I’ve written about health care here in Thailand a number of times before, but since this topic is in the forefront of the news back home I thought maybe an update might prove useful. Also, I just had a physical checkup so it is pretty fresh in my mind.

I know I am supposed to get an “Annual Checkup” annually, but it has been about 4 years since my last one. Since my birthday is this month Pikun thought that we should begin doing this annual thing on a yearly basis, and when would it be easier to remember than on my birthday?

We still go to Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, although there are now other hospitals in Chiang Mai that are Expat-centered. We went to the old reception desk and said we wanted to get complete physical checkups and were told we had to go to the new building about 100 meters up the block. Not to worry, they have a shuttle service. It turns out that they have a brand new, spotless and modern, complex with one building just for “Checkups” as the sign in front says.

Since one cannot eat before getting certain blood tests we go as early as possible and reach the Checkup Center at 7 am, which just happens to be their opening time. I bring my book to read (The Handmaids Tale) since there is usually lots of waiting time at hospitals. I can tell you now, so that you can get a feel of what the service there is like, that I did not get to read more than 1 ½ pages during the whole waiting time.

A doctor first takes a history. We have been going to Chiang Mai Ram for years so they have our records but they still ask, which I think is a good policy. I see the same friendly doctor I saw 10 years ago, and she remembers me. We speak in Thai although I know she is fluent in English.

Aside: All the Chiang Mai Ram doctors’ English was quite good but not that of the nurses. The nurses did speak English but haltingly. But none of the Expats I observed seem to have any problems with that.

The next step is to meet with a nurse and decide what procedures we want to have. There is a list of recommended tests but we could choose not to have certain ones. I eliminate the x-ray and the ultrasound and since I get a PSA and urology exam every 6 months I drop that one too. Besides the normal blood pressure, Body Mass Index (BMI) and weight checks, I get a bunch of blood tests (including red and white blood cell counts, platelets. glucose, uric acid, liver and thyroid function, testosterone, and cholesterol, and a few others that I have no idea about). I also select an EKG, and an Ankle Brachial Index (ABI) which test for any blood vessel blockages.

My test for whether a health center knows what they are doing is to see how good the nurse is who takes my blood. Since my arm veins are a bit deep they are often hard to get at. My nurse gets an “A”. Got the vein in one shot.

After the blood test they give you a coupon for a snack since they know we are all going to be hungry. I get some juice and a tuna fish sandwich.

Everything was finished by 9:15. We are told to come back at 1 pm for our results and to talk to the doctor.

But I have another problem. Lately I have had some shoulder pain and wondered if I could see an orthopedist. Maybe I could get an appointment for some time within the next month (good luck with seeing a specialist that quickly back home). The nurse made a call and then said, “This man will take you (in a golf cart) back to the main building where you can see an orthopedist. He (the orthopedist) is waiting for you now.” By 9:30 I was in the orthopedist’s office.

The orthopedist found that I have a slight case of impingement syndrome and some easy exercises and Tylenol will fix it right up. He takes out a number of pictures of shoulders and shows me exactly why I am having pain. I check it out on the Internet and they had similar diagrams and they recommended a bunch of diagnostic test for impingement syndrome. My doctor, it turns out, did every one of them. So I was very pleased with him.

It is early now so we go to the nearby Kat Suan Kaew shopping mall to do some shopping and get some food and maybe I could even read a few pages of my book. I also went to Dairy Queen and had a Chocolate Blizzard (important information; see below).

At 12:30 we go back to the Checkup Center thinking we would be a half hour early so I could maybe even get a whole chapter finished. As soon as we walk in they said the doctor would see us right then.

Results: Pikun’s got a slightly high blood sugar count, and my cholesterol is a bit high too. The doctor said to cut down on chicken skin and pork fat and ice cream. “But those are my 3 most important food groups.” I said hoping to elicit a smile. No smile. So I tell her I would be a good boy and I would see her in one year, slim and svelte and with a lowered cholesterol level. Pikun will cut down on carbs.

That’s it. We’re as healthy as teenagers.

Oh! I forgot that we are both way overweight, I with an embarrassingly high BMI.

So it is diet time for us and Dairy Queen will not be seeing any money from me for a while.

