Daily Phuket #50: 10 May 2021 – Back Out in the World

I rate today as a “good day” and I ventured fairly far from the cave I call home. Just after eleven, I emerged into bright (too bright!) sunshine and proceeded to the taxi stand just outside the now-closed 7-11. In retrospect, I am happy that I found it completely abandoned. I mean, how do you practice social distancing on the back of a 150-cc motorbike? And who wants to wear a helmet that has previously been on an unknown number of sweaty heads all breathing and possibly coughing into the plastic drop-down shield? What was I thinking?

Rounding the curve at the intersection and then making a shortcut through the park, I proceeded south through Old Town and had only just arrived at the bus stop outside the Thavorn Hotel when the pink porthong came around the corner, pulling over so I could climb aboard. I am going to miss these buses; sadly, they are being discontinued this September after being a decades-long Phuket Town institution. Originally introduced in 1947, the modern version has plied the streets operated by the municipality for just over 10 years providing free rides to students and first 10 baht raised to 15 about five years ago to anywhere on one of four routes crisscrossing the community. They are to be replaced by “safer” and more environmentally-friendly electric buses this fall that will be run by the winner of a bidding contest for the contract. Want to bet that the private operators will charge significantly more than 15 baht per ride?

Thirty minutes later, I hopped off at the eastern entrance to Central Festival and headed towards my bank up on the fourth floor. There was absolutely nobody inside the mall despite it being lunchtime. I thought, Wow! Easy to practice social distancing when there aren’t any people around. I was in and out of the bank in less than five minutes, issue resolved with lots of smiles and wais. I love this branch as I have taught nearly every single member of the staff at some point and the others know me by reputation. I think this will be the second straight year that I won’t teach my banking classes but I hope they can return in 2022. I suppose I will still be here at that time, although that is now far from certain.

My main task completed, I wandered around a bit in the new mall across the street (owned by the same company but with a distinctly more upscale feeling; the two shopping centers are connected by a wide pedestrian bridge). It was even quieter than the original mall. Definitely more staff than customers and even they were few and far between. The KFC seems completely closed down and there were a few other shuttered shop-fronts.

Back in the old mall, I bought a few supplies at the stationery shop (once upon a time, I would call it a bookstore but the books are an afterthought these days). I had had an idea to print out lesson summaries on sticker paper that I could place in my students’ notebooks. Today, I realized this would be an extremely expensive plan — 50 sheets of A4 sticker paper was 180 baht. Considering that I will probably have about 500 students with two lessons per week on average, that is A LOT of paper I would need to buy (not to mention ink for the printer). I bought a couple of glue sticks instead. I have some plain A4 paper at home so I will just print my lesson outlines on that, cut them to size, and let the students glue them into their notebooks. It may take a little more time but will be far cheaper in the long run. I also bought three new pens as none of the ones I had from last term work any more.

I the took several escalators to the grocery store in the basement to buy a few things that I cannot find in any of the mini-marts near my home. Chief amongst these was tin foil, something so common in the States but seemingly rare here. The supermarket had two — one a HUGE size and the other what I would call big. I opted for big and will just tear each sheet in half. I’d also wanted some non-stick cooking spray but I walked down every aisle without discovering anything remotely similar but I could have missed it with some of their random shelving policies (example: at the end of the aisle carrying diapers and powered milk was a section which had shoe polish on a shelf above drain clog remover and teeth whitener which was above a shelf full of different bug killers, including some that you spray on a lawn with big nozzles). I wanted to take a picture but every time I got my phone ready, various workers found a reason to crowd into the aisle. It was almost as if they knew my plan!

As I knew they would last a while, I also bought a jar of pickles as well as squeeze-bottles of Sri Racha spicy mayonnaise and yellow mustard. Rather than going with my regular Heinz or French’s (I usually buy the one of those that is less expensive), I am trying one called All American as the bottle was nearly a third bigger but about 10 baht cheaper than the next candidate. Hope it’s good. I decided the cheese was too expensive and regretted that decision when I got home. Oh, well. Maybe next week.

Since the fresh deli items are now pre-packaged, I selected some massaman curry and pork lasagna to provide my lunch and dinner.

My final stop was Big C — sort of like a Wal-Mart — which is convenient as that is where the buses leave to return to Phuket Town. I hadn’t planned to stop in the grocery store but I realized I’d forgotten bread at the mall. I didn’t buy any there either but I did find some discounted cans of mixed tropical fruit, mandarin oranges, and a glass jar of Dole sliced peaches. Yum!

My tradition when I catch a bus at Big C is to stop in the food court first to buy a cup of Coca-Cola to drink on the ride home. For years, I always bought the medium for 19 baht but I realized earlier this year that a large was only 9 baht more so that’s what I did today. Usually, I can make it last almost the entire journey to the bus stop in Phuket Town and then have ice to munch on most of the remaining walk to my neighborhood. But it was VERY hot today and I finished all of the soda before the bus even left the parking lot (of course, we did wait 20 minutes until it was time to leave). The ice didn’t last much longer so I had to keep hold of an empty cup much of the way.

I helped the bus conductor several times on the trip. I always make sure I give them exact change for the fare as they rarely can make change, especially if there have been relatively few passengers during the day. While we were waiting, a teenage boy boarded and handed the conductor a hundred-baht note which took all of his twenties plus a healthy amount of small coinage. The first stop after departing, a mother and her daughter got on, also giving him a hundred baht bill. I grabbed my wallet and counted out five twenties to give him. This was repeated at each of the next two stops. After the third time, the conductor laughed and said “I happy you on my bus Ajarn!” (The term for a regular teacher in Thailand is kon kru, or simply kru, while ajarn is a higher level title usually reserved for university professors, teaching monks and, I think, muay Thai instructors. But all of the bus staff have called me ajarn for many years — well, one refers to me as “Big Boss”. This is another reason that I will miss these porthong buses; I do feel like a part of the family at times and I was quite touched that the conductor today acknowledged my helpfulness.)

There were the usual selfie-taking Thais around the old bank and police station and a number of people on the sidewalk running from Phang Nga Road to Thalang Road, many waiting for ice cream orders at a very nice shop near the old Rasta Bar. I have never gotten an ice cream there but this may be how I celebrate once I hear some definite news on going back to work!

My final stop outside today was the Tops mini-mart inside of Limelight where I finally got my bread and picked up another four bottles of Miranda-brand root beer. I managed to avoid the ice cream cooler altogether.

I believe I have enough supplies now that I can spent another week cooped-up inside and not feel like I am going to starve. However, being out and about today really gave me a taste of fresh air that I want to repeat quite soon. I am not sure about tomorrow but I can see myself taking at least a short walk around Phuket Town at least as early as Wednesday. I will go with an extra mask in my pocket (you never know when those straps will break) and maybe find an empty cafe to get some refreshment at.

So, yes, a good day. And one which saw a rare break from being online — no blogging at all except for this one. I expect I will be on the computer most of tomorrow doing a few more lesson plans and writing about a few more newly-issued stamps. And reading a bit as well.

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