If you’ve spent the New Year in the Philippines, or in any other country where it is festive, loud, and extravagant, you may find Thailand’s celebration a little bit perplexing. Why? To put it simply it’s the opposite of all those adjectives.
Before I continue with the story, do not mistake this for the Songkran Festival that the Thais celebrate in April and is their actual New Year event. I am referring to the NYE that everyone around the world observes for the passing of the year. Now on to the story.
Dec 31, I stressed myself out trying to find something to wear for the occasion as if I was attending a ball. I didn’t pack a cocktail dress thinking I’d find one when I go shopping in Bangkok but it turned out to be much harder than I thought. My friend and I scoured the nook and cranny of Platinum Fashion Mall until I found this red bodycon dress that has a slit on the side. I didn’t buy it right away because I wasn’t too keen on paying over 600 baht (almost a thousand pesos), but it’s the only thing that looked pretty enough to do the job so I went ahead and made the purchase.
We originally planned to party on a roof top bar but they were very expensive we had to change plans. We ended up going to Asiatique The Riverfront. Before heading out, Cai and I had a photo shoot on the rooftop of the hostel where were staying. The dress looked pretty but I wasn’t feeling it. I was self-conscious the entire night thinking that it was a mistake to wear a dress that’s only best for those with an hour-glass figure. Yes, I can be hard on myself.
The year before, I welcomed the New Year twice in Madrid, Spain and it has been one of the most memorable NYEs I’ve ever experienced. I can also say the same with what we had in Bangkok but for different reasons, which I will expound later.
Asiatique The Riverfront is a riverside complex that has shopping boutiques, night bazaars, restaurants and bars, and a Ferris wheel. Going there we had to take a ferry filled to the brim with passengers.
There, we met some of Cai’s friends and together we went to a restaurant for dinner. I was still full from lunch, hence I just waited for them to finish eating. As soon as they were done, we made our way to the side of the river for the main event.
There were people everywhere, both Thais and foreigners, some were even sitting on the ground. They were waiting to greet the New Year, but I noticed that something was missing; there were no fireworks. In the Philippines, we fire them up hours before the clock strikes 12, but in Bangkok, they had to wait for midnight to light up the sky.
Cai and his friends were chatting loudly and making jokes and we seem to be the only group that was doing so. The Thais were quiet, busy with their phones. There was a program going on somewhere in the area but we were too far from it that we didn’t hear the countdown.
Then all of a sudden, the fireworks began. I looked up momentarily disoriented that it happened without warning. What the hell happened with the countdown? There is something about the ritual of counting those last few seconds before the passing of the year that gives me thrill and so, to not have that moment was a bit jarring.
If that’s not weird enough, the crowd was unusually quiet. The fireworks display lasted for like 10 minutes yet the people just stood there capturing the moment on their phones, barely making any noise. We were the only group cheering, clapping, oohing and wowing at the spectacle like a bunch of misbehaving kids.
Cai was shouting Amazing Thailand, the country’s tourism slogan, over and over while his friends were jumping and shouting with glee. We allowed ourselves to be captivated by the fireworks and enjoy the moment, while the others, well I’m not really sure what they were feeling. To this day I cannot explain why they didn’t look pleased, or maybe they were, it’s just that they’re not expressive. Is this really how they celebrate the New Year? I’m still wondering.
After the fireworks, people dispersed quickly and started moving toward the dock to ride the ferry. Our group stayed there for like an hour more, riding it out instead of going with the crowd. When at last we were able to take the ferry and reached the other side, we tried to book for Grab to go to our next destination, Khao San Road. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a ride, even the taxis that passed by were already taken. There were so many people on the streets, all wanting to get somewhere. We decided then to just call it a day.
Going back to our hostel, however, was another challenge. There were so many passengers the train station was overflowing. The queue went as far as the street. The train would be closing soon and since we couldn’t get a taxi, we had no choice but to get in line as well.
It took us an hour before we were able to get into the train station. We were tired and annoyed but also relieved that we could finally get home.
Despite ended up getting confused why the Thais were quiet during the NYE celebration, I still find this experience very interesting. It’s weird yes, but only because I grew up in a country where New Year’s festivity is observed in a big way. Maybe if I attended the Songkran Festival it would be different, but for now I got a unique story to tell.
If anyone asks you what is the best word to describe COVID-19, what would it be? Frightening? Terrible? Unexpected? There are many words that fit, but I think we can all agree that one if not the most appropriate adjective to use would be disruptive.
The virus that has been wreaking havoc since it was first discovered in December 2019 has turned the world upside down and disrupted everyone’s kind of normal. School had to be canceled, businesses had to stop operation; employees were either displaced or had to start working from home. It interrupted everybody’s plan, affected even the most mundane of things that we don’t usually think about, like sitting close to a stranger in public transport or standing close to someone in a queue. We are now compelled to care more than we used to, notice even the way we breathe because we cannot afford not to when the enemy is invisible, sneaky, and deadly. The virus doesn’t discriminate; it knows no race and has no boundaries. Absolutely anyone, regardless of one’s stature in life, could be infected.
The virus that started it all
I first heard about Covid-19, which back then was called the coronavirus from the news. They said that it had been passed on to humans who had unwittingly eaten bats that were carrying the virus. Despite being told that the virus is highly contagious, I didn’t think much of it at the beginning. I guess I was naive to believe it wouldn’t go beyond its city of origin, Wuhan, or that it’d go farther than its country of origin, China. I had a typical reaction of seeing something in the news but remaining apathetic, not believing for a second it would ever affect me. Clearly, I had no idea.
