Readers' Submissions

Returning to Thailand as a “Normal” Tourist Part 4



 

  1. “Panic at the Disco…” 

As “Your Bangkok Commentator” has so kindly pointed out in his recent weekly column, Thailand is facing another, “even more serious wave” of Covid infections. But, don’t worry, he is not an alarmist, “Don’t Panic”…. Nothing to see here, please disperse…  

https://steemit.com/ethereum/@haiku/meanwhile- 

Since I am ”one of those people currently in quarantine”, I feel I have earned my right to comment on this subject (and to have the above Leslie Nielsen gif added to my submission). And, as always, thank you to Mr. Stickman for keeping the situation calm.

Just to warn all you readers in advance, the last time Thailand went into lockdown, my landlady lowered my Thai rent 20% during the 3-month lockdown period 😉 That’s wasn’t meant to be a lemonade story, but almost every conflict has the winners (who call the conflict “the great victory”) and the losers (who often refer to it as “the massacre”)’ 

“Life handed him a lemon, As Life sometimes will do.
His friends looked on in pity, Assuming he was through.
They came upon him later, Reclining in the shade
In calm contentment, drinking A glass of lemonade.” 

My last submission actually touched on this subject… as sort of a post-script. The Covid outbreak south of Bangkok was essentially announced on the very day I landed in Bangkok… or at least that was my perception of when it all happened. Make no mistake, I am eager to go to the bars and bask in my well deserved “rock star welcome”.  The Thai girls have been seeing the same cheap Charlie expat faces for the last four or five months, don’t worry ladies, your savior is here !!! Won’t they be disappointed to find out I’m really just another twisted Charlie, whose days of having a bin-cup chocked full of waitress, mamasan and lady drink bins are long, long gone.  But still, the first 5 minutes of “mystery and anticipation”… after I walk into the bar for the first time… will be a bit exhilarating. 

Well, now that Stickman has thrown the “fire alarm”, the alarm bells are ringing at 121 decibels, people are looking around wondering which way to run… let’s face the demons, what is the worst-case scenario? The absolute worst-case scenario… as I see it is: 

  • Bangkok and the rest of the major cities in Thailand revert to full lockdown. 
  • All airline flights “to and from” Thailand are cancelled (again). 
  • Thai girls start arriving “on time”. 

 Ok, we can scratch that last one, that’s not going to happen. We can all continue to be late and blame them because they are even later.

A comprehensive airline shutdown is also unlikely. The current ASQ scheme has proven to be a godsend for the suffering hospitality industry, and so far it has proven to be absolutely no threat to the proliferation of Covid into mainstream Thailand. Keeping Thailand open to limited travel and quarantine and using tourist to foot the hospitality bill is nothing short of genius. Those brainiacs at the TAT and CCSA earned their pay on that one. The ASQ Scheme is currently responsible for keeping every registered ASQ hotel “in the green”. At around an $1800 cost (for me) it is a much, much better barometer for a tourist than a 5 month running bank account balance. A running bank account balance demonstrates the ability of a potential tourist to NOT be separated from his or her hard earned money. A certificate from an ASQ hotel based on a payment having been made from said tourist is a completely different scenario. An ASQ certificate shows that Thai hospitality jobs are being paid for.  The alternative… empty hotels… is much, much worse. I don’t see ASQ being a victim of the panic that Stickman is trying to cause, however, “should a lockdown in Bangkok occur” I feel that a negative repercussion of future ASQ bookings MAY ripple through the system.

Wait. Why would a total lockdown in Bangkok not completely kill tourism and ASQ? Well, for starters, everybody who is “in-flight” on the ASQ/COE process has already paid. Paid for flights, Paid for ASQ. Non-refundable. Yes you can change the flights and ASQ, but when will you change them to… when the vaccinations are happening in Thailand? The COE/ASQ process is a proven 3-4 week documentation ordeal along with another 2 weeks in ASQ. That’s 6 weeks total, a lockdown is most likely only going to last for 12 weeks (3 months). When would you rather spend your ASQ time, while a lockdown is happening on the outside or when you are free to move about on the outside. I’d rather be locked up during the lockdown and free during the opening. 

