and goes in. She comes out less than a minute later. “My mother is very bad, I think we need to take her to the hospital”. Okay. They bring her out on the wheelchair, she’s gasping for breath. One look tells me that if she’s not in hospital in the next fifteen minutes she’d probably be done for. Fortunately the roads were good and it was only ten minutes and two traffic signals away from the provincial hospital.
It may have been a public holiday, but when I drove into the emergency lane, the orderlies had her out of the car and into the emergency room really quickly.
By the time I’d parked the car and come back, her mother was being seen to. Lek’s already sitting outside, waiting to see what the doctors on duty would decide. She was also really angry with her stepfather. “He could have brought her here first, but, no, he wouldn’t. Someone even came over with transport and he said it was not necessary and sent them away. If we hadn’t gone back when we did it might have been too late!” (Some expletives deleted)
She gets called back in. While she’s in there, I take a look around. There are about twenty people there, most sitting in the waiting area, and two or three on trolleys. One trolley catches my attention. There’s a teenage looking guy on the trolley, with orange shorts and a dark tee shirt. He almost looks as if he’s asleep, except for the fact that there was gauze over his mouth and… nose? No-one else seemed to pay too much attention either.
Just about then, Lek comes out, followed by her mother being wheeled out on a trolley. A nurse is using a plastic squeeze-bulb-type device to assist with her breathing. “She’s being warded. We’re going for an x-ray now”. I follow. Within less than an hour, they’ve found a bed for her and she’s been medicated and hooked up to a machine that assists with her breathing.
Not bad at all for a government provincial hospital on a public holiday. What’s even more interesting is that she does not have to pay a single baht for this – treatment for the blind is free of charge no matter what or for how long.
Lek calls her sister (who lives in a different province) while I’ve gone back to her place to get what she needs to stay overnight at the hospital. When I get back, she says her sister will be there the next evening, but would have to pawn her TV in order to have enough to travel. “She never has any money; if she has it she will spend it on stupid things. But I can trust her, unlike some of the others.” She knows it’s going to be a long stay in hospital.
I meet up with my other friend after taking leave of Lek. He knows her too, and is aware of her family situation. He just shakes his head but does not say much. It is considered bad manners to criticise someone else’s family.
I try to call her every day and enquire after her mother. When I finally get her two days later, she sounds tired. Yes, her sister is there. She has yet to see the inside of her house. She forgot the phone battery charger; her son has just got a freshly charged one from home. Besides, you can’t just plug your charger into any outlet – it is a government hospital so they are few and far between.
She says she almost lost her mother the second night. When the doctor asked if they should try to resuscitate her should her heart fail, Lek just said, no. If she can’t survive without artificial support, what’s the use? She can’t go home.
They gave her a couple of injections, and had her stabilised, but her condition has deteriorated since then.
Now I was curious as to why someone always had to be in attendance, whether a relative or someone else. Lek explained: The hospital staff are few and far between; they have their duties. You cannot expect them to hand-feed every patient, clean their bedpans, turn them over.. they have enough to do as is. If I don’t help, or my relatives won’t help, I have to hire someone to do this. It is a normal practice in the (at least) government hospitals. Many nurses earn extra money by caring for patients outside of their official duties. This is why I would try to be here, at least my mother is aware that I am here. The least I can do is comfort her, if nothing else. Her other children, from my stepfather, ungrateful lot, came, took a look, and went off. Didn’t bother to help, or expected me to pay them to stay, just because I managed to put aside some money for my daughter’s future studies. Never mind, at least those who have sacrificed and helped out cannot be accused of neglect, which is Tum Boon in itself.
It’s going to be a long stay.
Isn't is funny that in a country where being there for your family is considered one of the cornerstones of society that the old duck's family neglected her?