From Thighland to Thailand

February 28, 2014

Thailand/Myanmar 5.5

Filed under: Uncategorized — markchinmd @ 5:54 pm

February 26, 2014-Wednesday


Thailand/Myanmar 5.5


“Yesterday we were swarmed, today is worse” Bill Ho


Lights on at 0500.  The power generator came on and so did the room lights.  Everyone got up in unison still half asleep like robots on a timer.  We get started early because yesterday’s experience with the swarm of beelievers (in the mission team) was a harbinger of things to come.  We don’t lack any less enthusiasm though because we are here to work and do the most that we can. I think doing your best no matter what circumstances is what God asks of us.


We meet in the morning as a team to reflect on our experiences, any concerns, and game plan.  Pastor leads us with some exercise stretching and singing.  We then are asked about our day on a scale of 1-10.  There’s an “8” and then a “9” while Lena says it’s a 10 for her that you can see it in patient’s eyes that someone cares for them.  And it was very emotional for her.  Trevour says it breaks his heart to see so many in need.  Others feel that it is overwhelming.  Some patients realize that we cannot cure their chronic conditions but temporary relief is still of some help.  Asking patients what they want, their response is to just have someone come. 


We have a wonderful breakfast.  In fact the chef was brought in to cook for us.  He was a gourmet chef from some famous meditation center.  We eat very good, but it seems that we are getting fattened up for the kill…


Patients arrive early since many have spent the night somewhere.  If they weren’t seen yesterday then there is nowhere else to go.  The waiting area rapidly fills up with patients. Sayadow’s people are registering patients indiscriminately and although it seems helpful, it later becomes harmful.  Everyone gets assigned somewhere no matter how small or large their health problem is and we endeavor to see them all.  Most of the patients are farm laborers that need to be in good health to be able to work.  Musculoskeletal injuries are common and their pain needs to be in control so that they are able to work.  No work and there is no food on the table.  They need to see and many patients have cataracts or are blind either in one eye or both and the goal is to give them the best vision that they can have.  Many sustained work related injuries.  There is no workers comp here.  Many patients have few teeth and dental caries.  They need to have at least some dentition to eat.  There are no dentures available.  WE are the only doctors that they have seen in their entire lifetime, ever.


We are challenged by the situations we are put in and limited skills that we have.  I routinely perform 6-8 hour surgeries back home, which are actually quite fun, and I look forward in doing them.  Some of these patients that I see here are not so quite clear cut and I am humbled by them because, frankly, I do not see the option to do nothing, and I am not sure what I can do for them.  I get in the “cut to cure” mode or “when in doubt, cut it out” position.  Half the time, I think its one thing and after excising the lesion (sebaceous cyst, abscess, fatty tumor) it’s another, but it’s all the same.  It had to come out.  Huge 2-3 inch masses of the breast, back, and head are routine and common. These patients are tough as the surgery is done under local anesthesia lying in awkward positions.  I am always anxious that I might encounter a situation that I know I have to treat and never have before.  Today was one of them.  A young boy about 9 years old had webbed toes and webbed fingers on his good hand.  His other hand was so deformed from a condition that arose in utero-amniotic band syndrome.  His left arm was deformed and he had no functioning fingers, more like a club hand.  His right hand had good grip but the fourth and fifth fingers were stuck together due to syndactyly or webbed finders and there would be worsening deformity, as he grew older.  His hand worked to some degree but was not optimal, but might be able to perform everyday tasks.  I asked the father why he brought his son in and what was he hoping that I could do for him.  He wanted the boy to be able to eventually work and to help out the family.  To be honest, I have never repaired a syndactyly before.  I remember this or that flap needed when studying for board examinations and this was one of the situations that I usually prepare for before the mission trip “just in case” I encounter it.  I forgot to this time.  It is tricky because skin can die and infections can lead to the loss of the two fingers especially in this situation, which would then be disastrous.  What about aftercare and hand therapy that is typical after an operation such as this?  It would be very easy to stay in my comfort zone and say well, “At least you have some function” and not offer anything for him.  Next? Comforting words do not always equate to hope.  I had to think it over lunch and make my decision.  Go for it.  I have to thank Linh and Andy who were able to help me with the operation since it was extremely difficult to do otherwise.   One flap by one and rearranged the skin slowly separately the fingers while repairing the skin down to the natural web space.  Eureka!  I could see the smile on his face as he could separate his fingers and bend them independently for the very first time. Corinthians 10:13.  That is why were here: to make a difference and to give hope


As the day wore on, it was apparently no stopping to registering patients.  Some of the mission team decided to go back after dinner since there were so many more patients to be seen and the Burmese doctors were still going at it.  We worked until after 9 pm and still they were getting registered despite our objections and frustrations.  Everyone was tired including the translators that we had to bring back.  So we ended clinic and told the patients to come back tomorrow.  In the meantime, Jennifer, who is taking most of the photos for documentation, was doing a photo ministry as she printed out photos for overjoyed patients, families, and staff, some who have never seen a photo of them selves before.  They were excited as they repeatedly asked her to “Print, print, print.”


Now we have to sleep, sleep, sleep

Thailand/Myanmar 5.4

Filed under: Uncategorized — markchinmd @ 7:57 am

February 25, 2014, Tuesday


Thailand/Myanmar 5.4 


Location: Theravada Buddhist Missionary University

Rise and Shine or Not


A hotel wake up call at 0400 this morning occurred since we were to gather at 0500.  I didn’t set it or arrange it, but someone did.  Now who does such a thing?  I need my beauty sleep just as much as the next person (even though I work in the “business.”  No one claimed responsibility.



I’ve missed my youngest daughter’s birthday every other year for several years since going on the mission trips.  I feel like doo doo as a father.  Forgive me my love.  I’ll buy you anything you want sugar pie.  Oops, sorry mom nixed that last idea.


