Have I passed the medical? Lord knows. Will I ever get to see the results? I doubt it. What I do know is that they took my blood pressure twice and in broken English I believe the doctor said I had slight hypertension - whatever that might mean. Like Shooting Parrots's father, I have always tried to stay clear of hospitals and doctors' surgeries even though Shirley is of course a nurse.
So there I was at the Vipavadi Hospital filling in forms with the help of Mr Somsak from the school's Human Resources Department. The Thais love forms and bureaucracy. I guess it keeps many people in work. I was led from reception to the medical check-up section which must be a virtual piggy bank for the hospital authorities. There was a small army of nurses there all in pale lilac uniforms with nurses' paper hats decorated with different bands of purple which no doubt indicated their different ranks.
Blood sample, urine sample, blood pressure, weight, height, X-ray, cardiogram printout, reflexes, stomach pummelled, intimate inspection, second blood pressure test and the ancient Thai doctor with liver spots asking me if I took illegal drugs. I feel as fit as a fiddle but I will wait with bated breath to see if they have failed me. It's all about the big insurance company that owns the school and the limiting of their liabilities.
|Koren woman from northern hilltribe|
But that wasn't what I wanted to write about. What I wanted to reflect upon was Thailand's tourism strapline - "The Land of Smiles". Is it deserved? In the Vipavadi Hospital I observed a lot of smiling at reception, at the nurses' stations, in the X Ray room and from the ancient doctor himself. The senior nurse was a radiantly smiling supervisor and she attracted many smiles in return from her staff.
A lovely feature of teaching here is the smiles that can often fill your classroom with warmth. When I greet children they almost universally smile at me and on my walk to work I smile at the streetcleaner and the motorcycle taxi men in their orange jerkins and little Cheera my cleaner and Koy and Nem (I think that's her name) - the receptionists. The lowly paid school cleaners and the catering staff smile at me but what I mostly notice is how readily Thai people smile at each other. In general, there seems to be a lot of human warmth around - though of course I will admit that when you breeze in to an unfamiliar culture, you might not always read the signals correctly - missing subtle undercurrents.
Though there are smiles and the pervasive influence of the Buddhist faith is ever present, there's also great poverty here and for some people survival cannot be easy. There are also drug cartels, a rich overclass of tax dodgers, corrupt police officers, prostitution, occasional murders and political unrest but in spite of all of that I hope I'll remember the smiles. For me the strapline is entirely apposite. Mind you, for my part, I might not be smiling if they say I have failed this afternoon's medical because that would mean I'd soon be flying homewards.