Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Human Doctor vs The Veterinarian

A few months ago, I decided to buy a dog. I don't want to get into the social implications of having a dog today, that's for another blog. What I do want to talk about is the professionalism and thoroughness dog's veterinarian displayed.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine had a baby. The father joked that they had taken their newborn son to the vet's for some injections in order to save money. This got me thinking of Homer Simpson in the freak show when his manager says: "Homer, nothing's more important to me than the health and well being of my freaks....I'm sending you to a vet." I mentioned this quote to the father and we started discussing how good vets were in this country (he has 2 dogs) and how our dogs got better treatment than we could ever dream of in Indonesia.

Anybody who has lived in Indonesia for any amount of time soon realizes that the medical system and doctors themselves here are a joke. Their main priority is to make money and to sell you as many drugs as possible. Personally, I try to avoid going to the doctor unless it is completely necessary. Otherwise, you end up with a handful of prescription medication (mostly useless), lighter in the wallet, and not cured of your ailment. In Indonesia, the best treatment available is to fly to Singapore and go to a hospital there.

The average trip to the doctor, even one in a good hospital, often results in getting a bag with 4 or 5 different kinds of pills. The doctor will spend 1 minute examining you and they don't bother to ask you any questions about how you feel or what your symptoms are. If you are not seriously ill, they will assume that you have the illness known as *INSERT NAME HERE*! They write you a prescription with 2 words on it which magically turns into 5 types of pills at the pharmacy counter. They will also advise you to come back if the medicine doesn't make you feel better so that they can sell you some more medicine.

Having such a large arsenal of pills reminds me of my grandparents having those pill containers with the days of the week helping them remember when to take which one of their numerous prescriptions. I usually look up the scientific names of the medication on the Internet and realize that most of them are useless in relation to my illness. One time, I went to a doctor because I couldn't hold food down. They prescribed me ulcer medication, a pain killer, anti-inflammatory pills, antibiotics and Mylanta tablets (which I could have bought for 5 times cheaper at the store next to my house). I ended up throwing out most of them and taking the Mylanta while waiting my illness out. I doubt the pharmacist even checked for any kind of drug interaction.

The veterinarian on the other hand asked me countless questions about my dog's eating habits, sleep patterns, bowel movements and general attitude. Without prompt, she advised what do if this or that were to happen. She then asked if I had any questions (which I did) and thoroughly answered every one of them. She also showed me how to clean my dog's ears and mentioned that my dog could have optional surgery to correct an eye problem. Note the word optional. She said that if I didn't want my dog to have the surgery, she could prescribe some eye drops (also optional).

The vet then gave the dog his scheduled round of injections, told us when we would have to return for more injections, and gave us a very reasonable bill. They gave me an emergency number to call and told me where to buy ear cleaner (if I wanted). She could have lied and said that she had given the dog 6 kinds of vaccinations and I would have been none the wiser and paid the bill.

I walked out of the office wondering why I had never received treatment even close to that good in Jakarta. This made me wonder if I should start visiting the vet when I feel unwell in order to get a sensible prognosis and accurate prescription. The next visit to the vet 3 weeks later further fueled my theory. The doctor remembered everything about my dog, inspected his ears to see how well I had been cleaning them and knew exactly much he had grown since last seeing him. Again, she gave me sound advice and answered my questions about taking my dog on a trip to the beach. I wonder if my puppy dog has any idea how good he has it. I fear that, despite my youngish age, my dog may outlive me if I ever have any serious medical problems and that he will be properly diagnosed way before I ever will.

Thinking about all of this is giving me a headache. So I am going to do what Indonesian people do when they feel ill: pakai obat (take medicine). Panadol, the Indonesian version of Advil is know to cure anything from acne to migraines to yellow fever.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The sign says you got to have a membership card to get inside

The other day, I had a vision of how to make more space in my home. This inspired me to make a trip to the local Makro. I guess you could call Makro the Indonesian version of Costco. They sell everything you can imagine and have discounts for buying large quantities. On this particular day, I was after furniture; more specifically a desk and bookshelf. They have a very large and confusing selection of furniture. It takes some serious investigation and pondering to find the right thing at the right price.

After an hour or so of sorting out the prices (items often have the wrong price) and the quality, I had selected the items I wanted to buy and put the boxes on my trolley. I chose a desk for Rp 130 000 which was larger and of better quality than the desk that cost Rp 250 000, go figure. I also bought a small bookshelf for Rp 85 000, a desk chair for Rp 170 000 and a folding table for a whopping Rp 500 000 (around $50).