One thing that should be noted about the ASQ process… which is essentially the COE process (which I am now proposing will never disappear… please remember this, you heard it here first… on the Stickman website). Please read the next sentence slowly… in order to fully understand what it means. With the establishment of the COE process, Thailand currently knows everything, about every person entering the kingdom. On which day they enter/arrive, on which airlines they fly, at which ASQ hotel they are staying at, the occupancy of that hotel on any given day, which countries people are visiting from, ages, bank account balances, medical history, covid test results, etc. Never has Thailand had this level of “digital detail” and control over its borders in a single comprehensive system. No my friends, this is NOT the back of your immigration entry card. I seriously doubt Thailand will be willing to relinquish this level of information and control along with the potential underlying data analytics which their COE platform “Cognito” provides (when you apply for a COE, all your COE data is collected by the Cognito system). “Cognito LLC provides software solutions. The Company offers cutting-edge websites and web-based applications forms that collects real data, handle complex calculations, and integrate with existing software”. Time will ultimately tell if we will ever able to eventually book a flight on Friday and arrive in Thailand on Saturday and get a 30 day visa stamp with no questions asked, no strings attached, no proof of insurance, no evidence of vaccinations. In the future, I think we will refer to those days when we could just land and get a 30 day visa, no questions asked as the “The Lucky Days”. 

So, after eliminating “airport shutdowns” and “girls arriving on time”, our “worst case scenario” is simply another full-on lockdown. Heck, that’s not even as bad as last time when everyone was locked out of the country due to the flight restrictions.  This is starting to feel more like a day at a “spa” than another “crisis”… at least for those expats staying in 4 star hotels for two weeks. The last lockdown (Bangkok) lasted from 21 March to 15 June (Wikipedia Covid 19 Pandemic in Thailand). So, three months and then another month until bars were officially allowed to re-open. (Personally, I think that any lockdown would actually be much shorter this time, people know the drill and will want to get it over with.)

Would I be disappointed if Bangkok, or Thailand, lapsed into lockdown again? Gogo bars closed down again and the coyote dancers had no income from teasing customers and ordering a separate coke AND a SangSom shot (so they could charge me for two drinks)? To get a text message “Can I come see you?” rather than “You come bar tonight?”. No, I’m not too worried about the go-go bars closing down. How about some of the girls I know who work in more “respectable” jobs… waitresses or welcome girls at restaurants for example. No, I don’t think I’m going to be too disappointed if they call me asking to visit because the restaurant has been closed down. Ditto for the university girls, a good portion of which lost their next tuition payment when the gogo bars closed down. I’m not seeing another lockdown as a significant long-term negative event (as long as text messages and taxis are still operational). If you can speak and write/read Thai language, another lockdown is actually going to open more doors, than closing them. If you can navigate English language Thai on-line “dating” sites, I suspect a shutdown opens more doors there too. 

Please don’t get me wrong, I really don’t want a lockdown to happen again. I personally feel that the first lockdown was hard enough on “my lady friends”. I remotely assisted a number of my “favorites” in making it through the first shutdown. The problem with being a “sponsor” to ladies in Thailand (even an insignificant sponsor)  is that you “cannot teach them to fish”. Once you help them, the words “ask for more money” are the only words in their vocabulary… and they just continue to ask for more “fish”.  

In the experiment, chickens were taught to push a button with their beaks. In one group, each time the chicken pushed the button, a food pellet appeared. The chickens would peck at the button until they were full, then they would stop. In the second group, the chickens got rewarded with food at first but then consistently got nothing when they pushed the button. These chickens pushed the button a few times after the food stopped but soon grew bored and quit. In the third group, the chickens sometimes got a food pellet and sometimes did not. It was random. These chickens pecked the button until their beaks bled . . . and kept on pecking, never knowing if just one more push of the button would reward them with food. The result of the experiment: To strengthen behavior of any kind, use intermittent reinforcement.

Alas, to miss-quote a Charles Dickens favorite during a yule-tide time. “There is more of gravy, than of grave, about a Thai lockdown”. For me, and probably a large number of my expat brethren, a local Thailand lockdown has limited or no negative re-percussions for “foreign income funded farangs”… and in many cases adds a bit of icing to a cake. The last shutdown was poorly orchestrated in regards to the perceptions of many westerners… who ended up locked out of Thailand, separated from families or even their legitimate “retirement homes”. Last time tourists were locked up within the Thai borders with no escape and little or no guidance with regards to the legality of remaining in the kingdom past their visa data stamps. If flights remain active, I just don’t see any major challenges to the “flow of tourists”… and therefore the perception of the Thai Government “keeping the country open”. 

