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pulque
12-31-2004, 18:42
Planning a trip to Northern Laos in early February. Volunteering with a hospital medical mission for the first week (at least). I seek Pearls of Wisdom on a number of fronts from QPs...

1) Is Lao Language similar enough in vocabulary/grammer/tonality to Thai so that I can study Thai (Lao language CDs are hard to find).
2) What diseases and illnesses would likely be encountered at a hospital in Luang Prabang, or in more rural areas?
3) What items should be in the lay-person's kit?
4) Comments on immunizations / antibiotics / cultural differences
5) By any chance, know of any group in any neighboring country seeking unskilled tsunami relief volunteers?

Thanks in advance!
-pulque

Team Sergeant
12-31-2004, 19:49
1) Is Lao Language similar enough in vocabulary/grammer/tonality to Thai so that I can study Thai (Lao language CDs are hard to find).



Thai is an extremely difficult language, IIRC it is second only to Chinese . If you can speak Thai you might be able to speak Laos, it depends on where in Laos and what tribe. Good luck. (I’m not a medic so I’ll let them answer the questions you’ve posed.)

TS

Eagle5US
01-01-2005, 22:55
Planning a trip to Northern Laos in early February. Volunteering with a hospital medical mission for the first week (at least). I seek Pearls of Wisdom on a number of fronts from QPs...

1) Is Lao Language similar enough in vocabulary/grammer/tonality to Thai so that I can study Thai (Lao language CDs are hard to find).
2) What diseases and illnesses would likely be encountered at a hospital in Luang Prabang, or in more rural areas?
3) What items should be in the lay-person's kit?
4) Comments on immunizations / antibiotics / cultural differences
5) By any chance, know of any group in any neighboring country seeking unskilled tsunami relief volunteers?

Thanks in advance!
-pulque
Greetings Que-

Lao language is totally different from Thai-even between provinces. I have worked between provinces where the words for Hot and rain were literally reversed. Our native born translators even have (at times significant) problems between provinces.

Primary diseases: malnutrition, worms, malaria (falciprium and vivax), dengue fever (serotypes I, IV), fungal infections, boils and sores, nearsightedness, dental, underage pregnancy.

lay-persons kit: bug spray, antibacterial hand gel, motrin, tylenol, super glue, sam splint, cravats x 4, and-aids, water purification tabs, immodium, mebendazole (worm medicine), benedryl (allergy), pocket knife, lighter, 3 inch ACE wrap x 3, 4x4 dressings x 10, 1 in tape. Anti-fungal creams melt and attract dirt and grime.

There are 17 local vipers that will likely kill you if you receive a good bite. These include, but are not limited to: green viper, white lipped viper, big eyed viper, banded krait, black spitting cobra, common cobra, eastern cobra, King cobra, russell's viper, mangrove viper, brown cobra, white spitting cobra, and others... We see 3-5 of these per 30 day mission on average. Closest anti-venin is in Thailand (Bangkok-Queen Savhonnabah Snake Bite Institute). Golden scorpions are also quite common and will down you for about 3 days if stung. They are small and like clothin piles. The only real "hospital" in the country is the Mahosot Hospital located in Vientiane. Photo attached. It is POOR, filthy, and recently painted.

If you are injured and require serious care, call International SOS Alarm center in Singapore 65-6338-9277. They will arrange your care. Ensure your insurance has a rider for internation evacuation and medical care. Their head is Dr. William Farrow, a personal friend of mine and a retired COL in the British Army. Jolly Good Chap, damn nice guy too.
Immunizations:
Japanese Encephalitis, Hep A, Hep B, Typhoid, Rabies, Tetanus, Flu at a minimum

Antibiotics:
Azithromycin (Zithromax), Cipro, Keflex, Penicillin, Tetracycline.

Malaria Prohylaxis:
Doxycycline 100 mg daily, start 2 days prior to entry in country, end 4 weeks after returning from country.
On return from country, ADD primaquine, 2 tabs daily x 2 weeks.
P. falciprium is resistant to mefloquine in Laos.

The most prevalent thing I can tell you regarding your trip-NEVER LOSE YOUR TEMPER IN FRONT OF THE LAO.
Worms are evil and posess the souls of ancestors. They are not to be played with or handled. The majority of the population is buddhist, the tops of their heads arer the most sacred part of their body. Do not pat them on the head or leapfrog over them (show your ass to their head). Men are very affectionate and will hand hold / hug / hang on you. Do not kill/destroy insects, show them to the Lao. Many of these they put in their local meals.

Wash your hands- A LOT. above all, drink clean (BOTTLED) water.

Good luck-
Let me know if you need more, I travel to and from as well as send teams in to Laos 5 times yearly.