The first part of today’s journey is to travel 4 hours by bus caravan with our host Sayadow, the chief monk of the Theravada Buddhist Missionary University.  Sayadow is a title for one of the chief monks and since his name is Sayadow Dr. Candavara Bhivamsa, forgive me if I simply refer to him as Sayadow.  About half way there his bus broke down and we stopped to help change the buses fan belts.  During this time several members wandered away across the street to see the water buffalo and encountered three young children staring and pointing at these strangers in blue Smurf outfits.  It was possible that we have been their first alien encounter, foreigner that is, yet their curiosity overcame their fear of strangers.  Would we, at home, allow strangers to approach OUR children?  Funny how different perspectives there are depending upon the situation.   We see them as our first potential patients.  First, Lynelle took a photo, then Andy, and then Vicki.   Okay, and then me.  They started posing with them, establishing foreign relations, and smiling for the camera. They gave them snacks and treats. Lynelle ran back to the bus and got toothpaste and tooth brushes and taught them how to brush their teeth.  We taught them how to “High-five”.  Western corruption.  With repairs in order, we sadly said,  “Bye-bye”


We continued down this relatively nice paved highway and enjoyed the scenery and caught up on some zzz’s.  There are a lot of agriculture with corn and rice fields. The smooth ride changed when we slowed and continued on a very bumpy road we got closer to our next destination, Zalun.  We started to see some people and then more people.  Then it seemed like a parade and spectators looking at us from the street as if in anticipation.  Some waving.  Some smiling.  A large crowd gathered around the bus and as we slowly crept up to the rivers border crossing.  A large banner read, “HONOURABLE GUESTS: You are warmly welcomed by the villagers of MYIT WA, Zalun Township. 25-2-2014.”  Hmmm…this is a big deal!  Scores of villagers unpacked the bus and carried the luggage to the riverboats for us to cross the first river.  There were a number of video cameras from a local TV news crew that were doing a feature on this team and later some of the team members were interviewed.  Maybe someone will post it on YouTube and it will go viral.  A short 45-minute boat ride took us to our next destination.  We packed on this large wooden boat built for short people.  The taller ones banged their head constantly so some when top deck.   It was nice getting fresh air and a breeze in our faces and enjoy the scenery. This is everyday transportation for the natives and it is used to transport people and goods and is a lifeline to supplies in Zalun.  Several boats are needed to transport the bins and baggage.  Remember we have a TON of goods and about 50 people including 28 team members, helpers and translators.  It I well coordinated who ever planned this.  I just show up.


We arrive at the ox station.  Remember people get around individually by scooters, bicycles, or walking.  Larger families or groups and supplies need to be transported by ox carts.  When I say ox cart, I mean ox cart.  This is not like “Oh, How fun!”  This is not your Halloween hayride.  This will not be an easy 60 minutes ride.  We all loaded on these ox carts that have two large bulls, that don’t want to be there, that pull this wooden 4 x 5 foot cart sparsely filled with hay for cushioning over thin wooden slats that we sit on and can, uncomfortably, carry 4 passengers.  Either vertical wood slats keep the passengers from falling out in or the rolling cart wheel deters you from sticking your arm out or leaning out.  It’s ominous.  It’s dry.  Lena and I are in the last cart and looking ahead there is a dust trail and it’s hard to see and breathe.  That’s why we were given dust masks to breath.  We are squinting and coughing traveling up and down in the back down this long winding, very dusty road.  Fortunately my buttocks are well padded but for some it is extremely uncomfortable as there are no shock absorbers and this road had divots, craters, and potholes that abruptly change.   About 15 carts caravanned to the next river crossing that takes us to our destination in Myit Wa: Theravada Buddhist Monastery/compound, where we will be setting up the clinic for the next 3 days.


We switched from the carts to board the world-class jetty.  Several boats line up and receive us.  These long thin canoe-like watercrafts are propelled by a single propeller and took groups of about 8 across the river to the compound. 

The first of the group carrying Sayadow and the team made the short river crossing successfully.  I was told that they were welcomed by a procession and came into a festive warm welcome.  Dancers were dancing and music was playing.  Women grabbed our 50 lb. bins and balanced them on their heads to transport them!  Maybe the women here are hard headed.  It’s usually the guys.  I didn’t personally witness the whole procession thing and greetings since our boat, which was the last (why are we always last?), was left stranded floating in river.  Picture the captain pulling the unattached started cord of the lawnmower several minutes as we slowly float away from the shore.  Another boat recognized our disaster and came toward us.  Will he get there in time?  Thoughts of the captain abandoning ship crossed my mind. He stayed behind and was willing to go down with the ship because that is what we were doing: sinking.  I didn’t tell Lena or Jennifer this.  He started to bail out water.  We were going down.  Mark Patton watched as a stream of water was coming from the bottom of the boat.  He assumed the “Little Dutch Boy stinking his finger in the leaking dyke position.”  Our lives flashed before us.  Thank God, we know (or hope), where we are going. Jen grabbed the oar and started to paddle towards the shore but with one paddle we were going in circles.  I was thinking, “We need to get rid of ballast.  Yeah, women and children first!”  God forgive me.  Fortunately, the other boat came to the rescue in the nick of time, lassoed our boat, and towed us to the other side.  We were soaked.  Oh, not from water but from the sweat. The festivities ended.  The rest had a great time. We were just thankful to be alive.


After a short walk from the shore we arrived at the compound and scoped it out.  Things were already organized and tables set up.  The team usually has to do this so it was great.  We unloaded the bins and got organized for clinic in the afternoon.  I was told that the village have been preparing for arrival for the last year and Trevour Zin was instrumental in getting this mission come to fruition.  Cement roads were built to make travel easier to the monastery grounds. They had an enclosed shower and some westernized sitting toilets (yeah!)

built just for us.  Food was brought in from Zalun to feed us as this village just doesn’t have the recourses.  Fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, meat, chicken, pork, coffee, water, snacks, and toilet paper were provided for us.  Mosquito tents were brought in for us as well a mattresses and pillows.  A lot of expense was performed on our behalf.  The women had accommodations on one side of the compound about 5 minutes away.   I was told that their accommodations were not quite as nice as the men’s large room where we all slept together.  It was wise to have the wives a distance away, separated from their spouses, and to have cold showers for the men.


