I’m an American in Thailand, pretty organised, but the last few days have been an emotional and physical rollercoaster. We have been on the Coronavirus front line since mid-January since the Chinese are a huge part of Thailand’s tourism and Bangkok’s demographics. But it wasn’t until last week that the government started to heavily restrict movement and implement countrywide anti-Covid-19 policies. Now Bangkok is completely locked down. There are checkpoints, over 365 of them, within the city and between provinces, to try to deter people from moving around and spreading the virus. As I write we’re in Pattaya, but that’s a story in itself.
Last week I was forced to leave Thailand immediately and unexpectedly due to confusion over my visa status. With limited options, as Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam were not welcoming guests, I went to Vientiane, Laos. Even though I love Laos and have a friend that lives in Vientiane, it was stressful leaving the family to travel between foreign countries in the midst of increasingly restrictive policies. The majority of land border crossings had been closed between Laos and Thailand, but visas on arrival (VOA) were still available at the Vientiane airport. I arrived on the last day they were issuing VOAs but left the next night as airlines were cancelling flights, and rumours of shifting policies were flying around the internet. It felt like I was taking the last flight out of Laos!
Beyond my own story requiring me to be in Laos for thirty-six hours, my experience there made a deep impression on me. Vientiane, the growing capital of Laos, was so quiet. You can tell Vientiane is experiencing growth and development, but on that day the town seemed in a coma. Tourism was non-existent. The night market was asleep. The open-air restaurants lining the Mekong river had only empty tables and bored workers. The streets were empty, construction projects inactive. It was a depressing feeling, knowing that things would not be getting better any time soon for the people living in this city and this country. At that time, Laos had no confirmed cases of Coronavirus, but everyone I talked to knew that it was in the country. It felt like the national strategy was, ‘We are not equipped to deal with the virus, so let’s say it’s not here.’ Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world. I have visited several times over the last twenty years. I love the people, the culture, the ‘lovely lazy Lao’ attitude; they brew the best beer in the region, Beer Lao, and the only serious drawback for a foreigner was if you ever needed the health system. I visited the hospital in Luang Prabang (the second-largest city in the country) out of curiosity and it confirmed all the fears and assumptions you have about a developing nation. I was both thankful and saddened to leave Laos, and curious to see what the future has in store for this country and the rest of the world after the pandemic. What lessons will stick?
But back to the family. Next we came up with a plan – myself, my wife and our two boys aged six and three – and drove south from Bangkok for two and a half hours to an island, Ko Samet, to shelter and self-isolate in a place on the beach there through to April. Then without warning we had to get off the island: the Thai government announced new restrictions that made staying on Ko Samet no longer possible, and we had about two hours to leave the island. I was meant to be hosting the call with other Climate Coaching Alliance (CCA) members on ‘Coronavirus Lockdown: Learning from the experiences in Asia’ on the Thursday (26 March), but instead we were on the road travelling to a newly booked place to start on yet another ‘new adventure’ in these crazy times. Our family in Bangkok suggested we stay near Pattaya.
In Bangkok they go out for food in the morning and stay in the house for the rest of the day. As for many parents, it’s tough with active kids, so we rented a place in Pattaya. We are hunkering down: having a pool is our best friend these days! Tires the boys out and it’s fun for all. We are experiencing the world moving at a dramatic and unpredictable pace on many levels, and sharing these insights and stories ASAP can help amplify their meaning.
So, here’s my conclusion. I have been engaging with other life coaches over the last week, and the most thought-provoking conversations have been on the relationship between an individual ‘doing’ and ‘being’: the idea that leaning on the ‘being’ part of ourselves will provide clarity through the chaos. For many people (including myself) this is hard. In my experience, ‘doing’ is the default mode for many of my clients when confronted with stress and a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. The pandemic could provide coaches with an opportunity to share the tools of our trade to help people guide themselves to safety – whatever that means for them. I have found this out personally. It’s a work in progress.
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