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Lockdown

  • Written by Kloth
  • June 11th, 2020
  • 9 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

In place soon over 3 months now but hopefully with the end in sight come July. Authorities have taken a hard line, imposing tough and unpopular measures. With the benefit of hindsight and in comparison with other countries, it may well prove to have been the right path to take. To me the most surprising aspect is the conscientious manner the Thai populace has accepted and to an overwhelming majority complied with the often-unpleasant course of action.

The “new normal” if and when its in place will probably bring back tourists in the long run. But it will most likely also be the demise of once flourishing businesses. The saddest of them to me personally is THAI. For many years, my regular carrier to Europe, sometimes several times a year.

THAI had it all to look forward to a bright future after being successfully launched with the help of SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) in 1960. But the last 20 years of mismanagement, mostly disguised as “restructuring”, corruption, political meddling, and nepotism has brought the company to its knees. Whether the phoenix will rise and fly again remains to be seen.

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At the end of last of last year, I moved permanently to Bangkok where I had rented a studio for many years already. Now I changed into a larger apartment in the same condo with kitchen and bedroom and settled comfortably in late December, 2019.

But soon things changed in March with curfew & lockdown. I live on my own and have few acquaintances here. Most of my friends live in Phuket, Trang, Pattaya and Hua-Hin. With lockdown and travel restrictions, meeting became difficult and then impossible. Skype, Messenger and a smartphone helped. But without personal contact, days became long and evenings even longer.

Luckily, I had kept contact with miscellaneous girls, of equally assorted backgrounds. Invitations went out by Line mostly. The pretext was mostly to watch a movie, talk and have some homemade food, restaurants being closed. Or alternatively KFC deliveries. It worked. Not always, of course. The highest success rate was with girls whose room rent was just coming up, the monthly check-up and tightening of their braces at the dentist. Debts, doctors, or all sorts of other bills that needed to be paid….but have no money! Not a time to be choosy. If the demands were reasonable, I mostly accepted.

Movies: I always gave the girls the choice between Thai soaps / movies or farang movie. Almost always their choice was farang shows. What was most intriguing to most girls was the kissing scenes. Mostly in Thai movies tenderness is just suggested or implicit. I explained; the often sultry or sticky kissing scenes in many farang movies were implying sexual intimacy. Something that even in today’s supposedly liberated western society could not be shown in mainstream movies.

Food: Despite trying hard, even making special efforts at times the girls mostly just pick at farang food, not keen on it. But they never forget to mention how very alloy it had been. The most satisfying experiences were when I occasionally let girls cook themselves. I tasted some excellent Tom-Yum-Kung and Poo-pad-pongaree. One girl attempted to make Poo-Nim but the crab shell was not quite as soft as it should have been. Vegetables are always tasty so long as you tell them to go easy on the chilli and serve the nam-plah apart or add it individually. None of the girls liked farang desserts or biscuits. They only make you fat is the general consensus.

Booze-Ban: After so many years I have a friendly relationship with the landlord of the condo. When I complained of the uselessness of the ban related to the Corona-19 pandemic he had a word to the effect that “well, you know, once you start drinking alcohol you can never stop”. I disagreed. The guy is a good English speaker, so I tried to explain the difference between responsible drinking and irresponsible drinking. Here goes:

Close to 20 years ago, my son a toddler, I often drove up northeast to the grandparent’s modest house. Grandpa’s first gesture on my arrival always was an outstretched hand asking for nuengroi baht. At the time, 100 baht bought 3 large bottles of Chang beer. He soon settled in a far corner and was not seen or heard again until late at night or the next morning.

The point is that while you or me would easily drink and enjoy a cold beer or two after a day’s work, watching a movie on TV or as a nightcap. Not so the many poor Esan farmers. It often seems they drink beer for the sole purpose to get drunk. Possibly the reason behind the government’s decision to ban booze. As it came just days before Songkran it may well have reduced drunken driving and consequently saved lives over that accident-prone period.

When I was a kid of about 6 or 7, I learned to drink wine. On Sundays or special occasions there was always a bottle of wine on the table. For the parents, invitees or other family members. Us kids, my brother & me were poured half a glass of wine, a spoon or two of sugar and filled up with water or lemonade. And what a treat it was to drink wine just like the grown-ups! Later, apart from a few times when as a young man I got pissed, alcohol was never a problem for me nor my brother. But to this day a glass or two of a good wine is a much-cherished addition to my dinner.

