Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Fwd: Jean

----- Original Message -----
To: "Abbie Haselden - ASB" <>
Subject: Jean
Date: 25 Aug 2014 07:36:21 -0000
From: zmq5985

Hi to all,
Very pleased and relieved to be able to report that Jean has come through her hip replacement surgery with flying colours. I've just come back from Recovery and she is in good spirits. Just a dull ache in her left leg she says and her BP is 100 over 58 which is lowish but normal for her. She'll be back up in our room in 4-5 hours and then she will be single mindedly focussing on the rehabilitation. She'll be a bionic woman with her new ceramic Deltamotion hip! Not sure yet about doing the other hip so close to the other, but will be making a decision about that in about a week's time.
Many thanks to all for your good wishes.
Cheers and love from us........
Jim and Jean
Asian Joint Reconstruction Institute
----- End of Original Message -----

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Update - day 2 not incl. op. day

Hi again to all -
Jean is slowly improving. She has been out of bed and walking with the aid of a walker. Still feeling very "spacy" though, probably due to coming off all the drugs she has had. She doesn't have much appetite either and is in a certain amount of pain when she tries to move in bed. Still, it's early days and there is a great improvement day by day. Jean is a little depressed at times which is understandable given the pain at physio sessions although she always says she feels better afterwards. Must be a classic case of "no pain no gain"!.
Jim is keeping himself amused by answering emails, writing these blogs and also on the NZ Herald website leaving comments on political articles under the pseudonym "Tiare Taporo III". There is a General Election coming up in NZ on Sept. 20th. and we will be voting on-line. If you read the blogs you will get an idea of our political leanings!! In addition feeding Jean tidbits and summoning nurses when required. Not to mention reading a book called "Millennium" by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, which is an account of the world's history over the last 1000 years. Some very interesting accounts of civilisations which existed in the Middle East and Asia, the details of which were completely unknown to Jim previously. Once a day there is a 500 metre walk to a local shopping mall wherein there is a supermarket of moderate quality. Jim is a connoisseur of these things! On the way one dodges potholes, large stones and motorbikes and hordes of people. Such a contrast between being outside in the real world here and being in the hospital or the shopping mall. Security everywhere. When you enter the mall they run a device over you to check that you aren't carrying any bombs and yesterday there was a guard on the ICU who didn't want to let Jim in as he had left his pass up in the room. However, someone else recognised him and all was well!
We saw the surgeon briefly yesterday and he showed us gory photos of the op. Didn't mean much to us but he said that the condition of the hip was much worse than even he expected. Of course the inner areas are hidden from x-ray. So, it isn't a moment too soon that it was done. It's still a way off before we can make any decision about the other hip, but given the pre-op. condition of the left one and the fact that the right one is painful too, it seems inevitable that it should be done too. It's just a question of when. Issues like length of visas and remaining time on the boat before it has to be re-exported from Thailand are all matters we have to consider as well. Life is complicated at times.
The view from our hospital window is interesting. We face south looking in the direction of the airport about 12 kms away. The whole landscape is flat and uninteresting with many mostly nondescript buildings in view. Georgetown, the old colonial heart of Chennai (Madras in those days) is another 12 kms to the NE. The port is there also. In a few days Jim has it in mind to go and have a look - being interested in history.
Immediately in our near view is a construction site. Very salubrious. It is part of the metro railway under construction which will revolutionise Chennai's transport issues. Maybe. Right by the hospital is the new 2 level station with the overhead structure for the line itself already finished. Next to the new unfinished building is a construction camp which consists of 6 long corrugated iron structures which house the workers and their families. All around is bare ground with the usual amount of disorganised litter evident. At the back of the camp are 2 rectangular concrete water tanks each about 3 metres square. The water is replenished either when it rains or by tanker. It is used for the workers' ablutions. The colour of the water is brown as the bottom of the tanks is hard packed mud. They stand by the tanks and ladle the water over themselves for washing. They are partially clothed while doing that so at least one item of clothing gets washed at the same time.
Whenever we look out the window, we can see large numbers of "workers" all over the site, but usually we can only discern less than 50% actually doing anything. They work around the clock but we feel sure that if they were properly organised they could do with probably less than half and get the thing finished much quicker. Such is India's inefficiency. However, they do get things done - unlike NZ where there is always endless discussion and not much doing. But here there is high unemployment and wages are cheap so......
The weather has been overcast since we have been here and on Sunday/Monday night there was a thunder and lightning storm and torrential rain which kept us awake.
So, overall it's not the most pleasant place, but it's serving a very important purpose and that's why we are here. We were going to keep these "direct" blogs short but trust you will understand that this is a special situation. We will endeavour to keep future progress reports much shorter!
Cheers and love from us.......
Jim and Jean

