Thursday, April 8, 2010


Okay, I’ve been AWOL long enough now. Time to put some things in words and pictures.

Once Phil and I decided to leave Bali (a bittersweet decision on my part) to return to Hawaii, everything instantly shifted into warp speed. It took less than a week for the right people to show up who were willing and able to rent not only Villa Kubu Merta Guesthouse, but also Kubu Santi, the little bungalow next door where we lived. That same week, through the internet, we also found a charming little condo in Waikiki for us to move into immediately upon arrival. It’s in the quiet part of Waikiki, close to the beach and across the street from Honolulu’s beloved Kapiolani Park. Both these happenings we consider pure miracles and spectacular gifts! They allowed us to leave much sooner than expected and with a strong sense of confidence. Surely we were being guided.

Our China Air flight would leave at 2:30 AM on March 16, a few hours before all of Bali would close down for Nyepi, Bali’s extraordinary New Year’s Day observation. Would you believe that everything comes to a total standstill at 6:00 AM sharp that morning and remains that way for the next 24 hours? Kind of like a 24-hour Sleeping Beauty period. What that means is that no traffic is allowed on the streets: no cars, no trucks, no motorbikes, no pedestrians, and… no airplanes flying in and out either. Imagine an international world airport shutting down for 24 hours to observe silence and inner peace! New Year’s Day in Bali is a time for going inward, for reflection and silent meditation. No lights, no fires, no cooking, no TV, no radio, no loud noises are allowed. Wouldn’t that be a great idea for the whole world? Set aside 24 hours for being still. Think of how much we would save on power. Not just one hour on Earth Day, but a full day! And oh… the quiet…

We had to be at the airport at 12:30 AM to check in. Ordinarily the drive takes an hour and 15 minutes, so we planned to leave Ubud at 11:00 PM the night before. Because that would be New Year’s Eve, however, the drive might take us a bit longer. No big deal, right? But already, for weeks before the date of our departure, our driver Suamba started fretting about it. First he said we should leave at 5:00 PM, before nightfall. Wow, that would mean that we would be at the airport 6 hours before we actually had to be there. It’s not a fancy airport, not much to do but wait. Then he said, No, 5:00 PM is too late. 2:00 PM would be better. Yikes, that’s 9 hours before! Why? DEMONS, that’s why. Demons and dangerous roads.

Just as Balinese New Year is different, their New Year’s Eve is different too. For months every village and every community center has been constructing enormous paper-maché puppets of fierce demons and dreadful monsters, called ogoh-ogoh (I love that word!). By nightfall the streets everywhere would be jam-packed with raucous groups of men (often drunk) carrying these fantastic creatures on large bamboo platforms and parading them through the streets to the local cemeteries for final burning. The puppets, of course, represent all the evil forces and karmic spirits that cause the world’s sufferings. (I have some interesting stories to share for a later post about the Balinese view of evil and their sense of responsibility – or lack thereof.)

The idea behind these New Year’s Eve ogoh-ogoh is to give form to these evil forces, appease them by stuffing them with food and drink, and then to chase them away by burning them. Hopefully, on New Year’s Day, any negative spirits flying over Bali would find nobody outside, no fires, no lights, and no sounds, and decide that the island is uninhabited, and thus not worth the trouble. It’s a glimpse in the typical quirky Balinese mindset. Its magical thinking makes for great theater.

Suamba is a very safe and cautious driver. He wanted to be home before nightfall, before the traffic jams, and before the drunks on the road. That’s why he wanted to take us to the airport so early. Since we did not want him to worry and wished him a safe journey home, we did as he suggested. We arrived at the airport at 4:30 PM with no trouble and then spent a very, very, VERY LONG time waiting in uncomfortable plastic chairs for our flight’s check-in counter to open. Actually, our early airport arrival turned out to be a good thing after all, because toward the end there was a massive convergence onto the airport of people hurrying to catch the last flights out, resulting in long lines of passengers having to wait outside to get through the initial security into the airport. We missed all that. After the hecticness of packing and moving, just sitting and doing nothing is not bad at all. Still, I do not recommend traveling on Balinese New Year’s Eve! Better to stay another day and enjoy the peace and quiet of Nyepi.

