Jun 02, 2014

    Bearing the pain for World Cup fever

    THE travel agent confirmed the flights and accommodation in Brazil. I was going to the World Cup.

    As I read the e-mail, a sense of elation took hold until I came to a paragraph near the end.

    I had to be vaccinated for yellow fever.

    Clearly, the travel agent had mistaken me for Captain Jack Sparrow.

    Yellow fever was something that pirates caught, wasn't it?

    I wasn't sailing around the Horn with Fletcher Christian (which might mean something entirely different to readers not familiar with the mutiny on The Bounty).

    I was just going to watch Roy Hodgson's England play at the World Cup. Admittedly, sailing on stormy seas around the Horn with a mutinous crew might be marginally less painful.

    But yellow fever sounded like a disease that might strike down Long John Silver's parrot.

    Maybe I should also suck on some limes to prevent scurvy, wear an eyepatch and learn the lyrics to salty sea shanties with titles like, "I put my finger in the woodpecker's hole".

    Nothing was going to make me get a vaccination for yellow fever.

    Then I read online that yellow fever's symptoms can include fever, nausea, abdominal pain, liver damage, internal bleeding and yellow skin.

    Nothing was going to stop me from getting a vaccination for yellow fever.

    I called the reception at my local doctor's surgery and chatted with Miss England-Not-So-Powerful. (I am not so much making fun of her English here as I am the irony. Her English was a hundred times more proficient than my Mandarin. But that is why I am not employed as a receptionist at a TCM clinic.)

    "Hello, does your surgery have the vaccination for yellow fever?" I asked repeatedly.

    "Eh, you got yellow fever, ah?"

    "No, no, but I might have if we don't understand each other before I go to Brazil."

    Eventually, I got my query across after lots of pointless miming. I was standing inside a public toilet of a library, miming the vaccination needle going into the arm. I was on the phone. She could not see me.

    But the other urinal users saw a jittery ang moh pretending to stick a needle in his arm inside a public toilet, looking every inch the deranged heroin addict.

    "Ah, you want vaccination for yellow fever?" she cried finally.


    "Don't have."


    "That one we don't keep here. That one we keep only at Changi Airport."

    Was the vaccine an illegal immigrant?

    Why was it only being stored in the basement of Terminal 3? Was it toxic? I pictured masked men in Doc Brown radiation suits handing the stuff around like plutonium.

    I had no intention of hanging around the waiting room if it was filled with groaning mutants with three ears.

    I took my daughter along as a witness and we ventured into the bowels of Changi Airport to procure this elusive vaccine.

    We watched carefully as the doctor scribbled away the details, the manufacturer and the batch number of the vaccine on an official World Health Organisation vaccination certificate.

    Then he looked up and asked: "What is the purpose of your visit to Brazil?"

    I was tempted to say: "To get the world's best Brazilian, of course. Connoisseurs go to Champagne for the best champagne. I go to Brazil for the best shaved back, sack and crack."

    But I said nothing. I already had my doubts about this secretive surgery hiding the vaccines beneath Changi Airport. Now it had doctors oblivious to the upcoming World Cup. How many years had he been down here?

    Still, the Filipino nurse who administered the vaccine was lovely. She even smiled politely when I asked feebly if I would feel a little prick (the day I stop saying it before injections is the day I give up).

    The needle sting was sharp, but quick. The bill stung for a good while longer.

    "That'll be $264.80, please, Mr Neil," the cashier said cheerily.

    "It's really $264.80? How many vaccines did you stick in there?"

    "Well, it is valid for 10 years."

    Yes, but it is not a car. The vaccine cannot pick up my little girl from school or collect my shopping.

    But I am at least protected from the perils of yellow fever. It is one fewer thing to worry about before I head to South America.

    Now I have just got to find a good place to get a Brazilian.