*****

Just a thought: Americans are wont to say that they have “The best health care in the world.” True or not, if one can’t afford to get the care, then it makes no difference. May sanity prevail back home and allow everyone to be able to afford to partake of that great care. Maybe that won’t make us “great again” but it would at least put us on a par with every other developed nation in the world, as well as with Thailand and the very good health care available to us here.

How much did my hospital bill come to?

Checkup cost: $100.59

Orthopedist cost: $17.63

The tuna fish sandwich: Free

*****

Love to you all on my birthday. May you be healthy and happy and don’t forget those “annual” checkups.

Birthday present 2017

Advertisements

 

And you just had some kind of mushroom

And your mind is moving low

Go ask Alice

I think she’ll know

The White Rabbit, Jefferson Airplane

Thailand is a good place for mushroom lovers. Normally when we think of mushrooms we think of the edible kind. My two favorites are the shiitake, in Thai called “black mushrooms”, a basic ingredient of lots of Chinese stir fries and soups, and the wonderful rice-straw mushrooms (also called paddy-straw mushrooms), named for the rice straw they are grown in. These are often found in the Thai restaurant favorite “tum yum” soup.

Shiitaki Mushrooms

Rice-Straw Mushrooms

I remember way back in the 60s, during Chinese New Year’s dinners at our house in New York, the feast’s show-stopper would be that plate of shiitake mushrooms cooked in oyster sauce. Shiitakes were a delicacy and we would have it only once a year because back then, pre Nixon’s visit to China,  there was an embargo against Communist Chinese products into the U.S. They had to be smuggled in from Canada and were very expensive, but they were worth the price and the wait. Even today, when they are cultivated almost everywhere, I still consider them a special treat.

The first time I encountered rice-straw mushrooms was my first or second day in country. I thought I had found a heavenly food. My wife Pikun tells me not to order them when we are out at a restaurant now because they are getting expensive and we can make them so much cheaper at home. But I still order “tum yum het” (mushroom tum yum) just about any time I can.

Lately Thailand cultivates lots of other mushrooms. The oyster mushrooms are popular as are those little Japanese ones, enokitake, we find in soups. And every rainy season the hunters and gatherers, of which there are still a few left, go up into the mountains and return with baskets full of wild mushrooms and bamboo shoots. Next time you are driving from Chiang Mai to Lampang (on the way to Bangkok maybe) there is a market at about the 50K mark from CM. You’ll find all kinds of “forest” foods there, bugs and birds, and creepy crawlies, along with lots of mushrooms you’ve never seen before.

For our more adventurous friends, there are the buffalo-shit mushroom (it’s where they grow). Also called cow-dung mushrooms but probably best known as “magic mushrooms” or “psilocybin”.  I think this is the kind that Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane are singing about (check out the link to “White Rabbit” above).  They are technically toadstools, or poisonous, and it has been a long time since I have been that adventurous, but I do have fond memories of drinking “sky juice”, psilocybin tea, on the island of Jamaica and encountering ”kaleidoscopes” when I closed my eyes.

Our experiment in raising Oyster Mushrooms

Enokitake Mushrooms

Magic Mushrooms growing in buffalo dung

But now, since the latest visit from my son Darin, I am  getting familiar with medicinal mushrooms, popular where Darin lives, and also becoming quite popular here in Thailand, although the Chinese have known about their healthful properties for centuries.  Darin lives on Orcas Island, in Washington State up near the Canadian border in the great Pacific Northwest, aka The “Left Coast”. And there is nothing more “left”, both geographically as well as culturally, as Orcas Island and btw, it is also one of the more beautiful and enchanted places in America, where live more deer and rabbits than people, and where Dungeness crabs and Pacific salmon, and orcas, and whales, and elephant seals, and the huge Stellar Sea lions, and giant octopi, make the waters around Orcas Island a living soup.

Darin and Pikun going out crabbing

Deer population on Orcas Island

The catch

But, as usual, I digress.

I now am learning about reishi, cordycep, and monkey-head mushrooms, as well as jiaokulan, and stevia leaves, all now cultivated in Thailand.

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) 

Reishi from a tree trunk in our backyard

Reishi mushrooms have been a staple in the traditional Chinese pharmacology for centuries. They are wood mushrooms that grow on the bases of trees and fallen logs. They are hard like wood and inedible although they can be boiled down and the bitter tea made from them can be drunk.

