In the world of travel, travel advisories abound. Some of these have become legend.
“When in Rome do as the Romans do”, for example. To date, nobody’s clear on what it is that the Romans do that visitors need to “swot up on” before travelling.
“If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium, if it’s Wednesday this must be Rome” was a song that caricatured the whirlwind tour-packages arranged to see Europe.
What about, “When in India ...”? I’d like to think the advice would be something like, “When in India, stop by the Taj Mahal”, but apparently the advice is, “When in India, see an optometrist and, if time permits, book an appointment with a dentist.”
Which is exactly what I’d been told by another Indian settler in Australia before I left on a visit to the land of my birth.
“Four months?” he exclaimed a tad enviously, “Plenty of time to do both.”
He was right. In the first month, I was able to have my eyes tested and a new pair of glasses procured for less than a quarter of the money I would have paid in Sydney. A surprising economic triumph. Surprising, because you have no clue as to how ‘economy challenged’ my brain is. I couldn’t see a bargain if it was staring me in the face.
So, buoyed by this successful deal, it seemed only logical that a visit to a dentist be fitted in. I knew that I possessed at least one tooth — an incisor — that needed incisive treatment, a filling at least.
The dentist was a spectacled middle-aged lady who, drill poised, asked me point blank: “Are you an Australian on holiday?”
I had also been advised, “Don’t breathe a word you’re from Australia. The charges can go up astronomically.”
Bout of prevarication
Still, it’s amazing how instantaneously one can go from feeling like a patient tilted back and rendered helpless, to that other feeling of being in a cell and on the verge of a very torturous interrogation.
Resorting to a bout of prevarication, I mumbled — as dental patients are wont to do even before being drilled — something about visiting Chennai from Coimbatore (where my two sisters were based).
Another thing one learns in a dentist’s chair, tilted backward and gazing timidly up into the face of the dentist above is that despite the mask across the mouth one can read a person’s expressions from their eyes and this dentist’s eyes were saying clearly that she ‘knew my game’.
Anyhow, she said, “Let’s get to business”, or something along those lines, and I asked if she was going to give me a numbing injection first. She replied in the negative. Which was my first shock. The second quickly followed via the drill and the third didn’t lag far behind for I nearly rocketed off the chair when the drill hit a nerve.
“That’s why I didn’t want to numb the area,” she explained, ceasing the drilling mercifully. I’m not sure if by that she meant she wished to know exactly how far she should drill, or if she was aiming to hit the nerve whereupon she would know when to stop.
Anyway, drilling done, she patched up the cavity and in the process spread the bonding paste across two teeth, making it impossible in the days thereafter to floss between the two. And the paste was a decided shade of yellowing ivory I discovered, too, when I flashed a smile at the mirror later, at home. The filling lasted six months and, almost conspiratorially, decided to ‘shake itself loose’ and fall out when I returned to Australia. So, I had to get it done again. But this time at a greater cost, but with greater satisfaction. The dentist, another lady, has virtually performed a ‘rebirth’ of the tooth, and though my hip pocket has been raided alarmingly, I feel it was worth it. The thing with travel I learned is if you go in for budget deals, expect to deal with budget results.
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.