Not A Bad Way To End The Year
I was originally going to title this, “Something for Nothing”, but decided against it for two reasons. First of all, we are winding down 2010, with another 10 days to go before the New Year. Secondly, you’ll see by the end of this tale that the term “Nothing”, although true from a strictly monetary aspect, is something else altogether from another point of view. Sorry if it sounds like I’m being deliberately obtuse, but I guarantee to make everything clear before too long.
It’s pretty much axiomatic, that Farangs residing here in The Land of Smiles, no matter how well they behave, and how much they contribute to Thai society, will always be treated in a second (or even third) class manner. I certainly have narrated my share of stories illustrating this commonly held understanding of how things work (or don’t work) in Thailand.
What follows then is a rare example of how a Farang…your humble narrator… was treated not only in a first class manner, but dare I say it, like an honest to goodness VIP.
Here’s how it happened. For quite some time I have been suffering from fairly intense back, neck and shoulder pain. At times it’s been so bad that I have unable to sleep. During the day, the simple motion of raising my arm to write on the board, or turning my neck to check the traffic before backing up has made me wince. Pain killers, both the over the counter variety, such as Ibuprofen and Tylenol, and those containing morphine, have been ineffective at best. The same goes for muscle relaxers. They simply did not provide any relief. Luckily, I have a “live-in” massage therapist who faithfully gives me plenty of her time. That of course would be my darling wife. All throughout the week she does Thai massage in an attempt to loosen up some very tight muscles. She also applies hot herbal compresses. While this is certainly relaxing, and provides some degree of help, the underlying cause of my pain has never gone away, or even lessened.
During the last year I have sought out additional therapies hoping that they would be effective in mitigating my discomfort. I tried an acupuncturist. While I believe that acupuncture may indeed help certain conditions, this technique failed to help my specific situation. I have visited a doctor who specializes in sports medicine. Dr. A. is a very nice young doctor who speaks excellent English. One of his children has been a student of mine this year. Over the course of this year, he has injected some anti-inflammatory medicine into several areas of my shoulder. This did have some positive effect, but frankly it was minor and short lasting. Last week he suggested that I might be suffering from fibromyalgia, which he was not equipped to treat. He suggested that I go to Lampang hospital for treatment. He wrote up my history in his clinic, and sent me on my way.
I mentioned this to my wife, and said that given our current end of the month financial situation, any extensive treatment was simply not possible now. Maybe next month…if our budget allows it…I can at least go for an examination. When I arrived home from school the next day my smiling wife said not to worry. She had arranged everything! It turns out that the mother of one of the girls I tutor on Saturday mornings is a secretary in the rehab department of Lampang hospital. My wife called her up, and after some discussion, found out that I was eligible for free treatment! Nothing perks up the ears of my tee-rak like the word free!
Okay you are thinking; how are you Sawadee, a Farang, eligible for free anything; let alone medical treatment at a Thai government hospital? Well, first of all I am over 60. Secondly, I pay taxes here in Thailand…which amazingly, only a teeny tiny percentage of Thais pay. At the bottom of my pay sheet every month is the amount of taxes I pay. Thirdly, my student’s mother went to bat for me. She did a lot of running around on my behalf, and doing all kinds of paperwork on my behalf. Why? Ah, now we are getting to an important point! It turns out that she, having seen the kind way I help her young daughter with her English, thinks I’m a pretty nice guy. My friends, it never hurts to be held in esteem by your Thai neighbors!
Last Friday I went for an exam at the hospital. My doctor was a very personable young man, whose English, while not fluent, was sufficient for us to have a conversation. My wife helped out where necessary to translate Thai to English and English to Thai. The doctor seemed to believe that I was suffering from fibromyalgia, and recommended a course of treatment. I was to come for therapy four times a week to try out several things and then go from there. In addition he prescribed a medication to help alleviate my symptoms. My cost for all of this was precisely zero! Since I had a long break between classes, I stayed to have my first treatment.
The Rehabilitation Department had a number of rooms. The one I was in was a huge room, which would serve well as a small aircraft hanger. There were at least 12 beds here, with everything out in the open, with no curtained off areas. Healing here is definitely in the public domain! My therapist that day was a mother of yet another of my students. Lampang is not that big, but I swear I can’t walk far without running into at least one of my students and their family. Once again it’s nice to be well thought off. Believe me; earning the respect of the people in your community will open up all sorts of doors, often at unexpected times!
