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The week that was in Thailand news: Why for most of us, this war is highly personal


The week that was in Thailand news: Why for most of us, this war is highly personal

Politicians around the world have been telling us we are at war. Presidents have been pumping out their chests and chancellors have been getting out their war chests. This is going to be a fight and an ugly one at that, they tell us. Perhaps a long one. Perhaps a very long one! It’s a struggle against a hidden enemy but one that is likely to affect the great majority of people on Earth in ways almost unprecedented in peacetime.

As regards one’s own opinions, it appears the more outrageous they are the more likely they could turn out to be right! Skepticism and under-reaction – Rooster’s usual weaponry in a war – are likely to be well short of reality!

I make no excuses for relating some of my own experiences in this week’s round up of the news. Not that they are in any way special or astounding. It’s just that this war on coronavirus, Covid-19 – call it what you will – is something that each and every one of us is feeling. This war is not some video game in Iraq where we might have marveled at precision bombing from the safety of our couches miles away. This war is right in your face.

This war is personal.

On the plus side new infections within China have, we are told, ground to a halt. Though there are fears of a resurgence. Many are looking for inspiration in the fight to Japan and South Korea where sensible policies and public reactions are being held up as models for dealing with the virus. Scientists in many countries are working round the clock to find answers.

Those answers will come far too late for many unfortunate people, however. While it is natural to want to see hope many in Italy, especially in the health services, are staring at something different.

Right into the abyss.

Many hundreds have been dying there daily, more than the total in China. In other centers around the world the virus has taken hold or threatens to imminently. My column last week about the world holding its collective breath continues to be relevant this week as in other European countries including the United Kingdom, the United States and here in Thailand, we are bracing for our own unpredictable and uncertain future.

Many will be able to relate to Rooster’s situation. You might not be a columnist, might not be someone who has to publicly admit that they got things wrong. But we all have families, friends, responsibilities, economic concerns. We all have worries. We all need to be strong and think clearly. We all need to act sensibly not just for the benefit of ourselves and our loved ones but for the good of our communities and the world as a whole.

For me the week began with a daughter stuck in Chile after the authorities there introduced a travel ban. Her mum had begged her not to travel but do children listen…..rhetorical question.

She managed to get out on the last flight (go Daddy’s girl!) and got back to London where the full carnage on the markets became apparent. She is an equities trader for Barclays at Canary Wharf. She was told to borrow a laptop and go and work at home. She said the supermarkets were empty.

My son is in Liverpool at uni working in a bar at night to help pay for tuition. He was aghast that not only had the bar stayed open but was heaving with people. Uni has already shut for the semester along with all other schools in the UK as of Friday when the government changed tack.

On Tuesday my first wife called in a panic to blame me for visiting her on Monday with my two young children from my second marriage. We went swimming there and I had used a toilet that had also been frequented by one of the Pathum Thani infected people. He had caught the virus at a Lumpinee boxing tournament in March, along with many others. Cue me asking myself if I had used my knuckle to press the water on the urinal as I would normally do. Then imagining all sorts of scenarios, especially as the current Mrs R started to feel unwell!

We’re all fine – just a little under the weather from the tiredness of having to amuse and educate three and seven year olds all day in voluntary self-isolation since the schools shut and holiday programs were cancelled. I can’t see Thai school opening in May – this could be an even longer Songkran break than ever. Then the condo management put a sign up in the lift banning use of the pool – a twice daily activity that had kept us sane. Yikes!

Then the internet starting going on the blink probably because so many people are using it! Nooooo! Work, Netflix and YouTube! Why aren’t I religious when I need to be!

Friday after watching one of my hitherto great investments tank continually for ten days I could take the stress no longer. I decided to bale and go back to the relative safety of fixed deposits. It took nearly two hours to get my righteous way at KBank but it was all smiles in the end. At SCB – where I went to update a passbook – the lady at the door had clearly been employed to ask foreigners where they’d been recently. Seeing me she said in Thai: “Oh you live in Thailand, I think, welcome!”

I decided it was unnecessary to add that I’d had a Siam Commercial account since before she was born.

My brother – an international school teacher in Hanoi who owns a condo in Bangkok – is off school and marooned there. His glee at starting online learning six weeks ago is wearing thin. He will retire in June at term’s end but we both agreed he has taught his last face to face lesson. Other former colleagues in Bangkok are coming to terms with the closure of international schools in Thailand on Wednesday. Many spoke of the confusion over whether international exams would take place. Students in Years 11 and 13 are distraught. In the UK all exams were cancelled.

My 70 year old sister in England – hitherto tasked with grandparent duties – is a practical and resilient lady but even she worries about the coming days. She earns money doing odd jobs but will have to stay at home. Many of her close relatives were feeling unwell though not as yet with coronavirus. One is a state registered nurse, another a pharmacy assistant. My folks there are generally supportive of the government but like Thailand there is confusion and flip-flopping is adding to anxiety.

Here in Ratchayothin the reality of the holidays hit home. Mrs R won’t be going for her six weeks in Loei at Songkran – there isn’t even a Songkran this year! The risk to ailing parents who suffer diabetes and heart conditions is too much. Better to send them my money…..This all means spending huge amounts of time cooped up as husband and wife. So good so far, but we both had a laugh that “experts” in England were predicting more divorces! That’s what usually happens at Christmas.