Formerly they were quite expensive but the price has fallen since the Thais have learned to cultivate them. I have visited a number of reishi farms and research centers in northern Thailand and the hilltribes are raising them and selling them to distributors in Chiang Mai.  I get my reishis from the Kings Project markets.

Modern studies on reishi’s effects on our health have been carried out in Japan, China, USA, and the UK.

Health claims for reishis include enhanced immune systems, anti-tumor effects, improved liver function, and lowered blood pressure. Also, reishis are thought to alleviate common allergies by inhibiting histamine release. And of course ingesting them will lead to a longer life, or so it is said.

No side effects have been noted in long-time use of reishis.

Reishis have become a big hit in Thailand and are considered a life lengthener by those who imbibe. They are referred to by the Thai rendering of their Chinese name. In Thai they are called “het lin jeur”, reishi being their Japanese name.

Corteceps (Cordyceps militaris)  

Cordyceps. The caterpillar, or what’s left of it, is under the ground.

Cordyceps, aka caterpillar mushrooms, have a very peculiar life cycle. All the things we call mushrooms are really only the flowering part of the organism. The real stuff of mushrooms is called the mycelium. The mycelium usually live underground in long strands looking very similar to a nerve bundle. When it is time to reproduce they send out their “mushrooms” which will open up and spread their spores.

A spore of the cordyceps will find its way on to a caterpillar, embed itself, and the mycelium will start to grow inside the little caterpillar host. It eventually kills the host and a mushroom will sprout from its desiccated body, usually the head.

It may sound creepy but these medicinal mushrooms are hunted in northern China and Tibet and can fetch big bucks. Since the 14 hundreds they have been a part of Chinese medicine.

They reportedly have anti-cancer properties, improve renal function, reduce cholesterol levels, increase energy and testosterone levels but are mainly prized for their aphrodisiac potential (energy). There are even claims that they increase a woman’s libido. I take them of course because they reportedly just make you feel “well”; believe me.

The big drawback to cordyceps is their price, as much as hundreds of dollars an ounce. So for years people have been trying to cultivate these, and they finally they have been successful. I visited the Chiang Mai University mushroom labs and saw their products growing under glass; no caterpillars were harmed in the YouTube video linked to above.

Although the specific species that is cultivated is different from the expensive ones collected on the Tibetan plateau, it is still believed that they have beneficial effects on our health. And the cultivated ones, although a bit pricey, costs way less than their “wild” counterparts.

 

Monkey head aka Lion’s mane aka  Yamabushitake (Hericium Erinaceus)

The Lion’s Mane Mushroom, aka Monkey Head

I don’t take these regularly. You can find them in many markets, sold for food, and they are used in soups, and are also sold as a dietary supplement in capsule form. I have included them here because I really like the name, Monkey Head. But they are supposed to have real medicinal qualities like enhanced memory, nerve growth, and longevity and may someday be used in treating Alzheimer’s.

 

Jiaokulan

A leafy plant originally from China, aka Fairy Herb, Southern Ginseng. Claims about Jiaokulan are that it lowers cholesterol, and blood pressure and improves heart function. It is supposed to be an anti-aging agent, an antioxidant, and is a detoxifying agent. Supposedly it also improves memory and prevents hair loss. If the last is true then I’d buy stock right now.

Jiaokulan leaves can be bought at many large markets and are now sold in tea bags.

 

Stevia

I have a bit of trouble with artificial sweeten drinks, especially those that use aspertame. I don’t know if aspertame causes any health problems but when I have used it it has made me feel lousy. And there is that terrible aftertaste. So I have avoided artificial sweeteners.

Stevia is not artificial, it is as sweet as sugar, and there is no aftertaste. Stevia is also sold in markets in Thailand.

*****

With my son’s encouragement I have been using some of these medicinal herbs and mushrooms. I don’t know if they have had an effect on my longevity, but I’m not dead yet so, Maybe.

My morning mushroom concoction (Life Juice)

  1. I cut up about 10 pieces of dried reishi mushrooms into a large pot. Bring it to a boil and then turn it down to simmer for about 3 hours.
  2. After about 3 hours I put in the jiaokulan leaves. I currently use the kind that are in tea bags of which I use 4.
  3. The reishi mushroom tea is quite bitter so after I turn the heat off I add stevia leaves. Normally stevia sweetens the drink but because of the bitterness of the reishi it balances everything out to neutral so it isn’t really sweet but the bitterness is gone.
  4. I strain this concoction into a large bottle which I refrigerate; enough life juice for a week or so.
  5. Each morning I take a large cup, squeeze half a lemon into it and a pinch of cordycep mushrooms with a regular tea bag. Green tea or herbal teas work just as well.  I fill the cup up halfway with boiling water.
  6. When the tea is brewed I take the reishi life juice and add it to fill the cup to the top.
  7. I drink this every morning and if all the literature is right I will be writing this blog for another 50 years.

