Back in the Saddle

First off, thank you to everyone for their well-wishes over the past few days.  Tawn and I are both in much better shape, thanks to the miracle of pain-reducing medication and – more importantly – anitbiotics.  The illness resulted in a gap in reporting, so there is much to share over the past week:

Suvarnabhumi Opens

IMG_3785 Incredibly, despite a coup happening two weeks before, the new Bangkok International Airport opened on Thursday the 28th.  As predicted, operations were a bit messy that first day.  Markus and Tam returned from their vacation in Germany and Spain, and arrived on Lufthansa’s first flight into Suvarnabhumi.  Here is a chain of text messages I received from them.  The first message was sent just as the plane pulled into the gate.

  • 13:50 – Good afternoon.  We’re the first LH flight to land at the new airport.  Let’s see how long immigration and baggage will take…
  • 14:01 – Well, we’re at the gate but there’s noone to open up.
  • 14:03 – Actually, the jetway can’t reach the plane.
  • 14:50 – So there was some safety switch on the jehway that they had to flip before it could move.  Now we’re waiting for luggage – it’s been 45 minutes since we pulled into the gate.
  • 15:00 – Someone from Lufthansa just came by to inform us that the luggage has arrived in the terminal, but they can’t find it – “it” being some 300-odd bags.  She said all airlines have been experiencing the same problems today.  Can I be a guest contributor on your blog?  This is too good to pass up!
  • 15:11 – Luggage has been arriving very piecemeal.  About ten bags every ten minutes.
  • 15:37 – The line for the bus [you take a bus to the remote transportation terminal to pick up taxis, city busses, etc] makes the old taxi line seem tame and organized.
  • 15:48 – Looks like the taxis are actually departing directly from the terminal, but there is no effective way to queue people.  So there are 3 parallel lines, which aren’t really moving much, since people seem to enter them from various points.
  • 15:58 – Both Tam and I just got interviewed by separate camera teams.  Channels 3 and 11.
  • 16:09 – Hard to believe, but we actually got a taxi, but I think it was mostly luck.  I’m sure there are people who got in line for taxis long before us who are still waiting.
  • 16:24 – Our taxi driver just told us he waiting in the taxi queue near the bus terminal for 100 minutes.  When we drove past just now, there were at least 100 taxis waiting.  The problem is, there were not nearly enough taxis coming to pick up arriving passengers.  At the old airport, there was always a line of taxis waiting.  Here, they were trickling in way too slow.  There are cars parked along the entire length of the airport, watching the planes take off and land.
  • 17:02 – We’ve just arrived home, just over 3 hours after touchdown.  In the past, I’ve made it in less than one on a good day.

Markus’ friend Peter arrived the following day from Germany and reported that things were running quite smoothly.  Chalk these up to opening-day butterflies.  The taxi issue sounds like the most serious one.  Local media was reporting that up to an additional 10,000 taxis would be identified to work at the airport.  Previously, taxis that were old or not immaculate had been denied a permit, part of an attempt by the government to break the mafia-run taxi operations that had existed at the old airport.

Inaki Urlezaga Tango Group

Date: Friday 28 September, 2006
Performed by: Ballet Concierto, Argentina

Bangkok Fest 4Inaki Urlezaga is one of the foremost Argentine dancers and his company, Ballet Concierto, came to Khrungthep this week as part of the 8th Annual International Arts and Dance Festival.  Tawn and I were particularly looking forward to this show as we both enjoy tango performances and this intersection between ballet and tango was much talked-about.

The performance was in two acts, very different from each other.  The first, titled Pulsaciones (“pulsations”), was a ballet with music and choreography by Vittorio Biaggi, designed to showcase movement and the technical prowess of the dancers.  The second, titled Destiny Buenos Aires, was choreographed by F. Fleitas and M. Morassut and was inspired by Inaki Urlezaga’s life (a little bit of shameless tribute).  Starting with a dark stage and audio that suggested departing airplanes, suitcases rolling on the sidewalk, and traffic, it is meant to evoke the image that even through his busy travels, Inaki always return to Buenos Aires.  This second act is the showcase for the tangos.

