america

Ahead of the Curve

This week in viral life, it is so quiet here. On a Saturday evening, a normal cab ride down to the river takes an hour. Tonight it takes 20 minutes. There are seats available on the train. The malls are empty.  I read a government report that tourism is down more than 50 percent.

One positive note is that Thais seem more relaxed. I suppose, if there are no baht to hustle after, there is more time to eat. Tables are joined together along streetside stalls. The groups are bigger. There are more beer bottles lined up. The smiles, always present, are a little wider.

It’s been interesting to watch this contagion hit the shores of the US and people back home sort of wake up to this. It’s been a little scary to see the deflection going on. Blaming other parties, blaming immigrants, blaming the media. 

It’s interesting, because out here, close to the epicenter, we’re 2 months ahead of the curve. And it’s all happened before. The stories and the blame and the finger pointing have already been hashed out. 

The word “farang” means foreigner in Thai. Sometimes it has negative connotations. The Health Minister was hanging out at the metro line handing out free masks as a way to appear to be on the front lines doing something, but in reality doesn’t do anything. He was heard to exclaim, “These fucking farangs. These farang tourists. The embassies should be notified and the public should be informed too. We are giving away the masks, but they refused to take them. They need to be kicked out of Thailand” 

He later apologized for the offensive language, but not for improperly wearing a mask when he said it. 

In Indonesia, a land of porous borders and a developing health care system, there have been no cases of virus identified internally. The reason for this miracle has been attributed, purely to the power of prayer, though they encourage people to wash their hands and stay home if sick

As far as can be surmised, no one in Asia believes this virus is a plot or product of any political party, whether local or from some far away place. Though, there is a strong suspicion that governments of an  authoritarian nature may use the viral outbreak to their advantage. Declaring states of emergency, perhaps? Or banning public gatherings (protests?) due to the health risks they proposed. 

Of most interest, is the hunger for information. Where in some places, there may be too much? In others, there is a dearth, or the government controls all the outlets and they’ve established a pattern of withholding or distorting the truth. People aren’t stupid, though and if info doesn’t match up with what they see around them, they tend to believe their eyes. 

I met a local in one such country who expressed frustration because they’d been told there was no virus being seen in their country and people were encouraged to live their lives. But, they thought I might have some ties to the CDC or WHO which are held in high regard by people, though not necessarily leaders. They mentioned that they can’t trust anything their leaders say. This lack of trust dates back decades.  For this woman, all she wanted was some info on how best to protect her family and when to get help if she needed it. There was fear in her eyes and she thirsted for some accurate information.

So, like I said, we’re ahead of the curve back home. We’ve watched the masks get depleted. We’ve cleaned the stores out of bleach. We’ve gotten irritated with leaders, and we’ve come around. It’ll be interesting to see how things progress in the weeks to come. Wash your hands! 

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