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30 January 2011 ~ 2 Comments

Lost In Translation


Lost in Translation – A rescue(ish) story
by Grem Wooding

Well then… Once upon a time long long ago, there did exist my ancestors. A brave and resourceful bunch they were too. They lived in a time yonder when life was simpler and communication much easier, when they asked for a sandwich what they got was a sandwich.  You see, my Great Grandfather and Grandfather were Coxswains’ on the Aldeburgh Lifeboat, and my other Grandfather was an ambulance driver in WWII, coming down a generation, my father was a police driver with a 100% catch rate, and my mother, a hospital manager, in a Hospital funnily enough. All of my mother’s sisters were/are nurses, and I have police and some soldier types in my peripheral family. My brother is a crime scene something secretish, and then comes me. I guess my ancestors are waiting patiently for me to start my birth right as a rescuer of some sort, and on New Year’s Eve 2010/2011. I started a night on the town, but this would be no ordinary night on the town. Instead of drinking cocktails and dancing I would be drinking coffee and driving (very fast Yeah!) around the town of Phitsanulok in a Kia. With Three cool and crazy Thai natives and Bun, my trusty girlfriend cum translator, I set of on what I thought would be a night observing the action. I thought a few car crashes and off’ed motor cyclists would give me a better understanding of road safety, and the aid the victims receive, as it happens there were to be a few lulls in translation, many a thrill and a loss of a creation.

8.30 pm – I sit in the Area Office, a ramshackle HQ if you will, serving rescue, not design, it is packed with a plethora of rescue apparatus and personnel. A huge TV plays a Thai pop tune and there is joking and drinking of waters.  This office is one of two teams that serve the province. All volunteers, all Thai, all happy, they tap words into iphones and surf the web just like any office anywhere. For my delectation, pictures of heroism and epithets to the forsaken and taken adorn the walls, resting in front, a huge pile of white towels and helmets of green and yellow. The crew sit relaxed retorting their SMS messages and chatting. I pan the room for the exact words I have just said and the phone rings, it is answered by the main man, who tonight is Eak, a 30 (hmm I think 40) year old local man who has been in the game for 15 years, his knowledge would become apparent later on in the form of utter confidence in his dealings with whatever came at him.  He is truly the man to ride with tonight, I feel comforted and by him and shuffled listlessly when I listened to him tell Bun about the team. As we roll out to meet the other crews I am introduced to tonight’s Wheels.  A gleaming Kia is sitting skew-if on the pavement, and as the sliding door closed I am immediately aware of an odour, my nose struggles to translate it into an answer for my brain, and it’s left to the wind for now, as we dismount the pavement and head off, cool like and energetic. We arrive to a rendezvous point near the one train track that runs through the town, and the sight that greets me is a nice one.  A row of shining rescue trucks and their keepers behind make a glinting spectacle as we pull in, now part of the massive.  A few glances my way by of some members add to a slight nervousness, but all in all I am comfy.

We are taken immediately to the boss man, who sits half out his aging truck smoking; his fingernails are the first thing I spot. They are huge and long, I daydream maybe one day they can help prize open a locked something and save the day. I am jolted back by a steely eyed face, one of obvious courage. He talks like a machine gun and Bun is struggling to keep up, but I am getting a good amount of info trickling through. I am walked through the stickers on the car and their meanings and the DRABC protocol. D for Danger, R for Respond, A for Airway, B for Breathing and C for Circulation. They say for the D&R you have Ten seconds to decide the safety of the situation and act accordingly, if it seems dangerous leave it, I think is the drift. After the wise one we chat with a nameless old timer who knows how, what and even when. He begins to tell Bun the details of his mind and we glean the 4 levels of the first responder, and that the rescuers numbers are into the hundreds and are from all walks of life. Also from the quick mouth of the nameless one came the knowledge that Two Farang are volunteers in Bangkok, and I should be number Three. I love the Thai passion for newness; the welcoming smile and the brother together attitude gather me in the group. They are all chatty, and some shy with the White face, only through the barrier of language. We all sit, mooch and smoke lots of cigarettes as the evening’s people pass us on the way to party hearty.

9.30pm – We hear a shout and my note scribbling has to end. All in the car we zoom off south, unknowing what’s gonna happen I enjoy the surprisingly quick Kia, here another translation mishap occurred, as I thought the Kia would be rubbish! But we pull away pretty well and the torque is strong and propels the wagon and 5 adults properly, and with confidence. To the Kia I say, ‘I was a badge snob and didn’t respect you, and for that I apologise’. Soon after full throttle on a wide and open road we off the lights and sound – the radio has told us the first responder is easy and the incident no big deal. We return in-bound on cruise setting, the mood happy and professional.  After a while we arrive at a petrol station just east of the centre, Phitsanulok is not a big town but it serves many an Amper (borough) and village. It is a through-way south and north. A quiet place with gentle townsfolk, it’s not a tourist destination and there are no super clubs to take E in, it’s all about the Johnny Walker round here, but generally with food and possibly followed by driving, the very reason I chose this night to observe the action.