With the clinic tables set up we began to see patients. Other Burmese doctors and their pharmacy joined the group’s effort.  Patients were already there and one-by-one hundreds of children and adults packed the waiting room.  It was nothing like our team had experienced before.  It was well organized by Sayadow.  The registration and vital signs check were being done by their staff, where, in the past, our nurses usually register and triage (send them to the appropriate area) the patients.   But great, that saves time.  Well, not so great.  You see, this was like Black Friday with blue light specials and EVERYONE was coming from EVERYWHERE and not just the adjacent areas. Five THOUSAND fliers were apparently sent out and they brought their friends too.  We were swarmed and people were standing in lines around the corner.  It was daunting and the team did not if we could handle this.   EVERYONE was getting registered not triaged simple issues or just needing analgesics or vitamins. They love their vitamins.   We’ve got the time but we have limited resources and we could very well deplete them in this first leg of our mission.  Some were sick and some wanted just a check-up and traveled hours by foot so we felt obligated to see them.  It was estimated that over 1000 people came throughout the day and we saw about 500 people in just a half a day (1-6 p.m.)  Elderly were carried in. Parents wanted their babies evaluated and brought in children with bilateral cleft lip, hydrocephalus, seizures, burn scar contractures, or fingers missing.  People who were blind or had very poor vision came.  Rotting teeth and infections from decay presented.  Maybe they just wanted a toothbrush or vitamins.  They travelled hours by foot to reach the clinic.


Dental clinic was running nonstop to the point of blowing up their recently acquired brand-new compressor.  Extractions replaced restoration and cleaning mechanically turned to a manually task.  Try brushing hundreds of teeth to scape the calculus off the teeth.  I suppose it would have been welcomed at this point to have a patient with half a mouth to clean than full dentition.  But we don’t have an “EASY” button


We obtained many translators from the university in Yangon in addition to other helpers, so most were educated. They were invaluable.

Optometry was short staffed this trip with just two optometrists and not the usual four and, yet, but they made up with great helpers and grinders.  It was a production line.  Many patients had cataracts that couldn’t be helped others got readers and others got new glasses.  It was a joy to see how the patients with corrected vision reacts looking in the mirror jerking their heads as they saw clear vision for the first time and smiling in their new glasses. 


Sheer numbers challenged the medical department and the standing-room only crowd was intimidating.  Andy and Lynn were assigned injections primarily, since Sayadow was apparently calling the shots.  No pun intended.  I felt that there was an unsettling agenda, perhaps hidden, by our host that controlled the microphone and registration table.  He did not, exactly heed, our advice for crowd control, however, our team graciously accommodated.  Communication between Sayadow and our chiefs would sorely need to improve by one of the parties and that’s not us. 


Many patients had congenital problems and medical problems we couldn’t help.  Some had difficult chronic problems that were not treated for years.  Tumors present to 15 years grew on heads, limbs, and backs making resection difficult.  Little lumps and bumps were easy but took up time and resources that might be better served with more difficult cases.  I didn’t have an operating room but just an exam table too high to sit on a stool and too low that I had to either bend over, sit on the side contorting my angle to operate, operate on my knees.  I had magnifying loupes and headlamp for my “operating theater’.  The instruments in some of these disposable kits were hard to work with or broke but we didn’t have a sterilizer to clean quality reusable tools of the trade. Some pathology and anomalies were out of my comfort zone and I had to remind myself why we are here, who else do they have, what would happen if nothing was done, what medical access do they have, and my faux smile telling them, “It’s okay” or telling them that they need to see a specialist.  It is easy to ask, “Why didn’t you see someone before and have this checked?” “Because, there is no one.”  You’re it, you volunteered.  In 1 Corinthians 10:13 God said that he would not give you anything that you can’t handle and God will provide a way out.  So while contemplating this verse, praying, and listening to the music in my head of our last mission trip video (thanks Steven).  God has blessed all the members of the team with unique gifts and talents and we were able to tackle what was thrown at us given the limited resources.  You should be proud of our team and please ask them individually about their experiences since I am sure, holed up in my corner, I missed so much.  It’s all a blur.



Our hosts have graciously made a large room that we can share together and encourage male bonding.  Guys, I love you, but no thanks.  While we get ready for bed there is another power outage.  Bill must have anticipated something.  I asked to bring my own large generator, but too heavy. But he brought his own Goalzero generator just in case. He must have been an eagle scout.  Sure enough, another blackout.  The flashlight, particularly the headlamp, has been our most useful tool since power outages are common.  Too bad we couldn’t start a campfire.  Next time we will bring marshmallows too. Bill came to the rescue as he always does and lit up the room so we could change from our dirty underwear and set up pup tents.


Our women should be proud of our boys.  No thoughts of bar hopping, gathering around drinking Mickies (although it was Miller time), or shooting the bull.  No, we were good boys and avoided the “nighttime scene” that we’re used to at home, at least for some. No, we were good boys and hit the deck about 830 pm.  Lights out, early to bed, early to rise.


However, while the men were quickly falling asleep, some women had an opportunity to teach dental care to a group that was staying for some education.   Initially expecting a small crowd, an estimated 250 people showed up for the demo and all received toothbrushes.   The women have a lot of stamina.


After a “Hards Day Work” (that should be our new song to sing at night before we go to bed instead of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” someone suggested to sing instead.  Since God wants us to make a JOYFUL noise, we opted out the singing.  So we set up our humble nostalgic accommodations.  Its like camping I suppose, if you can picture us sleeping on the hard ground (wooden floor in our case), with the soft pad between our thin air mattress to provided some of additional cushion, and a custom made thin low-thread count sheet (which is sufficient in this case in 90 degree weather and 70% humidity) that would be us.  Only when we look up to stare at the moon-lit sky we are staring at our claustrophobic, though welcomed, pop-up mosquito net/tent one foot from our faces, quickly suggests that to avoid staring at this ceiling it would behoove us to get some “shut-eye”. 

Easy for some, not so easy for others.  Unfortunately, those who fall fast asleep are the most annoying (no names or finger pointing) due the snoring.  No, malaria from mosquitoes has not been our greatest problem at night, as I would have expected. Instead of the of the typical ratcheting noise crickets make rubbing their legs together at night, the clacking of the geckos, or the annoying cicadas crescendo-decrescendo rattling in unison, there is a constant, metronome-like rumbling of first, one individual, then two no wait, three and half the team. It wasn’t harmonious.   Boy, can these guys saw some logs!  Even plaster was rattling off the ceilings.  It registered 2.4 on the Richter scale. Pastor said was like a “chanting Zen thing” He reminded himself of the passage “Thou shall not kill snorers.”  Only earplugs were saving grace.  Thank you Lena!


