Bumrungrad Hospital

This post had been sitting in my drafts file for six months! I may as well finally publish it! ūüôā

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For the second year now, I have been lucky enough to have a full medical provided by the medical insurance that I have as part of my job. The small amount of money we get to actually go quite far in Asia and as well as having all the basics done, I always like to ask to have a few extras done, especially those nutrients that a vegan can be lacking. I headed on over to Bumrungrad¬†Hospital in Bangkok (because I just moved back here… YAY) early in the morning with an empty belly to get all my numbers done.

After lots of poking and blood work, I went back to the doctor and listened to the results. Here is our interaction, because I think it illustrates just how much many seeds that can be planted in such a short exchange.

Doctor: So your results are in. Your blood pressure is a little bit low but not low enough to require any treatment. Your BMI is excellent, calcium is fine, iron is a tiny bit low, but not enough to require any work to be done. B12 is good and your cholesterol is excellent.
Brighde: Great. Do you know why my numbers are so good?
Doctor: Why?
Brighde: Well, I have a family history of osteoporosis and high cholesterol, so I am quite sure the numbers being good is because I am vegan. Do you know what that is?
Doctor: No?
Brighde: Someone who eats only plants, like jeh. No meat, cheese, eggs, dairy, fish etc. You know, you should recommend eating this way to your patients who have heart disease. I think it would really help them.
Doctor: But, I think that it is really difficult. Even I cannot do that.
Brighde: Well, I agree with you, that at first it is difficult while you learn to eat a different way, but I want to know. What is worse? Having your chest cut open or eating vegetables?
Doctor: Hmm… Well, what about burgers? I would miss burgers.
Brighde: I can teach you how to make burgers that will be really tasty.
Doctor: Well, that sounds interesting. (She is being very polite while I am telling her how to do her job.)
Brighde: Can I have a piece of paper?

I scrawled down the names of some important films or books that she might like to peruse in her own time.

After our pleasantries, I left the office with a skip in my step knowing that I had planted some really good seeds in that interaction.

Today, I need to go an see her again to pick up the report, and I will be offering her a USB stick with my favourite health related movies which of course, she might watch.

Some other thoughts about this interaction is:

1. Why don’t doctors know more about the health benefits of eating a vegan diet? Well, I think part of this is just the few hours that doctors spend on nutrition in medical school?
2. Why are regular doctors prescribing such moderate and ineffective recommendations to heart disease patients which are rarely successful? I think an answer to this, is that they feel it is impossible to make such ‘drastic’ changes to THEIR lifestyle, surely their patients could not do it either.
3. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if hospitals had health coaches in them, that were covered by insurance that would give the sick people all the help they needed to live a plant-based lifestyle, eg cooking lessons, supermarket trips, counselling etc? Bumrungrad does have a ‘nutrition program and weight management area’ which I must find out more about, but I bet it is not what I have just described.

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What is Mercy Release?

This image is taken from a Scientific American Slideshow.

I’ve now been living in Asia pretty consistently for 10 years now. I have been lucky to spend decent lengths of time in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia (and although not in Asia, I have spent a year in France and also Morocco).¬† The first five years were spent tour-leading for a company that focused on trips that were considered culturally appropriate, fun and low impact. I spent much of my time having local interaction with the local people, taking my clients to local restaurants. markets, temples, taught them a bit of language and I have to say, I really enjoyed it It was during that time, that I started to doubt my vegetarianism values. As I have discussed on my Story of Transformation post, I really felt that ¬†not eating animals and participating in some of the activities that were such a significant part of culture, I was somehow disrespecting the practices of the locals. For more selfish reasons, I thought that I was perhaps missing out on so much by not eating an ‘authentic’ Tom Yum Goong with the shrimp inside rather than having it with mushrooms instead.

Fast forward a few years, I am now a committed vegan, and because of my interest in other cultures and traditions relating to animals, I was fascinated to learn about mercy release today and also completely shocked by it.

Anyone who has spent any time in Asia, will be familiar with the concept. It’s a Buddhist tradition and involves the release of captive animals. Buddhists will release animals as a way to gain merit. The origin of this centuries old tradition is the idea that spontaneous acts of kindness and compassion will mean something when judgment day comes.

