Daily Phuket #75: 06 October 2021 – Survival & Moving Forward

Most people have lives that fluctuate between good and bad events. I certainly have had my share of both over the past 55 (closing in on 56) years. Even when things have been at the very worst, I have always managed to survive. Somehow. I don’t know if luck has been the powering factor, or if it is an innate refusal to ever give up. Probably a combination of the two and much more as well. It certainly has helped having such a supportive family despite the physical distances between us.

It seems as if I have had to survive external events much more often since moving to Southeast Asia. It’s been more than 18 years since I found myself at “Ground Zero” for SARS, staying at the Metropole Hotel in Kowloon following a number of weeks roaming the streets of Beijing and Shanghai while the local populace were holed-up in their homes avoiding that pandemic. I cite SARS as the reason why I ended up moving to Thailand a year-and-a-half later, a relocation that began with a tsunami-sized close encounter. Add in a passenger airliner crashing at the airport shortly after my arrival on Phuket not to mention my first of two (or has it been three?) coup d’états and various other strange encounters my childhood friends back in Kansas have only experienced from the evening news and I wonder when will I finally use up my allotted nine lives.

My latest feat of survival is COVID-19. Delta variant. It was downright frightening when that strain began tearing through India earlier this year and I knew it would soon reach Thailand. It did so in early April and the numbers since then have been staggering. The non-elected dictator and his cronies were still patting themselves on their backs over the country’s handling of the pandemic in 2020 it took them a while before they realized people were dying in the streets at alarming numbers here in the Land of Smiles. There haven’t been very many smiles for a while. Things are still being bungled here as the junta enjoys the profit aspect of the virus.

It was inevitable that I contracted the coronavirus. I followed protocols but was often thrown into situations where those surrounding me did not take any precautions nor did they seem to care. Until they, themselves, got sick. When they did, I used to feel that they were lucky as Thai people with COVID-19 were allowed to self-quarantine at home. As usual in this country, the rules are different for foreigners. Those who tested positive using a Rapid Antigen Test Kit (RATK) but were asymptomatic were incarcerated (literally as you will see) in one of a number of COVID Care Centers (CCC) scattered around Phuket. However, as Thais with more severe cases filled the local hospital beds, they began to be sent to the CCC facilities as well.

Starting in late July, throughout August and into September, I was teaching online but could not do that from the comfort (and safety) of my home. I had to report to school each day in order to teach remotely. Plenty of people around each day, most “wearing” their facemasks in the Thai style — as a chin warmer. Thai teachers, maintenance and cleaning staff, stray students (who were forced to come to school for various projects, etc. despite the mandates), and parents who kept coming by to pick up worksheets or turn in their kids’ homework. I tried to keep my distance as much as I could.

Around mid-September, the school installed an extremely fancy COVID-detector machine. I immediately dubbed it the rocket ship. It’s got a video screen that when it isn’t scanning the body of the person being tested, played karaoke! It’s got arm cuffs to take blood pressure, finger clips for oxygen tests, and a whole lot more. Naturally, I volunteered to be one of the first to use the thing. It wasn’t even connected to the central database and since I didn’t have a Thai ID card, another teacher gave me his to insert in the slot (if you test positive and it’s connected, the authorities are immediately alerted). My temperature and oxygen level set off the machine but we all laughed that it probably wasn’t calibrated properly. But a couple of days later, I was asked to do a test via a RATK and tested positive.

Naturally, they sent me to the CCC facility nearest my home. This happens to be the newly converted former Phuket Provincial Prison. I would have to say that the conversion must not be complete; the new coat of paint certainly did not quell the stench of a century or so of the sweaty prisoners who were its previous tenants. When I arrived, I was the only “Green” patient, the only foreigner, and one of a great many people crammed into the former dining hall. The “beds” (basically a collection of cardboard and wood boxes strapped together) were not exactly two meters apart and the small fans between each were for show and rarely plugged in as the cables didn’t reach the outlets. However, I spent my final weekend there in a small cell with two Dutchmen as roommates. They were also classified “Green”.

My dad and my sister seemed to have fun coming up with prison puns during my stay. I think I wrote them more emails (and received more responses) during my sentence in the “Big House” than in all the years since I moved away from Kansas. Writing update emails became part of my rather uneventful daily routine.

It seems strange to be out — free — now. During my last weekend, Phuket (and most of the rest of Thailand) has begun to open and ease the long-standing restrictions. This is despite the continuing high numbers of daily cases and deaths. It seems that most people are just tired of being poor and not being able to work or go anywhere. Last month saw a rash of businesses defying the various new laws in a last-ditch effort to survive. So, they are trying to welcome the world with open arms. Most sane tourists, I suspect, will stay away as there are still some hoops to jump through and the pandemic is still with us much more than it was last year.

Next week marks the end of Term 1 at my school (grades or no grades). There is a possibility I will be moved to a school closer to home for Term 2 following the short (two weeks?) break. It would be nice to walk to work once again but we will see if that comes to pass. My agency is also experiencing quite a few changes, some of which I have got inklings of but nothing is really being said at the moment.

The rains have not changed. This monsoon season has been the worst that I can recall and it shows no sign of letting up. Today, schools and government offices were closed due to the start of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. This was a very last-minute decision but one that (sort of) worked to my advantage as I needed to visit my agency to sign some documents. I also needed to visit the Immigration office but the closure prevented that. I had all but forgotten the 10-day event (a local version of the Chinese “9 Emperor Gods Festival”) and am somewhat shocked that they are allowing it to proceed as usual. I was reminded as my bus stopped across from the billboard in today’s featured photo.

And now that I have updated this blog for the first time since the 5th of September, I can play around a bit with Windows 11 which I installed on my Acer AIO earlier this evening. I hope the next update comes much, much sooner without anything bad to report on….

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