Eagle

Rock06
01-01-2005, 23:30
Not a QP, but I speak Thai. I did some self study in Lao out of a book and subsequently made a score on a Lao test. If you can't find Lao materials then you should learn as much Thai as possible. It will help. The languages come from the same origins. I don't think it's a stretch to call them dialects of the same langauge.

Concerning both, tones are everything for understanding and making yourself understood. Grammar is basically the same. Same with vocab, although pronunciations of same words may be different. Any vocabulary you can pick up and your demonstration of a desire to learn the language will make your trip much more rewarding. I don't know how true it is, but I've heard that the Lao listen/watch Thai radio and TV more than Lao stations. Bottom line, some Thai is better than nothing. Luang Prabang, I believe, was the French colonial capital of Laos. Therefore, some French might be helpful. However, use of French might have some cultural stigma attached...don't know. Communicating is better than not communicating though, at least in my book.

The Lao greeting is "Sabai Dee". Use it frequently. As an aside, in Thai it is used to tell someone you're comfortable or feeling well.

Speaking of books. For general prep, the first order of business I recommend is to pick up a Lonely Planet Guide for Laos. Amazon has them. If I could only have one info source prior to travel anywhere, the applicable LP guide is the one I would choose. Most of them have some basic lingual phrases included.

You've probably been to this site already: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_946.html. It's a good starting point to some of the other questions

When I got my shots, there were several that came in a series. You need to get started ASAP and I'm not sure you'll have time to finish them. You'll need to confer with a medical professional on the implications of not finishing a shot series. You also need to check into the requirement for malaria prophylaxis, too.

Kor hai chok dee

Eagle5US
01-01-2005, 23:49
Not a QP, but I speak Thai. I did some self study in Lao out of a book and subsequently made a score on a Lao test.

Lao in a book is closest to the spoken language in Vientiane, but not the same as Lao in the village. I defer to the experience of my NATIVE BORN LAO LINGUISTS who have difficulty translating the different Lao dialects WHILE I AM THERE WORKING and the fact that I ALSO work in rural Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

It's great that you speak Thai. As soon as he, or anyone else, comes up with a quesiton about the Thai language, please feel free to chime in with your expert and valuable input.

And BTW, Lao in Laung Phrabang is not the same as Lao in Vientiane, or Paxse, or Savannhakhet, or TaOy. French is rarely spoken except by visiting French backpackers and ENGLISH is quite common in Vientiane due to European Tourism.

Eagle

Rock06
01-02-2005, 00:40
Eagle5US-- My apologies if I appeared to be chiming in after your comments with underdeveloped book knowledge. You came through with your detailed info between my “reply” and “submit” clicks. Wouldn’t have touched it if I’d seen yours first. I certainly yield to your expertise. Best regards to you and back to listening silence for me.

brownapple
01-02-2005, 03:07
Well, for what it is worth:

Rock is entirely correct in that Thai and Lao are related languages. They derive from the same roots and share virtually identical structure.

However, like any tonal language, and especially one that does not have a enforced standard (as Thai does with Central Thai), Lao suffers significantly from variations in local usage, pronunciation and rhythm to an extent that can make it very difficult if not impossible to understand someone from another area of the country (this is true even of Thai with Issan and the South both speaking a Thai that a Central Thai native may not understand at times).

I'm not surprised that Eagle has difficulties with his translators being able to understand from one village to another. First language speakers of tonal languages often have difficulties making the "jump" of reasoning that a slightly different sounding word is the same word as pronounced in a different dialect. Add in coloquilisms, word drift, slang, etc. and it may seem entirely like a different language.

My experience has been that a "farang" has a better chance of communicating in that environment than a native speaker of a similar language/dialect. The people of the village are more likely to slow down, speak simpler structures and the "farang" is more likely to guess the word they mean because he isn't locked into a particular tonal pattern having a certain meaning.

Having said all that, there are some differences that are consistent. Lao and Thai both use multiple words for "you" dependent on the relation between those speaking. The Thai usage sounds somewhat formal to Lao, and the Lao usage sounds insulting to Thais.

Lonely Planet publishes a "Thai Phrasebook" that is well put together and includes some Mien, Mong, Lisu, Akha and Lahu as well. Remember, not all the population of Laos is Laotian.

I'd say any Thai you can learn will serve you in good stead. So will anything you can learn about the Thai and Lao cultures (which are similar, although the Thais don't want to admit that). Two books in that area are Culture Shock Thailand and The Thai and I; Successful Living in Thailand.

Eagle5US
01-02-2005, 03:26
Eagle5US-- My apologies if I appeared to be chiming in after your comments with underdeveloped book knowledge. You came through with your detailed info between my “reply” and “submit” clicks. Wouldn’t have touched it if I’d seen yours first. I certainly yield to your expertise. Best regards to you and back to listening silence for me.
No sweat really-
I'm just feeling a bit of my oats tonight-

Happy New Year, thanks for answering up when you felt you could help someone out.