We were met at the airport by our daughter Kiki. A great, wonderful, happy reunion, but awfully short. She was on her way out to New York, our porter had loaded our stuff in a cab and wanted to get paid, and the cab driver was ready to take off without us. So it was a quick “Whoohoo, you’re back! Here are the keys, your rental contract, and a list of things you need to know about your apartment. See you when I get back. And oh, by the way, there is no electricity in your place. Call the electric company ASAP.” Oh well, we know about living without power. It’s Ubud all over again. Just like when we first came to Bali, no phone, no car, no TV, no internet. Piece of cake for us seasoned Third World travelers. Funny how periodically life takes us back full circle.

During the taxi ride through Honolulu we marvel at the orderliness of highway traffic, no hordes of darting motorbikes going every which way. We giggle at recognizing familiar exit signs, like Likelike and Pali and Punahou. We’re acting like we’ve been gone for twenty years. Pathetic. But it’s all a thrill, to see the mountains, the ocean, and everything so clean. We’re happy to be back. And when we arrive at our new home, we immediately fall in love with it. It’s secluded in a grove of palm trees. It’s small, but it feels exactly right for what we need now.

Another miraculous gift: our sister-in-law Rhonda happens to be moving back to Texas. Instead of shipping over her household stuff, she decided to bequeath us her sheets, towels, pans, kitchen utensils, and anything else we need to be comfortable. She even stocked our pantry with bread and oatmeal and veggies. The best thing she did? She made up our bed ready for sleep! I managed to unpack two suitcases before collapsing unceremoniously into the beautiful clean bed. Slept for three hours and then stayed awake all night.
We’re using Rhonda’s car until she comes back for it. She has a Mercedes convertible that is so automatic it freaks me out. The lights turn on and off automatically and as soon as it senses rain, it turns on the windshield wipers – intermittently and slow for light rain, faster as it rains harder. It’s like a genie lives under the hood who peers out from under it to check the time and weather conditions. I halfway expect the car to automatically park itself too.

So you see, we’re well taken care of, beyond our expectations. Phil went right into his groove. For someone who does not like to move, he is one amazing old coot. Of course, he’s got me, the dutiful wife who makes sure he has all his comforts. Everywhere he goes, though, he meets people who are overjoyed to see him back, who take him aside, whispering, “Uh, are you seeing patients again? Can I come?” So yeah, he’s got it made. Even his doctors are glad to see him. He’s going to live to be a hundred.

As for me, it’s a different story. As happy as I am being back in Hawaii, close to Kiki and Gary, living in comfort and beauty, something is amiss. For the longest time I didn’t know what it was. I thought at first it was just because I was so exhausted. The year before we left for Bali was super intense, the year in Bali was equally intense in a different way, then Bangkok, and now moving back… it all seems too much, too fast.

Then there is the issue of aging. Nothing like sitting at Queen’s hospital and watching all the geriatric patients file by. Did I come back to Hawaii to become one of them? Auw… As if to ward off any thoughts like that I gear myself up to get back into shape by walking briskly through the park, on the beaches, through the traffic and the trolleys carrying winter-pale or painfully-sunburned tourists around Waikiki. I walk for hours at a time until I think my legs are going to fall off or I need a Häagen-Dazs break. All along I’m wondering, Now what? What the hell is going on with me? Why can’t I just pick up where I left off a year ago? Questions like these make me crave chocolates.

You’ll be so happy to know that I finally did get an answer because now you won’t be subjected to any more of my self-absorbed speculations. The TV show “Dancing with the Stars” did it. It enlightened me. The contestants were talking about how strongly they've bonded and what a great community of friends they’ve become. They live in trailers side by side and run into each other all the time every day. That’s when it hit me. That’s it! I’m lonely.