In just a few months it turned into a global pandemic. As of this writing, there are now 3,507,789 confirmed Covid-19 cases worldwide. In the Philippines, we have 9,223 cases, a death toll of 607, and recoveries of 1,214 as of May 3.
The quarantine that forced everyone to stay home
I remember a friend mentioning in our chat that the government was looking into the possibility of declaring a city-wide lockdown. I scoffed at it, not buying for a sec that it would ever happen, yet here we are already two months into it.
President Rodrigo Duterte imposed an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila which began on March 15, 2020, and was soon extended to the rest of the country. It has been prolonged twice with the new end date tentatively scheduled on May 15.
What this means essentially is that people are discouraged to leave their homes to help control the spreading of the disease. The virus is transmissible and fatal and no vaccine has been successfully created to date. Thus, the best way to combat it is to prevent getting infected. Of course, this is easier said than done considering the fact that many Filipinos are low-income earners or those who work under the no-work-no-pay policy. But the rapid rise of Covid -19 cases in the country was so alarming, something had to be done.
Public transportation has been suspended and only the front liners, such as the police, the military, and the people who work for the medical industry like doctors and nurses are permitted to go out. School is currently out, many businesses have become non-operational, and curfews are being strictly imposed in all cities.
The adjustment period
Before the community quarantine, I had already been cooped up at home for nine days and was suffering from cabin fever. Cabin Fever is a state in which a person becomes restless, irritable, or depressed from being locked up in a place. And I know I am not alone, many people are feeling anxious being restricted to the four corners of their homes.
As an introvert, I don’t mind being at home, but not having the freedom to leave as I please is a different matter. It bothers me that I cannot even go anywhere beyond Pasig, or that to buy supplies outside I have to bring a pass.
Before things got crazy, I asked my brother from Sampaloc to stay with me for a weekend. It was perfect timing because the same week, they declared the ECQ. Thank god I had the mind to call him before it happened lest I’d be at my wit’s end by now. If I had to be at home this long it’s better that I have some company.
Alongside the declaration of ECQ is the enforcement of the travel ban. Therefore, I had no choice but to cancel my Davao trip last April. I am postponing any travel plans until I know for sure it’s safe to do it.
The work from home situation
I have always wanted to work from home but I didn’t expect it would happen under these dire circumstances. Still, I’m grateful that our company was quick to implement this option when so many people don’t get this privilege. And so for almost two months now my office is my bedroom.
I picked some of my office attire and turned them into house clothes. Not only does it put me into the working mindset it also makes me look presentable for video conferences with my colleagues.
Working from home does come with a lot of perks like not having to wake up too early as I don’t have to travel to the office, saving money for not having to spend on the fare, and some unnecessary expenses (e.g. flat white). But to me, the biggest advantage is having more time for myself. When I was working in the office, I was always too exhausted from the daily commute alone that my energy was depleted by the time I reached my house. Now that I’m home all the time, I have become more productive. I even developed routines that are good for my well-being such as meditating, exercising, reading books, and taking online courses.
Speaking of online courses, our French class turned virtual as well. Every Saturday, I attend the 3-hour online class of Alliance Française de Manille for French B1.6. I originally enrolled for the same evening Thursday class, unfortunately not many students registered that it got dissolved. So I had to move to the Saturday session, good thing we’re on ECQ because I’m not too keen on waking up early on a weekend just to go to school.
Keeping the connection with friends and loved ones
Aside from Tiktok (which I will never be caught doing), another software that has grown in popularity during this pandemic is Zoom. It’s a video conference tool that is arguably more effective than other brands of the same platform. I started holding Zoom calls with my friends and it was a lot of fun. It was nice to catch up and see how’s everyone coping in this situation.
I also check on my family in our own group chat just to make sure that they are well (thank god they are). Last I heard, my grandmother is sad because their dog is missing. I heard that the dog was hit by a car and died, but my aunt seems to be in denial and believes otherwise. But I talked to my sister today and she confirmed that she even saw the dog’s carcass. I didn’t get to see this dog a lot as I don’t live with my family anymore but I heard so much about it from my Aunt Blanca. It was the dog of my late Aunt Lele.
I’d like to end this post by sharing this particular piece that I wrote on an Instagram post.
Funny how we begin to appreciate the little things now that we are all forced to stay in; like doing errands without the need of social distancing or just walking outside without a mask on. In just a few days, our lives have changed. We’ve seen news of people crying for not being allowed to pass through the checkpoint, grocery shelves emptied of alcohol, angry passengers and commuters who couldn’t get home, and a few who brandish their privilege, cursing and not fully understanding why a lot cannot just stay home.
This pandemic has seen the worst of us, revealed our true colors, exposed our weaknesses. It is challenging not only our faith in the government but also our very humanity. We’ve seen the lengths people would take in trying to protect the only thing more precious than anything else in this world, “life.”
I hope in this trying time we are not indifferent to the plight of others because we think it could never happen to us. I hope we don’t stop caring for other people’s lives because we fear for our own. I hope when all of this is over, we can still look at each other in the eyes because we’ve treated one another with respect and decency despite the chaos. I pray that in the end, we will all choose humanity.
With that let us all stay at home for now. Let’s see each other again when it’s safe, whenever that may be.