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Saturday, May 21, 2011


Traditional medicine

I have been asked by a friend for information on my experience with traditional medicines. As there are a few, I decided to write it as a blog. May be useful information for others too.

As a traveller I try to keep the weight of my packs down as much as possible. So I don't carry this stuff unless I believe in it. There are medicines I started using in Australia that I can't easily find in Asia so whenever I return to Australia I top up my supply.

Cold sores don't seem to bother me much these days but if they do, I always have tincture of calendula handy. Even in Australia this is not easy to find. I pick mine up from a pharmacy in Stones Corner, a Brisbane suburb. The pharmacist keeps it in stock for his wife (and me). Tincture of calendula is antiseptic but apparently has healing qualities too. If I get it onto a cold sore as soon as I feel the first itch it doesn't go any further. It's also good for mouth ulcers if you can stand the taste. I use it on any little skin sores or cuts too. When I was first working at Mahasarakham University a few years back I had friends teaching in the pharmacy department. They checked to see if it was available in Thailand. It wasn't.

If I have dry lips or any other minor skin irritations I dab on some pawpaw ointment. Never seen it anywhere but Australia.

I also carry tea tree oil as a general disinfectant for cuts and scratches.

I use citronella oil as an insect repellant. You have to reapply it regularly but it doesn't do any harm as far as I know. In the past I've brought this from Australia too but recently I picked some up in Penang at a much better price than I pay in Australia. I can also get it here in a spray pack for household use but I've never been able to find out if this product contains any other ingredients.

Years ago I started using rock deodorant in Australia. It too is an antiseptic and can be used in the early stages of cold sores or on other cuts such as from shaving. I've discovered I can pick up this product more cheaply in Asia than Australia. It is readily available in markets in Thailand. It's cheaper still and in a much rawer form in Cambodia.

I sometimes get skin rashes which seem to respond to nothing. Once when travelling with some friends in the southern part of Thailand we visited a hospital where they offered natural therapies to outpatients—mainly traditional Thai massage. They were selling a preparation that was suggested might help my rash. It did but somehow I lost the container. In those days I couldn't read Thai and I never knew what it was called. I've never found it again.

I have tried traditional Thai massage myself. Another Westerner teaching at Mahasarakham recommended a masseuse who practised it. My colleague highly recommended this person so I had her come and work on me many times until I had eventually to acknowledge that the treatment gave me more pain than I had without it. This made me quite wary of traditional massage (as against Western style massage). Recently while in Cambodia I was suffering from backache. There were a few massage places near where I was staying. I decided to give one a try. I thought I'd be able to explain that I wanted a Western-style massage but they spoke no English and my Khmer was very basic. The treatment was in some ways similar to what I'd had in Mahasarakham but in many ways different. The young woman who performed it was quite small and she even walked on my back. Yes at times it was a little painful but the end result was that I felt much better. I returned a few times. I've since had another massage in Thailand and this was something between what I had in Mahasarakham and what I had in Cambodia but no walking on the back. I'm pleased, she was quite a large woman. And once again it was OK. I felt better after the experience. Maybe the first woman was not doing a standard traditional Thai massage. Perhaps I'll approach traditional massage with a more open mind in future.

Other than as mentioned above, I have had very little to do with traditional medicines here in Asia. I know they are quite common and it is one of the courses available to students at Mahasarakham University.

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