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Saturday, 23 August 2014


Hi again to everyone,
We arrived in Chennai just before midnight last night after a very good 2 hr 50 min flight with Thai Airways from Bangkok. We were a bit anxious on the way to Bangkok Airport as we were caught in a mammoth Friday night commuter traffic snarl but we had allowed plenty of time thank goodness and we needed it. A wheelchair was organised for Jean at check-in and, apart from it being great for her in avoiding a very long walk, it also meant that we were prioritised all the way so had a minimum of delay.
The 2 hr. 50 min. flight from Bangkok with Thai Airways was very comfortable and had more legroom than we'd been used to in recent times. Just as well given Jean's level of discomfort and pain. We were met at Chennai International and driven the 11 kms. to the hospital arriving around 0100 on the 23rd. We were escorted to our suite which consists of Jean's room which also has a daybed in it for yours truly! It has its own bathroom and a sitting room off that with a small fridge and microwave. Very well setup and apparently there's a big shopping mall with supermarket only a 5 minute walk from here so Jim will be able to indulge his penchant for food shopping! Think Jean's a bit worried about that!
Only had about 4 hours sleep last night so we're both feeling a bit knackered. Jean's been having all the usual pre-op checks - B.P., ECG, and x-ray and is soon to see the surgeon, Dr. Vijay Bose. We'll let you know how that goes.
Chennai is 6.5 hours behind NZ and 1.5 hours behind Thailand. The staff are all very friendly and professional and all we've seen so far we've been happy with. Jean has been having the nurses in hysterics already so things are moving on. Language is actually a barrier which has surprised us but Mohan who we organised the whole thing with speaks good English and no doubt the surgeon will as well. All in all we are feeling comfortable with the whole situation here. Surgery on her left hip is scheduled for Monday.
The very little we've seen of Chennai so far is the usual contrasts one sees in India. The airport isn't new and a bit down at heel and when driving away there are the usual piles of litter and rubbish generally. An old wrecked car along with abandoned roof trusses were seen by the carpark exit. But there's a new overhead metro railway being built and apparently it is due for completion in just a couple of months although we'd believe that when it happens. So we can't say we've seen anything yet of Chennai, but of course that's not the priority right now.
More news in due course.
Love from us...........
Jim and Jean

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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Death Railway and the River Kwai

