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Saturday, March 15, 2008

HELP FOR ENGLISH SPEAKERS

Clinic on the bluff reaches out


Contributing writer

Someone who knows Hans Pauli well describes him as the archetypal Dutchman who is forever running around sticking his finger in dikes to prevent catastrophe.

Buff Medical and Dental Clinic
Hans Pauli is chairman of the Buff Medical and Dental Clinic in Yokohama

Pauli is officially retired, but you wouldn't think so to look at his schedule. For one thing, he is chairman of the Bluff Medical and Dental Clinic in Yokohama's Yamata district, a medical center that has been serving the English-speaking community for nearly 150 years.

"We meet monthly but there's a lot to do in between, he says, dropping by the Yokohama Country & Athletic Club in a sporty white car. "My main job? Raising awareness and fund-raising."

Pauli likes to help out, he admits modestly. It's the difference between old-timers like himself who put in the time, and the new young foreigners who pass through Japan on a charted career path.

He passes no judgment. But with a long-term reduction in the English-speaking community, there are fewer and fewer people interested in the concept of civic duty able or willing to volunteer their services.

Originally from The Hague, Pauli felt a strong urge at an early age to get involved in Asia. He did military service for a year in New Guinea, which unlike most of Java, now part of Indonesia, remained under Dutch sovereignty until 1962.

"The whole atmosphere of that part of the world fired me up," he recalls. "From that point on I always planned to go overseas."

He came to Japan first in 1972, remembering how the plane came in to land over the sea and paddy fields to Haneda and wondering if it would make it. "If I could have put my arm out of the window I'd have touched water."

Working for Braun, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Procter & Gamble but at that time still German-owned, he remembers how long it took to sort through and answer mail in those days.

Buff Medical and Dental Clinic
The Buff Medical and Dental Clinic in Yokohama has been serving the English-speaking community for nearly 150 years

"Time was slower then. CEOs were all very busy, but the rest of us could always find the time for community activities. Nowadays, employees are more pressured."

A keen soccer player in his youth, Pauli served as a voluntary adviser to the J. League in its infancy.

He worked tirelessly for the Yokohama Country & Athletic Club, and while admitting to be "the worst cook you can ever imagine," could always be found promoting the Dutch Food Booth at events.

He was also active with Yokohama International School, acting as chairman of the board for five years. "My son, who now lives in Spain, used to joke that I was longer at YIS than he was!"

He has been active on behalf of The Bluff Clinic for a good 10 years; he was its auditor and then came on board as a committee member, taking over the chair from Alan Turney in December 2006.

The first hospital for the foreign community was at Lot 88, Creekside, in Motomachi. It opened in 1863, five years before Edo was renamed Tokyo. After the establishment went broke in 1866, a Dutchman ("not me, I'm not that old") opened a small hospital on The Bluff, near the current clinic's present site. Bluff Hospital underwent many changes, until 1981, when again it had to close for financial reasons.

"We used to rely largely on seamen for patients. But as the port expanded, ships started berthing farther away. Also ships used to take a week or more to turn around. Now it takes a day or even hours."

Two more reasons — crews these days are more likely to be from undeveloped countries, so fewer speak English. Also the number of English-speaking expats has decreased, and many choose to fly home for treatment.

"In 1984, we decided to sell part of the land, and built a two-story clinic on the remainder. Its facilities are excellent — consulting rooms, lab, treatment room, theater for minor operations, and so on. It doesn't cater to overnight stays, however."

Instead, operating on a nonprofit basis, The Bluff Medical and Dental Clinic works closely with local hospitals and the Tokyo Medical Center. It offers a general medical practice, general dental practice, cosmetic dentistry, vaccinations, physical examinations, and referrals.

Another bonus is that the clinic accepts hoken — Japanese health-care insurance. "We have quite a few Japanese patients and, of course, many foreigners who live here are eligible."

Pauli notes further: "We offer a variety of vaccinations, taking into account the needs of our diverse and widely traveling community."

The clinic's full-time medical director, Dr. Tsunehiro Akashi (fluent in English and Tagalog as well as his native Japanese) is backed by two nurses, a technician and a receptionist. A psychologist comes in part-time, as do other specialists.

"Of course, accepting Japanese hoken and having only a low markup on medications and treatments, presents us with quite a challenge financially. But somehow we manage. The important thing is that we continue providing this service."

Pauli wants the foreign community to know that the clinic exists to serve them. He says that things are about to change again in Yokohama. For one thing Nissan is building its new headquarters in Minato Mirai, with a large number of French employees expected to arrive any day. Who will help them get on their feet?

"We used to have a network of bilingual volunteers, to accompany people to hospital for example. Now it's pretty ad hoc, though we do our best. With many newcomers not knowing what to do in emergencies, we're trying to keep our finger on what the community needs."

Pauli has mixed feelings about retirement. He has his own company, providing consulting to companies who want to get a foothold in Japan and he is about to make a trip to Europe for both business and pleasure. But he does miss his former colleagues back at Braun.

Luckily, the fact that he is a proven businessman — one willing to give generously of his time to support the foreign community in Yokohama — means his finger in the dike is always in demand.

Bluff Medical and Dental Clinic, 82 Yamate, Naka-ku, Yokohama. Phone (045) 641-6961; fax (045) 651-5130. E-mail: info@bluffclinic.com; URL: www.bluff clinic.com


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