I call it the two-story snore.  When I walked downstairs, outside the building you can still hear this dull roar, which even clears the animals and predators away.  If I performed Snore-No-More surgery I could fund the next mission trip from these guys.  Hmmm…


Taking a shower early this a.m. about 0330 reminded me of the time I went camping in Lake Tahoe as a teenager.  I jumped in the stream to take a quick bath and proceed to shake violently like rigors that you get with the flu, hyperventilating, and soaping the body with jerky motions, knowing that the body is cramping up and you have to go under AGAIN to wash the soap off.  Taking about Chinese torture.  Well folks, I relived that wonderful camping experience once again, thank you, only I didn’t crap my pants this time thank you.


Overall today was a very satisfying day.  We made some friends, represented Christians by serving our almighty God and Savior, started to develop a relationship with the people of Myanmar.  We are  all very tired but that’s what I remind myself and my employees back home at VIPS: “That’s why they call it WORK.”


Let’s see what God has planned for us tomorrow.  Mark


February 24, 2014

Thailand 5.3

Filed under: Uncategorized — markchinmd @ 9:37 pm

February 24, 2014

Thailand/Myanmar 5.3

Minglarbar (“Hello” in Burmese)


A lot has happened in the last 24 hours.  Having a hangover in Seoul, Korea, I mean layover (see what sleep deprivation does?) we landed in Bangkok about zero dark thirty.   We had been on the “road” for about 29 hours.  There were stinky, sweaty, bodies with halitosis like sardines in a can contorted in our economy seats (except for Bill who claimed he had “sooo much room”) looking at each other “Don’t you wish everyone used Dial” that were attracting flies with faces full of smiles because we saw land and were now departing the plane.  What a lovely surprise to have dayrooms at Louis Taverns waiting for us at the airport since we had about a 7-hour layover left before we headed to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). Thank you Jesus! And Trevour for making a few phone calls to make this happen for free.  A much-needed bath left a sizable bathtub ring and Febreeze treated fresh clean sheets didn’t feel and smell so good. The nap was short lived especially with the noisy neighbors next door where I heard this honeymoon couple carrying on.  I actually banged on the door since, by then it was 0200, and the commotion stopped and I heard “Sorry!”  I swear that was Bill’s voice followed by a faint female giggle.  At least it was female.  After a trip to the buffet, Burger King, or Kin Ramen for top ramen we were on our way to Yangon.  Fortunately it was a only a stone’s throw away.  A man reading the local Bangkok newspaper had the front-page headline: “Deadly Blast in City.”  Chills ran up my spine and apprehension set in.  Were we leaving the battlefield or perhaps entering one in the near future?  There’s political turmoil, unrest, anti-government protestors, in both Thailand and Myanmar.  Hey, it kind of a made me feel right at home!  Oh well.  Get used to it.

As we flew into the airport the city looked like Fresno!  Green blocks of farmland surrounded airport.  Good, no signs of the military, tank you.  Finally we received some much needed excitement: as we entered the baggage claim area our welcoming party was none other than Bob and Cindy Wu, Luka, and yippee!!!, Jennifer!! waving their hands with great big smiles. That’s my GIRL! I almost didn’t recognize her with her one of her eyes nearly swollen shut due to a mosquito bite last night.  Poor Baby! I hope she took her malaria pills.

We retrieved retrieve 25 bins, 8 boxes of drugs, and 15 pieces of luggage in addition to our personal carry-ons.  A bus and crew helped remove the luggage onto carts ready for customs.  Now the hard part: Satan already put a wrench into our project by TSA not allowing the 3 air compressors out of LAX that were a vital necessity for the dental team.  Compressors run ALL of the motorized dental equipment.  Most of the team loaded onto the bus with our luggage.  We waited and waited and waited for Bill to get our bins and drug boxes out of customs.  Customs claimed that certain papers were not filed properly so they wouldn’t release the bins/boxes and it may take up to a WEEK to release them.  What!!!!  We’re working tomorrow!  It’s like walking into a gun battle with an empty holster.  Now if we don’t have medical or dental supplies or drugs, this will be either a very short mission trip or an expensive vacation!

During this time the rest of the group went to our 7 Mile Hotel and were treated to a little tour by our tour guide Oompah (reminds me of Opah! by Koti Sotiropolos at home) who gave the history of why Burma changed its name to Myanmar and about the civil rights movements.  I don’t know which is politically correct but since Obama uses Myanmar I will too from this point and use Burmese to reference the historical relationships.  Our hotel was certainly an upgrade from Golden Triangle Inn.  We wanted to get checked in but there was no early check in at 1030 so we sat and shot the breeze as a group until we got internet access. Silence then filled the room while 90% of the team went into their personal electronic device mode.  It was hilarious to look up and see everyone in his or her own social media world.  My, my how the world has changed.

We got a bite or so to eat at the Green Elephant restaurant where we enjoyed a variety of the Burmese cuisine.  Still no sign of Bill.  Or Trevour.  Or Dr. Chu.  Poor Bill.  Please pray for his sanity and patience.  So some of the group went “sightseeing” (uh shopping).  Bob and Cindy Wu took a group of us (Jack, myself, Ron, Pastor Jack, Vicki, Gail, and Luka) to the Karen Baptist Church compound.  The Karen is one of the ethnic tribes in SE Asia.  The Karen has one of the largest Baptist conventions in Myanmar.  They have three seminaries schools for Karen and non-Karen students.  There was a large hospital that offers free medical, dental, and optometry clinics as well as surgical procedures.  It was very impressive of the resources available to the surrounding community. Many overseas physicians come to this hospital to provide reduced fee or free services. Bob and Cindy Wu have been developing a relationship with the KBC and hopes to open doors for further assistance medically or financially.  From a historical note, Adoniram Judson was one of the first American Baptist missionaries to go to Burma about 200 years ago and wrote the first Burmese-English dictionary and influenced the translation of the Bible into Burmese.  The Karen tribe is one of the largest groups of Baptists in Myanmar and Myanmar has the third largest number of Baptists behind USA and India.

