An Unusual Field Trip

Like many kids who are away at summer camp (like my nephew), I went on a field trip yesterday. Not on a canoe or a hike, not to a museum or aquarium; nope, I went to a hospital.

ajpix 006But wait a sec, this was not your run-of-the-mill regular Balinese hospital. No way. We gathered together, about 40 of us Ubudians, to journey ‘south’ for a visit to the spanking new, 6-month ‘old’ SILOAM Hospital on Kuta’s Sunset Road.  

What a journey it was. And I don’t mean just traveling in the kind of A/C powered mega-tourist bus that we are rave and rant about; nor the traffic and flooding waters that slowed us down considerably along the route (we’ve been having regular elephantine-sized downpours here the past few days!). I mean the tour we took of the premises, together with some incidental experiences and sights.ajpix 007rev

It began with a morning Powerpoint presentation at D and P’s house, when a trio of hospital staff – comprised of a European surgeon, an Australian marketer and Indonesian MD/Technical Advisor – showed up to introduce us to the first-quality treatment and latest technology, excellent customer service and patient care that we would enjoy at the hospital (paraphrasing the talk). It was every bit the presentation that one would expect to find in board rooms across corporatized under-managed healthcare facilities in America.

ajpix 009revThen, we traveled ‘south’ to Kuta. Amidst the surrounding fields, family compounds, traffic-clogged roads, even temples and ocean in the distance, lay this monolithic model of allopathic medicine.

From the moment the bus pulled up to the glass-doored Siloam complex, with security guards posted at either side of the entrance, we were accompanied everywhere. The whole place was nothing short of surreal:  All signage was exclusively in English; except for brochures placed on counter-tops and in wall-mounted plexi-glass units, I hardly saw anything written in Indonesian – let alone Balinese. On-site (attached) was a massive mall, complete with bookstore, cafe and underground supermarket. And a piano player.ajpix 012rev

Many uniform-clad employees shuffled around, and as is usual in Bali, most of them huddled in groups, seemingly with nothing to do, or preferring instead to chat and gossip as they so commonly do. When they were called on to greet us or show us around, a sudden interest coupled with obsequiousness and well-rehearsed smiles reflected the training they received from management.

ajpix 022revI was surprised not to see a single staff person sweeping the floor… And yet, the place gleamed and shone with a brilliance that reeked of cleansing substances that smelled at once overwhelmingly of hygiene gone wonky and unhealthy in a hospital environment.

A few visitors were seen waiting on chairs and benches, while a handful of patients were rolled by (including a baby going into the NICU). But, for a hospital in its infancy, the place felt like an inside ghost town. Ironing out the wrinkles, I guess..ajpix 026rev

Some interesting signs and sights caught our attention. Balinese paintings too. I noticed a few offerings placed inconspicuously on the floor, but otherwise it had a conspicuously non-Balinese flavor to it. Sterile. Anonymous. Could have been anywhere in Asia – or the world.

Indeed, where did Bali go?

ajpix 026revMany people compared Siloam (factually, favorably, or otherwise) to Bumungrand in Bangkok or to Raffles in Singapore – clearly, we are a visa-run-obsessed bunch.  Sure, living in a third-world isolated island, one would be rightly concerned about the level of healthcare – especially emergency services – that would available to expats.

But after a few hours’ worth of this tour, almost entirely devoid of signs reflecting local culture, the visit made me long for the less grand and much grittier Ubud.ajpix 010rev

Still, after so much obstacle-free walking and flat-terrain training, combined with all the hills and stairs I climb daily in Ubud, thanks must go to the Siloam stint & staff, because I’m feeling pretty good about setting out on El Camino in two months.


  1. I completely ‘felt’ the strangeness of it as you described your experience! I’m sure healthcare needs some encouragement in Bali, but too bad they couldn’t have injected it with some distinctive Balinese-i-ness!

  2. The toilet seat sign on the last photo is really helpful. Many elderly folks (especially those who came from rural places) actually fell off the seat because they did it as shown on picture #1 on the sign!

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