POSTCARD#398: Phuket [say: pooket]: Shades of grey give way to shafts of light. The long dark night is relieved by daylight of day. A black crow flies through the remaining darkness: craw… craw, announcing its presence, a being, yet not a being, a location in time and space. It flies between the buildings with louder and louder calls echoing from the walls, until it passes over the top of the block where we are situated, CRAW… CRAW! The sound gets fainter as it disappears behind the next building, then into the distance … craw … craw. I’m listening to that sound until nothing can be heard at all and there’s only me, deaf with listening.
A sleepless night… isolate the headache, I’m exhausted with the perception, the interpretation, ideas. Remove anything that encourages the tendency to fall into the dream, the concept, the delusion. It simply is-as-it-is. Now it’s morning and time for everything to move on; what’s left over falls back into last night. Looking forward, I feel the headache could be less up-front in awareness quite soon and it’s time for breakfast – see where that gets me. Leave Jiab sleeping, and along the marble-tiled corridor, the sweeping staircase, note the Sino-Portuguese mansion architecture. Now into the breakfast room and looking around, out the window, round the corner… nobody here.
Take the table by the window… me and my headache. Silence, it feels like that Sunday morning, sleep-late feeling – but it’s 7 am Thursday, and maybe I’m the only one awake… is there anybody else here? Awareness poised, wait and see… the world seen as an empty hotel/ Sino-Portuguese mansion/ breakfast room, coastal winds blow through, continuous streams of sensory data from the ‘outside world’ pass into this body/mind, processed at eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, and the cognitive mind constructs thought patterns, preliminary drafts, concepts that evolve in clarifications, all the reasons why – the ‘how’ of things rather than the ‘what’.
A pigeon flutters in, comes to rest on my window ledge, folds away it’s wings, and there’s this small bird-sized sigh, filling its lungs with air, releasing it and a little ‘bob’ of the fat round body. It sees my image through the glass, looks at me curiously, extended neck turns, then gets involved with preening its feathers in strangely revealing postures.
I hear a toilet cistern being flushed – soon after there’s the sound of someone moving plates and things around. I go and see; only one person to lay out these tables and serve food? Sawadi-khrap, I give her my order for an omelette and toast, get a cup of coffee, the newspaper and back to my table. Swallow headache medicine in advance of the food arriving. Read the headlines – aha! It’s a holiday [Constitution Day, 10 December, 2020] that’s why there’s no staff. No tourists either (aha! again), of course, because of the Covid 19 restrictions.
We took a taxi yesterday to Pa tong beach, very little traffic on the way, closed down shops everywhere and very few foreigners on the beach. Sympathy for the Phuket people, who managed to survive the tsunami in 2004, the loss of life and economic ruin. Followed by the coronavirus in 2019, another kind of tsunami in a place that is dependent on tourism.
Newspaper articles: The only way for foreign tourists to enter Thailand is with the Special Tourist Visa (STV), and a 14-day quarantine. The STV is allowing 40 tourists a day to enter; in 2019 daily arrivals averaged nearly 110,000. Only a quarantine-free welcome can deliver the numbers needed to resuscitate the tourist industry.
According to the president of the Phuket Tourist Association, tourism businesses in Phuket suffered a loss of 180 billion baht (€4.84 billion/$5.72 billion) in the first half of 2020.
How to open the country safely? Thailand cannot wait for vaccines. They stand no chance of eliminating the disease globally. A more realistic solution comes from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) European Director: “The end of the pandemic is the moment that we as a community are going to learn how to live with this pandemic.”
Historical note: Phuket island was on one of the major trading routes between India and China, frequently mentioned in 16th Century foreign ships’ logs of Portuguese, French, Dutch, and English traders. Phuket was never colonised by a European power.