After 105 Days in Captivity…..Back to Work!!

What a difference a day makes!

Today was the start of the Thai School Year 2563/2564 which is scheduled to run until 10 April 2021 with a two-week break starting in mid-November. As today’s date rapidly approached, I became extremely apprehensive and the entry I’d prepared as my usual “Monthly Meanderings” wrapping-up June was not a very cheerful one.  I had begun by writing about my history of clinical depression and my efforts to keep from descending once again into its depths.  While May went as well as could be expected under the conditions, I started to really feel less than ideal as June dragged on.

I am thankful that I felt so bogged-down with other end-of-the-month tasks that I decided to delay finishing that entry. While there were a few notable occurrences in June, I am of the mood to just let most of the month quickly drift away from my memory and move forward into the New Normal with a positive attitude.

Today was, indeed, a good day.

Before I tell you about why I am feeling much better this evening, let me just say that as of 10:30 this morning I did not think that I even had a job to return to. A large part of my less-than-ideal mood was caused by complete silence from my employers of the past nine years (my anniversary is this weekend). Throughout the past 105 days of unemployment (essentially a lockdown although I have been free to go places for about two weeks now), the agency failed to contact any of our teachers and I spent quite a bit of time and energy keeping others upbeat about that silence.  We only knew from the media that July the first was the “back to school” day but had still heard NOTHING from the company prior to late Monday afternoon.  A few of my co-workers were extremely worried yesterday morning but around noontime, I started getting messages from them that they had been asked to go to the office to sign new contracts and receive their school assignments (most are still without schedules).  I went to sleep after midnight last night without having been asked to go to the office.

Ready to enter the real world! Today was my first time outside in daylight since late March. (My trips to buy groceries at the local 7-11 were always made between 5 and 6 a.m. prior to sunrise. I preferred the dark, keeping with the whole captive theme.) I threw out all of my old button-down shirts during my first big apartment-cleaning in April and my remaining polo shirts are too big on me due to the amount of weight I lost. This one is my favorite — from the Cunard ocean liner RMS Queen Mary 2.

This morning, Day 105 of what I had started to call my “captivity”, I awoke to the sound of two Thai national anthems being played at different schools near my home. My plan was to take the Airport Bus to Central Festival, the mall in which our offices (and in-house classrooms) are located.  I had been told by one of the secretaries that they would open at 10 a.m.  I thought asking them in person if I had an assignment would be the best course of action.  I dressed in one of my few remaining polo shirts that do not bear the logo of my agency (I threw away a lot of old clothes over the past few months) and decided to take my Kansas City Chiefs / Super Bowl Champions hat out for its first public airing in Thailand.  I don’t usually wear hats anymore but my selfie-haircut last night has caused me to rethink letting people see much of my head for a while!

Decided to wear my Chiefs Super Bowl Champions ballcap for the first time today. During the enforced hibernation, my sister back in Kansas City sent me two care-packages. I believe the one containing the football swag was the first international package to arrive during the lockdown. The second box contained such goodies as Gates Brothers barbecue sauce (local favorite) and the best pickles I have ever tasted. I think a repeat for Christmas would be an awesome idea. Hope Marilyn agrees. Ha, ha. Wish there was a cheaper way to ship this type of thing, though.

My favorite mode of transport to the mall is by the Airport Bus which arrives outside of our local 7-11 at five minutes past each hour of the day.  I walked to the stop right at ten and was warmly greeted by the small group of motorbike taxi drivers who wait for passengers there.  I rarely use any of these drivers and then usually when I need to visit the Immigration Office (which I haven’t had to do in a while thanks to the rather buggy online reporting and a whole lot of patience).

The New Normal is to not forget your mask if you want to go outside. This rule will probably be in place for another year. At least.

When the bus arrived shortly after, the ticket-taker also greeted me like a long-lost friend, stating my destination before I had a chance to say anything.  I love it when people remember such things even when I haven’t seen them in a very long time).  After years of riding the pink porthong buses (a local wooden-sided open-air contraption that is rarely on time and rather uncomfortable and bumpy at that), I have been using the Airport whenever I have had to go to the office; it’s air-conditioned, always runs on schedule, and costs just 30 baht (one U.S. dollar) compared to 15 baht (50 cents) on the porthong or a minimum of 100 baht (U.S. $3.23) by motorbike taxi. As there are very few flights out of the airport right now, I was one of three passengers on the bus this morning, everyone properly socially-distanced as well.

