There is something about catching a cold in a tropical country that is just fundamentally wrong. Here you are surrounded by bright sunshine, balmy breezes, chattering monkeys (or maybe students – it’s hard to tell them apart at times) and you should be able to inhale deeply, take a deep bite out of a mango, and rejoice in life while your miserable brethren back home are fighting off polar bears and blizzards – but instead, your nose runs like the waterworks at Fontainebleau and you cough and sputter like a Model T Ford.
There is nothing more disheartening than catching cold in Thailand. The Thais themselves are always complaining of coming down with colds, but I’ve yet to see one of ‘em actually sneeze or blow their nose into a big red bandana. I, on the other hand, ever since arriving here in Thailand, have had at least three colds every year. And when I say cold, I mean the kind that robs you of your voice, gives you a pounding headache, and fills your head with so much snot that it threatens to exit out your ears.
Thai school administrators are compassionate when it comes to illness. If you’re sick, you’re excused from teaching – just bring a doctor’s note when you return. But that’s a sucker’s game. The doctor can’t cure your cold – nothing under heaven can – but you wind up paying a couple hundred baht for the visit and the note and the doctor often gives you a prescription anyway that costs a few more hundred baht. Phooey! Why should I spend my time and money on a doctor when I know all I’ve got is a cold and it is plain as a pikestaff to anybody else who gets within ten feet of me?
At several schools, where the doctor’s note was mandatory, I have grimly forced myself to rise from my sickbed and go teach – deliberately sneezing all over the teacher’s office, my eyes red and swollen, my nose dripping all over textbooks and papers. My students have recoiled from me, crowding into the farthest corner of the classroom to avoid contagion. Hah! Doctor’s note be damned – I’d rather be a walking epidemic. Usually someone from the school administration would cautiously sidle up to me, their face covered in a gauze mask, and gently suggest I ought to go home. What, and miss my classroom duties? Never! Just a common cold, that’s all that’s wrong with me. A few aspirin and I’ll be right as rain. No, no, they insist, you appear to be suffering – you should go home, go far away from here, and lay down and wait to either die so we can cremate you or get better. And the doctor’s note? Oh, well, we’ll waive that little detail this time. I’d grip their hand in a hearty handshake, as they tried to stifle their screams of horror, and hurry on home to wallow in self-pity, aspirin, and Tiger Balm rubbed on my chest. A few days later I’d be back at work, bright-eyed & bushy-tailed. And no doctor’s note!
Now that I’m working at TEFL International, I don’t have to worry about doctor’s notes anymore. But I still get those darn head colds about three times a year, and now I have to put up with everybody’s remedies.
My fiancé Joom insists on making me chicken soup at the first sign of a sniffle. Her soup is very good, but like all Thais she’s addicted to making it volcanic with chilies – even when I plead with her to spare the lining of my stomach. Nonsense, she retorts, it’s the chilies that will drive the cold right out of you. So I spoon it down, my forehead beaded with sweat, and when her back is turned I run to the refrigerator and coat my tongue with butter.
Our landlord is Chinese, and when she hears me sneeze she is Johnny-on-the-spot with a loathsome herbal tea that combines the smell of burning rubber with the taste of geranium leaves. She is also very keen on having me digest a fertilized goose egg, raw.
At the office I am bombarded with nostrums ranging from orange juice infused with fish sauce to laving my forehead in a bowl of holy water blessed by monks at the local Buddhist temple.
I thought I would find some sanity from a farang doctor friend of mine. The last time I came down with a cold I went to him to ask for advice on how to alleviate the symptoms without indulging in any mumbo-jumbo or questionable cuisine. He told me, confidentially, what he does when he feels a cold coming on. He hangs upside down and pumps salt water into his sinuses.
From now on when I come down with a cold I’m gonna tell everyone it’s just a hangover. They’ll cluck their tongues at my debauched lifestyle, but at least they’ll leave me alone!