Thursday, May 24, 2012

Another Wonderful Rotary Mission

Our journey home was very long but uneventful.  On Saturday we flew from Nakhon Phanom to Bangkok and on Sunday departed Bangkok for Elizabethtown.  We left our overnight hotel in Bangkok at 5 AM and arrived in Elizabethtown by 2:30 am on Monday.  Because of time zones and crossing the international date line, our May 20th lasted around 35 hours.  It was interesting flying from morning to late afternoon to night to morning to afternoon to night all in one day.

Reflecting on the mission, we again were able to help many people to see and the dental team was able to help relieve pain and discomfort.  We made new friends and experienced  new aspects of our incredible world.   Thank you to our organizers and team leaders - Connie Spark, Dr. Amy Spotts, and Dr. Robert Lawson-Smith and thank you to the Rotary Foundation for allowing us to "do good in the world."

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Year 2555

The year in Thailand is 2555, not 2012.  While our Gregorian calendar counts the years Anno Domini (AD) or after Christ, the Buddhist calendar in Thailand is dated from the death of Buddha and essentially is our year plus 543. 

Cultural Day in Sakon Phanom

On Friday we traveled west to the Sakon Phanom province.  The main part of the day involved a tour of the Phu Phan Royal Development Center which is a sprawling agricultural research and education center established by the king.  As part of the tour there was a sampling of some local cuisine including fried crickets and silkworms.

We had a farewell party in the evening at the hotel.  Below is a picture of Ken and I exchanging our Elizabethttown Rotary Club banner with our wonderful host Ann. 

Cultural Day in Mukdahan

Whenever we go on a mission, our hosts are always eager to share with us their local culture and sites.  Our final 2 days in northeast Thailand were spent touring the Mukdahan province south of Nakhon Phanom and Sakon Phanom west of Nakhon Phanom.

On Thursday we boarded a bus and headed south to the Wat Phra That Phanom.  "Wat" means temple.  This is the most famous temple (and one of many) in Nakhon Phanom.  It was built by a Laotian king and, according to legend, contains the breastbone of The Buddha. 
Our local host showed us the proper way to show reverence to the Buddha.  Of course, first we had to remove our shoes to enter the temple area.  The ritual is to walk around the stupa three times, the first time reflecting on the Buddha, the second time reflecting on sacred scriptures, and the third time reflecting on the monks.  Then a lotus flower is placed in a basket, incense is lit, and then a small piece of gold leaf is applied to the temple.
After leaving the Wat, we traveled on to Mukdahan and had lunch in a rotating restaurant at the top of a 15 story hotel.  We then went to the Indochina market, which stretched along the street by the Mekong River.  It very much reminded us of Saturday's Market in Middletown.  On the way back to Nakhon Phanom, we saw the Laos-Thailand Friendship Bridge 2. 

Final Day in Nakhon Phanom

Wednesday was our final day seeing patients in Nahhon Phanom.  The clinic ran smoothly and we finished up and packed up the equipment by 6:00pm. 

During the week while we were busy in the eye clinic, the dental team was having adventures of their own.  Today they went to a local prison to provide services and we are looking forward to hearing about that!

Over the entire mission, we provided prescription glasses or reading glasses to around 1500 people.  The interesting thing about this mission is that their were very few people who passed the screening. (Less than 10?).  This may be because we saw mostly adults over 40. 

The next 2 days are cultural days followed by a weekend of travel to return home.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Baht Stops Here

The Thai unit of currency in the BAHT.  The current exchange rate is about 31 bahts to the US dollar.

Prices are very inexpensive here in Thailand, especially outside of Bangkok.  Our hotel in Lopburi cost 750 baht per night with breakfast and wi fi included.  That equates to $24 per night.

Roundtrip airfare from Bangkok to Nakhon Phanom was a little more than $100 equivalent.

A bottle of Coke - 13 baht (42 cents).  One of the Brazilian Rotarians bought a button down shirt for 40 baht ($1.30). 

If you drop a baht, you should not step on it to keep it from blowing away.  This is because it has the King's picture on it and you should not step on the King. 

Day 2 in Nakhon Phanom

It was a busy day today in the eye clinic.  We had an unexpected delay in the morning and arrived later than anticipated.  We worked until almost 6 pm to make up the time.  We saw an estimated 280 people in the refracting lanes today.

Some of the people we are seeing are traveling from far distances to see us.  Apparently there is not good access to refractive eye care and prescription glasses for many of the working population.  A lot of people are coming in with glasses that they purchased off a rack at a store.  We assume they just look through them and pick whichever power they think they see with the best.

We aren't seeing as many sun-related eye conditions here in Nakhon Phanom as in Lopburi, but still we are seeing quite a number of cataracts and pterygium.

Almost all of my patients are older than 40.  We have seen very few kids. 

The people are genuinely grateful and very cooperative as patients.  We were applauded when we arrived at the hospital by the waiting masses. 

For dinner this evening a number of us traveled up the street to a pizza restaurant - though they ran out of dough after 3 small pizzas..... so we ended up with more Thai food.