My Afternoon as a Social Welfare Case: Treating my Eye Infection in a Thai Hospital

After three months working in Thailand and paying the premium of about $20 per month, I was given my “social insurance card” which entitles me to treatment at one of the local public hospitals.   I did not have a chance to do any participant-observer until yesterday though when for the second day I woke up with an eye infection. With diagnoses of Zika Virus dancing my head (put there by my daughter, I might add), I had to make a decision. Do I go to the hospital with my new card and endure the lines of the unwashed that some expatriates warned me about, or do I go to a private clinic where the wait lines are shorter, and come up with the ten or fifteen dollars or so such a visit usually entails?

By way of explanation, Thailand for the last ten years or so has a system of national health care such as the type I am now enrolled in. This was implemented by a former government, and is none as the “30 Baht Plan.” Every Thai is enrolled in the program (as well some of the foreigners who work here), and the guarantee is that if you show up at a public clinic, your cost will be no more than 30 Baht, i.e. a little less than $1. The succeeding governments have kept this program through elections, and coups. It is very popular with the rural and urban poor who otherwise cannot afford medical care. This was the program I was enrolled in.

So I decided to do the participant-observer thing, and go down to the public Lanna Hospital to get my eye checked. I went without an appointment because that is how medical care is dispensed in Thailand, whether you go to a general care office, or to a hospital. It is all kind of like the Emergency Room in the United States. No appointments necessary, as long as you arrive during business hours.

Anyway, I arrived at Lanna Hospital at about 11:30 on a Saturday morning, and after some searching, was sent to the line which in English is called the “Social Welfare.”. I will admit to feeling strange about this label—in English such labels are stigmatizing to someone of the middle class status to which I claim fealty. Social welfare, not me! Anyway, I reasoned to myself, this is just a bad translation of the Thai which is social insurance, not social welfare. In American English it is the difference between MediCare which is the system for all elderly and not stigmatized, and Medicaid which his for the poor, and is stigmatized.

So I swallowed my pride, and accepted the ticket marked “Social Welfare,” and was sent to the fifth floor, and told to wait in a big waiting room with roughly another hundred people, none of whom looked like a white foreigner. Walking into the room, I tried to figure out where to sit, when I was approached by a nurse’s aide within about 30 seconds:

     Are you Anthony Waters?


     Yes, how did you guess?

Come over here. I was weighed, my blood pressure taken, and asked about my symptoms in Thai. And then I was told to wait between door 1 and door 2—my name would be called, eventually.

And I was finally called. I went into an office where a doctor was sitting behind a desk. She smiled, and asked in English about my problem. I showed her my eye, and she examined it with a light. “Virus,” she said. No bacterial infection yet, though. I will prescribe an anti-bacterial agent as a prophylaxis, and some eyedrops to keep your eye moist. “If you still have a problem with your eye in 3-4 days, please come back to see me. In the meantime, you can pick up your prescription at the pharmacy next door.” She was nice, but efficient. I think I was in and out under five minutes.

More waiting. Then the pharmacist in called me. “Here are your prescriptions,” and he read off the English instructions about when and how to take the eyedrops. Medicine in hand, I left the hospital.

Now you are probably wondering what time this was. Well, I arrived confused at the hospital at 11:30, and I was driving out of the parking lot at 1:00 pm with my medicine, all of which was covered by my Social Welfare insurance. No co-pays, and even the parking lot charge was waived!

A Late Tribute to Workers

I had some fun on Labor Day last year. My husband and I went to a Billy Joel concert on the Saturday before Labor Day, and as I listened to the Piano Man sing some of my favorite songs, I realized, his concert was perfectly suited for Labor Day, given the tone of some of the music. So I woke up on Labor Day, and wanted to share some of my favorite working songs with my Facebook friends, then spent the next few hours digging up facts about workers, songs, and linking to YouTube. I felt like I was educating, in a way. Tony Waters even participated in the fun, and I realized sometime in late afternoon that my multiple posts on FB would be great for Ethnography. So, without further delay, I’ll share my Labor Day musical tribute with you. I hope you enjoy.

Click on the link under each entry to be taken to a video of each song.


In honor of hard working people everywhere, today, I’ll share some of my favorite songs about working.

Dolly Parton – 9 to 5

7:45 a.m.