To learn more about mushrooms (fungi) and how they can save the world you can watch Paul Stamet’s TED Talk here.

 

Apologies to Hamlet. But really, I think Hamlet was talking about doing himself in, or in his words, “shuffled off this mortal coil”.

Me, I just want to sleep through the night.

When we get older our sleep patterns change, not usually for the better. My sleep patterns currently suck.

Is it normal to wake at 3 am just so I can fall asleep reading, or watching TV, or listening to my wife talk about her day at 8 pm? So I turned on my Android tablet and said to it, “Okay Google, Why do we have sleep problems when we get older?”

And to paraphrase Google:

Changes to sleep patterns are part of the normal aging process.

(Well that sucks.)

67% of people over 55 complain of frequent sleep problems. When we get older we tend to produce less melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate sleep.

(Nothing seems to work as well as it used to.)

It is a common misconception that sleep needs decline as we get older.

(I fell asleep right in the middle of the latest Star Wars movie; in the middle of a battle scene.)

Okay Google, so tell me something I didn’t know.

Falling asleep in the early evening and getting up in the AM is referred to as “Advanced sleep phase syndrome” (ASPS).

So now that I can put a name to it, everything will be fine – NOT!

*****

Making Lemonade, literally

Not being able to sleep past 4 am is being given a pretty sour lemon. After weeks of just lying in bed in the pre-dawn I decided to give up trying to get back to sleep and I just got up. It turns out that is not such a bad thing after all, especially in the hot season.

I now get up when I wake up. I do some yoga, lift a few weights, do some Internet surfing, and write this post. After a few hours the sun comes up and I go out into the garden. My assignments are to rake the leaves and lift bags of manure, something I can really use my costly education for. At this time in the morning it is nice and cool.

I also check out our fruit trees, especially the lemon grove. I pick whatever is ripe. By 8:30 am, I’ve been up for about 4 hours by now, the sun starts getting hot and I’m done for the day, except for a nice cold lemonade from the lemons I picked earlier.

*****

One solution

I recently found a small solution to this sleep problem. A good Thai friend had just bought a new house right on the Ping River here in Chiang Mai. As most Thais will do when they move into a new house they had a Buddhist ceremony to bless the house and to call for happiness and prosperity for the new occupants.

The ceremony consisted of a retelling of the occupant’s life history and then the nine monks got down to chanting. As they began to chant all the guests placed their hands together in front of them. I did the same and also closed my eyes. About 20 minutes later the chanting was finished, and I awoke from the best and most refreshing sleep I had had in the last few weeks. If this Advanced sleep phase syndrome doesn’t get better I just might make visiting a house warming ceremony a regular thing.

*****

Those of you who have been with me since the beginning of time, or at least since I was writing the “Retiring Attitude” column for the Chiang Mai City Life magazine, might remember that I touched on the topic of sleep once before.  It was so nice to live in a world before my advanced sleep phase syndrome became a part of my life. Here is the article, later reprinted in my eBook Retired Life in Thailand.

Power Napping

“Sir, if you’ll not be needing me, I’ll close down for a while.” With that, the droid C3PO (Star Wars IV, A New Hope) shuts down and re-energizes himself. That always intrigued me. I wondered if I could do the same thing. Then I learned about Power Napping.

Thailand, especially on a stifling hot season afternoon, can be a rather enervating place. There is a Thai word “chee-wit-chee-wa” meaning animated and lively. Well, a hot Thai afternoon will suck the “chee-wit-chee-wa” right out of you. But a power nap might just be the medicine that will get it back.

There are lots of versions of power napping around the world. Spain and the Latin American countries have their siestas, the Japanese have the inemuri and the sleep scientists have what they call polyphasic sleep. They all mean basically the same thing, crashing for a short period in the middle of the day. I have been watching the construction workers in my compound. Right after lunch each person heads for someplace shady; under a tree, next to a wall, under a truck. And they all take part in “polyphasic sleep”. They simply close down for an hour. I’ve learned to do the same thing.