Hi to all again,
Before we get started on this fascinating and very sad subject, we must relate something else which we omitted from our recent blog. We became aware early last week that details of our ASB debit cards had somehow been stolen and thieves had withdrawn just over NZD2,000 from our account. We never use them for merchant purchases so it appears that they had been compromised at an ATM, most likely by a surreptitiously installed card reader. Most transactions are cash in Thailand (especially in Krabi) and so we were fairly often drawing amounts out. These cash transactions also included all payments relating to the refit of the "Tiare Taporo III". Fortunately we had just drawn some more cash before coming to Bangkok so, even though the cards are cancelled, we still have a reasonable amount of cash on hand. Hopefully the ASB can get replacements to us before we leave for India!! So, it's not just visas we're waiting for, it's debit cards as well.
However, it now looks as though the new cards will have to be sent to us in India, although we'll not be able to confirm our exact date of travel until later this week, dependent as it is on the date that the Indian visas are issued.
On the 18th. we arranged to join a tour to go to Kanchanaburi - the site of the infamous wartime bridge which was immortalised in the 1957 film "Bridge over the River Kwai" with Alec Guinness and Anthony Hawkins. The film in fact did not render an accurate depiction of the horrific conditions or an accurate story line. And it was filmed in Sri lanka - far from here. A potted history follows:
After the Japanese invaded Thailand in late 1941 they decided that they needed to build a 258 mile railway to Rangoon in Burma to avoid the dangerous supply route around Singapore and up the Malacca Straits where they were vulnerable to British submarine attack. So, they decided to construct a railway from Bangkok across the Thai/Burma border to Rangoon.
This construction involved many bridges, one of which was bridge 277 across the Mae Klong River at Kanchanaburi. This was the bridge depicted in the film. The line to Rangoon was in fact never completed as there wasn't a bridge constructed north of Moulmein until 2005. The whole line was closed in 1947 as much of it was considered unsafe but the section between Nong Pla Duk and Nam Tok was re-opened in 1957.
The loss of life which occurred during the construction of the line between June 1942 and June 1943 has been estimated at 90,000 Asian civilian workers (Tamil Indians, Burmese and Javanese) and 12,000 Allied POW's. This latter figure was made up from 6,318 British, 2,815 Australian, 2,490 Dutch, 356 Americans and 20 others including those from New Zealand, Canada and India. The bulk of NZ's war effort was of course in Greece, Crete, North Africa and Italy.
The tracks and sleepers used were stolen out of Malaya and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).
The first wooden trestle bridge across the Mae Klong was completed in February 1942 and a later steel and concrete bridge in June that year. Both were bombed heavily by the RAF in Feb., April and June 1945 which finally put them out of commission for the rest of the war against Japan.
Probably the worst example of atrocities committed by the Japanese against their POW's and other civilian workers occurred at Hellfire Pass on the Thai/Burma border. There it was necessary to complete a major cutting through solid rock. This was completed in 12 weeks using the most primitive methods such as pick and shovel. The Japanese guards bludgeoned 69 men to death during that time and countless others died from malnutrition and disease.
An interesting aside is that the famous British cartoonist and illustrator, Ronald Searle, was one of those British POW's, having been captured in Singapore, and made 300 sketches of conditions that they were forced to labour under. Many of these were later used in the subsequent trials of Japanese war criminals and many are now in the British Imperial War Museum in London. He was anxious that there should be some record of what went on even if he did not survive. Among other things that Searle recounts is waking up one morning next to 2 dead bodies of his friends who had died during the night. And with a snake under his head. It isn't recounted whether it was venomous or not. Searle died 3 years ago aged 91.
We were disappointed to find that the whole area around the bridge is heavily commercialised and, apart from a display of emaciated workers guarded by a Japanese guard, no mention of the Allied and other loss of life. No memorials - nothing. The replacement steel and concrete bridge is there and as part of our tour we walked across the bridge and later travelled part of the line by train. The rest of the tour is hardly worth mentioning. We left our hotel at 0630 and didn't get back until after 2000. The vans we travelled in (3 hours each way) were not comfortable and we were taken at different times for lunch on a floating restaurant (awful) and the "Tiger Temple". This latter was a dusty area where we saw recumbent tigers panting in the heat. For a fee you could be taken into the enclosure to pat the tigers but we passed on this. It was run by Bhuddist monks - all it seems for money. We were quite disgusted. All in all a less than memorable day but we were glad to have finally made the pilgrimage to the bridge. At least we can say we have been there.
Jean's hips are quite a bit worse after all the walking yesterday and the cramped seating in the van and she probably shouldn't have gone but she wanted to see the bridge and to keep Jim company. So, we have been having a quiet day today in the hope that the flight to India won't be too difficult.
The next blog will probably be from Chennai in India so wish us luck...........
Cheers and love from us,
Jim and Jean

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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Bangkok and waiting for Indian visa