Did you know that longshoremen have one of the most dangerous jobs in the US? Here’s a shoutout to fisher men and women everywhere.
Btw- this in concert Saturday night was amazing.

Billy Joel – The Downeaster Alexa

7:56 a.m.

Did you know? Coal miners are 6 times more likely to die on the job than the average private sector worker.

Tennessee Ernie Ford – 16 Tons

8:10 a.m.

Did you know? Between 1969 and 1996, the Steel Belt region of the US lost 33% of its manufacturing jobs. Here’s a shoutout to all those men and women working the line.

Billy Joel – Allentown

8:25 a.m.

Did you know? Long haul truck drivers average about 100,000 miles a year, which means they are away from their loved ones much more than the average worker, and they are much more likely to die in a vehicle collision. Of the over 2 million long haul drivers in the US, about 700 a year die in crashes.

Kathy Mattea – 18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses

8:27 a.m.

Our favorite trucker song. Here’s a shoutout to all the big rig drivers delivering our food, clothing, household goods, cars, and toys.

C.W. McCall – Convoy

8:51 a.m.

Did you know? When a big box retailer comes to town, independent retailers are more likely to go out of business and unemployment increases because big box stores don’t employ the same number of employees as the displaced workers. Also, wages are lower at big box stores, compared to independent retailers, and cities and towns lose tax revenue for years after a big box comes to town.
Here’s to all the local, independent small business owners out there.

Alan Jackon – Little Man

9:48 a.m.

Did you know? There are just over 2 million farms in the US today, down from almost 7 million in 1935. Most farmers can’t survive on the profits of the farm alone so they either sell the farm, or go to work full time somewhere else, then tend the farm after they get off “work.” Less than a third of farmers in the US today have a family member who plans to take over the farm in future generations (For more on American farming, click here).

This is a shout out to all the farmers who toil in the earth, who feed Americans and the world with their labor.

John Mellencamp – Rain on the Scarecrow

9:51 a.m.

In the words of Paul Harvey: A shout out to farmers on this Labor Day.

Paul Harvey – So God Made a Farmer

10:02 a.m.

Did you know? There are over 2 million active and reserve military men and women working all around the world to protect and serve you today?
Here’s a shout out to the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and National Guard, both active and reserve, for your work today and every day.

John Michael Montgomery – Letters from Home

10:14 a.m.

Did you know? The greatest power ballad (don’t question me on this, just go with it) is also a working song?
Shout out to all of the traveling working men and women, whether you are musicians on the road for months on end, or weekly commuters away from home, this one’s for you.

Journey – Fathfully

10:23 a.m.

Did you know? The average American worker works 47 hours per week.

Article: The 40 hour workweek is actually longer

Alabama – 40 Hour Week

10:29 a.m.

Did you know? Country music used to be about the lives of people who grew up in rural America….
I learned a lot about how other people lived their lives from country music. I didn’t know what cotton picking was, but became interested due to this song. I never would have questioned what it was had it not been for Alabama. There’s not much harder farm work than cotton picking; the South’s wealth was largely built on cotton fields and poor people who scraped and scrimped every fluff of cotton to make ends meet.

Alabama – High Cotton

10:33 a.m.

And for all the families of long haul drivers.

Randy Owens (Alabama) – Roll On

11:23 a.m.

An ode to working housewives everywhere. And yes, this is for the women out there. Sorry guys who stay home and raise the kids: you’ve got my respect, but you’ve never been in this position of pregnant and taking care of several children.
BTW- Tony Waters, this is another Shel Silverstein classic.

Loretta Lynn – One’s on the Way

Happy Labor Day to you all!


Originally Posted at, Septembe4 10, 2015.

Free Bikes, Free Enterprise, and Other Theories to Teach Poor Kids that “There ain’t No Free Lunch!”

During my second year as teaching-principal at a small rural school, the district school board hired a new superintendent, Joe Hanfield. He focused on organizing resources and curriculum and this resulted in a kind of coherent simplicity that I still appreciate. Joe also brought a leadership element that I had not seen in public school before. This leadership was in the form of a kind of moral slogan for the entire school community and especially for the children. His was, “Do Right!” It was short, eliminated any long lists of useless rules so cherished by some and engaged the students in a way I had not seen since arriving at the poverty-afflicted district. Teachers and principal alike could talk to children about their goals and behavior always starting or concluding with the question, “Are you going to ‘Do Right?’”