Confident that I had made the right decisions, I proceeded to the checkout and gave them my Makro card. Despite the 3 or 4 VISA credit card logos that I could see, I decided to be prudent and ask if I could use my VISA card. The cashier apologized and informed me that only electronic items could be paid with VISA. I asked why they had a so many VISA signs posted around the store if they didn't accept it. She replied that they did accept it, only for electronic items. I couldn't resist so I asked (hypothetically) if I were to buy a fan if I could use my VISA? Yes! What if I bought a few light bulbs? NO! What if I bought a $50 table and a bunch of other furniture that was way more expensive than many electronic items? No, only for electronics. I found this shocking since Makro is the kind of place where it is not uncommon to see people with 2 or 3 carts full of items spending hundreds of dollars.

Dejected, I gave up and agreed to pay debit. The computer screen came up with payment options. There was an American Express, VISA, and Master Card option. I asked if American Express could be used for any item in the store? Yes! Master Card? Yes! Visa? Only electronics! The irony of this is that there are probably more American Citizens than American Express cards in Jakarta. VISA is the undisputed champion of credit card popularity in Jakarta.

I was then distracted by a checkout chair fiasco. When I selected the office chair, there were signs with prices but no tags on any of the hundreds of office chairs on the floor. The cashier sent a fellow employee on a quagmire of a mission to find the price of the chair. The guy came back to the register 3 times and not once did he listen to me telling him that NONE of the chairs have tags on them. Finally, the cashier asked me how much it costs. I replied that it was Rp 170 000 and she rang that price in. By this point, I had had enough of Makro and just wanted to go home.

Since I don't have a car, we had to get the items delivered to our house. This is one of those things that can go very smoothly or go very badly. I once had a friend who had to wait 3 weeks to get a refrigerator delivered from Carrefour. The driver was out on another delivery so we had to leave our trolley with the security guard and hope and pray that it would arrive that night. Luckily, the truck showed up at our house a couple of hours later. He brought the items in, thanked us and was on his way.

He didn't check the bill to make sure that all the items were there and it's a good thing that he didn't. I knew pretty much exactly what I had bought anyways. Upon further inspection of the bill after he had left, I realized that they had forgotten to charge me for the $50 table. Guess I got a free table I thought, there was no way I was going back there. I found it odd that they forgot to scan the largest and most expensive item on the trolley, especially after the whole chair incident.

My conscience was telling me that it was not good to get a $50 table for free but there was no way I was dragging the box back to the store. As karma would have it, (or even Steven for you Seinfeld fans) my refrigerator stopped running later that night. It appears that I need a new compressor, which is expensive. So the money I saved on the table went right into fixing my fridge. Luckily, I hadn't bought large quantities of frozen food when I was shopping at Makro.

One last note: I found out that a good sized chunk of ice costs Rp 500 (around 5 cents) so keeping things cold until the fridge gets fixed is not a problem.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hot & Humid Humbug

One of the great things about living in Indonesia is that many different religions are recognized. This means that people get Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Catholic/Christian holidays off. The best of these are the non-Muslim holidays. Since close to 90% of the country is Muslim, these days are merely a day off work. Despite this, I find it almost impossible to get into the Christmas spirit. For most, Christmas is just another day off or as is the case this year: a long weekend.

Unless you are Australian, I think it is pretty much impossible to equate tropical hot weather with Christmas. For a hoser like me, it's not REALLY Christmas unless there is snow on the ground. I've given up hope that it will ever snow in Jakarta (one drunken night, I convinced myself that a volcanic eruption somewhere in Java could trigger a freak weather event causing it to snow) but every year I hold out the slim hope that this December will be more Christmas like. It never happens. With the exception of a few tacky mall displays, you'd never know that Santa Claus is coming to town.

The first year I was here, I stepped into the Kelapa Gading mall and asked a friend why they had Christmas displays up so early in the year. My friend gave me a strange look and informed me that it was December 15th. Aside from that, I didn't see a single festive Christmas decoration or festivity that year. I started asking around and realized that even the Christian/Catholic (there seems to be some kind of huge divide among them as if they are Muslims and Jews in the West Bank) people who do live in Jakarta had a Christmas dinner and went to church. There was no gift exchange, no decking the halls and worst of Santa! Sure, the kids and adults know who Santa is but he doesn't make it to Jakarta most years.

As of today, it is 2 weeks until Christmas. The calendar and my upcoming time off are the only indicator that the 'holiday season' is upon us. Somebody asked me if I would put up a tree. I thought about it and it just seemed depressing in the sense that it would remind me of what I was missing. One of my friends put up a small plastic tree and lights on the wall last year (he paid a lot of money for the tree). The lights ended up being a permanent fixture in his living room because they 'really tied the room together'. The plan for this year is to do the Christmas Eve dinner buffet with friends at a fancy hotel and then go home. Christmas day will probably resemble a Sunday more than anything as far as atmosphere and motivation. I'll go to sleep early and put out milk & martabak, but hope is fading that there will be any presents under the palm tree when I awake on Christmas morning.

Selemat Hari Natal