Saturday, October 20, 2007

Teeth and Shoes

To all of you dear readers who think I live an exciting life here in Bangkok, capital of the mysterious Far East, let me recount for you a couple of my adventures this past week.

A few weeks ago I went to the Dental Hospital (yes, that's it's full name; who do you think they are catering to?) on Soi 49 to get my teeth cleaned (I wonder how Lord Jim or Kurtz kept their pearly whites polished?) The multi-story facility was the very model of efficiency. Over a half-dozen ladies in brown uniforms staffed the reception desk. The large waiting room featured floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a garden, and both an indoor and an outdoor pond with Koi. During the few minutes of waiting, I watched an English language news broadcast on a large overhead TV set. My appointment began right on time, and the man who cleaned my teeth was a periodontist, not a dental assistant. He told me what I already knew, that I had deep pockets in my gums around one tooth on the lower right. Last year I weathered an infection there, and more were probable. My dentist in Santa Cruz suggested I pull the tooth; the Thai dentist proposed surgery to save it. If I ever want to get bridges so I can chew my food again on the right side, it would be well to have real teeth to anchor them. So I set up an appointment.

On Wednesday I underwent a "gingival flap procedure" with Dr. Jirapong. He quickly, with a few painful pinpricks, numbed up my jaw and began digging away in my gums. Although his English seemed fine, I did not ask him to detail what was involved, preferring it to be over quickly. It took an hour of scrapping, digging and sewing. There was no chit-chat between the dentist and his assistant, her face hidden behind a safety mask. A few times I wanted to ask, "Do you know what you're doing?," but wisely withheld my tongue. Since it was numb and useless anyway, I doubt that he would have understood. After an eternity, the procedure was finished, and I was briskly escorted to the reception desk where I was presented with antibiotics and pain pills (not Vicodin, which I would have preferred, but some Thai version of Excedrin, I think), and a bill for 6,342 baht (about $210). In the U.S. it would be almost free since I have dental insurance. But it was an adventure! Aren't you jealous?

For a couple of days I've had a golf-ball sized lump on my right cheek. After the first night, when I took the last Vicodin I brought with me from my last dental expedition in the states, the pain was manageable. Next week I get the stitches out. And in January I will weigh the pros and cons of getting bridge work done for around 100,000 baht. Let's see, new teeth or a trip to Bali? Which would you choose?

I can eat all right by chewing on only one side of my mouth, but I need two good feet to walk, and walking is my main form of exercise these days. But my feet and my right knee, in particular, have been troubling me for some time. I suspect arthritis is the major culprit. But I notice that different shoes produce different sensations in the bothersome knee. And so I suspect that if I can just find the perfect shoe my knee problem will disappear. In addition, I notice that occasionally the front pads of my feet are extremely sore after a jaunt down the street. For nearly four years I've worn Chacos, wearing out two pairs. Now that I'm in Bangkok, land of the cheap shoes, I've been experimenting with various kinds of footwear, looking for the Shangri-La of foot comfort.

First I tried this spiffy leather pair (about $30), but quickly developed blisters along the top of my foot where the shoe rubbed. Because you remove your shoes often here, to enter some stores and all temples, I wanted something easily removable. But they felt too loose. So I bought the brown leather sandals with velco straps on the heel. There was some padding on the bottom and they initially felt comfortable, but it soon disappeared and my feet felt like they were stomping on concrete. Also, the heel strap was extremely awkward to remove and my temple-hopping friends were always having to wait for me. The next possibility I tried was Thailand's national shoe the flip-flop (or, as it used to call it in Southern California in the 1950s, the zori). I got a pair in Luang Prabang with an unfortunate camouflage motif. Since I've become an adult, my experience with them has been that they hurt my big toe and often produce blisters. A pair I bought in India two years ago lasted several days before I donated them to the poor. This time, since I don't wear them every day, I think I'll get over the break-in hump. Not the shoes, but my feet. Finally, I went to the huge MBK shopping mall yesterday and bought the gray rubber shoes pictured above. They're a close second to becoming Thailand's national shoe. I see them everywhere and have wondered about their comfort. Well, they are terrific. There are little spikes on the inside soles that provide a constant foot massage and the loose fitting is surprisingly comfortable. I did notice last night that the left shoe was rubbing annoying against my foot and later found a blister. But I have band-aids for that. I think they may become my footwear of choice. But I have many options.

I used to laugh at my first wife who was living in poverty in Pasadena but had over two dozen pairs of shoes in her closet. Every pay day she went looking for new shoes. They made her feel good. With me it used to be books. I would buy a new one whenever I was feeling the slightest bit down. But now I'm trying not to accumulate possessions, books among them. And I suddenly find myself acting out my ex-wife's solution. If the body is aching or I'm feeling old, buy a new pair of shoes. I'm looking now for a nice comfortable pair of moccasins.

The Bangkok Post is a fountain of information ofnthe mores and customs, and general weirdnesses, of Asia. Here is a recent winner:
Snake bite kills drinker
PHNOM PENH: A Cambodian man who took off his trousers, tied the legs at the bottom and wrangled a two metre cobra into them died when it bit him through the fabric, it was reported yesterday. Chab Kear, 36, saw the reptile in a river outside Phnom Penh during a drinking session and captured it in the hopes of selling it. He tied the animal inside his trousers and a scarf around his waist, but as he continued drinking the snake managed to bite Kear three times. Media reports said his last words were: "Don't worry, it's nothing a drink can't fix."

Here is another:
Woman's 27-hour car kiss drives off rivals

HONG KONG: A Beijing woman won a car after kissing it for 27 hours and 40 minutes to beat 120 other competitors in a bizarre contest. Zhang Chunying was allowed two 10-minute breaks and had to stand on one leg after 24 hours were up in the contest run by a shopping mall. With six contestants left after a full 24 hours, one contestant collapsed from dehydration after 25 hours of kissing the Chevrolet Lova. The four other contestants dropped out over the next two hours, unable to remain kissing and standing on one leg. "I can't walk now," Ms. Zhang said. "My legs are numb and my waist is aching, but I'm happy I got the car." The contest is one of a number of bizarre stunts and promotions organised to promote the luxury shopping centres that have sprung up around booming Beijing in recent years.

Herman Melville would never have imagined the depths of the Heart of Darkness in Asia. He must be rolling over in his grave.

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