Saturday, October 31, 2015

Siriraj Medical Museum - Halloween 2015

The post today is definitely not for the faint of heart nor for people who might have their bosses standing right behind them while they are perusing my blog instead of working.  The pictures that I feature will be both intense and somewhat disturbing.  I feel that I need to put that as a warning first due to the fact that I do not believe in scaring people for fun or insulting people who might take offense with seeing morbid photos.  

I am sitting here on Halloween night after spending a day with my friend wandering around Bangkok, trying to figure out how to write this post.  As it is quite normal for us to find ourselves in random places and situations, today started out quite normal and then took a sharp turn towards the surreal.  I am quite certain that there is a reason that the museum seems to be a bit off the beaten path, but does not seem to hurting for visitors.  

I started writing this blog post with the hope of explaining one of the more surreal museums that I have experienced.  I ate some food, poured a glass of wine, and now am going to attempt to write about elephantiasis, birth defects, and corpses leaking their excess fluids and fats into drip pans.

I am going to put that picture of puppies right there because you might need it later.  Hope it helps

After walking up an unassuming staircase, We found ourselves on the second floor of a very unassuming building.  A quick foreign pricing of 200 baht paid to the very nice person with passable English got us admission and a stern warning against using cameras.  As I spent last weekend getting yelled at by a security guard, I decided to not push it two weeks in a row and have just decided that Google images will provide my pictures for this blog post.  

After the stern warning, we walked in and were face to many small faces.  The medical museum has many different sames of tissues, bone structures, organs, and varying arrays of other anatomical displays.  All of these items are suspended in a gel of some kind. They also have many young children who passed and were donated to science so that people could study the medical deformities that caused them to prematurely die. 

Please note that while they are on display, I can honestly say that it is by no means done in a distasteful way.  The interesting thing is that many even have toys that have been left by museum patrons in front of their shelf.  

The other displays feature some extremely difficult to understand (for myself at least) birth defects and anomalies.  

This room shocked us quite a bit to say the least.  It was not that it was a bad thing to see, it was just not something that we were expecting.  Even though I had seen pictures of the inside of the museum before we entered, I don't think that I was prepared to see the sheer scope and magnitude of the collection of bodies and organs on display.  

They had exhibits on just about everything that you could think of, hearts with different issues, lungs with cancer, intestines of people who had been poisoned, livers of people who had been shot or run over, etc.  

There were also testicles that were the size of basketballs or bigger.  Literally, basketballs.  

If there was a way for someone to die, they probably had the trauma to the organ on display in the museum.

I felt like it was about time to add a kitten to the post.  Trust me, you will continue to need this for a while.

After this display, we moved over to the forensic pathology display, which featured criminals, different victims, and a special display on the massive tsunami that hit Thailand.  

I thought the tsunami exhibit did a great job of explaining how they identified different victims of the tsunami and had a great display of the triage process and what various wounds looked like.  

I also know that most people in a tsunami do not die of drowning but of blunt force trauma.  I did not know this until today... Guess that is a plus...

The forensic display was intense to say the least.  I had honestly thought that the different birth defects display would be the room that stuck with me the rest of the day, but I can honestly say it was not the case.  

Walking down the main entry into the forensic display allows you to see different skulls and short explanations of the wounds that were caused to them.  

As this is a region that has known a share of violence in the last few decades, there were accidents featured ranging from car crashes to murders to more war-related injuries.  Each small display would have a picture from the autopsy, a description of what happened, and then any human remains that were important to the case. 

There were many images ranging from suicides by laceration to grenade attacks.  

Time for another puppy I think

Now the exhibit that I had heard the most about was the one featuring the full bodies, two of criminals and one that was just naturally mummified.  I am not going to try and explain what the criminals did, but suffice it to say that one was a cannibal and the other was not-so-good either

While I had become accustomed to the different bodies on display, the thing that got me on this set of displays was the drip-pans.  

The pans at the feet of those displays were either filled with paper towels or a greasy grey substance that looked a lot like the fat that collects on soups and stews after it cools down.

