We're chatting to expats who live and work in Thailand about the pandemic situation here. Jake has worked for schools in both Chiang Mai and Bangkok for well over a decade.
Could you introduce yourself (where are you from? how long have you lived in Thailand? and what do you do for a living?)
Hi Phil, I’m Jake from the UK and have been living in Thailand since 2008. We met briefly at a Samut Prakan match a couple of years ago. You wouldn’t remember me, I’m not the famous one. I’ve spent most of my time here working in international schools - over ten years in Chiang Mai and latterly nearly three in Bangkok.
In general, how do you think Thailand has handled the pandemic up to now?
Clearly Thailand has done better than many other countries, especially Europe and America where governments put the economy before lives. Although the numbers are not entirely reliable, excess deaths last year were insignificant proving that Thailand’s numbers have been low. A combination of a population that is generally compliant and a system of government and healthcare that has provided ample bodies to track & trace infections and ensure people observe quarantine means Thailand was able to do what other countries couldn’t – stamp the virus out for an extended period.
The economy has taken a hit, tourism has been destroyed, but I can’t help think that in the long term that might be a good thing, both for the sustainability of the industry and for the period of reflection the Thai people and government now have for where they see the future of the country.
Unfortunately, whilst Thailand was celebrating “Thai Chana” which translates as “Thailand is Victorious”, they didn’t foresee this third wave of infections coming a couple of months before the scheduled roll-out of the Astra Zeneca vaccine.
If you were put in charge of things right now, what would be the first rules or things you would change?
I’d have a word with some of the provincial governors who have let power go to their heads and put protocols in place to ensure that all decisions they made were according to some sense of logic. From Mae Hong Son banning resident foreigners from entering or leaving the province during last year’s lock-down, to this year’s provincial decisions to over-ride central government and refuse foreigners access to vaccine registers, there’s a bit too much nationalism running the head.
I’d stick some adverts on TV of Thai people in the UK, Europe and the USA talking about how they were given vaccines in line with everyone else according to age and health, not nationality. Then I’d finish with the slogan “This is how good guys do things. Don’t be the bad guy Thailand, don’t be the bad guy”.
Let’s talk about you personally. What is the most regrettable thing that the pandemic has robbed you of or changed about your life?
My mother not being able to see her grand-daughter growing up. They were last together when my daughter was six. She’s now eight and they likely won’t see each other until my daughter is nine. That’s a whole load of grandparent years that will never be got back.
Individually, I’ve always enjoyed my own company. During the first wave last year, my wife and daughter left me in Bangkok mid-March and headed to our house in Chiang Mai where things were much better. In this current wave, they were both at the in-laws when my wife’s nephew tested positive. My wife and daughter needed to quarantine for 14 days whilst I returned to Bangkok for work. Four weeks later and I’m still here alone. I miss them, but this is doing wonders for my health!
From a work point of view, how has your situation changed (if indeed it has) and has there been any significant financial impact?
I’m lucky in that the school I work for is part of a large, well funded group. We kissed goodbye to all pay increases last year, but otherwise no financial cost. School has continued with online learning which doesn’t bring the joy and satisfaction the classroom usually does, but it brings new challenges. I can’t complain, I’ve actually saved a lot of money with everything shut and no opportunity to spend. I have friends in other international schools who have lost 20-30% of their salaries although I think those schools are going to regret their decisions this August when they realise the staffing issues they've created.
Has the pandemic had any positive impacts on your life?
A lot of time to reflect on what is important and who I am. The coming years will see me more family focused, I’ll appreciate my wife more for putting up with me and realign my priorities. I’ve cut down on the Chang beers and upped the exercise. Covid hits unhealthy people harder, and the only way to reduce the risk is to be healthier. I’ve woken up to the fact I’ve not been taking care of myself and I’m getting older. And there’s only one of those things I’m in control of.
When do you predict the world will return to some sort of normality and we will be able to travel abroad and maybe get to remove these damn face-masks, etc?
I hope travel will be close to normal by this Christmas so I can get back to see family in the UK again soon. I’m not banking on it though. Face masks will come and go. I can’t even remember if I was wearing them in March – they don’t much bother me and I’ve noticed I get more smiles from the girls when they can’t actually see the horrors of my face. I’m pretty sure, overall, we’re more than half-way through, though there’ll be some mutant virus scares to come no doubt.
Things started to go pear-shaped in March 2020. Over the past year or so, has your enthusiasm for living in Thailand increased or decreased?
After 13 years, enthusiasm for living in Thailand goes through its ups and downs. I should say that in the Christmas prior to Covid-19, I was back with my wife and daughter in the UK looking at moving there for several years. Having loved her previous visits in the summer, the cold harsh reality of British rain caused my wife to veto any ideas of life back in the UK, and I should say that going into the Covid era, I was disappointed with her choice. Looking at what the UK has gone through, I was, however, very happy to be here in Thailand right up until April 2021. I’m hopeful that this wave will end with a solid vaccination plan and I’m very much back in the “Thailand is great” phase of the swing, or should I say, “the North of Thailand is great". I'm not a big fan of Bangkok life.
When we get to the light at the end of this long tunnel, have you promised yourself to make lifestyle changes or do some things differently?
I’m going to live more in the now. In recent years, getting older with more responsibilities, I’ve become more concerned with the future, retirement plans when you potentially spend nearly all your working life in Thailand become more difficult. It is important to consider the future, but enjoying life now is just as important, especially for my daughter whose childhood is passing faster than I would wish. I plan on returning to the Chiang Mai area as soon as I can, we’ve bought land and will be building a second home. Life up there is much better for me.
For someone who doesn’t know how to get through the days and is perhaps suffering mentally, what would be your advice?
I’m a great believer in walking. Not around a park or your village but walking somewhere new. I’ve been finishing work and doing at least 5km a day around the streets near my house. At the weekend, I’ll get on the scooter and head off somewhere and start walking somewhere different. The change of scenery is important, Thailand’s streets are full of surprises and there’s always something new to see. Walking around my Moobaan isn’t the same, there’s nothing new stimulating my mind so my mind isn’t cleared of the thoughts it can get bogged down in. Plus the physical exercise is helping shift a few crates of Chang off my belly.