A long while ago I was terribly sick with a slipped disk or lumbago or very bad back-pain. I suffered for months, got myself hooked on painkillers in booze, and then I lost my job and my friends too. Cause & Effect merged. Things can get so bad; you don’t know where to start repairing your life.
After some inner and outer travel I came to suffer in Bali. A friend recommended a famous local healer. OK, whatever, I’ll try it.
I don’t know about famous but the healer certainly was local, very local. At noon he was in underwear, fresh out of bed. His reception teamed with chicken and the office was an open-air carpet.
Children cried “Foreigner! Foreigner!” and gathered to watch. I was suffering my usual bad day, so I sat down in the mess and surrendered.
The old man studied and squeezed me, and poked my ears and eyes, all the while mumbling stuff in Balinese. He might have called the healing ghosts or just cursed the interruption of his nap I didn’t know, but the birds, children and chickens were dead silent. That made me kind of anxious.
To escape from anything spiritual and because it is common in western medicine, I started complaining about my body, how bad I felt and so on, but he cut me short: “Shush!”
As suddenly as he had begun voodoing he stopped, got up and plucked some leaves from a bush and started to chew them. I thought he was finished, but, oh boy, he just got started.
For appetizers he added some white powder to the chewed leaves, munched them a bit more and then spat the whole slimy mud into my face and on my chest.
The stuff burned on the skin, but I was kept busy with a much stronger sensation: Do you know the point on your elbow that gives you these electricity-like pangs? It turns out you got these points all over the body and when you push them real hard with a stick or something you get electric pangs that last minutes. You squirm and howl. Tears make the chewed leaves in your face burn even more.
Each of these, say, energy points becomes the center of your little universe until the current slowly subsides and that point becomes just a normal point on your body. Gone, no more pain there, good, next point. You squirm and howl and so on.
An hour later he had worked himself from elbows to heels, left to right. I was soaked in sweat, tears and chewed leaves.
Finally he said: “Finished”.
That was the first thing he said to me. The birds, children and chicken started to chatter again. I felt finished too. I could hardly stand.
We did have a long talk thereafter, and he explained to me that in his view the nerve system stores pain in those energy points, and that he “opened” them to release my old pain, like cleaning a hard-drive of old files, old memory of pain. He said I was breathing too shallow and holding my breath too often. That my body was dried up (true, I had only beer and coffee for years), that I needed quietness and massages, air and above all water, water and more water.
Was I healed? No, but I sure felt I had a clean place to start repairing. Which I did.
P.S. When I went again years later he send me away: “No sick. You go home.” No charge.
Despite my do-all-better colonialist mindset let me tell you that there is no better place in the world for children (and mothers) than some South-East-Asian countries, namely Bali and Thailand.
Bali tradition prohibits children to touch the ground or be alone until they get the first teeth. That means babies must always be carried around and are never to be let alone. No children “crying-it-out” in their lonely bedrooms. Especially fathers are held responsible to take care of the very youngest. In dense family compounds children grow up as responsible members of their micro community.
Children represent the gods. Mistreating them is bad luck.
In dog-eat-dog Bangkok one never sees a child being yelled at, let alone hit, never ever. If somebody raises his voice against a kid there is usually a foreigner involved. Whenever a mother with child enters a cramped bus in Thailand adults jump to offer their seats to the child. I think that is just the other way around in Europe.
Taxi drivers love to take pregnant women to hospital hoping for an early birth, because that means good luck for the driver. Police officers have basic skills in child delivery to help if the occasion arises, which is not too rare because of the bad traffic.
In the West, it may be easier to find a flat with pets than with kids. In Bangkok, having kids is a sign of reliability and gets you a much higher score with picky landlords.
Thais are simply wonderful with their kids, tolerant, patient and caring. They take them to work and let them do whatever unless they hurt themselves or others.
And you know what? These kids behave much better than the little blue-eyed expat devils. I can’t say whether that is in the genes or some sort of early conditioning. While Europeans kids kick their nannies to get what they want, the Thai kids smile and achieve the same.
