Hot Seat

Tim Russell

We're chatting to expats who live and work in Thailand about the pandemic situation here. Tim has been in SE Asia for many years, including a 10-year stint in Vietnam. But Bangkok is now home, where he works in digital marketing. Tim is also a mighty fine photographer!

Q

Could you introduce yourself (where are you from? how long have you lived in Thailand? and what do you do for a living?)

A

I’m originally from Coventry in the UK, but I’ve been in Southeast Asia since the beginning of 2003. After almost a decade in Vietnam, I moved to Bangkok in September 2012. Unfortunately, given the current situation, I’ve always worked in the tourism industry, and there’s probably never been a worse time, in a worse region, to work in that particular sector!

I’m currently working remotely in digital marketing & business development for an Australian travel tech startup (more below), as well as doing some freelance writing & web design and, increasingly, doing freelance photography

Q

In general, how do you think Thailand has handled the pandemic up to now?

A

If you’d asked me this question back in March, I would’ve been fulsome in my praise for the way Thailand has handled the pandemic, but things have gone well and truly tits up since then, to the point where the country is starting to look like a bit of a basket case. The vaccination rollout, or lack thereof, has been a shambles, and the lack of support for struggling businesses and families has been appalling. This is NOT a poor country and it could be doing much better in that regard.

Q

If you were put in charge of things right now, what would be the first rules or things you would change?

A

I’d stop the petty arguments about which vaccine to use and just buy as much of whichever vaccine is available, and start rolling it out to everyone in Thailand, whether they’re locals or foreigners. The virus doesn’t look at your passport/visa status before infecting you so everyone in the country needs their jabs. 

I’d also bring in some form of UBI or temporary support for people who are out of work, as well as provide support for businesses who are struggling. The tourism & hospitality sector is dying, especially those small businesses who depend on it - bars & restaurants in tourist areas, guesthouses, tuk-tuk & taxi drivers etc etc - and they need support. They’ve all played a huge role in contributing to Thailand’s economy during the good times so they deserve support now.

Q

Let’s talk about you personally. What is the most regrettable thing that the pandemic has robbed you of or changed about your life?

A

Like everyone, my social life has pretty much disappeared, what with the pubs being closed and live music having ceased to exist, though financially that’s probably not a bad thing at the moment! 

But I’d say my biggest loss is foreign travel. I’ve gone from doing 30+ flights a year to zero, and I really miss it. I managed to squeeze in a trip to Tokyo back in late Feb 2020 (I was there to see New Order but the concert was cancelled due to COVID) so I’ve been living off the memories of that trip for the last year. I’m supposed to be back there in January for the rearranged concert, as well as a work trip to Cambodia, but what with the current vaccination situation who knows if those trips will happen. 

Also my wife is Vietnamese and she hasn’t seen her family since 2019, which has been really hard for her. We would usually go back to Ho Chi Minh City 2-3 times a year, and we both miss the food (and the cheap beer).

Q

From a work point of view, how has your situation changed (if indeed it has) and has there been any significant financial impact?

A

The financial impact has been hard. I was working for a European travel company on a good salary when the pandemic hit and they folded very quickly, in March 2020, owing me a fair bit of money that I’ll never see. 

I was out of work for 6 months, picking up a bit of freelance work here and there, but luckily I found a remote job and my wife got a job here too so we’ve just about survived, but I ended up eating into a lot of the money I’d saved up in the previous few years. 

But I can’t really complain - compared to many others in the city, we’re still doing OK. We both have jobs and a roof over our heads and whilst we’re not as comfortable as we were pre-COVID, we won’t be going hungry.

Q

Has the pandemic had any positive impacts on your life?

A

For sure. The biggest one has been working from home every day. Not having to commute or sit in an office with other people all day has been a huge positive for me, and it’s safe to say that I hope that never changes. I get to spend all day with my dogs, I get to see my wife more often, and I have a much more flexible schedule, so if I want to start work a bit later, or take an afternoon nap, I can. It’s really been a dream come true for me. 

Secondly, this new schedule means I can spend more time on my passion which is photography. This year I’ve done way more shooting than ever before and it’s led to offers of freelance work including fashion and food shoots, so that’s another huge positive.

Q

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? 

A

I work in the industry and we’re already seeing optimism returning, particularly in Europe. There’s a lot of investment going on and a lot of bookings being made. There’s so much pent-up demand that when travel does restart, there will be a huge boom. We’re already seeing domestic travel recover and I expect that international travel will start to get back to something like normal by mid-2022. Thailand really has to get its act together or it risks missing out.

Q

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?

A

I’d say in the main it’s increased. Yes, the vaccine situation has left a bit of a sour taste but the way ordinary Thais have responded to the pandemic and tried to get on with life has impressed me. There was none of the selfish idiocy we saw in the UK or US, with ‘anti-maskers’ (how can that even be a thing?) ranting on about personal freedom, as if the virus gave a damn; just basic common sense and a willingness to follow directions in order to keep everyone healthy. 

I’ve been out exploring new areas of Bangkok with my camera and the friendliness (and willingness to be photographed) of the locals never fails to delight me, even in areas such as Khlongtoey that are really struggling right now. I can’t imagine ever wanting to live anywhere else to be honest.

Q

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?

A

No.

Q

For someone who doesn’t know how to get through the days and is perhaps suffering mentally, what would be your advice?

A

Routine is the most important thing. Even if you’re stuck at home and not working, having a routine is essential. I make sure I’m at my desk doing something (work or personal stuff) around the same time every morning, have a break for lunch & TV, go for a run around the same time every afternoon, and treat myself to a cold beer in the garden at 5. That helps keep me sane. As does going out to do photography at least once a week, which gives me something to look forward to.

Follow Tim Russell Photography on Twitter

Visit Tim's website to see an incredible selection of his photos!

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