After a complete work stoppage which began on 10 April, schools were allowed to open this past Monday (14 June) and I returned to work yesterday, the 16th. Sort of.
Right now, I only have one returning in-house student — an eight year old girl who I have taught for about three years now. Her father has around 250 “banked” hours which means he’s already paid for those (most parents will pay for 30 or 60 hours at a time). My entire schedule at the moment consists of teaching Tonkao for an hour each on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Both last night and tonight, she arrived 15 and 20 minutes late making for very short lessons (the branch closes at 19:00 so I cannot extend the 6pm classes). At least I will be paid for the entire hour but it is still far below what I was earning pre-Third Wave.
I have a group of three similarly-aged girls who have a two-hour lesson each Sunday but they will not return at least until next month as one of them lives off-island and thus cannot attend until Phuket fully reopens. Obviously, she cannot be quarantined following each lesson, I was told; I had thought that “day-trippers” to Phuket from neighboring provinces could come and go without any restrictions but perhaps I was mistaken.
Thankfully, one of our other in-house teachers mentioned that the office manager had told him that “finding hours” for me was a top priority. Along those lines, I was “jokingly” asked if I could work up at Ko Kloi — a school I substitute taught at for at least a month several years ago. At the time, I was driven there each day by a relative of one of our staff members; it was around a 90-minute trip each way. Seeing that the school is off-island in Phang Nga Province to teach there now I would be required to move nearby. They weren’t really serious but if I could talk them into paying to rent an apartment for me nearby for the duration of the school term, I would definitely consider it. I managed to make a similar deal for the month I spent in November 2018 teaching in Phang Nga Town; the apartment was quite nice (air-con!) but was just outside of the school’s front gate so I had to devise roundabout routes home so students would not know where I lived.
Returning to work brought an unexpected bit of stress. At the entrance to every business, you must let the automatic thermometer read your temperature by holding your palm up to the sensor. Most times, I scan at 36.4 degrees Celsius, which generates a recorded message audible for long distances: “Normal temperature.” It is now an automatic response to raise one’s hand when entering a shop and you don’t really think about it. I have never heard any of these scanners say anything but “Normal temperature.”
This past Monday evening, I walked to the nearby Tops (bigger than a mini-mart, smaller than a mid-sized grocery store) and held my hand up to the thermometer. Immediately, the sirens sounded and lights started flashing. Everybody stared at me from the check-out line. It didn’t say anything, by the way, but continued flashing my temperature of 37.3. I kind of slunked over to one side, carrying my shopping basket as a cashier rushed over to turn off the alarm. I was probably beat red as she asked “Are you hot?”. I only muttered “the sun”, absently pointing my thumb to the window. It was around 7:30 in the evening and there certainly wasn’t any sun in the sky at that time. I was pretty much ignored after that but wandered around in a daze, not remembering anything on my shopping list and worried if this was an accurate reading. I was also sweating quite a bit. Just from worry. Others entered the shop after I had and nobody else set off the alarm, just a litany of “Normal temperature” announcements.
I was pretty worried yesterday as I set out for Central Festival Mall where our offices and in-house classrooms are located. I wondered what would happen if I set off the alarms there. Would they allow me to enter or would I have to leave? Would the police be called, forcing me to go to the hospital for a COVID-19 test? It didn’t help that the local bus was extremely late and I could feel myself cooking under the hot sun. Once I arrived at the shopping center, I considered just walking in without raising my hand as the security guys are usually not paying any attention anyway — glued to their mobile phones — and was also thinking about trying other entrances that might be “easier”. In the end, I walked in and the guy indicated the scanner so I very reluctantly held my hand up. 36.2! Pass!
I was so happy, two days of worry melting into nothingness. I also confirmed my temperature reading using the hand-held digital thermometer at the office which gave the exact same reading. I’m still curious as to why I set off the alarm at Tops and nobody else did (otherwise, I would have thought it was a calibration error). Still, I am always going to worry now whenever I need to scan my temperature to enter anyplace.
Of course, giving lessons in the mall also gives me access to a much wider range of food whether it being two well-appointed huge supermarkets at opposite ends of the mall (an over-the-road enclosed bridge needs to be crossed to get from one side to the other) or the myriad of restaurants and other food shops. Yesterday, I purchased a few things I cannot find closer to my home — a jar of sliced dill pickles imported from Germany (and discounted 20 baht from the regular price) and a bottle of Bulls-Eye barbecue sauce (I like the “Texas” flavor as the “Kansas City” version doesn’t have the proper amount of “kick”). Today, it was a half-priced meal of spaghetti with meat sauce and sliced fried chicken (I made a sandwich out of the latter, adding some of the pickles and BBQ sauce).
Also, both nights I missed the last bus and had to return home using a motorbike taxi. Not only would I rather spare this expense (100 baht compared to 15 baht by the local bus) but it is very difficult to do social distancing while on the back of a tiny motorbike. I sat as far back on the seat as I could and tried not to touch anything other than my legs. Last night, I put on the provided helmet but my thoughts soon turned to “who wore this last?” and “what if they had COVID?” As soon as I got home, I thoroughly shampooed my hair and scrubbed my hands. Tonight, the driver did not offer the extra helmet and it did feel good feeling the wind against my face although not wearing a helmet at all is probably much more dangerous than a wearing a possibly virus-laced one. Maybe I should just buy a cheap helmet that fits in my backpack that I can wear when I am forced to take a taxi.
Other than going back to work, nothing much has happened this week. I am still reading every day; I am about halfway through each of my two “active” books (An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Beyond: The Astonishing Story of the First Human to Leave Our Planet and Journey Into Space by Stephen Walker).
I started out the week with a number of blog entries but haven’t written anything today apart from this one.
I have also been playing quite a bit of music and have just passed listening to my 500th song of the month (May’s total was 473). It has helped that I have received (free!) copies of several great “Super Deluxe Editions” that have been recently released (including sets expending CSNY’s Déjà Vu, Stage Fright by The Band, and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On). As I write this, Aretha Franklin’s 1970 album Spirit In The Dark is playing in the background. These selections are a great contrast to the Fiona Apple, St. Vincent, and Berlin albums played last week.
I suppose that is all there is to report at this month’s mid-point. I am planning to work on stamp-related tasks over the next few days — writing a few New Issues articles for Philatelic Pursuits, a continuation of the patriotic postcards for Postcards to Phuket, trying to finish my Postcard Album Project (I am in the “N” countries and then will begin on the individual U.S. states), and starting to mount stamps in my “Big Blue (Part II)” album. I may try to get out for a walk-about at some point (I want to see if the Sunday evening “Lard Yai” — walking street on Old Town’s Thalang Road — has resumed yet) but mostly I want to relax. Only six days until I am scheduled for my second injection of the COVID-19 vaccine so I really do not want to take any big risks by getting too close to people.
Wish me luck on temperature scanners and continued social distancing!