This morning (Sunday) I took a little bike ride over to an eye clinic to get my eye checked out. It’s been red, so I thought I’d go see if I could get some drops to cure whatever’s ailing it.
The clinic is open in the evenings and on the weekends, and is generally quite busy. I came to this clinic once before, and the wait time was about 3 hours (!), so this time I decided to show up early. The clinic opens at 9:30; I got there a bit after 9 to secure my spot in the queue. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that other people had had the same idea, because when I got to the clinic there was already a small crowd. Nonetheless, my wait time was significantly shorter than my last visit, and I was actually happy to wait. Why, you might ask? I have one question for you.
Do you know who else goes to eye clinics 20 minutes before they open on Sunday mornings? Old people.
I savor a good crowd to people-watch, and old folks generally fall near the top of my list. I’ve noticed this is particularly true here in Thailand because customs, dress, mannerisms, and all-around ways of doing things differ from the US in the most subtle but interesting ways. Also, there’s something different, in a good way, about watching a crowd of people who don’t speak the same language as you; relying purely on physical communication, facial expression, and gesture to interpret what’s going on is a fun and typically comically rewarding challenge.
After waiting for about half an hour in the main waiting room, my name was called and I was ushered into a second waiting room. This room held about 10 patients and two technicians at a time. The patients were made to sit on these little yellow stools along the walls, with everyone facing the center of the room—a perfect people-watching vantage point. The technicians were busy testing people’s eyesight, taking pictures of people’s eyes, giving folks eye drops, etc., all before they got called in to see the doctor. Amongst all the testing and dropping, the room functioned as such: when a person was called in to see the doctor, everyone shifted one stool to their right, and so on and so forth around the room until everyone eventually reached that exciting stool right next to the doctor’s door.
During my 30 minutes or so in this second waiting room, here are a few of the observations I made:
One technician was trying, with difficulty, to take a picture of an elderly man’s eye. I’m not sure what his eye problem was, or why it was apparently so difficult to take the picture, but at any rate there was a lot of talking... or rather, there was a lot of yelling, because the man could not hear well at all. I had to suppress my laughter at the sight of this young female technician yelling instructions (in Thai, of course) at this old man, trying to get him to adjust his head and eyeball alignment so she could capture the picture. A few of the other people sitting nearby were trying to help in some way or another, gesturing this way and that or attempting to reiterate what the technician was saying.
There was also a middle-aged man was there with an older woman who was presumably his mother. At one point, he was blocking the line of sight for people getting their eyesight tested. He was focused on getting his mother safely onto one of the very short stools, and wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on around him. The technician was politely but loudly instructing him to move out of the way, other people who were closer to him were trying to relay the same message, and the two people closest to him were trying to help by nudging him out of the way. Of course, the only place on his body they could reach from these little stools was his rear-end, so they were pushing at his bum to get him to move. After an inappropriately long time reminiscent of a Family Guy episode, he finally realized what was being asked of him, and moved out of the way.
It was also quite comical to watch all the people try to keep up with all the stool-changing. Sometimes a person wouldn’t be paying attention, and would not notice that it was their time to change stools. Of course, all the people around them did notice, and were eager to change stools themselves to get closer to the doctor. I watched as the people who did notice the stool-change look around to see if anyone else was thinking the same thing as them; then get a little shifty in their stool, perhaps trying to trigger some sort of awareness in the non-stool-mover and get them to move along; then as a last resort mumbling something to the non-mover to move along; and then finally having the satisfaction of moving stools themselves, thus bringing themselves one foot closer to the doctor that they showed up here so early to see.
All in all, it was a pleasantly amusing morning. And I got some eye drops for my eye. Success.