It’s easy to practice rule number 2 of Social Distancing on public transportation and in public when there are not many people traveling or shopping.

I arrived at Central Festival about ten minutes before the mall was supposed to open.  I was too lazy to make the trek to the employee entrance in the parking garage (and really did not want to deal with security guards who NEVER remember me despite seeing my face every single day for years) so I sat down to wait.  In pre-COVID times, there was a loose assemblage of people who would then surge forward once the doors were opened.  Now, it is widely-spaced (comfortable!) chairs with strategically-placed industrial fans along the perimeter.

I arrived at our office just as our “engineer” was unlocking the door.  I think this is her official title but she is primarily the cleaner, maintenance staff, and anything else that needs doing including networking in order to procure occasional contracts at additional schools or even English camps.  Without her, the entire operation would flounder.  Nobody else was there yet, so I helped turned on lights and man-handled the giant bottle of water for the drink dispenser.  I then went back to my regular classroom to find some paper.  Everything was gone!  I had a shelving unit, storage drawers, a couple of portable whiteboards, a floor fan, and much more the last day I worked in March.  It was all gone.  This increased my fear that they had decided to let me go but neglected to tell me.

That fear was short-lived when our office manager arrived a few minutes later.  The first thing she said was that they had moved me to the “big room” (holds about 15 students compared to the five or six that most of the classrooms can contain). Whew!  She then asked me to fill out a timesheet listing the hours I taught online in June (only six hours total but that is better than nothing) and began telling me about various in-house students who were returning — one two-hour class starting this Friday (twice weekly) and several starting next week.  My Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays will be fairly busy with between four and six teaching hours each day of the weekend.  She also asked me to choose a new day off (previously, it had been Fridays but changed to Mondays early this year).

The New Normal also involves stickers. Lots of them on the floors everywhere. And more stickers on entrance doors. And QR codes to sign-in and -out of places. Or sign-in sheets….

Soon afterwards, our outgoing and incoming branch managers arrived.  Our outgoing manager had planned to move to Canada in April but that got derailed by the pandemic.  His wife and teenaged children had already gone and were awaiting his arrival.  I believe they are still there. Both were extremely friendly to me today and I didn’t want to bother them with a bunch of questions as I knew they were probably busy with other teachers at the moment.  The office manager already having given me my in-house schedule was plenty enough to lift my spirits.  They all asked how I was doing and I had already made the decision to NOT talk about the lockdown in anything but very general terms.  I started to just shrug without saying anything with a look on my face meant to convey something like “we all had things happen so no need to talk about them”).  I did say “I don’t know” as a response to a couple of people.  I think from here on out, I will try to say “Better than yesterday” as I just want to move forward.

Lastly, I met our new Head Teacher (I am his “Deputy”) and had about a 45-minute shat with him.  He’s young but seems very organized and enthusiastic.  He is also very forthcoming with the fact that he doesn’t know that much and is open to assistance.  He apologized for the lack of contact as they just went through those teachers who needed to sign new contracts before starting work.  Many of the schools we send teachers to work at were very late in signing their MOI contracts with the agency without which we cannot make staffing assignments.  The new Head told me that the outgoing branch manager would talk to me soon about my own contract and asked if there was anything I wanted to do differently in regards to my position here.  I gave him a few thoughts on the matter and feel confident that a few changes can be made.  Either way, I am just happy to be back.

Floor stickers in the lobby of my agency’s offices.

After a couple of hours, I left our office enclave to do some shopping.  I had a bit of a list including new work pants and shirts, a new bath towel, batteries, a small umbrella to put inside of my backpack as I am always leaving the big ones behind.  I also really wanted to buy some packets of messman green curry (my favorite Thai food).  As I wandered through Central Festival, I kept looking at the floor and the different stickers telling one where to walk and where to stand when queuing to enter a shop or restaurant.  Some of these establishments got really cute with their floor stickers and I may spent some time soon taking photos of my favorites.  There were also tables outside of every shop and eatery with bottles of sanitizer, a board containing the QR code that you need to scan to enter and exit each place (I’d heard that these generate a lot of spam sent to your phone so I will try to avoid having to use these), and a clipboard with a paper sheet for those who don’t want to scan the QR codes.  As I wandered into (and out of) a few shops, I had fun making up new names and phone numbers for each.  Not their purpose, I know….