In Bali we lived in a compound, in a community. We were never alone. There were neighbors all around us and we shared a driveway. People would come over, sit on the lanai, the rice farmers would walk along the irrigation ditch to clear it of debris, the landlord’s wife and daughters stop in to share their food offerings after a ceremony, the gardener comes over for a chat and to water the plants, the pool man wants us to have two of the four sweet potatoes he got at the market for a good price, Charlie comes in to clean the house and shows us a new magic trick he learned, people walk in off the street looking for accommodations, Dayu brings us our lunch and tells us the latest news on her village's celebrations, and on and on. Friends don’t call before visiting; they just come on over. You make sure you always have cookies or fruit available or something to drink. And you know that if you need help with anything, there are plenty of people who gladly help. Got your car stuck in the rice field? Within moments you’ll have a dozen villagers heaving it out. With all the insecurities of living in a Third World country, there’s something infinitely comforting and easy about living in community. I miss it. I miss it acutely.

We now live in another kind of community in another culture, where you do call before visiting. But, guess what? I just found another place, real close by, where people visit with each other without calling beforehand. They share their stories and food. No, it’s not an AA meeting. I’m talking about the members of the Diamond Head Community Garden, right across the street. They garden 116 garden plots, growing everything from flowers to fruits and vegetables. I’ve already tasted some exquisitely fluted Surinam cherries and couldn’t leave without accepting twigs of aromatic basil leaves and an armful of Spanish moss. What a friendly bunch of people! Some of them are our neighbors even. With luck I can become part of this community. Soon I will also rejoin my old group of goofy artist friends. So, I think I’ll be alright. Older and a lot more crotchety maybe, but still alright.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Another one of Bali's power outages. Ours usually comes on Mondays around 6:30 or 7:00 PM and lasts 2-3 hours. It’s Monday now and Phil and I sit in the dark, musing. It’s good to be home. Then Phil says, sighing, "I have to start scheduling my doctors in Bangkok."

The thought of returning to Bangkok makes me want to puke. Instead of getting a clean bill of health, as Phil had expected, he learned that he needed stents in his left artery. And his right didn't look so good either. He's been doing everything right (except exercising), so that was not good news. We extended our stay so he could get his stents in. "Wait another month," his doctors advised, "then come back so we can check the other artery."

You know how fast a month goes by? We've hardly come home and already we have to make plans to leave again. I suddenly feel very old and tired. The thought of the taxi rides in Bangkok with drivers who are out to take you for all you've got, the polluted air that constricts throats and irritates eyes, the waiting in doctors' offices, the food in the hospital’s food court loaded with who knows what (MSG anyone or am I just being paranoid?), not being able to understand or speak Thai, not being able to read signs, not sleeping in my own bed in my own home, having a suitcase full of dirty clothes, my landing in the emergency room...

The night we had to leave for the airport for our flight back home, I came down with fever, chills, nausea, and sky-high blood pressure. Imagine, it’s not Phil now who is the patient, it’s me! How ironic, how pitiful! I must have had a nervous breakdown. Or an anxiety attack. Whatever it was, I’ve been working up to it for a while. After two nights in the hospital we try to catch another plane back. I just want to go home. Taxi ride at 3:30 a.m. (yes, that's a.m.!), no sleep, no breakfast, stand in line at the check-in counter, learn that before we can check in, we've got to pay the penalty for changing our tickets at the sales counter. Okay, stand in line at the sales counter, long line, I’m at the end, boarding time approaching, I just want to go home, slow line, pace around, pace around, have to pee, finally, finally my turn, offer Mastercard to pay with, Mastercard refused (what?!), American Express card not accepted, only cash, US Dollars or Thai Baht, look in purse, no dollars for sure, already exchanged them all for Baht, not enough Baht left, boarding time approaching, I just want to go home, need 4000 Baht, only have 2000, quick, run to money exchange center, offer Rupiah for exchange, Rupiah not accepted, boarding time approaching, I have to pee, I want to go home, but don't have the money. I don't have the money. And then it happens. I can’t help it. I burst into tears, cry my heart out right there in front of everybody. I just want to go home and I don't have enough money. I run to the check-in counter where Phil is waiting, nothing he can do, we cannot go home, we cannot go home, heart beating crazy, tears streaming out of control, nothing left to do but turn to the crowd waiting in line and cry, “Somebody please help me. I need 2000 Baht.”

