Sunday, January 29, 2006

Taj Mahal & the City of Lakes

Our fourth day of India. We've now seen the Taj Mahal, the ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri, ate at a dhaba (traditional roadside restaurant) in New Delhi, and today arrived in Udaipur, the city of lakes.

It's been fun imagining oneself living as royalty back in the glamour days of Fatehpur Sikri (Neil and I agreed that being the king there was probably more fun than being the emperor of China and stuck in the Forbidden City) or as a queen in the Garden of the Maidens in Udaipur. The garden was built for just the queen and her ladies-in-waiting back in the 19th century, but of course the king and his buddies would sneak in. Men.

We also hiked to a Hindi temple to the goddess of the mountain perched on top of a hill for a fantastic view of Udaipur. Lakes with white homes nestled in the plain, ringed by brown hills and mountains. We had a delicious vegetarian thali (Indian set meal) on the rooftop of a 180+ year-old haveli (royal residential home), enjoying the view of the Lake Palace and other structures along the shores of Lake Pichola.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

universal vs. luxurious health care

Mid-journey to my vacation in India, and taking in the advantages of the Thai Airways lounge as part of my ~5-hr layover in Bangkok.

While planning, I looked up the CDC's recommendations for travel health in India. Then I decided to find a travel doctor. The folks over at Chung Shan Hospital insisted to Neil that only kids need immunizations, and adults should just take reasonable sanitary precautions. Local Taiwanese scoffed that I, typical American, was being paranoid. I thought I should still try to see a doctor, so while booking an appointment online at my preferred hospital, Taiwan Adventist, I noticed they had a travel medicine clinic. Perfect.

The morning of my appointment, a nurse called to tell me that travel medicine was outside of the usual services covered under health insurances, and would require a registration charge of NT$700. Eek! A big jump from the usual NT$100-200, but still reasonable at about US$20. It's my health, so I decided to go for it.

Boy, was I surprised to find that travel medicine is under the Priority Care Center; I'd heard about the Priority Care Center from well-to-do expats who pay a premium to bypass the waiting in line under the normal national health coverage plan. You certainly get what you pay for. In the chic and comfortable waiting area, I saw nurses patiently speaking in Japanese to a sick Japanese child with his worried Mama, and another nurse speaking Taiwanese to an older gentleman.

I got over half an hour of my doctor's time. She was well prepared with recommendations from both the U.S. and Taiwan CDCs, and discussed with me the potential risks of both disease and side effects from medications. A nurse even went and got my prescription "just in case" travel medicines for me - no standing in line, woo!

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a polio booster (recommended by the CDC for all adults) because Taiwan carries only the oral kind (and the risks of infection by immunization are greater than my chances of getting it in India, especially since I was fully immunized as a child) or a typhoid vaccination (none available in the whole of Taiwan). Perhaps there's no stock because the costs of carrying it are too great compared to the endemic risksv relative to the country's public health goals.

This isn't to say that I'm unsatisfied with Taiwan's health care system - I think it's great. There is a lot of waiting and not much hand-holding, and a strong does of patient advocacy is required (doctors are under pressure to see as many patients as possible), but overall I've felt the care I've received to be competent, and most importantly, affordable. As far as I know, it's universal access to adequate healthcare (unlike the U.S.).

Again, my experience goes back to my observations of the U.S. as a land of extremes, with the majority obese and a handful of too-thin celebrities held up as models. Of top-notch medical research and techniques, and a huge number of people unable to afford health insurance. As for me, it's still nice to know that it's also possible to receive the kind of time-intensive, thoughtful care I got back at MIT Medical here in Taiwan.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

2005 in review

A picture is a thousand words, so here are photos from last year:

View from the mountains of Honeymoon Bay in Daxi, Ilan County.

Roadside images on the way to Daxi.

It's a do-it-yourself society here: no lifeguards patrolling about to rescue the foolish or the unlucky.

Rock climbing in Longdong, north of Daxi, on Taiwan's northeast coast.

With scenery like this, relaxing is easy in Santa Barbara wine country...

...especially with a picnic lunch on a deck overlooking the vineyards at Rusack Winery.

It's a good life.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Blessings for 2006!

A new year...eek! I still haven't finished developing my resolutions from last year, haven't written nor sent Christmas cards, and now the new year has always begun. At least there's nothing better than a warm bowl of oatmeal to start out a winter day:

Easy Weekday Morning Steel-cut Oatmeal

I prefer steel-cut oats, also known as Irish oats. These are the whole oats that have been chopped into pieces, and they have a chewier texture. I find the more common rolled oats (whole oats that are steamed, rolled, and then flaked) to be more gluey and not as toothsome. Although steel-cut oats take more time to cook, I've developed and easy and quick way of getting them done in the morning: using my rice cooker!

To serve 2 people, take a half-cup measure to scoop out the oats into the rice cooker bowl. You can also add a sprinkle of cinnamon or other spices at this time. I then fill the same measure with water, adding a total of 1 1/2 cups water, and then pop it into the rice cooker and turn it on. I do this first thing in the morning when I'm half awake, since no brain work is required, really. I then pad off to the bathroom and go about my usual morning routine, and by the time I'm dressed and ready to eat (about 20 minutes), my breakfast is done!

When you open the rice cooker, there will still be a fair amount of water on top. I just take my rice scoop and fold it into the oats and add raisins, dried cranberries, or other fruit. The excess water always gets absorbed, and then it's read to eat with milk and other goodies. Yum.