Friday, January 30, 2015

Aligning the Flag of Five Elements

30 January 2015

 We've seen these flags around Vietnam, and I finally did a little research.  These are the flags of five elements, varying colors of concentric rectangles with flame-shape edges, and are usually hung outside temples, palaces, and such.  The five colors represent earth (yellow), water (green), fire (red), air (white), and space (blue).  Balancing these elements externally brings harmony to the environment.  Balancing these elements internally brings health to the body and mind.

My mind is holding up.  My body is sick - pneumonia.  Early stage, but it turns out my bacteria is mean and nasty and resistant to most antibiotics.  Our doctor, a nice man from the Toronto area, has been giving me mass IV antibiotics and checking my CBC, hoping we can blast out the bacteria while waiting for culture results.  The treat and test and hope to cure method of doctoring, which we all saw Dr. House use so skillfully.  (My doctor is nicer than Dr. House, but not as cute as Hugh Laurie.)

So the good news is that now we have a pretty good idea of the bacteria.  Bad news is it looks like the only antibiotic is IV.  Ugh.  So I'm trying to internalize and align the elements and bring about healing.  

The two options were to either do an outpatient thing, hanging around the medical center twice a day, getting my IV.  Or I could be checked into the center and stay there for the weekend.  Yeah, not happening.  We're doing outpatient.

It's a lovely medical center, with several treatment rooms (one with a special soft bed which I love!), very nice staff, and the people who insert the needles (ugh) are very good and gentle and have accepted that I have child-size veins.

Plus they bring cups of water or tea.  And today provided a menu from the deli across the street, who delivered our lunch.  Which wasn't on our bill, confusing us quite a bit.  (We need to check on this, but maybe this is their way of feeding patients?)

Anyway, when it isn't too busy the staff are chatty, and it's always interesting to ask our questions about the country we're visiting.  Usually our time talking to local people tends to be within the whole service or tourism industry, for obvious reasons.  Though we do strike up conversations with random people in cafés and such.

But it's interesting talking with the nursing and technician staff at this place, to get their perceptions of their country.  One young man worked with overseas doctors on a special project.  Today's conversation was about living standards in Vietnam, and the pursuit of education by lower-income people in the developing world.  As I said, interesting conversations.

Richard has mostly been either hanging out with me in the treatment room, or in the lobby which has much better chairs.  So he gets to meet and talk with other patients.  Today we met two nice young Danish travellers.  Medical centers are never where one hopes to end up while travelling, but at least we found a good spot for the situation.  And while this is not the situation we'd choose, well, we need to get me over this pneumonia thing, so we're just doing that and not worrying about anything else.  (Frustrating?  Of course.  Expensive, since we pay up front
and get reimbursed by insurance later?  Of course.  Worth getting upset about that?  Nah.  We're in Vietnam, it's way cool, and, well, this will be over soon.  Or eventually.)

Our side trip has been postponed for a few weeks (it's a cruise of Ha Long Bay, which is said to be phenomenal and absolutely worth the trek).  We'll book a few extra nights at a hotel, either this one or the one we'd be moving to after the cruise.  And that's about it.  We're catching up on email, writing, blogging, and lots of reading.  Not much else to do, with now twice daily visits to the med center.  (Plus I'm drinking tons of lemon tea, and trying to rest up.  You know, standard doctor's orders.  Chicken pho helps.)

Okay, so the photos are from the day I walked to the Vietnamese Women's Museum - I noticed this ceramics vendor that morning, and it was just wonderful watching her sell items as the cars and scooters zoomed around her.  Hanoi is getting ready for Tet, with new flowers being added to the flowerbeds around Hoan Kiem Lake.  There are all kinds of decorations being put up on light posts and over the streets - on the way to our medical place, they have baskets that look like they're made from red roses, with hanging greenery and red flowers.  Just lovely!  It's all very interesting, and decorative, and just pretty.

I really liked the big piles of fake yellow flowers - workers were putting them up around some posh department store or mall, and there were huge piles of giant yellow pompom sort of flowers (chrysanthemums maybe?) - but people were walking by, or driving by, and no one seemed to notice this wonderful and crazy scene.  They looked like drifts of cheerful yellow feathers blown up against the building.  I'll try to get back to get a photo of the finished decoration.

Another things we see often - abandoned flowers.  I nearly picked up these beautiful stargazer lilies - while I can see that they're beyond their prime, I think these flowers have several good days left.  I wouldn't toss them out in the street just because one or two have wilted; I'd deadhead those one or two, and continue enjoying the blossoms.  But we see this, flowers tossed as garbage, because they're no longer, well, perfect maybe?  We don't know.  I guess there are cultural differences in what floral perfection is, or why flowers are used.  All I can think is that if the flowers are on a shrine or at a temple, maybe they're supposed to be perfect.  Can't be anything less or it might be an affront to the deities and/or ancestors.  Thus maybe when flowers hit a certain point of beginning to wilt, they are replaced.  Sooner than we might replace them in our house.  (Only rationale I could come up with, since I haven't asked anyone yet.)

In a similar manner, the flowers around the lake are periodically pulled out and replaced.  It was fascinating to watch this crew of women hidden under their conical hats, replacing the flowers with poinsettias.  For Tet.  I'm not sure if poinsettias are a flower for Tet, or if they're used because of the deep red color which seems to be featured in the Tet decorations, or what.  Just, lots of red.  And then the small red flowers amongst all the greenery in the barely blue bags - just wonderful!
We'll hang out in Hanoi, finishing up the medical stuff.  Seeing more sites once I'm cleared to go out in public.  Eventually we'll get out to Ha Long Bay.

And I'll keep reporting in!



  1. gosh! Get well SOON! let us know if there is anything we can do. I don't know what it might be but we'll do it, what ever you ask/need. Try asking about ginseng. Very powerful herb used over there. xoxoxoxoxox

  2. Came upon this while searching for a place to buy Vietnamese Five Elements flags. Strangely, my husband and I were in a clinic in Hanoi in February--just for dehydration and food poisoning--not pneumonia. But I am struck by your experience. Did you make it to Ha Long? We were blown away by that "cruise." If you have any idea of how to buy those flags, do let me know!

  3. Hope you're better by now!

    The five elements flag are for sale in a few flag shops we've seen - up around Hoan Kiem lake, I saw a few shops selling both the Vietnamese flag and the five elements flag (around the north end of the lake). Ask around, I'm sure someone can direct you. I know, I'd love one too!

    Yes, we made it to Ha Long - wonderful trip!!!! Absolutely worth waiting for!