The Lowe Boys do what they do best and pulled through and found a hardware store and obtained an air compressor for the dental team.  They will need to “jimmy rig” the equipment to see if this will work with their equipment.  By now its 500 pm and we still haven’t seen a hair of Bill but we got a message that it was getting “close” to getting the bins released.  What does that mean?  Are we getting the powers to be to sign off or are there “financial negotiations” being worked out?  There is a lot of anxiety and concern amongst the team members and worries if this mission is doomed from the start.

So we take to what pacifies us the most and go get something to eat.  We went to a very nice restaurant called the Padonmar.  A lot of the food was either Thai or Burmese food and Thai foods are similar.  Lena noted earlier that Thais tend to use their fork in the left hand only to push or break up food onto a spoon so the spoon and not the fork is what feeds the mouth.  Try it you’ll like it.

We finished dinner and by now it was 8 pm.  No Bill.  But another message said that the bins got through!  Eureka!  We are set to go.  I’m sorry God for doubting you.  Pastor just finished a series on Philippians on joy and happiness.  It reminded me of Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  Our prayers have been answered.  Thank you God.

Thank you to Bill, Dr. Chu, and Trevour for helping facilitate these foreign relations and for their patience and efforts.  There are so much behind-the-scenes that some of the team, including myself, can’t, but should, appreciate.

Tomorrow we go north to Zalun, proceed to a jetty to cross the river to Nandaw Island.  We then hop on an ox cart and travel to Myit Wa to the Theravada Buddhist Monastery.  We might have to live and eat and sleep like monks.  That may not be a bad thing (think camping) but I am guessing there wont be  any Sleep-Number beds.  Andy and David will be wearing appropriate hairstyles and will fit right in but I hope they don’t have a strict dress code.  Rumor has it that 5000 people are expected to show up at our clinics JUST in Myanmar.  We saw a total of 2500 people in two WEEKS in 2012.  Maybe we should have had them RSVP?  Just a suggestion next time.

I hope everyone gets a good night sleep because it may be your last one for a while…

God is Good, Mark

P.S. I don’t know the availability of the internet where were going so there may some “blackout” dates.  Sorry in advance but please pray for our Pastor as he leads us spiritually, for Bill as he continues to smooth the bumps in the road by absorbing them himself, for Gail’s strength to support him, for the team members working in uncharted territories and working together as this unique 2014 MTI team, for travel mercy, and for those individuals, including the team members, and patients that we will encounter to open their hearts to the physical, emotional, and spiritual enlightenment.

P.S.S.  I will try to load up photos in the near future but it is very sloooooww over the internet.

P.S.S.S.  Please go to facebook and wish Allison Chin a Happy Birthday on February 25th.  Sorry we will miss you!!  Love you sweetheart!

Thailand 5.2

Filed under: Uncategorized — markchinmd @ 5:24 am

February 23, 2014

Thailand/Myanmar 5.2

Burma or Bust: Meet and Greet the team

This mission team has a different feel than past teams and thus, may have different dynamics as well.  It’s a little too early to tell.  It is a little out of my comfort zone since we had a smooth operating team in the past and were like family.  We get along like family and also have our family feuds.  The difference is that we have newbies to the team (that actually have past connections to FCBC) and some that are MIA.  Those who are missing in action include Richard Bruce, our muscle.  I think the State Department warned him not to go into Myanmar for whatever reason being an ex-marine and all so I don’t blame him and besides Nannette has chores for him to do at home.  Richard is super busy with Matthew 25, FCBC’s food bank ministry providing food for the needy so it was hard getting away.  He’s taking Jesus’ cue and literally taking a few loaves of bread feeding hundreds of hungry mouths.  Go Richard, thank you and we miss you.  Ask Richard how you can help support Matthew 25.  We are also missing Arlene Jack, pastor’s better half, and new grandma to Rachel’s twins.  Definitely extra hands are needed for these newborns.  We will miss your smile and keeping Pastor Jack out of our hair.  We are missing our beloved Dr. Dennis Chinn and Dr. Akira Tajiri.  These two veterans have, collectively, nearly a hundred years experience of treating patients.  Their vast experience is unparalleled and their knowledge, wisdom, and organization will sorely be missed.  By the way, Dr.Tajiri invented the glasses-making system that allows the eye team to grind lenses, install them into frames creating glasses in about 15 minutes restoring clear vision to the visually handicapped.  He has donated thousands of dollars worth of equipment and supplies through various charities in addition to our mission trips.  The absence of his daughter, Allison Farrell, OD, with her tall stature won’t be overlooked because we all looked up to her.

So four former workers of the optometry department are not returning this year. Yikes!  I think someone pulled the wool over Bill’s eyes. There is no blame but perhaps, Bill was blindsided and it was not, in fact, Bill’s short sightedness that left the optometry department tunneled vision not anticipating that this year.  But we could all see that happening due to the physically demanding areas that we have to service which would be hazardous for our veterans.  In hindsight, which is always 20/20, he saw clearly the fact that Lisa Shimada with Diana Lee will be heading the department with two veteran lens grinders, Jennifer Chin and Mark Patton as well as newbie grinder Ronald Stuckey, and returning eye chart finger pointers Lena and Gail.  Not to mention John Shimada, Lisa’s husband, who is an experienced auto-refractor type of guy will be working by his wife’s sided like a personal assistant.  Hmmm, high maintenance perhaps?  How efficient this team will be remains to be seen and any problems will no doubt clear up with time.  No problem because it’s a good thing Bill’s a visionary and saw that coming.  However, it will be no doubt he will be watching the team under a microscope.

The newbies on the team bring a fresh perspective and different experiences:

Lisa Shimada, OD has history with Andy, John (her husband) Pastor Dennis, and Diana at Fresno State during Campus Crusade for Christ.  She lives in southern California John Shimada, esq. who practices environmental law and they have both been on prior mission trips  to Viet Nam and Morocco with John gaining experience with a variety of optical equipment, so they will fit right in.  Additionally, as an attorney, John may help give advice in any legal matters that we may encounter.  But if an incorrect vision prescription occurs and the patient’s eyesight worsens can he sue himself?  We are not anticipating any malpractice cases on this trip, are we?  He most likely will come in handy if any of us gets thrown in a Burmese jail.  Bill how much bail money did you bring?

