Stopping The Support

In early July, I emailed five of the Thai ladies I had been helping, telling them the August money would be the last. There was no easy way of doing this. Though the country was now “open”, the economy remained in the doldrums and Omicron was still making the rounds — as I was to discover all too soon. I simply felt that after over two years, it was time to wrap this up.

The reactions were mixed. My favorite barmaids, Sumontha and Sirada, already having jobs, seemed OK with my decision. However Porn, my former masseuse, came down with Covid in September. I extended her another month.

That left Bia and Gae, both of whom have three kids. I managed to meet with Bia and heard that things remained bad for her (though she did not ask for more help). So, I ended up paying four more months, to the end of the year, plus some extra money for New Year’s. Will things ever turn around here?

Gae was a harder case. Once my “program” ended, she would send emails at the beginning of each month attempting to keep my interest. Sensing a measure of desperation, I also put her on an end-of-the-year plan, complete with the New Year’s gift. But I was not comfortable with the situation, feeling the beginnings of a long term commitment. When she explained that without my payments she and her children would be forced to return to Myanmar, I understood her persistence.

What to do? Obviously I am concerned about Gae’s plight, but also feel it is beyond the scope of my mission. A second “no more money” email has been sent – just to officially notify her. Come early January, she will no doubt be after me to keep things going. This may not turn out well. I have no interest in being her boyfriend, as she so clearly wants. I am just someone who got some Thai women through a very difficult time.

A final word – from Porn:

Hi Monte 
Thank you so much for money you will give me for one more 
month and for everything you had done for me 
Thank you very much again for helping me out all this time 
You are still my good man and if you come back to Thailand 
and then if you like I do some thing for you and then you still 
can tell me all the time and if I can do for you and then I 
will do that 
You are still my good man and my good friend always 
Take good care of yourself 
You are always in my mind 
Big hug big kiss 

I Come Down With It

Sunday, July 17. I awoke with a load of “solid” congestion, usually a harbinger of bad things. Not quite convinced I was sick, I decided to wait and see what, if anything, would happen.

The answer came the following day, a day of endless sneezing. Using one of the Covid test kits I had brought from America (involving a seven step process), I was soon looking at the dreaded “red” reading, making my illness official.

I had gotten the Omicron.

My first thought was how I could have caught it. I’d diligently worn my mask when going out and had had minimal contact with anyone outside of my cleaning lady. Later I realized all it would have taken was for me to touch a contaminated surface and not properly wash my hands when I got home — something I’d stopped doing.

Whenever I end up with a cold or flu, the first order of business is getting stocked up on supplies. That night I did FaceTime with one of my special friends and explained what had happened and what I needed. The next day she delivered the provisions: milk, plenty of water, fruit, Tylenol, a thermometer (her idea), and a few other items. Kindness. By this time I was enduring the usual flu miseries of coughing, a plugged nose and loss of taste. My Vitamin ‘C’ and NyQuil were being put to good use.

But then a funny thing happened. Three days after the first symptoms, the congestion and sneezing were more or less gone. Come evening I felt well enough to exercise. This was not a fluke — my condition continued to improve. Towards the end of the week I had recovered my sense of smell and taste (not major concerns considering what a lousy cook I am) with only scattered coughing spells. Best yet, I no longer was running a fever!

Unfortunately, the Omicron was not through with me. For the rest of the month I was still on occasion coughing and a-chooing. In fact, it was three weeks before the cough finally broke. More of an annoyance than anything. Next time I will stick with the extra water and Vitamin ‘C’ longer.

So why was this attack so mild? Obviously the Omicron variant is not the killer its predecessors had been. But I ended up suffering less than the usual colds I’ve caught here in Thailand. The answer is that while in the U.S., I had gotten an initial shot, then two boosters. Just as the health experts recommended. Being sixty-five years old, it would have been plain stupid to do anything less.

And the truth shall quarantine

Leaving The U.S.

I celebrated my 65th birthday (April 6 of this year) at my brother Mark’s home in Frisco, Texas, a busy suburb of Dallas. It was the beginning of a three week stay. The year before our youngest brother had died, leaving the two of us as the only remaining family. Though neither of us had any serious health issues, there was a feeling we should try and spend some extended time together while we had the opportunity. Losing a sibling is a jarring reminder of one’s own mortality. The future ceases to be a sure bet.

