Category: 2020-Apr

Healthy Housekeeping

I look forward to Monday mornings when the maids, Lek and Saega, arrive to clean my apartment. When I first moved here, I’d make myself scarce while they did their work so as not to be underfoot. Later I began hanging around and helping out. My current duties include gathering up the used towels and sheets and leaving them in a small pile outside the door. Then after the maids bring in the new linen, I wrestle the pillows into their cases while they unfold the pressed sheets and smooth them over the bed.

At this point I’m in the way, so I lie down on the fresh sheets and watch them sweep the floor, clean the kitchen countertop, and wipe the tops of the tables. At some point Saega gives me a damp cloth to run across the top of the headboard (hard work, to be sure, but someone has to do it).

The girls are usually in good spirits, especially considering it’s the start of their work week. (I was never like this.) To help maintain morale, I turn on the air conditioner and keep two containers of orange juice in the refrigerator. For entertainment, I try to repeat, in my mangled Thai, bits of their conversations (which is always good for a laugh out of Saega)

I am one of their favorite residents.

The covid-19 trouble initially dampened the mood. The first week, after the government requested everyone to stay at home, when things looked especially grim, the girls wanted me to just stay on the sofa and not handle anything they would be touching. (I finally went out on the balcony.) But after a few weeks passed and I did not fall deathly ill, I was allowed to reassume my responsibilities. In deference to the virus, the three of us wear masks and rigorously wash our hands when the work is finished. (Ironically, the pair are my only social contacts these days, meaning they are far more likely to infect me than the other way around.)

A word about using a mask. My masseuse friend Pam had given me a miniature collection for my birthday, but it turns out I did not know how to properly wear them. When the maids first saw me with one strapped to my face, Lek pointed out I had it on upside down (how could she tell?) and that it should cover my nostrils (well duh). Saega showed me how to pinch it around the bridge of my nose to hold it in place. I felt more than a little stupid, but now is a good time to learn.

This guy is clueless!

And Another One…

Before the virus descended upon Bangkok, my friend Joy could be found camped out opposite the 7—Eleven a block beyond Nana Plaza on Soi 4. I often ran into her when I decided to take the long way home after an evening at my bar. A businesslike woman who knew my drinking habits, she would often ask how much wine I had consumed. If I was in the middle of one of my exercise fetishes, she’d compliment me on my lack of a paunch. Then I’d get a brief update on how things were going on the Soi before being sent on my way.

I know nothing about Joy’s background. The couple of times I asked only produced vague answers about how she’d had troubles just like everyone else. Always kept a certain distance. And when I on occasion handed her a one thousand baht note ($30), she found my generosity puzzling since she had not done anything to earn it.

It was therefore a real surprise when one afternoon earlier this month I received the following message from the woman:

“Can I borrow money first? Can I pay the room fee tomorrow? 2500
baht. I am not (have) a customer. If I have, I will repay you. Sorry for
the disturbance but I really can’t find it.”

Another victim of the economic hardship caused by the virus. I grabbed my bank card, donned a mask, and went out to the ATM to send her some money. I provided four times what she was asking; only covering the rent would still leave her struggling. Of course this was more help than she was expecting:

“Why do you transfer to me? Ten thousand baht. So much. Thank you
very much. If you have any problems, send me a message or call
anytime. I click to pay for (t)his room. The rest I will pay for another
month. Thank you very much.”

And a couple days later…

“You’re fine. I paid for the room yesterday. I thank you very much for
helping me take care of myself.”

Knowing that Joy still visits Soi 4 on occasion, I’ve told her I’ll see her there sometime. While this was really just an offhand remark, it wouldn’t hurt to give her a heads up the next time I’m down in her area. It sounds like she’s now keeping an eye out for me. Perhaps I’ll be getting to know her a little better.

Bringing people…closer together?

“I don’t know what to do”

After giving Bia three thousand baht (@$90) last month, the final night that the Beer Garden bar was open, I didn’t give any more thought about her situation. Like everyone else here in Bangkok, I was busy stocking up on food and worrying about how to survive the covid-19 siege. Nor do Bia and I stay in touch with messages or phone calls.

That is not to say I’d forgotten her! All I had to do was glance over at my dining table, where the classy wine glasses she gave me for Christmas still stood. (It seemed wrong to hide them away in the cupboard.) This was a woman who would not be dropping off my radar.

I eventually got back to her in early April, after I’d paid the support for the two barmaids along with a couple of other friends. I sent her a short message asking how she was doing while adding I’d be happy to give her more money. Although knowing nothing of her life outside of the bar, with the local economy ravaged there was a chance she might be hurting.