Yes, I just ruined soup for you.

Here is another kitten.

See, I gave you four kittens, try to forgive me.

Now those pans seemed to be cleaned quite a bit, which meant that the bodies were continually leaking their fats and fluids.  

Most of the doors were also just held in place with tape.  Yes the bodies were secured inside of the glasses cases, but without the scotch tape and wire, they would have just fallen out on the floor.  

Just wow.

I also must admit that I did learn a lot during this trip to the museum about human anatomy.  While I have seen trauma before, most of the time it was in the capacity as someone who was trying to not let the person die.  I have had little or no chance to actually take time and peer into what a body looks like on the inside.  I realize that museums like this are not for the squeamish among us, but they sure are great learning opportunities.  

Let's just end this post with two frolicking puppies.

From Bangkok, Thailand to wherever you are reading this from, Happy Halloween everyone.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Adopting an Older Dog

Before our dog Appa came into our life, I had always wanted a younger dog, maybe 1-2 years old. I am not much into puppies as they have more energy than I really want to deal with.  That, and with my work schedule, I knew I could not ever give them the amount of time they deserved.  

Still, until I looked down at that reddish/white muzzle and saw the love and caution that was in his eyes, I would have never chosen a dog that was already eight years old.

Then he nudged me, as if to say he had already chosen me, and I better just accept that fact. We were at a pet adoption fair in PetCo in Kona, Hawaii, where we met Rosemary, who cares more for dogs than anyone else I know. Appa looked up at me, took his wet nose, and slammed it into my elbow. 

The next few years were sealed.  I say few because when you adopt an older dog you know that you won't get to have them for a very long time...  That sword of Damocles will always be over the relationship and bond that you form, but you learn a lot about love and caring in the process.  

This is his story of adopting two people, and how he brought us love, tears, anger, laughter, heartbreak, and many fond memories.  He was known throughout town, people would say hi to him before they even saw me, and he was mourned by many when he passed.  

I have had to take a long time to try and write this post, mostly because I knew I could not handle the depth of emotion that would come with eulogizing my friend, but if anyone can see the light of bringing an older dog into their life from this story, then my heartache won't be for nothing. I know I will cry before the end of this story, but sometimes those tears are a part of a larger, more beautiful memory - one which I will try to put into written words.  As with any story that is talking about a certain depth of emotion, there is no way that my telling can do it the justice it deserves, but I will try my best. 

Appa was a character, he was terrified when we brought him home. He hid for weeks from us. We made his "home" under a side table near his food and water, and left a big pillow for him to sleep on. He had run of the house, but for a while was very content to stay in that area. When we were out of the house though, he was a rascal. He was still getting used to not living on the street or whatever had happened to him before the rescue foundation found him, and would get into everything. We learned quickly. The trashcan moved, food was no longer stored at heights that were less than three feet, and you always had to watch him like a hawk when he was in the yard.

He tested us, and we tested him. We settled into a nice equilibrium, and eventually his comfort area spread to everywhere in the house.

I still remember the first time he came up and laid his head down on my lap and closed his eyes. I did not move for a solid 20 minutes because I did mot want to ruin the moment. It was amazing.  I remember feeling that he had finally accepted us as his new home, as his new protectors.  It was amazing to watch him really feel comfortable as part of our "pack" and accept us as his family.

The trust grew and the laughs came with it. His personality started to shine through. He was a quiet dog, it took him months before he was start to vocalize anything. 

A few years later he would never shut up. At some point we felt like he was just trying to mimic us in our speech patterns. I still don't think he realized he was a dog at all.  Sometimes he would just sit and watch us, not in a dull way, but in a way that said he was trying to learn what we were doing.  I am sure I am taking some liberty with humanizing his behavior, but I feel that I am entitled to adjust the memory in that direction.

