Sources of Information

I have started visiting the Bangkok Post website for the latest on the in country infection rates and places that are closed. They seem to be on top of things. However, sometimes there are advertisements which are in the same format as the news stories, which can be confusing.

Another website, that of the World Health Organization, I checked out a few weeks ago, hoping to find some common-sense advice. This turned out to be a disappointment. The home page featured, amongst other items that were of little use to me, a pair of links to speeches by the WHO General Director. Not just one, but two talks, mind you. Whether these slowed the pace of the global outbreak is unclear.

At least it now looks like the WHO is on the ball. When you bring up their site, there’s a large red hard-to-miss rectangle on the left side of the page. Clicking that will show a box titled “Protect Yourself” that leads to plenty of useful information. (And below the box, of course, is the latest speech by the General Director, who seems to have nothing better to do these days.)

And for those who want to keep things simple, I’ve come across an easy-to-follow checklist from a New York Times columnist.

Supplies

In the past week I’ve made three grocery runs to restock my depleted cupboard. I always go in the mornings when there are fewer shoppers. But even then I inevitably find myself having to edge around someone as I go down an aisle. At least they are all wearing masks!

From speaking with friends and relatives back in the U.S. — as well as following the local news — it sounds like there has been a rash of panic buying. In particular, people have been stockpiling toilette paper (which may become the new currency in a post-pandemic world). It has made me realize that people’s reactions can be as much of a concern as the coronavirus itself. (Also known as covid-19.)

Happily, my own grocery (Villa Market on Soi 2) has experienced no shortages that I’ve noticed so far. The shelves in the TP section have not been denuded and there’s no sense of urgency amongst the shoppers. Of course this is no guarantee things will be going as smoothly come next month, so I’ve been loading up on cereal, pasta, canned goods…anything with a long shelf life. These can be rather bulky, which gave me the idea of going to Villa Market wearing my old backpack with a reusable bag stuffed inside. After I finish my shopping, I put the big heavy stuff at the bottom of the pack, then on top of it, the reusable containing the smaller purchases. Lugging all this home makes me feel like a pack mule, but it reduces the number of visits I have to make.

Assembly point.

Others

I must admit that when I hear about the shopping malls and theaters being closed it does not upset me. My “local” mall, Terminal 21, has started playing hip hop themed music. And going to a movie up on the top floor means enduring a seemingly endless string of advertisements before the show finally starts. The current plan is to keep these venues closed for at least three weeks. Three years would be fine by me.

The shutting down of the Bangkok bars, on the other hand, has proven to be more traumatic. I am a long time regular at Beer Garden on Soi 7. It is such fun to saunter in on a busy night, find a good seat, order my usual glass of red wine, then casually scan the premise to see if any of my special friends have arrived yet. (Like Liam Neeson’s character in the opening bar scene of Schindler’s List, except I am not looking for high ranking SS officers.) To have this routine suddenly shut off has led to some empty evenings.

Of greater concern is how my pair of barmaid friends, Sumontha and Sirada, will be getting by. Thailand does not have much of a safety net: if things go bad, family and friends become the fallback positions, though neither may have much in the way of money. This got me thinking that if the two of them will not be getting paid while the bar is closed — an assumption that proved correct — they could be feeling the pinch. So for my final visit before the shutdown, I gave them each three thousand baht (@ $90 USD) to help them through the following two weeks. (This had Sirada in tears.)

Today’s announcement by the Thai goverment of a state of emergency and possible curfew bodes ill for the girls; it could be another couple of months before they can return to work. I will continue providing support, relying on Sumontha to tell me how much they need. It’s something I am happy to do. Last year, when I was under the weather, I made a joke about them bringing some wine to my apartment to aid in my recovery, never imagining they’d actually do it. So when they did show up late one night after work and presented me with two bottles of respectable red vintages, I was stunned. Friends like these deserve to be helped.

Sumontha (left) & Sirada (center) from a few years back.