Eagle

QRQ 30
01-02-2005, 14:24
Don't be afraid of interpretors. There are good ones out there. A few conversational phrases are helpful. Thai is a tonal language and you can end up in real embarrassing situations due to wrong tones. One example I learned was "klai kai kai gai?" " Who has the chicken eggs?" (or something close). Each word sounds the same except for the tone.

We had an interpretor by the name of Sanit. He was Indian, spoke perfect Queen's English, Thai, could communicate with Lao and spoke perfect "GI". He was a real asset.

I remember one time at work a fellow worker made a smart remark to my wife: "What's the matter? Can't you read English?" Without batting an ey she replied by asking: "Can you read Thai?" Written Thai has 47 consonents and including tones I'm not sure anyone has counted the total vowells. I learned to read some words as one would learn to recognize a graphic sign. I know what certain Towns look like on a road sign but could never write them.

pulque
01-02-2005, 16:35
Happy new year! Great solid advice! I knew I could count on someone(s) here.



Lao language is totally different from Thai-even between provinces. I have worked between provinces where the words for Hot and rain were literally reversed. Our native born translators even have (at times significant) problems between provinces.

I believe it. Nothing will fully prepare me for the culture-shock, but as I do try to prepare I should get used to the idea of being laughed at by Laotians.

Primary diseases: malnutrition, worms, malaria (falciprium and vivax), dengue fever (serotypes I, IV), fungal infections, boils and sores, nearsightedness, dental, underage pregnancy.

I will prepare to encounter all of these. I was also told (by a Laotian) that ulcers are common. If so, I wonder if those are diet related ulcers. I am looking forward to this, because I am only working on DNA in the lab all of the time, it gets sortof abstract. This will hopefully expand my experience and test my resolve to make things better for people, to be useful, AND win the battle of people against disease and illness.

lay-persons kit: bug spray, antibacterial hand gel, motrin, tylenol, super glue, sam splint, cravats x 4, and-aids, water purification tabs, immodium, mebendazole (worm medicine), benedryl (allergy), pocket knife, lighter, 3 inch ACE wrap x 3, 4x4 dressings x 10, 1 in tape. Anti-fungal creams melt and attract dirt and grime.

I am on it like super is on glue.

There are 17 local vipers that will likely kill you if you receive a good bite. These include, but are not limited to: green viper, white lipped viper, big eyed viper, banded krait, black spitting cobra, common cobra, eastern cobra, King cobra, russell's viper, mangrove viper, brown cobra, white spitting cobra, and others... We see 3-5 of these per 30 day mission on average. Closest anti-venin is in Thailand (Bangkok-Queen Savhonnabah Snake Bite Institute). Golden scorpions are also quite common and will down you for about 3 days if stung. They are small and like clothin piles. The only real "hospital" in the country is the Mahosot Hospital located in Vientiane. Photo attached. It is POOR, filthy, and recently painted.

I will keep an eye out for vipers (and insects and scorpions and the less deadly sacred worms). I will not be unaware. As much as a vacationer might like to, I will likely not be able to wander alone, especially as a female in Laos. That would make me a crazy farang.

If you are injured and require serious care, call International SOS Alarm center in Singapore 65-6338-9277. They will arrange your care. Ensure your insurance has a rider for internation evacuation and medical care. Their head is Dr. William Farrow, a personal friend of mine and a retired COL in the British Army. Jolly Good Chap, damn nice guy too.

Insurance is the one thing I was considering skimping on (spending more resources on shots, etc.) I suppose that I should be more responsible than that. I will go over my plan to make sure that it covers intl evac. No offense but I prefer not to meet your friend in that context.


Immunizations:
Japanese Encephalitis, Hep A, Hep B, Typhoid, Rabies, Tetanus, Flu at a minimum

Antibiotics:
Azithromycin (Zithromax), Cipro, Keflex, Penicillin, Tetracycline.

Malaria Prohylaxis:
Doxycycline 100 mg daily, start 2 days prior to entry in country, end 4 weeks after returning from country.
On return from country, ADD primaquine, 2 tabs daily x 2 weeks.
P. falciprium is resistant to mefloquine in Laos.


I am scheduled for Tetanus, Diptheria, Typhoid, and HepA. I have had two shots of Hep B and missed the third. I am hoping 2 was enough, I believe they can test me for immunity. I hope the WA Public Health Clinic can give me some z-packs. I need to research into which antibiotics are good for what infections. any suggestions of a source of information?

I was hoping to avoid malaria prophylaxis due to side effects, thanks for convincing me.

Otherwise, it sounds like I should be alright if I can avoid getting bit by disease infested mosquitos, drink bottled water, eat HOT food, wash hands alot, and avoid contact with blood. What I am also curious about is how the teams over in tsunami-land are avoiding cholera. And how medics in the field can truly protect themselves against blood-borne pathogens.


