Travelling in Southeast Asia

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I posted a topic regarding my concerns about travelling in Southeast Asia on the Main Discussion Board before I saw this Forum. Please see my entry on the Main Board.

On Feb 21, 2001

Judd, I have several trips to SE Asia with our pa son (since he was 6 months old he is now nearly 6), we stay at hotels, but mostly with my Chinese in-laws etc, it's very hard work it's a peanut jungle but it can be done safely. I couln't find your orginal but if you cut and paste in here I can try to help with your specific needs.

On Mar 21, 2001

You say that travel in Southeast Asia is possible, though difficult. How about living there? We have the opportunity to transfer to Hong Kong for a few years, but we have a seven-year-old child with peanut and nut allergies. Are we totally crazy to even consider this, or is it possible to live there safely?

On Mar 21, 2001

I have met natives of Hong Kong with PA and they survived to adulthood. Medicine is practiced a little differently there. The PA person I know from there did not have or use epi-pen. He almost died in elemntary school once when fed something with peanut by someone he said "He thought was a friend" (the old let's see if something really happens story...)He said he was very lucky the hospital was almost across the streeet from his school. Several people in his immediate and extended family were PA. He said "you have to know the dishes" and "know the cook".

How well can you speak Cantonese? I ate multiple times with this guy at chinese restaurants and there was always a long conversation with the waiter. Despite this I saw him get pretty sick from eating Chinese Chicken Salad. He said it was because it was "some stupid american dish...who else would put peanuts in a salad..."

He wouldn't eat at any vietnamese or thai restuarant, but though he could eat chinese food in reasonable safety. Mostly because he WAS chinese. He told me never to let my son eat in most chinese restuarants- it wouldn't be safe for us.

On Mar 21, 2001

Understanding the language, or knowing someone who understands both the language AND peanut allergy is a must.

My 5-year old son is allergic to peanuts, treenuts, shellfish, peas, beans, and soya plus a few more (though I think he has grow out of soya).

In the US, we regularly eat safely at a few known Chinese restaurants. My husband is Chinese and I get him to interegate the waiter/cook/owner etc. We stick with what we know for our pn/tn/shellfish allergic son (char sui-barbecued pork and roast duck over white rice, etc, pretty naked food in places that we know well). Luckily he loves this food and is (for the most part) sufficiently aware that we are protecting his safety when we refuse him more variety.

In SE Asia, I am obsessively careful where we eat since many places like to automatically place a small bowl of peanuts on each table (to be eaten with chopsticks). For several years I have picked up our child and immediately walked out on my family each and every time they take us to a place with these bowls of peanuts (leaving my husband to explain-yet again-why this is not a safe place to be). This could happen with relatives wherever you live, some people (irregardless of nationality just don't get it and my mother-in-law is one of them!). I always bring a cooler containing safe foods with me in case I don't like the look of what is being served, then my son can participate in family activities (eating together being the most important) safely. I am firm on this to the point of being politely disrespecful!

Your son could eat the great vegetables out there, but check for soya-based sauces if he is allergic to soya as well. Food means EVERTHING to most Chinese and you may all be asked to try new dishes as a test of your acceptance of their culture. I have found my family views children's willingness to eat new foods as a learned skill (much desired), I don't know how general that view is. To cope, work out a polite refusal (preferably coached in Cantonese). You may be surprised how many people speak English (and probably a couple of other Chinese dialects as well).

Having a Chinese son with pa-allergy creates more social problems/family conflicts than real medical problems.

Beware satay sauce (crushed peanut slurry)like the plague. It is a nightmare for pa folks. Stay out of satay resturants since it is often served in large open bowls and and yes there are major spills since it slops around so much! The satay meat is often marianated with a secret marianade that contains peanuts!

Find a physican before you leave, one that is a member of the AAAI, you can look up on the web site and write or call and get them ready for you before you leave (or ask for recommedations from your firm). Not all countries divide medicine up the way the West/US does and a pulmonary doctor could be responsible for anaphylaxis (since the lungs are affected).

I don't know if EpiPens are available in Hong Kong (they are not in much of SE Asia) and you may need to learn how to use a standard syringe to administer epinephrine yourself (but bring lots of EpiPens with you).

The physican will guide you through any hospital admission (you need an advocate on your side in a strange setting). Find out whether it is best to go straight to the hospital or call for an ambulance. Check out the hospitals (ie how to get there-all info is probably available over the internet). We have done this when in SE Asia and having an doctor's pager number gave me a lot of confidence and the freedom to travel outside the main cities. The awarness of food-induced anaphylaxis has increased considerably in SE Asia over the past few years.

Since Hong Kong was so recently a British Colony you will probably buy many British goods in some supermarkets and this will be better labelled than the locally-produced packaged goods. I was very pleasantly surprised last summer at the increased availability of US-packaged goods in SE Asia (good for pn-allergy but simply dreadful in terms of the increased homogenization of the planet).

I imagine your son will attend an international school and so you can call from wherever you are and start to make arrangements. Don't hesitate to use your firm's name if it has a good reputation there and even see if you can get someone in the HK office to pave the way for you.

Stay Safe and enjoy your time in Hong Kong.

[This message has been edited by EILEEN (edited March 22, 2001).]

On Mar 23, 2001

Thanks to Eileen and CVB for your responses. Very helpful, and somewhat reassuring. Clearly a lot of caution would be needed, but it sounds do-able. An area we would have to check very carefully is policy at the schools. I have looked at a couple of websites for international schools, but didn't see any information about peanut policies. Probably have to contact the schools directly.

Thanks again. We will continue our research.

On Mar 28, 2001

I am planning to go to SE Asia this summer with my 2 year old who is PA. Any tips for surviving the long plane ride?

On Mar 28, 2001

I am planning to go to SE Asia this summer with my 2 year old who is PA. Any tips for the plane ride?

On Mar 28, 2001

I'm not sure where you will be flying from but I would suggest flying with United if possible. From the US, Untied flies into Singapore (connections or changes in Japan, Hong Kong or Taiwan depending on the flight). United do not serve peanuts as snack which is a great comfort on a long-haul flight.

You can take a connecting flight from Singapore to your final destination, since the Asian airlines are not pn-free the shorter the flight the better, if the flight is short enough tha airline might not even serve any food at all!

Bring your own food and drink for your child and do not rely on the plane food or drink.

Also try to locate a physican (who understands pa etc) in your final destination in case of emergencies. Good luck.

On Mar 29, 2001

Thanks for your advise. I am wavering and am not sure whether to go or not. My son never had a severe reaction to peanuts. I am afraid that he will have one on the plane. I plan to fly with some friends who have already booked their tickets with Delta and Philippine Airlines. I hope to make up my mind by tomorrow.

On Apr 10, 2001

Also, you may or may not know that NorthWest Airlines has a peanut free phone line you can call, leave your flight number and day and request peanut free flight, and they send you confirmation. THis line is set up for peanut free flights only. The number is 612-726-2002. I used this when i flew to Seoul, South Korea last fall.

As far as Korea, I was very careful and lucky to have my girlfriend with me who could make sure there were no nuts. By in large, however, KOREAN food in nut free. Obviously, i would suspect that caution should be used in any case. Anf also, be aware that many large Asian cities have Western Fast food restaurants, which may provide some comfort. While its disappointing to travel thousands of miles and eat at Chili's, such is the life I must lead!

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