With Mark working (from home), our quality time began at dinner. We’d open an exotic bottle of wine for the meal (his wife would pass), then often finish it outside on the patio by the pool. If it was the weekend, a second bottle came into play. Our visits to the “local” wine warehouse meant we often had French and Italian vintages selected by my brother along with the Pinot Noirs I have come to enjoy. (Especially if they are from Oregon!👍)

Since I was not especially busy while I was down there, we decided to tackle a longstanding family project: uploading selected photos from the thousands our parents, and especially our grandmother, had taken while we were growing up. There were almost twenty trays of slides plus smaller collections that all needed to be looked at. Using a digital film scanner, I spent some four weeks going through them, choosing ones that featured interesting people shots instead of places. When finished, I uploaded the information to Google Drive. Whew! (I am sure grandma was looking down with approval.)

I ended up staying with my brother for over a month. Towards the end I got some very good news: Effective May 1st, Thailand Immigration would be relaxing its entry requirements!! I would still need to register through the Thailand Pass website, but only had to provide a few pieces of information. I took care of this on the third, and it was approved the next day.

I was lucky. My Retirement Visa needed to be renewed by June 7th. If Immigration had waited another month, there would not have been time to take care of this. The Siam chapter of my life would have come to a close. But now I had two weeks to say goodbye to Mark, make a stop in Seattle to get my things, and shove off.

I flew out of SeaTac on May 15th, arriving in Bangkok — and clearing Customs with no problem — the following day. Soon after that I was settling into an apartment and two weeks later had my visa renewed.

After half a year of being stranded in the U.S. because of Covid, a new start.

Family Heirlooms

Leaving Everett

“It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter.”
Here Comes the Sun — George Harrison

I was now entering the seventh month of living in Everett, Washington, having been exiled there by the virus. The news from Thailand continued to be discouraging: Immigration would relax its entry requirements only to have yet another another variant wave come crashing through, forcing them to backtrack. Things seemed to change almost on a weekly basis. Making any plans was like trying to hit a moving target. Forget it.

Over the winter I’d been in touch with my younger brother Mark down in Dallas. We had made tentative plans to try and get together for first Thanksgiving, then Christmas, only to be thwarted by the latest version of the virus. (I also must confess I didn’t savor mingling with the holiday crowds at the airport. Just asking for trouble.)

It was March before we were able to finally connect. The Omicron variant was not proving to be as lethal and the number of infections had noticeably dropped. Mark therefore suggested I fly down for my birthday in early April. Eager to be away from the chilly weather, I wasted no time booking a flight.

This raised the question of whether I should keep my hotel room. My inclination was to go to Dallas for just a couple of weeks like I usually do, so I’d need a place to come back to. But Mark told me he had an extra bedroom and I was welcome to stay for as long as I wished. I didn’t need much encouragement. It would be sunny and warm down there with great food and excellent wines (my brother, like my friend Gail, knows his way around a wine store). A more than welcome change.

I checked out on April 5. It was a cold, windy and thoroughly unpleasant morning. I shivered as I waited outside for the cab to the airport. This would be not so much a departure as another one of my escapes.

I never returned to the hotel.

We have always been close.

Eternal Waiting

November, 2021. I’d been twiddling my thumbs in a hotel in Everett, Washington coming up on two months, waiting to get back to Thailand. The constantly mutating Coronavirus had made overseas travel in turn impossible, dangerous, then very difficult. Nor was Thai Immigration very accomodating with their new Thailand Pass program. One went out to a website and had to enter a plethora of information such as proof of vaccination and insurance, proof of a negative Covid test within three days of departure, and a signed note from your maternal grandmother attesting to your good health. Oh, and also an attached reservation at one of the approved Bangkok hotels, where you were expected to reside for at least three nights.

All the hoops to jump through made me decide to forget trying to get into the country until the Covid threat receded (and heaven knew how long that would take). Reluctantly, I extend my stay at the hotel, resigning myself to the dubious pleasures of a gloomy Pacific Northwest winter.

“Here comes that rainy day feeling again.”
The Fortunes

It wasn’t like it rained every day during the time I was marooned in Everett enduring the clouds and darkness; it just seemed that way. To try and keep my spirits up, I took long walks on a bike trail near the hotel (carrying an umbrella, of course). I also had my friends Gail and Steve. I’d stop over at their house on a Thursday or Sunday and watch an NFL game with Steve, usually the Seahawks, who got in the habit of letting contests slip away in the second half. Later the expansion Seattle Kraken began their first season. Steve is Canadian, meaning hockey is practically a religion and with him explaining the rules (e.g. icing), I eventually became an honest-to-goodness fan. I don’t know if this would qualify me for citizenship should I someday wish to live in, say, Edmonton, but it could not hurt.

