" These words were spoken in fragmented English by a tiny Thai woman dressed in a crisp white nurse's uniform, complete with a stiff little hat perched on top of her overly styled black hair, teased and sprayed to perfection. I looked down at the nurse, somewhat startled. I certainly had not expected to be permitted to see into the gruesome reality of taboo Thai culture. .
I had come to Lampang, Northern Thailand with nine other American students on my first of several community service programs to the country. By the time we reached the Kanyalyani hospital, we had already experienced our fair share of encounters with the peculiarities of the Thai people and their constant struggle "to keep face" for their country in the eyes of these young farangs (foreigners). Perhaps the reason the Lampang Kanyalyani hospital proved different was because they recognized the hospital lacking in superficial beauty to show off, I reflected, as I glanced at the peeling white walls of the hall, mold formations prospering in the damp corners, and then over to the disarray of rickety wooden chairs cluttered in the center of the cramped room full of sickly people, many of whom would not be treated for hours. "This OK?" confirmed the little nurse. I looked over to my friend, Alex, who was furiously nibbling on his fingernails, a sure sign that he too was nervous. We both nodded with false enthusiasm, plastering huge fabricated grins across our faces, a habit that we had acquired since arriving; a method for concealing emotion. I took Alex's hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze as we turned to follow our guide across a courtyard overrun with weeds and cluttered with piles of rocks, into a separate building. The sagging roof and high windows, splattered with mud, ( a far cry from the Four Seasons) was not a place I would want to wait to die. I took a deep breath, trembling with both fear and anticipation, and walked through the door that Alex held for me.