January was my very first month in Bangkok under the new norm. To say that relocation during the pandemic is challenging is just an understatement. Although I prepared myself for the compulsory two-week quarantine and the usual moving needs after that. What I didn’t think of was the heavy load I brought from Washington DC, not physical luggage but the mental state I was in in 2020.
It was surreal to be processed across the new year. The flight KE653 from Incheon touched down around 10:30 pm on 31 December 2020. We—all the passengers on the plane except the ones who paid for Alternative State Quarantine—only knew where they would allocate us at the airport. It was around 1:30 am on 1 January 2021 when they took us to the hotel in Nana area. The physical isolation began. The first meal of the year was instant noodles they got for us in the room. I was tired but positive that I wouldn’t go crazy in the room in the following two weeks.
We were only allowed out of the room for nose swab testings—three times spreading throughout the quarantine—and for currency exchange on the last day. We also needed to check temperatures and report them through google doc or on the phone twice daily. Each meal was placed in front of the room for us to pick it up. The food was adequate. For me, hadn’t had real Thai food for over a year, no complaint at all. The same spot was also for other deliveries whether from the local 7-Eleven, online shopping, or friends and families. I ordered some extra meals via the hotel phone, got a mouse pad from online, and some food and a sim card from my brother.
The communication with the medical team and staff was mainly via a Line chat group. The channel was also for us to talk to each other and became an effective supporting group. Basically, we were in the same boat all the way through from the same plane. Waiting for the first test result was the most anxious moment, I found. Until…
At the halfway mark of the quarantine, the Capitol riot erupted and got me the flashback to 2015 when I started the new job in DC. It was common to see people watching the primary races in pubs or at home. I was clueless about US politics and thought it wouldn’t have any effect on me. During the 2016 election, my Spaniard supervisor told me she cared about the country more than she had thought. I told myself that would never happen to me. Well, how wrong I was back then!
Those years of living on and off in the capital city of a country that ran by a person with a mental illness consumed you in some ways. And the intense 2020 wasn’t just a peak of it but also deepened my bond with Washington DC. This experiences, this heavy load, was such a contrast to the context in Bangkok. That contrast became apparent once I was out from the quarantine to the new new-norm.
After the quarantine, I booked an Airbnb room for the second half of January. Missions to work on in those two weeks were a place to live since my condo room had already had a tenant, a space to work with a walking distance, and the gym. It felt just another new beginning with a twist—the pandemic in the background.
It was disappointing that a new outbreak surged in Thailand just before the New Year. New restrictions were imposed. No pubs. However, the protections weren’t as much different as I practised in DC. But there weren’t as many PPEs on the streets: some masks and almost none of any gloves. That was one big difference—they hardly used gloves here.
Another big difference was the use of contact tracing app. Apart from temperature checks and alcohol dispensers at the entrance, QR codes for checking in and out were everywhere. Someplace, such as the gym I signed up with, wouldn’t allow you to enter the premise unless checking in with the app or leaving your name and number at the front. My preference was the latter.
Bangkok had gone through 2020 differently from DC. Coming from the worst-case country to one of the best to handle COVID-19 got me prepared. I needed to adjust myself to this new new-norm. That wasn’t such a big deal. But when the heavy load from DC hit me from time to time, I felt isolated and disconnected.
Ultimately, I did my due in the quarantine and those main missions were accomplished. I got a room and a workspace in Phra Khanong area—my patch—and the same gym membership in Ekamai. Next was to get figure out life routines with 12-hour different from work.
Remind me why I am doing this again?