adventures in Thailand


BANYAN SCHOOL & ME (written Thurs. 2/15/12)

BANYAN SCHOOL      Beth, the young woman who is our head teacher, and Bong, an amazing Thai single mother who home schools her 8-year-old daughter and helps part time at the school, have been doing a phenomenal job while I’ve been ill. Last week we also hired a Thai asst. teacher, Noi, who used to teach at the private preschool/kindergarten in Pai—she’s great also.

It was wonderful – and surprising – when Noi accepted the job offer. The surprise was on my part because of what she observed on my last day there prior to “taking to bed.” Monday, February 5, the two Shan refugee girls (both age 4 and relationship of aunt/niece) accidentally got wet from the hose. Although I was inside and didn’t observe this, someone told me that what started as an accident became a free-for-all. When I went outside to meet the prospective teacher, the two girls were naked and hosing each other down! They remained that way for nearly a half hour until I finally turned off the water pump and stopped all the water. (Though they figured out how to wave the hose and release the liquid still in it.)

While the children went to our outdoor lunch area, I took Noi inside the classroom and showed her the Montessori materials and gave her some reading in Thai about the Montessori method. It’s hard to describe my joy when I stopped by school on the way to the dr. on Weds, 2/5, and saw Noi there.

Now the school is fully staffed despite my absence. Beth, who turns 26 next month, is doing a phenomenal job despite having only 14 months of Montessori experience in Korea as an asst. Montessori teacher. In addition to helping us in the classroom most mornings, Bong is spearheading our efforts to get government licensing. She juggles her Banyan School duties with several other part-time projects, including a video and radio broadcasting project at the Pai high school and teaching sex education throughout the Pai Valley at govt. schools. One of her previous careers was as a journalist like me.

All this staff description is background for my big news: earlier this month I decided it was best for the project if I resigned as School Director. It’s become apparent that I’m not cut out to be a classroom Montessori teacher. My role is not as we had imagined it—instead of being in the class for a couple hours in the morning, I’ve been with the children 90% of the time. During the 10% that I’m in the office doing administrative work I feel guilty that I’m not helping Beth and Bong.

Factors that led me to this decision include: age 65 is too old to start a new career as a full-time preschool teacher (if I hadn’t been so worn out, it’s my belief that this bronchitis wouldn’t be so severe), patience of a saint is required (my patience with kids is 10 times better than with adults—but needs to be 100 times better!), my lack of Montessori training, and the fact that being a School Director is completely new to me.

So, where does that “big news” leave the Banyan School? Hopefully on its feet and heading for a bright future. When I informed Peter, the NYC professor at Columbia U. and co-founder of the Burmese Refugee Project, and Beth of my decision I said that the school succeeding is my biggest priority. I truly believe that if we hire a school director with Montessori background it would help our project immensely. Beth has agreed to become a co-director and she’ll be great in her dual role.

My plan is to stay involved with the school in several ways, including serving on the Board of Directors, substitute teaching, and volunteering for special projects (i.e. music activities, community outreach). That new role will start when the Thai school year begins in mid-May. (March and April equal the USA summer holiday.) Meanwhile I’ve submitted a lengthy plan for the new academic year along with my role through early March and when the school re-opens in mid-May.


Feeling slightly better and phlegm is 100% better—less of it and no longer brownish or yellow. Biggest challenge is not to overdo it when I return to school today, Weds., for a couple of hours. There are still uncontrollable coughing fits but hopefully they’ll decrease soon.

The good news on this front is that yesterday I went to the school at 4 p.m. for an important staff meeting about government licensing and met Bonnie. Turns out she’s one of two Columbia U. M.D.s who’s completing her Masters in Public Health (which is where/what Peter teaches). If I’m still ill at the end of the week, she’ll do a medical consultation with me. “Have stethoscope, will travel.”

It’s great not going to the hospital twice a day for the nebulizer. I think the inhaler is working just as well. Best of all, my pulse is normal now whereas it was 100 on Monday upon arrival at the hospital and 104 after using the nebulizer instead of in the 70s.



NO PNEUMONIA plus THAI vs U.S. Medical Care  (written Sunday, Feb. 11)

ONLY BRONCHITIS   On Sunday I finally relented and went to the hospital for a chest x-ray that turned out negative. Hurrah! Two friends–Tiew, whose home I visited in November, and May, the best massage therapist in Thailand—came over “to visit” on Sunday late morning. But the real purpose turned out to be convincing me to go to the hospital. Tiew even drove her pick-up truck instead of coming on motorbike.