I have posted about religious reasons for using animals just last year when I wrote about Eid Al Adha ‚Äď which is the ritualistic slaughter of an animal at the end of the fasting month.

I have recently found out a lot more about mercy release and like most traditions (cultural or religious) that we practice today that involve animals, the origins of those traditions were started out of necessity, but today have become a commercial operation and / or are no longer necessary.

I myself have witnessed mercy release in my wanderings around Asia in the few years in the following places.

  • In the lead up to Tet (Vietnamese New Year) when fish are released in to bodies of water (that is often not the cleanest it could be).
  • Walking through the streets of Bangkok, there will be people walking around with cages full of finches. The vendor will gesture to tourists and of course to anyone who will pay the money to come over the release the birds.
  • In Thai temples (of which I visited sooooo many in my tour-leading days) there are often vendors who will sell the opportunity to release animals (often birds, turtles and eels) to those who are visiting. Of course, Buddhists who are coming to the temple are in merit-making mode and will often participate in this. Tourists often do this too. Of course, all those little animals in small cages, of course we want to let them¬† go.

I have to admit, that until just a couple of hours ago, I had little idea about this industry. I don’t think I have ever participated in it even in my tour-leading days. I heard rumours from other tour leaders that the animals are often recaptured. I have to admit, I wondered how an animal could be captured twice (What terrible luck!) and wondered if this was THAT bad, but at the same time, there were a heck of a lot of these animals in the cages. I probably should have found out more, but you know‚Ķ I never got around to it.

Well, I just found out a whole lot more in one of favourite animal rights podcasts, Our Hen House. There were interviewing Iris Ho from Human Society International who was interviewed about this issue.

Some of the incredible takeaways from learning about this issue are:

  • In Taiwan, there are 200 million animals that are ‘mercy released’ a year. I cannot imagine how many animals go through this fate altogether considering China is a country that also practices Mercy Release. Considering these animals are trapped from the wild or bred in terrible conditions, this is an almost unbelievable.
  • The animals are often transported long distances and suffer incredible stress. Many die during this process or shortly after release. They are released in places that are not native to the animals there so there can be considerable environmental impacts.
  • The animals are trapped and the traps are often not checked for a long time. Many die before they are even collected by the trappers. Many can be injured during this trapping process.

To hear the podcast interview, listen here from 28:24  for about 20 minutes.

For a snapshot of the issue, here is a video that has been produced by HIS. It’s in Chinese, for the Taiwanese communities. Please take a few minutes to find out about more about mercy release.

The idea of showing compassion towards animals to gain merit is certainly a noble one. I would like to suggest that very often these traditions and rituals have become involved in ego, rather than about what the actual message was about when the tradition started. Here’s a few examples.

  • At Christmas it’s become about parties and gifts rather than peace and goodwill
  • Thanksgiving has become about Black Friday sales and gluttony rather than simple gratitude.
  • Eid el Adha has become about who has the biggest animal to slaughter (the rich will often have the bigger more expensive animal) rather than breaking fast and sharing meat with the poor in a time of scarcity where there wasn’t much food out there.
  • Kosher and halal slaughter ‚Äď the idea that the animal has to be fully conscious so that consumers could be sure that the meat was healthy has now become a reason NOT to stun the animal before slaughter.

There is plenty we can all do to raise awareness about this practice and practice alternative types of mercy release to gain merit whether you are Buddhist or not.

Things you can do.

  • Don’t participate in the practice and educate others about it. Support HSI’s work and share the information around your social networks and over the water cooler.
  • If you work in the tourism industry, please educate your passengers about this issue and ask them to not participate. Don’t visit temples that support this practice and explain why to the monks. I wish I had known more about this issue when I was tour-leading.
  • Even if you are Buddhist, you can still gain merit by spontaneous acts of compassion towards animals. Become involved with legitimate release of animals, like ones that have been rescued and then help release them back in to the wild (turtle release programs, cleaning animals after oil spills etc) or perhaps even better, help animals 3 times a day by NOT doing something! That’s right….. Not eating them! OK. It might not be looked on as favorably in your religious community, but if you are into pleasing the Gods, I am sure they will think your intentions ¬†will gain you loads more merit.