When we opened an office in Thailand I started learning the local language, as I always do when new to a country. Because Thai sounds like voice-over on a Donald Duck movie, I hired a teacher for one-on-one lessons.
As most “small” language Thai is not well documented and any word will have various translations depending on which book you open.
Thai doesn’t have many words, hardly any grammar; it has no articles, no inflection of noun, and no declension of objectives, no variation of verbs in regard to gender, number, tenses or cases and many other simplifying no-rules. A sentence like “If I would have known, I would have had the chance to use past perfect.” does defy translation.
Furthermore Thai belongs to the group of tonal languages. Tonal languages, as opposed to the non-tonal Indo-Germanic languages, root meaning in tone, not in grammar. Hence the same word may have a myriad of meanings depending on how you pronounce it while the written form remains identical.
“Leo” for example means “beer”, “right”, “quickly”, “come” and “here” and some unidentified food. Imagine you want to say: “Quickly, come here with the beer.”
My teacher described this tactfully as a three-dimensional language concept but I smelled the competitive disadvantage of a nation, especially when one realizes that the locals do not understand each other very well.
In my lessons, I focused on simple sentences of importance (like the one mentioned). After four weeks of study my teacher deemed me ready to order my favorite dish “Fried rice” which is “Khao pad” plus “Nung, krap” which is “One please”.
Confidently I walked up to a fried rice vendor and said “Khao pad, nung krap”. He looked irritated and called his wife.
By the time I had said “Khao pad” about eight times, the fried rice vendor and a group of spectators had organized someone who supposedly spoke English. He didn’t understand me neither.
Exhausted I pointed at the fried rice, said not a word and gestured “one”. That went through like a revelation. “Oooh, he wants fried rice! Man, why doesn’t he say so? God dammed foreigner.”
The bi-lingual Thai laughed, padded my shoulder and called out: “Yuu wiht eiis on.” and meant “You fried rice, one.”
I took another 6 months of private lessons, and then I gave up. Now, when in Bangkok I never say a word in Thai except a Buddhist “Mai pen rai.” which means “Never mind”, I hope.
How flat is that Mr. Friedman?
Why is stealing no good? I wasn’t really sure, besides a vague moral feeling, until I was mugged last week. Now I realize stealing reduces the value of goods.
From an evolutionary point of view it is as easy as that. After the Vikings visited a French village there was not much left except what little the Vikings could carry away. The rest was broken, spilled, burned, dead or traumatized. The village, as a value producing entity, was worth more than the plunder the Vikings dragged away. However the French had little to say to the Vikings until somebody came up with the idea of giving away the whole village and renaming it Normandy.
On my smaller scale some Sri Lankans climbed over the roof and into my unprotected office. They emptied a tray of gems and ran. Nobody got hurt, no window was broken, and yet the loss for Sri Lanka as a whole was much greater than the value of the stolen goods.
Without certificates, without grading reports and with no international sales channel those gems are now worth only a fraction. Sri Lanka as an exporting country has suffered a loss.
I think our bible-writing forefathers knew that for society as a whole stealing is a bad deal.
There may also be a reason why organized international theft is much less frowned upon that stealing somebody’s workshop tools in the village. While the latter damages the same society that also punishes the theft the former causes damage to a remote and powerless entity. The reaction of society varies thus from hacking off hands to praising the homecoming conqueror.
That is why stealing is bad and the UN is such a good idea.
Yesterday I watched a report about Sri Lanka on discovery channel: The usual images of beaches, temples and smiling people.
It has bad teeth and dies early.”
I am running WildFishGems.com for a couple of years now; and I have always thought that writing about mining countries and the wildly unregulated gem trade is great fun.
However, my commercial site was getting too small for all those topics, and I didn’t want to distract my clients from buying gems in the first place. So, with the aid of Audra, my online editor & angel in the US, we started this site.
Here, I will share the stuff a gem trader gets to see in the remote parts of this world, I will foul my own trade and also bash east and west for ignorance and laziness wherever I can.
This said, I do think we live in a wonderful world.