We're chatting to expats who live and work in Thailand about the pandemic situation here. Jay is a co-ordinator at a leading primary school and has lived here for over 20 years.
Could you introduce yourself (where are you from? how long have you lived in Thailand? and what do you do for a living?)
My name is Jay Maxwell, I’ve been living in Thailand since 2000 and I am a lower primary coordinator at Thailand’s leading private English Program school.
In general, how do you think Thailand has handled the pandemic up to now?
Over the course of 2020 you’d have to say Thailand did exceptionally well in containing the virus, especially compared to more developed countries. However, the extra time this bought Thailand was not used well. Vaccines were not ordered in a timely fashion, endless policy flip flops and expecting vaccine manufacturers to come here 'cap in hand' have made it a race against time now. However, if and when the dust settles, I have the option to get a vaccine at a private hospital, I’ll be satisfied.
You have to feel for the working class at a time like this. Little or no support, economic free fall and many jobs lost will eventually have an economic impact far worse than 1997.
If you were put in charge of things right now, what would be the first rules or things you would change?
Thailand is for Thais to run as they see fit, but since you ask, probably open parks and close malls except for their supermarkets - with the government paying mall staff salaries.
Also vaccines for all, especially migrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos and prisoners. They live close together with little money so need looking after. Looks like enough vaccines are on the way, but logistics and organisation of the distribution will be a challenge. Put the officials who organized the response to the tsunami in charge. They did a great job!
Let’s talk about you personally. What is the most regrettable thing that the pandemic has robbed you of or changed about your life?
Like most expats, the travel I so look forward to - both to new places and to see family. With parents getting older, I worry about when I’ll see them again. Also, as a parent it’s challenging to explain to your kid day after day why we can’t go to the beach, see grand-dad or why he can’t go to school or play with other kids.
From a work point of view, how has your situation changed (if indeed it has) and has there been any significant financial impact?
I’ve been quite fortunate really. My employer has not reduced my salary or benefits in any way. This has allowed me to continue to provide for my family stress-free financially speaking. Workwise however, I don’t enjoy working from home as much as I thought I would. I like having clearly defined spaces for work and home life. I find I’m less productive with more distractions at home. Furthermore, experience is proving what research has already told teachers; online learning with excessive screen time and lack of hands on learning is of extremely limited educational value to lower primary EAL students.
Has the pandemic had any positive impacts on your life?
I suppose never getting a cold or flu now due to masks and improved hygiene regimen is positive as is spending more time with my son. Saved quite a bit of money as well.
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 saw an assessment from The Economist Intelligence Unit saying 4th quarter of 2022 is when Thailand will achieve 60 to 70% vaccination. Probably only in 2023 will normal life resume.
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?
I’ve always loved the place, so that’s maintained under the circumstances. I don’t think the freedom of vaccinated life back home overrides the reasons I left in the first place.
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’ll be happy to return to cycling, which is impossible in a mask, as is running and swimming. Can only walk for exercise now. I’d turned my lifestyle around in 2019 - so just looking forward to returning to regular healthy routines. I’ll certainly appreciate travel in a different way when it resumes.
For someone who doesn’t know how to get through the days and is perhaps suffering mentally, what would be your advice?
Exercise anyway you can or take up a hobby of some sort. The mental health benefits are well known. Reach out to friends. If you can’t visit, call them. Let others know if you don’t feel great - it’s okay not to be okay. There isn’t much support here for expat mental health so, especially if you’re single and alone often, reach out to others. If you feel yourself reaching rock bottom, it could be time to consider heading home where you may get more support from friends, family and social services.
Finally Jay, you've got a project you'd like to mention?