A tall man standing next in line reaches for his wallet and hands me two 1000 Baht bills. Phil writes down his name and address and I run off to the sales counter, tears streaming still but now from relief. Hands trembling, I cannot count the other Baht in my wallet and end up just dumping the whole damn wallet on the counter, letting the clerk figure out what’s what, and then praying that I did not miscount and need more Baht after all. I don’t. Thank God. I have enough. I’m going home.

But wait. We must go through Passport Control first. Long lines, many long lines. Still need to pee. Boarding time. Maybe we’ll be too late. I haven’t eaten. My mouth is dry. Feeling faint, I slide down to the floor. Somebody says, “Why don’t you go to the front of the line and ask to be helped first? I bet people will let you in.” We go to the front and the people are indeed so kind. Thank you, thank you, thank you all! In no time we’re off to our gate and, OMG, just in time for our plane.

When we finally land in Denpasar after four hours, it’s very hot outside. Our driver Suamba welcomes us with an ice cold drink and cool towels. Another hour and we’re home where Dayu has prepared us a delicious welcome home lunch of deep green vegetables and freshly-cooked aromatic brown rice. Pure heaven… I cried seeing sweet pregnant Dayu again. I just adore her.

I thought I needed sleep, but our dear, dear friends Rickie and Henry had arrived from Amsterdam the week before and I’m dying to see them. Last time was at least three years ago when we stayed at their spacious, art-filled canal home. I ask them to please come over and we have the most fabulous reunion. It’s like no time has passed at all and we can’t get enough of each other. All tiredness is forgotten. Instead we’re completely energized with the excitement and joy of being together again. What a homecoming!

It’s been a hectic week since, trying to catch up with 3 weeks of backlog. And the rolling blackouts are back again. We’re sitting in the dark and Phil is thinking about what he needs to do before going back to Bangkok for another procedure.

I close my eyes. I don’t want to go back to Bangkok.

I remember Eugene saying, “Next time you come, spend a week with us first and have fun exploring Bangkok. Then after your procedure, Phil, check into one of Bumrungrad Hospital apartments. You’ll be close to the emergency room there.”

“Why do you say that?” Phil wants to know.

“The procedure is generally safe, but remember, you’re 75.” Eugene is completely matter-of-fact, “Anything can happen. You should have medical help readily available in case you need it.”

Before we came to Bali, when the question of medical care came up, we shrugged it off, saying, “Oh, we’ll go to Singapore or Bangkok. Everybody does that. You can get Medivac insurance.” Now, after an earlier hair-raising ambulance ride to an emergency room in Denpasar, I’m not sure that that’s the way to go. In fact, I KNOW I don’t ever want to subject myself (and Phil) to something like that ever.

Where else can we have medical help readily available for him?

I look across the table to Phil who is obviously still tired from our trip, even though a week has already passed. Me too, I’m still tired too.

“Phil,” I say quietly, “How would you feel about going back to Hawaii?”

Phil looks up and I watch a smile spread over his face. “I never thought about that,” he says. Then slowly, “That would be really nice.”

“You can go back to see all the doctors you know so well. And they know you.” I count off all the advantages, “If you need an ambulance, people will stop to let it pass. And the ambulance comes with an EMT team, trained in saving lives.”

“And they speak English!” Phil laughs.

We spent the rest of the evening thinking and talking about moving back to Hawaii, about all the things we’ve learned from living in Bali, and how to transfer these learnings to start a new adventure in Honolulu. We got so excited, we forgot all about sleeping. In the end we decided that Phil will fly to Honolulu in a month or so, while I will stay on for a while longer to fill both the villa and our little house with good long-term renters.