Dr. Wen Chu has worked with Ming at the VA hospital in psychiatry.  He also was a military physician performing routine physicals for the army.  I wonder if he thinks were all crazy taking this 50 hour door-to-door trip to Burma.  He, himself, is Burmese and just returned from his school reunion and is making a U-turn back.  Sorry, I think that’s crazy! I hope that he gets frequent flyer mileage.

Dr. Chu will be invaluable as an interpreter and treating the team members’ moods.  Prozac anyone?  Bill has given him the “okay” to perform ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) on unruly team members.  Okay Bill, I get the hint.

Trevour Zin is Bill and Gail’s neighbor.  They have known each other for 30 years and is a good friend and “one of the nicest guys” per Bill.  He is an educator in Fresno with an import-export business.  Trevour is actually Burmese as well, has a home in Burma, and attended the Southern Methodist church as a youth where we will be incidentally visiting on this trip. His father worked for the United Nations and one of Trevour’s father’s wish before he past away was for a team to go to help the people of Myanmar (Burma). With Trevour’s help and connections it made his wish a reality.

Ronald Stukey is a member of Sierra View Baptist Church (formerly Sanger Baptist) and is a retired Fish and Game captain overseeing many game wardens within a region.  Oh deer!  I wonder if that’s a boaring job?  He has taken youth groups to Mexico to build homes and has been to the Ukraine to evangelize.  He accompanies Mark Patton, also a member of this and last mission team, who want to bring their experiences back to their home church.  He will strengthen the optometry with primarily responsibilities in the lens making detail.  Just to let you know, it’s a grind.  I am sure that you will be instrumental in forming and efficient production line.

Linh Truong, RN is Andy’s co-worker at Childrens’ Hospital of Central California.  They work in the emergency department together and wonders what Andy got her into.  I’m not talking about the horrid living conditions, disease filled working environments, spoiled food, uncivil sanitary conditions, or sleepless nights.  I’m talking about the eclectic personalities of the team.  Dr. Chu can prescribe some Xanax to help you cope with us.  Her mission, should she decide to accept it (too late) is to help Andy triage the patients to the correct department and to identify pressing health issues while at the same time trying to interpret up to a half a dozen ethnic languages.  Welcome aboard, Linh.

Chris Chow, PharmD son of David Chow, PharmD recently graduated from UOP and is the newest drug pusher following in his dad’s footsteps.  Watching him grow up in the church through BYF into a mature grown man in a respected profession makes us proud.  He will bring much needed joy and laughter on this trip along with his youthful enthusiasm.

Jennifer Chin, soon to be Liu, is my favorite oldest daughter who is returning to the mission team.  A member of the 2008 team, she worked in the optometry department grinding lenses.  She will be working double duty as a photographer and videographer recording history in the making.  Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll post some so I won’t have to write so much. You can be thankful for that.  She is taking her education from her anthropology and environmental biology degrees to, umm, well, let’s see, (what can you do with that?), well, then, to keep her dad company.  Yeah, that’s a great reason for being here: for my psyche.   She is currently volunteering for six months at the Akha Youth Development Center at the T-AMF (Thai-Akha Ministries Foundation) headquarters in Chiang Rai working on accounting, grant writing, web site development, and teaching English.  She is learning about applications of technology integrating into the villages as she has an interest in urban planning.  She will meet us in Yangon, Myanmar with Luka Chermue our Thailand host.  Follow her escapades at  Je t’aime mon ami.

Allison Chin, my favorite youngest daughter, will cheer you up.  She brings an uncanny sense of humor and will brighten up your day with her smile.  She also is volunteering at the AYDC with Jennifer performing similar duties and will be there for four months.  With a degree in sociology, she recently studied the problems of human trafficking in Cambodia and Thailand and wants to continue to explore the very problems of human slavery present in the United States and abroad.  She will be joining us for the Thailand part of the mission trip as a general helper.  You can follow her photo journal at

Don’t forget to wish her Happy Birthday on February 25th.  “Sorry honey for missing your birthday, again, but Uncle Bill wouldn’t switch the itinerary spending our first week in Thailand.  It’s his fault!  Love you, see you soon!”

By now you know the rest of the medical mission team.  This is the 6th overseas mission trip in the past decade.  The first in 2004 to China and then to Southeast Asia 2006, 2008, 1010, 2012, and now 2014.  By way of introduction (although many do not need any introduction):

Reverend Danny Jack is the pastor of FCBC.  He’s taken our congregation from 60 to 300 over the past 18 years.  As a former clinical psychologist he still gets into your head.  A historian, ask him about Adoniah Judson, the first Baptist missionary circa 1850.  Our church heritage influenced the very first Burmese Christians and it is exciting how missionaries have an impact on people and the world.

Bill Ho, DDS is our fearless leader making this trip a reality.  It is a thankless job and although Bill does not want recognition or acknowledgement (correct me if I’m wrong, Bill).  He is well organized and wise and seems to get his way no matter what other people say.  Did I say leader or dictator?  Retired once, he now works at the Indian Clinic in Fresno.  He just turned the Big Kahuna!

Gail Ho, RN is Bill’s better half.  Her smile is infectious and her “niceness” is evident in her children as well.  They got that from Gail, thank God.  She needs to smile when Bill rants and raves but that’s what makes her a great wife, mother, and friend.  She’ll be working in the Optometry dept.

Larry Lowe, DDS represents one half of the Lowe Boys.  They are not a singing group but you might sing praises to them as they constantly work the background making things happen.  Ask Larry, and considerate done.  He is always jolly, for a better sake of a word, and is always good nature.  Friendly and fun, he’s a hoot.  We need more like him.  He’s in private practice for over 20 years.

Lester Lowe, DDS the youngest of the Lowe Boys and is a go-getter himself.  He is not only resourceful but is the go-to guy to get things done.  He doesn’t seem to worry much unless his wife, Vicky, is around.  I guess he’ll be worrying a lot on this trip.  He along with Larry and his sister Linda Matsunaga, PharmD (all UOP grads) are the reasons why Ed Lowe, PharmD still works in his eighties paying off their student loans.  Give dad a break, will ya?  They get their work ethnics from their dad.