A few years went by, the walks slowly went down in distance. The dog pillows slowly spread out around the house.  We started making a collection of places that would be comfortable for him in almost any location in the house.  Sweeping the floors and cleaning turned into a large-scale task, as one would have to take a half dozen dog beds and foam matting outside and then attempt the task of removing ten pounds of dog hair from all the corners of the house.  

We wanted to make sure he had a spot to lay on in any room that we were in at the time.  He started to act like he was worrying - an act that made him seem a bit more nervous and scared at times.  He knew he was slowing down, and we did our best to make sure that he was always comfortable and always knew we loved him.   

He started slipping and having trouble making it to the bathroom in time.

Sadly it all crept along so slowly that I did not really notice it at all. He would have good days and bad days. We had him on the highest dose of pain medication that the vet would give us. 

I taught myself how to massage his hips and sometimes would even do a range-of-motion exercise on them that would allow them to flex and pop a little. It helped for a while. 

We had to make that inevitable choice. It was for his own sake. Honestly I did not mind helping him stand, or the messes around the house. I would still clean up after him today, if it was not for the obvious pain he was in. We chose to have a vet come to the house, and buried him with a tree that we had been given at our wedding. It had red leaves and he was a "red dog" so we felt it was fitting.

It now grows in a lovely spot in the yard now, with red and green leaves going off in every direction. I made a nice pile of stones and filled them with moss and orchids. We left a few of the things he loved bear the head of the cairn. All-in-all it is a lovely spot, one where we joking still say he would love to poop and sniff things. 

That is the thing about older dogs, you have less time with them. They don't come with that new puppy look or smell, but you get the same amount of love. You have to approach them differently. They know abandonment and pain in quantities that are higher than any animal or person should.  They take a large amount of time to gain trust from, and a huge amount of effort to make them feel at home.  

This just means that when you gain their love and trust, they will love you more. They know what it is like to have nothing.

Yes, they might be fixer-upper opportunities, but honestly it is the human that will spend time being fixed.  I felt that he softened my heart in ways that I would have never been able to experience without him.  

You learn love by watching them start to trust you.

You learn compassion when they start feeling ashamed for having an accident in the house due to old age.

You learn about family when you decide to eat dinner on the floor because they are having a hard time begging from the table.

You learn to enjoy sitting for long periods in the grass, watching the cars go by.

You learn to enjoy the "moments" in life. I still remember taking him on one last walk, and watching him sniff a corner he always loved. I knew what was about to happen, but for that "moment" I was at peace.

You learn sadness and letting go, but you also learn just how much a family member means to you. 

Anyone who says a phrase of "it is just a dog," obviously has had a loyal friend like Appa. 

Yes, in adopting an older dog there will be pain, the years will go by faster than those that you would have had with a puppy, but don't confuse quantity with quality.

The few years we had with Appa were some of the most amazing and loving that I could have imagined. 

Losing him was devastating, but slowly we are healing. 

Gaining him changed out lives forever.  He might have only had a few years with us, but we will carry his memory for a lifetime.  As cliche as it sounds, he does live on through our memory far longer than he ever would have lived physically.

It all started with that first nudge and a look of hope in his eyes. He was one of the best decisions that we have ever made.   

I still picture that moment when I think about him, and if you give an older dog a chance, you might someday understand what I mean.

When I am able, I will do it all over again.  As hard as the end may be, the road to that point is quite amazing.  

Friday, October 23, 2015

Fighter jets, dogs riding motor cycles, an elephant, and a floating market.

Sometimes you have one of those days where the camera is never ready.  Today was one of those days.  

The day started off like any normal quasi-adventure, get into the car, and go in a direction towards a location that the driver seems to know, and I have never heard of before.  Of course, this meant I settled into the back seat of the car and proceeded to zone out and watch the Thai landscapes move past.  Now, I should have know that I needed my camera ready, as you never know what to expect in Thailand.  Near my house there are a few places that have near life-size dinosaur statues.  Yes, because it is Thailand.  You don't ask why, you just accept the quirks.  

