Friday finality

I think I’ve finally got this blog up and running the way it should be, so I feel great.

Woke up this morning, went to buy a traditional Isan breakfast of sticky rice and skewered BBQ pork, as well as some fried doughballs and a bag of rice porridge. Brought it all back home, got Max ready, and took him to school. Found a roadside vendor selling fresh durian and had him break down a small (~.75 kgs whole) one for Nam – she loves them (I merely tolerate them). Came home again to Mina babbling and scooting around madly on her baby walker. It’s been a perfect start for the day.

Around Mahasarakham: The Saengcharoen Theater (4711 Theater)

Across the street from our friend Tong’s house and cram school is a massive old theatre that’s been converted into a church. I’ve never taken photos of it or been inside, but I’ve admired it from the outside and parked in its shade many times.
I stumbled upon an excellent write up of the church (posted just two days ago) by a blog called The Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project, which is a “photographic archive of derelict or converted movie theaters in Southeast Asia.” Reading it makes me yearn for the days when many blogs were works of passion written about specific subjects…
I think I’ll ask Tong’s father about the significance of the number 4711, although I dig the idea of the Hopeful worshiping in the house of the occult.

Around Mahasarakham: The Cowboy Barber

Today Max turned two and when he fell asleep in the car, we took him to a barber on Srisawat Road famous for dressing like a cowboy (and cutting with shears instead of clippers). Nam held Max on her shoulder as cowboy barber man snipped away. Meanwhile, I was busy inspecting his shop, an older two story townhouse decorated with photos of him posing with other cowboy enthusiThais, Marlboro man swag like ashtrays and posters, a decommissioned muzzleloader, and a photo of Tom Selleck in cowboy attire!
This last detail ensures that daddy will also be going back for a cut there sometime, with camera.

Cornershop Kway Chap

Last week I visited at a noodle shop that I thought was new, but my coworker said it’s been around for a few years.
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This is mainly what they sell, standard kway chap noodles served Vietnamese style in clear chicken stock with rice noodles of medium thickness (you can also get instant ramen served in kway chap stock).
This is opposed to the other style of kway chap popular in Thailand, the Chinese kind in brown stock with blood cubes, bamboo shoots, and spiral flat noodles (this Chinese kind is usually done very poorly in Thailand IMHO, but when done properly, with fresh ingredients and duck meat, can be very tasty).
A vital key to surviving in any given area over an extended period of time is knowing the secret menus of your favorite haunts. The secret menu of this place was somewhat amusing:
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I loves me some chicken bones! (They use a bunch of these for the broth every day.)
Notes: This shop is located on Soi Srisawat between RMU and Spirit House Kway Chap, on the right side if headed away from RMU. Kway chap w/o egg 20 baht, w/egg 25 baht, chicken carcass 20 (25?) baht.

Blue kapom (Calotes versicolor)

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It took me three years to find one of the blue ones after I heard about them (and possibly ate them as well). This lizard is known in standard Thai as ginka and in Isan dialect as kapom. It has many names in English, including Oriental Garden Lizard, Eastern Garden Lizard, Changeable Lizard, Bloodsucker Lizard, Crested Tree Lizard, Garden Fence Lizard. They are Agamids, from the family Agamidae, commonly called dragons or dragon lizards. Here’s an informative passage from this page:

Changeable Lizards are related to iguanas (which are found only in the New World). Unlike other lizards, they do not drop their tails (autotomy), and their tails can be very long, stiff and pointy. Like other reptiles, they shed their skins. Like chameleons, Changeable Lizards can move each of their eyes in different directions.

I saw it on this tree at a restaurant my coworker and I were having lunch at, and it must have been mating season because there was another blue one, a half-red one, and one changing from tan to tan with spots before our very eyes! It was quite a sight, and I’ll definitely go to see them again sometime.
Note to self: I’m not sure of the restaurant’s name, but it’s in Maha Sarakham, out on the bypass between the crossroad to Borabu and the one to Wapi Pathum, 200 hundred meters before the road to Rui Sap (where my cop student got drunk on pineapple brandy and waved a glock around at everybody) on the left.

