From Thighland to Thailand

February 28, 2014

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


Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: