Friday, December 30, 2005

A certain airline...

There's an airline, which may or may not be the only realistic competitor in Australia, that I've always been a little unsure of. Perhap's it's the rumours of their staff employment policies, or just the flagrant self-promotion of their owner. Anyway, I've found them a tad irritating.

Nevertheless, I was a little surprised when one of their employees informed me that the guitar, made in Burma, given to a colleague and subsequently to me (being my colour and all), lovingly wrapped in several sarongs and carried from Bangkok to Sydney, wasn't allowed on the plane.

It's a dangerous weapon.

Thankfully the ground staff were a little less concerned. And since the most recent flight attendant told us to inflate the life jacket and use the whistle to attract mermaids, I might just forgive them.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

I went to the movies today, for the first time since February.

I am not in the mood for fantasy (Hollywood romance), violence (Hollywood humour) or product placement (Hollywood hair). So a historical dramatisation in black and white was perfect. It was not used to entertain, amuse, distract or insulate. And it was used well.

So, on the day David Hicks might actually get British citizenship, and therefore be protected by a country that upholds the right of its citizens to a fair trial, rather than our own, I was reminded of the culture of suspicion that existed in 50s America and exists now. The perfect rendition of the announcers voice, the raised eyebrow and the severity of the presentation speak more directly than the glitz and gaudy graphics of today. And the message – of the power of the media and the exploitation of the public’s fears by those in power – was a wonderful antidote to the tinsel of the last few days.

Thanks, George.

Good night, and good luck.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A child is born.

The world changes.

We grow, learn, teach, love, die.

May the innocence of Christmas enter your heart.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Safe and sound.

Just a little time-shocked. Culture - let's not go there yet.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Just checking in

Thanks for your messages of support recently. It's been a challenging few weeks, with lots of reflection and frustration but not much of it that i'm going to discuss publically - at least anytime soon.

Am one third of the way home - that is, in Paris. The obvious way back to Australia from Thailand. Eating confit du canard and tarte tartin, and wearing 5 layers of borrowed clothing. The swelter of Bangkok is calling me back...

Friday, December 09, 2005

Crappy TV analogy

I watched a few series of Survivor. They have all started to seem the same.

During a period of intense challenge, people with no shared history are thrown together. Generally there's a lot of teamwork, but also a hell of a lot of politics. Alliances are formed and become the underlying assumptions for a lot of decisions made. But underneath, the alliances may not be as strong as they seem.

Then the big meeting, where all speak - some idealistic, some tough, some with absolutely no clue. The decision is made. As the result comes out, we are sometimes able to see the expectant face of one who is doomed, but has no idea.

The votes tally up, and - bam - there it is. Blindsided.

But in Survivor Burma the stakes are higher than on a beach in fucking Guatemala.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Slight posting hitch

Have tried several times to share my (of course, brilliant and completely original) photos of Angkor, I'm giving up.

Yesterday, I spent several hours traipsing around a village, doing a house-to-house survey. This was rather like my first week here, and prompted some reflections:

I can wear a sarong! I even got complemented on the fact that I wear it properly (by a woman in the street, who had no idea that I could understand her). Admittedly, I use a safety pin - a fact I kept to myself.

I can speak - a little. I certainly can't say "safety pin".

The houses still seem precarious.

It's still bloody hot.

The level of community still impresses me, but I also know it's not as idyllic as it looks.

But the biggest change was that I feel at home. I can walk up the hills without nearly collapsing. I can happily thread amongst the herd of buffalo. And most of all - I don't keep falling over. Yes, I've managed to recover my instincts to negotiate this most challenging of environments: a village road. And, given my usual level of clumsiness-induced injuries, I'm proud of this fact.

So proud, I mentioned it to my friend over dinner.

And promptly spilt scalding soup down my front.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Tell me how long is a short time
Is it longer than 2 hours?
Or a bit less than a weekend?
Is it shorter than a year?
Is it the time it takes to not complete your business with a person?
- Tiddas, For a Short Time

This is my question of the week. As others prepare to go away, as I prepare myself, and as I pass another year marker (thanks to everyone who sent their wishes for me!). Knowing that, when I leave, life will go on, I try to see what else I should do to enable that process before I go. This is particularly relevant for my patients with HIV - how can I enable them to see their children go to school, grow up? What haven't I done that I can? What should I acknowledge that I can't?

I feel that there are many with whom my business is not complete.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Hug

The people here don't hug. They hold hands. They rest their heads on another's lap as they sit and chat. They touch knees and squash into small spaces when required. But they don't hug.

Readers of Shantaram will know the type of hug that I mean.

So, after a really difficult morning, I was seeing a patient I met 2 weeks before. We share no language. She is in a lot of pain, for which I can't do much. She might have quite a serious disease and is justifiably worried. I didn't have any answers for her.

Instead of leaving, she hugged me. A proper, warm, close hug. A hug that was held for several seconds. A hug that was exactly what I needed. A hug that enveloped me and transferred so much energy and strength that I nearly cried for the second time that day.

Because the people here don't hug.


The past month has been more of a rollercoaster than previously. The ride has not yet ended, nor are we coasting into the stop any time soon. But is has put me into more of a reflective mood, and here's the result.

What has changed for me this year?

I've learnt that this work is very rewarding, and very exhausting. Perhaps the two are necessarily entwined.

I've learnt what it's like to have no backup.

I've become more tolerant of people (I hope) but less tolerant of bullshit.

I've learnt to be less Ozily direct, and more evasive (and hence more culturally appropriate).

I've been reminded how irrelevant most world events are to most of the world.

I've learnt how important my own home is to me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Full Moon Festival

The crowd is out for the evening. Music bounces through the concrete of the market and the smells of sticky rice and barbecues drift across the street. Familiar faces emerge from the crowd with smiles in leiu of shared language. I hit three balloons with darts and am rewarded with a bottle of orange cordial. Hawkers carry baskets of newspaper pages, bought to reserve patches of ground before the film. At one end, couples twirl in traditional costume; at the other the white canvas is ready for the blood of the boxers.

A few flashes, a stir in the air. We seek food, and perhaps it is better to be inside as the slightest of raindrops begin to fall.

As we sit, the sky falls.

Sheets of water hit the papers, cigarette sellers, samosas. The umbrellas blossom and are abandoned just as quickly. Carts are shut, wheeled crazily away; the dart boards vanish, the film screen billows. The floods from the sky merge with those on the ground.

The crowds sit inside the market, the party having left the guests behind. Someone starts the music again. The long tile benches, cleaned from the day of fish and pork, house exhausted children on bamboo mats. Women feed the babies hanging in sarongs around their shoulders. Teenage boys in army disposals gather in the passageways, less tough under the glaring of fluorescent lights and their parents. The people wait, robbed yet expectant.

There will be no boxing tonight.

Friday, November 04, 2005

One thing I should have learnt earlier in life

Having a shower at the same time as eating peanut-butter toast is nigh impossible.

Furthermore, it somewhat defeats the purpose of the shower.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Oh, the festivities

Cup Day has a bit of history for me. We used to have a long-weekend family-and-friends 4 day Cup Competition, involving various party games, paper flowers, apple bobbing and its own trophy with yearly thematic additions. In retropsect, a booze-up while the kids were kept busy. But still one of those childhood memories to smile at.

Then, after several years, the frantic last minute cramming of exam time. One year I had two on the Monday and two on the Wednesday. I at least turned on the TV in the background.

Yesterday, I was unexpectedly in the office. This fact alone had me frustrated enough to turn into a nasty snapping bitchy person who periodically slammed anything within reach. I remembered at 10, and thought I should set my alarm.

I remembered again at 11:10, raced down to the house, flicked the TV on...
to see the victory lap. Crap. The weigh-in wasn't so exciting after not having seen the race itself.

Oh well, I guess I didn't completely miss the Greatest Day in Australian Sporting History.

and another...

glad to have had my measles vaccinations. it appears to be virus season.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Another infectious disease

Just spent a few days in a workshop looking at testing for HIV. Now, this infectious disease is one that many people in the area I am working in have, many more do not know they have, and almost everybody is scared of. There are many reasons for this - the culture of silence, the culture of prostitution, the lack of accessible treatment - which we could discuss all day whilst getting nowhere. The bits that we can do are already too big a task to waste time on what we can't do.

However, I would like to make a small protest about my own government's handling of the issue. What follows is completely unsubstantiated, but heard from those in a position to know.

Refugees get tested before being accepted. Given that mandatory testing has no public health benefit, and from my studies of the migration rules last year there is no official requirement for HIV testing (please correct me if you can), I would argue that testing those who are fleeing persecution is ethically dubious and merely cause for further discriminiation. However, if someone feels it must be done then I can at least see their point of view.

What I really object to is mandatorily (?) testing someone and then publishing their positive HIV status as the reason for rejecting their application. Someone who lives a enclosed community of several thousand people already has no privacy. I would have thought that a supposedly enlightened country could find a little more sensitivity. But, I guess our handling of refugee issues isn't exactly known for its sensivity or recognition of human rights.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bye Bye Birdie

Well, there may be many things to write about, not least my recent clambering over ancient stones, however there's one thing that's got the whole world talking: Bird Flu.

Now, here's a few facts:
It's killed 60 people world-wide
13 were in Thailand
You can't get it from eating cooked chicken or eggs
It's NOT a human epidemic - yet!

However, the line between reasonable precautions and panic is a little unclear. My province of Thailand has been declared an epidemic area, with 2 proven and 3 suspected human cases. Given that I see at least 10 people with fever per day, this is rather few people. People working for other organisations in the country have been told to stock up on 2 weeks of food, for when we're all quarantined indoors. Everybody's getting flu vaccines - which are for a different disease. The whole thing feels a little millenial, really.

if it did jump over, it would be here. Any one of those 10 people could have it. We could watch the health system fall apart around us.

I'm not panicking yet, and to hear about people in New York requesting Tamiflu is ridiculous. But I am asking about contact with dead chickens!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Ahh, Angkor

So, have a limited ability to type at the moment. May have something to do with the momumental last few days. May have something to do with the huge steak and beer I just consumed. May have something to do with the 60 plus kilometres I've ridden in the last 2 days, which oddly enough has affected my hands.

Started my holiday on Friday night. We ventured out into the nightlife of Bangkok - the wierd spaceship thing up the road from the hotel which has intrigued me since my first visit. Looking rather like the ice-skating rink in Oakleigh, it's home to the hottest nightclub in BKK. Being a Farang, they seemed not to recognise that no self-respecting Hottest Nightclub at home would let me in the door, especially in flat shoes, and happily stamped my wrist. What followed was a much-needed boogie until the usual lights-up closing time, all of 1 hour later. 1 am!!! And Bangkok likes to think it's cosmopolitan.

So, still in a dancing mood and end-of-term-holiday spirit, we did our best to keep partying. The next nightclub (normal a little flexible) had had the official closing hours enforced that night. So we ended up at a little table on the footpath, underneath the stairs to the skytrain station, chatting to the owner and the guys selling fake designer belts. This is perhaps where things started to go wrong.

So, both of my holidays in Thailand thus far have started with vomiting. Last time I was an innocent victim of a potentially deadly virus. This time, I have only myself and my poor three-am decision-making to blame. Or perhaps the man who sold us the homebrew palm whisky out of two jerrycans slung on a pole over his shoulders. Either way, 'twasn't pleasant.

So, now fully recovered, I have been marvelling at Angkor. The scale. The carvings. The very persistant kids selling flutes. The trees. The stone faces. My aching legs. If you want to see it, make sure you still have a functioning pair of knees when you visit.

The place is amazing. No photos do it justice. Certainly my decriptions don't. If you have a chance, come and see it. And despite the above, go by bicycle. We drifted back last night through the rice fields, the setting sun lighting up the towers and stone elephants. And we're doing it again tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Mind goggling

I made a discovery a few days ago. Well, made a discovery in the way Captain Cook did: plenty of other people knew it was out there, but I'll claim it anyway.

How cool is Google Earth?

You can see the tree outside my bedroom window at my last house. You can see the two bridges in Sangkhla. You can see the streets in our villages (if you know where to look!).

As if I needed another internet addiction.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Conveniently sized

The most medically exciting thing I did this week was remove a blue plastic bead from the left nostril of the 2 year-old daughter of our pharmacist. The nanny had excitedly called the office to tell of the emergency, and when her mother arrived home the little princess anounced that she'd thought about testing a larger bead but that would have caused too many problems. After wrapping her in a sheet and having 2 people hold her down, I levered it out in a very satifying now-you-don't-see-it-now-you-do manner, which somehow felt like it should have had an associated popping sound.

Seems that this is a childhood right of passage. My collague tried it with a nut from a tree. A person who happens to share much of my genetic material, when scolded by a friend's mother for picking his nose, annouced indignantly, "I'm not, I'm trying to get the sultana out!" And I've heard a story of the angelic-looking tot who over a period of several weeks got more and more smelly. When no amount of scrubbing had any effect, her desperate parents took her to the doctor - who removed a piece of rotting meat from her nose.

Said local 2 year-old has now been nick-named "Pearl". And when I saw her today, hiding in her house, she refused to come out because she's "not finished being angry yet". Ah, saving the world ain't easy.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Discovered a patch of eucalypts whilst walking to a waterfall last week. Climbing the muddy hill with the noise of the falls in the background, I felt strangely at home. It was only when my French companions pointed out the smell in the air that I realised why. Gum trees!!! I spent a little while trying to identify the species (a rather futile task given my limited knowledge, as anyone who has read the majestic Eucalyptus will know) and settled on something like a scribbly gums, without the traditional scribbles. However, some humans must have known what was missing... Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Jiggety jig

Home again!

And it appears that I can type!

And my desk is covered in piles of referrals, bills (not mine personally) and pharmaceuticals (not mine personally either)!

Took the plane back carrying more than a livable Aussie yearly salary worth of tricky thermometers and malaria drugs. Put them in my carry-on for fear of the bag mysteriously disappearing during the 50 minute trip. Did the guys who scanned the bag even bat an eyelid to see a foreigner carting around random drugs? Would I be asking this question if they did?

If you want to catch up on what I was doing before that, see July 17. They appear to not have malaria there (well, I diagnosed the first case in 2 months, an honour to be sure). Hence the mulish behaviour.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Well, the answer to the previous post is that I went to one of the most internet connected places in the world, where everybody in the train is checking their email on their phones: Japan. And, forgive me, I did not blog.

I spent 4 days in Ciba and one in Tokyo and managed to see the inside of a grand total of 6 buildings (train stations excluded). Outside... well, if 1.2 km of city streets count. I went for training that I was supposed to do in Sydney before leaving, and perhaps would have been a little more relaxed had it been run by Aussies than Japanese people (ie more than 20 minutes for lunch). But our hosts were wonderful and we ate a LOT of sashimi and drank an only slightly smaller amount of sake, so I guess overall it was a reasonably authentic Japanese experience.

We had been considering extending our stay for a couple of days, but a little thing called Typhoon Nadi suggested we return to Bangkok.

To go from a bamboo clinic to Tokyo was a little surreal, but to go back to a refugee camp is more so. Am now visiting another project where several thousand people are camped at the side of the road, and the clinic is a school room partitioned with cardboard boxes. Yesterday buffeting winds took some of the plastic sheeting they use to roof the huts, and sent many of the (also plastic sheeting) latrines flying. I held onto the frame when I was using one, which may have just resulted in more of a surprise for everyone else if it had been carried off with me dangling underneath! Not sure when I'll be heading "home" yet, but in the mean time can add "hello" in a further 3 languages to my repertoire.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

My sticky keyboard issues of the last month have boiled down to one rather appropriate letter.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Language barrier

Today, on the way to the clinic, the Thai radio ran a news bulletin, which clearly included "Australia" twice. It was repeated on the way home.

Asking the driver (who's a natural Thai and Mon speaker, and has basic English) what it was, he was only able to say, "Yes, Australia. Aaah - Police. Australia. Aaah, hmm".

This was not so reassuring.

So, as soon as we got back, I put on BBC world: the Gaza pullout and Slobodan Milosevic. BBC online: extradition trial in Italy. ABC online: bombs in Bangladesh. Asia Today: reduction of Bali sentences and the sale of Telstra.

Can anyone fill me in? What happened in Australia today (that may or may not have involved the police) that was so significant as to have made it to the Thai news, but not the ABC? Sonehow I think it wasn't Telstra.

(News need not involve acutal facts).

Saturday, August 13, 2005


The noodle-soup-with-everything seller we got lunch from at the Floating Market (we asked him to leave out the liver). Behind him, barbecued chicken and buckets of black Grass Jelly for sale.

I’ve been inspired by some of the luscious foodbloggers out there. Now, I’m not going to go all gourmet on you, but please indulge me for a while.

One of the things I miss when I’m away is food. The French people here crave French food. I’m more creative.

When I was in Manila, it was lamb souvlaki. In Zambia, it was fruit cake and shortbread (it was Christmas). In London, fresh fruit that didn’t come individually shrink-wrapped and zapped with ethylene or something.

Now, it’s couscous, prawn rice paper rolls, palak paneer, gyoza, and olive & fetta sourdough bread. Specifically, it’s Timbale, Mecca Bar, Pellegrini’s, the market on Saturday mornings near my old house in Richmond (which is still my picture of “home”, even though someone else is living there…), Thy Thy (no, it’s not Thai), Crust pizza, Soulmama...

Really, I’m not quite as down as I sound. I eat noodle soup with pork crackling for lunch, I have a pomelo waiting to be peeled, I can get green curry anytime I like (despite many “mai pet!”s, it still usual sets my sinuses on fire) and the fantastically named “pad ka pao”. I spent Sunday eating awesome fish curry and helping assemble flat breads with the neighbours and 4 local kids, and regularly get fed fantastic Mon food by wonderful colleagues. I can get great tomatoes, limes, pumpkin, sticky rice with mango, fresh lychee & mint shakes and the Instant Artery Clogger “pancake” – roti bread with generous slurpings of sugar, condensed milk AND chocolate sauce.

But I still have those cravings. And, already being a blog addict, I have discovered a way to accentuate and satisfy those cravings at the same time. Introduced to the genre thanks to augustusgloop, I now am a regular visitor to several sites that rave about food, with amazing photos and a local touch that have me going, Yes, I love that shop too! If only it didn’t take several minutes to download them…

One of the things that I’m sure most people knew already and I’ve only recently caught up on is the importance of good ingredients. Now, when a visitor from Bangkok asks if I want anything, I have a list waiting that goes beyond the usual wine, cheese and chocolate (although these are all still there). With my recent additions of olive oil, a pepper grinder, garam marsala and brown sugar, I’ve been having fun.

So, in what I expect to be my only venture into the world of food blogging, here’s my recipe of the day:

Homesick Friday Night Macaroni Cheese
- well ,Thursday, but it’s a long weekend. Cooking time – about 8 minutes.

Boil water & cook macaroni (from the local minimart, with the St Bernard and puppy, and the sullen teenage daughter watching Thai soaps as she types into the register).

Heat small splash of olive oil (Tesco Lotus superstore extravaganza, Kanchanaburi) and gently fry 2 cloves of finely-chopped garlic (freebie from laughing heavily-pregnant fruit seller at the market, as I only ever buy one cluster of garlic, not a kilo like normal people).

Mix cooked macaroni with oil / garlic and grate in generous amount of Vintage Cheddar (Foodland, Sukhumvit. Didn’t survive the trip back from Bangkok so well but is still very edible). Add freshly ground black pepper (also Foodland, my regular last stop before I head for the bus).

Mix a gin & tonic and eat whilst watching pirated Sex & The City dvds. As my colleagues determinedly speaking in English would say, good appetite!

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Unwise wais

The "wai" is the guesture involving putting the hands together in a prayer position and bobbing the head, used in many Asian countries. Depending on who you listen to, it's a polite greeting, a sign of respect or a demonstration of inferiority and worship of the other. When accompanied by touching the head on the ground, it's a form of subection, used for monks, and it disturbs me when parents try to get their 3 year-old kids to do it to me.

Some of the people I see form day-to-day use it, and some do not. This can be because they are of a particular ethnic group, Christian, think that I will not recognise it or are rude. I have developed the habit, particularly as when meeting a new person (ie a patient) I cannot tell until they speak what language they will use, and although I can now say Hello in Thai, Mon and one type of Karen, I don't want to use the wrong one.

So I wai.

The other use of the wai is to Buddha images. People will wai at the"spirit houses" along the sides of roads as they pass (the houses of local deities, which are called, in a rather let's-play-a-joke-on-this-foreigner way, "nuts" - although probably not spelled like that!), and to the golden spires of temples that poke above the trees.

Today, we brought back an energetic 9 year-old boy to his home in the jungle. It was with some surprise that I saw him wai towards a spot where I've never seen anyone do it before. Looking around, his mother and I discovered the place worthy of such respect, and burst into peals of laughter.

It was the new telecommunications tower.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Piano Man

Most of you may have heard about this already. Since he hasn't been arrested in connection with the London bombings, it hasn't made it to BBC international.

It intrigues me...

Is it a fake?
Why would he do it? And how would he not say anything?

Is he autistic?
Surely he would have family, carer etc who realised he was missing?

Why was he wearing a suit?
Why was he in the water in a suit?

Perhaps it's a case for Thursday Next.

Irrelevant observation

The snails here curl the other way.

That is, horizontally. To look at the shell, its looks from above like the shells of Aussie snails do from the side.

Either way, it's still creepy when you step on one with bare feet.

Monday, August 08, 2005

More reading material

- Isn't it coming down? Simply pelting!

- Oh, this isn't real rain. You wait until July. The whole Bay of Bengal is going to pour itself on us, by installments.

I'm having one of my book frenzies at the moment. It may have been because I discovered a second-hand bookshop with excellent coffee in Bangkok last weekend, or perhaps because I'm in the house by myself.

Anyway, I just finished George Orwell's Burmese Days. It's got some wonderful passages (see above) but I'm not sure what to do with a book that's fairly insulting to Burmese people, even though overall it's against racism, colonisation and the English themselves.

Admittedly, it was written in 1934, and was probably revolutionary for its time. But now... those little incidental details stick, and make it a bit difficult to read. I'm not sure I want to bookcross it, but to discard Orwell seems wrong.

Any suggestions?

Friday, August 05, 2005

On the daily two-hour commute to work, it's pretty cool to meet an elephant now and then.
I got electrocuted yesterday.

I was unplugging my computer from the 4-days-post-brand-new power board. There was a flash of light, a loud buzz and a searing pain up my arm.

Now, this wasn't just a "zut" and a head throb, like when you hold an electric fence. this was a full second (zzzz one, one thousand zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz) of the Thai mains power running through my body.

I have entry and exit wounds.

Thankfully, they're only 1.5cm apart, so it basically went directly through my finger, resulting in a shreik and frantic hopping around the lounge room. Rather like my centipede experience, really. This time, being home alone, I didn't have an audience, but given that this also means there was no-one to resuscitate me should my heart have been stunned, I've thrown out the power board.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The view from Hellfire Pass Museum, with Peace Bowl. Have now gone in daylight. Would love to go back and do the walk along the track (about 4 hours) but the logistics of this are a challenge. Posted by Picasa

Derek with part of Large Gold Object, in Vientiane.Posted by Picasa

The Large Gold Object itself. This is a temple that has been covered in gold, so requires sunscreen to visit.  Posted by Picasa

The demons that protect the "Emerald Buddha". The Buddha has different gold outfits depending on the season, and there are signs in the viewing area to tell you not to point your feet at him. This is rather unclear - as is the Lonely Planet when it says the same thing - what part of your foot is the "point"? Posted by Picasa

My hands. 20 minutes after the test where they blow up a blood pressure cuff and leave it on for a full five minutes, to see how purple you go. Posted by Picasa

The surreal blue elephants at Trat airport. (Vientiane airport appeared to receive about the same number of flights, which is odd given that it's a national capital). Posted by Picasa

And now, for a brief travel slide show. I'm being selective! This is the lovely pool at the resort at Koh Chang. I didn't actually get in it! Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 29, 2005

Speaking of coming home...

I've officially applied to extend my placement here. And not hearing any horrified screams from Bangkok, that means that I'll plan to stay until early-mid December, do the debriefing in Paris, drop into London (that is, if my mates there aren't all sashaying on dancefloors in central America at the time) and hopefully be home for Christmas. Leaving enough time to find a house, visit the interstate rellies and reacclimatise before starting work again.

I really do miss you all. Lots. But I orginally left a year free, so I might as well use it. To be here for only six months would be a missed opportunity, especially when it's only the last month or so that I've felt like I might be getting the hang of things. And there's so much to do! I know that once I leave, there will be someone else to do it instead, but I'd like to follow through as much as possible.

So, thanks for your ongoing messages and support, and all going well I'll see you in 5 months!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Rainy days

The rainy season has been with us for a couple of months now. We do get some sunshine, but every day there's a steady rain and occasional ridiculous downpours.

This is fine, I like the rain. The lake has just started to fill, giving the false impression of floods as the banks, covered with grass and small shrubs in the last few months, slowly submerge.

I'm used to the bugs that get into everything (and will now cheerfully drink a cup of tea with several dead ants floating in it), but I can't quite get used to the mould. The house smells of it. My clothes have shadows of it. I went away for 3 days and came back to find my sandals covered in a velvety layer of green. Even my diary went mouldy!

If, when I return, I'm a bit whiffy and green around the edges, please be sensitive and forgive me!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Recommended reading part 2

I don't believe that I've ever read The Economist before. Its title is enough to put me off completely! However, I couldn't ignore the "How to Save Myanmar" splashed across the cover of the July 23 edition, and I was having a reading material frenzy anyway.

Of course, the article didn't quite offer the solution it proclaimed. But it did have a good overview of the current situation in Burma - one which I'm starting to get the hang of, if that is at all possible. To quote, "It cheerfully exports drugs, refugees and disease to its neighbours and beyond." Since this edition, the situation has been complicated further by the sentencing of the deposed head-of-intelligence-forces Khin Nyunt to 44 years in house arrest for "corruption".

Prior to coming here, I knew of Aung San Suu Kyi (but not how to pronounce her name - go on, give it a go!) and had heard of SLORC, the military junta - now jauntily renamed the State Peace and Development Council. There's so many convolutions it makes South American politics look simple. So for anyone who might be trying to keep up (and I know that's perhaps two people reading this, but still), grab a copy of the magazine!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Pig-headedness (with no relation to previous pig)

It may have been my frustration with taxi drivers.

It may have been my independent streak.

It may have been wanting to move after 3 hours in the bus.

But really, it wasn't. Some of you may know my pig-headed side. Stubbornness, along with clumsiness, runs in the family. And while being clumsy gives you great reflexes, I'm yet to see the benefit of stubbornness.

So when I got to Kanchanaburi and was faced with "Hello, Miss!", "Taxi, Miss?", "Where you go?"... I cracked. I had been told it was a ten-minute walk. So instead of paying one australian dollar for a tuk-tuk, I shouldered my 17ish kilo backpack, chockablock with peanut butter, tonic water and tinned apricots, hoisted my 4 shopping bags and wooden elephant puppet, and, ignoring the 35 degree heat and blisters on my feet, started to walk.

The ridiculousness of this became apparent after about 7 metres.

However, I had started to walk, and so walk I bloody well did.

At least it wasn't raining.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

One thing I didn't expect

Today, I saw a man who had been attacked by a jungle pig.

Admittedly, he had shot it first.

Moral of the story is: shoot straight. Or leave it be. And make sure you've had your tetanus shots!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Hmong refugees

In response to a comment (note: not a post) on MaccaMusings, I'd like to offer this article as illustration of what happens when a country treats people as "illegal" before treating them as people. 6000 people are living on the side of the road, without sanitation, in rainy season. Some of my friends are now providing some assistance.


Derek hopped on the bus, and within 24 hours is half a world away again.

Despite a lovely 2 weeks, it's rather crap being the person left behind. Which I know is usually not me. But I'm moping a little.

Back from travels

Yes, I spent three days in Laos and loved it. To have a capital on the banks of the Mekong, where there is more bicycles than cars, lots of temples, bread and fresh beer, where the airport has two gates that are set at a height twice that of the planes that arrive and it set only 10 minutes by tuk-tuk from the city centre, where your gold-covered national religous icon and major tourist attraction only has 3 people looking at it, seems a lovely way to live.

And then we flew back to Bangkok.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Geography quiz

So, since I didn't get that visa before, am now in another country for a couple of days.

A crusty baguette to whoever can tell me the capital and currency of Laos without cheating.

Not you, Kel, sorry. But love this city!

D is for Dengue

Hello, all. Please forgive my absence.

The plan was to spend last week lazing on the beach with Derek, perhaps do some snorkeling, and eat a lot of seafood.

The day he arrived in Bangkok, I was in hospital in Maesot. I had spent a rather unpleasant 24 hours vomiting, and the fever had me worried. They did some tests, told me it was a virus, gave me antibiotics anyway and sent me home.

I basically slept for the next five days - some of it in a lovely bungalow at the beach. Then I stopped sleeping as my hands and feet developed the most intense, unresolvable itch. When I woke up with petechiae (tiny red dots indicating bleeding into the skin) all over my feet, I figured it was time to go back to the doctor.

The test for dengue involves inflating a blood pressure cuff on your arm and then leaving it for 5 minutes. This HURTS. And, just as expected, my arm was a glorious purple afterwards.

I went and slept some more. The next day I got some slightly scary blood results and they did the same test to the other arm. I slept.

So, the holiday didn't quite go according to plan. But two of my colleagues ended up in hospital in Bangkok for several days - something I managed to avoid through the cunning plan of going to the beach anyway. And I'm fine now - just waiting for the tourniquet marks to fade. Wouldn't recommend Dengue to anyone, though - another reason to pack the repellant if you're planning on coming to Thailand.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Thank-you, Mr Pratchett

I've been listening to a novel where one of the central characters is a Tourist. That is, he arrives in the city for the sole purpose of Looking At It, he has a book that tells him how to talk and he has no concept that is money is worth as much as people's houses.

His reluctant tour guide learns some new words from this man.

Picturesque means "highly precipitous".

Quaint means "tumbledown and fever-ridden".

This book has given me some giggles whilst driving between our clinics.

But if you or I had a palm-leaf roof to withstand monsoonal rains in an area where malaria, dengue and cholera are endemic, we'd all live in Quaint villages too.

Albino fish in a pot at the house.  Posted by Hello

The lotus flowers at Jim Thompson's House. He collected ancient Thai treasures, rejuvenated the silk industry and in 1967 went for a walk in Malaysia and hasn't been seen since. Posted by Hello

And now for another virtual tour, this time of my weekend in Bangkok. This picture sums it up - highrises, construction, a temple and a slum. Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 23, 2005


After an intense few days, we can relax a little. We had pasta. With real pasta sauce. And bacon. And Australian red wine.

And the three French people currently in my house commented that the French wine industry is in trouble.


