Bangkok Right Now

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March 2021

The important thing first - alcohol is being served in restaurants again.

I know, from talking with colleagues all over the world, the pandemic has had a profound impact on our lives.  It is somewhat ironic that the time period I am currently writing about, involved the 'Bangkok Shutdown' movement headed by Suthep Thaugsuban (the Sheriff) - and here are we six years later with a Global Shutdown.

They're talking about opening us back up in October - but we've also just had a little Covid spike, and we're back up around a hundred cases a day, with Songkran just around the corner, so we'll see. And no water splashing this year (good news :)).

During the past year, I've had to make a few trips to immigration. I really do not understand the farang who bitch and moan about how bad immigration is - my experience has always been great.

Here's what I do.

Before going to immigration I make an appointment and have the confirmation email on my phone. Then I go to a local supermarket and buy a box of fruit, like, imported Mandarin oranges; the last time was a box of six ripe Japanese melons. I usually spend about fifteen hundred baht on the fruit. Then I drive to immigration and carry the fruit upstairs where I ask for the lady policewoman running the actual visa process (I'll skip the names here if you don't mind) and I give her the fruit for her to share out. She always makes a big fuss over the gift and gets me a chair to sit on while asking another policewoman to help me with my form filling and getting my passport stamped. We chat about her dogs while this is going on and, she feeds me some gossip from here and there. She knows I write. She asked me what I did for a living and this being immigration I told her I write books and sell them. She asked, "So what do you write about, romance?" (with a sly grin) I smiled at her and said, "No, I don't have any romance going on right now, so I'm writing about Thai mafia and crime in Thailand. She cracked a big grin, "Is it in Thai?" "Not yet I told her, but as soon as I find the right person to translate it then I'll give you a copy." I speak Thai the whole time I'm there and deliver more wais than I generally do in a year, in the space of about twenty minutes, which is how long it all takes.

The country at street level has been hit hard by the pandemic and this is Bangkok - I had a coffee at this little cafe down in the Silom area and the owner told me that he'd been a steward with Thai airways but got laid off so he started the cafe. Good on him, but I was the only customer there; the coffee was good too. I asked him how it was going because the rent wouldn't be cheap. He replied that it was tough going and he was behind on some payments but getting by. I bought another croissant - gotta do what you can.

In tourist-driven places, it's a lot worse. They're like ghost towns. I took the family to a quiet little resort over Christmas, to chill for week. Kohn Chang was empty - peak season. Everyone offering discounts and hurting for money.

In business it's different. Large organizations like True, AIS, and major enterprises like Central, etc. they're all trucking along. The malls are full of people most days, all wearing masks and passing through temperature checks at every door. Overall domestic household debt is very high and the government has been spending big time, trillions of baht on various handouts and big projects.

For all the talk of doom and gloom with student protests and the economic impact of the pandemic; for all that, Thailand is a lucky place. The weather (if you like it hot and humid) is always good. The people, even when things are tough, are always ready with a smile and an understanding that bad times are usually followed by good times - you just have to be patient and keep moving forward.

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