Reporters on the Job

Cultural snapshot

• SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL: When Simon Montlake made some hospital visits to check on Thailand's experiment with universal healthcare, he found the contrast between the haves and the have nots much in evidence in Bangkok (page 7).

"The interview with Dr. Somsak of the Medical Council took place in his office in a large, rambling hospital under the expressway in Bangkok, a little grimy on the outside but clean and modern inside," says Simon.

"However, a flea market had spread across the parking lot and into the lobby, and I had to weave through stalls selling smoked sausage and pastries before I found the right elevator.

"My other hospital visit was quite a contrast. Bumingrad is Bangkok's premier private hospital which serves foreign and international patients, so I expected a grand building, but not the plush carpets and ground-floor Starbucks that awaited. A friend who works next door described it as a 'five-star hotel with a hospital attached.' Do they offer 30-baht treatment to the poor and downtrodden? Not a chance."

• KEEP 'EM GUESSING: For his story on Arab opposition to US strategy in Iraq (page 1), Philip Smucker called US Central Command in Florida yesterday. Expecting a familiar voice, he heard someone new on the line instead. Col. Rick Thomas, who had been so helpful to Phil when he called from Afghanistan on several occasions, was, as the new US spokesman said, "no longer with us."

"Greener pastures, I hope?" asked Philip.

"No that would be something a little more sandy – like a desert," deadpanned the new spokesman, giving away no other specifics on the colonel's new top-secret posting.

– Margaret Henry

Europe editor

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