I never know how to start these things…
Introduction Take 1:
“Twenty-one hours later and I was finally at Suvarnabhumi Airport. I was hoping to get into the country before it got dark since I had no idea where I was going and I figured ”if you’re going to get lost, at least get lost during the day”
That didn’t happen. By the time I got out of the airport (around 8:30pm), it was dark. And raining. (‘positive mindset’: showers of blessing. I was once told by my great uncle that rain means good luck so I was hoping the rain meant that coming to Thailand was the right decision and that my two months here would be nothing short of AMAZING).
Back to the airport [scene]: it’s dark; in a new place; don’t know what I’m doing.
In situations like this, I always think about the worst case scenario…”what’s the worst that could happen traveling at night in a country where you don’t speak and cannot read or write the language?” [Answer: you could get killed, kidnapped, robbed etc.] After coming to terms with the worst that could happen–For instance, thinking to myself: “what is death? Once you die, you die, it’s over, you can’t feel anything so no big deal”— (I take a deep breath; lift it all up to Jesus, and keep it moving).
By the way, none of those things happened. I followed the instructions and signs (stopped and asked for directions a few times) at the airport, made my way outside, and found taxis lined up across the street. Pretty straight forward. Got into the taxi and told the driver where I was going but he couldn’t understand me so I showed him the address and the contact info of my hotel. He made a quick phone call and was given directions. All this happened in Thai so I just took a leap of faith and assumed everyone was on the same page and went with it.
You might be thinking: “you should have learnt some basic Thai” but honestly at that point, all the Thai I thought I’d memorized just kept on replaying backwards, upside down, inside-out, anything but the right way in my head so…
Lesson #1: Always have a map and addresses of where you’re going and contact info/numbers to call once you’re on ground. If you’re in a country where the written language is different, have addresses, maps, and contacts in that language as well.
Also knowing how anxious I can become, prior to traveling, I looked up the distance from the airport to the hotel (approx. 45 minutes) just to have an idea of how long it’s supposed to take. I might not know where I’m going but if a 45 minutes trip starts to turn into a 3 hour trip (assuming there’s no traffic), you know something is wrong.
Long story short: I made it to the hotel safely and I was met with a warm welcome. I checked in with family and friends back home, planned out things I wanted to get done the next day, danced—(yes, danced, it’s a bit of an addiction and I was sooo glad my suite had more than enough space to dance in), unpacked a few things, had my first Thai meal—chicken fried rice:
Chicken Fried Rice
something I know I’ll like—the adventurous food network aspect of the trip will start soon enough so I figured just go with something familiar for the first night), and went to bed.
By the end of the first day/night, I also came to the conclusion that I need to do some serious work on my Thai because the less thai I know (the less I’m able to communicate), the more money I’ll spend: FACT.
A lot of money could be lost in translation lol (for instance, when I pay for something expecting change but don’t know how to express that and the attendant and I are left smiling, making hand signs at each other, laughing at what has become a game of charades between us, and eventually just giving up and going our separate ways).
Just realized, I didn’t even explain what it is I’m doing in Thailand:
I’m working with the Health Intervention and Technology Assessment Program (HITAP)—a semi-autonomous office that functions out of Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health. The office conducts research that evaluates the cost effectiveness and impact of various health technologies and interventions—pharmaceuticals, medical devices, community health promotion, and disease prevention among others (hitap.net). As an intern, I’ll be working with the research and management teams on both domestic and international projects. I’ll be spending most of my time at the Ministry of Public Health in Nonthaburi and at the University of Naresuan in northern Thailand conducting literary reviews, learning economic evaluation, and [tentatively] working on a cost effectiveness analysis project involving osteoporosis medication that may potentially be included in Thailand’s National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM).
On an academic note, I’m really interested in learning about accountability within health systems and see this internship as a great opportunity to do so.
I officially start on Wednesday and needless to say, I am beyooond EXCITED!!!
For more on Health Technology Assessment, check out this article.