The dr. listened to my chest (through my clothing!), ordered thex-ray, reviewed it and then prescribed FIVE medications. In addition, he said to come to the hospital at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Mon-Tues-Weds to use the nebulizer. Also used it on Sunday. The antibiotic is stronger than what the previous dr. prescribed. When the E.R. dr. tried to prescribe an anti-wheezing pill, I refused it since Rob had advised me not to take it from the first dr.’s prescription. So he substituted another anti-wheezing medicine that Rob later nixed also. The dr. even gave me generic Claritin which is completely unnecessary—so am saving it for allergy season in Woodstock.

It makes more sense to follow American medical protocol, especially since I trust Rob’s opinion completely. He advised going back on the inhaler and skipping the hospital nebulizer. Good advice, no doubt. Makes life easier also since finding a motorbike taxi to pick me up at 7:45 a.m. is difficult.

I’m trying to rest as much as possible. If I feel better on Tuesday, I might go to the school for two hours only on Weds.  The new Thai asst. teacher will be out on Weds./Thurs. while her husband has heart surgery so Beth is scrambling to find substitutes.  [NOTE: Added on Weds. well–at school 4 hours–2 hours work, 1 hour rest, 1 hour work]

THAI vs U.S. Medical Care Here are some differences:

*Thai doctors listen to your chest through clothing. At home, the first thing the nurse asks is, “Please take off your blouse and bra.”

*Chest x-ray was taken through my hospital gown.

*Upon arrival at the ER, the receptionist told me to come back in 90 minutes since it was crowded. In the US you’d just sit and wait and wait and wait. Instead I went to a nearby Vietnamese restaurant that a friend owns and had lunch. She makes fresh noodles for soup, pad thai, etc. daily. Upon returning I was ushered in immediately to see the nurse and subsequently the dr.

*Thai doctors subscribe LOTS of medicine. For example, a friend who has a sinus infection was given two antibiotics instead of one. Three of the five medications the dr. gave me were either unnecessary or harmful (according to Rob).

*Thai healthcare system charges patients a fraction of what the same procedures/medicine would cost in the USA.  Two years ago I had an endoscopy, colonoscopy, saw the dr. 3 times and got 3 medications for about one-fourth the cost in NY. Sunday’s visit to the ER included: dr. exam, x-ray, 5 medications, twice daily nebulizer visits for 3.5 days. TOTAL bill was about $35. My guess is it would be 15-20 times that in the USA.






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Feeling slightly better

Well, my medical care has entered the 21st century—just hung up from a long skype with my dear cousin Rob, a brilliant MD and true mensch. He used a term, which I’ve already forgotten, about mediconferencing or something like that. The latest thing, he says.

Rob thinks I had pneumonia from the description of —to use his medical term—the “guck” that was expelled and the length of time of the severe cough.  But now it’s changed from brownish to yellowish which is an improvement. Also today, for the first time, there’s been very little stuff coming up and the cough is not as deep.

He took me off one of the pills—“it’s for wheezing and rarely used in the USA now. Only older doctors prescribe it.” He liked the main antibiotic (a newer form of erithromycin which always worked well for me in the States). Then he recommended an inhaler which I’ll pick up tomorrow at the pharmacy.

So I feel like my health situation is under control.  At last

Several of you have suggested lots of fluids—happy to report that today the water delivery truck happened to be next door so I traded in my 20 liter bottle for a new one. Drank nearly 19 liters of water or tea since Saturday.

FIRE UPDATE – It’s not unusual to see brush fires or the many small fires in the mango grove that was described previously. However, last night there was an amazingly long (300 yards/meters at least) and narrow fire up a nearby mountain. Tonight there’s a slightly shorter version on another section of the mt. It’s controlled burning, in theory. Hope it stays that way since we haven’t had rain in about 3 months.

READING – Another book that I recommend is The Ladies Auxillary by Tova M______, published in ’99. It’s about the Orthodox Jewish community in Memphis, TN, and what happens when a young widowed mother moves into the area. Very interesting characters and issues.  Have been reading constantly–about 4-5 books a week. That’s definitely an advantage (perhaps the only one) of not having internet at home.  Just finished a short Patricia Cornwall (?) book and started a fascinating book about the building of the Taj Mahal by an Indian author. It’s called Taj.  Duh.