My first course of treatment started out with hot packs…lots and lots of hot packs. These were the steaming kind that provides moist heat. I lay on one that covered my back and neck. Two more were place on my shoulders. These puppies were hot enough to scald me, but here were hot! It’s good it’s the cool season now. I wouldn’t want them in the middle of March or April! After an hour of steaming away, I was ready for phase two, which consisted of electrical stimulation. Four pads were place for my shoulders and back, and the unit was turned on. The sensation was not unpleasant, if a little strange. There was a tingling and some muscle contraction. I could see that the power level was turned to the lowest position. I wonder what a higher one would feel like. I have a feeling I’ll be finding out before too long!
For the entire time I was there, a small parade of people came by to chat with the Farang ajarn. The smiles I received, and I received many, were of the genuine variety. Everyone seemed thrilled that I was there in their department. Would I like some coffee? Would I care for something to eat? When would I be coming back, as they looked forward to seeing me again? A therapist stopped by to demonstrate some exercises she wanted me to do at home. Not surprisingly, she was…..you guessed it…a mother of yet another of my students!
By the time I was ready to head back to work, I was feeling much better. Oh, the root cause of the pain was there, but my muscles were definitely feeling less tight. I never expected a one shot miracle cure, so I was encouraged by anything positive.
I have been back for three additional treatments. Tomorrow I will receive another. It will be a while before I will see any lasting effect, but I am patient. It feels good to be a program which employs quite a number of modalities of treatment. In the room I see ultrasound machines, infrared devices, and two or three other pieces of equipment that frankly I am clueless about. I have the feeling though that I’ll have the opportunity to be intimately acquainted with all of them!
That’s about it for my end of the year story, but please allow me if I may to turn this into a little parable, with a moral I hope you consider in terms of your own lives. Not to climb on to a soap box, but, if you are living here in Thailand, or are contemplating relocating here, I have what I sincerely believe to be some sage advice.
Try not to live exclusively in a bubble, or a Farang enclave. Get out and see the country you are living in. Whether or not you should learn Thai is up to you. The pros and cons have been debated here many times. Merely learning a few useful words and phrases will go a long way to making your life here easier and more enjoyable.
Make some effort to get acquainted with Thai people you meet regularly. It’s not necessary to discuss “deep issues”. Simply exchanging a few words, along with a smile, does more than you might imagine. I usually chat a bit with the vendors at the market where I shop. Just yesterday a woman wanted to know what I was going to do with the four large squares of bean curd I just bought. I explained (I hope!) that I was going cut them into cubes, toss them in a bowl with sesame seeds, and fry them. Very delicious I told her. Not very profound I know, but when you interact regularly with someone, eventually you find more things to talk about. The home I buy gai yang from is yet another mother of one of my students. Yes, Sawadee had a lot of students. Each year I have over 700!
Quite some time ago I wrote a piece about doing volunteer work. It’s worth reading.
If you really would like to make some very good friends, I strongly suggest becoming a volunteer, whether you are living in Bangkok, or a tiny village in Issan. Perhaps you can teach a little English (or French or German, etc.) Perhaps you can teach math, or how to play the guitar, or art, or whatever special skills you might excel at. Believe me, people, especially children will love you. What’s more, the parents of these children, will not only appreciate what you are doing, but will spread the word about what a fine fellow you are. It’s difficult to put a price on earning genuine respect! Many monks would enjoy having a chance to practice their English conversation. Temples, even if you don’t care anything about Buddhism, are pretty peaceful places to hang out.
You may not believe it but your pale skinned Farang presence would be appreciated at orphanages, hospitals, schools for the blind or hearing impaired, and a host of other places. Stopping by with a box or two of cookies…and a big silly grin will actually make someone’s day!
I realize that not everyone is cut out for volunteer work, and I certainly do not want to imply that this makes you a bad person. It is simply one way to meet people, and to raise your status in your community.
Maybe you should make an effort to know the people in your apartment building or neighborhood. Again you may be surprised what a positive effect this can have on your life here.
I have made some truly good Thai friends in the time I have been living here. If a serious crisis were to occur, I know that there would be folks ready and willing to help me and my family.
And the “moral of the story is”….? Not to be trite, but how about, you get what you give, or what goes around comes around. All I can say that making an effort to be a part of my community has paid off for me in countless ways. Not a bad
way to end the year, eh?
I really do hope that they are able to help you with your aches and pains.
The point about getting out and about and exploring is a good one. Many foreigners in Thailand, probably the majority of foreign residents actually, do live in a bubble. They're probably relatively content, but I have to say that the best times I have had have been on the road. I have had some trips away and day trips with BKKSW, who writes the photo column on this site – and it has been great exploring the countryside with a mate.