Thailand: Scene in Bangkok

People believe that spirits share the space that humans inhabit. When a house is built, a similar-looking smaller house is built and placed at a prominent location on the property, to house the spirits that were displaced by the humans moving in. This is done to pacify them or else bad luck will befall the new tenants. Many accidents plagued the building of the Erawan complex in this photo. These events stopped when this spirit house was built and dedicated. Khao San Road, the backpacking mecca of Bangkok. Jasmine vendor. The smell of jasmine is just heaven! Fish vendor. The smell in the meat market is NOT heaven! The absolute BESTEST iced tea in the world is at this particular street vendor in Bangkok! Drinks are put … [Read more...]

Vietnam: Visiting Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Of the three countries we visited, I think K fell in love with Vietnam. My consultancy back in Cambodia was on hiatus, due to financial mangling/wrangling among the health partners collaborating on the survey. It meant that K and I could not schedule ahead our entire visit with each other and instead were at beck and call of the survey's schedule. Thus our time in Saigon was limited. However we found that it was the perfect middle ground between the ordered chaos of the big city of Bangkok and the primitive desperation of Phnom Penh. We spared ourselves the harrowing border crossing and went with a reliable tour company this time!Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City in bureaucratic speak, is such a great city. The Cambodian side of the border is … [Read more...]

Free Trade and Pharmaceuticals

The average NGO or civic group does not have adequate capacity to actively participate in the increasingly complex policy and legal environment of global trade. This puts decisions and actions taking place in corporate headquarters and multilateral assemblies out of reach of the ordinary citizen. Here is the short-version international legal framework for essential medicines, proprietary drugs, and CAFTA.From GATT to the WTOThe end of WWII saw the creation of the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to regulate international economic cooperation. These are known as the "Bretton Woods" institutions, named for the town in Vermont, USA, where negotiations took place. The package of trade rules which came out of this … [Read more...]

Free Trade: Patents versus Patients

It's been several years since US-backed Big Pharma sued South Africa for obstruction of profit when it bypassed patent laws to provide cheaper generic medicines for its burgeoning AIDS epidemic. The suit was retracted under furious backlash from advocacy groups worldwide. That battle has since stepped up with the ascendancy of IP (intellectual property) and trade imperatives. At issue are patent regimes affecting life-saving pharmaceuticals. It is critical to have flexibilities in global IP rules that accommodate situations whereby a country simply cannot afford brand name originator drugs to respond to a crisis. In protection of public health, and "to promote access to medicines for all", the WTO TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of … [Read more...]

The Stink of Durian for Newbies, and Adjusting to Cambodia

A royal decree was issued in the night. Everyone in Cambodia who has shoes is to take them off, and they are to do it inside my room. Groan. Below my hotel window (wide open cuz the one AC unit in the entire town was not allocated to this hut) is a fruit stall enterprise specializing in durian, a treat to wake up to at 6am. It is that time of year when foreigners are subjected to Fear Factor challenges involving this foul mishap of creation. It is the season, they are everywhere, and the Khmers must share. There is particular affinity for this fruit, drawing national pride, cherished reverently, like there is a little god inside the paranormal-looking blob. When foreigners are offered a piece of it Khmer radars within a mile radius zero in … [Read more...]

Khmer New Year (Choul Chhnang Thmei)

It's a week before the biggest annual event of the Khmer New Year. Every single baraing (foreigner) I knew already left the country and there are few people at the popular expat bars. My street is lined with huge speakers, stacked one on top of the other, and every night traditional Khmer shrieking pierces the air at full blast. Female vocals have a high nasally pitch to them so thanks to the concrete makeup of structures, the screeching amplifies and reverberates superbly, while the accompanying bass pounds to the core beyond salvation of earplugs. People are on the streets boppin' to the racket.OK so it's one thing to have disagreeable tunes steadily assailing your nerves. Your frazzled system adjusts and the assault can mitigate to white … [Read more...]

About fieldwork: "and oh, the places you’ll go!"

I'm more often than not in the provinces for one of my bigger projects, an STI (sexually transmitted infections) survey*. I am the only foreigner, and no one on my survey teams or the provincial offices that I interact with for days on end is competent enough in English that every utterance does not need to be repeated multiple times, loud and punctuated by wild gesturing. Even my translator needs much explaining. This can be draining...Although communication difficulties are a given, that daily reserve of energy sometimes isn't enough to stay afloat deep waters of frustration. Especially when you are hot, tired, dehydrated, waiting to finish the day's work, and you catch one of your lab techs taking ice out of the cold chain for his drink. … [Read more...]

Cambodia: To temple To Temple (Angkor Wat)

Despite previous hysterics I've decided there's an alluring charm about this unyielding landscape. It's a tough adjustment, still is. One thing about traveling/living abroad that is nice in the short term is that you're constantly engaged, stimulated, surrounded by people. But for the long haul it's a revolving door of expats-- they're just passing through and do not stay in your life. Absence of the friendly face that knows, understands, or plain amuses you is draining. So I was much excited about the prospect of a friend of a friend coming into the country to see Angkor, though I knew little about this boy beyond his kind streak of saving your wits and handing them back to you when you've lost it in horrible places like POIPET. Happily-- … [Read more...]