Exotic Pets, Exotic Food, and a Rooftop

„Kin khao“ that’s what Silom must have typed into his translator app. Of course, I can’t read it, but in English it says: “Eat rice.” It is what it literally means, but the Thai say it in a way of “have you eaten yet?” and this can also mean “How are you?” So be sure to always answer in the positive.

He deletes it and keeps trying to find the right translation. It’s half past twelve and I’m pretty sure he wants to tell me I can join the people who will have lunch break now.
“Do you still eat rice?” is the next phrase I see on his phone. Silom is a very shy guy, and I keep looking over his shoulder . All the vets praise him highly. He is the best assistant they have here, they say, he can handle and restrain any species perfectly.
“Did you eat me?” I had been about to answer without him actually addressing me, but after this I just laugh silently and wait for him to come up with the question he wants to ask. He realizes that this is not what he wants to know and gives up, turning back to our patient. When the rabbit is back in her box and Silom goes down the stairs I fear I’ve missed the chance to have a lunch break today, but he turns around and finally shows me his phone. “Did you eat?”
I shake my head and he gestures me to follow him. We collect Dr. Jane, he picks up one of the umbrellas by the entrance and we’re outside. In the sun. I automatically turn my face into the light. This half hour break is pretty much the only daylight I get to see. It’s quite dark inside the Premier Exotic Pet Hospital, where I’m in my last placement in Thailand. Most of the windows are sealed and the narrow staircases are of a dark gray. Artificial light and AC dominate our environment – yes, I live inside the hospital, and so does Silom and a few other staff members.

The emergency room, X-ray, and rooms for dogs and cats are on the ground floor, up a very uninviting dark staircase is the waiting room, procedure rooms for exotics, and our kitchen. The second floor (actually, third, as in Thailand the ground floor is 1), behind a “Staff Only” sign, houses the mammal and bird patients, next come the reptiles and some more birds – and the bathroom. I have to carefully step around boxes with tortoises and bearded dragons to get to the shower. The fourth/fifth floor (depending on how you count) is our flat, and on the rooftop, where they grow some plants as animal feed, I can hang my laundry. The view from here is phenomenal: Small houses of the residential area around, trees between them, and behind it all, Bangkok’s skyline in the haze.

The best thing about Prawet, the district of the clinic, is the market. It’s small and only 700 meters down the road, and we all actually walk there. How unusual in Thailand! In the morning, I can get soymilk from the big tank, fresh fruit and sticky rice, all in my own containers. During lunch break, I let the two girls in the back fill my boxes with spring rolls and peanut sauce, or fried bananas, or sweet potato balls, and the two cooks I regularly go to recognize me as well. In one tiny kitchen I can get Pad Thai, in the other one rice and vegetables. Today, the couple who cook rice and “pat pak” can’t give me all of my change, so I’ll have to go there again tomorrow. They still owe me ten baht. That’s how it goes here.

We order, take some free drinking water, and then run our errands, like buying the vegetables for dinner. We sit down at one of the tables in the middle and our food is served. Each of us ordered from a different place, and all of the kitchens collect their own plates and cups later on. Behind some of the giant pots are babies’ cribs, young children run around and go buy missing ingredients for their parents. I could sit here all day, eat and watch what’s going on here, all the people, the cats underneath the tables, the kids growing up surrounded by all the different smells of these foods. I’m fascinated how well the system works. Nothing gets lost.

But we have to go back to the hospital.
The staff work in shifts, one from eight to six, the other from eleven to nine – that’s how long we’re open. The Thai students have to stay from nine to nine, but as I live upstairs, I have some more freedoms. For example, cooking dinner at seven with the other foreign student. That’s right, for the first time in Thailand, I have access to a stove!
Dr. Top peeks into our pan. “What are you cooking?”
We exchange a look. Well, everything that looked good at the market and didn’t come in plastic…
“Aha, DIY food!” he names it. All right.
Do we do anything but eat?
Why, yes, we fold gauze, for example.

First thing in the morning, I carry the reptiles out to the balcony, where they can catch some sunlight and sometimes walk around freely, as they can’t fall down. The cat with chronic kidney disease gets his IV fluids. We feed the rabbits and in the bathroom, perform fly tests with the pigeons. Those who pass (and aren’t pets, obviously), are released back into freedom from the rooftop. I go downstairs, but all the lights are off. So we fold gauze.
Back downstairs: A squirrel monkey is here for a check-up. One guy wants to know the gender of his green-cheeked cornure, which requires a genetic test. There is a rabbit for dental treatment and a hedgehog to get dewormed. A prairie dog for vaccination. It’s not too busy, so we have time to watch the bearded dragons and play with Chiro, the cockatoo. He has a behavioral disease and needs some human contact. He looks up when I come into the room and jumps onto my arm as soon as I open his cage. There, he seems quite content.
On the day before my last, Dr. Golf seems to have given his employees a talk, for suddenly, they let us administer drugs and call us to see procedures. We practice to draw blood and examine teeth in rabbits and get a short course in the handling and examining of reptiles and blood sampling in birds.
Or we have to watch the rabbit in the “Rabbit Playground”.
But if nothing happens anymore, we always have that gauze, waiting to be cut and folded into the pieces you see in the doctor’s office. This seems to be the most popular assignment for Thai interns. Well, somebody has to do it.
And then, of course, there are some snacks. Spicy banana chips for example, that are called “banana break broken” in Thai. Because once you’ve tasted them, you can’t stop eating.

This is the clinic's ghost house. We asked the ghosts for permission to stay here, and so far, they haven't done any harm.


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