What’s Up, Doc?
Well, it’s nice to be writing about Thailand again, after that brief hiatus. To paraphrase Mark Twain: Rumors of my demise as a columnist are exaggerated. I still have many a tale to tell . . .
Many farangs come to Thailand to retire. It’s a nice place to do so; the cost of living is cheap and the medical care is top-notch, and also incredibly inexpensive. I had outpatient surgery done on my leg for an infection not too long ago, and the total cost, including an X-ray, the doctor’s examination, the surgery, the meds, and the follow-up visit to the doc, came to just under fifty dollars. In the United States you can’t even get in to see a doctor for under a hundred bucks, especially if you don’t have any insurance.
Other farangs come to Thailand to work. That was me. I came to teach English as a full time job, but what I found was that it only took a little of my time to teach the Thais their English lessons.
What really turned out to be a full-time job was my Thai girlfriend. They are, to say the least, high maintenance. Even the nicest ones. And I always had a nice one.
Your Thai girlfriend will need lots of gadgets, and those gadgets will need to be constantly updated – things like cell phones and large screen TVs and new karaoke DVDs. She will need a motorcycle, and not just any old piece of junk, but a brand-new Kawasaki, in bright colors. It’s all a matter of gaining face, at the expense of your wallet.
If you’re a penny pincher moving to Thailand, you might as well go straight to the nearest Buddhist temple and enroll; you ain’t gonna get a Thai gf wifout spending the big moolah, ya get me, bro?
Now one thing that the girlfriend and I both like to spend money on is nostrums from the Chinese pharmacy. Thailand, especially Bangkok, is chock-a-block with obscure hole in the wall storefronts that feature a wizened old Chinese gentleman behind the counter, who does not seem to be interested in customers, but in staring morosely out into the street, occasionally spitting a pumpkin seed shell. He will make you wait for fifteen minutes before acknowledging your existence, and then pulls a face when he sees that one of you is a cursed farang – a ‘foreign devil’ in the quaint Mandarin of his forebears. The girlfriend always needs a newer, and stronger, menthol inhaler, in the shape of a lipstick tube, to shove up one of her nostrils whenever we are making our way through the crowds at the Victory Monument. The first time she did that I thought I’d connected with a cocaine fiend, but it turns out the Thais are addicted to anything that will keep their nasal passages clear, so they go through these cheap, plastic menthol inhalers by the dozen each month. Me, all I need is a mouthful of som tum; the fiery chilies clear a path through my sinuses like a hot knife through butter.
Our elderly Chinese pharmacist always stocks plenty of these inhalers, so the gf buys a dozen at a time. Then we look over the different kinds of Tiger Balm available. You poor Westerners only know of the homogenized, adulterated, Tiger Balm, good for mild aches and pains. But here in Thailand they manufacture several different types of Tiger Balm, and the old Chinese apothecary often adds his own little bagatelle to the mixture, just to give it some more ‘kick’. And brother, does it kick! The stuff the gf and I like to buy is so powerful that if you drop a gob of it on a teakwood table it will eat its way through the wood in a half hour. But massage a little bit into your feet at night, especially when you feel a cold coming on, and the next morning you are ready to enter the Olympics.
There are many odd-looking pickled roots and aromatic pastilles that the good Chinese pharmacist keeps on hand. You describe your symptoms to him and he prescribes something disgusting, like ground beetle dung or schmaltz mixed with frog eggs. I just like to look at his bottles and displays; they would make a fascinating photographic essay. If I ever find a cooperative Chinese pharmacist, I’ll do it, too. ( Fat chance!) The girlfriend loves to try out new remedies. One time, after a prolonged overindulgence in Chang Beer, she decided she must have liver cancer, and told the local Chinese pharmacist so; he gravely prescribed a diet of diatomaceous earth, with a daily dose of mandrake root water. Oh, and lay off the cheap beer.
Once her perpetual hangover cleared up she figured the prescriptions had done the trick and cured her liver cancer. Now she sneers at Western medicine. I decided long ago to choose my battles with her, and Western medicine is not one of my deal breakers.
Besides, we often just go into a Chinese pharmacy to sample the wonderful essential oils he keeps on hand – everything from marjoram essential oil to ylang-ylang essential oil. These are a lot of fun to play with, in massage oil, and, in some cases, even in cooking.
And when I put a dab of geranium behind my ears the girls go wild!