All this proves again that you just never know.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


The best treatment for symptomatic obstructive sleep apnea (Phil's latest Bumrungrad diagnosis - he's been collecting diagnoses like military honors) is a system known as Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure or CPAP.

Patient compliance runs about 60%. I'm surprised it's not higher. Think about it. It's a mask. How cool is that? You can look like Darth Vader and you can sound like Darth Vader. Oh baby, turn me on!

At my advanced age, though, the stimulation of sleeping with The Dark Knight Himself may be too much and I regretfully may have to resort to sleeping on the couch.


"Why do westerners talk so much during a funeral?" Kajorn wants to know. He is buddhist and like most Thai men he devoted three months of his life living in a monastery - meditating, doing daily rounds receiving food in his begging bowl, and blessing people. That's what monks do. Moderation and non-attachment are the hallmarks of Thai living. Funerals are strictly ceremonial. There's no talking, there's no holding on to an individual life. Even when the King dies there won't be any spoken tributes. Kajorn asks because a friend of theirs was one of the UN victims in Haiti's earthquake and many people spoke at his funeral. His question comes from simple curiosity.

"People get together to share their memories of the person who has died." Eugene answers. "It's nice to hear how others have experienced them. You get a different perspective. It's really a celebration of their life."

I concentrate on the beautiful fruit salad Kajorn has whipped up for breakfast. Mango, grilled banana, papaya and sweet corn (Yes, corn for breakfast!). Not too long ago these fruits hung gloriously from living branches. Now they're peeled and cut up for my pleasure. Smacking my lips will have to be my celebration of their life. "I think it's a kind of a tying up of loose ends." I venture, "Like cleaning out someone's closet." That's the Virgo in me speaking. She likes things cleaned up and done with.

Phil who is all about relationships and talking about relationships (what do you expect from a shrink?) says, "Talking about the loved one is a way for the family and friends to connect, to understand, maybe even to forgive. Buddha spoke about treating people with loving-kindness. Speaking well about the deceased, with compassion and understanding, is one way to practice loving-kindness."

"But it's about the talking," Eugene counters as he scoots the last chocolate croissant across the table to me. (Now that was an act of loving-kindness!) "The Thai believe in action," he continues, "If a father works hard to give his children a good education, that speaks for itself. Nobody has to say a word about it."
"Now what I don't understand," he opines in his outspoken Dutch fashion, "is people who have a burning desire to make their mark, to leave a legacy. A hundred years from now who the hell cares that you have a building named after you? Who would even know you existed!"

Back when I was still practicing karate, Grand Master Shihan taught us to think of everyone and ourselves as impermanent. "On Waikiki beach," he said, "So many people, yes? But ten years from now, so many people already dead too. Maybe you dead too." Within 15 years Shihan himself had died. And doing karate is but a memory for me. After I'm gone - no, NOW already - who cares that I once loved going to the dojo every night at 7:00 PM and that I wore myself out practicing kata and sparring, even won two medals at some tournaments. That's long gone, together with my mini-skirts, platform shoes, dented orange VW Beetle, partying and more partying, and my need for attention and adoration. Oh wait, I still need those last two.

Last week we had the pleasure of visiting Paul Spencer Sochaczewski and his wife Monique. They live in a marvelous garden compound 5 minutes from the office tower where Monique works. The house is filled with the most extraordinary collections of Ganeshas and buddhas, amulets and art objects they brought back from their world travels. Paul writes riveting books - his latest "The Sultan and the Mermaid Queen" - and Monique's job entails persuading countries to accept the countless refugees that wars and persecutions breed.

At dinner Monique commented on the necklace I wore. I told her it was the only necklace I had brought with me to Bali. "I want to know how you did that," she said, "just going off and leaving everything behind." "Well, I was a refugee myself." I say. "Guess it gets in the blood." But I thought to myself, If I had those priceless collections they have, I wouldn't be so quick to let go of things.

