Sometimes It Takes A Cassandra
Or maybe an analytical pedant. Though it may seem it, this is not any sort of boast, just a sequence of events and how this writer assessed them. In hindsight, it was nice to have foresight, even if serendipity played a role.
In December of 2019 I began to see some obscure articles about an odd new kind of pneumonia in China. I know China always squelches negative news until they can come up with a plan and an excuse for why nothing is ever the CCP’s fault, so I opted to think it was much worse than any article stated. As I had planned travel and a Thai visit, I immediately ordered a huge supply of face masks and a jug of hand sanitizer. Nobody in my country was talking about Covid, and few were aware something was going on in China. I ordered my masks because I knew Lunar New Year was coming and IF this pneumonia was another SARS-like thing (I lived in HK during SARS), it was going to spread far and wide, which obviously meant Thailand, too. I packed my purchases in my suitcase and departed.
I arrived in Thailand at the end of January. I wore a mask when out and about. Early February mask usage on BTS was about 50%. By mid-February it was back down to maybe 20%, the threat seemingly over. I was in the 20% group wearing one, both as a precaution and also because I don’t want to contribute to farangs getting a bad name. Covid now had a widely-known name in Thailand, though it quickly became a farang illness rather than a Chinese one. Good marketing by China, I guess, plus a willing audience in the upper echelons of the government here. Blogs and comments dismissed Covid as ‘just the flu’ and ‘no big deal’. I suspected it was a big deal, because unlike SARS and MERS, it could be passed from those showing no symptoms. Covid was insidious, and thus particularly dangerous. Covid soon started to become a bigger deal. Mask usage rose again to early Feb levels. Soon thereafter, masks were required on the BTS and MRT.
Rumors began of a bar closure mid-March. They closed in BKK on about the 17th. I went to Pattaya; they closed there on the 18th. I visited Soi 6 to see a ‘friend’ and offer her some money to get her through. She told me, “It’s only for two weeks”. I suggested she prepare for a lot longer closure. She smiled but disagreed. Imagine a bargirl being an optimist!
The drums started beating louder. Having done one trip to Yangon, my Tourist Visa had been reset by late February. I smelled a border closure, and wanted to maximize my permission to stay in Thailand, so on 20 March I got an expedited online visa to Myanmar (Myanmar ceased granting online visas at midnight that very day). I rented a car in Pattaya, drove to Suvarnabhumi, and did an overnight flight again to Yangon, refreshing my 30-day TR on 21 March, just as all sorts of precautions were taking place at Suvarnabhumi, including having all arrivals download a tracing app. That day was the last day of unfettered entry to Thailand, and even on that day it took me two hours to clear Immigration, as the entry procedure was being invented on the fly and not yet organized. I got my first ‘sticker’ on my shirt there after downloading the app.
A few days later I began adding extra beer and wine on every shopping run, assuming the local Temperance Union would decide booze spreads Covid. The booze ban followed mid-April. I had more than I needed, so suddenly I had new ‘friends’.
By late-April, knowing full well my own country’s ‘leadership’ would f^ck up its response to Covid, I went to Chang Wattana to extend my visa (choosing not to believe the rumors of amnesty). I had no desire to ‘go home’ and wanted to stay in Thailand at least another 30 days. They sent me to MTT, where things were just getting set up. IOs there told me an amnesty might be coming. I still paid my 1900 baht and took the extension, just in case.
The amnesty came. I found a hotel that would allow me to borrow dumbbells from the gym, and set up house there, moving all my booze with me.
My LINE started to buzz like an attack of killer wasps, though the booze more than my personality was likely the draw. I spent many a day with friends and their ‘sisters’ sprawled on my couch watching bad movies and drinking my beer. It was kind of fun to see them being themselves. Of course many also held out their hands asking to ‘borrow’ money for rent. I won’t say if I obliged or not, I’ll only say my photo is in the Suckers and Simps Hall of Fame. One could have a worse reputation, I suppose.