At the end of the year, the board promoted me to full principal at a larger elementary school based on Joe’s recommendation. My two-year experience as a teaching principal at a 7 classroom school apparently made me the best selection of all the many candidates! (In retrospect, it was probably because I was also the cheapest applicant). But still, I got the job with a modest raise. And I got my own school where I proudly wore my brogues (decision making shoes), grey slacks, blue blazer and power-necktie signaling my rank and importance to the entire community. Wherever I encountered unruly children or parents I could always ask, “Do you think we are ‘Doing Right?’” passionately guiding conversations towards positive outcomes.

The board members were very proud of their new superintendent. They had worked hard to hire him since they saw he was a principled man who got things done. But the board also had moral principles they wanted taught to the children. And these principles were not in the typical state textbooks and certainly not in the cafeteria where a great majority of the kids were served free or reduced price breakfast and lunch paid for by the federal government to help alleviate childhood malnutrition.

The entire idea of ‘free lunch’ was anathema to the principled small business owners who served on the school board. Instead they valued rugged individualism, hard work, self-reliance and American free enterprise. No free lunch! How could they, in good conscience teach kids that they could literally get a “free lunch?” After all, someone had worked to earn the money to pay the taxes that paid for the “free lunch.” How would the kids learn that success came from work, not from “free lunch?” Anything less would be raising kids to be state dependent failures thus betraying the great and unique national legacy of wealth creation in the USA. In the school world, this school board perspective translated to fund raising as a part of the curriculum; especially the kind of fundraising in which the kids were deeply involved, where they would learn their lesson about self-reliance and entrepreneurship.

Joe got this message loud and clear. We met about many things but he saw this topic as very important and directed me to quickly implement a fundraising program. The first hundred days of a new superintendent’s term are important and a home run early would really help him find next superintendent’s job at a larger and higher status district. And luckily, Joe had just the program for me.

I told him about the chocolate sales program at my previous school that was successful because the margin was high and the cost for prizes for the children who sold the most chocolate was very cheap. The problem was that the chocolate melted, and for many of the kids and families in poverty, the temptation to eat the chocolate or keep the money they got from selling it was too great. I saw more, and more volatile problems occurring at my new school from duplicating the chocolate sales program that was so successful at my smaller school.

Not to worry, Joe shared. He knew of an incredible Music Teacher from the Bay Area who had been laid off in the same economic downturn that inspired our board members to focus on the development of rugged individualism, self-reliance and entrepreneurship. This former music teacher was a genius at sales and could organize our kids to bring in as much as $5000 profit in a short, week-long fund raising campaign. I felt a few twinges of conscience about this kind of project but quickly put them aside. The prospect of getting so much money for our playground in such a short time was great. Anyway, I already had a goal for the money. The parent club and teachers had prioritized our future spending and agreed that a concrete track or mini roadway within the playground for kindergartners and first graders to ride their trikes on was to be the purpose of our fundraising.

The laid off music teacher, Randy Long was at my school the following week to meet with Joe and me and go over the entire program. His program beat the chocolate sales in many ways. Most importantly, there was nothing to sell that would melt, and the kids turned in checks or cash from canvasing their neighborhoods daily. They would sell magazine subscriptions and a catalog of other items imported from Hong Kong such as plastic Christmas candleholders or lovely flowered ashtrays or toys. These items had been carefully selected for high profit margin and popularity even though they were cheap enough for people with little money to buy. Randy would lead an assembly to motivate the entire school to get involved and explain the program.

Most importantly, Randy pointed out, the success of the entire process was based on my ability to get a great parent club mother to lead and manage the effort. And furthermore, Randy knew how to find this person. He called it. “The Thigh Theory of Management.” This meant I was to look for the mother who was attractive, but most important, a mother with good thighs. The thighs were a sign of sexiness and youth. Randy explained that the woman who possessed the beautiful thighs was in charge of herself. This kind of woman came back from pregnancy with self-discipline and a strong ego so her husband would not be tempted to bolt for greener pastures, as Randy said many did. If I could find this kind of woman to manage our fundraiser, he could guarantee I would net at least $5000.