Sitting in the darkened petrol station my first rescue is called for. It’s only helping my girlfriend Bun from a savage mosquito attack, but it’s a rescue none-the-less, so my rescue tally stands at one and its only 10pm. I return to a half eaten and rather expensive Snickers bar and a translation problem occurs. You see, the chocolate bar in question is twice the price and half the size of a UK Snickers, now somewhere someone mistranslated the umbers on norder form, I am sure. Suddenly some of the lounging green suits all jump up and I am on their heels, they all hop into the back of  a sexy looking Toyota Hi-Lux and I am moving toward the Kia, there is no movement from my posse and I am given the sign language for ‘food’, and I realise they are just off to eat. I sit meekly down, my cheeks reddening as the chuckles continue. I notice a baby amongst the rescuers, a Thai tradition indeed, I look to see if they have a potted plant and some Tesco bags in the back, as they slope off to assuage their hungers.

10.45pm – You must learn and pass an exam on EMS skills and such, then you can work towards a Yellow uniform, which is a rank higher than the Green uniform, which are generally worn by the younglings.  The White uniform signifies Ambulance, and others wore basic jumpers with logo. I am learning this as I sit with Joe at the computer in the HQ, I am learning of his fame as the province’s No1 snake catcher. A title richly deserved by the looks of the glum snakes dangling off sticks on the screen. I sup water and see pictures of the association’s endeavours, they attend not just motor crashes but murder, suicide and disaster. After the Tsunami the province gathered 30 crew members and flew down to help. Respect!  I see a dead corpse in a barrel and the effort to raise it from the water, I am glad not to be exactly right there, that’s for sure.  I ask about response times and I hear a time of 5 minutes to arrive at the scene, this being a small town that should be no problem, I like the sound of the challenge and wish to get somewhere in the magic 5 and…

11.11pm – We are off the kerb, the Kia gunning down the road followed by a slammed low riding Dmax almost bouncing along behind us, both sets of lights are spinning a pretty sight and the Waa Waa’s are Waa Waa’ing tunefully. We are heading south on an empty road, weaving to and fro the moving cars. We are looking for something now. Tee, a female member, and the photographer and Eak are owl-like in their scanning of the road. I hear a drunken woman has called in and we see a drunken sight waving and swaying not far down, the two racing machines slow to a crawl as we, quite comically, watch her staggering down a Soi, her large bottom illuminated by the headlights, she seems a one woman disco. The mood of the car now ponders the necessity of our presence, drunks must be the pain of rescue teams. Soon the inebriated one hangs a left and I see an open door in a house, a bright white rectangle inviting us to help. As I approach the door my immediate action was to remove my shoes, a behaviour well ingrained in me by now.  I am stopped by Eak and given gloves, a mistranslation on my part.  Once in the wooden house I see an elderly lady lying on a wooden bench, she seems weak and it’s obvious to all her tick is tocking. Maybe she has just found out the price of Snickers and collapsed. I am not sure at this point, I gather round to help load her fragile body on the stretcher, and as we carry her outward she reaches up and grabs my arm. I take it with my loose left hand and smile down to her gaunt face, trying desperately to look like I know what I am doing.  The fading lady is loaded on the Dmax ready to bounce her to hospital. Racing round helping grannies, this is Boy Scouts on steroids.

12.10 – We sit in a second petrol station closer to the town and gather and relax. About 5 rescue cars in total, some sleek Dmaxia and a crusty but super older pick-up.  An ambulance sits nearby, and the trusty Kia shines bluish under the forecourt spot lamps next to the fleet. Then came the Coffee mistranslation, because I had brought what I innocently thought was a coffee from the 7/11, and it had turned out to be hot crack cocaine water with some foamy stuff, because the kick I got was akin to being kicked by a massive angry statue, the likes Jason and the Argonauts had to deal with. But as it turns out, this unwanted burden would later turn in to my elixir for the courage I was to need.

Then suddenly a high tone from Eak and we decamp on the double, the Kia is already moving by the time my sliding door shuts. The Waa Waa noise is straight on and it teams up with the huge red lights to make a path through the cruising traffic and, sometimes, ignorant road users.  We hit the train line again with another equally loud Unit behind us, this wagon is a lowered Dmax in White and fast too! We have some motorbikes hovering around us as Eak crams the Kia into unfathomable spaces, and weaves through the lines of cars and trucks, annoying those in a bored queuing slumber. We hit the train station as the crowds grow, there are people everywhere, including the road, and we must slam to a halt. A stunned fireman side steps our raging car van beast.  We are now round the big Christmas tree and west bound on the main road to the river, it is solid with partygoers and the Waa Waa struggles for attention, it seems Thailand hasn’t gripped the whole move-over thing when it comes to ambulances, we must start nudging the peoples. We hit the river, and to our right a stage displaying music and dance, the fresh New Year is underway and abundant with joy. We start a small Goose chase and end up, after a few circles, at the main Entrance to a private hospital.

