Friday, July 16, 2010

Kwan's Bad Day

After viewing the loading of boats on the Mekong River on Tuesday, we headed for Tahsang Village. We took Highway 2 south back towards Udonthani, past Udonthani, and eventually to Kumphawapi. Driving along the roads in Isaan is always interesting with motorbikes often driving the wrong way on one way roads, less often a car or even a truck will be traveling the wrong way but they typically are in the breakdown lane so once you get over the initial shock there is not much danger. The maximum speed for cars on Highway 2 is 90 kmh (55 mph) but is 60 kmh for trucks (35 mph) I don't know what the maximum speed limit is for buses - not that it matters because they do not follow the maximum limit. The buses are terrors of the road. They speed down the road from 100 to 130 kmh (65 to 80 mph) except for for three occasions - when they are alongside the road broken down, when they have had an accident, or for many buses when they have pulled over to the edge of the road to either pick up or discharge passengers. We have seen several buses rolled over in the rice paddies that border much of the roads. The mix of cars, trucks, buses, motorbikes, bicycles, and somlaws all going their separate speeds makes driving a challenge. There is no minimum speed laws on Thai roads so there is a great variation of speeds for any given section of road.

Another challenge for driving is the Thai use of traffic cones to mark road work or to indicate road hazards. Many sections of Hwy 2 from Udonthani to Kumphawapi is being repaired. Repairs consist of removing 4 meter (12 ft) by 12 meter (36 ft) sections of concrete roadway, excavating a meter meter deep hole which is eventually filled with concrete and steel reinforcement. To prevent vehicles from falling into the 3 foot deep large excavations, a traffic cone or barrier is placed at the edge of the hole - no warning as you drive along the road at 55 mph. You could very easily hit the cone as you drive into the excavation. The same is true for workers alongside the road. The cones or warning signs are placed about 10 meters (30 feet) ahead of the workers. We make it a point to minimize travel along unfamiliar roads after dark.

A pleasant aspect of road travel are the items, usually food, that you can buy at stands set alongside of the road. The new peanut crop has been harvested so there are many places where you can stop and purchase some freshly boiled peanuts. In about a month there should be a new crop of corn on the cob - freshly boiled. Various communities have their specialty and many people will set up tables and umbrellas along the road outside of their village where they sell their specialty. Given the area in which you are driving the items for sale can be honey, salt, rice, sausages, mushrooms, tropical fruit, coconuts, corn, bamboo stuffed with sticky rice and coconut milk.

For our trip back from Nong Khai the treat was fresh green coconut. The fresh green coconut is a double treat. The heavy husk is removed by the villagers leaving a fist sized (very large fist) nut which has had the top sliced off (think in terms of a jack-o-lantern pumpkin) The top has been placed back atop the nut and often the assembly is kept in a cooler with ice. When you buy the nut you are given a straw to drink the refreshing and nutritious coconut water. Once the water is consumed, you can use your fingernails to extract the very supple coconut flesh - equally refreshing and very tasty. This makes for a great treat on a hot and humid day. We had bought some on Monday and gave them to Duang's mother. On Tuesday we stopped at the same booth and bought more along with two special coconuts for $0.75 each. These special coconuts had coconut water, coconut flesh and pieces of coconut flavored gelatin - all of which had been kept on ice.

We arrived in Tahsang Village and immediately could tell that something was wrong. Many of the villagers were sitting on the raised platform across the street from Duang's mother's home. The villagers looked very worried as well as very concerned. We found out that Kwan, Duang's cousin's 2-1/2 year old daughter, had been run over by a motorbike. Kwan had just gotten her fingernails painted for the first time and had dashed across the village street to show her mother. Unfortunately a schoolgirl from three houses away was speeding down the street on her way to school. Kwan got run over by the motorbike and could not walk. She was taken to the local hospital in Kumphawapi on her grandfather's motorbike. Her grandmother and the mother of the schoolgirl went to the hospital on another motorbike.

Here in Isaan, the person who causes an injury is responsible for the medical costs of the injured. The schoolgirl's mother went to the hospital along with Kwan's family to fulfill her family's responsibilities to the victim.

Our grandson, Peelawat who usually plays with Kwan, was inside the market asleep. Here in Isaan village life for children involves playing in the street as much as playing on private property. Lao Loum people spend much of their time outside with indoor activities limited mostly to sleeping at night and eating of some meals. Raised covered platforms outside of Lao Loum homes is where adults and children spend much of their day - eating, napping, playing, and caring for children. If children are not playing on the raised platform they are playing in the street - riding bicycles, chasing each other or wandering around form one group of adults to another.

While we were visiting the village a young boy just learning to ride a bicycle came by. He was about 3 years old and was riding a small bicycle that had training wheels. He was being attended to by his grandmother. She had tied a piece of string to the bike that prevented her grandson from getting away from her on his bike. He had a small cap on and I could not help but be reminded of the Tour de France which is currently being held. However this guy looked like he could have been competing in the Tour de Tahsang. His bicycle was pink and appeared to be a girl's bike. However I have yet to see a local bicycle that is the traditional US "boy's" style bicycle.
Like the other villagers, we were concerned about Kwan. We stopped at the hospital on our way back to Udonthani. We quickly found Kwan and her entourage. Kwan was in good shape. She had a scratch on her knee which was swollen and was unable to stand. Kwan had seen a doctor and had her leg and arm xrayed. Her family was awaiting the doctor to interpret the xrays. I looked at the xrays and was pleased to see that Kwan did not have compound fractures. It appeared to me that she had a cracked bone in her leg up near her knee and a crack in her arm. After awhile actually a long while, a doctor was available and saw Kwan. After seeing the doctor Kwan was taken back to the emergency room where her leg was placed in a walking cast and her arm was placed in a soft cast. She was sent home with some Tylenol and Advil type medication. She is to return to the hospital on Monday. Rather than Kwan going back to tahsang on a motorbike, we took her and her grandmother back to the village in our truck. Kwan was tired and exhausted from her trying day.

Kwan was welcomed back by the relieved villagers. Soon she was surrounded by relieved adults and her oblivious playmates including Peelawat. The trauma of the day was relieved somewhat by fresh watermelon which Kwan seemed to relish. It was a sobering experience to realize how close Kwan had come to being seriously injured.

There was also the realization that such an accident could very easily happen to any one of us at any given time.

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