Vicky Lowe, DDS comes out of retirement to help out the dental team.  She feels that the team needs a woman’s touch and provides her influence in addition to Lynelle’s.  She has been on several mission trips herself but now that she is an empty nester is available to join us again on this trip.  She’s a good friend to all and will help you whether you want her help or not.  Even if you insist.

Lynnelle Win is a dental hygienist and is a human production line. If you want that Ultrabrite look, she’s the man, err, woman!  She will make your teeth shine even if you only have one tooth!  Although she has one of the best poker’s face, she is a really nice and funny lady.  She’s considers this mission trip a vacation, leaving her two lovely teenaged daughters with their dad Tom.  Good luck Tom!

Diana Lee, OD practices optometry in So Cal.  She is an invaluable member who sets the pace for the team. 


Jack Patton, MD is our medical director.  He brings a vast amount of experience as a missionary in New Guinea and practicing family practitioner in Fresno.  He is semi-retired and he has a wealth of knowledge both in religious studies and medicine.  He is affiliated with the Butler Mennonite Church and has worked with many SEA ethnic groups such as the Khmu in Laos.  If I am unsure of something I punt the patient to him and he gladly saves their lives.

Mark Patton, son of a gun, Jack, is a member of Sierra View Baptist and is our resident grinder.  He made an art out of grinding lenses with precise and accurate attention to detail.

Kane Kuo, MD has a great passion for the Lord.  He attended FCBC years ago while training in emergency room medicine and has transplanted to So Cal.  He is a great musician and singer brings a desire to treat those spiritually as well as physically and he regularly prays with his patients.

Bob Wu, MD is a great asset due to his Burmese heritage.   His specialty is anesthesia and practiced in Fresno many years before moving to their home in Washington.   He and his wife Cindy have made many trips to Burma on their own, particularly visiting the orphanages, teaching medicine and giving words of encouragement. They are currently in Burma and will be joining us for the Burmese leg of the trip.

Cindy Wu, RN, FNP is Bob’s wife and daughter of Dr. Joseph Woo, Jr.  She is a very passionate woman about helping others, particularly the needy.  She teaches nursing and both Bob and Cindy have been part of past mission teams to southeast asia.

Andy Alejo, RN is an ER nurse at Childrens’ Hospital who so passionate about the Thai people he eventually wants to become one.  He just needs to convince Diane that living in a hut with dirt floors is better than living in Fresno.  I don’t think Diane is up to waving a palm leaf over Andy feeding him grapes and bananas as he says “Yes, this is the life!”  No, she’s not there yet.

Ming Chong, RN is our multilingual translator.  He is a native of Thailand and an indispensible member of our team.  We would be lost without him.  He also is our tour guide and is a very knowledgeable of our surroundings making us very comfortable.  His GI tract is accustom to the indigenous flora, and not ours, so when he says it’s “safe” to eat or drink, think twice, boil it, treat it with UV light, and take a Pepto Bismol with lomotil and I think you’ll be fine.

Irwin Chow, PharmD is a man of many talents.  He will jiump in and do whatever you ask of him (to a point).  He has been responsible in individually counting tens of thousands of pills.  Interestingly, each time after a mission trip he has to update his prescription.  Don’t laugh if looks cross-eyed.


Lena Chin, wife extraordinaire, queen bee mother, wife of 33 years, and mother of 3 beautiful children (she’s looking over my shoulder reading this ;).  This is her second trip and will be serving on the optometry team.  Her greatest virtues are patience, organization, patience, neatness, patience, punctuality, patience, and wisdom.  (You have to have a lot of patience living with me…)  She is not only excited to come on this trip to see her daughters but is super friendly and treats everyone as family.

Mark Chin, MD is your blogger by default. AKA Dr. 93710, his hobbies are plastic and reconstructive surgery (anything from BOTOX to buttocks) with goals of “physician do no harm.”  He is the team’s communication to the outside world for the next two weeks via his blog  Please visit other years to get a flavor of our past mission trips.

Luka Chermue is our host in Thailand.  He runs the Thailand-Akha Ministry Foundation (TAMF) and Akha Youth Development Center AYDC).  He has connections all over Southeast Asia and is a pioneer in bringing Christianity to the ethnic tribes of Thailand, particularly to the Akha villages. Luka came out to Yangon last year to speak with the authorities to arrange for our team to set up clinic.


Frankly this trip to Southeast Asia is a little unsettling to me. Thailand’s political unrest is fortunately located in areas that we will not be working but unfortunately for Bangkok.  Some protestors are trying to out the Prime Minister.  We have been there before when they ousted that Prime Minister too.  The front page headline of today’s newspaper reads “Deadly Blast in City.”   Burma is at least changing over the past few years opening up to tourism so hopefully we will be welcome this time around. Our last attempt to serve the Burmese 4 years ago was filled with turmoil and despair as we couldn’t serve that many people due to our trip cut short and we were escorted out of the country, fortunately, in one piece

So our faith rests in God’s hand to deliver us to our destinations to serve him. Our motto that we are wearing on our wristbands, courtesy of Pastor Jack, reads “Do, Love, Walk with God.”  God will be with us and may he grant us peace, joy, and comfort as we serve His children of Southeast Asia.

Please keep us in your prayers, Mark

February 23, 2014

February 22, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — markchinmd @ 9:53 am

February 22, 2014


Thailand/Myanmar 5.1 (Fifth trip to Thailand, Day 1)


Bon Voyage: LAX to Seoul, Korea

We’re off to our medical mission trip to Myanmar and Thailand.  Many friends arrived to see the team off in the wee hours of the night, as we gathered at First Chinese Baptist Church at 0345.  Thank you so much to our send off team: Auntie Vi, Auntie Ginny, Jean, Ed, Patti, Scott, Darlene, Dr. Chinn, Dr. Tajiri, Dr. Chu’s wife, Arlene, anyone else?,  Of course, Pastor Dennis who was with the BYFers spending the night doing 30 Hour Famine raising awareness for world wide famine.   If I missed someone I didn’t see you, I’m sorry.  It was somewhat sad leaving the church.  I thought I caught a glimmer of a tear running down Dr. Tajiri’s eye.  I was wondering if he was thinking that he missed going on this trip and at 85 years-young; now, that would have been an incredible feat.  Or was he reflecting on the times that he accompanied us on prior trips helping the poor bring sight to the blind?  Then after a big long yawn, I saw another tear…Nope, just sleepy thinking “Whose Idea was this getting up this early??”  And jolly Uncle Dennis waving us good-bye.  “Good Luck!”  Now why was he chuckling?,,,


