Phuket Weekly 2022 #1 (1-7 January)

It has been a bumpy start to the New Year, to say the least.

In Thailand, we have entered our Fifth Wave of COVID-19 and yesterday the government raised the Restriction Level to 4 (out of a possible 5 which is complete lockdown); they are anticipating 10,000 cases per day by the end of the weekend and three times that by the end of the month. The prices of many products hae risen noticibly with pork being the most damaging. My sticky rice with pork now costs 35 baht per package at the market compared to just 20 baht last week. I used to buy four at a time but now need to reduce that to two or three.

Phuket ordered “all educational institutions” closed to on-site learning for 7-14 days, effective Monday evening and urged those schools doing online instruction to allow the teachers to do so from home. However, my school insists that all teachers go to school each day and teach from there. My office is extremely warm and crowded with four teachers including myself. I am the only one in the office who wears his mask when the others are present (which is most of the time). They don’t “believe” that COVID is a concern.

Also, my agency remains open to onsite classes despite the government mandate. Luckily, the parents of my students this Tuesday and Wednesday cancelled their lessons but I had to teach two kids there on Thursday evening. One of their parents told me she was very surprised that we were still allowing classes as all of the other learning facilities in the area have closed. I have another class there on Sunday (three students) and hope that the police don’t decide to raid the offices.

The week of online teaching at school had its share of ups and downs. The room where I teach from is extremely hot and, by the end of each day, the application (LINE) would shut down due to the tablet overheating. I had to direct small fans towards the tablet and restart it numerous times just to continue the hour-long lessons. The Internet connection has also been spotty — too many teachers overloading the network or the weather (still almost daily thundershowers) playing a factor. I counted 16 connection drops during one class Thursday morning.

However, my students have been very quiet and well-behaved. Some of the classes have been too quiet and there hasn’t always been the interactions I wanted. Still others have been fully engaged, typing notes and questions in the chat box and talking to me during the lessons. The quality of the homework has been uniformly excellent and it seems that most of the students are turning in material. I plan to sort all of that work (they take photographs of their notebook pages or worksheets and upload them to class albums) once I get my laptop repaired (or buy a new one when my salary arrives next week).

A definite low point was having to undergo COVID testing on Thursday during the lunch break. They used the rapid-antigen test kits (ATK) with the swabs stuck up the nose. The person doing the swabbing was particularly sadistic, causing a few of us to have nose bleeds for several minutes following the test! I am still waiting on my result. They probably won’t tell you anything unless you test positive (“You must go home now. And teach online!”)

I always see a large number of foreign tourists walking around Old Town during my travels home from school each afternoon. The majority of these are still going about without wearing facemasks but an increasing number of shops and restaurants are putting up signs barring their entry if they don’t comply with the protocols. I saw a couple arguing with a shopkeeper earlier this week but haven’t seen the (mild) violence observed around Christmastime for a while.

Most evenings, I return home simply too exhausted to do anything productive. I feel there isn’t a lot I can do with my tablet other than read an ebook. I generally use the Samsung DeX mode (produces a Windows-like desktop environment) which gives me the opportunity to be more productive than I would using the normal Android tablet mode, but since I have been using it all day everyday this week to teach, I really don’t want to spend much more time looking at its small screen after school. So, I have not read much more than 30 minutes each evening and haven’t made a lot of progress on my first book of 2022 (a Sue Grafton novel). I am also reading a physical book (Fundamentals of Philately) from time to time but it is quite dry at the moment with its detailed examination of different paper-making methods. I may skim ahead to something else soon.

As for my own philatelic pursuits, I have not yet made any purchases in 2022. I did order a few stamps from Kyrgyzstan on the last day of the Old Year and am anticipating their arrival in the next few weeks. I may try to do some work on my stamp site this weekend but it is a bit slow-going on the tablet so I may wait to do updates until I can do it on a laptop. Thailand’s second issue of the year is released today (8 January), four stamps marking the annual Thai National Children’s Day, and I may head to the post office a bit later to see if they have those or the earlier Year of the Tiger issue for purchase.

The governent officially cancelled “all celebrations” of Children’s Day this year. Despite this, my school went ahead with activities which saw the cancellation of Friday’s online classes but the teachers had to do presentations on Facebook Live and ZOOM. Again, we received word very late (a text message on Thursday evening) which gave us minimal time to prepare but my participation was just one hour of asking questions and rewarding random prizes. There were, to be expected, several glitches at the start of my broadcast but it soon smoothed out and I deemed it very successful. I was partnered once again with Leira from the Philippines.

After our Children’s Day activity, we were free to leave so I took the opportunity to take my laptop to a nearby repair shop. I had already replaced the CMOS battery but, unfortunately, this failed to bring my computer back to life. The technician said he would give me a call in three to four days with a diagnosis.

I do like my school and it has been rather pleasant coming here each day as I become accustomed to the mismatched buildings and discover secret ways to get from one area to another. With the children at home, their sounds have been replaced by those of construction and access routes sometimes are closed off as a result. On Friday, for example, most of the bathrooms in the same building as my office were inaccessible and there were heavy paint fumes throughout.

I also feel like I am getting much needed exercise as I walk to and from school each day (it is about a 20 minutes’ walk from my home). Friday, I had to dodge a street cleaner to avoid getting sprayed and I have started seeing a lot of purple scooters for rent around town. I wonder if I could use one of these rather than walking?

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