Eagerly, I shared that we had just the mother he described. As a matter of fact, the paper had just written a big story about Susan in the weekly ‘human interest’ section and I showed it to Randy. The reporter described her background. A college degree in business, marriage to a successful husband, two beautiful children, purchase of a new house in the new middle class subdivision and her part time work in the local financial area of mortgage brokering. Most importantly, there was a photo of her with her family.

I saw a beautiful woman who fit the title of the story, “SuperMom.” She was tall, thin, yet shapely, always impeccably dressed, fashionably coiffed, showered people with her captivating smile, her mellifluous voice, and beneath the sheer of her skirt I could imagine, if not see directly, a pair of wonderfully shaped thighs.

Randy was stunned. “Sign her up quick, and I’ll do the rest,” he said. I called her and in a matter of a few minutes she agreed to help out, as befitted a SuperMom.

The ‘rest’ consisted of several meetings between Randy and SuperMom that I didn’t attend, as well as a school wide assembly in which I saw how Randy had become an incredible salesman. I loved school wide assemblies since it was an opportunity to tell kids about and recognize those who through their deeds followed our school motto to “Do Right.” The school board liked this, too, since it enhanced our development of young future citizens, and brought us more tightly together as a school community. The children sang the school song and most importantly learned how to listen and behave in a large group, no small accomplishment. We then normally moved on to the topic of the assembly such as a student play, the high school band, the fire department on home escape routes, or something else helpful. I wasn’t really prepared for the assembly that would introduce these kids to American free enterprise, self –reliance and rugged individualism.

The students filed in and sat on the floor of our multi-purpose room (cafeteria, lunch room, auditorium and gym) not knowing what the surprise assembly would bring. Randy began with music, singing with hand clapping, soft and loud. He also had a short movie and a motivational talk that focused on the prizes they could win by selling the most of the products. First prize was a girl’s or boy’s bike and he displayed one so all could see. Utilizing his music background he led the kids in a responsive chant that further increased their excitement.

“Do we love our school?”

“Yes!” shouted the kids, “We love our school!”

“Do we love our playground?”

Again they shouted, “Yes, we love our playground!”

“Do we love new bikes?” Randy pointed to the shiny new bike.

“Yes, we love new bikes!!” they cried in chorus.

And finally, “Does anyone here love money?”

And the kids shouted back, “Yes, we love money!”

And Randy threw out into the mass of kids play money bills taped one end to the next so they flew in streamers across the adoring and excited faces of the children.

“And you will earn money for your school!” shouted Randy. “Money, Money, Money!”

The kids shouted back, “Money, Money, Money!”

Back in class the last 30 minutes of the day were dedicated to passing out sales materials and a short sales training talk by the group of parents that SuperMom had recruited. Teachers were to collect the money that came back each day and encourage selling first thing every morning for a week when the parent helpers would collect. With that, the fundraising program was launched.

By the end of the week, as promised we had reached our goal of $5000 profit. I was amazed that this community had that much disposable income. Randy told me of course they did, since the fundraiser started at the beginning of the month when paychecks or welfare checks came in. He knew his business.

A little girl whose mother worked on the fundraising committee won the bike. She brought it proudly to school to the envy of the other kids, and school board members made a special trip to our campus to congratulate her on being the hard working, rugged individualist winner in this important school-wide exercise in free enterprise.

Joe and I had a beer with Randy to celebrate the success of the fundraising drive. I mentioned I owed a lot to our Supermom on whom so much had depended. Without missing a beat, Randy chimed in, “Best piece of ass I’ve had in a long time.”

Joe, the superintendent choked on his beer and cried out. “What? You screwed our Supermom?”

“Well, yeah,” said Randy. “That kind of goes with the territory.”

“Oh, shit,” said Joe, seeing his leadership and reputation crumbling in what could be the wake of a scandal. “You asshole!” he cursed at Randy.

“Don’t worry,” Randy reassured him (and me). They never tell about these one night or one afternoon stands, and I keep their secrets.”

So Randy blew out of town a huge success. Supermom told me the sales had actually topped $15,000 and Randy’s cut was about $7500 a few weeks later. She told me that she felt the project had been a wonderful addition to the school activities; and also that I should try to get Randy to come back again for a repeat performance. Joe continued to be nervous about the fact that Randy and Supermom had given free enterprise a new meaning but after a few months, there was no hint of scandal, the concrete roadway for trikes was installed and the school board began to talk about the next fundraiser.

Originally posted on June 5, 2016, at