Thai Inter Hospital Mahasarakham aka Thai International Hospital Maha Sarakham

Having now experienced a C-section at both hospitals in Mahasarakham, my wife and I spent today comparing them and we’ve come to a conclusion: The government hospital is better for childbirth, and in a couple years (when construction of the new children’s wing is supposed to be completed) will probably be on par with anything Khon Kaen can offer with the exception of Khon Kaen Ram (which is on a different level than other hospitals in the region in many aspects, because of much deeper pockets).
Background: Our first baby, Max, was born a month early and as a breech baby, which necessitated a C-section (In Thailand, a Caesarean is called a “Caesar.” I personally prefer “Caesarean” to the Americanized version, “Cesarean,” because of the root origin.). We had been contemplating having the baby at one of the two hospitals in Khon Kaen mentioned above, but we hadn’t checked them out yet and when we got in the car, my wife didn’t want to endure the 45 minute drive to Khon Kaen. So we decided on the government hospital (Mahasarakham Hospital), mainly because Nam has good nurse friends there. We’d actually checked it out the day before and were apprehensive because (A) the facilities were old and dirty and (b) being a government hospital, there are masses of sick people lining the hallways (also, up here in the country, patients are often accompanied by entire families who lay out straw mats in the hallways for eating, waiting, and staying over). One thing that worked out in our favor was that while the natural childbirth rooms were appalling (three cots per room, no partitions, no air con, cobwebs and dirty acoustic ceiling tiles paired with ceiling fans, etc.), the surgical facilities were clean and modern.
The main problem with the government hospital, however, is overcrowding. There’s nothing like carrying your newborn through throngs of dirty and diseased to make you crave a clean environment… And that’s the main reason we decided to have shrieking child prodigy #2 at the private hospital, down the road behind SermThai department store, in downtown Maha Sarakham.
At first, it seemed like we had made the best choice, but a variety of factors proved this to be wrong. This hospital has just started a process of rebranding as Thai Inter Hospital Mahasarakham, which basically means that they have new letterhead and a new logo, and plenty of neato blueprints and design concepts posted around, but as of right now, it’s just a semi-old private hospital with a new name (as a side note, there was a poster in our room saying they have ties with this facility in Koh Samui). The first big problem was directly related to this rebranding process – they were completely redoing the room directly above the ICU with sledges, hammer drills, tile saws, the whole bit. This was a bit disconcerting, to say the least… I briefly entertained the idea of wheeling Nam and the baby out of the hospital and up the street to the public hospital. It was pretty bad. Luckily, the nurses let me take the baby up to our private room and Nam followed an hour later when she got cleared from the ICU. This problem is a temporary one, but there were other problems that were rooted deeper in the system.
The nurses were mostly inexperienced. Some were young and inexperienced, other were inexperienced with newborns. This is a big problem in a maternity ward. Luckily, this was our second time, so we could recognize shaky decisions and when to question them.

  • The only pediatricians on staff (1 or 2) were part time and visited only once a day.
  • Overall, doctor visits were too few and seemingly meaningless. Random doctors would wander in, glance at the baby, comment on the musical teddy bear we’d brought to sit next to her (thanks, mom!), and as we later found out, bill us for their presence.
  • The sheets and hospital gowns were old, cheap, worn out, and worst of all, poorly designed and ill-fitting. We were willing to pay extra for better service than could be had at the government facilities, so we wanted better basics.
  • The FREE! WIRELESS!! INTERNET!!! was broken and nobody knew how to fix it…nobody even understood what was broken… I immediately recognized this situation as hopeless and subscribed to DTAC internet service on my mobile (200 baht for 100 hours/month) and tethered it to my notebook.
  • Billing problems… even the hospital administrator in charge of our account eventually admitted to irregularities and cut 30% off our bill. We had to work for it, though. The basic problem was that they tried to get us to pay for extraneous items, be they things like a (seemingly complementary) bag of cheap toiletries at 10 or 20 times markup, or meaningless services like official doctor visits where the doctor gets a cut for just being in the room for a minute… and It’s not like we aren’t aware that this is standard practice elsewhere, it’s just that we are unwilling to accept it. So we pulled our ace and simply stated that if they insisted on unfairly charging us, we’d let everyone at both our universities know about it. So yeah, they cut down the bill three times and it eventually came to 30% of the original amount… But the very fact that they started out at such an overinflated figure hints at an endemic problem.

So far, it’s taken me eleven days to get this post to this point… and both babies are crying again…

Around Mahasarakham: The OTOP Marketplace

Note: With this entry, I’m starting a new category of posts called Around Mahasarakham (AKA Around Maha Sarakham). People have been asking exactly what the town we live in is like, so I’ll try to document it better in the future.

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Built to fail just last year, the OTOP marketplace is already sliding into moldy disuse, and the unmistakable stench of broken loser dreams permeates the entire area. It’s one of my favorite places to hang out as its right down the street from work, it’s always deserted, and my old rusty car just belongs in the parking lot.
Also, I buy bottled water in bulk there for half what it’s sold for at Big C or Tesco (that’s saying a lot), and occasionally look at the farm tools, 4th rate electronics, and used Korean black market shoes sold at various loser stores there just for fun… This place is cool because it’s a horrible pit of failure and wasted tax dollars, and everybody there knows it. Most of the shops some how manage to make enough to keep going it seems, but I just don’t know how. I’ve been there 35 or 30 times, and the most cars I’ve ever seen in the huge parking lot (not counting the ones they used to sell secondhand out front) was still less than 10.
Anyway, the various shops and stalls that comprise the marketplace just aren’t very interesting, so I’ve never taken photos of them. A month ago, though, I came across a strange sight behind the administrative office building where I’d parked my car in the shade:
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Nice shoes!

Of course, Max thought this was totally hilarious but didn’t appreciate his mother swatting his hand away when he tried to goose them…

Big C Mahasarakham

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In November 2008, Thai superstore Big C opened a branch store in Maha Sarakham, just a few minutes down the street from us. Life hasn’t been the same since, mostly in good ways since we pay less for more and no longer have to venture downtown to the small Tesco with shitty parking inside the SermThai department store. Also, there were certain things – such as sporting goods and bicycles – that were only sold at ridiculous markups at small stores until now, so watching said shops close up forever is satisfying on some very small, very human level. On the flip side, traffic on the main street in front of our house has increased greatly – sometimes making a U-turn in front of Big C is like sitting inside a supercollider and watching electrons whizz by.