Still unaware of the pending commotion I alight the Kia to find some nurses, huddled around a Motorbike cum trolley and a guy pointing. I am given gloves by Joe and I walk with a shy smile to what I think is a drunk man. I am drawn to his torso which is apparently riddled with bullet holes. The stark reality of my endeavour hits me in the face Tyson style, I am stuck fast, I am a little boy, I am Jacks quivering bowels. The Tinnitus like rush depletes, and I am standing over a young man bearing impressive tattoos. Strangely my eyes scoot clean over the bloody torso, the bullet holes, the dead eyes, focusing instead on the dead man’s teeth braces, they are a reminder of the age of this victim of god knows what. His goatee beard grows like a pubic medusa from his chin, so so young to be bullet ridden. After some deliberation from the team we move the body into the Kia, my eyes are fixated on the body and the missing soul not long departed.  In no time there is a reporter, oddly arriving before the police, craning over the hapless show corpse, still and stark under the interior lights of the Kia.  The Thai word for observe is ‘obswer’ so you can see how they confused that with ‘lift a dead man into a Kia’. Then, ‘I want to see your team in action,’ was confused with ‘I want to hold a dead man’s face up to the camera’, as this loss of communication hits me, a thousand photos are taken and, with me modeling the dead face, I look to the camera myself. This bring shakes of the head and I realise I should look away, but they don’t realise how utterly alien this is to me, not only as a civilian but a westerner, seeing corpse modeling and gabbling reporters huddled in a van door. They are tripping over themselves to capture this poor boy, I suddenly turn English and say, ‘he’s not going anywhere, mate’. Then I am pointing at the bullet wounds which are small, there are 4 in total, all in the chest, no surviving that, for sure.

Soon though the girlfriend of the deceased arrives, and my melancholy disposition is jolted as her pretty face screws up and she is trodden with horror. Helping little old ladies this is NOT. She runs for shelter from the crowd, as an eager reporter deigns to allow but a moments grief for the stricken teen. She is soon accompanied by her hugging friends, and a solitary police man attempts to crowbar her questioning attacker off.  Numbers of people are growing, other police arrive and we will now shift the body to another hospital. The cameras return to a thousand flashes, apparently a farang looking at the camera is bad for everything, and more are taken, Oopps!  A stern looking cop is peering in at the mess now, seen it all before, no doubt. He is clearly not in the mood for this. From under his low hat he seems professional and calm; he questions the girlfriend, before taking a statement from the man who delivered the body after witnessing the shooting. I love Thailand because of people like this. On his way to deliver something, he happens on a shooting and drives the victim round the corner to hospital. Amazing Thailand!

1.20am – We have decamped to another hospital 2 minute drive away, still the body remains uncovered in the Kia, the body jiggles as we drive, very surreal indeed. The crew, all quiet and business like, remain calm. We wait again in a hospital front area, the sobbing girlfriend is here too, what a walk that must have been. We must wait for yet another cop, a big dude I think, but he arrives silently like a middle aged ninja from the dark, he looks casual and calm, almost librarian in demeanour. After what seems like an eon of peering and pointing, the body is finally being moved to the morgue. All the while a thousand cigarettes are smoked by the crews. I take a time out to wash my hands and face in the hospital toilets, seeing back in my mirrored reflection a paled and tired man. My nerves are strong and I want to comfort my girlfriend who looks shaken. One more trip for the body, round the back of the hospital to the silver draws of the morgue, where he shall sleep with his lifeless brethren. I find out now that he was shot mistakenly. His friend had punched a man earlier in the night; someone had mistranslated the punchers’ description and shot this guy instead. Shit! I am gutted for him, he will not see 2011, nor his girl. He has no parents or family, and his attacker is at still at large. He is one more notch on a wall in a police station as we head off to the HQ.

2.20am – Eak, Tee and Joe are sombre and unruffled.  Bun is shaken and wishes to depart the Kia and go home. I am pondering the mistranslations of the evening, and I finally click about the huge pile of towels in the office. Those were not towels; they were body bags, the last outfits the ill-fated wearer will wear, before departing to their God or non God. I say my thanks and Wai my gratitude to the crew members. After a night of thrills and mistranslations I knew a few things for sure. The brave rescuers of Thailand are born from warriors and I am off to bed. And the Kia smells of death.

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Posted by Grem () in Living in Thailand, Uncategorized

About the Author

Grem is the author of Driverman Asia where he explores the sometime frightening and always challenging roadways and driving rules of Thailand. His posts are typically written with a humorous bent and having 10 years as a professional driver himself he definitely understands the rules of the road.