Day One

The latest Thai government edict — more of a request, actually — is for people to stay home this weekend. Make that seven days. Should this fail to slow the rate of infection, then we will be talking twenty-four hour curfews. The same kind of steps other countries have been taking — with varying degrees of success.

I have been of two minds regarding this. On one hand, I worry about running out of bottled water (the tap water here is not potable) and being unable to make a covert trip to the 7-Eleven just down the block. But I’m also intrigued by the challenge of seeing how long I can get by without having to go out and replenish my supplies. It’s something I never had to consider growing up in America, the land of plenty (and now the world leader in the number of infected).

One thing that will not be bothering me is the so-called social distancing. Being alone has never been a concern; it’s the way I’m hardwired. With my reliable MacBook Air companion I can download books and movies, surf the ‘net, play chess, check my mail and otherwise ignore the world outside my window. Besides, my Soi 4 neighborhood is one of the city’s famous tourist areas (or at least it was). All that’s remaining are idling taxi drivers, hoping for a fare. Not people I care to go out and chat with. (And I’ve had enough bad experiences with these characters to take no small amount of pleasure in the dearth of customers.)

According to an article in the Bangkok Post, there is a major concern about not merely keeping maladjusted farangs like myself off the streets, but preventing Thais from “fleeing” Bangkok and returning to their home provinces. No small amount of irony here. While trying to find safer havens, some are carrying the coronavirus (covid-19) with them, thus insuring the disease will be spread to all corners of the country.

There are times I wonder how Homo Sapiens has managed to survive as long as it has.

Corona Buses

Contrasts

Bia is one of the nicest women I know at the Beer Garden bar. Always has a smile for me. If I’m in the need of some company, she’ll sit and chat. If I’m wanting my space, she’ll graciously back off. Most of the time I buy her a drink and later pass a one thousand baht tip (@ $30). A few times a year, such as at Christmas, I’ll present her with an envelope containing much more. It’s something I do for women I am especially fond of.

Now I’m not one who, having provided money to a Thai lady, expects anything in return beyond maybe a thank you. My generosity does not come with strings attached. So when Bia bought me a pair of nice wine glasses at Christmas, I was taken aback. It was hard to imagine her going to such trouble.

Largely because of this, Bia was one of the three women at Beer Garden (along with the two barmaids) whom I bestowed special money upon to help tide them over while the bar is closed.

Another Beer Garden lady I often buy drinks for, Gae, has proven much harder to figure out. According to my barmaid friend Sumontha, both her and Bia are good women. However, after transferring Christmas money into Gae’s bank account, I never heard anything back. When I finally ran across her at the bar in January, she barely acknowledged receiving my gift. The antithesis of Bia’s reaction. And a recent SMS I sent, to see how she is getting along in these troubled times, was not answered.

I give up.

The Sounds of Silence

A couple of postings ago, I mentioned that the area of Bangkok I live in is one of the so-called “entertainment districts”. The music blaring from the bars, the restaurant touts, and the inviting ladies lining the sidewalks can make an evening stroll a disorienting experience, especially for a first time visitor.

Covid-19 has changed all this. The first indication I had of what is in store for my depraved neighborhood came when I was lugging another load of groceries home and noticed some signs on the windows of a bar.

In the two weeks since, it is like a neutron bomb has gone off over the Soi, leaving only deserted buildings. The traffic has thinned out and only an occasional person can be found wandering the sidewalks. It makes one wonder how many of the businesses will be able to reopen now that there is a month-long Emergency Decree in place.

I’d be lying if I said the economic devastation is causing me any great concern. No longer do I have to run a gauntlet of ladies offering massage services on my weekly trips to Villa Market. There’s an especially annoying place a couple blocks from my apartment, impossible to avoid, where I get propositioned even when I’m on the other side of the street. You’d think that after forty or fifty no responses the women would figure out I wasn’t interested in getting pawed over. Now that they are closed, I find myself smiling as I stroll by. Savoring the moment.

Solitude

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.

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

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!

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.