My Dance with Death – Notes from a Dengue Virgin

Posted on by Pajama Moto


After five years here I had escaped it long enough – it was time for a dance with dengue. It started on a random Tuesday evening. My last class is at 6:30PM – no one’s idea of late – but after a full day of teaching and exercising I’m usually done.

By the second half of class that night I was exhausted and slurring my words, atypical even on the worst of days. In denial, I merrily headed out after class to a local watering hole on the Riverside for drinks and some take away. I managed two margaritas; even though I felt like death I was still sure it was a bad cold that would pass in a few days.

The long-timers at the table regaled me with stories of their own dengue experiences. ”Mate, you might have the one where you hallucinate,” said one grizzled Aussie journalist (journo in Australian). ”Fabbo,” I said.

I managed to get home, eat a few bites of take out, and fell into bed at 9PM. Then the fun started. I don’t know if it was the power of suggestion or if I really did have the one strain that causes hallucinations, but it was a hairy night of surreal quasi-sleep.

There were brief periods of actual sleep with actual dreams, but those were fleeting. Most of the time I was awake but not awake, there but not there, me but not me. I developed an alternate persona named Christine who was from some part of Michigan I’d never heard of. She was not feeling good, and was looking forward to daybreak so she could tell her friends and family in her cozy suburban house. I guess my brain had an easier time putting all the awful experiences on a fake person rather than tax my already sick and depleted brain. I think serial killers operate on a similar level. Christine alternated between freezing and sweating, trying to get the ratio of fan to blankets right though it needed adjusting every five minutes. The pillows became different moonscapes, all of which had to be navigated and handled with various combative and coaxing strategies. There were animals. Dogs, cats, possibly a kangaroo or a koala bear, something that looks cute and fuzzy in cartoons but in reality wants to kill you if you walk too close to it; all galloping or slinking or hopping about the bedroom. The highlight was the discovery that Dylan McDermott was my / Christine’s uncle. We really wanted to have sex and decided that being blood kin didn’t have to stand in the way, though I think I woke up before anything fun happened.

When daybreak hit, I knew I was alive, I knew my real name, and that I was really sick. I cancelled classes and commenced a week and a half journey that began and ended on the floor of my living room in front of the television where I would discover the depths of bad television. This was not just bad television, this was the worst of bad television that had failed in the Western world and washed up on the shores of Asia for one last stab at mediocre success. Kind of like the expat scene.

I had many wonderful and profound revelations in the ensuing delirium, most notably: Asian media preferences are downright strange. The English language stations here replay the flotsam and jetsam that passed through America unheralded and unloved. Sitcoms you’ve never heard of featuring actors who look vaguely familiar; police dramas with slight twists (psychics! Dead people! Jennifer Love Hewitt!); and endless competition shows ranging from the brilliant: Master Chef, to the banal: All the others. It’s sort of a ‘throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks’ approach to programming.

What I found most fascinating, though, was the marketing and promotions of said programs. In the US television promos – and advertising in general these days – is ironic, self-deprecating, we-will-make-fun-of-ourselves-faster-than-you-could-have-ever-thought-up-these-insults; it’s all very tongue-in-cheek and knowing. Not so in Asia. There’s a refreshing amount of earnestness, and an embarrassing lack of embarrassment over the fact that we’re engaged in the act that dare not speak its name, and that most Americans will not own up to: watching television. Not only do they blithely assume you are an avid TV watcher and not afraid to admit it, they encourage you to enter competitions, buy hats and t-shirts, go on Facebook and ‘like’ things, and gleefully play along at home.

Then there are the actual ads. The voice personalities for these ads fall into two categories: 1. Slick and 2. Slightly Silly. The ‘Slick’ voice, a honey-toned woman, coos to you lovingly about all the fun you and your friends are going to have watching television together. As if there were any other kind of activity – like having a conversation or punching each other in the head – that you could all possibly engage in. The English is technically correct, but the wording is odd and creepy. ‘Slightly silly’ is even stranger, a manically happy voice that sounds chemically induced, barking at you in a female-but-something’s-off, vaguely Disney-esque voice. The word ‘punchy’ comes to mind. I picture the speaker wearing suspenders and a bowler hat, the sort of 80’s chic that has surprisingly not made its way back into the 80’s fashion redux we’ve been having for at least a decade now. It (this voice) brightly chortles at you to WATCH THE SHOWS!!, THEY WILL SING FOR YOU!! CHRISTMAS SURPRISES AWAIT!! LIKE US ON FACEBOOK!!, DRINK THE KOOLAID!!

Bottom line, the voices, visual presentation, and overall vibe are bland, inoffensive, soothing. The color scheme is lots of whites, pinks and silver. Are they worried if they talk too loud or the jokes are too funny or if they use the color orange we’ll be put off and scared? Laying on the floor of my living room it was all quite confusing and fascinating. And heartening to know if the Yoga thing doesn’t work out I can always get work as a local media consultant: utter lack of knowledge and experience being a barrier to nothing here. In the end it wasn’t that bad, think I’m ready for Malaria.

Pajama Moto

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8 Responses to My Dance with Death – Notes from a Dengue Virgin

  1. falcon randwick says:

    The first dose of dengue is a doddle. Wait until you cop it a second time. Won’t be no fun and games in front of the TV then, dengue part two is way more painful and the hallucinations become your entire existence…

    • Andrea says:

      That is not necessarily true. Dengue fever could already be that bad the first time you have it. And the second time is not always worse. So much for what the various doctors said. I hope they’re right ;)

      I contracted dengue fever in the end of 2011, lost 5 kilos (that’s not usually easy for me…), spent 4 days in hospital and had various sicknesses the following 3 months because my body was so weak. I hope you are wrong, falcon randwick :)

  2. Jason says:

    “Asian media preferences are downright strange.”

    Asian tastes are quite predictable. They’ll buy the “best” (ie the most expensive) or the cheapest. Quality and value are simply not understood.

  3. andyinasia says:

    “It’s sort of a ‘throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks’ approach to programming”

    No, it’s a sort of ‘What can we steal or buy really really cheaply?’, safe in the knowledge that however bad it is, it will be five-star entertainment next to every show destroyed by those same inane dubbed Khmer voices.

  4. Bronze Peach says:

    Asia is not limited to Indochina. The developed countries of Asia have better programming than a lot of the west.

    Not sure how that’s relevant to the dengue though. Was this article part of the hallucination?

    Where did you get dengue? The WHO says it doesn’t exist in Phnom Penh, and they’ve never lied to anyone before..

    • Peter Hogan says:

      I’ve met *plenty* of expats who’ve contracted dengue in Phnom Penh. You’re possibly thinking of malaria.

    • Pajama says:

      I know a ton of people here who have had dengue, myself included. Do you even live here? My friend and I were in Kampot, staying at a place where the manager and owner, who live on site, both had dengue a few months ago (don’t ask me why we stayed there, I lost that coin toss but have been berating my friend about it ever since).

      Relevance was all I could do for 2 weeks was watch TV, normally I go out and work and stuff like that during the day.

      Asia is a broad term, but I live in Cambodia which is populated by Cambodians who fall under the term Asian. Actually I thought the stations were broadcast from Singapore, which is very developed, and the programming is crap.

  5. keith taylor says:

    was this a report of someone suffering with dengue fever or a f^^^ing tv discussion

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