A power nap is not a catnap. A catnap is when you are sitting in your chair and doze off for a few minutes. A real power nap involves a complete break from the hustle and bustle of your daily life. It is a time to be completely relaxed, just as you would in your own bed. The rest you get from power napping is akin to the calm feeling one gets after a meditation session.

Studies have shown that for experienced nappers, power naps are as good as a night of sleep on revitalizing memory, relieving fatigue, and boosting energy. Remember when you were a kid in primary school and you always had “nap time”. There was a good reason for that when you were little and there is a good reason for it now. It is probably unnatural to force yourself to stay awake for 16 straight hours. Watch your dog or cat and see how long they stay awake.

Lately, even big corporations see the value in having their employees take short naps during the day. Some companies are now providing special rooms with low lighting and cots for sleeping. They know that a revitalize employee is a more productive one.

So, how does one power nap? Power napping is trainable. The main thing is to find a place to completely relax, where you can rest, or sleep, for at least 10 to 30 minutes. Here is what I do. I get out of my regular clothes, get into the clothes I use for sleeping at night, I draw the shades, and then I get into bed. I usually fall asleep right away and something in me wakes me after just about 20 minutes (if I sleep longer I sometimes feel groggy). Then I get up, wash my face, brush my teeth, and I am ready for the rest of the day.

Besides feeling refreshed and being much more alert and productive later in the day, I don‟t fall asleep in front of the TV at night anymore. It sounds contradictory but a good nap helps you to stay awake. Like meditation, power napping allows you to release all the gunk cluttering up your mind. It is sort of like rebooting a computer that has too much stored in its RAM that makes it start to slow down.

There is another reason why I think we should nap? To use another metaphor, I like to think our bodies are like automobiles. When we are awake we are putting miles on the odometer. Taking a nap is like putting the engine in neutral. If our engine has a fixed limit in the number of miles we can run then napping, or putting our engines in neutral, will make our engines last longer.

Well, I feel that old “chee-wit-chee-wa” fading a bit. I‟ll get back to work after naptime. Sweet dreams.

If you are going to pull up stakes and move to a different country then you’ll have to deal with lots of changes. Language, food, and climate differences will put you under lots of stress.  Culture shock will occur and you’ll have to deal with that too. But probably the first big change will happen deep inside you. No, I’m not talking about the psychological effects of leaving home and living in a strange land. I’m referring to your bowels.

Remember long ago, after a visit to Mexico, President Jimmy Carter caused an international incident when he talked about “Montezuma’s Revenge”? It’s a real thing. Here in Thailand it is sometimes referred to as “Bangkok Belly”, but less likely to cause an international uproar, we could use the term “traveler’s diarrhea”.  Well, even if you take lots of care about eating clean foods, and drinking clean water to avoid the dreaded “runs”, the bacteria we all have inside our guts that we need to assist in our digestion and absorption of nutrients are different in different parts of the world. And sometimes our gastrointestinal tract rebels against these alien microbes.

However you refer to it, you’re going to get it. Hopefully it will be the simple kind that you can “stop” with over-the-counter meds. Once in a while it will be lots worse. Don’t ignore it, stay hydrated, see a doctor if it doesn’t clear up in a few days, especially if you have stuff coming out of multiple orifices. Once you are here a while you won’t be bothered too often. The once illegal aliens in your bowels will become acceptable citizens.

To help you identify this problem, and to know that when it happens to you that you are not alone, I want to share some of my gastrointestinal anecdotes with you, aka, the non-euphemistic term “Poop Stories”.  You may already have, and if you don’t, you most like will have, lots of your own stories to tell, no doubt. These stories are lots of fun to tell, AFTER the fact.

*****

I missed that class

Back in 1969 I went to Peace Corps training on the Big Island of Hawaii. We had three-months training in the Thai language, Thai culture, and in Teaching English. Our trainers tried to prepare us for just about everything we would encounter when we began our volunteering in country, the dos and don’ts, the food, the religion, the Thai houses, kitchens and bathrooms.

