Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXIII

Eternally untrusting now of Vietnamese taxi companies, I gratefully left it in the hands of the Bali B receptionist to organise my transportation across town; incidentally the receptionist who was on at that time of day was the only male staff member who didn’t make me feel uncomfortable.

Almost an hour’s travel, in this case, cost me under 140.000VND where, in the past, (see last year’s Chronicles) under half an hour’s travel cost me 700.000VND.

Before embarking on this recent Southeast Asian mission I had heard, and read, numerous negative reports about Vietnam’s dental clinics; word is they are unclean, unprofessional, and generally unsavoury, (as though those idiots had forgotten they’d travelled to a Third World nation to try and do their dental on the cheap) yet, I am very pleased to say, Nhan Tam Dental Clinic, and by implication every other dental practise across Ho Chi Minh City, is wonderful.

Sanitary, professional, efficient, courteous, competent; there was really nothing the good folk at Nhan Tam could have done to provide a better service…

I turned up, briefly explained my puffy-faced situation (which by then had gone down considerably anyway and to someone who didn’t know me – other than for the haphazardly affixed plaster beneath my right eye – I didn’t look a lot different; first thing in the morning seemed to be the worst time for puffiness anyway), they showed suitable shock and sympathy (which given they were two sycophantic women, this was not unexpected), I underwent a full-skull X-ray (which I felt would be beneficial also for showing anything untoward in or around my damaged cheekbone), where I was then taken to a consultation room to discuss my dentistry requirements. Seated across now from a large male dentist (legend had it this was Dr Nhan Tam himself) and his female assistant, on an amazing touchscreen ‘viewing desk’ (the entire desktop was a computer monitor reminiscent of the one on the wall in ‘Minority Report’ – or, I guess, the screen on a Smartphone, I wouldn’t know) they were able to see, mark, show, illustrate, move, zoom, highlight and even project, where and why my teeth needed attention. After over 20 years having not visited a dentist, I was shocked, only two cavities showed up; along with one tooth that required crowning due to structural erosion then there was the old favourite, a root canal (additionally, they would later conclude that as the second cavity was in a molar far at the back – a ‘wisdom tooth’ in fact – they’d be better off just extracting the sucker and be done with it; unlike New Zealand dentistry though where people sometimes elect for extraction over filling as the former is the cheaper option, in Vietnam, or at least, at Nhan Tam Dental Clinic, ‘Tooth Extraction’ costs 900.000VND – less than 100NZD – while a ‘Cavity’ costs only 400.000VND – under half the first, making ‘filling’ by far the cheaper option, still, I was keen as for my first ever tooth extraction). There is also a spot in my lower jaw where, some years ago, a tooth fell/rotted out; the dentist and his colleague took turns explaining to me how they intended to screw into the gap a ‘false root’ then fit that root with a single false tooth. However, as the procedure was to be time consuming and rather expensive and as the missing tooth isn’t something that ever even bothers me anyway, I instructed them to forego the tooth replacement and to just focus on bringing the existing teeth up to an adequate standard.

…To Nhan Tam’s massive credit they are extremely busy fixing the teeth of both locals and  foreigners thus, with so many people rushing around a heavily staffed reception, some administration/clerical shortcomings are to be expected; this might go some way to explaining how the pickup that had been organised for my second scheduled appointment (unbelievably Nhan Tam organised and covered the cost of all dentist-related travel involved), exactly one week after the first (the root canal required three separate sessions, each time with me occupying the dentist’s chair for approximately two hours – a total of six hours – and the whole thing still only cost around 130NZD), those travel plans went a smidgen awry. I had made the three minute walk back to the prior week’s pickup point at the Bali B (in fact I had since shifted to the Pink Tulip but with no easy way to inform the Nhan Tam staff of my movement this seemed the most straightforward option), had informed Bali B staff of my arrangement, was invited to sit in the Bali B lobby while I waited, yet over half an hour past my scheduled pickup time (thus under half an hour remaining until my appointment time), nobody had come for me. Frustrated, bordering on agitated, I asked Bali B reception to call the Nhan Tam hotline to inquire into this transport lapse. Well, it turned out that because they had been unable to contact me on my given number Nhan Tam Dental Clinic had gone ahead and simply cancelled my booking (despite my distinct recollection of explanation to a reception member during my last appointment of my phone’s inability to receive calls therefore how Nhan Tam reception shouldn’t bother trying to contact me to confirm the appointment but to just send the taxi regardless because I would definitely be there; seemingly though this message had been lost in translation)…

The first session was great; I had a gorgeous, English speaking, female dentist with an equally gorgeous, but not so much English, assistant and, although My Hanh’s (Me Hunn’s) drilling over the next two hours was constantly being impeded by my falling asleep in her chair and unwittingly relaxing my mouth, we connected wonderfully.

…That first day when I had strolled into Nhan Tam Dental Clinic, looking like a very low-impact car-crash victim, after briefly explaining my appearance then later, after I had sorted with reception the next appointment I had gone on to explain how they wouldn’t be able to contact me as my phone was acting retarded – in that its ability to make and receive calls had been somewhat retarded – where the staff member had responded with a solicitous face, “Oh, no, you must wan call home…?”

“I really should call home, yes but, I don’t know, guess I might have to buy a Vietnamese phone.”

“Oh no, you have number? You may call here.”

“Really? You’d let me make an international call with your company phone?”

“Phone here, yes.” She scurried away and returned a moment later with a cordless landline handset. From my (otherwise useless but for telling the time) phone, which I for some reason insisted on taking with me everywhere, I recited my sister’s number, where the highly efficient Vietnamese woman added the international digits then handed me the phone. I couldn’t believe it, it was ringing; this place was brilliant – they were taking care of my every need…

Taking care of me also was a dentist of around my own age who, on that first day, with a few Nhan Tam staff away to the side chattering amongst themselves – no doubt about the idiot Englishman who had fallen afoul of a gang of whacked-out Vietnamese street-kids – had approached the chair where I was lying somnolently; without so much as an introduction (and as this man will turn out to be unrelated to my case in any way – other than to say, this man’s actions may just be the reason I managed to avoid life-threatening infection as well as any significant facial scarring – this is sadly the last you will hear of his character), carefully removed my plaster, momentarily assessed the wound, muttered what sounded like a few (Vietnamese) words of disbelief (or possibly expletives), applied some thick brown salve to my cheekbone, affixed a nice new plaster and left.

…It occurred to me later that, of course, dentists are doctors too.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by A Voit-Taxi

Photography Den Tuss/Doc Thar

1 thought on “Tim Walker’s Vietnam XXIII

  1. Javier Espinoza

    Gracias por la informacion!! Este tipo de blogs me parecen muy importantes, esto sera compartido en mi universidad, gustosamente con mis compañeros de clase. gracias por la informacion.


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