So, while sitting there in the back seat of the car, watching the landscape go by, I notice two fighter jets.  Just parked in a car lot.  Then three small private planes.  Why? Why not.  It is Thailand, so I think you just accept that these things are normal and move on.  I am pretty sure I could have purchased those jets for a nice price.  I have no clue if they were working, but they sure looked like Vietnam or Korea era US military jets.  

Again, Thailand.

So after this, I really should have been prepared for the rest of the day.  Sadly, I was ready to take pictures in all the wrong places.  Oh well, these things happen.  

The first stop we made was to an awesome little floating market to get some amazingly delicious seafood.  I first want to go on record and state that I really detest most seafood.  Most of the time it tastes briny and old.  This was amazing.  I am not sure if it is was the overuse of garlic and butter, or the fact that it was probably swimming somewhere in the Gulf of Thailand earlier that day, but damn.  Amazing.  

After our lunch stop here and our time to stop and people-watch for a bit, we headed over towards a local temple (where I learned that there are places where foreigners cannot use their cameras but the locals that are around you can...)

So, we went to a beautiful temple where the custom is to place bits of gold leaf on the various statues in the main sanctuary.  Luckily I was with my friend who was able to walk me through the protocol.  After doing all the proper motions, I got to the point where I was placing the gold onto the various statues and suddenly the line stops.  The lady in front of me pulls out her iPad and starts taking pictures of everything.  I think to myself, I guess this is OK as the guard is staring right at us.  So, after placing the gold, and noticing just how much gold was on the various statues (my finger was able to indent about a quarter inch into the soft metal), I take a photo with my phone.  Boom!  The guard is not happy

He yells something to me, while I am standing at the top of the area.  Beckoning me to come down... now.  I make my way down and he pantomimes "no camera".  I am very confused as there are literally many people around me at this point doing the exact same thing as I just did.  As he points to the gold area, there are a few people taking photos in almost the exact same spot I did. Well, guess I am in trouble for being foreign.  I apologize and he tells me to delete that particular photo, which I did in front of him. I walked away with my friend very confused. 

As I took the following photos and was not asked to delete them, just the one that the guard pointed out, I am going to assume they are acceptable.  I want to point out what a beautiful creation this shrine really is.  There are many shrines with various figures on them all around Thailand, but this one has to be the most inspiring one that I have seen so far.  

I think the best way to describe it would be to compare it to the feet of the worn down statue of St. Peter in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.  The statue itself is beautiful, but it is moving because of the human impact that time has had on it.  This statue had so many people press gold to it over the years that it took on a whole new form.  The entire statue was bumpy and uneven, but in a very beautiful and reverent way.    

So, after being politely from my photography quest, I decided to take some pictures outside the guards domain.  Again, I was quite wary, but maybe it was just one guard who was having a bad day.  After taking some pictures around the temple, I am going to guess that was more the case. 

So, without any more run-ins with the guard, and seeing busses of tourists taking photos, we made our way to the final destination of the day - the family house and land of one of the people on the trip.  

It was worth the two hours of driving each way.  If it were not for the very angry dog and my ever-present fear of lethal vipers that like to sit in trees, (which I did not see, but I just knew were watching my every move), I could have stayed there for days.  

It was so peaceful and quiet.  I am now very used to the ever present sounds of the suburbs of Bangkok, and the quiet in the air was almost palpable.  

The last picture is of the dog that I am pretty sure wants to murder us all in our sleep.  Or when we are awake.  He looks cute, but inside is a little ticking time-bomb of a murder machine.  Yeah, I am onto you Kujo.

After a visit that should have lasted hours, but went by way too quickly, we went and did some gardening on the neighboring plot of land.  Well, by "we" I mean Eddie and I supervised.  We did a great job supervising though.  

It was hot and I think we were tired.  We did try to take great pictures though, that has to count for something, right?

At one point, Eddie even held a tool.  This was far beyond my energy level though, so I guess I can say that he was more of a foreman and I was a supervisor.  

All-in-all, a very beautiful day spent with some amazing people.  

