Dolly Koghar reminisces about the Sukhumvit of her childhood.
I’ve been miserably sick for the last two weeks and more. NO! it wasn’t COVID and anyway, the virus hasn’t yet mutated enough to jump from this page onto a person. I tried any and every ol’ wives nuskas and quack cures, I did my lion and ujjai yoga breathing exercises, plus every other remedy suggested by WhatsApp forwards, nothing worked; not even ginger and lemon juice with honey. The bugs just slunk deeper into my lungs, transmuting the hacking cough into involuntary whistling; a bag of bricks mixed with cement sat on my head; the mucus turned into ugly, thick blobs which kept wanting to sputter into a rib-cracking kong-khong-khong. The cough at night was especially wretched, as they are prone to be, and worsened with my hopeless efforts to suppress it so as not to awaken hubby dear, who already spends more time in the loo than in bed.
My aversion to meds wasn’t the only reason I was stalling seeing a doctor, who are no longer found in homey clinics in and around our own neighborhoods, like there used to be back in the days of yore. I’m talking way before the thirty-baht scheme or any other scheme but that of human decency; a desolate soul could walk-in and still hope to get attention and medicine without paying a single satang. Those docs had the Midas healing-touch; not cause they were smarter than physicians of today, but because their time was their own, and they doled it out generously to listen to tirades of mean sasoo-ma (mum-in-law), and conniving jethanee (sis-in-law) and a terribly useless nooh-ranee (daughter-in-law), who’s influencing the sweet, innocent beta or the fate of the poor beti at the hands of her sohraes (in-laws). They even knew about the moody maid; all this in addition to hearing the unending list of real and imaginary ailments in every part of the body.
A pale shadow of these clinics is still prevalent on the other side of the Chao Phraya, where sustenance costs less and life moves at a lazier, simpler pace; a far cry from our pretentious, hep-n-happening Sukhumvit. My distant, foggy memory of this area is of an occasional snake lying flattened on the tree-lined, two-way, humped road, with khlongs (canals) on both sides. It’s almost surreal to reminisce about the flickering fireflies, the bass croaks of the frogs and toads, and the chirping of the crickets in the silence of the night, on these very roads. Whenever I want to revisit the Sukhumvit that was and relive the hi-so Bangkokian life, I simply pick up S.P. Somtow’s semi-autobiographical best-seller, Jasmine Nights.
Eventually, I braved my way to the hospital in the rained-out, semi-submerged Sukhumvit, subtracting a few hours from my life; further reduced at the hospital while they ruled out fever/COVID; registered me; and then checked my blood pressure/weight/height; just so they can add nursing/midwifery to my bill. First of all, I’m not delivering a baby, so I didn’t need midwifery, and my weight and height shouldn’t have jumped off the charts in the short lapse between doctor’s visits.
Of course, I had to succumb to an X-ray, since I was wheezing and gasping. Back in those days when we visited roadside clinics, all that the doc had needed was a torch and a spatula to look down your throat, and a stethoscope to see how far down the phlegm had travelled. Then he’d tap your chest like a melon to see how ripe or how affected your lungs were and that was that; he’d tell you if it was a common cold, or if it was bronchitis or pneumonia, which worked out amazingly well on both fronts, health and wealth.
Anyway, Fuji’s veg festival lunch, which I had afterwards, absolved the visit somewhat, while the antibiotics, inhalers, and puffs in the hospital goody-bag allowed me to breathe easy once again. But going home through the Sukhumvit that had succumbed to the inevitable change in the name of ‘betterment’; along with the now-endangered, private clinics; I wondered what would life be like if things had remained as they were: a tree-lined, quiet Sukhumvit, and homey doctors with all the time in the world to listen to you.