One important lesson was how to use the Thai squat toilets. Back then, these were just about the only toilets one would find. So all the volunteers were made aware of and shown how to use them. One problem I had, on the day of the toilet lesson I was away at the training center’s clinic getting a yellow fever injection. So, a few months later, when we got to Bangkok I had never seen or even heard of these squat toilets.

typical_toilet_in_urban_syria-_flush_toilet_squatting_pan_3232388550

We were paired up and spent our first night in-country at a Bangkok hotel. We got to Bangkok at about 2 am and before turning in for the night I needed to use the toilet. I went into the bathroom and right there on a small platform I encountered the first squat toilet I had ever seen. What do you think you would do if you were in my place?

Instead of describing my first Thai faux pas, minutes after arriving in country, here are some pictures describing how and how not to use a squat toilet.  See the picture on the bottom right? Yes, that was me.

how_to_use_the_japanese-style_toilet

Well, for the next three years I lived in a small cabin, with light bulbs hanging from the ceiling and no screens or running water. And my outdoor toilet was, yes, you guessed it, of the squat variety. And through necessity I became an expert, a skill this 70 year old body fortunately doesn’t need to use much anymore since the sit-down variety are found almost everywhere, and if you are lucky and encounter one of those computerized Japanese “smart” toilets, you’re in for a treat. But like I should have done before coming to Thailand, you might have to take a lesson or two in how to use them (A Westerners Guide to Japanese Toilets).

 

Meeting the ambassador

Being from the “Mean Streets” of New York (Scorsese shot his movie with De Nero only a few blocks from where I grew up), the idea of meeting an ambassador was pretty daunting. But on our second day in Bangkok our Peace Corps group was scheduled to meet the ambassador, Leonard Unger, at a welcoming reception at the U.S. embassy. As excited as I was to enter the rarified air of the international diplomatic corps, I had one small problem.

The day before, probably with a little hubris, I had eaten noodles from a street vendor, and loaded my bowl with about a dozen red hot chilies (or rat-turd-peppers in the translation from Thai). And as hubris, coupled with chilies and alien bacteria will do to you, I got as sick as a dog.

I quickly learned to use that squat toilet in my hotel room.  It only took about a dozen visits in the first hour, and with a fever and sweat pouring out of my pores and other stuff pouring out of “wherever” I got on the bus to the embassy. I had a sinking feeling that my entry into the world of high government was not going to go as I had hoped.

Even though I grew up on the “Mean Streets” I had learned something about etiquette and diplomatic protocol. I must have learned what I knew from my readings, which were extensive for a street kid. For example, I learned which fork to use by reading Miss Manners in her New York Daily News column. So I must have learned about “receiving lines” sometime about then.

And so here I was, on my first formal receiving line. There were the embassy’s diplomatic corps, followed by Mrs. Unger, and then the ambassador himself. The cramps hit me as soon as I shook the first hand. By the time I got to the ambassador’s wife I was close to exploding. The wonderfully gracious Mrs. Unger extended her hand and said in a warmly welcoming voice “Welcome to Thailand, son”.

And as in the line from the Kenny Rogers’ song The Gambler goes, “And the night got deathly quiet, and his (my) face lost all expression”, and all I could say at my introduction to high society, something I had dreamed about and wished for since I was a boy was, “Where is the bathroom?”

Now another person might have been put off by this. Another person might have been offended. The gracious Mrs. Unger, seasoned diplomat as she was, knowingly took me by the hand and lead me down the hall, to a small bathroom, the sit-down kind, where I remained for the duration of our reception.

Once again I learned, be careful what you wish for.

 

Friends come for an unexpected visit

Many of our Thai friends seem to like to surprise us by showing up unannounced to stay for a visit. Two of our friends now make sure to call before appearing on our doorstep, and with good reason.

Regular “Bangkok Belly” is more or less an inconvenience. That is not the case with another affliction travelers encounter, food poisoning. I have come down with food poisoning a few times. It takes the form of super diarrhea and projectile vomiting, two activities I could easily eschew. Food poisoning usually lasts for about 24 hours and if you survive you’ll be about 10 lbs. lighter, and exhausted. Exhausted were what my unannounced visitors were the next morning after a night dealing with the aftereffects of my bowl of lunchtime Tom Yum Noodles had done its worst.

At the time, we lived in a one-room wooden house which we used on the few weeks a year we spent in Chiang Mai. It contained a small kitchen, small bathroom, a bed, a table, and a few chairs. So when our friends appeared and asked to stay the night there was nowhere for them to sleep but for some mats we had on the floor. Picture this, middle of the night, they are lying on the floor, between my bed and the bathroom door. That’s when my battle with food poisoning ensued.

