By Dan Colton
for The Beacon
My younger sister arrived in Thailand late last year.
She arrived before any concerns of the coronavirus existed around the world; when Jess left in October, nobody knew what a coronavirus was. But like in America and elsewhere in the world, the coronavirus has thrown Thailand – and my sister’s daily life – into uncertainty.
Jess is 11 months younger than I am. We’re Irish twins and were often mistaken for actual twins when growing up. The day she left wasn’t easy, but I knew my sister had a good head on her shoulder and needed my support.
Jess first landed in Bangkok in and spent a while in the city before moving to Nong Khai, a provincial city about the size of Sheboygan on the Mekong River, to work with local kids and teens on their English. According to my sister, Nong Khai was a friendly place to be – except for the daily gecko visitors in her apartment.
After several months, Jess decided to relocate from Nong Khai to Bangkok. She arrived in March, just weeks after the first reported case of the new coronavirus out of China.
But like unlike elsewhere in the world, Thailand hadn’t yet entered a “lockdown” – but Jess said she wouldn’t have to wait long before the Thai government enacted one.
Now, my sister is on the other side of the globe and is unsure about returning home to the U.S. Jess said she still has a work contract to complete, and is unsure if she would be forced into a quarantine if she returned to the U.S. now.
But somehow my sister has remained level-headed. She must’ve learned it from me.
“I’m fine with it,” Jess told me one night recently on the phone, saying she’s been in quarantine about as long as Wisconsin’s “Safer at Home” order has been in effect – since March 17. Jess said she’s more nervous about being able to renew her visa in the midst of government closures.
She’s noticed highly reduced numbers of people out in the streets and on public transportation. Face masks are required to ride the city’s train, and checkpoints have been erected to check people’s temperatures as they pass by, including at airports, shops and out in the streets.
The country sounds much like the U.S. during the quarantine period – school closures, businesses shuddered, people sheltering in place – if not more extreme.
But around the time of Thailand’s lockdown order, the country’s prime minister tweeted a racist post calling white people dirty, insinuating they’ve assisted in the spread of the coronavirus. The racism and fear experienced here in America was twisted onto its head in Thailand.
At first, I remember seeing the racist post and being concerned for my sister. Jess, however, said she’s fine and hasn’t been subjected to racism since then.
“I thought it was interesting how this pandemic creates racism because at first … everyone thought all Chinese people had it,” Jess told me. “Now, in Thailand it’s the foreign people (experiencing racism).”
The streets are empty, Jess said, and travel between local areas in Thailand is severely restricted and monitored.
“It’s like a ghost town … with the curfew,” Jess said. “Someone posted a picture of an empty road and you just never see that (in Bangkok) … People are worried, but there’s nothing you can do.”
The coronavirus complicates many things – daily life, travel, work, education. Jess said the county’s biggest holiday, Songkran – the Thai new years celebration – has been put on hold while the country braces itself to handle the global pandemic.
Thailand’s national quarantine law is being lifted April 12, and Jess said she expects to go back to work teaching English the following day.
The country was among the first hit with the virus after its initial spread out of China.
Jess insists there isn’t much to worry about, but until the day she comes back to the U.S., I’ll keep checking in on her and pestering her for updates from my self-isolation in Wisconsin.
That’s what big brothers are for.