Critiquing this performance requires me to address it at two levels:

At the first level, the technical execution and overall impact of the show, the dancers showed great skill and control and the coreography was impeccable.  Perhaps due to jet lag, but several dancers kept missing their marks.  Not in a wildly amateurish way, to be certain, but when you have three couples performing together and the coreography is meant to by synchronous, when one dancer is moving a split-second after the others, it is distracting.

Perhaps the best way to describe it is that the dancers’ obvious talent and the stunning coreography – and a really well thought-out use of lighting – didn’t always come together at the same time; the case of the parts not always being more than the sum of their whole.

Speaking of the lights, one of the drawbacks of these festival shows where there is only one performance is the unfamiliarity of the team with the lighting systems.  There were at least a half-dozen very noticeable mis-cues in the lighting scheme.  A bit bothersome when the wrong lights woud come on, halfway across stage from where the dancers were!

The second level of critique is of the house management of the Thailand Cultural Centre, or the event’s organisers, or both.  I’ll fully acknowledge the facts that this show was on a Friday night and about a half-hour before the show it started to rain; the cultural centre is located on Ratchadapisek Road which is both a major artery out of the city and also a hub to a lot of the entertainment venues (legitimate and less-so) that Khrungthep’s men flock to on the last Friday of the month – payday.

But the handling of late arrivals was unacceptable.  At showtime, 7:30, almost half the seats were still empty.  The house manager made the decision to begin the show on time.  The result was that for the first 22 minutes of the performance, a nearly-constant stream of people were being seated.  We were on the aisle in the front third of the main floor and the distractions were intollerable.  So much so that finally, Tawn flagged down a passing usher and ordered, “From now on, you will bring no one else in.”  The old ladies sitting behind him were impressed with this uncharacteristically, but necessary, display of anger.

Sadly, this was at 22 minutes into the first act.  The first act was only 25 minutes long.  When the act came to an end and the crowd applauded, the cutrain came down and I said to Tawn, “This is when they should have seated late-comers.”  Then the house lights came up and the intermission countdown clock came on!  The second act was only marginally longer – 30 minutes.

Overally, the evening was a bit of a let-down.  We had paid 3000 baht for our two tickets – about US$80 – for only 55 minutes of performance, which had some forgiveable technical problems as well as some really unacceptable house manageent ones.  All in all, not the best use of our money and time.

Tawn spoke with one of the event’s organizers during the intermission and she sympathised and said it had been the cultural centre’s house management that made the decision.  True or not, we’re going to send a letter to both the festival and the cultural centre, expressing our disappointment.

Bangkok Hospital

DSCF1089 It has been a while since I’ve been to a hospital in the United States – the last time was a visit to St. Luke’s hospital in Kansas City after my grandmother had some vascular-opening surgery on her legs in March. 

Most of the time when I went to see my doctor, I’d just go to his office near the medical center on upper Castro street in San Francisco. 

My impressions of hospitals in the US are shaped in largely very antiseptic, 1970’s era, flourescent dimmly-lit, images.

The hospitals here that I’ve been to – presumeably not representative of the public hospitals kingdom-wide – have been really nice.  Even some of the older ones like Bangkok Hospital look more like malls or hotels than hospitals.  A selection of experiences from our trip there on Thursday:

