Internal Heat and a Broken Stomach

Originally appeared in Chiang Mai City Life magazine


Buddhism teaches us that if we are going to be born then we must also accept that we will grow old, get sick and eventually die.  If you are retiring here then getting born and getting old you have already achieved.  Hopefully we can put off that last one for a while.  That just leaves getting sick.

Getting sick is part of the romance of traveling and living in a foreign country.  Thailand has some unique ailments and the Thai language has some very colorful words used to express them.  Here are a few Thai-specific illnesses (with their English translations) that you might encounter.

 Rawn Nai (internal heat).  I’m not sure what this illness really is but it is characterized by such diverse symptoms as heartburn and fever blisters.  The Thais feel you get rawn nai when you are out of balance.  One treatment is the liberal intake of a Thai herbal medicine called “yaa thaat”.  This is a mixture of sodium bicarbonate, rhubarb, peppermint, camphor, and 90% alcohol.  It seems to work, or at least if you drink enough of it you won’t feel any pain.

Ben Loam (to have wind).  This is a light headed, fainting feeling.  You usually get it when you are told bad news like your daughter tells you that she is going to marry a Farang.  It is treated by waving in front of your nose one of the hundreds of different kinds of inhalers for sale in the market.  If it isn’t treated quickly then you might suffer from Naa Muet (dark face).  This happens when all the blood drains from your face.  You see this illness on TV almost daily on the many Thai soap operas.  It is usually treated by fanning the afflicted while weeping and yelling out their name at the top of your voice.

Roke Pu Ying (women’s disease, a disease that men get from women) and Roke Pu Chai (men’s disease, a disease that women get from men).  There is a whole variety of these ranging from the merely bothersome to the very deadly.  In Thailand, if you do these two things you will remain fairly safe.  Whenever you are on a motorcycle wear a helmet.  At all other times wear a condom.

Tong Sia (rotten or broken stomach) aka Tong Dern (walking stomach) aka Tong Ruang (falling stomach).  Any world traveler worth his or her backpack will have lots of “poop” stories.  They are lots of fun to tell AFTER the fact.  The last time I had tong sia I had two unannounced Thai house guests.  We had nowhere for them to sleep so they had to sleep on the floor of our small one room cabin.  That night I had to climb around them twenty seven times to get to the bathroom.  With all my grunting and projectiling I don’t think that they got much sleep that night.  I know I didn’t. That will teach them to call first.  Sounds pretty funny to me, NOW.

If you are lucky and have a really bad case of tong sia you’ll wind up in the hospital ER where they will pump you full of morphine.  Now morphine will stop you right up and it gives you about as good a feeling as you can ever get, legally.

If you can’t get morphine then you might want to try this: Just let it flow.  Tong sia is a great, though somewhat taxing, 24 hour weight-loss program.  That night when I kept my two house guests awake I lost 10 pounds.