From Thighland to Thailand

February 21, 2010

Thailand 3.3b

Filed under: Uncategorized — markchinmd @ 11:34 pm

Thailand 3.3b

February 20, 2010-Sunday night-3rd day

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We lost Saturday crossing the time zones so we arrive here in Bangkok on Sunday so I’m finishing Sunday’s entry.  How time flies.  Literally.  Our weary sweaty bodies arrived into Bangkok at 10 am and the end of our journey is in sight.  The 15 plus hour flight was highlighted with an eating and sleeping and movie cycle that repeated three times.  Bread crumbs were given to the Economy class by the Premium Economy travelers as a token of their sympathy.  During the 3-hour layover we caught up with Ming, who has been visiting his mother in Bangkok, at the airport but missed Bob and Cindy as they went ahead to Chiang Rai on a different connection from Myanmar.  The Wus spent the last few days visiting the four orphanages that were the beneficiaries of the November concert proceedings to determine how the funds were to be distributed.

Our luggage check out was a fiasco.  35 tags, 31 pieces of luggage and bins.  We were short 3-4 bins that were located somewhere between Bangkok and Chiang Rai.  We hope.   Several understandably cranky and now impatient individuals had their own suggestions to figure out which ones were missing and prayed we would get them later.  It took us awhile to unload the already stacked luggage in a chronological order of 31 and match the claim tags so that they can track the missing bins.   The teams efforts and effectiveness depends upon those bins of supplies, drugs, and equipment.  We could be crippled with critical lost and missing items.  We determine that we have an extra tag.  Go figure.

We hear a soft Sawadee! in the distance get louder.  Luka, our Thai/Akha liaison greeted us in the luggage claim area and broke the tension that had been mounting with his warm greeting and smile.  His reunion with me was met with anticipation.  Did my physical training and dieting in preparation for this moment pay off?  As he shook my hand and looked me over I sucked in my gut and he said to me,  “You look the same.  Did you dye your hair?”   I took is as a complement; at least I didn’t look pregnant.  The same identifiably and unique nasally Luka laugh followed.  Doug Owyang does a great imitation.

Our reception party included our old friends Gi and Bla who work for the Thai Akha ministry and Luka’s three children. My how have they grown up; I reflected how young they were four years ago.   Libby, a nurse practitioner from Seattle who will be joining the team was introduced.  She has been volunteering on the compound for about a year.   The crew greeted us with two trucks and a school bus.   Our relatively larger American frames fit into this made for Thai-sized children school bus.  It reminded me of the Guatemalan medical trip years ago as we cramped in a small school bus with our knees to our chest and road for six hours on a bumpy road.  Just get us to the swimming pool!  We packed the trucks and as we caravanned back to the hotel Richard assumed his traditional spread eagle “human cargo net” position as Lester so aptly describes it riding on the back of the truck protecting the cargo from flying off and out of the truck.  I think Richard lives for this Evel Knievel moment.  Nanette, if you can see him now, you’d be proud…and scared.  The ride was familiar and welcomed.  It gave us a sense of enthusiasm and purpose.   Watching the people and the poverty and meager means of sustenance was humbling.

We arrived at our old stomping grounds at the Golden Triangle Inn at 4 pm about 36 hours after we left Fresno.   The team is bushed and can barely keep our eyes open.  Bob and Cindy greeted us sipping Mai Tais and eating bon bons exclaiming, “This is the life!”   Alright, delete that last vision, I was delusional.  The Inn is basically unchanged.  Tropical surroundings and familiar faces and décor are recognizable.  Still, no swimming pool.  Darn!  Electric outlets are a premium with one outlet in the bedroom and one in the bathroom hidden behind a mirror.

I am almost embarrassed at all the “essential” electronic and high tech gear that I have lugged on this trip.  Laptop computer, portable DVD drive, Canon DSLR camera with 60 gb of memory cards, strobe light, photo printer, noise-cancelling ear phones, iPhone, spare cell phone, camcorder, diagnostic light handle, two headlights, and two flashlights, no wonder my two carry ons weigh sixty pounds.  (At least I left my beeper behind.)  This techy has an insatiable appetite for electrical energy for his power consuming gear.  I LOVE THE POWER!!! At every opportunity and pit stop along the way I was an electrical outlet magnet.  Oh, you would be too lucky if my batteries died and I couldn’t journal.  I still might have to ration my rechargeable batteries.  Okay! Okay!  I AM A TECHNO JUNKY!  I admit it!  I broke the mirror struggling to get at the outlet hidden behind it and now I am subject to seven years bad luck!  I’ll have to go to that Tiger Woods retreat for rehab when I get back.  God, please have someone mug me so that I can detox and withdraw in a controlled setting! Nah, I’ll get some Prozac from our pharmacy to deal with the anxiety.

Jen and I must have a deluxe room since we have two lights with about 60 watts total.  There is an electric water heater in the shower but we don’t expect a steamy bath.  We’ll just try not to get electrocuted.  Here’s an upgrade.  The hotel offers limited wi-fi that keeps us from having to go downtown everyday but it doesn’t reach our rooms.  We have to go to the lobby where the hot spot is and fight off the mosquitoes and roaming lizards and geckos.  Bill, is this really a three star hotel?  The rick-shaw Ben and Gerry were posing in during a photo shoot is still broken but the overgrown grass almost covers it now.   Oh, I forgot; this is not a vacation but I didn’t think it was a camping trip either.  We have bottled water to brush our teeth and to hydrate.  Okay I believe it now; DON’T DRINK THE TAP WATER!

