Monthly Archives: April 2016

Food Poisoning and Human Kindness

It all started one Wednesday in Bangkok. I “played Songkran”, which mainly consisted of running around the streets of Bangkok, laughing and accidentally swallowing copious amounts of water while getting into water fights with strangers celebrating the Thai New Year. The swallowing water kicked off an unfortunate chain of events that, almost a week later, had me waking up with 4 or 5 old Thai grandmothers all kneeling over me, kneading my arms and legs.

Let’s back up.

On Thursday (day one, right after Bangkok) my friend and I traveled to Koh Chang, a beautiful island on the Gulf of Thailand. Two hours after arrival, I threw up the first time of many. All signs pointed to food poisoning, which usually has a recovery time of  24 to 48 hours. Except that wasn’t my case. Over the next four of five days, I ate 5 crackers and a mango and lost five and a half pounds while lying on a sandy beach.

After the 18 hour travel day on Sunday (day four) involving a Song Tao, van, ferry, taxi, bus, and another taxi from the island to Khon Kaen, my journey found me on the back of my room mate’s motorcycle to the hospital to get some tests done to make sure I didn’t have a horrible infection or virus and also to get an IV to start the rehydration process.

The hospital was a miraculous place. They got me on an IV because of my severe dehydration, forced me to drink 30mL of KCl, and ran a bunch of tests.

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The Miraculous Drip Machine.

I checked out of the hospital the next morning feeling a lot better but still with a cold/general sickness. My Ajaan (mentor/professor) picked me up at the hospital with an overnight bag my room mate packed for me, and we headed straight to a four-day homestay in a rural village 3 hours away.

The next day, I decided to skip swimming with the villagers in lieu of a long nap because apparently healing from severe dehydration, malnutrition, and general sickness takes more than one night in a hospital. But then the grandmothers in the village decided I had slept too long. I woke up on the tile floor (beds aren’t common) to four, maybe five old grandmothers all kneading my arms and legs, one peering into my face. This was definitely the weirdest way I have ever woken up. They then proceeded to ask me if I had taken medication (the hospital had given me a gift bag full of it) and how I was feeling and do I need to go back to the hospital? Deciding I was too hot, they took a wet towel and pretty much gave me a sponge bath, all the while muttering things in Thai and occasionally tying strings around my wrist as part of the Bai See ceremony for luck and healing, never once letting me sit up or protest too much.

And that’s the beautiful part; from the nurses trying really hard to communicate with me in Tanglish (Thai-English blend) to my host mom constantly handing me water bottles to the village grandmothers kneading my arms and legs, concern and love radiated from people during the healing process. In some cases, all they knew was that I was sick, not even my name or why or how I was sick. And that’s the miracle of human kindness and compassion, I think. People simply went out of their way to help someone in need. No questions asked.

Spring Break Memories

This past spring break was really a collection of separate memories and locations, haphazardly thrown together into one fun (?) break. Friday, my friend and I took an overnight bus from our home base of Khon Kaen to Bangkok, arriving at 5am. We walked around Khao San road, which was still full of drunken European and American backpackers and still-hopeful prostitutes to get us interested despite the late/early hour.

We weren’t.


Wat Pho; all those colors are different colored tiles.

We watched the sun rise, visited Wat Pho, walked into the Grand Palace, explored Chinatown, then took a late night flight Saturday to Siem Reap, Cambodia, home of the famous Angkor Wat and thousand year old temples. We spent Sunday exploring the main temples, and finished with watching the sun set over Angkor Wat. Fun fact: the huge temple complex used to house a city of one million people at the same time London housed 15,000.


Angkor Wat


The decorative arch over one of the gates.


Guideless, mapless exploring yields interesting finds.

The next day, we got up at 4am to catch the sun rise over Angkor Wat.


Beautiful sunrises in breathtaking places.

While in Cambodia, we also ventured to the Killing Fields monument left from the Khmer Rouge legacy and a land mine museum. What really struck me was the presence of the genocide still felt by the people; our guide kept talking about it, and there were frequent amputee street bands with signs saying they were land mine victims in need of aid. The genocide and Pul Pot’s legacy is still very much a part of the living history in Cambodia. Everywhere there are signs and pamphlets, ensuring through education and constant reminders that the genocide is not forgotten, but that something like the genocide will not happen again.

Then, like the haphazard spring break the week was, we headed to Bangkok for one full day of Songkran, which is my idea of heaven on earth. Songkran is the Thai New Year, and is celebrated by throwing water at each other to wash away last years’ misfortunes. And in most cases, it wasn’t a gentle purification ceremony. On Silom Road, there were probably over 3,000 people, mainly Thais but a few tourists with mega super soaker water guns that I know didn’t exist in my childhood but really wish they had. So of course I joined in the fray, buying water pistols and refills of water and splashing people from age 3 or 4 to around 95. The best were the older Thai grandmothers; they would beckon you closer and, as it is incredibly rude to disobey a grandmother, we would cautiously venture near only to have them dump giant buckets of ice water all over you with toothless glee.


Ready for round 3 of battle: It is important to note that I was having such a fun time and smiling and laughing so much I swallowed a lot of water.

The next day, we headed to Koh Chang island where we planned to do a kayaking trip, hike up a mountain and snorkel. None of those things happened. Within two days of arrival, my friend fell off the back of a tree swing and cut her head open on a rock, requiring 5 stitches but thankfully no concussion. And interestingly, it was me begging her to lie on the beach with me and rest. Remember that water I swallowed in Bangkok? That caused horrific food poisoning where I also had a fever and sore throat, so the four days on the beach I mainly slept and lay there, eating 5 crackers and a mango during the course of the time there. But the recovery location was beautiful, and I discovered many things about myself. Namely, I am quite queasy when I’m the only one around to change my friends bandages. Apparently doctor genes do not run in the family (sorry Mom!).


The view from one of my sedentary recuperating locations.

Then, with me still not eating (day five) and my friend feeling brief but strong bouts of nausea, we traveled for 18 hours to eventually return to Khon Kaen, where I checked into a hospital for an IV, medicine and real care. But that’s a story for another blog post.

Overall it was an awesome spring break where I met really cool people and saw beautiful things. But honestly, it didn’t feel like a comprehensive week with overarching themes or ideas or even passport stamps. Each different location brings with it different feelings and memories, from the childlike joy of Bangkok’s Songkran to the wonderment of Angkor temples to the sheer relief of my final throw up session at 3am.