Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Yesterday was another busy as well as interesting day here in Isaan.

Duang woke up with an ear infection. She has a propensity towards ear infections due to perforated ear drums caused as a child by her father and years of not being able to afford medical treatment. I drove her to the Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist in downtown Udonthani. It was not necessary to schedule an appointment - Isaan is very informal. We arrived at his clinic at 8:25 A. M. and we were the second patient waiting on the sidewalk for his clinic to open at 8:30. The clinic opened on time and we waited until 9:00 A. M. for the doctor to arrive.

The doctor's office is a small and narrow room with stucco covered brick walls. The walls are a dingy pale cream color and could use repainting or at least a good cleaning. The front third of the space is a combination of wooden benches and plastic chairs for patients. There is a water cooler on the left hand side of the room with three plastic glasses sitting in a tray atop the water bottle. People in Isaan accept and are accustomed to sharing - I have a ways to go in that department.

There is a receptionist desk and medication storage area facing the patient waiting area. Behind the receptionist station there is a 6 foot high partition which is one of the walls to the examining room. There is a sliding window in the partition which allows the receptionist to get change from the doctor when a patient pays their bill. Credit card payment is not an option.

On the walls there are two medical posters showing detail cut aways of the anatomies of nose, ears, and throat. There is a large picture of the King of Thailand near the receptionist' station. All businesses and every private home that I have been to have pictures of the King, King and Queen, or other members of the Royal Family prominently displayed.

There is one other large poster on the wall in the patient waiting area - a large advertisement for a huge industrial HEPA vacuum cleaner - think in terms of a shop vac. The poster displays all the hoses as well as nozzles available with the machine. I always have a silent chuckle when I look at it and think about some poor patient going to the doctor for the first time and seeing that device.

The doctor's "shop vac" is much smaller and definitely very much older. To clean out ears, he has a vacuum pump device. There is a vacuum pump that looks like it was made in the 1950's with a exposed belt and 12 inch diameter wheel with a large glass bottle that appears to be straight out of 1960's high school science lab.

There is a 1950's era dental work station for the patient to sit in. Instead of a xray camera, the work station has a microscope/camera device. Magnified images are displayed on a 13 inch color TV from the early 1970's. The office is completed with an old metal desk, old and somewhat corroded metal bookcase of paraphernalia and medicines, an examining table, and two plastic chairs for visitors. There is no door for the doorway into the area and the area has 6 foot high partitions in a building with 12 foot high ceiling, but if you have read many of my blogs you already understand that privacy in Isaan is not high consideration.

The doctor took care of Duang and she needs to go back in 3 days. The cost for his care and 7 prescriptions which were filled by his receptionist was 400 Baht - $11.76 U. S. Dollars.

After returning home, we addressed a home repair issue. The shower from the upstairs guest bathroom has been leaking on to, into, and out of the dining room ceiling. Our house is three years old and we are not the original owners so I expected correctly to have to pay for the repairs. Duang talked to the developer's office people (houses are still being completed) and within 1/2 hour we had a man over to the house. The man and his female assistant worked from 10:00 A. M. until 4:30 P. M. removing ceiling, tiles, and concrete. We bought new tiles and a new drain fitting for $13.23 U. S dollars. The man and his partner replaced the drain and tiles. Another man returned today to patch and paint the ceiling. Total price for the labor - $58.82. In addition to affordable (by U S standards) health care, Isaan also has affordable home repair pricing.

I am learning, very slowly, to speak some Thai. Duang's command of English far exceeds my attempts at Thai or Lao so we communicate mainly in English. Often there are mis-communication which end up with both of us laughing. Yesterday was another example. Duang got a phone call. During the phone call she told me that it was her cousin. She has 93 cousins. Duang also uses the term "cousin" to include nieces and nephews. I do not know how many nieces and nephews that she has. Anyhow - the way that I heard it was that her cousin wanted to know if I wanted to give 2,500 now or get 3,000 in one month, cousin says 2,500 now , wait one month, give me 3,000. I assumed, wrongly in the end, that her niece was calling to borrow 2,500 baht now and would pay me back 3,000 baht in a month. Falangs are perceived by local people to be rich, and compared to the local villagers, we are. Due to our status a foreigners and relative wealth, Isaan people believe and it is actually part of their culture to ask us for favors such as to borrow money. In return as part of the Isaan culture, we as a "higher" status are entitled to ask them to do things for us. To be fair to everyone, I do not loan money.

Duang kept talking to her cousin and asking me about 2,500 and 3,000. I replied that I was not a bank. I do not loan money. If I were to loan 2,500 baht, I would not want to get 3,000 baht back - only the 2,500 baht. I reaffirmed my position to not loan the money. Duang looked perplexed and I was becoming impatient. The phone call ended with Duang telling me that her cousin would call again. I said I didn't know what good that would do - I said "No" and I will say "No" again! Duang then started rummaging through the magazines and papers on our cocktail table and pulled out the Toyota Truck brochure. It then started to dawn on me what may have been going on. The person that she was speaking with was her cousin the car dealer - the man we are buying and ordered our truck from. Through hand gestures and pantomime, I now understood that he was saying we could have a truck with a 2.5 Liter (2,500 cc) engine now or wait for a month to get it with the 3.0 Liter (3,000 cc) engine that we had wanted. We decided to wait for what we wanted and ordered to begin with. Duang and I had a good laugh and teased each other the rest of the day about our lack of communication.

We ended up going to the OTOP Festival at 5:00 P. M. We had gone last year and enjoyed it very much. This year it was better and it was worse. It was better this year in that it was comprised of several large interconnected AIR CONDITIONED tents. It was worse in that there was no large outdoor stage with free stage shows. We toured one area and bought some handicrafts and left.

The restaurant that we used to eat at frequently last year near our hotel is closed so Duang's son took us to a different place. We were going to eat "mauk ka tah" (Thai BBQ). The open air restaurant that we ended up at was alongside the fence of the airport fairly close to the runway. Heavy vegetation concealed an open view but a couple times you could partially view and definitely hear planes completing their landing run out at the airport. The restaurant is mostly for Thais - just what I like. There was a large open sided structure that contained a large stage and some tables for diners. There were three sections of open sided structures that had tables or shelves with uncooked foods such as marinated beef, marinated chicken, marinated pork, squid, vegetables, noodles, leaves, greens, etc. Another section was where you could get "pauk pauk" - green papaya salad and another where you could get some grilled food.

You sat in plastic chairs at a wood table that has a large hole in it. A heavy and thick refractory lined bucket with a charcoal fire is placed in the hole of your table. A thin metal, hubcap type, pot is placed over the fire. The pot has a trough around the perimeter in which water is kept. A slotted cone rises out of the trough. Food is boiled in the water and food is grilled on the slotted cone. The cost for this "all you can eat" extravaganza was $2.91 each plus drinks.

I know why the restaurant from last year was out of business. People from Isaan can pack away the food. I was the first to get full and stop eating followed by my step-son. His girlfriend who is about 5'5" tall and about 110 pounds was third. My wife who is 5'0'' tall and 94 pounds (before eating last night!) was the last to finish - 20 minutes after I did. There was no problem there was a man playing guitar and singing for entertainment. It was a nice finish to a busy and definitely interesting day here in Isaan.

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