I am aware that one cannot compare a few weeks alcohol ban to the 12 or 13-year long prohibition years in America after the end of WW1. In my view none served any useful purpose. Exception made for fewer alcohol related illnesses over the pond and possibly less road accidents and fatalities’ over the Songkran period in Thailand. Alcohol consumption did not substantially decrease in America despite shutting down hundreds of distilleries, breweries, and thousands of liqueur stores. Home brewing, organized black-market, imported brews or illegal sale points took over almost immediately

The incidence of prohibition on crime rates was in fact a major boost to the Mafia and other crime syndicates. As rum-running and boot-legging provided an additional financial basis to their traditional incomes from prostitution and gambling. When the Great Depression struck in 1930 it became clear that the government needed the additional tax revenue alcohol sales could generate. Later, Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1932 based in part on his promise to end prohibition. It ended in 1933.

As an afterthought, the most victimized people by prohibition were, as is so often the case, the poor and underprivileged. Thailand specific the Isan farmer who could not easily procure his daily beer during the booze-ban without being persecuted by the local policeman.

Over the pond President Woodrow Wilson moved his own supply of alcoholic beverages to his Washington residence after his term of office ended. His successor, Warren G. Harding, relocated his own large supply into the White House after inauguration.

No accusation intended here as I plead guilty to a remarkably similar offence during booze-ban. Yes, I also found my way to a bottle of Chardonnay for my daily aperitif and a Cabernet-Sauvignon or Merlot to accompany and enjoy my otherwise mostly solitary evening meals at the condo.

The reason I bring this up is that with Covid-19 in Thailand and the rest of the world for that matter, the situation is not totally dissimilar to what it was in 1932. Governments worldwide will have to find funds to repair the damage done by the virus and the many occurrences related to it. I predict that taxes, VAT and alcohol taxes, especially for imported produce will once again be on the rise.

Books, TV, and DVDs: Naturally a lot of time remained to be filled during the long days and evenings of lockdown. I did so in the above order. Reading books is by far my preferred pastime. All sorts of books, preference to real life or true crime stories. Classic espionage or dramatic narratives. Until recently I used to bypass the Science-fiction and Literary section in bookstores. But with time on hands I browsed through it recently and bought a Hemmingway classic. The reason, I have a dust gathering DVD of the 1956 movie made after his supposedly best work “Siesta, the sun also raises”. I watched it years ago and was disappointed.

Going by the axiom that the book’s always better than the movie I bought it. And was equally disappointed. I suppose that a story of young men, journalists and aspiring writers drinking Pernod in Paris, fooling around with some High-society woman, flashing their heavy American Dollar, going fishing and spend the remaining time watching bullfights in Spain may have been entertaining or enthralling when first published a hundred years ago but comes across as pretty flat today. When I mentioned this to a friendly local American literary professor, he was equally dismissive, saying forget Hemmingway, he was just an old drunkard.

TV and even more so these days the internet are naturally a must if just to follow the news to keep informed. My two most watched favorite channels years ago are no longer of great interest to me. One has now turned to leftist and showing to many commercials. The other is Murdoch’s right-wing tool. BBC is ok. More often now I get news from my previously unknown channel Euronews or from Al Jazeera, a channel I first heard of following the 9/11 attacks.

DVD movies remain my cherished babies. Films out of the glory days in Hollywood mostly. Not appealing to the 20 – 30 years old of today obviously. How many times have I seen “Casablanca”, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, “Cabaret”? Another of my favorite classics is the hilarious “Some like it hot” that plays during the prohibition era in Chicago featuring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemon and the unforgettable Marylin Monroe.

The heyday in my view of great movies ended in the late 1980’s. But that fact is probably mostly due to my moving to Phuket and starting a new business. For many years I believe I never set foot in a movie theater. Time and interest lacking. Thus, my lasting taste in retirement are for the oldies.

Among many others I also own the entire series of the mystery movies greatest detective, Columbo. I believe about 70 films made over several decades. Again, not recommended for the current generation of moviegoers or TV watchers as there is no fighting, no violence in these movies. Not even a who done it as the perpetrator of the crime is often introduced in the opening sequence. Yet, to me, even today it is still great entertainment.

Oh, just one more thing: Not heard of Greta Thunberg and the climate change lobby in over 3 months!   

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The author can be contacted at : [email protected]