I started coming to Thailand just before the Asian Financial crisis https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_Asian_financial_crisis . Ironically, that “Asian Contagion” was actually started by Thailand. How funny is that, in the midst of a Covid contagion in Thailand I reminisce about another crisis caused by the very country I am quarantined in.  A number of my friends… a sort of middle-aged “wolf-pack”… developed a bond around that time… and they were some good times too. When the wolf-pack gets together nowadays to lick-its-wounds and reminisce of the days-gone-by, the days of “Asian Contagion” are only ever referred to in one context…”The Lucky Days”. “The Lucky Days” were those first few years where you get to discover everything there is about Thailand, you never left the plaza alone… well at least not the first two times you left anyway. They were the “Good times before the times changed”. Before the police started shutting down the bars at 1pm. Before it was a problem to get a retirement visa. Before… before… before… The reality is the that “The Lucky Days” are the first few years we all arrived in Thailand… but I still believe the “Asian Contagion” added a significant special twist to our lucky days.  The “Asian Contagion” brought financial hardships what reached from the abandoned skyscrapers in Bangkok, all the way to the up-country rice paddies. The buses that the rainbow bars sent up-country in those days… came back chock-full every weekend. The go-go bar floors were packed, but not with that coyote-lady-drink-crap which poisoned the Arab’s bars in cowboy… a poison so strong that they remain closed even to this very day. The go-go bar floors during the financial crisis were packed with girls that wanted to “go”. They were the girls that kept the “go” in “GoGo”. “Go” was where the money was, not holding onto a pole until you get your four 200 baht drinks and earn your 800 baht nightly coyote dance commission. I think other stickman readers who “suffered through the Asian Contagion” with us will also fondly remember those days. Now look what you’ve done Stickman !!!  Your alarms and panic buttons have gone and gotten me sentimental and all teary eyed…ah well, it’s that time anyway…

Should auld acquaintance be forgot , And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And days of auld lang syne? 

ASQ will see me comfortably out from 2020 and into 2021. To my fellow quarantine inmates, brothers left behind, and brothers and ladies I soon hope to (re)discover on the other side:

Good riddance and goodbye 2020. Happy New Year 2021!!!

  1. Return to Thailand Part 4, Down the Rabbit Hole.

Thus far I have found the ASQ process to be quite efficient and effective… at least it is at the hotel I chose. Yes, it is actually a 15 night quarantine and not a 14 day quarantine, but I can check out at 6am on my last day. I asked if I could check out at 00:01, but that was a no-go. Normally this section would more closely detail my experiences and challenges returning to Thailand. But sadly, I find myself needing to monologue a bit about some of the people who consider this ASQ process a total rip-off for tourists. They think ASQ is simply money mongering by some leachy Thai bureaucracy. So let’s switch back to italics, and I’ll try to make this short.

There are an AMAZING number of geniuses on the internet that have “figured out” that the ASQ process is a complete “rip-off”. ASQ is only meant to suck money from tourists. Now, these guys are REALLY, REALLY smart. They even figured out that “even with a vaccination” the Thai Government, TAT, and CCSA will try to rip you off and attempt to suck money from virus-free-vaccinated tourists… because you can’t EVER EVER, EVER EVER get or be sick from Covid if you were vaccinated. ASQ is just a pure rip-off.

Thank God these geniuses are staying the hell out of Thailand. Don’t let the Thai government rip you off on ASQ… you are right… and justified. STAY AWAY !!! God, please let them stay where they currently are… and potentially only harmful to themselves.

First of all, why is the Thai government also “ripping off its own people” by providing FREE state quarantine to their citizens. It’s the same thing that the tourists have to pay for if we want to enter Thailand. Why should the Thai government pay for non-citizens to quarantine for a holiday? YOU DON’T HAVE TO COME TO THAILAND, STAY WHERE YOU ARE !!!. It’s “free” to stay where you are. However, if you DO want to come to Thailand, it’s pretty darn simple… you pay “out of pocket” for the same treatment that Thai citizens have to endure for free (and most probably without air-conditioning). If a Thai citizen wants a “step up”, they can pay for a hotel just like I did, they even get a 5% discount at my hotel. 

