Tag: Covid-19

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

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…

In Appreciation

Since April I have been providing monthly support to various female Thai friends to cushion the hardships brought about by the pandemic. The original plan was to help out for three months, but it doesn’t look like the economy here will be recovering anytime soon. So, I will be extending my little program through the end of the year. Maybe by that time the troubles will have receded.

One of the surprises of the charity work I’m doing has been the reactions. I don’t think any of the women have ever experienced this kind of no-strings-attached generosity and their thanks have been heartfelt, showing me a side of them I would never have encountered otherwise:

“How are you? Do you have anything (for me) to help or do?
Call me. I’m always happy.”

“Thank you so much. I will not forget you…
You are my good man and are always in my mind.”

“If you sick you call me ok”

“Thank you very much for your help.
I’m in trouble for money now you are so kind for me.
Hope to see you soon.”

“Thank you about money. You are good friend for me…
I wish you good luck in everything. And be healthy.”

I also receive occasional pictures. One of my friends has a fondness for scenes showing a full moon over the ocean, which I enjoy as well.

“Good night have a sweet dream and sleep well tonight 😘 😘😘😘😘😘😘😘💋💋💋💋💋🌷🌷for you”

It’s nice to know others are thinking of you.

Empty Establishments

The bars in my neck of the woods (Soi 4 and Soi 7) are officially back in business. However, with the country still closed due to virus concerns, there are no thirsty tourists around, just the occasional decrepit retiree wanting a couple beers and maybe a few games of pool. Not someone the cash-starved freelancers, most of whom have pawned all their valuables over the past three months, have much use for.

As for the bar employees, in many places they are not yet getting paid, having to instead rely on meager tips from the rare customer. I guess this is better than sitting at home with no money at all coming in, but only barely. One of my barmaid friends hardly comes to work at all, choosing to spend her time looking for a better situation. So far she has not had any luck.

The afternoons are the worst here. I took an extended stroll a few days ago down both of the Sois and saw only a handful of foreigners. At my beloved Beer Garden (which has managed to re-open without my help), I was the only Westerner for most of the two hours I was there. This did make me the center of attention for a half dozen ladies — definitely a buyers market — but I only chatted with a couple friends and then went home. It was all a little sad, and this was one of the better locales; other places I passed by were the bar equivalent of ghost towns.

Looks like it’s going to be a lonely next few months.

Social Outlets

My morning begins with a texted weather report from Joy, telling me how hot and sunny it is. She also asks if I have eaten yet and admonishes me to take care of myself. A kind of mothering, but with good intentions. I respond by wishing her a nice day, or something along those lines.

I like Joy. She only asks for occasional help such as for rent or special purchases, the most recent being medicine her doctor prescribed. She’s also been doing some job hunting, visiting large restaurants to see if they will be needing staff as businesses begin opening up next month. I hope she finds something.

My masseuse, Porn, texts me during the day every week or two, wanting to know when she should stop by for the at-home massage and what kind of food to bring for my dinner. This a routine that began on my birthday back in April and has continued for almost three months. Being a rather lazy cook, I appreciate having some variety in my diet. As I age, I’ll no doubt be needing this kind of service more often.

With Porn not being a prodigious texter, I call her on occasion, just to see if she is doing ok.

Bia is shyer than the others. If she needs assistance, she will not ask directly. Instead she will say she misses me (true enough). I then inquire if she needs money, which is always the case. In fact, I just sent her some yesterday. Bia has travelled back to Bangkok from her home in the provinces and, like Joy, is looking for work. But her finances were at a low ebb and required a boost from me.

Even without the troubles brought about by the virus, Sarankorn would be having a rough year. Her sister died back in February and her father passed away early this month (I paid for his funeral). Anticipating she might appreciate having someone to talk to, I told her to communicate via Apple Messages. When at home I am almost always on my laptop, so anything from her using this app will instantly pop up on my screen, allowing me to respond right away. We also do FaceTime sessions every couple of days, usually just after I have had dinner. It’s a wonderful way to interact during these stay-at-home times.

My friend Tui ended up confined to her tiny apartment on Soi 71 for April and May. Knowing she was there alone, watching Tom Cruise movies on the internet, I started doing regular FaceTime meetings with her as well. Because her English is excellent and sense of humor on the same wavelength as mine, I used these evening engagements to entertain her. It became a comedy routine and at times I had her in tears. A nice break from the Mission Impossible flicks (which all look the same to me).

Tui managed to return to her village a few weeks ago and is busy taking care of her daughter (school starts up again this week), cleaning around the house, and working in her garden. Although the future remains uncertain because of the fallout from the virus, whenever I contact her she is always in good spirits.

Be it ever so humble…