Warning Signs

durian3.jpgSigns are all around us – everywhere we look.

On any given day there’s a blitz of signs that we receive from minute to minute, day after day, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that more often than not they’re ignored. Or at the very least not given adequate consideration for their existence. This can often have grave consequences. Are these consequences always a given if warning signs are not heeded? Are warning signs just common sense, or are they also a useful tool, helping to prolong and enhance your statistical likelihood of putting off for just a little while longer your inevitable demise?

Obviously, the variety of warning signs can be as subtle physically, as a mere twinge in your back, or a rumble in your abdomen. It’s telling you something for sure, but just how meaningful is the message? Or they can be as overt as a gun in your face, the message quite clear.

One of my favorite warning signs in Asia is the “No Durian!” Generally this is a white placard with a green, thorny, vegetable, fruity-looking thing on it, somewhat resembling a pod from “ Invasion of the Body snatchers.” A red circle with a slash through it advises you against possession of this fruit in said building. So what’s the big deal with bringing one into your hotel? Go to the local market anywhere in Asia, pick one up and take a nice healthy whiff. Now ask yourself, “do I want 50 of these things being stored and eaten in the building I’m staying in?”

warning-sign.gifMore often than not the trend is to make “warnings” as accessible to everyone as possible. Campaigns, icons and symbols are placed everywhere. “Stop!” “Stay out!” and “Slippery surface!” are among the many.

On a recent trip to Asia, Thailand specifically, I saw why heeding warnings and signs in general is very often a prudent way to approach travel and life in general. In one day a group of people I was around could have lost three amongst them in less than 24 hours; if they’d been really unlucky, that is. It’s not enough sometimes just having to try and survive crossing the street on a daily basis. There are times you just have to stare ahead, go for it, and hope you’re lucky today. There are also the times when the trouble comes seemingly from nowhere.

The other morning my companion and I saw a member of this group in severe pain. His wife was consoling him while he was writhing in the back seat of our sturdy, touring, air-conditioned ride. We asked what was wrong and she said he’d developed a sharp pain in the abdomen at about 3am (Had he had any previous warning?). After taking some antacids and Motrin it continued to get worse. He wasn’t throwing up or having to go to the toilet any more than usual, so this was something other than food poisoning. My friend is a nurse and I, a healthcare worker. We thought about it and agreed this could be any of a number of serious health complications. I recited them: Appendicitis, pancreatritis, gallstones, gastritis, diverticulitis, kidney stones, and more besides. As I rattled them out, my companion nodded all the while, stating in a thick accent “It could be no joke!” “You never know.” and “If it’s getting worse you should do something!” We both strongly endorsed getting to an ER urgently and for him to forget about travelling today. The tour was offering a ride and to catch up with the rest of the group, pending diagnosis. Even though he was a tough Canadian and despising the direction this all was going, it really was a “no-brainer” His wife would continue on.

In Phitsaniluk the following evening, his wife and he came up to us and said “We really want to thank you for pressing us the way you did. It would have been a bad idea to continue on in the condition he was in.” It was a kidney stone and it was passed painlessly into a cup later at the hospital.

Warning toxic.jpgThe other incident occurred amongst a large group of folks from Mexico and Los Angeles. It was at the Temple ruins of Ayuttaya where near calamity was next to befall. It’s a site somewhat similar in nature to Siem Reap in Cambodia but very much smaller in size. It’s also dissimilar in that its “Chedis” are more in Sri Lankan in style than Khmer. The one thing both places have in common though is their stairways. Small steps, sharp inclines and narrow stairways are the rule. They are also very far off the ground when at the top. The ground below is commonly strewn with many rocks and much debris; so there is a very good reason that routinely placed around the site are signs saying. “Do not climb on structures” with a stick figure that looked to be falling forever.

Ironically, the day before I had been in a discussion with some folks, amongst them some of the Mexicans. When I had related a story about Angkor Wat (an optional side trip) and my fear of falling there, one of the Mexican women said that they were used to such things as these stairways, as the temples they often visited in Mexico were rife with them. “We have a special way we walk them,” she said to us demonstrating with her hands in a zigzag type motion. “Yeah well special technique or not, I’ll look for the way down with the railing.” I said.

It was brutally hot out and we had been walking around yet more Chedi’s and Buddha’s in all manner of poses and postures, when there was talk around the complex of some people having fallen. Ok say what you will, but really I was thinking Germans, not Mexicans. As someone who had seen the accident happen said, they went to the top of some stairs to pose for pictures. So when three zaftig, middle age women, perching 40 feet off the ground, in the blazing heat of the day, on a set of stairs six feet wide with no handrails, (It sounds like the “Care facility from hell.”) was it any wonder they all tumbled down when one lost her balance and grabbed her friend, taking out the third? Down they rolled, miraculously not killing themselves, but sustaining some wicked abrasions and contusions on their heads and legs. Ambulances arrived, crowds of locals (still selling stuff) formed, backboards appeared. They were driven off for treatment, treated and returned later, bruised and bandaged. Only a mere two days into the trip, with many more stairs yet to climb and already this happens. It was a true testament to the usefulness and efficacy of purchasing travelers insurance, especially if you are predisposed to ignoring warning signs in your effort to get the most out of your vacation.

Warning bastards.JPGI didn’t see the Mexicans much more after that, usually only as a nuisance. Clogging a line here or creating a crowd there, the women always shopping and the men always drinking and creating some type of gridlock in an already crowded area.

I’m still really wondering how they liked Angkor Wat.

Author – Steve Strommer.

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