9-27 July 2016
Greetings again from Bangkok
After my short ten day visit to Myanmar I am back in Bangkok for the remainder of my dental and medical appointments before a scheduled return home on 27 July. In the past, re-entries into Thailand have been pretty routine with Thai immigration. This time, however things went badly askew. The usual quick passport inspection with perfunctory rubber stamp visa came to a screeching halt when the immigration officer mumbled something unintelligible in Thai and responding to my puzzled expressions, motioned for me to come around behind her to see what now appeared on her screen.
Nothing on the totally Thai language screen meant anything at all to me. But, she tapped on a prominent bright red box and repeated her urgent conclusions: "No more entries; need retirement visa..." or something including that meaning. Flustered, I stammered my disbelief elaborating details of my situation including pending appointments with dentists and doctors. At that point she motioned for her uniformed supervisor to join our conversation. He took over the interrogation using good English explaining I had too many entry visa stamps in my passport this year and closely questioned me for explanations adding "The visa situation in Thailand often confuses foreigners and has changed recently."
I explained that for many years I have been using Bangkok as a transportation hub for explorations of Southeast Asia and for taking advantage of the economical dental and medical services available in Thailand... and for just enjoying the Thai hospitality. He smiled and proceeded to explain the government has now cracked down on informal "retirement" by people using multiple 30 day "visa on arrival" entries instead of obtaining the formal and more expensive retirement visa. The long abused "visa run" is no longer acceptable he winked.
"So, next year I should find some other transportation hub city?" I blubbered as our rapport warmed.
"Oh, no. You'll be O.K." he smiled and motioned for the immigration agent fondling my passport to approve my entry as usual. I thanked him warmly and could see we both were on the same side of this issue. However, for a brief few minutes of disorientation I chewed on the very real possibility of needing to find a way to get my prepaid 27 July Cathay Pacific flight moved forward to an immediate deportation departure! Ah yes, unplanned serendipitous international travel can be exciting!
Later, checking the process for obtaining the official "retirement visa" revealed just how confusing is the process! First, the language of the English language version of the application is unnecessarily convoluted, insuring confusion. Second, the procedure must be initiated in the applicant's own home country!
My check-in at the prebooked Furama Silom Hotel proceeded smoothly with several staff, including Room Division Manager Supasak Boonprasong (Alex) recognizing me from prior stays and providing "VIP" attention accorded to all Furama First loyalty program members as far as I could determine. After so many years of hotel shopping, I currently believe this hotel to be one of the best 4 star values in Bangkok!
Wifi strength and Internet connectivity in the room have been flawless, but seriously problematic in the comfortable, uncrowded Executive Club room where I have my included breakfast and an occasional weekday discounted $9.50 buffet lunch. Management is aware of the long standing ISP connectivity difficulties, but has not yet solved the problem... which I find puzzling.
Views from my 19th floor corner room #1901 face north and west toward the river. The extra windows in all corner rooms ending in "01" provide more natural daylight illumination, making them better choices, though being adjacent to the elevators also means occasional brief disturbance by especially noisy guests... frequently Chinese these days!
The periodontist performed her deep root cleaning ($169) last Thursday during a vigorous hour and a half scaling procedure. A week later she did flap surgery ($226) to make managing the gingivitis easier, also an hour and a half procedure. Paying little attention over the years, I have just recently come to notice that ALL dental professionals seen practicing in the Dental Design Clinic are women, including the surgeons! That cannot be a statistical accident. (I later learned there is at least one unseen male in their group.) Admittedly, I am somewhat more comfortable with a female dentist and find their melodious chatter with assistants in Thai more soothing than male voices for one thing... and their smaller, though not necessarily more dexterous hands better suited for probing around the nooks and crannies of an oral cavity!
Thinking about the always compassionate female medical professionals I've encountered here in Thailand led me to take note of how many women now serve as national leaders around the world. If Hillary Clinton is elected president of the United States, she would join many other female heads of state. Is the world headed for a kinder, gentler civilization? Let's hope so! Given the current escalation of principally male instigated violence everywhere, it would be none too soon for humanity.
The comprehensive $500 Executive Physical Checkup at the still amazing Bumrungrad Hospital took five hours Friday, 22 July. Lower back pains during the preceding week created uncertainty about my physical ability to complete the treadmill stress test, but the worry turned out to be unnecessary and the test results showed I have the heart of sensible middle aged guy. All other normal results remained pretty much unchanged from a year ago except for the astronomically high fasting blood glucose levels (333mg/dl), indicating the need to engage in even more exercise and pay still closer attention to a healthier diet. Gerald, an ethnically Chinese pharmacist sitting next to me on the long Hong Kong to Los Angeles flight noted another drug, Metformin is being added to some prescriptions he is dispensing for Type II Diabetes... something to look into when I get back.