I think of Mits Aoki who taught courses on Death & Dying at Hawaii University back in the 80's and 90's. He must be up in the nineties himself now. Is he still alive? A gentle buddhist, I remember him saying, "At death you are to let go of everything, not just material things, but everything you believe in, as well, even your most cherished religious or spiritual beliefs." It sparked my imagination. I tried to think of myself as a blank, everything completely erased. Who would I be? Didn't they make a movie like that? Like "The Unbearable Lightness of Being"?

Just free associating now. Ten years old and I'm standing on the edge of the high diving board. I'm supposed to jump or dive from it to qualify for my swimming diploma. I aced all the swimming requirements, but I've never climbed up on the high diving board, never wanted to jump from it, never even thought about doing it as preparation. I just put it out of my mind. Just climbing up the ladder and walking to the end of the bouncy board was already more trauma than I could handle. And now it was my turn to jump. I'm trembling. I've never been up this high. The water below looks dark green and oily like a deep sea monster waiting to devour me. All eyes are on me. Mr. Wouters, the swim teacher, blows his whistle, but I'm paralyzed with fear. I'm sure I will die if I jump. Everyone is getting impatient with me and calling for me to jump. I wonder now if it will be the same when I'm dying. Death blowing his whistle and I'm holding on and everyone else going, "Come on, come on, jump already!"

So here we are, still in Bangkok. Phil's stents are in and we're waiting to see if more are needed. Anything to do with the heart scares me. Thoughts of death, Phil's, mine... Exhausted from worrying about Phil and worried about my own health (I know, worrying does nobody any good, but there it is, I was worried), I ended up writing a rambling late night email to my daughter, listing accounts, passwords, where everything was, what needed to be done right away (like paying our staff for last month's work) in case I kicked the bucket that night.

I didn't kick the bucket. I didn't jump off the board either, preferring humiliation over death. And that buddhist "No attachment" thing? Biggest bitch of all.

Friday, January 29, 2010


Okay, I admit.  I'm a wimp.  Phil has taken care of people for 45 years in all kinds of places and conditions, but give me 10 days in a hospital and I crash.  Even if it is in the best hospital in Asia.  Even if I only wait in the waiting rooms and listen to Thai doctors explain medical procedures with medical words like "ohlahl" for "oral" and "ahlouwah" for "arousal."  No, nothing sexual here.  This all has to do with sleep problems.  Anyway, I've had it.  I want to go home right now.  But Phil needs some more procedures done, so we're staying here another ten days.  Oye.  Another ten days of hospital time.  Another ten days of breathing Bangkok's polluted air.  Another ten days of coughing and irritated eyes.   I'm a wimp alright.
"Why don't you and Phil retire in Chiang Mai or Phuket?" Eugene asks. "The medical care is excellent, so much more superior to Indonesia's. Chiang Mai is in the mountains like Ubud, so it's cooler, and they're totally set up to take care of retirees."
Ouch, I forget I'm of that age.  Visions of jolly Florida couples (mostly white with an occasional black couple thrown in) flash before my eyes.  With their teeth-whitened smiles sparkling with the zest of old age, the retirees ride their bikes along rolling golf courses or else toast each other with bubbly champagne while luxuriating in pools and Jacuzzis.  Who wouldn't want to live in style?  Doctors and  nurses at your beck and call.  No heart-stopping rides in ambulances through Bali's winding, traffic-clogged roads, wondering if instant death is not preferable.  I google Retire Chiang Mai and find the top 10 reasons for retiring there:
Extremely friendly people.
Fantastic food.
Cost of living is on average around 50% cheaper than living in the West.
Wonderful year-round climate.
Low crime rate.
Great medical services and facilities.
Convenient public transport and good road network.
Great sports, nature facilities and huge range of interest groups available for all to join.
Wide range of cultural pursuits and a number of annual festivals.
Excellent markets which include the famous Sunday market, local markets, night bazaar and food markets.
But then there it is: Chiang Mai is a city of 1.6 million people.  AIR POLLUTION IS HIGH.  Well then, forget it.  I'll be a retiree in Ubud where they can roll their R's and I can read the street signs.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Friday, January 22, 2010

