STUDY TOUR TO MONGOLIA , THAILAND AND LAOS 2003
We had arranged a dinner with Curtin’s Alumni and this was a great success. Tserekhand Byambadash had arranged for Curtin’s Mongolian graduates to come to the Brau Haus and we all had fun as we discussed what each alumnus was doing. There were two recent Curtin graduates present: Anna Greer who was a 2002 Australian Youth Ambassador and Emily Miller who had recently commenced an AYA placement with the Health Department. Students were willing to try the yak cheese and horse meat. Not so the Tour Leader who has had an affiliation to horses in a past life.
Next morning Tserekhand Byambadash, a graduate from Curtin Business School gave an excellent introduction to the students about the geography and socio-political and socio-economic situation in the country. …
STUDY TOUR TO MONGOLIA , THAILAND AND LAOS 2003
For a while there were doubts that this study tour would go ahead because of SARS and terrorism. Luckily SARS was controlled and the Executive Dean gave approval for the tour to Mongolia, Thailand and Bangkok to occur.
There were 15 people went on the tour – two staff plus 13 students (five study abroad plus seven students from Curtin University undertaking nursing, health promotion and international health and international development).
The tour commenced in Bangkok over a weekend with a couple of days of tourism before flying to Beijing for a day preparatory to departing on the Trans Siberian Express to Ulan Bator in Mongolia. In Beijing we had a talk from the Australian Embassy mainly about the Chinese Government and Health System and very little about Mongolia. Their excuse was they didn���t know we were coming despite prior arrangement through DFAT in Australia who also arranged our other Embassy visits in Bangkok and Vientiane. (Comment: These briefings are excellent and give a quick and frank overview of the politics and socio-economic situation in each country. A week later I received a phone call asking why we hadn’t turned up for our Embassy visit in China so I guess it was written down for the wrong day).
We spent one day looking at Tienamen Square and despite the cold weather, we were besieged by street sellers of kites, knick knacks and trivia. Many kites were purchased after heavy bargaining. The Forbidden City appeared endless to some of the students and again we were assailed by some very persistent and rude street sellers. Our guide appeared to be incapable of protecting us from such people and was not very forthcoming with commentary about the tourist attractions. We celebrated Miranda’s Birthday at an Italian restaurant in Beijing after having purchased a fancy birthday cake. The Downtown Holiday Inn was adequate however some of the staff were extremely rude. The Italian Restaurant that we went to for Miranda’s Birthday was at another Holiday Inn where the staff appeared much nicer however the taxi rides to and from the Hotel were somewhat difficult. This doesn’t auger well for a city that wants to hold the Olympic Games.
One of the highlights of the study tour was the train trip from Beijing to Ulan Bator. It was a 30 hour trip under very comfortable conditions in four berth compartments. It firstly was a great bonding experience for all the students and secondly was a wonderful way to see the countryside starting with outer Beijing, the Great Wall of China and then the Steppes, the Gobi Desert and then finally Ulan Bator. One unsavoury incident was the theft overnight from one of our students of US$300 from her bag. Her bag was found in the morning in her room but contents including her credit cards were outside the cabin. Unfortunately it took 6 hours to cross from China into Mongolia which entailed a two hour change of wheels in a shed (can’t use the toilet in here) as the track width changed plus endless visits from Customs, Immigration and Health officials from both China in the first instance and then Mongolia. Luggage was searched, visas and passports checked and health officials wearing masks even used infra-red lasers to check our foreheads for SARS. It would have been easy to lose personal items during all these checks because towards 2.00 am, we were handing over passports with our eyes shut as we tried to sleep.
In future I would appoint a cabin monitor whose job would be to manage all the passports etc as officials came into one’s cabin. In my cabin, I was the monitor while the other three slept so there was no way we could have lost anything from our cabin.
We arrived in Ulan Bator in the afternoon and were collected by our Guide from SSS Travel. I found out later that they mainly run environmental tours. Our Guide Chagi and driver were really excellent and just so willing to make our trips comfortable. Chagi works fulltime at the Lotus Children’s Orphanage and was helping out her friends who run the Environmental tours. The temperature on arrival was about -20 degrees which required some adjustment from Thailand’s +35 degrees.
We had arranged a dinner with Curtin’s Alumni and this was a great success. Tserekhand Byambadash had arranged for Curtin���s Mongolian graduates to come to the Brau Haus and we all had fun as we discussed what each alumnus was doing. There were two recent Curtin graduates present: Anna Greer who was a 2002 Australian Youth Ambassador and Emily Miller who had recently commenced an AYA placement with the Health Department. Students were willing to try the yak cheese and horse meat. Not so the Tour Leader who has had an affiliation to horses in a past life.
Next morning Tserekhand Barambash, a graduate from Curtin Business School gave an excellent introduction to the students about the geography and socio-political and socio-economic situation in the country.
During the brief stay in Mongolia, we were able to visit a Maternal and Child Hospital where we could see how they were experiencing acute shortages of basic equipment including heart monitors and even suction pumps for removing fluids from chest or abdomen and there were no disposable syringes and needles.
