My Thai Therapy
When the number of my years added up to 65 I was obliged to retire from work. The secretary of my CEO warned me: "When you stop working you will fall into a deep black hole." I was happy not to stumble into it, but I missed my daily work routine.
Every day was a Sunday, and I remembered Goethe saying: "Nothing is as hard to bear as a number of fine days." That was my problem now. First I cleared my apartment of all the things I had needed for my work. A new life had to begin.
Next I visited my doctor for a health check-up, the first in a long time. My heart was still going strong enough, so I could travel to Asia as I had planned. But after I had a Computer Tomography of my belly done, my doctor's assistant called
and asked me to come to them at once.
"Look," said the doctor, pointing to a big negative at a light screen, "this is your right kidney, and this here in its middle is something which does not belong there. We must take it out immediately." Doctors have a way not to name cancer by its ugly name, but that was what he meant. Just a few days into retirement and now this. It was complicated surgery and I would need a long time to recover. And then maybe metastases. Asia adieu.
The next day I visited and explored three hospitals which might perform the surgery. I hated each of them at first sight. They were not going to put me on the table. No way.
I was at a loss what to do and needed advice by someone whom I could trust completely. My grown up children were emotionally too involved, from them I expected nothing. Finally I remembered my former Chinese girlfriend, who was a very competent person. When I phoned her she came on the spot. I had the impression that she still was very fond of me but had accepted that fate did not allow us to come together. My news made her very concerned. We discussed my problem for a long time, and she came to the conclusion: "European doctors are much too eager to cut people open, even if it is not necessary. Why do you not consult a Chinese doctor. Maybe he knows another method to heal you."
That convinced me, and moreover, it gave me green light to fly to Asia the next day or the day after. The best Chinese doctors I assumed I would find in Singapore.
In order not to stress my kidney, I decided to fly Business Class and found a reasonably priced seat at Turkish Airlines.
I arrived in Singapore at noon, and after I had checked into my hotel I strolled through the old Chinatown, which had changed over the last 30 years into a kind of artists' Montmartre. At an old building I discovered the name plate "Classical Chinese Massage" written in old style Chinese characters. This reminded me of a myth I had often heard but never verified. The manager stood smoking in front of the door.
I approached him in Chinese: "Excuse me. Do you offer traditional Chinese testicle massage?"
"Yes we do. One hour thirty Sin-Dollar. Please come in." He opened the door for me.
Here I need to explain. I had often read that testicle massage was a two thousand years old Taoist practice to prolong the life of a man, but I had had no idea that it was still practiced today. I had only asked out of curiosity, and now I was going to receive the proof. First I had to change into a pair of those wide red trousers, that also are used in prudish Thai massage. Then I had to lie down on a low massage bed. It was dark in the room. I could not see much of the woman who squatted close to my knees. She avoided eye-contact. Her hands found their way under the red trousers and explored my testicles. At first I was afraid she would hurt me, but she handled me in a very careful way. A strange feeling crept up my spine, but it was not erotic. Suddenly I understood the mechanics of this procedure. It had nothing to do with sex. You have your testicles not only for reproduction; they also contain a lot of different glands that produce hormones your body needs for functioning. In older men these glands become sleepy and reduce their hormone-output. So this massage is a wake-up call for them. I had a cushy feeling now, but not strong enough to arouse me. The sensation was more in the brain: That a woman was touching me there and with a tenderness I had never experienced before. That it was really happening to me and not in a dream in my airplane before landing. All the time her fingers were very tender on me, like playing the slow movement of a Beethoven Sonata. Except that Beethoven never had composed a piece that long. I speculated if it was possible, that the activation of my hormones might scare off my cancer. This gave me new survival courage.
From the balcony of my hotel room one could see many small islands surrounding Singapore. Some of them belonged to Malaysia, some to Indonesia and some to pirates. I had never in my life been in Indonesia, but to most of its neighbouring countries. Now I had still time to make good on this. I discovered a travel agency with the promising name of "Venus Travel", but what they had to offer had nothing to do with their name. Still I booked a ferry ride to one of the big Indonesian islands, with two nights in a beach hotel. The price was ridiculously low. The hotel was excellent, but the beach was covered with plastic bags, bottles and other debris. Everyone plus me used the swimming pool at the side of the hotel.
In the evening I sat on the balcony of my room. The sky was deep black with the stars glittering very bright. I downed a whisky and thought of the famous Western artists and poets who had lived and died in Indonesia. I belonged to them now, even if I was only a minor author. I was one of them, and suddenly I had lost my fear of the future. If I was going to die, it would be here or a similar place and not in a high-tech hospital room, and then all the famous dead authors and artists would be my hosts.
I had not consulted a Chinese doctor, but I knew now what I wanted. There was no need to stay longer in Singapore, as I had many things to regulate at home. My doctor was very angry, when I refused surgery in earnest and ordered me to have a CT every four months. Which I soon forgot about completely.
When I was considering where in South East Asia to put a foot down, I remembered that I knew a Thai lady by the name of Hong, whom I had helped once with a visa problem. It is always good to have a local ally when you are all on your own in a foreign country. I found her telephone number, and yes she remembered me and she would be happy to show me Thailand, whenever I came. I could not depart immediately, because I wanted to participate in the festivities of the fortieth birthday of my eldest son, whom I might never see again, if fate decided it.
So it was with some delay on my side that my big silver bird touched down on Don Muang. My Thai acquaintance discovered me faster than I her. She was a tall woman with a modest demeanour, who had not the slightest resemblance with the typical Thai girl the mongers lust for. As her parents both originated from China, she had not a single drop of Thai blood in her veins, but she was completely Thai educated, including to love her King dearly. Hong had booked for us rooms in a quiet city hotel close to the Elephant building. The rooms had the same kind of free standing air conditioning I had enjoyed in the split-level rooms of the Oriental Hotel, but the price of a room was only 500 Baht. When we sat down in the dining room, I told her that I had a permanent invitation to visit my former boss, who had built a house in Pattaya. Hong had no misgivings about going to Pattaya. She booked us rooms at the top of Pattaya Hill, far away from the nightlife and its temptations. There were not even songtaews around (nowadays called Baht-Busses), to take me downhill.
After the first night I knew that the climate on Pattaya Hill was right for me. Here or nearby I would stay.
We visited my former boss. His house lay behind the railway tracks, a few miles from the sea. He was a generous man, and he had a Thai partner, a woman who was a hairdresser and had rented out her salon to care day and night for my boss. She profited from his generosity in such a way, that his bank had had to protest, even though his monthly pension was close to half a million Baht. She drove a big car, the Camry, and still wanted a Benz. She had become the owner of two songtaews, to earn money with, but the business became expensive when one of her drivers killed a pedestrian and had to be bought free from prison – with the money of my boss. To me she was friendly in face, but with the cold eyes of a snake. Probably she also had a split tongue.
I told my boss that I was going to settle down in or around Pattaya. He welcomed it but warned me that the summers, beginning in April, might be a little too hot for my comfort. I should just rent a place for half a year – October-March – and sit it out.
When this was decided, Hong volunteered to work as a household manager for me all the time when I was in Thailand. This surprised and abashed me. How could I accept it? She didn't need money. Her family was well off. Could it be she felt obliged to me because I had possibly saved her from prison in Germany when she had overstayed her visa? A danger also always present for Farangs in Thailand. Our relationship was one of mutual respect and a shared cultural background. We both read and speak Chinese, but in different dialects, so sometimes it was easier to communicate in English.
"And what will you do," I asked, "When I am out of the country? It is not easy to find a job."
"I can always help out in the family business."
I had not the heart to rebut her, and it would be good to have someone to rely on in a country whose language I did not understand. I consented to give it a try.
I am a high-rise-freak. We searched Pattaya and Jomtien for a place in the sky that we could rent for the next winter. As I wrote in an earlier submission, we decided for the big condo at the end of Jomtien Beach Road, that has luxurious flats.
Living together I found out about her psychological precondition. She came from a family of immigrants, who had thirteen or more children. They were all fed well but did not receive enough parental love. Difficult with such a big number of kids. For her this was a lifetime loss, which to compensate she chose me as a surrogate father. A role that was appropriate for my age. She wanted me to be close to her but not closer than a real father would be. This arrangement had a big advantage. It kept our relationship free of jealousy, which can be deadly for east-west partnerships.
We never came to discuss the question of her remuneration in earnest. Every month that I stayed in Thailand, I gave her the free float of my monthly pension and let her use it at her discretion. This worked fine. Even if I had to convince her, sometimes intricately, that I needed a bottle of Whisky to be bought, which she always opposed, but not because of the price. Of course I might have taken the money for a whisky bottle out of my purse, where I always have some thousand Baht, but this was a question of mutual trust.
April in Thailand was indeed a month too cruel for me. I had to return to cold Europe, where I spent most summers on the Canary Islands in the Atlantic, working on the books that should become the foundation of my posthumous fame. So I hoped.
Returning to Thailand every fall, I discovered that I could write still more creatively here. The author of "Private Dancer", Stephen Leather, recently admitted the same. I began to enjoy my new life after retirement so much that I completely forgot the predicament with my kidney. When at last I had the courage for a new CT, on my kidney was nothing to be seen what did not belong there. I had a new lease on life, with Thailand as its center. Two of my novels with an Asian background are already for sale at Amazon. More should follow. I am convinced that without the winters in Thailand I could now be a heap of white bones. I agree completely with our Australian contributor "Mango" (13/7/2010 "How Thailand Changed my Life"), that this country can activate a healing power, of which western high-tech doctors have no idea.
Don't take this for a fantasy. One of my most stunning experiences is how different my body reacts on one and the same medical drug, whether it is taken here or in Europe. For example: In Europe I am given an ACE drug to support my heart. When swallowing it in Thailand it drives my blood pressure down below the hollows of my knees, until I can hardly lift my head. Which never happened in the West. In Europe I use a sleeping pill of the newer generation that gives me comfort. Taking it in Thailand has no stronger effect than drinking a bottle of Singha distilled water. Instead I have to take blue sleeping pills that Doctor Sawadipeng (at the south end of Second Road) prescribes for me. They are produced in Switzerland but not sold in Europe. For a reason: when I bring a few of them to Europe, they have no stronger effect than Singha bottled water. It seems that the big drug companies know about the regionally different impact of their products, but they do not admit it publicly because they want to advertise und sell one blockbuster worldwide and have no interest in local differentiation. There is still need for lots of research on this field, but it promises no fast profit. So we let the unknown stay unknown and are surprised by stories like Mango's.
It's great to hear that Thailand has had such a positive effect on your health!