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Bangkok Today



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

Bangkok is a fine place to live during this virus hysteria.   So far.  That may change, but now Bangkok is better than any other place I can imagine.

My perspective is that of a retired, American man, business owner, no family ties back there or over here.  Just one man enjoying his retirement years.  12+ years in Thailand, full time.

So what’s it like in Bangkok today?

This morning one of my regular massage ladies came in to do two hour Thai massage.   She’s cute, smart, five-foot-nothing, and gives a strong massage.   She’s been coming in every Monday and Friday morning for over a year now.  The flu hysteria hasn’t stopped her.

On Wednesday mornings a different massage lady comes in, also for two hours of Thai massage. The shop where she works is closed, along with all the other massage shops in Bangkok, so I am her only customer now.

Tesco-Lotus delivers food, drinking water, cleaning supplies and yes, toilet paper. This past week I ordered twice from Lotus.   Both times delivery in less than two hours.  TOPS supermarket claims to offer deliveries, but their web site doesn’t respond at all.

Lotus doesn’t deliver beef, so for steaks I head over to Villa Market for rib-eye, grass fed, from Australia.   Not as many steaks in the cooler display as before the hysteria, but still a good selection.   And I pick up special foods like pistachio nuts, marinated artichoke hearts, and imported sardines that Lotus doesn’t offer.  As long as I’m wearing a face mask, there’s a warm welcome at Villa Market.

My bank is in the same area as Villa. The security guard aims his temperature gun at my forehead and offers me a dollop of hand sanitizer.  The wait to see a bank employee is less than 5 minutes. Service was quick, friendly, more helpful than usual.  On their best behavior, it seems.

Grab is still offering taxi service on call.  Quick response.  And returning home, a plentiful taxi queue in front of the mall.   Getting around by taxi is even easier than ever.

The Western restaurants in my neighborhood are open for take-out and offer free delivery. Two of the best deliver themselves; waiters on their own motor scooters.   Delivery is quick, portions are large, food still quite warm when it arrives.

Pharmacies are open.  I’m handling this virus hysteria by doubling down on Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Zinc.  Pharmacies in my neighborhood have ample stock on the shelves.

Air quality in Bangkok now is mostly moderate, according to Internet-connected air quality monitors.  A few “good” days, a few days “unhealthy for sensitive people”, but mostly “moderate” air quality, in this part of town, anyway.

My building is a combination of monthly serviced apartments and nightly hotel rooms.  The nightly guests have disappeared.   Now just a few dozen long-stay renters remain.  Doesn’t make any difference, really, just a few less people coming and going in the lobby.

Packages from HomePro and Office Mate get delivered within 2-3 days.   I’ve ordered toilet paper, kitchen paper towels, computer ink refills, and a mobile phone power bank that way.   Both of those stores seem to have plenty of stock on hand.

My Thai language lessons are by phone anyway.  My teacher lives in a different province, so all my lessons are remote.   The virus hysteria hasn’t affected that at all.

Internet connection is strong.  I think DTAC is putting extra effort into providing more bandwidth than before.   That’s the way it seems from here.

So you’re wondering what is the downside of living in Bangkok at this time.  Hmmm…

One of the cute massage ladies from a shop in the neighborhood bothers me with a phone call about once a week to ask if I want massage at home. I already have that and don’t need more, but she’s happy to chatter on about her life these days.   More of a pleasant diversion than a downside.

Is not being able to go out to restaurants or malls a downside?  It certainly would be for a new expat who is eager to explore, but for an old expat with over a decade in Bangkok, no, not at all.  Eating at home is fine.

Who to talk with?  The Internet is my life-line to the world, as it is for many expats.   Face-to-face with other expats here?  Frankly, I mostly avoid conversations with my fellow expats.   But for someone who wants to meet others on a bar stool, or at a “meetup”, or maybe at a Sunday church service, there’s a lack of opportunities for any of that now.

In the future?

Over years of watching local people react to a Tsunami, several other episodes of “flu” like the bird flu and SARS flu, plus repeated floods and repeated riots and “protests” in Bangkok, I’ve been impressed at how quickly they get daily life back to normal.  As the current hysteria winds down, I expect things will return to normal pretty quickly.

Except …

Some things won’t return to normal.  As a former business owner, I know how difficult it is to build up a business, any business, and how long that takes.   The businesses that are being destroyed here now will take years to recover, and many will never recover.   Everything from restaurants to shoe stores, to tailor shops that we expats depend on for larger size clothing, will be limping along for years to come.

And, even worse, recovering their supply lines will be the worst bottle neck.  Any business is a delicate network of suppliers and workers.   Much of that is being destroyed right now.  Not destroyed by the virus scare, but by the decrees of governments in many countries.  That means, for example, in years past, the offerings of, say, vitamins coming in from Blackmore’s in Australia would be plentiful in most pharmacies here.   But, in years ahead, the supply is likely to be “thin” and inconsistent.  So when I see something I want – like that Vitamin C and zinc mentioned above – I will buy several bottles at a time, instead of just one.  I’ve already laid in a year’s supply of computer printer paper and two-years of printer ink.   That sort of shortage will, I expect, become a characteristic of life in Bangkok in future.  Somewhat inconvenient, yes, but not awful.

What does worry me is electric power and water:

Fortunately, much of Bangkok’s electric power is generated by natural gas, and there are lots of gas wells in the gulf of Thailand. Intermediate term, we’ll be fine, albeit maybe some blackouts from time to time.  I’ve bought a solar panel to re-charge mobile phone and a rechargeable flashlight.  But longer term is uncertain.   Electrical generating equipment and power transmission lines depend on specialized parts.   And those comes from China.  Nothing from China is very good quality, and, I’m sure, electrical power infrastructure is no exception.   Long term I expect increasing blackouts here. That’s going to be annoying.

Similar thinking about city water.  Right now, no problems at all.  But when a pump bearing wears out, the replacement comes from China.  If ship transport and air cargo is sluggish, how long will it take to get spare parts like that?   And as repairs pile up, I expect city water will, in future, be an on-again, off-again proposition.   Coupled with intermittent electric cut-offs to the water pumps, getting water for toilet, showers, laundry, and dish washing will not be reliable.

But as of now, expat life in Bangkok is fine.  If you’ve ever experienced Bangkok during Songkran – when many local people head out to the provinces for the week and streets and shops are very quiet – that’s an apt description of Bangkok today.   Not exciting, but certainly liveable.

 

The author welcomes comments and questions at:  [email protected]