I’m very, very sorry to report to all those “Albert Einstein’s”, but the Thailand SQ/ASQ procedure is about the most effective process on the planet to protect/control the re-introduction of Covid into Thailand. I challenge any Einstein’s to prove in a court of law or court of public opinion that the Thai government is requiring tourists to perform anything different from its own citizens with regards to quarantine (other than making the tourists pay for it out of their tourism pockets). I further challenge you to prove that the SQ/ASQ process has not been extremely effective in its singular purpose of protecting Thailand from the re-introduction of Covid by returnees. If you cannot disprove either of the above challenges, then my final challenge to you is to just shut up.

Ok, on to the next “Mythbuster”… If you have been vaccinated you can’t EVER EVER, EVER EVER get or be sick from Covid. It is VERY widely published that the vaccine has a 95% efficacy rate. Here’s what 95% efficacy means…it means that 5 out of 100 people who contracted Covid during the double blind trial… had been vaccinated. Yes, even after vaccination 5 people became both infected and symptomatic by Covid. One of the vaccinated participants even had a sever case (aka life threatening). Here are the actual numbers. (https://www.statnews.com/2020/11/18/pfizer-biontech-covid19-vaccine-fda-data/) 

Of the 170 cases of Covid-19 Pfizer observed in its trial, 162 occurred in the placebo group and just eight among the group that got its two-dose vaccine. Of the 10 cases of severe Covid-19, nine were in the placebo group, an important finding which suggests the vaccine prevents not only mild cases, but the type of serious disease that leads patients to die or be hospitalized.

For those challenged by math 8 (vaccinated people who got sick) divided by 170 (total number of people who got sick in the vaccine trial) equals 5%… which is where the 95% efficacy comes from. This is undeniable evidence that you CAN… and people WILL get sick from Covid even after vaccination. Those people who get sick will become symptomatic and even test positive via RT-PCR Covid tests (the most accurate). The Einsteins will now argue that there is still no evidence that vaccinated subjects who are symptomatic and test positive are actually able to spread the virus. They will argue this because they have nothing left to argue about. I could now argue that there is also no evidence that they WON’T spread the virus, but I don’t have to. The Einsteins vaccinated tourist just tested positive to Covid in quarantine. Just like everybody else who tests positive, the vaccinated tourist will go to the hospital until they no longer test positive and is released. With a little help from the SQ/ASQ process, I guess the Einsteins ended up being correct after all… that vaccinated person (symptomatic and testing positive) ended up NOT spreading the virus to others… 

Thank you for letting me get that out of my system, let’s get back to the play-by-play.

After spraying down my luggage, I was ushered to an elevator and I promptly arrived on my floor of the hotel. There was a clear acrylic desk in front of my room. Check-in for the ASQ took all of 7 minutes. I still had my COE Document Dossier (along with a set of backup photocopies). The hotel started asking me for each document, I just handed them my dossier and said they were all there. We agreed they could just confiscate all my original documents. No problem, I didn’t need them anymore and I have my backup copies. They took a photo of my passport, made me sign on some dotted lines without my glasses. Made me select meals for my arrival date and the next two days (there were three days of selections on each page of paper), handed me the rest of my menu options (Western or Asian) for the remaining 12 days. While all this was going on, my luggage had been placed in my room (FYI, my luggage was not checked for any potential contraband)… again, this was all playing out right in front of me. Within 7 minutes I was in my room, the door was closed. For good or bad, I was in quarantine.

I received a lot of instructions in that 7 minutes, food would be placed outside my door, I had to join “Line” groups for the Hospital and Hotel requests and communications. Don’t leave the room unless escorted, no mini-bar restocks, but what was in the mini-bar was mine. Free tea, water bottles, instant coffee, just request on the hotel “Line” and it would be dropped off outside my door. They also gave me a pretty comprehensive leaflet (two pages) of rules and what I was expected to do.

In addition to my seven minutes of instructions, my friend “Visa Steve” had come to my rescue, getting me some sets of weights and a toaster oven size box of “Junk food” to see me through the two weeks. During the first week of quarantine, that box was a godsend. Having been “working from home” for several months, the convenience of “grabbing a sandwich” or “eating an apple” outside of “normal” mealtimes had become quite a habit. Three strict meals a day would take some getting used to. I was also hoping to drop a few pounds during quarantine, so that box became both friend and foe. Of course, getting off my ass and exercising in the first place was actually the problem… not a box.