Friends all over the world shared their stories via social media and apps. Lots of clips made me “LOL” especially one of a man and wife in bed in Spain. He was coughing and spluttering all over her so she retreated under the covers. He then let rip……

John Oliver, commenting mostly on the situation in the United States, made the most sense to me especially his imploring people not to spread false rumors and to select their news sources carefully. He railed for 30 seconds on the prospect of his beloved Liverpool missing out on the EPL title saying everybody needs a little rant! On Thursday reading the BBC site I thought that every one of the top ten stories would be a “lead” under normal circumstances. But these are anything but normal times. About 70% of my Thaivisa translations this week were connected to the virus.

Here is a round up of some of the most notable events and stories of the last seven days:

The Thai government continued to make everything up as they went along. The number of infections began to increase rapidly until it sailed past 300. Entertainment was shut down in Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Surat Thani. Some like Hua Hin resisted only to cave into pressure as Soi Bintabaht shut up shop until the end of the month. None of them are likely to open any time soon.

Complex English vocabulary like “social distancing”, “quarantine” and “isolation” were bandied about as Thai words. Rooster’s “Viral Vocabulary” went through the roof! Creepy government spokesman and DPM Wissanu tried to give a semantics lesson on the word “lockdown” and even told Thai reporters to be careful to explain the exact meaning of “pit” (closed).

Uncle Too – PM Prayut – looked remarkably frail behind his designer silk mask that was very pretty but probably as effective as his cabinet; Health Minister Anutin continued to behave like a simpleton while tourism minister Pipat gave up any pretense of having two brain cells to rub together. His comrades at the TAT revised tourist arrivals in 2020 down to 30 million.

They will be lucky to get anywhere near that even if the best case scenarios come about. Prayut wondered whether to go from Stage 2 to 3 as the economy in all sectors – not just tourism – crumbled around him. Mixed messages about borders being open and conflicting flight regulations vied with confusing visa notices that left everyone even more flummoxed. I’d love to state here some facts for you but I can’t. Those of us in the media are as perplexed as anyone trying to make sense of it all

Nutty plans to hold a public Buddhist prayer vigil were hurriedly cancelled. Had they learned nothing from the Malaysians who had an outbreak at a well attended Muslim festival in Kuala Lumpur? Malaysia, Myanmar and Laos started closing frontiers. Many visa runners got stuck between a rock and a hard place in Ranong. Going to a border is probably futile – it might be better to try your luck for an extension at an immigration office.

On the forum, potential travelers – both within the kingdom and worldwide – posted seeking advice. The answers showed such a variance in opinion that you might as well get out a pin or toss a coin. In most cases I’d advise staying put, staying home, not mixing with people. Though that’s easy for me to say – that kind of mirrors my normal life.

Some who didn’t were a group of what the Pattaya media said were 30 foreigners at a bar in Soi Bua Khao “getting merry” in the afternoon. Plod raided and the two lady owners were carted off. The foreigners were not to know their license did not say restaurant but “bar and disco”. But should people – especially many who looked quite old – be congregating in public at this time? Posters screamed “xenophobia” at the implication that the visitors to Thailand were somehow to blame.

Post after post all over Thaivisa and wider social media pointed the finger of blame at one group, one nationality or another. A “tourist” spreading his saliva over the buttons in a BTS lift turned out to be a Thai with mental problems. A Chinese woman slammed for gobbing on a bus and a train later claimed someone had shot a spray in her mouth. Trump referred to “Chinese virus” and continued his scandalous harassment of journalists legitimately asking awkward questions while an aid mentioned “kung flu”.

With public figures like that is it any wonder that idiots on social media feel so empowered to misbehave?

Worldwide the stock markets had some of their worst days in more than 30 years. When recoveries came they were largely short lived. People sought safety in the US dollar that rose on Trump’s well-received trillion dollar plans. The UK pound consequently fell dramatically against the baht much to the chagrin of the kingdom’s army of Brit pensioners who had sought solace in the crisis believing the local currency would plunge. While the new UK treasurer’s own stimulus package failed to impress investors or the currency markets.

On Friday the pound rebounded, however, as stock markets rallied. But Superrich were still offering only 37.7 baht for a quid on Saturday. Australians were getting 18.9 for their dollar and Americans 32.55 for a greenback. Goodness knows what they’ll be next week!

On Saturday Richard Barrow – followed by many foreigners and Thais in the kingdom – posted about his arrival at Suwannaphum (my spelling). “Deserted” and “Ghost Town” were among his words and phrases that were translated into Thai by a Facebook user so they would reach a wider audience.

The blogger’s post was echoed (in the eerie silence of the airport no doubt!) by the deputy director who said that Thursday was the quietest day at “Swampy” since it opened in 2006. There were less than 10,000 passengers on 193 flights, some of which only had two fare paying clientele!

Finally, one of very few stories that was not virus related was a bridge collapse in Bang Khun Thian in the Bangkok area. The Thai source story referred to a temporary replacement bridge that looked like it came from the English word “barry”.

So I Googled “barry bridges”.

Apparently he played football for Chelsea, QPR and even four times for England.

At least I had one belly laugh this week.


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Nina has worked for Inspire and Choice Group Asia since 2011 and loves to party when she can!

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