In the waiting room of the ear-nose-throat specialist yesterday I struck up a conversation with Ahmed, an Indian man who lives in Oman where he runs a aluminum windows factory. He usually comes to Bangkok every six months for his wife's cardiac check-ups.  This time he is here to accompany a friend and his friend's mother.  The mother is the only woman I've seen who is shrouded completely - and I mean completely - in a voluminous black burka with not even a slit for the eyes.  Her whole face is veiled in black.  Ahmed suggests I ask his friend how many sons are in his family. I dutifully ask and am floored by his answer.  His father's two wives each bore him six sets of male twins, giving the man a total of 24 sons!  Imagine the pride and prestige!  I look over at his mother, one of the vaunted twin-producing wives.  She sits slumped across the isle, a hulking black heap without a face.  She is 46.

Here is a funny thing I happen to notice.  Women in ultra conservative burkas - you know, the kind with only a slit for the eyes - those women, they all sit like men - meaning, with their legs comfortably spread out.  No primly keeping legs together for them.  No, the wider, the better.  Of course, if your legs are always hidden beneath those huge tent-like gowns there's no need to think much about where you place them when you're sitting down.  It may be the only freedom they have.

Ahmed tells me that the ultra concervatives make up only 2%  of the Arab population.  Fine, but I want to know about the multiple wife thing. How does it work, four wives living together? What if one wife is ultra conservative and the others are not?  What about divorce?  If a man has reached his limit of four wives, can he divorce one to marry a fifth wife?  Does he, Ahmed, have more than one wife?  And if not, is he planning to get more later?  Ahmed loves to talk and is eager to show me photos of his family on his cell phone and videos of Oman taken from his brother's house overlooking the sea.  He has only one wife and is not planning to marry more.  As for men with multiple wives, they have to provide each wife with her own house.  It's a happy arrangement, so he says, making divorce a rarity.  He does not mention sneaky ways to get a fifth wife.  And if a wife is ultra conservative, that's her business.  It is not forced on anyone else, not on the other wives or even the children.  He says Islam is a religion of the heart.   While we're talking he has been silently doing his "rosary."  He shows me his beads.  Three rows of 33 beads, topped by the 100th bead for the Hundred Names of God; Allah Akbar.  I like him.  First man from Oman I've had a chance to really visit with.  I hope I'll get a chance to do the same with some of those mysterious burka women.  I would love to learn their take on  life and marriage.  So far, none I've approached could speak English.

I ask Ahmed why so many people from Oman and Dubai come to Bangkok for their medical care.
"It doesn't cost us anything," he laughs, "the government pays for all the treatments and medicines.  We just pay the airfare."
What a deal!  "But why not get medical care in Oman?" I ask.
"We don't have many doctors." is his answer.

Today is the day I get to play patient too.  I've made an appointment to get my teeth cleaned.  Dr. Nisa is my dentist and it's she who cleans my teeth, not a dental assistant.  She doesn't clean teeth manually with a pick, but deep-cleans with a teeth-cleaning "drill."  Like Phil,  I'm impressed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Wednesday, 20 January, 2010

Phil is going for his 64-slice MRI this afternoon and has to fast for 4 hours.   Since we're not due at the hospital till 11:00 AM, I will have to wait with going to the Indonesian Embassy  for our visas when it reopens after lunch.  Meanwhile I get myself a tasty dish of yellow rice, fried mackerel and fresh veggies at the hospital's food court.  The lobby is being set up for a show of Great Bangkok Chefs, complete with a stage and a floor show of someone carving ice sculptures.  The mood is festive with lots of people milling around watching the preparations and lots of music.  This is how hospitals should be!  I'm whiling my time away by lounging in one of the Starbucks' and watching the parade of people.  No opportunity to get bored, there's just too much entertainment.

