Story by Khaosod English intern Sanpiti Sittipunt.
BANGKOK — The coronavirus pandemic affects every life in Thailand, including foreigners who either live here or came to the Kingdom as visitors.
All of them are now stranded far from their native home countries, as international flights continue to be banned except for a very few exceptions, while land borders across the country closed down for the first time in decades.
Khaosod English asked some of those foreigners to share their stories of living through a very extraordinary time in Thailand.
In the hospital bed where he laid, Jean Charles Salvin mused how he contracted the coronavirus. Could it be from a friend, or somewhere public? But the Frenchman was certain about one thing: he must have caught the deadly virus towards the end of March when lockdown measures came into effect.
“I caught it before a meeting with a friend,” he said “Later, we both fell ill and that’s when we knew.”
His symptoms appeared with high fever and mild coughs. He also had lost his sense of smell and taste. On March 28th, he and his wife went to Chulalongkorn Hospital. He spent four days at the hospital, communicating with doctors via phone and without coming in contact with anyone else.
“The treatment and service were professional and excellent,” Salvin said, praising the hospital’s efforts.
They were transferred to a private hotel. The accommodations were comfortable but there was not enough space to exercise and it collected dust. After a week, they were discharged home for a two-week self-quarantine.
Salvin said he is now fully recovered. He is still taking precaution when going outside, but he also took care not to fall into a state of paranoia.
“Masks, gels and hygiene are important. Also being positive, active and healthy are important so we don’t get sick, ” he said. “If we continue to be afraid of others, it will not help us.”
With the lockdown measures imposed in the pandemic, Slovakian-born Marian Baranek struggled to keep their restaurants going. His eponymous restaurant, Marian Urban Gastrobar, serves a Thai-inspired menu of different European traditions.
When the government announced the lockdown, the expat of a decade said his restaurant had no choice to adapt, introducing cheaper delivery options. The earlier ban on alcohol and depleting supply of exotic ingredients has put Baranek in a rough patch.
“The lockdown complicated everything for me. No alcohol and no imports,” Baranek said.
The future of the food industry is unclear but Baranek is cautious. He said chefs are now looking towards local ingredients. But even after several restaurants closed their doors, Baranek was unfazed.
“There are too many restaurants in Bangkok. Less is better,” Marian said. “It’s the survival of the fittest now.”
For many foreigners, the pandemic meant they are barred from returning home, and no one knows for how long. Fortunately for Mel Tan from Singapore, she navigated it with ease.
Mel is an English professor and freelance blogger based in Chiang Mai. She visited Bangkok a few weeks ago with a friend. In her sojourn here, she described a positive experience limited by social distancing.
“I was indoors for most of the time. Seeing masks, gels and sanitizers used in public puts me at ease.” she said.
On Chiang Mai’s response to the pandemic, she said “I think what they are doing is great and rigid with quarantine and testing.”
The pandemic hits harder close to home for Daniele Cosentino, an Italian businessman working in Bangkok.
He was visiting relatives back in Italy in March when the virus broke out. For ten days, he witnessed the lockdown in Italy with horror before flying back to Bangkok. The coronavirus went on to kill at least 34,000 people in his homeland.
“I was scared that what happened in Italy could happen here in Thailand,” Cosentino said.
Discussing Thailand’s handling of the pandemic, he lamented the lack of reliable source of information given by the Thai authorities. “For foreigners, the government was very misleading. Richard Barrow was probably the most useful source to go for us.”
Although Cosentino was critical of the government’s attitude, he praised the Thai people for being mindful about social distancing.
“We could win this fight with COVID-19 as long as we do not let our guard down,” he said. “As long as this is not exploited to suit someone’s interests, we can prevail.”
Adam Zima, from Hungary, is one of the many personal trainers in Bangkok’s ubiquitous gyms. He is the general manager of the Athletic Club, a private gym in Thonglor that planned to open its door in March.
And then the coronavirus struck, prompting the government to close down fitness centers. Zima’s gym had to delay their opening to May
Zima and his colleagues were the only people allowed to use the gym that time.
After relaxation of lockdown measures, he was able to resume normal classes.
During the long hiatus, the part time model and actor said he took the time to make his healthy life even healthier – staying at home meant even more time to work out, read, and watch educational documentaries. Talk about productivity porn!
The pandemic and its lockdown turn out to be a boon for Nary Chan Tauch from Cambodia to practice her meditation. She is a web-designer for a non-profit group called the World Peace Initiative, which aspires toward world peace through meditation.
The past few months have been transformative for Nary.
“It was hard to process at first but I kept calm through it, even when everything was falling apart,” she said,“I had to reuse my masks because I was running out of them and could not buy them anywhere. I did not want to fly back as well.”
With her fellow Buddhists, everyone built a routine where they would meditate daily. To Nary, the experience has been eye-opening.
“We went through everything together. It was the development of mind and soul,” she said.
Thailand’s international schools – which remain closed to this day due to the coronavirus, the pandemic proves to be the ultimate test. Many are forced to adopt distance learning and make sure students can keep up while classrooms stay shut.
One of the schools prodded toward virtual learning is NIST International School in Bangkok. School deputy head Paul Cooper said the experience was quite a challenge.
“I couldn’t discern if they were focused,” Cooper said. “At the end, they were tired from a day of learning.”
But he also saw an opportunity to provide the students with a new skill in their lives.
“It will teach them resilience, independence and grit, all attributes for students now,” he Cooper, “For them to acclimate to a new learning style is laudable.”