My last week in Mae Sot

May 26, 2011 - Mae Sot, Thailand

Reflecting back on my time in Mae Sot, I've learned a few things:

1) Most of the Westerners here are drifters- no idea why or what they're doing here, nor idea of where they are going. I've never met a more indecisive bunch of space cadets in my entire life. And I went to Teddies', the home of the rich and aimless. So that's saying something.

2) Never pick up a Burmese baby. Not if you want to keep your trousers dry. They don't appear to use nappies at all, so picking up a cute but bare-bottomed baby is a risky business.

3) Always check for Betelnuts before giving inhalers to anyone- the result is messy and utterly revolting.

4) Women shouldn't touch monks, or even any of their stuff. I handed one his bag in Outpatients the other day, he looked at me as if I'd spat in it.

5) Western nations are all bastards. "Donating" expired meds just isn't nice play.

6) I don't think I ever want to leave.

My last week has flown by- Monday was spent in Outpatients, and I got the chance to feel more bulging bellies and chat with the medics, who are a fantastically competent bunch of ladies. I spent the afternoon in Hazel, chatting to friends as they popped by. That evening Prof Tom took me to Chicago House, the only sushi place in town. There we feasted on a fantastic Saba (fish) teriyaki and sushi washed down with Asahi beer. All quite expensive but delicious. Alex joined us a little later, by which point- oh yes- the karaoke had started. An enormous young man came waddling to the front; almost entirely spherical around the middle, he looked like an orange skewered on a stick. He had a high-pitched yet totally tuneless voice, and we watched in fascinated horror as he massacred his way through a few of Thailand's greatest hits, accompanied by, very unfortunately, a bit of boogying. Bits of him kept trying to catch up with him as he gyrated on the tiny, creaking stage. Relaxed with a bit of Asahi I was persuaded to get up and sing some Sinatra.

Tuesday was a conference (Oh yes, I actually went to a conference) at the Wattana resort, held by the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (connected to Oxford University), on Infectious diseases at the border. It was an interesting set of talks, but I'll always remember this conference because it was here that I finally met Dr. Cynthia. the legend herself. I had heard so much about her, that when Prof Tom finally introduced me I was so star-struck I could barely blurt out anything coherent. She's a handsome, middle-aged woman, softly spoken and like most maternal Burmese women she was tactile and affectionate. As soon as we were introduced, she moved seats to be at the back with me so that we could talk. Unsure of what to say I must have blurted out the most dreadful platitudes, but I managed to ask her a few pertinent questions, and I found myself desperately wishing I'd been able to stay at MTC longer, or to have been more use to them. She was marvellous. Everyone flocked around her, keen to have her speak to them, and the amount of respect she held in the room was very clear- the speakers at the podium would constantly be nodding in her direction whenever the clinic was mentioned. At lunch I found myself sitting next to a Tropical Paediatrician from the UK, who works at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine; he recognised my father's name, and passed on a few little gems of advice for my career. "Never just write "For Senior Review" on the notes," he insisted.

After the conference ended, Prof Tom took me for a little cycle around the countryside, to the reservoir and up the hill to see the Wat there, perpetually under construction with steel rods sticking out in all directions from the unfinished concrete. From here we had a spectacular view of the misty 3 tiered range of mountains in Burma- it can take up to 30 days for the BackPack medics to get over these on foot. We had a fish dinner in the Night market with an elderly epidemiologist from the conference.

Wednesday was a busy day on the ward- trotting around after one of the heads of the department, I helped out with cannulating and cleaning the babies in the SCBU- the tiny 0.8kg baby I had seen at the start has fleshed out and looks around with interest at his surroundings. Because he lies with his legs akimbo and kicks them about joyfully, they've nicknamed him "Frog". There's a 5-year old wandering around the ward- he's been adopted as the ward mascot and the medics give him rides in the wheelchair and feed him fruit. I have no idea where he comes from- he's arrived and doesn't appear to have left. The smaller of the twins on the ward has now developed abdominal sepsis (or so he's been diagnosed by the Obstetrician). He's lost a great deal of weight, a scrawny little thing with sallow skin and his distended belly is covered in petechiae.

Prof Tom took me to the pool that evening. He didn't finish until late, by which time the skies had become dark and angry and the distant rumble of thunder should have been a warning. He simply shrugged and said "Meh, let's chance it." I cycled while he ran (he's run over 45 marathons in his life, unbelievably fit and super quick) across dirt roads to the pool. It wasn't until we got into the water that it started to rain- big, fat, sloppy drops and it really set in for the long haul. There's something vaguely exciting/foolish about swimming in a pool with lightning flashing above you. There was a small family of dogs by the poolside, and I spotted them tustling with something pale- I fervently hoped they weren't my underpants. Turned out to be Tom's socks, and they'd also chewed through his laces. Oops. The crazy bugger ran back home in the pouring rain whilst I took shelter in a Pad Thai stall- Tom's Pad Thai stall, of course- nobody does it better.

My penultimate day was a quiet day in the clinic- apparently most patients turn up on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays (since Mondays are the start of t=he week and the other days are immunisations days). Instead I was able to have a good long chat to one of the medics, a beautiful lady who didn't look a day over 25, but who was 30 and had 3 children. She took me for breakfast (Mohinga again), another display of Burmese kindness. There was another downpour in the early afternoon and I took shelter in the ward with an American doctor (Kelly) and we watched children play under the water gushing from the roof guttering. I took the afternoon off to buy various presents for my departments in the form of food, and to pack. Of course, only after a quick Mandalay Noodle salad whilst reading a crappy romance novel at Borderline. That evening was quiz night again- it was great to see everyone one last time before I left.

I've made some fantastic friends- many I worry I won't see again, that is unless I come back to Mae Sot. This town has somehow got under my skin and in my head and I can very easily see myself coming straight back here as soon as I can. Cycling down the streets I have this little contented feeling which I only ever feel when I'm cycling around Oxford.



1 Comment

May 29, 2011
Thank u for blogging about Mae Sot so honestly. And entertainingly! All the best for the rest of the trip. I'm probably gonna be at MTC next year so it's been awesome reading about it from someone who's there so recently. cheers
P.s.- I'm not sure which part of English weather could be missed :)
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