As for the virus, masks remained a requirement in any public building, Washington being a “blue” state. Nobody seemed to be upset about it, and I never got sick. The only thing that had me scratching my head was a public service announcement on one of the local channels that urged all Washingtonians to continue wearing masks to protect those “who could not get vaccinated”. What did they mean by that? Were some people being held hostage by anti-vaxers? I had been able to get my original and followup shots with no trouble.

Aside from my friends and afternoon walks, there wasn’t much else to do during my sojourn. The short days congealed into a grey blur as I killed time waiting for better news from the Land of Smiles. My laptop being elsewhere, I had to rely on the hotel’s cable network for entertainment. This meant I saw many movies — multiple times. If you ever want to know anything about the characters in the Aussie film The Dry, just ask me.

It snowed three times around Christmas and in January. I had not seen the white stuff for many years, snow being somewhat scarce in Bangkok, and got a thrill being outside in it. That is, until I had to struggle my way to and from the grocery store, which caused the novelty to wear off somewhat.

And so the months slowly passed… At no time did I consider throwing in the towel, just saying the hell with it all and settling down in the U.S. I wanted the life I had back.

It wasn’t quite this bad…

Into Autumn

I got my shot the same day I flew into SeaTac airport at the end of July. It was at one of those all-purpose drug stores which offer pharmacy and health services amidst aisles stocked with junk food. All I had to do was walk in, make an appointment, then show up at the anointed hour. As I mentioned, I elected to go with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to avoid having to get a second poke in the arm.

For next ten to fourteen days, until the J & J became effective, I tried to keep my distance from people, especially the ones using mass transit. I always wore a mask, something that has never been an issue with me — unlike many of my fellow Americans. Nor did the constraints prevent me from going about the usual tasks that accompany my arrival in the Emerald City: Visiting my storage unit to swap wardrobes, seeing the dentist, and spending special time with old friends. Not anything out of the ordinary, though I decided to forego the annual Amtrak ride down to Corvallis, Oregon. Did not want to be sitting next to someone for over five hours.

Nevertheless, I did end up doing some traveling, flying out from Seattle to my home state of Iowa for family obligations in August. I also hooked up with a high school friend I always see and we drove around the old home town, saying hello to a couple classmates and reminiscing about lost loves.

The highlight of my time in the Hawkeye State was a family reunion in Des Moines with nine cousins from my father’s side of the family, many of whom I had not seen in over twenty years. They are by and large a gregarious bunch and it was a real delight catching up. All of us have fond memories of spending summers together on our grandparent’s farm and we ended up recounting often hilarious stories about our grandfather.

I was back in Seattle by mid-September and booked a reservation at an Extended Stay America Hotel in the city of Everett, some thirty miles north. This would serve as my base while I waited for Thailand to relax its Covid entry restrictions. It was a mile and a half from the home of a pair of friends, Gail and her husband Steve. (Gail and I go back over thirty-five years.) Two or three times a week I would make the long trek over to see them. We watched a lot of American football, munching on cheddar cheese and popcorn, often with an Oregon Pinot Noir (Gail is wine connoisseur.)

A couple years ago, I had loaned my ancient Celestron telescope to the couple, allowing Gail (who shares my love of the night sky) to do some occasional viewings. Now I was able to join her, spending the cool, late summer nights on her back deck taking in the moon and other sights. There was some extra work needed to get the scope set up and properly aligned (with Steve doing the heavy lifting), then re-learn how to first locate, then track the planets. But it was all a labor of love, especially when we were able to identify Jupiter’s four Galilean satellites, then find faint Titan — the largest moon of the ringed planet.

Since stargazing is one of my passions, I did not find myself missing Thailand. This was a refreshing change from my overseas life and the two of us tried to get out anytime the sky was clear — all the way to Halloween. Then the winter rains began moving in… But I was not concerned. With the tourist season fast approaching, the Thais would surely be opening up their country for business: Come one, come all, and don’t forget your wallets! I figured I’d be resettled in a comfy Bangkok apartment by Christmas at the latest.

Yeah, right.

