I am a worm magnet.
She didnâ€™t center it, but I think it looks better that way. It's like a disturbing little poem.
This worm didnâ€™t even have time to be named before it was exterminated. L managed to get prompt treatment in Bangkok, which is a travelerâ€™s Meccah of quality, efficient health care in a spa-like environment. Unlike her attempts to get her Iowa doctor to kill Elvis, the docs in Bangkok knew exactly how to slay this little crawler.
Expats in Asia are familiar with Bangkok as a medical destination. We know that, in comparison with Japanese health care, westerners are going to find English-speaking progressive doctors at a reasonable price. We also know that doctors in Bangkok wonâ€™t prescribe two days of antibiotics and tell us to stop taking them as soon as we feel better, which is common practice is Japan. However, if we mention visiting Thailand for care to friends in the US, weâ€™re met with wide eyes and questions like, â€œYou mean like those places where you get plastic surgery and recover by the pool?â€ No, not like that.
For expats, comparisons are a significant part of our existence. Our comparison of one countryâ€™s health care providers to anotherâ€™s is not entirely unlike what we do here in the States. Itâ€™s a matter of personal preference. Everyone plays favorites every day. When Iâ€™m in New Jersey, my favorite grocery store is the one where the guy who slices the prosciutto gives everyone in line free samples while they wait. I favor the gas station where the attendant doesnâ€™t yell at anyone. For the most part, I can limit my New Jersey comparisons to places within a few miles of my house.
However, there are many times when I slip back into expat mode and suddenly Iâ€™m thinking that the Italian food at CafÃ© Aldo Lamberti in Cherry Hill is pretty good, but will never meet the standards of Il Latini in Florence or Il Mulino in Tokyo. This works both ways. Macyâ€™s is a wonderland of clothing that actually fits me. Shopping in Japan, by contrast, is a cruel reminder that, in Asia, being a size four makes me too big to find anything that fits in some stores. And forget buying shoes. My size 9 feet might as well be flippers for all the luck I have finding footwear.
The comparisons go on; medical care, rent prices, lawn sizes, car ownership, availability of various types of food, travel prices and conditions. You name it, expats have an opinion. Hereâ€™s the rub. We may be in Japan, but the comparisons are global. Within my immediate team of colleagues, any of at least twenty different countries could appear in the conversation, with frequent discussions of India, Thailand, China, Costa Rica, Canada, Saudi Arabia, England, Italy, and whichever African country my friend D is visiting for this yearâ€™s annual safari. A single conversation about the price of public transportation could circle the Earth in a few minutes.
However, the real comparison comes down to this. How much, if anything, are we willing to trade for life abroad? When do the comparisons become so imbalanced that we know this life isnâ€™t for us anymore?
Iâ€™ve heard expats talk at length about the trials of living in Japan, almost in tears because they canâ€™t find a way to adjust to the cultural differences. For some people, the language barrier is the piece of the puzzle that sends them home. For others, itâ€™s an inability to acquire western goods that is intolerable.
For those of us who stay, the comparison has to even out. The rewards must equal the shortcomings. Weâ€™re not living in some Disney version of Asia. Some days are disheartening, and if Iâ€™m going to go to bed every night feeling like Iâ€™ve made the right choice, I need to hear my son have a conversation in Japanese. Thereâ€™s a reason L has had worms twice, why she didnâ€™t pack up and move back to Iowa after the first one. Over the years, sheâ€™s seen the pros and cons of this life, and like the rest of us who stay, she knows that she getting more than enough in return to make up for some acute intestinal distress. Whether itâ€™s financial security of simply a love of new experiences, thereâ€™s some sort of payoff that keeps us moving. After a while, I think we just forget thereâ€™s any other way to live.