Of course, I didn’t buy anything at the fancy mall as I soon developed Sticker Shock.  The previously-inflated prices were even more so in anticipation of the desired Rich Tourist being allowed to enter Thailand at some point.  I think they will be waiting a very long time before they sell a single item.  I didn’t see very many shoppers and it was noon by this time.  I walked up the street to Big C (which is more like a K-Mart than a Wal-Mart for those U.S. American familiar with those retail shops).  Along the way, I was tempted by the McDonald’s but a quick look in the window showed it was way too crowded for my first day back in the real world.  Too much real….

I spent perhaps an hour in Big C stocking up on my green and red curry ready-to-eat meals (just add rice!) and searching for other items on my list.  I got the towel, one polo shirt which might actually be too small but they wouldn’t allow me in the dressing room to try it on, some dress socks, batteries and a few other items.  I only found one small umbrella but the design was so ugly I could not bring myself to part with 199 baht to buy the thing (about six U.S. dollars). All in all, I spent less than 30 bucks (850 baht and 50 satang which is always rounded UP) which was about half of what I spent on ALL of my food in the entire month of May!!  As I r=write this, I have yet to take a single bite.

Inside of a porthong bus with social-distancing stickers on the side and center benches.

My shopping done, I descended to the Big C basement with its parking garage and the location of the porthong bus station.  I bought a medium Coke on the way out to the buses and was soon greeted by the group of drivers and conductors sitting around.  “Teacher is back!” was something I heard a few times while waiting for my bus to leave.  There were social-distancing on the seats inside as well.  I enjoyed the ride back into town and I saw no sign of closed businesses.  Everything seemed open if not exactly booming.  I also saw three new restaurants under construction under big “Grand Opening Soon!” banners.  One of those is about a three-minute walk from my apartment so I hope the food is good and cheap as I really need a 7-11 alternative in my neighborhood.

Going home after ending my exile.,

Since it’s the first day of the month, I needed to pay my rent.  One of my neighbors had told me that they were increasing everybody’s rent this month because so many people had moved out.  They need to pay their bills somehow!  I was prepared to pay double my regular rent so I withdrew enough cash to do that.  I was a bit worried about being able to do that as I have been keeping most of my cash in my online PayPal account over the past few months.  I just feel it is safer than the local banks.  But it does mean that I have to plan ahead when transferring that online cash into my local bank so I can withdraw cash to pay bills. It can take up to ten days and I cut it very close this time (the money was available from around 7:00 this morning).

In the end, I didn’t have to worry as there was no rent increase.  The landlady actually told me that I was the only tenant who always paid on time and without complaining about anything. Have I mentioned that my standard MONTHLY rent is 3000 Thai baht.  At the current exchange rate, that comes to just 96 dollars and 77 cents in U.S. currency.  And it is a place I love.  It is quiet.  Great location.  It doesn’t have air-conditioning but I get too cold even with the fans blowing on me.  The water bill is always 100 baht and the electricity fluctuates from a low of 380 baht or so (when I am working everyday) to around 700 baht (in May as it was hot and I never left).  This month, it was just under 600 baht ($19.35).  After paying, I chatted with the landlady for nearly an hour (she loves practicing her English) before heading upstairs.

It was then that I noticed a missed call from my agency.  I called them back and found out that they have a new in-house student who wants to start a course tomorrow.  This student (I forgot to ask if it’s a male or a female) needs an intensive English refresher prior to starting university. There will be a 90-minute session in the morning, a break for lunch and a 90-minute session in the afternoon.  Every day!  Yes, I replied! That is perfect.  Not only does it give me a firm schedule (as long as the student doesn’t cancel any lessons) and also removes me from having to do a last-minute fill-in for a sick teacher at any one of our schools outside.  Win, win.

My Big C splurge from today. All of this for less than 30 U.S. dollars (actual exchange is $37.49) proves that Phuket is NOT as expensive as so many people make it out to be. You just have to shop at the right places and buy the right things. The curry and garlic chicken alone should last me a week!

So, today was a really good day.  I didn’t think it would take so long to recount it but that is okay.  The following paragraphs are those I wrote for the June wrap-up (the stats paragraphs in other words — probably of no interest to anybody but myself and then only in the future when I want to see what I was doing at a particular point in my life). The general reader can safely skip the next seven paragraphs.  But you made it this far, so…..