Between the dozen test stations and consultations I had time to ponder the efficiency of the comprehensive medical screening system developed for the Thai Bumrungrad Hospital. The multinational, multilingual patient base ensures some patients will become "lost" and require special assistance. So, all patients are guided every step of the way through the process by alert hospital staff; no one can become totally lost. Any time a "new face" appears, staff riffle through their queue of patient papers bearing photographs of the people. Anyone not found is immediately approached for identification and determination of their language requirements and next scheduled examination station: "A" to "H."
The hospital is located in the traditional Muslim section of Bangkok, near the Nana BTS station. Over the fourteen years I've been using the medical services here, I've noticed a gradual increase in the number of people in Middle Eastern attire being treated at the hospital. Almost all professional hospital staff speak at least a smattering of English, however this time, I noticed the hospital has opened a lobby "hospitality" desk for Middle Eastern patients who speak only Arabic, apparently an accommodation of the shifting patient demographics. So many foreign women hiding their faces and the escalating fee structure make me less enthusiastic about the Bumrungrad services than in the past.
During my two weeks in Bangkok this time there has been a rash of horrific terrorist attacks on civilian targets around the world by Muslim zealots apparently heeding the call by ISIS leaders for uncoordinated assaults in Western democracies. Radicalized Muslims are urged to attack soft targets in countries considered enemies of Islam, emphasizing targets with the potential for large numbers of casualties. There have been many during the past year and a half throughout the world. Anyone willing to commit mass murder, in my opinion must be mentally ill... which got me agonizing.
Then I remembered an experience while leading encounter groups last century for the Unitarian Church Sunday evening services in Santa Barbara. In every group of a dozen or so people there always was one or more individuals reluctant to participate in the sharing experience... until given "permission" by the leader. Such people once encouraged, often then contributed surprisingly important ideas! That has made me consider all the lost sparkling insights of so many past groups where individuals remained silent as more self confident, vocal members dominated the discussion. All that would have been necessary for them to contribute was for someone, anyone to give them "permission" to speak up, to act.
Applying that insight to all the crazy people in the world who refrain from acting for lack of being given "permission" to carry out their secret inclinations leads to some important insights. Imagine some perceived "authority" who publicly urges such people to commit that horror which has been kept in check by normal social restraints.
Decades ago I studied a report that concluded about 3% of any population will be born psychopathic or sociopathic! Even if the number is lower as more recent studies assert, there are still millions out there. Most function normally, sometimes even spectacularly in leadership positions... until something prompts them to demonstrate truly deviant behavior. That something might well be a religious radical calling on otherwise harmless believers to sacrifice their hopelessly ordinary lives for a "higher" supernatural goal.
With an annual average of more than 3000 terrorist incidents worldwide during the past 45 years, this is a major problem for humanity. The List of Islamist terrorist attacks alone is impressive, accounting for a sobering number of the world's Worst terrorist strikes--worldwide.
In my next and final postcard from home for this trip I plan to do an overview of failures and lessons learned from this sojourn. Until then,
Fred L Bellomy
PS: 16 July 2016 - I awoke this morning to discover every TV news channel reporting the attempted military coup currently underway in Turkey half a world away from my peaceful perch here in Bangkok. Still the middle of the night over there, army tanks and helicopters supporting a large number of ground troops have laid siege to major government facilities in Ankara. Turkish President Erdogan used social media to call on his supporters to demonstrate their opposition to the military conspirators by taking to the streets in defiance of the Coup's order for a curfew... and according to independent news reports, they have responded in their thousands both in Ankara and Istanbul. Twenty-four hours later the government had regained control and the principle instigators were under arrest. We do live in interesting times.
Watching news about post-coup government actions, I cannot help but suspect comprehensive contingency plans already were in place to have been executed in such a rush after neutralization of the coup leaders. Is it possible the coup and following purge might have been instigated by the government itself? Critics have suggested as much and I find the questions being raised deserve credible responses.
It appears to me that Turkey could be slipping into an increasingly polarized situation regarding the Kurdish minority in the country. I worry also because the current president Erdogan, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, seems to be trying to move the country away from the historically secular orientation of founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. A radicalized, non-secular Muslim Turkey could be a very serious threat to peaceful developments in the entire region! European political leaders are expressing their dismay over recent political activity in Turkey, including Erdogan's vow to reinstitute the death penalty, noting that such an action would jeopardize Turkey's pending bid to enter the European Union which has outlawed capital punishment. FB
PPS: 2 September 2016 - After my typical extended period of "recovery" including a particularly long jet lag this time, I am finally winding down and putting the finishing touches on this postcard started while still in Bangkok more than a month ago.
Now it is time to tackle the still unanswered email messages and set up a number of past due doctor appointments... between naps! FB