Asian medical care, air travel and the kindness of strangers

Last week we left Lombok, Indonesia (and a great travel adventure with the Grays) to head to Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.  It was a three-hour international flight on “Air Asia.”  Guess how much the flight was?  About $100 per ticket!  The flight itself was fine, but we were worried about Porter.

Porter in his “uniform,” with an earache (actually in Malaysia here)
The day before we flew out Porter developed a painful earache, and the local doctor was not in. So, we did some quick “internet-doctor-diagnosis,” and figured it was swimmer’s ear.  We read that Porter maybe should not fly – extreme pain and the possibility of a burst eardrum were both mentioned by  We decided to go for it, because $100 tickets are a bargain, but probably not transferable.



 We arrived at the airport, and asked if they had a chemist where we could buy some eardrops. We were swept to a table with two ladies in headscarves (Lombok is a muslim country). The two ladies eagerly plopped Porter onto a table and had a look at his ear.  They conferred in a mix of Indonesian and giggles.  They showed us a medication, antibiotic eardrops, and a quick Google search confirmed they were appropriate for swimmer’s ear.  They wouldn’t accept any money and had packets of snacks for everyone in the family to munch on while we waited.  They were lovely, and we felt well cared for.


Ten minutes later we were off through the labyrinth of security, check-in, re-security, and immigration.  Air Asia has a very clever business plan:  sell a very cheap ticket, but charge for everything else.  Even water.  When you reach the gate, they have you pass through a third security check point (no liquids allowed) to wait to board the plane.  The last waiting room has no food or water, so basically you develop a thirst for on-board products.

The flight was uneventful.  As we descended towards Kuala Lampur, I was worried about Porter’s ear.  We read that chewing gum and swallowing would help.  So, I approached a flight attendant to ask for a cup of water.

“Could I have some water for my son with ear infection who needs to swallow during landing?”  I asked.

“Yes, but you need to pay.” he replied.

“How much?”  I queried, slightly annoyed.

“One dollar.”  I offered him a $20 bill.  “No change.”

I offered him a 50,000 Rupiah bill (about $4).   “Only US money.”

I just stood there and repeated my original request.  He relented, and I got a cup of water. Luckily, the magic of those eardrops, chewing gum and a video game all contributed to a painfree landing.

A few days later, Amy took Porter to our friends’ Malaysian doctor – Dr. Perkosh.  Amy reported “nicest doctor visit ever.”  He was seated in the waiting room, ready to greet his patients.  He looked at Porter’s ear, prescribed meds, looked at Amy’s ear and a skin thing on Mia.  Amy said that he was playful, patient, engaged and never looked at a computer once.  He also allowed them to have a “multiple symptom”, multiple person visit.   Appointment total with meds about $20.

I always feel fortunate when we are in need, and and run into the kindness of strangers.  I am left to wonder, do I treat strangers so well?  I think I am considerate, but do I take the time to really encounter, and make a brief but meaningful relationship with them?  Things to ponder on the road…


Author: johnchesbrough

I am a dad from Bellingham, WA, excited to share our family adventure through Asia. I like to play in the mountains and wood, with my family, my dog, and with numbers.

10 thoughts on “Asian medical care, air travel and the kindness of strangers”

  1. So happy that poe’s ear did not explode over Asia! And I love you are considering your interactions with strangers. this is a good reminder to be intentional and really take the time to listen to people.


  2. We have and adopt a college student from Malaysia. We love him. We have several students at Linfield from Malaysia and my boss is actually Malaysian. Some day we will go! I have a student there now who went home for the holidays so if you need anything….I can get you in touch with their families. Keep having fun.


    1. Thanks Shannon. We ended up mostly hanging out with friends and eating. But I think there some cool things to do in Borneo. Also, kuala Lumpur is a perfect hub to adventure from – it is the hub for air Asia.


  3. Reminds me of when I got sick in Singapore. The hotel doctor came and prepared a whole “tea” regiment and something called “Black Chicken Soup” which was supposed to make your blood stronger. He was kind and gentle and not rushed in the least. I had the same experience when i visited my colleagues doctor while in the Netherlands. Sympathetic to the whole “I am in a foreign country and I need medical help” mind game. These experiences really do reinforce the view that people are basically good everywhere in the world. We just have to remember that ourselves when approached by those in need.


  4. What a coincidence John. One of my Crossroad ladies, from China, fell on an icy stair and got two hairline pelvic fractures a month ago and has been in bed since. Hearing that worried me and I visited her this morning with a nurse friend from church, who was able to get her to sit up for the first time, relax, work through the pain. We hope she will be strong enough to make her doc’s appointment next Friday – the church is great with offering walker and potty chair. Surely made my day. love ya, Mom


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