And indeed, that was the case:

“Hello, how are you? I haven’t been working for a long time. I don’t
have money. It’s difficult. I don’t know when the Beer Garden will
open. Can you help me a little? I don’t know what to do.”

Fortunately I knew what to do: I had her provide me her bank account information, then went to an ATM and sent her enough to last the rest of the month. She texted me a pleasant thank you.

A week later I decided to contact her again as a kind of follow-up. This was unusual for me; my modus operandi is to provide the funds, then back off. No entanglements. But the virus, as I was coming to realize, was forcing people to face a plethora of concerns. Bia’s response was a good example of this — and of why I should be staying in touch:

“Hello, I’m very stressed about when the store will open, how long it will
take. If for a long time I would have to go back to my home in Ubon.”

In other words, she and her kids would be uprooted. After giving this some thought, I told her I’d provide more help next month to stave off the move.

“Thank you. You very good to me. Miss you. Take Care.”

I told her I missed her too.

Apollo 13

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission. For those not up on their ancient history (or did not see the Tom Hanks movie of the same name), the crew were over three quarters of the way to the moon when an oxygen tank suddenly exploded, crippling the spacecraft. The landing was scrubbed, and the support technicians at Houston worked round the clock to get the three men safely back to Earth.

This was dubbed NASA’s “Successful Failure” in the way it attracted worldwide attention. The trips to the moon had become, if not routine, then something people only had a passing interest in. With the lives of the crew suddenly in peril, this one turned into front page news. I can recall in the local paper where the editorial cartoonist had sketched a picture of a large Uncle Sam surrounded by a crowd of smaller people, all of them anxiously looking up into the night sky at the wisp of a vapor trail. Beneath it was the caption, “Suddenly we are united”, a reference to the turbulent America of a half century ago.

Should a similar space accident occur in today’s polarized political climate, the reactions would be far different. Given the way the president and his advisors have mismanaged the covid-19 epidemic, they would probably first deny that anything happened, then claim the crew were not in any danger. (The Apollo 13 astronauts were in fact damn lucky to have made it back; it was touch and go the entire way.) The democrats would be accused of causing the explosion as a way to embarass the president, and after the capsule finally splashed down, Mr. Trump would tout its safe return in hopes of boosting the stock market.

Interestingly, a contageous virus was also part of the Apollo 13 story. Before the launch, the original command module pilot was exposed to German measles, so the backup pilot, a fellow named Jack Swigert, took his place. Jack must have thought he’d gotten a real break — right up to the moment he and the rest of the crew heard a large, unexplained bang.

“Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

Swigert later experienced another round of wildly uneven fortune. In 1982, he was elected as a Representative to Congress from Colorado. However, he died of cancer a month before being sworn in. One of the things he said before he passed away has made a lasting impression on me, especially as I contrast all the things I’ve been able to do with how the rest of the world gets by.

“I believe God measures your life.
He puts you on Earth, gives you talents and certain opportunities,
and, I think, you’re going to be called to account for those opportunities.”

1931 — 1982

Diversions: Apple Insecurity

Being confined to my apartment because of the curfew and stay-at-home edict, last week I decided to install two Security Updates from Apple into my MacBook laptop. (A sign of how bored I am.) I figured the processes would take maybe an hour — these have always gone smoothly.

Not this time.

The first upgrade stopped after only a few minutes with the word “Error” followed by a number. No explanation of what had gone wrong, or what in the hell I was supposed to do. So I continued to the second one, which seemed to work fine, but after it finished I was unable to restart the laptop. In fact, I could not even shut it down — the only way to turn it off was to press the power button for six or seven seconds (known as an Emergency Shut Down). Not something that should be done on a regular basis.

I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to fix the trouble, even going so far as to download the new operating system (Catalina), which froze on the final step. Finally, I threw up my hands and began a reboot from a flash drive — something I’ve never done before. This time everything worked (to my immense relief) though I was kept busy most of the next two days restoring my personal settings. (Good thing I have all this free time on my hands.) In the process I ran into a another serious problem and decided it was time to contact Apple for assistance. But once again I was flummoxed. Their help number only had six digits following the 1-800:

Call Apple Support:
1800 019 900
09:00 to 17:00 (Monday through Friday)

These are just more sad examples of the company’s lack of concern for its customers, especially those who are still using its basic products. The macOS High Sierra release I’m currently on has almost daily problems of varying degrees. It seems that the focus — and priority — has shifted to the aren’t-these-neat devices (the latest iPhone, Apple Watch, Apple TV, Apple Condoms), leaving me with a screwed up machine and no way to call for help.

