Of dogs and men

My Thai friends have been continuously teasing me saying that I could apply for a position as an “accidental expert”. Not that I ever wanted to apply, it was rather by karmic appointment I guess. I do believe in karma to some extent, that there must be a reason why anything happens to us, that there is a list of lessons to be learnt and feelings to be experienced, which cannot be escaped – many Hungarians consider this approach as a comfortable way of not taking the responsibility for your life and basically an “easy way out” for cowards…. and it is a lot of trouble trying to explain how it is meant to be…. Anyway. I have never had to spend a minute in a hospital outside Thailand…. but once I’m there…. I don’t dare to set foot in the land of smiles without an insurance.

It was my last day in Thailand before leaving for a new life and job in Taiwan, and I went to Wat Po to pray – might be a commonplace tourist “trap” again, but I do love the place – , and then wandered around the abandoned parts of the complex – there is a school, with a pingpong table and basketball court, and there were some renovations going on, with heaps of rubble. And there was this furious dog near the entrance that charged straight at me, for no reason whatsoever. I collapsed immediately after the bite, later it turned out to be a two-centimeter deep wound, which took months to heal. My leg was bleeding like a fountain and I was in shock. I don’t know how much time passed before there was a crowd of about thirty people around me, all Thai. They collected my bag and bandanna. A man gave me a mobile phone to call someone, a guesthouse, or anybody I know, and then realising I was unable to push the buttons or speak, he just took the piece of paper with my Thai friend’s phone number from my hand and called her. A monk turned up and gave a preaching (or tell-off) to the dog, one of the temple dogs, and apologised about a hundred times, he was almost in a more miserable shape than me. A woman got me by the arm, pulled me outside the gate, flagged a tuktuk, and ordered it to drive to the nearest pharmacy at breakneck speed, where I got a generous dose of iodine or some other disinfectant on the wound and fainted for the second time. The woman paid for the tuktuk, I remember she was yelling at the driver, who was trying to overcharge the farang. But she refused to accept a single baht from me in the end, and I didn’t have the strength to insist. Then my friend arrived at Wat Po – we were about to meet anyway for a farewell dinner – and she took care of me. I was taken to a hospital, where I got some more rinsing, lots of penicillin, and the first of five rabies shots (the remaining four turned into an adventure tour in Taiwan, a country where rabies is unheard of, so it took the authorities and my new boss a lot of trouble to track down the vaccine.). Since then, I have been panic-stricken if a stray dog looks at me. If it heads for me, I just start screaming, I cannot help it, whether it works or not. It’s a lousy, sneaky bunch of beasts, lying seemingly helplessly during the heat of the day, but coming to life as the sun sets, when they can scare the hell out of innocent passers-by in the gloomy streets….

And then I had the case of being hit by a motorcycle on a subsequent visit. And then getting some rashes and a horrible sunburn after elephant riding, being unable to walk for a day . And then severe dehydration caused by a pizza in a horribly expensive Italian restaurant where I took a Thai friend because he had never eaten a pizza in his life – well, he had quite an experience at the first try, he’ll never forget it for sure. (I got a bed in the hospital with a magnificent view over Doi Suthep, he got away more lightly and wasn’t hospitalised.) And every time, strangers helped me, took care of me, took care of my belongings, visited me in the hospital, brought a dinner for me. It was never the other farangs around, but always the Thais. A guy who brought some lotion for my sunburn and rashes after that elephant ride even fell in love with me, apparently, and proposed to me after two days, which I had to turn down “reluctantly” 🙂 First I thought it was just some practical joke, it turned out he really meant it….

Just “try” any of these accidents over here and see what happens. Consider yourself lucky if after a simple fainting in the street due to a sudden drop in blood pressure you still have your bag when you recover more or less, sitting on the pavement, with all the indifferent people passing you by or remarking that you shouldn’t drink so much so early in the morning. Ok, maybe one in ten would ask if you’re fine…. but they would expect yes for an answer so that they can walk away feeling relieved. That’s kind of what I was trying to refer to when I was talking about the fabric of society in Thailand. It’s not just a bunch of indifferent people who turn a blind eye to each other if anything unexpected happens. They are humans.

Or is it, again, just a facade for the farang? I have no way of being certain, but I don’t think so.

7 responses to “Of dogs and men

  1. Once again, Betti, I can relate to your experiences. A few years ago during Songkhran, I was in a motorcycle accident where I was left lying unconscious on the street for I-don’t-know-how long. When I awoke in the hospital all of my belongings were on the gurney beside me…my wallet and my camera and other personal items were still in the plastic bag where I had put them to protect those things from the water works.