For the hospital, I had to join the “Line” group and send them my temperature reading EVERY day in the morning and afternoon. They did psych evaluations for me on the first day and the seventh day. The evaluation was to make sure I wasn’t under too much stress and might commit suicide. No, that would have most likely happened during the last 10 months… not 15 days before they let me back into the “Magic Kingdom”. I would have a Covid test on the 5th day and 12th day. Results would be returned by the 7th day and 14th day. After I joined the line group, a hospital attendant/nurse ran me through the psych evaluation on a “Line” video call that first hotel night. That’s pretty much the complete run-down from the hospital requirements perspective.

For the hotel, I finished my meal selections for the rest of my stay. I took a picture of the pages so I knew what I would be getting in the future. Later I never found them on my phone. I didn’t remember what I would be getting the first three days because that all happened so fast during the check-in. I placed my menu selections on the table outside my door. In my pamphlet, they indicated I would be escorted to a Covid test on day 5 and if/after a negative test I would subsequently be allowed to spend one hour in the “prison yard” every day after the 7th day. It’s actually a very nice sundeck area, but I like to refer to it as “the yard”.

Now, here is where all of the magic and efficiency of the quarantine comes together. From days one through seven, the only time I get to leave my room is for the initial Covid test on day five. Nobody comes in my room. When food is served, they place it on my outside table and ring the bell, I put my mask on, open the door and pick it up off the table. Food finished, I put my mask on, open the door, place the empty tray on the table. Our food trash should go in a red plastic bags marked biohazard, but everyone on my floor just places the disposable plastic dishware in the tray, on the table, so I just did the same. If I want more water or Earl Grey tea, I ask for it on “Line” the doorbell rings, I put my mask on, open the door and pick it up off the table. Are you guys getting this? Have I lost anybody? I am exposed to no one, no one is exposed to me.

On day five at 10:30 AM, I am promptly escorted down for a throat and nose swabbing for my initial Covid test. 30 seconds later I am escorted back to my room. My only exposure to anybody in 5 days. At 6:30 pm that same day, I get an actual hotel phone call with my results. Covid Negative. Thank God, that means I’m not ending up in a hospital (yet). On day seven I arrange for my sundeck time at 10:00 AM. It’s also the first time my room will be cleaned since I arrived. This is the real efficient part… nobody, I mean nobody, is generally exposed to anybody who is tested positive for Covid at the hotel. The “hard” quarantine last from day one through seven, and once you test negative, your room gets cleaned, you can go outside to the sundeck, other tourists are there, we need masks while we are being shuffled around, but once on the sundeck, the masks can come off and we “super social distance” in the sun (I mean there is 20 or more feet between everyone). We have all tested negative before we left for Thailand and again since we have arrived. I’m sure the protocol is very much different for the person who tests positive (going to the hospital, dis-infecting the room, leaving it empty for a few days, etc). To be perfectly honest, I feel safer on the sundeck without my mask than I did at my local grocery store with TWO masks on… along with a face shield. That’s how comfortable I feel about the ASQ procedure at the hotel. Mind you, when I even get close to a hotel employee, I put on my mask. I’m much more scared of them than the other tourists. But that’s ok, they all have masks on and full body clear plastic suit/gear. I think they also feel pretty safe knowing that they are only dealing with guests that have already “re-tested” negative to Covid.

The rating on the food is “hotel grade meal plan”, what can I say. Some days are real good, some days just OK. You won’t get fat on their serving sizes, but at the same time they are not skimpy servings either. It’s definitely NOT what you would get from normal hotel room service, but at the same time, hotel room service portions would probably cost a lot more than the meal plan provided with the ASQ package.

The first week of quarantine was definitely the worst. The first day or two are not so bad, everything is a new experience. Computers get set up, streaming services get tested. Jet lag facilitates sleeping. The following few days are much less eventful. The new movies available on TV have already been viewed… twice. Once day seven comes along… and I get to go outside, things start looking up. It’s also basically “hump day”… essentially half-way through the quarantine process.

The author of this article can be contacted at : [email protected]