It is only 2 and a half weeks since our last blog but so much seems to have happened in the interim. We have been completing arrangements for our trip to India for Jean's hip surgery.
We've been preparing the boat for another period of enforced inactivity. This has involved much more than the usual preparation because we have had a visitation from bed bugs which are hell and all to eradicate from a boat. Bad enough in a house but it has not been fun. On top of that the pain in Jean's hips has been getting worse and she has had that to contend with as well. We strongly suspect that the bed bugs came from the Udomlalp guesthouse where we lived for the last month of the Tiare's refit. We won't bore you with all the details but we have been using the last of a spray we had bought in Malaysia just in case and how glad we were that we had it. There does not appear to be anything comparable in Thailand so we have been also using surgical spirit sprayed with gay abandon and Dettol which is also supposed to be effective. Certainly towards the date of our departure from Krabi we were noticing a much lessened degree of symptoms (bites!!) so we are hopeful that when we get back in 2 months or so the problem might be resolved. Popeye and A in particular are looking after the boat while we're away so she is in good hands - albeit no doubt straining at the leash after her refit. However, there's another problem with the freezer and Popeye are going to raise the level of the cockpit sole now that there is a resident carpenter. So still a few things to sort out.
Popeye has brought a 6 metre racing yacht more than 90 years old from Europe for restoration on behalf of her owner. 6 metres were an Olympic class for many years - mainly in the 1920's - and are a much sought after classic these days. She is basically the same construction as our old girl and it has been fascinating to see work progressing. The lead keel and keelson have both been removed from the boat in 3-4 days. In France it was stated that this could not be done but here in Thailand they just get on with it and do it. There is huge potential for wooden boat restorations such as this at a fraction of the cost of doing the same thing in western (higher cost) countries and the skill level in Thailand is absolutely the equal, if not superior. They have many years of wooden boat building experience and also the necessary materials. The various timbers available here are equal to the best in the world.
We flew from Krabi to Bangkok on the 10/08 and ensconced ourselves at the Mermaid Hotel (Soi 29, Sukhumvit), which we had booked on the internet at a very good price. The hotel is fairly new and is a medium size boutique type. It has a salt water pool which is great for some exercise, especially for Jean as walking any distance is becoming more and more of a problem. It is also close to IVS Global who are the agents for the Bangkok Indian Embassy's consular services. We went there on the 11th. which fortunately wasn't a public holiday. It turns out that the 12th. was because it was the Thai Queen's birthday so we just scraped in before this. They have told us that the issuance of visas takes between 6-8 working days so we're cutting it fine ahead of our planned departure on the 22nd. Anyway, the experience at IVS could have been worse but was nevertheless an exercise in mindless bureaucracy. The whole process took about 3 hours shuttling back and forth between counters and dealing with the limited understanding of English by the Thai people manning them. But the one issue that took the cake was that we had standard size passport photos and these had been glued to our visa application forms by said Thai workers. Then at another counter we were informed that the photos were too small - despite them being standard size passport photos. So, they had to be "unglued" and we had to have new photos taken with the IVS on-site machine - at additional cost of course. The new photos were awful quality and would never have met the strict standards for a NZ passport but they satisfied these bureaucrats. Exasperating and ridiculous but one just has to go with the flow. The British certainly taught the Indians well in the bureaucratic dark arts! Now we just have to hope that there is no last minute glitch (such as photo size or quality) with the visa issuances because we have no time latitude.
On the positive side, we have been enjoying the enforced stay in Bangkok (especially at the Mermaid) as we wait for our visas. The hotel is very centrally situated in the Sukhumvit district with heaps of cheap eateries around and a small supermarket where we have been buying snack type foods to keep us going!! There seems to be building activity everywhere - either new buildings or older ones being gutted and modernised. The traffic doesn't seem as chaotic as we had been led to expect but it's certainly heavy with all the usual Thai disregard for road rules - if indeed there are any. Unlike India, one could drive here but without knowing how to get from A to B it would be a stressful experience which we don't need. The area reminds us somewhat of Ponsonby Rd. in Auckland with its eclectic mix of establishments, albeit with a definite Thai flavour including massage joints seemingly every 2-3 shops as you walk along. Some of the more respectable kind but others definitely more questionable of the "happy ending" kind!! Might be an interesting experience...........
Along Sukhumvit Rd. there runs an overhead commuter railway which we have used a couple of times. Similar in operation to Singapore's but not as extensive or as clean. Having said that though, at least around here the city does appear quite clean and litter free. You have to wonder in all the endless debate in Auckland about the merits of commuter rail, why overhead structures are not talked about. Monorail in particular is the least intrusive, the least costly and the best thing about it is that it can use existing transport corridors as they have obviously done here in Bangkok.
