Hello readers! Starting from this month, April 2023, we will have a new segment for our blog that will be featuring some of our board of directors, tutors, conversation partners, students, and community of Elaine Bacon Literacy Program in general. This will help everyone learn a bit about the personal experience of our diverse community.

The first interview has been done by Puti Ceniza Akbar with Pichai Sripaipan. Both share the same home country region in Southeast Asia. Dr. Pichai is originally from Bangkok, Thailand and has been living in the U.P. since 1976. He has been actively part of Elaine Bacon Literacy Program and International Neighbors for a long time.

Dr. Pichai with International Neighbors friends (Minni on the left and Linda) during Thanksgiving lunch 2022

Sawadee krap Pichai Khun Moh (hello Dr. Pichai), can you tell us about you and a little glimpse of your family history?

My name PICHAI, in Thai it means Victory. I was born in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 16, 1941. This was one week after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Japanese soldiers had already invaded Thailand (that was WWII). At that time, all the windows had to be covered with black sheet at night, and no light allowed, to avoid plane bombing.  I was told that my birth was an easy delivery, I was born a bit premature, needed only the light from one match? (Sounds like I knew the situation and my duty!).

City of Bangkok in the 1941

I have 2 brothers; I am the middle one. We used to play with slingshot, soccer, sometimes in a small area, table tennis on any table, flying kite, riding bikes (regular size bike, without sitting on the seat) etc. Both of our parents had to work hard to support the family. My mom learned to be a tailor and learned to speak a few languages including English (she went to night school to study) so that she was able to communicate with some wealthier customers such as the wives of ambassadors, flight attendants and some rich people.

My dad worked as accountant for a bank and also worked in a shop for musical instruments to have enough money to put us through a private Catholic school.

What brought you to the U.S.? Did you find any difficulties at that time to adjust to your new life in a new country which is very far away? And how you deal with that difficulties and struggle?

After graduating from medical school, I took an Internship at Pitsanulok Hospital in Northern Thailand for 1 year. I passed the examination in medicine, distributed by the U.S. government. I came to the U.S. in June 1967. I started my internship in Detroit, MI, and residency in General Surgery then Orthopedic Surgery.

The first few weeks were stressful. What we learned was metric system, so converting to English or American system was not simple. The names of medication were also quite different. Those few years were very busy, since we took night call every 3 days. When you were young, you were able to cope with it. No time to be homesick!

The only way to communicate with my family was by mail (we did not have cell phone at that time).

Aside from the difficulties getting used to the American system, you made it to become one of the most respected doctors in the Keweenaw. Tell us what brought you to the Keweenaw form Detroit?

After my training, I worked in Detroit for over one year. The patients of the clinic I worked for mainly were from the automobile industries. Many of them came to see me to get excused from work, and I ended up with arraignments, about two depositions per week. The hospital in Hancock was looking for Orthopedic surgeon at that time. I found out that people in these areas were nice and there were two universities. Living here was much better than in Detroit. My job was taking care of patients and not working as a judge to decide who should go back to work.

Living in the U.P. at that time must have felt isolated and quiet compared to these days (with better road system, transportation, and communication). How did you cope with homesickness, especially during long and dark winter days?

I moved to Houghton/Hancock area with a four-wheel drive vehicle in January 1976. When crossing the Mackinac bridge, there is a sign says “clean air clear water “. There were many small towns in the area. There were two universities at that time (now only one- Michigan Technological University in Houghton). This area has low crime rate which is ideal to raise children here. You can learn anything here that you are interested, any subject in academy, sports, musical, etc. I had lots of fun learning ice skating, Nordic and Alpine Skiing. Lots of fun catching fishes when smelt run in spring. People are friendly and kind. I did not have time for homesick.

Similar signage of “clean air clean water” in Houghton (present day)

Tell us about your family. How often do you see them these days?

I met my bride in 1966 when I was an intern in Pitsanulok hospital at Northern Thailand. There were ten interns rotating through all specialties. We had to work hard and helping each other. My future wife was smart and kind (she still is). We got married when I was residents in Cleveland, Ohio. in 1971. We have one daughter, she is still single, now she works in Public Health at the University of North Carolina.

During the pandemic, I heard that you got a pretty bad impact of covid vaccine? Do you mind sharing about this?

On February 23, 2021, about 36 hours after the second dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, I passed out and had amnesia. I was hospitalized for 3 days with all kinds of tests, but they found nothing wrong with my brain, lungs, heart, and kidneys. My neurological test was normal, but I suffered from Vertigo for 3 months. Besides taking medications, I also had to do exercises daily. Luckily, I was at least 99% back to normal. In October 2022. I went back to Bangkok, Thailand, and got COVID 19, just two days after arriving Bangkok. I believed I got it while traveling. I was quite sick. Luckily again, one of the private Hospital had Paxlovid (medicine for COVID). I was better right way. After locking myself (quarantine) in one of the rooms in a hotel for 13 days, it was time to fly back to Houghton.


Special thank you for Jan Handler for proofread the article and Dr. Pichai for the time and energy given for this interview.

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