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Sunday, 8 November 2015

Diagnosis by ESP?

     "Fawlty Towers in Tibet" could have been the alternative name for Alec Le Sueur's 1998 book, Running a Hotel on the Roof of the World. For five years commencing 1988, he had been the sales manager of the Holiday Inn in Lhasa where, to the backwardness of one of the remotest areas of the world was added the incompetence of Communism, and that made a formidable combination. They even used Fawlty Towers videos for training purposes. Even without the author's dry sense of humour, the inevitable clash of cultures would tickle your funny bone. You will discover how the sheets were washed in the river by hand and dried on the grass, while the most advanced laundry unit in western China lay idle because no-one knew how to use it. Thirty vacuum cleaners imported from Hong Kong had their motors burnt out within a month because the maids never emptied the bags, having assumed that the dirt magically disappeared up the electric power cord. Printing was done on an "only slightly more modern version of the Caxton printing press" (but missing the letter "s") because no-one knew how to use the super-duper press provided as a gift from the Australian Government. The hotel typewriter lacked an "a", while their brand new offset printer had never been used because the special oil could be obtained only from an unknown supplier in Hong Kong.
     I could go on and on with such craziness, but this blog was not established as a rival to Good Reads. Its aim is to rescue items of anomalies in danger of being overlooked and lost. Therefore, I shall cut to the chase, and talk about Dr Ga Ma.
     Dr Ga Ma had been the personal physician of the late Panchen Lama, but he now operated the Tibetan Medicine clinic in the hotel. He was a quiet man, short and stocky, and by all appearances a delightful character. As he spoke only Tibetan, he came with a tall, skinny interpreter who had studied in India and so spoke English. Dr Ga Ma's method of diagnosis was unusual; he would feel the pulse in the patient's left wrist for two minutes, and then repeat the process on the right. That was all.
     Needless to say, Mr Le Sueur was highly sceptical of this process - until an event which caused him to never doubt the doctor's word again. A couple who spoke only French attended his clinic. Now Mr Le Sueur, despite his surname, was English, but he had worked in Paris and knew the language. So when the doctor delivered his diagnosis in Tibetan, his translator converted it into English, and the author was required to then translate it into French.
     When told that the French lady had a problem with her kidneys, he apologized, but provided the translation. Much to his surprise, it was right! She was receiving weekly treatment for it in France. Her husband's turn was even more startling. The doctor announced he had a problem with his spleen. "How does he know?" exclaimed the gentleman, in French. His spleen had been removed twelve years before after a motorcycle accident.
     All right, it you want to be pedantic, it is not clear that these were the exact issues for which they had consulted him. But somehow the doctor had discovered their long term medical problems. Yes, we are talking of only two cases, but they are still two more than would have been predicted by chance. If this was a run-of-the-mill fortune teller or medium, I would suspect cold reading: the ability to deduce a person's issues by their actions, appearances, and response to the agent's patter. Also, many customers give themselves away by loose talk prior to the session. However, when the customers could speak only in a language neither the doctor nor his interpreter understood, this would appear to be ruled out. We are left with the possibility that his pulse reading was merely an unconscious cover for ESP.
     I might add that Dr Ga Ma also provided Tibetan medicine, but when asked about them, he would say, in effect, that the patient could buy them if he wished, but they might not be necessary. The author added:
     I tried his pills once when I ha a stomach ache. Apparently they were mixtures of wild herbs and minerals but they tasked as bitter as boiled Shanghai coffee and looked suspiciously like mouse droppings.

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