It’s really humid and we are not only sweaty and smelly but now sticky.  Gum cannot hide the halitosis since it’s going on four hours.    The only excitement is that I realize that I can grow a beard!  I haven’t shaved my legs for days either.  Some of us run downtown to get baht, the local currency, and SIMM chips for our cell phones and scout out the area for revisiting.  Ahhh! Swensen’s ice creamery is still there.  It seems relatively dead with many of the businesses closed and few people roam the streets.   If were not at risk of being hit by one of the many scooters it much be dead.  Our meeting with Luka determined our tentative itinerary for the next two weeks.  We will work at a school tomorrow and then head into Burma and try to reach China at the border.  There’s one small detail that was casually shrugged off.  There is a teeny tiny local war at the border town Mong La so going there “might” not be safe.  Luka assures us it’s just a misunderstanding.  We don’t want any civilian casualties do we? Rest assured our safety is our number one priority were told…

We gathered for a team dinner and had some nice authentic Thai dishes Chinese style (shared dishes).  It really seems that we have been eating non-stop.  Definitely not Atkin’s friendly but I’m not dieting this trip.  Not even Carb Blockers.  We look forward to the local village meals that are prepared for us when we visit them.  They are proud cooks but we definitely have to be careful especially with uncooked pork and the potential for tapeworms (though they may augment my dieting later).  Irma was absent from dinner.  The excitement either got to her or she needed quiet time.  Like I said, it wasn’t like we needed to eat again.  Smart thinking Irma, catch up on some zzzzs.  I was working on the computer at the table and at the end of our meal Bill affectionately rubbed by neck and trapeziums he stated, “I promised you a massage.”  I rudely turned to him and said, “But not by you!”  Bill, what were you drinking?

After dinner some of us retired.  Others showered.  Some set up their rooms.  The rest of us were ready to party hearty!  Yeah, Bob, Cindy, Lynelle, Gail, Jen and I headed to the local midnight bazaar.  It’s the local night market and the downtown area certainly lit up the streets.  It’s dead during daylight but people come out of the woodwork at night.  Chiang Rai is a destination city.  It’s a happening place. The streets are now packed and scooters are zooming down the streets making it difficult to cross.  We get to play Frogger again.  This city comes to life at night.  Fresh food is prepared along the streets, kiosks, and food court.  There is like a beauty contest with girls (or boys, I’m not sure) and a band playing loud music.  It’s like a flea market where a lot of locals have their businesses. Selling watches, clothes, knick-knacks, trinkets, hand-made, machine-made, souvenirs, t-shirts, bras, Zorries, hats, and food give them an opportunity to earn money.  Poor beg for handouts while a disabled blind entertainer strummed the guitar and banged drums with his feet.  A one-armed lady begged for money with her stump hoping for scraps of food or money.   Foreigners and locals alike were bargain hunting.  We ran into a couple that was also from Fresno who used to work with Kim Chang.  What a small world!  And there it was.  What I came to Thailand for…an authentic, not-yet-released-in-the-US Avatar DVD with Thai subtitles for 150 baht ($5 USD).  I bought one as a souvenir to use as a coaster since I like the artwork.  That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.  I looked for but couldn’t find the artist from whom I bought two chalk drawings two years ago that are hanging in my office.  They are a drawing of photos of a young and older Afghanistan girl famously known as “The Afghan Girl” from National Geographic.  We have all seen that picture.  I clutched my DVD close to me so not to loose it and we head back to the hotel.  Too tired for a Thai massage tonight.  We’ll go to Swensen’s tomorrow.

It’s quiet now.  People are sleeping.   It’s only 10 pm.  We quietly open our doors so not to wake up our neighbors. I dove onto my bed expecting a prolonged bouncing rebound and almost hurt myself.  These stiff mattresses aren’t exactly your Sealy posteurpedic.  The pillows are equally stiff.  I’ll probably have a concussion when I wake up as well as a stiff neck and aching back.  Bill, again you promised all the comforts of home.  Well I would like to see your home then.  You must sleep on the floor.  At least the lukewarm shower was actually invigorating yet overdue.  My eyes are closed before my head hits the pillow and I look forward to an 8-hour much needed restful sleep.

What’s this?  It’s only 1 am when I wake up from my “nap” and I can’t go to sleep.  Pitiful.  This is frustrating especially with no TV (did I forget to mention that basic necessity?)  or Direct TV.  I am, for some uncontrollable reason compelled to reach over to my laptop and finish the Sunday’s entry.  This is really pissing me off.  I need my beauty sleep.  If for no other reason, I do this for the sake of my lovely wife, Lena who is a stickler for details and will grill me when I get home so this is easier to remember as I go along and should suffice.  So if you enjoy reading this, thank Lena.  If you don’t, blame Lena because I’m under pressure.

Oh, no its 4 am and Jennifer just woke up even after a half of an Ambien.  She’s a lightweight.  I quietly pause my typing.  Without me even saying anything and not knowing that I was awake she seems half asleep and SHE pulls out her computer and begins her blogging!   She begins to listen to Pachabels Canon in D, my favorite.  It’s a good choice of music as it is very soothing and calming.  Even I like to operate to it.  I asked her what are you doing and she is surprised that I am awake. As Jennifer puts it, “It’s an expectation, they’re waiting for my words.”  Finally we have something in common.  Like father, like daughter.  The life of a blogger is overworked, underpaid, under appreciated.  I don’t really worry about who or how many even read my journal; it aint gonna make the New York times best sellers list.  She turned to me knowing and feeling my pain and empathetically said in a crackly voice, “Don’t worry dad, I’ll read your blog.”  That’s good enough for me.  And thank you Lena, Mom, Daphne and a handful of others…I hope that what I say is either worth reading or at least entertaining or at least helps you fall asleep at night.

It’s 0600.  Time to unpack for today’s mission.  No more fun and games.

Have a great week, because we are.  Talk to you soon.

Medical Team International…signing off.

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