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Pandemic Perspective from an Expat Educator

There has been a gradual change in Southeast Asia over the past month that has suddenly become our new reality.

Betsy Suits
June 1,  2020
Perspectives

Sparkling blue Pattaya Bay is the view from my condo window to the outside world. Every morning my husband and I walk along the beach sidewalk and watch the workers sweeping the road with straw brooms. There used to be swimmers and joggers at the beach a month ago. Now they would be breaking the law. First, the Thailand government closed the beach and banned swimming. Then the local workers removed the beach chairs and took them away in trucks. Some of the locked beach coolers were broken into overnight and the beer was stolen. All alcohol sales have been banned in Thailand for the past month. Alcohol will go on sale again tomorrow, but no bars are allowed to be open yet. There used to be a daily exercise class on the beach with people social distancing six feet apart, but that was stopped, too. There are still sailboats gliding by on the waves and fishing boats. No pools, no restaurants, no bars, and no haircuts have been allowed for the past month. Restaurants will finally open tomorrow, but can only sell alcohol as a takeaway. The world as we know it is closing down.

There used to be a daily exercise class on the beach with people social distancing six feet apart, but that was stopped, too.
There used to be a daily exercise class on the beach with people social distancing six feet apart, but that was stopped, too.

There has been a gradual change in Southeast Asia over the past month that has suddenly become our new reality. Unexpectedly, I ended up on one of the last planes out of Laos. I work at a new international school in Laos. The country of Laos closed its borders shortly after I left and now I am locked out of the country and my apartment there filled with all of my belongings. All Lao and Thai schools are closed and hope to reopen soon.

How do we react to this new situation? We have extra time and what do we do to fill it? There is more time to sit and think which is both positive and negative. We have bouts of boredom, anxiety, and worry daily. We have more time to cook and eat more than we should daily. We have time to think about our past and dream about the future. Is this what retirement will be like? Not really, because now we are forced to be in our homes without the freedom to go where we like.

My husband and I start each day with the daily routine of coffee on the balcony followed by a walk along the beach. That sounds like a good habit to keep in retirement. Then I read, write, call my mother and children around the globe. In the midst of this situation, my 91-year-old mother ended up in the hospital last week which is not a good place to be these days. Now she is back home with Hospice care. I am sad that I won’t be able to see her again due to the quarantine and lack of flights. I send her an email with a photo every morning and call her every night. I close each call with a Virtual Hug. It is difficult, but there is solace in seeing each other on Face time. We had a family Zoom call with relatives around the world to welcome my mom home from the hospital. She loved seeing everyone but fell asleep during the call. Then we celebrated my brother’s birthday with a Surprise Zoom Party attended by the family in China, Germany, Thailand, and the U.S.

My husband and I start each day with the daily routine of coffee on the balcony followed by a walk along the beach.
My husband and I start each day with the daily routine of coffee on the balcony followed by a walk along the beach.

Two of my sons are working in international schools too. My oldest son’s school reopened in China last week starting with High School. He already produced four parent videos for health protocols posted on his school website. There are new Pandemic routines being developed for families around the world. My second oldest son is teaching Middle School students using Zoom in Germany. His son also attends Kindergarten on Zoom from his bedroom. They both enjoy making creative videos, talking to us, and sharing quarantine stories daily.

New precautions for health and safety are announced daily worldwide as we learn more about the coronavirus. We are getting used to the new normal of wearing face masks and using hand gel. I limit my daily news time and balance it with good news and upbeat movies. I have been doing meditation and exercise videos. I enjoy the new talk shows hosted from the ‘TV Star’s’ family rooms, kitchens, and back yards. I find myself watching movie stars cooking healthy meals that I want to try out in my tiny condo kitchen. I write daily and have created a new routine that doesn’t venture too far out of my one-room condo with a view.

I have learned more than I want to know about my new neighbors from my balcony chair. They seem to argue and lock each other out of the condo. The workers clean the swimming pools daily, even though it is illegal to swim during the quarantine. I have seen tourists swimming in the condo pool, but no one stops them. I have watched boats and windsurfers in the ocean that could get in trouble too. I have seen social gatherings of more than two people on the beach. The daily local news warns us about law-breaking citizens. According to the latest online article, the police put people into jail for three months who broke the nightly curfew between 10 pm-4 am. There was also a recent news story of a noisy transgender party where the neighbors called the police. The entire party was arrested and put in jail for violating the law against social gatherings. The police also arrested 23 people at the beach last weekend for swimming and sitting on the beach. The violators face a fine of US$3500 and two years in jail. Some of them were foreigners too. Russian tourists were recently in the news on the island of  Phuket. They ran out of money and asked to join the food lines for the local homeless people. In Pattaya, 80% of the local employees are out of jobs.

We are all getting used to hand gel, masks, and fear of fevers.
We are all getting used to hand gel, masks, and fear of fevers.

We are all getting used to hand gel, masks, and fear of fevers. The elevator guard in our condo building takes our temperature daily before we can go upstairs. The same protocol is used in every store in the country too. It was scary when my husband had a sinus infection with a fever for three days. He couldn’t even leave the condo or he wouldn’t be allowed to get back in the elevator. No one wants to go to the hospital these days. The world as we know it is changing by the hour.

There have been days that blend together into nights with a few celebrations. On Easter, we had a pizza delivered to our condo. We talked to our families on Facetime around the world. Today we celebrated our son’s 40th birthday in China on Skype and reminisced about my father in law who would have turned 90 today. We look forward to watching the daily news as if the announcers are our best friends. The news stories are heartbreaking and the pain is felt around the world. ‘Alexa’ keeps us company with her daily jokes, the current time, and news updates. Our Alexa talks to my son’s Alexa in Germany on google hangouts. Our grandchildren ask their Alexa in California to play smooth jazz to go to sleep. Alexa is a constant friend to owners in this unique time in the world.

Netflix must be breaking the Internet records worldwide these days. The racy documentary “Tiger King” is been discussed on social media hourly. In Pattaya, parents are giving their sons a ‘mushroom haircut’ like Joe Exotic on “Tiger King.” Local parents claim it keeps their sons indoors because they don’t want anyone to see their ‘ugly’ haircut. Children are getting used to online learning and will likely continue school at home until June. Our worldwide future is uncertain as the virus affects every facet of our daily life. We have come to see the importance of daily survival skills which include something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to. Virtual hugs to all of you around the world in these uncertain times. Stay Strong!

I have been fortunate to work in schools in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Over the years, I have been a School Head, Principal, Curriculum Coordinator, Reading Specialist, Head of Learning Support, and a Classroom Teacher. I have published numerous articles, stories, and an award-winning science game. Currently, I reside in Laos.

: sites.google.com/site/betsyresumesite

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