So, here I am, "working" by the side of the road, and I look up and see a man riding on a scooter.  Now this is nothing out of the ordinary, but this man happens to have a 50 pound dog on his lap with his paws on the front handle bars and another 50 pound dog sitting in the foot area below him.  

I have seen families of five riding on one scooter before in Thailand.  No joke, Mom, Dad, and three kids on one Vespa, but a man and two dogs just floored me.  It was like something out of those paintings where the dogs play cards.  If the dog had been smoking a cigar or had given me a smile and a wave I would have questioned my sanity.  

Well, questioned it more than I already do.  Apparently dogs drive Vespa scooters in Thailand.  

I am also quite impressed with the dogs ability to stay in a straight line and use the gas and brake with no thumbs.  

Just put that on the list of things I learned today.  

Also, don't use a camera if you look foreign.  If you look Thai, go right on ahead.

In case you were keeping track on the score-card, this is about where everything took place.  Honestly, I have no clue where it is, but I happened to ping things with google maps.  Good luck finding it all again.  

Lastly, we were driving home and the driver, Eddie, says something like "oh look, an elephant."  The first thing out of my mouth, when looking out the car window and seeing a man ride an elephant on the side of the road was something like "Holy f*&%, he is riding an elephant,"  I have never seen an elephant outside of the zoo, and it was quite surreal to see a man using it for his evening... commute?  

Now, I don't want to enforce any stereotype, as that is the first time I have seen an elephant while in Thailand, but yes, I guess some people do really ride elephants to work.

Just chalk another day up to "Forget about it Rico, it's Thailand."

*Note: I did a bit of research before posting this blog and found that there is nothing against respectful images of Buddha.  As I feel that these are respectful images done in a respectful tone, I think they are OK for this blog.  If anyone feels otherwise, please do not hesitate of contact me and ask me to remove them and I will do so quickly and without argument.  

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Morning Walk

One of the things that gets me about Thailand is all of the different smells.  I know that this might seem weird to mention, but each place that I have lived in has very specific smells.  The thing that I have always noticed about the United States is that we do whatever it takes to make the smell of an area very neutral.  Where I used to live in Hilo, Hawaii, was always quite a shock, because it was a constant battle to fight back the mildew. 

Thailand is a very interesting mix of cooking food, water, and just about any other smell that can be thrown in the mix.  I know it is a weird observation, just something that I noticed this morning very evidently while I was walking along the water behind my apartment during the early morning.

Another aspect of Thailand that can complicate things is that it is not a morning culture.  I love the mornings.  I love the sunrise and a cup of coffee.  Tragically, with Thailand being more of a night culture, most of these mornings take me in search of the one or two shops that might take pity on the caffeine deprived foreigner who is up way too early for any sane person.  You know, like 8:00am.

The great thing is that if you can find a place that is willing to serve you coffee that is both not dehydrated and also free of sugar and milk, it is very good.  Oddly enough though, it can be quite hard to find.  I was lucky enough to find a nice place about a kilometer from my house, that serves a nice cup of coffee.  It is also quite scenic.  For some reason it also has a pool that you can swim in for about $2, and it serves lasagna.  I think I know where I will be coming on one of the long and hot weekend days.  

The directions to the place are quite simple.  You walk about a third of a kilometer down the market area, turn right down the dirt road, avoid traffic as there is no sidewalk, then turn right again.  After about a half kilometer of walking you will notice a bunch of bridges and across the river there is a big cartoonish octopus on a seafood restaurant.  You should be in the right locale.  Pass the In-N-Out burger, and you are there.  Yes, an In-N-Out burger.

Needless to say, I am both scared and willing to try this version of In-N-Out.  I mean, it has to be a franchise owned place right?  

The river is quite beautiful in its own right, especially in the morning.  

After a nice walk back, where I did not get hit by any cars and finally found the horses that I have been hearing during the night, I managed to find more of these damn sheep.  I really do not understand the Thai fascination with sheep, but who am I to judge?