I believe I will pass on purchasing any of the showy Apple gadgets. I do not want them in my life. With the pandemic continuing to spread throughout the world — and the Bangkok bars closed 😲 — my blood pressure is already too high.

I am not envious.

Birthday Courier

A few days before I once again became another year older and wiser, one of the ladies I’ve been supporting (Pam) texted me. She wanted to know if she could stop by then and drop off a gift of food and masks. Items she thought I’d appreciate in my present hunkered down state.

Pam’s request concerned me. I have been encouraging my special friends to stay put while the virus is loose. Do not go out unless it is absolutely necessary. Certainly not the half hour or more it would take to come to my place.

But this occasion was different. The birthday presents were Pam’s way of expressing her gratitude, something that was important to her. So I gave the green light. At her suggestion, the delivery was made just outside the entrance to my apartment building. She handed over the somewhat heavy bag, wished me well, then left.

Turns out the food, masks (and card, of course) were not the only things Pam had in mind. There also was a nice watch she went to the trouble of picking out. I would have liked to have told her she didn’t need to go to such lengths; the two McDonald’s cheeseburgers would suit me just fine. But she wanted to do bring something more than mere take out.

Bless her heart.

The Food: Green Curry & Burgers.
And she was serious about the masks!

Star Trek Similarities

“To boldly go where no man has gone before…unless there’s a virus loose.”

I have always been a fan of this show’s original series. Though it dates me, I was glued to the TV when the first episode aired way back in September of 1966. Its theme of exploring “the final frontier” appealed to my nascent sense of adventure. And though I remained regrettably earthbound in the decades that followed, I nevertheless pursued my own brand of brave explorations, winding up enjoying my golden years in a foreign country instead of some Sun Belt retirement community in the U.S.

Thank you, Captain Kirk!

In the first season of Star Trek, there was an episode called The Return of the Archons. In this the Enterprise comes across a planet (Beta III in the C-111 system — I had to look this up) where people have been absorbed into “the body”, where independent thinking is not tolerated. Much like Fox News, except in this case the culprit was a centuries old computer. When it had to take itself offline for an extended period, presumably to install new updates, all hell would break loose. Freed from its restraints, women were assaulted, storefronts broken into, and hats wildly tossed into the air with everyone shrieking, “Festival! Festival!”.

Thailand’s version of this is called the Songkran Festival and involves lots and lots of water. Each year in mid April my street degenerates into three days’ worth of squirt gun battles with nonstop yelling. Going out risks a drenching, so I stay indoors for the duration, keeping a low profile — much like those few Beta III denizens who avoided getting absorbed.

Although there’s no omnipotent computer to bring the Songkran madness to a halt, covid-19 has managed something even better. In order to try and lessen its spread, this year’s festivities have been cancelled. Since this is an occasion when families traditionally get together, it is hoped that most people will instead remain home and not pass on any infection. (Though the horse may already be out of the barn.)

As for me, once again I’ll be confined to my apartment, but avoiding a virus instead of dueling squirt guns.

Please remain indoors.

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Songkran Siege

A Little Help for My Friends

After giving the soon-to-be-unemployed barmaids extra money a couple weeks ago to tide them over, I realized that would not be enough. With the inroads the virus was making, Thailand was going to be shut down for at least another month — or more. The women would be hurting, big time.

Fortunately, I knew what to do. In Thailand, one can transfer money to other people’s bank accounts using an ATM — a feature I’ve come to rely on as my philanthropy has grown. Using this, I could continue to provide assistance and on short notice. All that was needed was the girls’ banking information, which they wrote down for me.

I made my April Support Payments last week, a day before the please-stay-at-home government request kicked in. I used my favorite ATM in front of the Omni Tower, one that has never eaten my card. In addition to the barmaids, I put money into the accounts of two other deserving Thai women. (One of them happens to be a masseuse, but not the pushy kind.) The operation required some serious concentration, consulting my notes, typing in account numbers and amounts, then double checking to be sure I wasn’t accidentally paying someone twice. I felt like a clerk working at the local Unemployment Office. But this was far safer than going out and hand delivering cash to four different people, praying I would not pick up the virus along the way.

Everyone sent me a thank you email or text afterwards for my generosity, two of them adding what a fine person they think I am. Well, maybe. It’s actually more a sense of responsibility coming from my good fortune a few years back. Being aware of when I can make a difference.