Our dedicated bus driver, Linda, who has chauffeured us several times before, carried us on the first leg of the journey.  We have nearly a ton of luggage and supplies: drugs (legal), equipment, medical/dental/optical, Kashi, and electronic gear.  Bin there, done that. Twenty-five bins, 4 duffel bags, 8 MAP (drug) boxes and several dozen miscellaneous pieces of luggage.  I think we brought just about everything we needed, save Botox. All along, Bill has been stingy to the medical team with regards to allocating the number of bins.  He’d rather use the space for blow up mattresses since he feels guilty that we have to lay on wooden floors at the Buddhist monastery instead of life-saving drugs.  Priorities, priorities. 


Well, as the team members loaded the bus, you could see some obvious separation already.  The extroverts sat toward the front while us young introverts and newbies tried to hide out in the middle and back of the bus trying to go unnoticed.  At the risk of suffocation, several stayed hidden under covers to avoid conversation.  The conversationalists, in their loud voices, on the other hand kept up the rest of us in our futile attempt to resume our shut-eye, now where were my earplugs and can’t they turn up their hearing aids?


The Naomi Ruth group graciously gave us care packages for the road while Dr. Bill and Gail provided the sausage McMuffins and water for hydration.  Fortunately there was a Porta-potty in the bus that allowed us to test our coordination, while some adventurous women tested their personal “Go Girl” devices which allows strategic positioning of a voiding assistance tool, Get the picture? Okay, we’re all adults, a straw to pee into when straddling the urinals in the grounds of Southeast Asia.  Just don’t get pissed off if you miss.  Which reminds me, ever read the book “Yellow River” by I.P. Freely?


We made a quick pit stop at our usually pre-Grape vine rest stop and here again there was segregation.  Some of the more affluent members (Vicky and Gail) bolted to get jolted at their favorite java house, Starbuck’s, for their $6 cinnamon coffee and low cal Carmel Macchiato (isn’t that an oxymoron?) while us peasants frugally obtained our $1 McD’s coffee.  I even got my senior coffee discount (I borrowed Bill’s ID).  After that, the trip didn’t seem that long with Linda speeding along at the wheel despite missing a semi-truck by a foot (the sleeping introverts missed that).





We arrived at LAX to meet up with Kane Kuo (he likes to go by Candy Kane), Diana Lee, Lisa and John Shimada and Trevour Zin.  A big surprise was seeing our children, Steven, Kelly, Lindsay, Stephanie, Lauren, Brittany, and Aimee who gave us a big send off.  Good to see you all! They are all grown up and accomplished.  Good for them, we’re proud of you!!


We checked in the team fairly smoothly.  We even got away with pieces over the 50 lb weight limit.  However, a few bins held us up.  TSA rejected several bins carrying the three air compressors,  We never had this problem before. For whatever reason, they didn’t like the X-ray so we couldn’t take them. Compressors are responsible for the infamous whining sound we are all familiar with that bring chills up our spines while we sit in the dental chair with our mouths wide open and are responsible for the  tears running down the faces of children and adults alike.  So maybe that’s a good thing.  They’re used to run the drills and ultrasonic tools to clean the thick calculus off the teeth and remove tooth decay.  It was like pulling teeth trying to get them through TSA but to no avail. I know Bill wanted to stick a drill up something. No big smiles for the dental team.  Plan B will be to purchase them at our destinations.  Otherwise the dental team will be doing a lot of flossing, brushing, and pulling instead of restoring.  Plan C is to have hamsters run in place on the spinning wheels to run the make-shift compressors using kazoos for sound effects of the drills.  Plan D is for Decay.


So during this 12 hour leg on this plane that is seemingly not even moving and to avoid staring at the open sky through the window wondering “Are we there yet?”, occasionally being distracted enjoying this Seoul food, wondering when our next meal will be and how close the toilet is, I am entertaining myself, not by watching countless new movies that I can buy on DVD in Thailand, but by journaling because in a few years the details of this trip will surely fade away from my aging memory and this blog, if you want to call it that, will provide some recollection, albeit, almost accurate, yet from my exaggerated perspective, a record of events, that have been put in motion by the Almighty God that will hopefully, in the future, provide a clearer picture of who is benefiting from this mission trip (the team members themselves or the intended patients), what we are trying to accomplish, where are we going exactly, why we are doing this, and how we are going to make a difference if that was are intended goal.  Maybe some of you actually know the answers, think you know the answers, or you think I’m dumb because you think I should know the answers.  I think for each of us, we have our own individual answers. 






I am not a writer.  I am not a scholar.  I am not a philosopher.  I lack wisdom even though I am often called a wise guy.  I am not a good communicator so you may have to decipher some of my thoughts, innuendos, and diarrhea of the mouth/mind.  But trust me, I’m a doctor.  Bill assigned me this task to keep me busy and no one else volunteered.  Perhaps I am an entertainer, attempting to relay our journey to my faithful reader (thanks, Kelly Quan) or readers (thanks family).  I will try not to bore you and for those reading this for the first time you’re probably lucky.  I will try to make you smile. And laugh.  And cry.  If you don’t then you didn’t get my jokes (whoosh, over the head) or you’re insensitive and need to get some help. That’s my opinion though you can always get a second opinion..  There is anxiety for those of us traveling and for the loved ones left behind (unless they are inheriting something).  Perhaps this blog will elicit stronger caring feelings towards one another, while creating long lasting relationships and new friendships.  I am actually thankful that you readers care what we are doing.  This blog functions as a connection between us.  This way we are experiencing this trip together so that we can emote together.  We will no doubt be enriched by this experience and I hope that you do to.  On behalf of Medical Team International thank you for supporting the team, praying for us, thinking of us, and caring for us.


Remember the profound words of wisdom quoted by our fearless leader Pastor Jack and my very wise wife, Lena “We are not taking God with us…God is taking us.”


Nigh Nigh, Mark Chin

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