    That evening a Thai friend, who was not with me at the time of the accident, came to stay with me overnight in my hospital room. That’s what I call greng jai.

    But most astonishing was the hospital visit from the motorcyclist who ran into me. I could not believe that he would show up in person to apologize to me–a total stranger.

    Amazing Thailand.

  2. Very Sweet blog!

    I think those who helped would like to do so for anyone, farang or not, by their very nature. Of course, if the person in question looks like he comes with perceived trouble (addicts; someone perceived without any money; etc.) I am not sure how easy would it be to shower support?

  3. Wow, Betti. That’s some experience. I don’t know how to describe the ‘some’ but it’s definitely a mouth opener. It’s good to know that you did have help. It’s scary to be in such a situation. I guess one learns from experience. The dogs are sneaky though I tell you.

  4. Maybe meeting you would explain your story better. A loud mouth fulang would get little help. A person who needs help in a wat will not have to look to far. I have been here for seven years with a very silly lifestyle. I have experienced so many good hearted people in Thailand. But for the guy in his benz doing 150km an hour in the left lane running me off the road because I can’t get out of his way fast enough will not be visiting me in a hospital. Thankgoodness for the middleclass Thais.

  5. Hi Betti, I’m glad you are safe! 🙂

    I’ll show your blog to my friends over here – hopefully they will believe me now! When I tell them how people are back home, they have a hard time believing it, and I can’t blame them. It would be unbelieveable for anyone who grew up in Thailand.

    I use an analogy similar to what you wrote in your blog. I tell them the example of a man having a stroke, collapsing in the middle of a busy walking street. The reaction of passers-by varies depending on the country where the incident happens.

    In Thailand: “Somchai, look, Falang fell! What’s wrong with her? Oh no, she’s sick and unconscious! Everyone, we need help! Can someone do CPR? Call the ambulance! Does she have a Thai contact we could call? The ambulance is late! I’ll take her in my car!”

    In the US: “…look the other way. Maybe she is sick, but she could be a druggo too – better not get involved, it’s not your problem, you don’t even know her! If you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. She’s not one of us! Someone of her kind will surely take care of her soon, anyway…”

    In central Europe: “Hey, that chick is out cold! I saw it first! Lemme get her watch, is it real gold? Her mobile is mine! Hey, she’s moving! I thought she was dead, dammit! Run, run!!”

    Well, that’s a bit of a generalization, but you get the idea. 😉

    Incidentally, Betti, did you know that when the tsunami hit the Thai shores, and the news spread around the world, the Hungarian consul of Thailand deemed it to be an insufficient reason to break his Christmas holiday for. He was subsequently fired for it, but this shows the attitude.

    Also, our Steve here wrote a story about a Hungarian guy whose passport was stolen while on a Burmese visa-run. If I recall, he wasn’t exacly overwhelmed by support from his embassy either. Is he still rotting there, Steve?

    So you can imagine… getting to Thailand from such an environment feels like when the proverbial prisoner from the cave got outside to the sunlight.

    Es remelem, hogy te is hamarosan elvezed a napsutest, Betti. 🙂 Olvastam a legutobbi blogodat, es csak annyit tudok mondani – remelem, hogy Fules itt Thaifoldon gyogyirt fog talalni sebeire. 🙂 Otthon csak a szurkalodas, nyomor, csalodas es utalat, de az aztan boven.

    Sok szerencset…


  6. Wow quite the story and glad you’re in good health now 🙂

    Though I don’t agree with your general opinion of people in he US. I think it depends more on luck if anyone will help you when you get sick or hurt in any country. I’ve witnessed people become sick or injured in public in the US and a couple Asian countries, though never Thailand, and it was actually in America where I saw the people get the most help and concern.

  7. thank you for the comments everybody.

    SiamJai, that story about the lost passport is horribly scary…. I’ve never had to do any of these visa runs but now then I’ll now what to watch out for when I’ll need to.
    yes, the story of the ambassador went down quite badly with the public over here.
    no, I don’t think you would automatically get mugged here if you collapsed on the street. one of the scariest changes since you left is that people have become much more indifferent to each other at work or in the street, but at the same time there are more and more people suffering from alienation, loneliness, and inability to make contact with others. I would rather say they would act as if you weren’t there. a student of mine got trampled on when she fainted in a crowded bus – she was pregnant. and she ended up with some of her hair torn out because apparently someone stepped on her head trying to get off the bus!