I had no choice but to walk (and later climb) over our friends (a big no-no in Thai culture) to get to the bathroom. Not only the fact that all night they had to endure the groans and other sounds related to my illness coming from within the bathroom walls, but I had to make this nocturnal excursion (and I really counted) 27 times that night.

Our friends wisely waited until we moved into our permanent home and built a guest bungalow before making their next visit. And of course, they called first.

 

In the jungle, the mighty jungle

I once had one of those one-up type arguments with a friend on who had been the poorest growing up.

Me: We were so poor that in the tenements we lived in, many of us had to go down the hall to use a shared bathroom. And my bathtub was in the kitchen.

My Friend: I was so poor growing up in Kentucky that we didn’t even have outdoor plumbing. When we had to go we went out into the corn fields.

My friend won that argument.

Once when I was out trekking in the northern Thai forests we spent the night in a Karen village. When I felt Nature’s call I asked the headman where the bathroom was. He pointed out the door. It was pitch black at night and when I got to the door and looked out all I could see was the jungle. The headman gestured again, out the door. He meant that, like my Kentucky-bred friend, I was to do my duty “outside”.

So, without a flashlight, I ventured out into the dark forest and with the light of a few stars found an empty spot that looked appropriate. Being now skilled in squatting I simply dropped “trow”, collected a few leaves from a nearby tree and proceeded to answer Nature’s call.

Just then I heard a rustling of the bushes around me. Then a low groan. I know that tigers have been long gone from this area, but what about leopards? The rustling came closer. The groans louder. And I was only halfway through my present activity. I was sure I was going to die an ignominious death with my trousers around my ankles.

Then bursting out of the bushes came the most enormous black pig I had ever seen. He came right up to me, checked out what I was doing, pushed me aside, and proceeded to devour my current contribution to the forest floor. I quickly finished up and took off, as my hog friend cleaned up after me.

No wonder, even with the whole village using the forest as a bathroom, the land around us was completely clean of any sign of such use. They had their own cleanup squad. I tried not to think about that pork we had that night for dinner.

 

A Balinese farmers market

I don’t want to sound like Thailand is the only place one encounters gastric discomfort. Probably the worst I ever felt was when I got a case of “Balinese Belly” while visiting that enchanted isle.

I was enjoying a wonderful evening meal up in a mountain village on the verandah of an inn overlooking a huge volcanic caldera. A thousand feet below and about a mile away was the cinder cone of a volcano which exploded with a column of black smoke every 15 minutes or so. When the sun set, the black smoke turned into a fiery red shower. Since there was no electricity in the village, with only lantern light, the show was spectacular. That is until the well-known symptoms of another assault on my intestines kicked off.

Knowing that I only had about a minute before I would erupt like the volcano, I asked our host for the WC and she said to go out pass the small field next to the inn, turn right, and about 50 yards down the road you’ll find the village outhouse. I grabbed the lantern, the only one they had, and set off.

Wearing my sarong, and surrounded by every dog in the village barking loudly, I only made it 25 yards. Oh, did I tell you that halfway down the road the lantern had gone out?

I cleaned up with a torn-off strip of my sarong, and followed the sound of the exploding volcano back to the inn.

That night, at least a dozen times, I never made it to the village outhouse but settled for the small field next to the inn. My sarong was now in shreds, almost completely stripped away, when morning came.

When I finally awoke I heard a commotion outside my bedroom window. I pulled the curtain aside and looked out. The field next to the inn, that same field that had been the scene of my nefarious doings, had been turned into a morning farmers market. There were the fruit sellers and vegetable vendors setting up for the day, and right next to each stall was a bit of stained grass, and behind each, hanging on the branches of the bushes, was a strip of what appeared to be sarong cloth.

Still sick, I quickly packed up, hopped on my rented motorcycle, and made a speedy exit out of town, never looking back.

*****

Happy travels and may you survive to have lots of good stories to tell.

Thai Vocabulary in the News

Learn Thai vocabulary Words that have recently appeared in the Thai Newspapers

A Woman Learning Thai...and some men too ;)

Learn Thai Language & Thai Culture

Retire 2 Thailand's Blog

Thoughts on retiring in Thailand