That’s all, folks, as Porky Pig used to say.




Wednesday afternoon- Am on my way to the dr. in town — on Monday when he was in Chiang Mai, his nurse listened to my chest and proclaimed, “Pneumonia.” Am on heavy duty antibiotics after a phone consult with him. Follow-up today with the dr. Will let you know what he says.

Needless to say, I haven’t been at school this week. Well, actually I was here Monday from 8 a.m. – 2:15—-which is why I’m so sick now! After two days of rest (weekend) I thought I could come to school for a few hours. Wrong. That’s why I haven’t gotten better, I think—kept coming back to the Banyan School after a couples days of rest.

No internet at the house which is really a bummer. But school is only 5 minutes away–am here now on my way to the dr.

Exciting news, huh???


Fire and Ants (not fire ants) plus more

FIRE   Wednesday morning I awoke quite early and heard an unusual sound outside. At first I thought it might be rain splattering on the dried leaves outside my window. But it continued and got louder with no sounds on the metal roof which made rain seem unlikely.

As the noise began to sound more like popping I sat up and looked out the rear bedroom window into the mango grove. There were about 20 small brush fires burning between the trees. The closest ones were at least 20 yards from the house. It seems that the leaves, twigs and debris had been raked into many small piles over the preceding days and then set on fire before dawn. Not the most reassuring sight to see upon arising. Couldnt’ smell the smoke. Guess it was a sure sign that burning season has begun.

ANTS    As for ants, they haven’t been too bothersome at the house. However, the other day when I was home with a horrible cough, Jake brought by some lunch and a carafe of ginger tea. Very kind and thoughtful. As the warm tea was poured, little black flecks, which I thought were small loose tea leaves, floated in the liquid. Upon closer examination they turned out to be dead ants. Guess they were in the carafe when the hot tea was poured in. Just picked them out and enjoyed the soothing ginger tea.

LIZARD!  The little geckos that are all over the houses don’t bother me….they’re cute and eat insects. Even their droppings aren’t too difficult to deal with. But Friday night I was at the school house to use the internet and this HUGE lizard surprised. Huge—-well, maybe 10 inches long. Seemed huge to me when I closed the wardrobe door and it was eye level with me about 5 inches from my face. Not sure who was more scared. It scampered off behind the wardrobe. Still, it creeped me out.

LARGER ANIMALS    There’ve been lots of cows and occasional water buffalos in the harvested rice paddies along my road. Guess they’re eating all the vegetation that’s sprouting between the short dried stalks. Last week there was this big white cow quite close to the house–its eyes followed me intently as I walked down the street and into the house front yard. The bovines are not in the fields that have been planted with soy beans which are now about a foot high.

There’s also a resident rooster, hen and nine chicks on the property. They belong to my next door neighbor. Chicks are cute and rooster’s crowing in the a.m. doesn’t bother me.

Last weekend there were two puppies squealing and whining outside my door. It took a lot of self control not to feed them. But if that occurred, they’d be permanent residents. A few days later my landlady came by and asked if the puppies were mine. I said no and a day later I saw a man driving off with one on his motorbike.  There are many ownerless dogs and cats throughout the neighborhood and in Pai.

COUGH   For the past week I’ve had a horrible, deep cough. Have stayed home several days when a substitute could be found for school. After several days of using expectorant and some highly recommended herbal capsules without any great results, I went into town yesterday to a pharmacy. Added some medicine to the mix of herbs, ginger tea, expectorant and lots of rest.

READING    All this extra time at home has allowed for lots of reading, especially since there’s no internet at home. Just downloaded and devoured American Dervish by Ayad Ahltar which I’d heard about on “Fresh Air” on NPR. Highly recommend it. The novel raises some thought-provoking issues about anti-Semitism, Islam and prejudice. Takes place in Milwaukee where I lived for five years in the ’70s.

WATER   Water at the house and school comes from wells. It’s fine for brushing teeth, etc. but not for drinking all the time. A 20 liter (about 5 gallon) jug of water was just delivered to the house. Cost/ 10 baht or about 35 cents. Not bad, right? It’s purified with reverse osmosis. That’s what’s used at the water machines in supermarkets in the USA. There was a $3 on the original jug—-but still an amazing bargain.

Well, friends, this blog post sure has a covered a lot of random topics. Hope you enjoyed it.