from Ao-Nang Beach, Thailand - January 26, 2008
Greetings from Southern Thailand. I arrived here this morning via an overnight bus from Bangkok. Krabi Province is a very pretty little playground punctuated by hot sand, long tail boats, and the karst mountains rising directly out of the sea. Like much of Thailand, it is very tourist driven. I had really really hoped to "get away" to a more "remote" location such as Ko Chang, which is fairly new to tourists or maybe north such as Sukhothai, Chiang Mai, or Mae Hong Son, but it wasn't meant to happen. Here's what has:
The evening that we left Shanghai, Eric arrived with a gigantic suitcase full of medical supplies, including syringes. He'd had this crazy idea to accompany us to India while working on his thesis. He is researching the potential of finding recordable physiological and biological changes in persons who engage in qigong meditation on a regular basis. The difficulty is that he needs saliva and blood samples from said persons as well as from a control group. No surprise, therefore, that the TSS powers that be said no! This comes into play because even I didn't know that that was his goal for the trip. Meanwhile, I introduced him to all the right people, including the academic dean (a former Buddhist Nun), and she helped him set up a class. He gave a lecture on night on the interstices of Western physics and biology and Chinese Traditional Medicine, focusing on qigong. (I encourage you to google it if you have a moment as I don't have the words to explain it beyond the fact that it's the foundation of many Asian arts, including Tai Chi and Kung Fu and that it has to do with "qi" aka "chi" aka "life force" aka "energy.") The lecture, though a bit disjointed, was well received, and prompted Eric and his eager followers to set up a class. So the next day several of us met at 7 a.m., while Eric led us through a half hour meditation, that he hoped to eventually make an hour-long class. Great.
Meanwhile, two other guests had arrived in Shanghai. Some guy named BJ, who is the editor of the Bangkok Post, which is an English language paper and His Excellency Jan something or other who is the Swiss Ambassador to somewhere. You can see that my mind was fairly detached from all these visitors, including my own. My days were consumed with the process of wading through the 41 student applicants for the five open positions. I don't have the energy at this moment to explain what's going on with my job other than which to say it's just weird. We'll be open from 8 am to 11pm after Thailand and yet we have a dearth of resources and seem to function mostly as a travel agency despite having only one travel guide for each port. Sure we have other things and there are several serious students aboard, but I don't know how to help them with requests for - as an example - writing a paper on the effects of illiteracy amongst Hindu women in India - without access to real resources. I'm not grousing - I'm just saying it's kinda weird. Plus G. decided we should only hire students with former library or bookstore experience, and truthfully, I felt that was a little bogus bcause the tasks we do could truly be done by monkeys.
The other major distraction for me was the arrival of the new doctor. Dr. Maria had been aboard the first voyage and had only agreed to stay on the second voyage until they hired a replacement. She was very homesick and eager to return to Ecuador or wherever she is from. So they hired this guy. To avoid any problems, let me refer to him by my nickname for him: The Sherm. From the second The Sherm set foot on the ship, I got a bad vibe - the kind that makes me question whether his degree is even real. Also The Sherm struck me as being a pervert. Call me crazy - and I'm sure most of you do - but it was something about the way he approached M., and upon finding out that she's from Mexico, he responded, "Oh reallllly?! I play the SPANISH GUITAR!!" The next day while I was working out, he kept admiring himself by the pool and lurking around like a spider waiting for a fly to get caught in its web.
I do believe I was one of the first, if not the first person, to register these suspicions. However, I kept them to myself because I had no concrete evidence, plus I felt that I had suffered a slip in "professional respect" after an ill-fated performance during a staff meeting. I'm not sure why, but I became very very nervous during said meeting and I stuttered and stammered my way through a discourse that should have been a no-brainer. Afterward, I felt that everyone was treating me like the retarded step-child, though it's possible this was my own imagination. Imagination is potent, though. For at least two days afterward, I felt like hiding, but of course there's no hiding onboard the TSS, especially when you've invited a mad scientist aboard.
The next turn of events was rapid: Eric's research got nixed so he decided to disembark in Thailand, meaning that he held exactly two classes, which was ... weird. People were just starting to get into it and then he announced he was done. Okay, whatever. Meanwhile, people start talking about The Sherm who has a propensity for staring at women's breasts and generally making them uncomfortable. Some are also questioning is medical skills. By this point I had confided in N., asking her to be the one to say something to the administration. At first she refuses but then two incidents change her mind. One is that a student combined prescription drugs and copious amounts of vodka and was found unconscious in her room. The Sherm was angered at being disturbed from his beauty rest and then leared at the limp body to the extent that it was decided that she should not be left alone with him in her unconscious state. A staff member was recruited to keep an eye on her during the course of her hospitalization. A day or two later, there was a serious accident during a staff-student basketball game. A staff member tripped over his own foot and landed in such a way as to snap his arm in two just beneath the deltoid. Apparently it took 20 minutes for Sherm to arrive and then when he did, he was freaked out by the sight of the arm. Two students who are trained EMT workers filed separate reports about the way Sherm handled the incident. Meanwhile, during our pre-port security briefing, Sherm decided to counsel in the entire community on the workings of syphillis. During his very strange lecture, G.,'s blood pressure was skyrocketing because Sherm hadn't given him enough morphine. G. has had four bypass surgeries and knew he couldn't withstand any issues w/ his heart. So he sent his wife to come rescue us from Sherm's grotesque lecture. All very odd - apparently he can't even give an injection properly. Fortunately G. was rushed to a real hospital the next morning when we docked.
This was interesting news to me, given that I had gone to see him the day after my public speaking humiliation. I'd had a horrific headache and simply wanted something stronger than extra-strength Tylenol. Sherm immediately went for the needle, offering to give me an injection of Torpidol (?). When I told him that was a bit much, he suggested an IV of fluids. He scared me. As of this writing, everyone has figured out what I figured out days ago. I am hoping that when we get back to the ship, he'll be gone. Myself - I feel vindicated.