 

Rasayana with Friends

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Today, I headed to Rasyana Restaurant with some friends from work. I had mentioned the meet-up at the raw food restaurant¬†last weekend to some friends at work who always listen politely when I am going on and on about vegan food. Most people haven’t really heard of raw food and they were interested so as most of my university work is done, we decided to give it a try this weekend. We had a lovely time and as you can see the food is beautiful and nutritious and I think everyone enjoyed trying something a bit different becuase that’s how awesome and open-minded these lovely people are! Afterwards we headed to the supermarket where I showed them some of my weird and wonderful ingredients that I put in my food. I finished my super day with a special gift for me! I bought myself a waffle maker! Oh, Seb will be happy tomorrow morning at breakfast!

Raw Food Meet-Up

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Last Sunday evening, I went to my first meet-up in Bangkok. I have been meaning to come to this for a while, but you know… Life gets busy… I had actually only been to Rasayana once before and I just had some spring rolls. This was my first time eating a proper meal there and it was completely delicious. The company was very nice too and of course, it is always nice to speak to some fellow food nerds. I really like raw foods. I don’t think I’ll ever be a raw foodist, but I really love the grub and have a lot of respect for the creativity of the chefs.

There were some really interesting people there including Dimitri who I’d met briefly when Christy was here a couple of months ago. It is really nice to meet other like minded people. There are no meet-ups in Jakarta. I might start one. I liked the restaurant so much, that I am taking some of the people who are following my ‘weightloss plan’ there this Saturday.

Reasons to be Joyful

Life as an advocate for the animals can be challenging at times for many reasons. The emotional burden of knowing what happens to the animals can weigh heavily on our shoulders, the occasional jokes at our expense, the knowledge that quite a few people think of us as kooks… Well the list goes on. However, this sadness that I often feel is nothing compare with the joy I get from living my life according to my values of compassion and non-violence. Recently, however, I have had extra reasons to be joyful.

Backstep… The actual definition of an advocate is someone who:¬†‘argues for, supports or defends a cause’ and this is something I try to do everyday and my aim is to try to do this as effectively as possible in a way that will make people listen, reflect and consider the issues at hand.

While I will continue to always work on my communication, if I go out there with the intention of planting seeds and leave them to ¬†grow, then I will never be sad, upset or dispondant because that person I spoke to didn’t wake up and become vegan overnight. I try to plant seeds everywhere I go and I have had some seedlings grow and bloom. The most obvious ones are my amazing boyfriend Seb who became vegan shortly after I did. My younger brother and his girlfriend who spent 3 weeks at our house and were open enough to listen to abnother way of looking at things. I feel so happy to know that somehow I have played a small part in their change of heart towards animals.

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Recently though, I have had many reasons to smile. Some seeds that I have helped plant have sprouted and I wanted to acknowledge them here.

At my current place of work, I talk often about the health benefits of a high nutrient low calorie plant-based diet as a means to be incredibly healthy and lose weight. My line manager and friend took this challenge and has developed a real love for cooking. He brings in some of his delicious concoctions to work and he has lost lots of weight and he shares his knowledge with others the benefits of a losing weight this way. Following that success, I decided to write a weight loss guide which some of my circle and people at work have decided to give a try. Two women I work with have been following it, they even met up on a Saturday to cook up a Mexican feast.

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Their enthusiasm for eating and cooking this way is so inspiring. Another of my work colleagues is also following the diet plan. He has lost 5 kg in 12 days.

More good news… Our head of junior school has just given an assembly (with my help with resources*) on how to make a healthy plate. Consumption of fruit and vegetables in the school dining room doubled overnight. While much of it might end up in the bin, it is a fantastic start but lots more work to do.

My friend Heather all the way over in Vancouver has recently committed to try going vegan for a month. You can read about her story on the first entry of her blog. I love the fact that she is blogging so all her people can see her journey. Already she is planting seeds of her own. Good luck Heather. I hope this month goes well for you and whatever you decide to do after this month is over, I think you are amazing for being open-hearted and willing to try to make changes for those animals and the health of you and your family.

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Look at how joyful this vegan is!! Also, check out how ridiculous my cat Squeaky is!

*Scouring the internet for nutrition resources for children is terrifying. The amount that are sponsored by meat and the dairy industry is seriously alarming. I had to make my own resources.