Looking back to June just a bit, I did my best to keep very busy while at home.  Much of that was attending to my website Philatelic Pursuits, trying to keep on top of the many new stamps being issued around the world.  During the month, I posted my 1,000th entry to what began as a WordPress blog in 2015 and added my 150th postal administration (Bermuda).  I usually feel good if I post four or five entries in a day.  A few days ago, I made a record-breaking 18 entries in a single day none of which were just an image and a release date (I try to add as much as I can find, including Wikipedia summaries).

I also posted a trio of lengthy articles on my other stamp blog, A Stamp A Day. Since hitting post #1,001 there on 24 March 2019, I usually average about one article per month but I managed to write more than 10,800 words over three articles in June about Charles Dickens, King Kamehameha I of Hawaii, and the birth of the bicycle. While I really enjoy the research and the construction involved in putting these types of articles together, they do take a lot out of me in both time and energy.  The “everything but the kitchen sink” approach is downright exhausting.

I tend to take a similar approach to articles written for Postcards to Phuket. Only the medium is different, dealing with postcards rather than stamps.  For the two articles I published there in June, I made an attempt at brevity in writing about a Coronavirus postcard from Hong Kong and a piece illustrating my various cards from Hawaii (the latter continuing the King Kamehameha I Day celebration began with the ASAD article). I dream of being able to clear my huge backlog of un-blogged postcards at some point and brief articles are the only way I can hope to accomplish that.  I may try a few this weekend, in fact.

The only articles for THIS blog tend to be the monthly wrap-ups.  Due to my delay yesterday (not only because of wanting to find out my school status first but also because yesterday was hectic as I dealt with so many other end-of-the-month tasks), June is the first month of 2020 to not include a single posting to Asian Meanderings.  As this was my original blog and had its origins back in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I have long desired to find inspiration to post more content.  I do have ideas; I just have not yet been able to manage my time well enough to pursue them.  Again, we will see what the future brings.

Something I did find time to do in June was to READ!  I finished eight books during the month (well, the last one was a novella but several were extremely lengthy) which is the first time since my reading teacher days to hit such a number (I used to count the 32-page readers I went through during the classes!).  I am still in love with the Read More app (Android platform) and will someday sit down and write a review for it.  My favorite author of the month was David Baldacci whom I “discovered” last year. Having finished the most recent installment in his “Memory Man” series earlier in the month, I am an now going through his “Will Robie” series and finished the third book a few days ago. Starting book number 4 this evening.

I listened to 680 songs in MusicBee during June, down significantly from the 891 I played in May (perhaps another reason that month just “flew by”) but up slightly from 674 in April and 632 in March.  I finally listened to some Bruce Springsteen in significant numbers but once again, I usually steered clear of anything overtly rock and roll, preferring mellower sounds. There was a lot of electric blues towards the end of the month but the overall theme was acoustic or light ballads.

I continued with my twice- or thrice-weekly early morning trips to 7-11 until roughly a week or 10 days ago.  I’d been surviving on purchases of hot dogs and bread for my meals since early April but have been having problems lately with ants getting inside of everything.  First, it was the bottles of ketchup (I think they were in there before I purchased the bottle; I didn’t notice until the first time I tried to pour some on a hot dog and I felt them running up my arm).  No matter how hard I tried at food storage, somehow the ants still found a way to get inside.


And that concludes a wrap-up of June (at the bottom) but mostly my good feeling after a long first day of July. Half of feeling good is convincing yourself that a positive attitude is a better way to live.  I am confident now, after being cooped-up in a tiny studio apartment for 105 straight days, that I can handle anything that life tries to  throw at me with a cheerful outlook and a big smile.  I really was smiling almost all day today at things I saw and things I heard.  With the mask, nobody can see if you are smiling or not.  So you need to make a bit of an extra effort to make sure that smile is reflected in your eyes. It will take a bit more practice but I will get there soon.

I think this may be the way to move forward with this blog as well.  I want to write about the good things that occur in my life and I want to make others happy. I will attempt to add semi-regular content when I can rather than trying to sum everything up at the end of each month. I acquired a few new skills during the lockdown that I will share from time to time (including but not limited to online teaching tips and “hidden” secrets to using the new generation of Microsoft 365 apps) Hopefully, whatever I choose to write, I can find a way to do it in much fewer words!!

Let us move forward together!

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