Be it ever so humble…

Escape From BKK

In a little over a fortnight, I will be returning to America for my annual getaway. It’s been two years since the last one and I am really looking forward to being in a country that is not being ravaged by Covid-19. The first order of business will of course be getting vaccinated, preferably with the single shot Johnson & Johnson. I am doing this in the U.S. as I have more confidence in their vaccines and should not have to wait in line. (All my Thai friends, in contrast, are talking about appointments starting in August, presumably using Sinovac. They have my sympathy.)

As for the seven Thai women I’ve been helping on a monthly basis (one has dropped off the radar), each has been provided with seven month’s worth of support, through January of next year. Hopefully by that time most of the population will be inoculated and the economy in better shape. (But don’t hold your breath!)

There are also three others I’ve supplied modest, as-needed amounts to. They all have jobs (more or less) and are not as destitute.

As one might guess, this latest round of assistance has drained a large portion of my charity money. However, with the virus variant causing record numbers of infections and deaths in this country, I simply could not fly off and leave my friends to their fate.

For over a year, it’s like I’ve been playing poker with Covid-19. Initially, I had planned on only a few months of helping others. Then the virus upped the ante, continuing to stick around and forcing me to extend my obligations. It became a high stakes contest, but I have stubbornly stayed in the game: “I’ll see your six months and raise you seven. F*ck you!”.

I shall return.

‘Tis The Season

For my Covid-19 support this month, I included some extra money so the girls could go home and be with their families for New Year’s Day.

I also gave some help to Wan, an acquaintance I have not been in touch with for awhile. In fact, I cannot find her email or phone. But I do have her bank account number (!) and knew the gift would be appreciated by her and her three children.

All of the above was done on the morning of December 25th.

From A Christmas Carol:
“We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is
keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.”

Happy Holidays!

Laundry Money

Last month, my friend Wan confessed that with business so slow because of the lack of tourists, she might have to shut down her laundromat. She had been drawing on her bank account to get by and it was now seriously depleted.

Unlike the other women I have been sustaining, this was a problem that affected me. Wan has been doing my laundry for years and I’ve never had reason to complain. My clothes were always ready the next day, nicely pressed, the socks perfectly matched. The thought of this reliable service having to close was almost too sad to contemplate.

Anyone who has been following this blog can guess what I did next. But not right away; I was fiscally constrained, having had to keep a barn load of money in my bank account for three months from early June in order to renew my Retirement Visa in 2021 (an Immigration requirement — you don’t want to know any more). But with September lurking around the corner some of those funds would soon be freed up, allowing me to be more generous, starting with Wan.

I stopped by the laundromat last week to pass on the good news, that I would be providing special help for my special friend. I was startled by the reaction. Fastening me in a tight embrace, Wan began crying, almost sobbing. It was a sign of how much stress she had been under, struggling every day trying to keep things going. I’d never had a Thai woman break down like this. Not knowing what to say, I simply let her hug me, pinning my arms, until the tears began to subside.

When the day came to perform the good deed, I wasn’t sure how much was needed for Wan to get by for another four or five months. (I doubt the local economy will be any better before then.) I gave it my best guess while impressing upon her the time frame I was trying to cover. We will see if this is enough. She is a good businesswoman, so nothing will be wasted.

Now sleeping better at night.

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It’s Wan’s Birthday!


A few days ago, I received an interesting email from my masseuse, Porn. She has been giving some serious thought about her future and has come up with a possible new direction. Here’s what she said:

“Yesterday I went to apply for a sewing class and I will start sewing lessons on the 1st of the next month for two months — October and November.

I make the decision learn sewing because it was during the Covid-19 virus outbreak and it is hard to find work. So I decided to go to learn sewing for the future. I will have the knowledge and when I have finish learn and then I hope it will be easier to find a job.

I thank you very much that you have keep sent me money every month. You had help me very much and I hope you will continue to support me the same you help me every month during I have learn sowing please. Thank you very much again.”

In other words, she wants me to keep helping out during the two months she is learning the finer points of embroidering. Not a problem. I admire people who are trying to improve their lives and quickly responded that I would support her for four more months, through the holidays and into January. I even volunteered to pay for the class (which is expensive by Thai standards).

Porn was very appreciative.

Now, maybe this idea will work out, maybe not. There are of course no guarantees, especially in this country. But I’m proud of her regardless.

Knit One, Purl One…