Shops and malls opened again in May, restaurants in June and bars in July. The visa amnesty was extended, first to the end of July, then to the end of September. All of my lockdown visitors expected me to come to their place of employment to buy drinks for them, as customers were few. I became somewhat more judicious in my spending, hoping to wean my new best friends from their reliance on me.
All of the above is true.
Was it dumb luck or prescience? Maybe it’s just a natural pessimism plus a bit of an understanding of human nature and cultural propensities.
Now, some few readers might be asking what is my prediction of when things will return to normal and bars re-open? Of course the majority instead will be saying, “F-You, you think you’re Edgar Cayce or Nostradamus!”. No, I don’t; I’m just logical and culturally sensitive from having lived in 10 countries.
So to the former folks who might see me as a soothsayer, what’s my answer to this time?
I have no friggin clue.
Okay, maybe I have an opinion.
First, it’s not whether any of us think the sky is falling or not; it only matters if the authorities think it is or isn’t. They make the rules; we have to live with those rules.
At the risk of letting a little crazed Pollyanna sneak in, however, I think this time the authorities will give in to economic hardship and be less strict with the time frame and restrictions. Perhaps not initially, but they will give up the ghost much faster than last time unless things get truly horrific, like US or Belgium level horrific. Perhaps not for every type of business, but for some things they might relax sooner rather than later.
The streets, in Pattaya along Beach Road or along Second Road from Pattaya Tai going toward Jomtien, plus Sukhumvit Soi 3 to the Novotel in BKK, are already looking bleak and desperate after dusk. Those are just the areas I see; I’m sure other areas look as dire. The authorities may not want to add more to what can look like a refugee camp. They may also fear social unrest, as a growing number of people are reaching the point of having nothing left to lose. That’s both good and bad, that they might relax more and sooner. Fewer additional people might lose their jobs this time, but more will lose their lives. It’s an ugly calculus, and few would wish to own the decision. It almost reminds me of what Ike faced before D-Day, knowing many will die so that others might live. Like Ike, too, no one even knows if the plan will succeed. Covid is a pesky and resilient virus.
It’s also possible things will remain shut until Songkran, when the heat and humidity reach a peak and provide another weapon against the virus, but I’m going to side with economic necessity forcing a slightly less severe and lengthy response this go around. They might even continue to allow us to get tipsy in the privacy of our own homes and hotel rooms, but I’ll err on the side of caution to some extent and make sure I’ll have wine with my Foodpanda delivery. Civilization must continue, and I’m willing to do my part. Wine is civilized.
Thailand seems to have dragged its feet ordering the vaccine, perhaps full of hubris after its earlier experience with Covid. Getting 2 million doses between March and May, and another 21 million shortly thereafter is going to leave them well short of the magical 70% inoculation level. That being said, I see them trying to get the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as well, and I expect other entities to be licensed to produce all of the approved vaccines so as to speed up the worldwide inoculation process. Of course the Oxford vaccine is best for Thailand, because maintaining the cold chain required of Pfizer (-80 degrees), and to a lesser extent the Moderna variant, would be difficult in the far reaches of Isaan. If Thailand can land a huge supply of the vaccine, and its delivery is near term, then I could see them keeping everything shut until mass inoculations, but that would mean vaccine delivery en masse by, say February or early March. That seems unlikely right now, as 7.7 billion people are waiting in line.
I write this not as any expert opinion, but more a result of ennui (bars are closed after all) and writing for the sake of writing. Prolixity, one of my afflictions and faults, has no cure and constantly seeks an outlet. Don’t take it too seriously. I don’t know best, but sometimes if I weigh all the facts and toss in some logic, I get lucky, with luck defined—according to the old saw—as when preparation meets opportunity. Each of us is going to do his own analysis and decide the best path forward, knowing we do not make the decisions but have to live with the decisions the powers that be make.
Choose wisely. Be cautious and prepared. A little Cassandra doesn’t hurt.
One final point: Cassandra of mythical fame was right.