Monday, June 20, 2005

Chilling out

Geckoes are odd creatures. There's the little house lizard ones, which look rather amphibian. And there the huge ones with bright red and blue knobbles, which are loud enough to wake you up and in Thailand are called "Tokays". There's a whole nother story about me being secretly shocked that otherwise normal French people keep turkeys in the house.

A couple of days ago I met a tiny baby amphibian-like one in the kitchen. It was obviously terrified at the sight of me, and ran to the nearest dark hiding place.

Unfortunately this was the fridge I just opened.

Now, it hid quite effectively in behind the crisper drawer. The problem, if you happen to be a tiny amphibian-like creature, is that a refridgerator is not a place to spend much time. Its initially zippy running style slowed in the space of about 20 seconds to a sleepy plod, and then stopped.

By this time I had removed the crisper drawer and most of the fridge contents (eek). This baby lizard managed to slowly manouvre a eye around to look at the huge lumbering thing about to kill it as it froze to death.

I poked it. It fell upside down in a foetal curl and lay, still staring at me with one eye.

What else could I do?

I put in on the floor, got down on hands and knees and resuscitated it.

Thankfully this only involved a few (one-two-three-four-five rescue) breaths in its general direction and it perked up enough to stand up. Two more and it could lift its head, another and it scuttled away from this odd giant breathing on it. I closed the fridge to prevent a replay.

Even more thankfully, none of my colleagues chose that moment to walk into the kitchen.

An experience of one minute, yet a most satisfying result.

The gecko in the toaster did not do so well.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

How not to get a visa extension

I wore: long sleeved shirt, foundation for the first time in months, earrings and my most polite professional smile.

She wore: camo jacket, black leggings, bleached blonde hair, plastic straw through her left earlobe, at least 10 other (visible) piercings and the faintest whiff of dope.

I said: Sawasdee kaa. I'd like to apply for a visa extension.

She said: Visa - how much?

I got thirty days (I was hoping for 90).

She got advised to go to Cambodia.

Saturday, June 11, 2005


Our nearest city, our nearest spot to relax for the weekend, an important historical site and our nearest source of cheese, gin and proper chocolate. We made the trip to Kanchana about a months ago now... here's some of the photos.

The city was known as Camburi to my grandfather when he went through here to further up the railway. It's the official Aussie memorial centre and the cemetery is beautifully kept, with rows and rows of headstones of Australian, British and Dutch troops. I've never been interested in war history, but now I'm in the same spot as my Grandfather was 63 years ago, and beginning to read some of the personal experiences of the prisoners along the railway, its meaning is very different.

The spectacular street lamps in part of Kanchanaburi. Fish seem to be a recurring theme, as I'll try to show you later. Posted by Hello

Water lilies around our hotel room - a raft house on the river. Posted by Hello

You may not able to read the fine print. It says, "Yokogawa Bridge Works, Tokyo, Japan." Posted by Hello

The Famous Bridge on the River Kwai. Or at least the latest reconstruction of the Famous Bridge on the River Kwai. With a monsoonal thunderstorm coming in, I didn't spend too long on it, for fear of lightning strikes, and anyway no matter how Famous it may be I'm not that into bridges. Posted by Hello

ANZAC graves extending into the distance. Posted by Hello

View from the memorial pavillion in Kanchanaburi cemetery - the flame tree overhanging a pillar from the adjacent Chinese cemetery. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Oh, joy!

There is an ice-cream parlour in Sangkhla!!!

Tucked away in the concrete shops, behind a big pile of dirt, there is a real true ice-cream shop, with a gaudy menu, tall glasses, chocolate sauce and cherries. I just had a cappucino parfait!

To think it took me 3 months to discover this.

Sunday, May 29, 2005


Thanks to everyone who has responded to my post about the little girl. Your support is amazing, and has helped me deal with it a bit more. I didn't want to cause so many tears, but she deserves them, even from those thousands of kilometres away.

Monday, May 23, 2005


I'm all for being treated equally. I don't want any special privileges just because I happen to be female, white, and a doctor.

But I really do like being allowed to sit inside the car for a 7 hour four-wheel drive trip.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Early morning sun over one of our clinics. Posted by Hello

Some of the eleven people involved in fixing my toe after the nail tore off! I'll spare you the close-up.  Posted by Hello

Our office (the house is behind). Posted by Hello

Our lovely verandah. Posted by Hello

A typical inpatients department. Posted by Hello

Two colleagues and the bamboo that could take over the world! (At the national park we visited today - gorgeous waterfall for swimming!). Posted by Hello

Hellfire pass - the memorial plaque, at 6:30am. Notice the Thai journalist taking a photo from the other end! Posted by Hello