  • We valet-parked our car.  Not an expensive option, but a complimentary service offered free to all customers.
  • Upon arriving at the front door, one of several nicely-suited employees approached us to help point us in the right direction.  No need to feel confused or overwhelmed here.  We were walked to the main registration desk.
  • The main registration desk looks like a hotel but several employees work on the outside of the counter so that it is more personable.  Tawn has been a patient at this hospital since childhood so they just checked him in.  I filled out a brief form in my language of choice and was entered into the system and given an ID card – professionally, digitally, and instantly printed out with my name, number and a bar code on it.
  • We explained what we wanted to see the doctor about and were entered into the system and given queue numbers kind of like a visit to the DMV.  From there, we went to the appropriate department – in my case, general medicine.
  • There at a central counter a nurse approached us, already had my record pulled up, and asked me to go with her to take my vital statistics.  I needed to use the restroom, which was on the other side of the main lobby.  When I asked where it was, one gentleman walked me all the way across the lobby so I wouldn’t get lost.
  • In the main lobby, there is a stage set up with a pianist playing.  A coffee shop and small stores surround a fountain, looking like a small mall.  The main pharmacy/payment desk is located here, too.  There was also a lady with a cart, offering free bottles of water and bananas to anyone who needed a healthy snack.
  • When I returned, I was brought into a small room where weight, blood pressure and temperature were taken.  Afterwards I went back to the waiting area, which seats about 120 people and has a pair of televisions and newspapers in both Thai and English.  Les than two minutes later, my number – 110 – flashed over the door to one of the examination rooms and the nurse invited me in. 
  • Here’s where things were different than my experiences in the US.  This examination room is also the doctor’s office, so he was already there, sitting behind his desk.  There was no long period of waiting in silence, sitting on the examination table, as happens with nearly visit to a doctor in the US.
  • The doctor was very comfortable to deal with.  He spoke English well although I had Tawn clarify a few points along the way in Thai just to make sure we were all on the same page.  In about ten minutes we had discussed the symptoms, done an examination, and had a preliminary diagnosis.  He prescribed some antibiotics and asked me to have blood tests done just to rule out dengue fever.
  • I went to the lab, which was in the same waiting area, and had the blood drawn without any delay.  The technician said that preliminary results would be available in one hour.
  • Sure enough, an hour later I was able to meet with the doctor with only a few minutes’ wait, and he reviewed the results and confirmed the prescription was correct.  He asked me to call back the next day for final results of the blood work or if I had any questions.
  • We went to the pharmacy, which is where we also pay for the services.  Again, there are people working on the outside of the counter who enter your patient number in the system which then triggers the pharmacy to begin pulling together your medications. 

All in all the experience was very pleasant and worthwhile.  Here were the costs as they appeared on my bill – which was printed in English since that was the language I selected as being my preferred language.

  • Medication – 7 days of antibiotics and 7 days of paracetamol – 1250 baht
  • Lab services – blood drawing – 969 baht
  • Molecular lab analyis – 2000 baht
  • Nursing charges – having vitals taken – 143 baht
  • Physician evaluation – meeting with the doctor – 600 baht

All told, only 4,961.70 (US$ 134) for the experience.  Contrasting this to the US, even with my medical coverage from my employer, if I had been ill and wanted to see the doctor I would have potentially not been able to get an appointment for that day.  If I had gone to an emergency room I would have suffered a penalty charge plus had possibly a lengthy wait.  Medications would have cost at least that much, based on what I’ve paid for antibiotics before.  Lab services would have cost much more, based on my experiences.


After dinner with Markus, Tam, Pune, and Markus’ visiting friend Peter last night, Sunday morning has gotten off to a relaxing start.  Tawn has suddenly “discovered” YouTube – particularly Sukeban Deka (“Delinquent Girl Detective”), the new movie version of a a Japanese television show that Tawn watched in his youth.  The story – basically a high school coming of age story crossed with Luc Besson’s 1990 spy thriller La Femme Nikita – is based on a mangaClip from the movie.

For dinner last night, I did most of the cooking, ably assisted by Tawn and Tam.  The menu was compiled from various San Francisco cook books and included:

  • Red wine vinagrette-dressed mixed greens with breaded goat cheese cakes
  • Tamarind paste-marinated pork tenderloin with an asian pear spice sauce and mango chutney
  • Cajun spice shrimp (from the Cook Eat Cha Cha Cha cookbook from the Cuban restaurant in SF)
  • Fresh ripe mango with sabayon




3 thoughts on “Back in the Saddle

  1. I’ll patiently wait for an all-clear sign from you before flying to Bangkok again. Judging from the price tag and your experience, seems like you have chosen a very elite hospital!

  2. So happy to hear you are feeling better. Whew! Your hospital experience sounded so much better than here in the states. I am very impressed.
    Hopefully, the kinks will be all gone before we get tot he airport in December………

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