At 1:00 PM I hail a cab to get to the Indonesian Embassy.  It's a 20-minute ride through stop 'n go traffic.  When I finally arrive, I'm told that the embassy is open for visas in the mornings only.  Okay, I'll try again tomorrow.

When we get back home, Kajorn takes us to his favorite street stall for dinner.  It's a pretty funky place, like a converted garage.  The food is delicious.   We have seafood soup, fried fish with vegetables, a huge omelette, and water mimosa with salted fish.

Afterward we visit a French bakery.  We buy some croissants for breakfast.  Then we stop by a 7-11 to pick up eggs and fill up our Thai cell phones.  On impulse we visit  E & K's barber because Phil needs a haircut badly.  His brightly-lit shop is located at the far end of a narrow alleyway.  Very funky too.   I love it.  Phil almost fell asleep in the chair.  I was sorry I did not bring my camera.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

First thing this morning I'm off to the Indonesian Embassy.  I don't know if Phil has to apply personally or if I can apply for him.   He has the whole day scheduled with appointments with one medical specialist after another.  I go ahead and fill out an application form for him anyway.  The guy ahead of me carries a whole stack of application forms and passports.  I figure he either has multiple personalities or he's dealing in visas wholesale.  He tells me they're his company's visas.  Well, if that's the case I should have no problem at all taking care of Phil's visa.  Sure enough, when it's my turn, no questions are asked and both our papers are processed without a hitch. I love it when things go so smooth and so easy.   All that's left to do now is to...  what?  Pay the cashier.  Oh right.   Visas cost money.  I knew that.   You want how much?   $200  in US dollar bills.   Uh... I don't have US dollars on me, only Thai baht.  You don't take credit cards?   Ah, US dollars only and no bills dated before 2000.  Right.  Of course.  Well, off I go then.  Don't close for lunch before I get back, okay?  Leave embassy, look for a bank.  Aha, there is one.  But they have only $80.  So sorry, madame.  Second bank has none.  Very sorry, madame.  I finally find a money exchange at a Western Union branch and, thank heavens, they have exactly two $100 bills left, crisp ones too.   I can kiss the clerk but I bow and thank him instead, profusely -- meaning: I repeat the phrase "Kab kum ka" over and over.  That's the female form of Thank you.   I tell him he has done his job so well, he can now take the rest of the day off.  He looks at me deeply puzzled.  I rush back to the embassy and finish the transaction.  Done.  Visas will be ready for pick up on Monday.

I decide to walk around a bit.  There's a computer mall. Wonder if it is the same one where we bought my little Acer Baby.  Farther down is another mall.  It's called Platinum and it's all about clothes.  That's putting it mildly.  After seeing the first floor of clothes, I feel like I'm going to get drowned in a tsunami of clothes.  It is literally stall after stall and floor after floor of clothes upon mind-numbing clothes.   The worst part is that they're all geared toward a size 2 Thai teeny bopper.  When I finally find something that interests me and may even fit me, the clerk yells at me from across the store, "No try! No try!"  Well, then forget it.  I'm outta here.  I pick up a crepe with egg and tuna (not bad) and leave.

I meet Phil back at the hospital.  He tells me some sobering news.  The results from his 64-slice cat scan are in and his heart turns out to be less healthy than he thought.  His cardiologist advises installing a stent.  Phil is taking it pretty much in stride and talks about waiting till he talks with his cardiologist in Denpasar.  I cannot believe my ears. What the hell?  We're here now in the best hospital in Asia, he likes the cardiologist he has been seeing here,  and he wants to wait until he's back in Indonesia!!!  I don't get it.  I practically shout at him to come to his senses.  Get it done NOW and get it done HERE!  It takes him a while, but he finally agrees.  We'll see how soon we can get the procedure scheduled.  We may have to postpone our return to Bali.