The most prevalent thing I can tell you regarding your trip-NEVER LOSE YOUR TEMPER IN FRONT OF THE LAO.
Worms are evil and posess the souls of ancestors. They are not to be played with or handled. The majority of the population is buddhist, the tops of their heads arer the most sacred part of their body. Do not pat them on the head or leapfrog over them (show your ass to their head). Men are very affectionate and will hand hold / hug / hang on you. Do not kill/destroy insects, show them to the Lao. Many of these they put in their local meals.

Wash your hands- A LOT. above all, drink clean (BOTTLED) water.

Good luck-
Let me know if you need more, I travel to and from as well as send teams in to Laos 5 times yearly.

Eagle

do they hold/hug/hang on both genders or just women? What kinds of body language translates to "lost temper"? I have some trouble with postures and gestures that get misunderstood here in the states, so I have to work extra hard with that.

If you are going to be around I am sure I will have more questions before February.
Gratefully yours,
-pulque

brownapple
01-02-2005, 18:32
do they hold/hug/hang on both genders or just women?

Males hang on males, females on females. Touching, etc. is a sign of friendship within the same gender. Touching of opposite gender is a no-no generally.


What kinds of body language translates to "lost temper"? I have some trouble with postures and gestures that get misunderstood here in the states, so I have to work extra hard with that.

Number one is raising the voice. Number two is a "serious" tone to the voice. Body language is less of an issue, since when Thais/Laos lose their temper, they are liable to become violent (which is why losing your temper is frowned upon). This is not a culture where the use of temper as a manipulative tool is understood.

Being calm (Jai yen yen in Thai) is looked at as a very positive characteristic.

Insurance is the one thing I was considering skimping on (spending more resources on shots, etc.) I suppose that I should be more responsible than that. I will go over my plan to make sure that it covers intl evac.

Do NOT, under any circumstances, skimp on insurance. There are good hospitals in Bangkok. They will NOT treat you if you can't pay for treatment. The will let you die. I pay for my own insurance here. It is not all that expensive and it is more than worth it. Including the International SOS service.

pulque
01-11-2005, 01:25
My experience has been that a "farang" has a better chance of communicating in that environment than a native speaker of a similar language/dialect. The people of the village are more likely to slow down, speak simpler structures and the "farang" is more likely to guess the word they mean because he isn't locked into a particular tonal pattern having a certain meaning.

Having said all that, there are some differences that are consistent. Lao and Thai both use multiple words for "you" dependent on the relation between those speaking. The Thai usage sounds somewhat formal to Lao, and the Lao usage sounds insulting to Thais.

Lonely Planet publishes a "Thai Phrasebook" that is well put together and includes some Mien, Mong, Lisu, Akha and Lahu as well. Remember, not all the population of Laos is Laotian.

I'd say any Thai you can learn will serve you in good stead. So will anything you can learn about the Thai and Lao cultures (which are similar, although the Thais don't want to admit that). Two books in that area are Culture Shock Thailand and The Thai and I; Successful Living in Thailand.

Thanks Greenhat. I just found out these docs want to go to Phuket after Laos, and if they do I am too. With that in mind, in addition to your points on the consistent differences, I am going to pursue Pimsleur's Thai course. I only have a few weeks before the trip. I have found only one Lao audio course, and that seems to be focused on detailed (long-term) study. Pimsleur seems to be good for getting a few conversational phrases up and running fast (my limited experience with Arabic). I have a difficult time imagining learning a tonal language from a book. Culture Shock in Thailand looks good too. I might read that and Where There is no Doctor on the plane :) Thanks again Sir!

pulque
01-17-2005, 16:32
If you are injured and require serious care, call International SOS Alarm center in Singapore 65-6338-9277. They will arrange your care. Ensure your insurance has a rider for internation evacuation and medical care. Their head is Dr. William Farrow, a personal friend of mine and a retired COL in the British Army. Jolly Good Chap, damn nice guy too.


I have no rider for international evacuation, so I am looking for one. It looks like International SOS is a popular (and robust) plan, but their prices are nearly double the MEDEX prices. However, MEDEX web site indicates it is not available to residents of WA state. Anybody have any experience with finding the right insurance?

ghuinness
01-17-2005, 19:07
I can ask at work tomorrow who we use.

There is one other caveat which we experienced. Do not go to your regular doctor for shots. They have to disclose to the insurance companies the reason for the shots and where you are going. Your rates then increase depending on where you have visited. Go to a clinic.


Edited to add:

Checked and we use Medex. Maybe you should call them about the WA restrictions.
https://www.medexassist.com/ppcindividual.cfm

pulque
01-18-2005, 12:26
Thank you Ghuinness. On the phone, MEDEX cited WA State regulations that are too risky for them to comply with as vendors. However, they did note that other vendors can sell me their product. :lifter