Tuesday 1 October 2013

An Accident Waiting to Happen - 25

Leaving the Love Chalet
An innocent motorcycle journey through north-eastern Thailand in search of a remote Hmong hill tribe, had already involved us in attending a funeral and an overnight stay at a Love Hotel’. What more could happen? (see story No 24)
Photo by Mareta Kusumaningrum
     Before leaving our night of reflected sleep at the multi-mirrored ‘Love chalet’, we ate an exotic breakfast of Thai fruit salad. It included ripe mango, juicy rambutan and sliced papaya on a bed of sweet sticky rice. All washed down with fresh coconut juice. 
     We were ready to leave. I gunned the engine of our motorcycle and our Thai hostesses waved goodbye with smiles and a few sideway winks.
Monks along the Mekong
     A gravel track wound its way northward along the western bank of the Mekong River. I kept one eye open for potholes and the other cautiously on the mud-brown waters that flowed languidly south on its 4,900 km journey from the Tibetan plateau to the South China Sea. I had good cause to fear this river from a previous near-death experience. 
     We pause mid-morning at a village temple to cool off: its beautifully curved roof of brightly glazed red, green, and ochre tiles, cool interiors with tinkling wind chimes, was a perfect haven in which to catch our breath and to sit meditatively with the saffron-robed monks. We were heading for the Hmong village of Ban Kiewkhan, where we hoped to find Jon Boyce, an English anthropologist.
An Accident Waiting to Happen
     The road became a churned-up dirt track that hugged the hilly banks of the Mekong. I came atop one rise and saw below me a small side-stream, it was bridged by a single plank of wood, beyond which was a steep rutted incline.
     ‘Hang on,’ I said to Jean, and set off.
     As we came to the bottom, I aimed the bike for the plank and shot across it and up the other hill, skedaddling on the loose soil; I was almost to the top of the incline when it happened…
     Ker bang! Thud! Snap! Crunch! Ouch!
     A boulder had sprung out of the dust, twisted the steering, and sent the bike one way whilst Jean and I went in the opposite direction.
     Winded and surrounded by a cloud of dust, I called out, ‘Are you all right, love?’
     I’m not sure,’ came a faint reply.
     I dragged myself over to Jean who was nursing her leg. My own leg felt numb; I had heard a snap and feared the worse.
     We rested awhile, got our breath back and decided that although our legs hurt, they were probably just sprained. I managed to get the bike upright but found I was unable to kick-start the engine.
     Within half an hour, a man pushing a bike laden with a sack of produce came along. He kick-started the engine for me and I found that by keeping my damaged leg out straight, it was possible to ride without too much pain.    
Young Hmong girls celebrating New Year
     It was closer to continue to our destination than to go back, so we continued on.
     It was a short but painfully slow journey to our destination where, with some relief, we finally managed to track down Jon Boyce, the author whose paper on Hmong Hill Tribes we had read. 
The Hmong Tribe 
     Jon and his wife, Su, were very welcoming. They strapped our legs up with bandages, which eased the pain, then gave us a hobbled tour of the village.
     The Hmong villagers wore a common uniform of black tunics with brightly patterned aprons and collars, which they seem to spend much of their time embroidering. Their homes were very basic with few possessions, consisting of three partitioned areas with mud floors. The cooking areas had two open fires: one for family cooking and the other for animal feed. Pigs, ducks, and buffalo, wandered freely around the village.
     We met an old Chinese gentleman from Yunnan with whom Jean was able to converse. He was an ex-KMT soldier who had escaped over the border and now lived with the Hmong.
Jean - sleeping on the job.
  We stayed overnight and discovered the next morning that our legs were badly swollen. Despite this we opted to continue onto a village, which had a rudimentary medical clinic, Jon kick-started the engine and we gingerly set off.
     At the clinic a nurse told us that we had probably pulled some ligaments and should get ourselves to the hospital at Chiang Rai. In the meantime, they redressed our legs and sent us on our way.
Japanese Disease
     It took an incredible slow three-day journey through the infamous Golden Triangle drug area and an overnight stay on the Burmese border at a village of ex-Kuomintang solders before we managed to get back to Chiang Rai, fortunately it had a large, modern hospital, with 620 beds, nine operating theatres and an excellent orthopaedic department.
     The doctor who inspected and X-rayed our legs, exclaimed, ‘Ah!  You have Japanese disease.’
     ‘Japanese disease! What is that?’ I enquired, nervously.
     ‘Oh! Very common in these parts,’ he said. ‘Kawasaki, Suzuki, Honda, Mitsubishi, Yamaha. Every day, I see legs like this. You, madam, have pulled ligament, and you, sir, have torn ligament. You should return to England very quickly and have operation.’
     ‘But I am not going back to England for another four months,’ I said. ‘Can you do the operation here?’
     The doctor looked at his watch, and said, ‘Now lunchtime. If you wait one hour, I do for you.’
     One and a half hours later, I had an epidural injection and watched intently as the doctor performed microsurgery on my ligament, he closed me up with twenty-eight stitches and sent me off to be fitted with a full-leg plaster cast. What incredible service!  What incredibly instructive entertainment!
     Jean, complete with crutches and in a leg cast, came daily to visit me during the eight days of recovery. As nurses only performed medical duties, wives and family were expected to sleep and stay around the patient’s bed to feed and wash them. She, however, drew a line at sleeping under the bed each night and chose to return to the guesthouse instead. 
Getting Plastered in Thailand
     Once released from the hospital, we had an interesting conundrum to solve at the guest house;   we had just one bed and two full-length leg-casts between us, so getting into bed and finding a comfortable position was quite a challenge.
Recovery from 'Japanese disease' can increase one's sense of fun. 
     Being hot and humid, added to the problem and what is more I felt a terrible itch inside my cast. Jean found a bamboo stick and managed to wriggle it down inside until the itch subsided.
    At breakfast the following morning, I removed a small plaster section that covered an inspection window over my operation. As I did so, the cause of my itch became obvious; a tiny spider ran out. 
     It seems that travels and travails go hand in hand with us, but with it come life-enhancing experiences and excellent friendships.
     This eight-day blip with all medications, leg casts and the operation cost just $160. Money well spent.

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1 comment:

  1. Somehow or another I either missed this one Roy or thought I had already read it. Again, I admire your spirit of adventure as travel insurance companies in Aus won't entertain the thought of us even looking at a motorcycle. Pity about the itch though. bob


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