A Different Rhythm

Extract from A Different Rhythm: Thailand and Indonesia:

(This book will be available in 2015).

I was feeling a little weak and wobbly for quite a lot of my stay in Hua Hin, and I had a strange bruise coming up on my breast. I was pretty certain that the bruise was exactly that—I had been flung really hard onto the water by my kite two months previously, and I suspected that this was the result. Deep bruises can often take a very long time to surface. When I found myself feeling listless, I thought I’d better do something about it. The receptionist at the Villa looked completely blank when I asked if there was an acupuncturist around. Hans and the Dutch couple just told me to go to a regular doctor, which I would only consider as a last resort, when I figured I needed Xrays and antibiotics. Claude came up with something more interesting.

“I know of zees Buddha doctor you can go to. We were driving around one day on ze motorbike and we came to a temple where zere ees a monk who ees a very good doctor. Zey were telling us he does many wonderful zings.” The we referred to him and Mai, the very sweet Thai woman he hung out with, who looked considerably more mature and just as beautiful as most of the Thai women I saw hanging out with white men.

So the next morning, I rented a motorbike taxi from the corner, and we set off, with Claude and Mai on his motorbike behind us. My bike man had told Mai, our interpreter, that he knew where the monastery was, but that turned out to be rubbish—they’re always saying they know the way when they don’t. Claude took over the lead, and although he wasn’t certain he could remember how to get there, he managed fine. It was about five kilometers out of town in the hills. The last part was a very bad dirt road, lined with many little statues of Buddha. We arrived at a big tin shack, where a number of men and women were sitting around with a couple of young monks in saffron robes. They told Mai that the doctor wouldn’t be there until five o’clock. We walked up the hill where there was a shrine under some rocks and a young monk who chatted with us, or rather, with Mai. She lit three sticks of incense and handed them to me, inviting me to sit in front of the statue of Buddha. I wasn’t at all sure of the correct thing to do, but there was already incense in a jar on the shrine so I put mine in there with other incense, bowing several times. Claude and she both sat in front of the altar after me, and did the same thing, much faster.

We left to return to the beach and catch the wind. The motorbike driver showed me his number, 22, written on the red vests that marked his profession, telling me he would take me back the next day. Of course he wasn’t there when I went to find him the next day, so I set off with a younger guy, whom I liked much better. I’d worked at memorizing the route the previous day, and we had no problem finding the temple, in spite of one wrong turn.

Although almost no one at the temple spoke English, they were all very sweet and friendly, full of smiles and laughter. The Buddha doctor sat cross-legged on a big wooden chair that folded out, with a bunch of Thai people sitting on the floor around him. He was big for a Thai, and had a broader face. He was wearing a dirty golden robe, wrapped around so that it came down under his left breast, revealing that nipple. A guy in clean white robes (that didn’t reveal his nipple) helped me fill in a form in Thai, with my date of birth, name, and occupation. A man was already kneeling in front of the monk being treated, so I waited nearby. When the kneeling man left, the monk waved at me to come forward. I sat in front of him in a blue plastic chair that he instructed me to pull up, though I would have been happy to kneel, as the others did. Two men and two women were sitting to my left on the floor, and another guy in white to my right sat at a desk covered with papers, taking copious notes. He seemed to be calculating something from the form I had filled in, which made me wonder if he was doing numerology with my date of birth.

The monk was smoking a cigarette. I remembered a friend of mine telling me, “Never trust a psychic who doesn’t smoke—it’s what keeps them grounded.” A guy on the floor next to me was our interpreter. I felt very good about him, he was obviously struggling but he wasn’t pretending otherwise, and I greatly appreciated his willingness to try. After all, I was the one who couldn’t speak the requisite language. A couple of times after a lot of hesitations, he would throw up his hands in frustration and all the other Thais would burst out laughing. In that demonstrative manner that you see everywhere in Asia, they played their part in what was occurring around them, and the fact that my presence meant communication would be difficult simply made life all the more interesting.

After I had sat there a while without being asked any questions, the interpreter turned round to me, saying, “What…er…coming here…er … “

I figured he was asking why I had come, so I told him I had a bruise under my breast, and put my hand there. The monk appeared to understand, because he put his own hand under his breast, talking and nodding. I sat there while they joked around about nothing I could even guess at, in between attending to me. I liked their relaxed enjoyment of life. They didn’t seem to feel they had to get things done. And I used to be someone who always got things done so I know exactly how unimportant it is. At one point the monk got up and came back with several little boxes that he gave them to the people on the floor. I think they were Buddha necklaces.

Twice my interpreter mentioned the word hospital. I wasn’t sure if he was asking why I didn’t go to the hospital, but he certainly wasn’t saying I should go there. I tried to explain that I didn’t go there because I don’t like hospitals. I was also trying to ask if I had an infection and perhaps needed antibiotics. They didn’t seem to understand the words infected or antibiotics but as soon as I said bacteria, they all shouted, “Bacteria, bacteria!’ Then they all shook their heads busily, saying, “No, no.” The monk was quite clearly adamant that antibiotics were not necessary. However, he did seem to be saying there was something in there as a result of the accident. I hit my fist into the palm of my hand with a thump and they all nodded vigorously. Was he saying I had broken my ribs?

Then the monk asked the guy at the desk for a piece of paper which had Chinese writing on it, and he looked something up in a book that he took down from a shelf behind him. All this led to a prescription in Chinese, on a large piece of paper which was rolled up and put in the care of my motorbike man, who was called over and given a string of instructions. Looking up at me, the translator struggled for a long time until he found the word pharmacy.

“Ah, pharmacy!” I said with a grin, and everyone looked delighted, nodding vigorously as they said, “Yes, yes, yes!”

Finally the monk produced two little bottles of pills and gave them to my interpreter who gave them to me, saying, “One in morning, one night.”

I nodded. Now it was time for payment. “Money?” I asked. “How much?”

Looking a little doubtful, he said one hundred, so I pulled out a note and was about to put it on the table, but the monk pointed imperiously to a large box with little slits a few yards away. I walked over, stuffed the note into a slit, and then bowed to them all, saying “Kop kun ka, kop kun ka!” That means ‘Thank you.’

I set off down the road on the back of the bike, staring into the motorbike boy’s spiky black hair. He took me to the pharmacy in town, where fortunately the man in charge spoke a little English. He showed the Chinese characters to a little wrinkled old woman, who limped out from the back of the shop, and then told me to come back the next day to pick them up. “This sixteen packages,” he said, “each one 200 baht.”

That meant $80 for the herbs. I had only paid the monk $2.50!

The motorbike man took me back to the Sports Villa by a roundabout route, because the traffic was terrible. It was Song Kla, the Thai New Year, when everyone goes a little nuts, and the big thing is spraying people with water. Everyone was loving it, especially the kids. We got sprayed with water once while I was on the bike, which was shocking because we were moving quite fast. Most people stopped throwing water when we went by. Apparently, because of all the water on the roads, thousands of people die in accidents every year during this festival.

Now I had one more problem to solve: I needed to boil the herbs every day. Back at the Villa, I asked the security guard who had told me about the stolen helicopter, and showed him the instructions that the Chinese pharmacist had written for me in Thai. He arranged for someone he knew to give me an old electric water heater with a thermostat. It did the job very well. Considering the obstacles, everything had unfolded with ease, and I felt greatly blessed by the whole affair.

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