We have been in touch with Neil on "Galatea" in Phuket but it appears that we will miss seeing him as he will be gone again by the time we get back from India. However, his daughter Bailey and a girlfriend are arriving in Thailand in a few days to join Neil on the boat but flying into Bangkok initially. So, we have been in touch and it will be great to catch up with Bailey again after all these months.
A few days ago we went on a river cruise which was interesting but we've probably seen our fill of Asian waterways for a while. It just emphasised again the huge gap between extreme wealth and extreme poverty which seems to be the norm in Asia. Hotels where you pay thousands of Baht per night just to look at a muddy river and hovels that look as though at any moment they would collapse into the river! And then one can look at the back page of a recent Bangkok Post which has advertisements from 3 car dealerships - Porsche, Bentley and Aston Martin! And the streets are well populated with BMW's and Mercedes Benz.
Then yesterday we went on a tour of the Royal Palace here in Bangkok, except that the King and Queen no longer live there. Our guide interestingly told us that the 2nd. film entitled "The King and I" with Julie Andrews and Yul Brynner had been banned in Thailand because it was an inaccurate portrayal of palace life at the time, although there was a period where there was an English governess employed to educate the royal children. But there must have been real conflict with a liberally minded Englishwoman on the one hand and the local repressive attitudes to women on the other. Even today female children of the royal line can only marry Thai men of high (royal) birth. Apparently one royal daughter did marry an American and was banished from the country. She subsequently divorced and has been allowed back but takes no part in the Royal Family's activities.
There's the Emerald Bhudda temple just adjacent to the palace which we went inside but no photos permitted inside. All lavishly decorated with gold paint, tiny gold tiles and bits of coloured glass - very spectacular. The Emerald Bhudda itself is situated up high on a very lavish altar similarly decorated and is said to be coated with real gold and emeralds. Maybe that's why it's up so high! It was disappointing that we couldn't get inside the palace as you would think they'd allow that as their majesties are no longer in permanent residence. The buildings were very European in appearance (mostly Georgian) but with typical heavily decorated Thai roofs. An interesting combination which actually combines well.
The name Thailand means "freeland" and was part of a rebranding of Thailand (from Siam) in 1939 including a flag redesign. Thailand was a partially reluctant ally of Japan during WWII and interestingly New Zealand declared war on Thailand in January 1942. There was only one day of fighting in Thailand when Japan invaded (hours before the attack on Pearl Harbour) in December 1941, following which the occupation was more or less peaceful, except for a growing Thai resistance movement as the war progressed. Japan's interest in Thailand was mainly as a logistical and supply base for it's invasions of British Malaya and Burma.
Tomorrow we are leaving Bangkok for the day at 0630 for Kanchanaburi which is where the bridge immortalised as "The Bridge over the River Kwai" is. More about this in due course but briefly the story as portrayed in the film was nothing like the reality. The railway, otherwise known as the "Death Railway", extended from Bangkok, through Hellfire Pass on the Thailand/Burma border (where most of the 16,000 Allied prisoner of war loss of life occurred) to Moulmein in Burma.
As this is being written it is early afternoon on Sunday 17th. and the sun has started shining again. We look out of our bedroom window at the Bangkok skyline and the Sukhumvit Skytrain where trains pass by every 5 minutes or so. Just across the road workers were re-roofing an old 2 story building and worked until late last night under very inadequate floodlights. OSH would have a fit!! One other thing we must mention is the casual method of stringing high tension power lines. We first noticed it in Krabi where it is common to see them running under shop verandahs and here near a construction site great coils were hanging easily within reach. NZ takes safety concerns to ridiculous levels whereas here and in Asia generally not much heed is paid.
Before ending this diatribe, and on the subject of NZ, we must make mention of the appalling dirty political tricks perpetrated by some really nasty people on the right recently exposed by the left wing activist, Nicky Hager and his book "Dirty Politics". One of these people actually worked in the Prime Minister's office while illegally hacking into the Labour Party website looking for potentially embarrassing material. And all the while being paid by the taxpayer! The reaction from the right which includes the vicious and vindictive Justice Minister, Judith Collins, not to mention the awful extreme right wing blogger, Cameron Slater, is typically devoid of argument and only resorts to more personal attack and denigration. Although we are not really left leaning, we hope that the revelations are enough for most New Zealanders to see the present government for what it really is and vote for an alternative coalition next month. Otherwise all that remains of our state assets will be sold and we will be totally sold down the river via the secretively negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Lotsaluv from us.......
Jim and Jean
Hotel Mermaid
Sukhumvit 29

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