We visited an orphanage where we learnt about the poverty of the people, why thechildren were abandoned and became street kids, why there were so many twins in the orphanage and looked at the work being undertaken by Ananda Marga Australian nun Didi Kalika at the Lotus Children’s Centre. The Centre has a nursery funded by AusAID and recently set up a primary school for orphanage and local children. We chatted with the teacher in charge Paul who is formerly from Yarrawonga in Victoria.
We also visited the Dolma Ling Monastery where an Australian Buddhist nun and nurse Jinpa, has set up a soup kitchen for children and adults. We were privileged to be able to see her staff and volunteers working with these people who had very few clothes and little food in the -30 degrees temperature.
A visit to the Health Department Health promotion unit where Emily Miller, our Australian Youth Ambassador is working, was worthwhile. We learn about the top causes of death which are heart disease, liver cancer, accidents/injury and yet the immunisation rate for children under 5 is about 98%.
The group were able to visit the Black Market, Stupas, Monasteries, the Museum and look at real dinosaur skeletons originating from the Gobi Desert and stay overnight in a Ger which is the traditional Mongolian house. In addition we were able to visit the Terelj National Park where the students rode Mongolian horses or two-humped camels in the snow.
Bangkok was the next stop where we met the Consul at the Australian Embassy who gave us an excellent overview of Thailand politics and the socio-economic situation.. The afternoon involved a trip to Chulalongkorn University where there is some interest in working with Curtin. Chula has developed a an excellent problem based learning Master of Public Health taught in English.
We then visited Sister Joan of the Sisters of Mercy. She provides milk for babies under 12 months. Breast feeding is rare there and the babies normally only get breast fed for a couple of weeks to a month before being placed on a rice milk diet (when one boils rice, scum comes to the surface and it is this scum with added sweetened condensed milk that is used as milk). Needless to say, the children’s teeth are rotten. She then took us on a ���tour��� of the Klong Toey slums. On previous study tours we have visited Father Joe who works with HIV/AIDS patients.
Next on the agenda was the Association for the Promotion of Women and a Rape Crisis Centre. This was amazing since it was on prime land and also had a health clinic for babies. There was an enormous sports complex for teenagers. Money for this had been donated from many sources including from former President Jimmy Carter.
A visit to Bumrungrad Hospital which is like a five star hotel and which is listed on the Thai Stock Exchange, provided a sharp contrast to the visit to the Klong Toey slums and to the Hospitals we had visited in Mongolia.
The final country visited was Laos and we commenced our tour in Vientiane. We met with the Ambassador Jonathon Thwaites who gave us an overview of economics and politics Laos however did point out that Australia has had continuous diplomatic relations with Laos for 52 years despite our involvement in the Vietnam War. We also had talks from the third consul who presented a socio economic viewpoint and an Australian doctor who had two years earlier been with RFDS in Kalgoorlie. He gave us an excellent overview of health in Laos.
Visits to the Macfarland Burnet Institute on HIV/AIDS, the Laos-Luxemburgh Provincial Hospital about 90 kms from Vientiane and the Center for Malaria Research Control and to the Center for Amputees and the School of Health for Nursing, Pharmacy and Biomedical training is undertaken, gave us an overview of some health aspects in Laos. The use of insecticide impregnated mosquito nets seems to have been the major reason why the infection rate of malaria has dropped from 16% to 0.2% in less than ten years. The number of amputees requiring prostheses is very high with more than 600 people annually losing a limb due to unexploded ordinances left over from when the US planes dropped their payload of bombs on Northern Laos. The health recording systems seemed to be very poor and there is a need for a good recording system for diseases etc.
The Laos PDR Museum had an excellent section on their recent history including the “invasion” of the country by the US troops during and following the Vietnam War. The study tour then went to Luang Prabang which is a wonderful place in which to conclude a study tour. It is charming and has so much to see including the Mekong River, lots of mountains, waterfalls and villages. A visit to the Royal Palace Museum enabled the students to appreciate some of the history of the country. The furniture and decorations in the Royal Palace were very ornate.
It was a very successful study tour made more so by the great group of students we had. They worked well together and were exceedingly interested in the places arranged to provide an insight into health in these countries. They also learnt much about cross cultural communication whether it was when they were bargaining for gifts, talking with our excellent guides or with the health professionals we met along the way. Learning about keeping receipts when you have purchased a brass Buddha is important especially if one buys in the Black Market. You can expect to be accosted when your bags are x-rayed to check if prized icons are being spirited out of the country. Things that I learned on the tour about underdeveloped countries are that many places don’t take credit cards so one needs quite a bit of cash. Even though the USD is declining, it was much preferred to the Aussie version. ATMs and EFPOS are non existent in Laos and almost so in Mongolia. They all want USD,
Most of the learning on such trips occurs not in the formal programs but informally. It occurs when one orders local food at the restaurant. It is trying out horse meat and yak milk, it is speaking with the locals, it is living in a ger, albeit for one night, it is observing the children, where they sleep, the sorts of clothes they wear. It is from bartering in markets and it is from smiling at locals and being smiled at in return. It is working out currency exchanges. Students got as much out of the trip as they put into it.