12 December 2020
Greetings From My Bubble to Yours
Once upon a time, a "bubble" was something that resulted from chewing pink gum, or pouring something perfumey into your bath water. Remember those bottles of soap with a magic wand that allowed you to fill the air with glistening bubbles? And how could we forget Don Ho's famous song about tiny bubbles? Then there was the tech bubble about twenty years ago, but we don't want to remember that.
So here we are in 2020, the year that has changed just about everything, and a bubble has become the hermetically-sealed environment within which many of us have come to isolate ourselves. I'd rather soak in the tub.
As you might remember, I stepped into my own bubble in late January after I slipped and fell on a messy floor in a supermarket. I broke my glasses, hurt my back, and broke bones in my right foot and right hand. Since I get around with a cane using my right hand I was effectively rendered bedridden. Within days, Veasna moved in with me. He's still sharing my bubble, for which I am thankful, fortunate, and even envied. I'm still baking bread in a used toaster oven that I bought from someone on Facebook for $20, and whipping up dinners that my grandmothers would approve of. I easily fall in love with handsome men who like my cooking.
"Gardener" is one of my titles, along with "laundress, maid, cook", and "personal shopper." I also mind the cats. There are six now, after two have apparently fled. So I have morphed from being managing director of a company with operations in ten countries to a housewife. How does "Gay Housewives of Siem Reap" sound for a TV show? I'm available.
We are indeed lucky to be living in a country that has had only around 300 infections and no deaths so far. People in Cambodia are acutely aware of and follow pandemic health protocols, unlike many in my homeland. People here wear masks--the supermarket was giving them away free at the front door yesterday--and carry hand sanitizer. Every time there is a new infection in the news people cower at home and the government shuts down schools and entertainment venues, including the circus we are so fond of. Veasna is getting his masters degree via Zoom classes every evening. I get to listen to his algebra class while I am preparing dinner.
Our local tourism-dependant economy has been all but completely destroyed. Most marginal hotels have closed up for good. At one point we had nearly 400 hotels and guesthouses in a town of just 70,000. Quiet a few were hobbies or budget digs for backpackers, but most of the high-end hotels have also shuttered. Many people working in tourism and hospitality here have fled to their villages in the countryside, including practically everyone who cuts lawns. Mine has become like an encroaching jungle.
Although we are far better off than most Americans, judging from what I see on TV, we are still affected by the local economy. Veasna gets a small salary for his daytime teaching job. His school has been mostly closed for the last eight months. He still has to show up there every day for just enough salary to cover his school expenses, so we are living on my monthly $950 monthly social security check. That's a princely sum of money here until you consider the cost of feeding six or seven cats, an $80 per month prescription and somehow coming up with $300 for a visa by the end of the month. But I am humbled when I see TV news stories showing all those folks in the States in $30,000 cars lined up to get free food. Humiliation and suffering have been heaped on the American Dream. Clearly Satan has returned, and his "useful idiot" will be leaving behind a big fucking mess.
I am still waiting for my $1,200 "financial stimulus" I asked Nancy Pelosi's office to look into it for me five months ago. (I am still a San Francisco voter, so she is my congressional rep.) I'm getting silence from her people to my follow-up requests. Good for you for legalizing pot, Nancy, though it's DOA in the Senate, so what was the point of that anyway? In the end, Nancy, it's all about the individual needs of your constituent. You let me down. Your days may be numbered anyway. You won't have much of a fan club left when you no longer have to go to the mat with a psychotic Republican president.
(Even worse is Diane Feinstein. That woman has to go. She's 87 and has lost touch with her job. Plenty of San Franciscans are still carrying festering grudges against her that are almost 40 years old, including me. Please retire, Mrs. Blum. Governor Newsome already has an impressive list of potential appointees.)
I have really reached the point that I want to avoid the news. It is heartbreaking that so many cannot pay their bills, will soon lose unemployment benefits, and may end up living on the street. Three thousand deaths a day sounds like the new normal, and half of the Republican members of the United States Congress have signed a letter asking courts to nullify the ballots cast by millions of their countrymen in a fair election. This is a disgraceful violation their oaths, and betrayal of the public's trust. They helped create this nightmare that threatens the very future of America by taking sides with a corrupt would-be dictator. There is no vaccine for that.
Thai Politics: Messy Again/Still
America's national political pestilence has nearly come to an end, and we are all crossing fingers that Georgia voters do the right thing to free us from the tyranny of Moscow Mitch. While there is finally some hope for civility in American politics, Thailand continues to be challenged by social and economic division that have driven groups of people into the streets for more than a decade. But this time it's different.
A friend recently asked what I missed most about Thailand, and I had to think hard for an honest answer. "Nothing" first came to mind. But I do have friends there who I miss. And a few restaurants, although there is plenty of good Thai (and even Isaan) food here in Siem Reap. I desperately need a Bangkok shopping trip, but I certainly do not miss Thai politics.
If you have begun to read this blog only recently you have probably missed the weeks and months that I wrote about the episodes of previous massive civil unrest, although the "yellow shirts," who shut our airports for what seemed like months, came before this blog was born. Then came the "red shirts," who occupied a major intersection more or less around the corner from where I lived. A few years later came the multi-colored shirts, presided over by half-brained former deputy prime minister. If you're really interested, go to the main page for the blog and look for April-May 2010, and later January through June 2014. Both of these brushes with civil war were an ordeal I do not think I could stomach a third time.
What is different with the current ongoing demonstrations is that they are instigated by students, not the rural poor, who are puppets for deposed despots or other wealthy people who want to grab power with something other than a ballot box. Demonstrations are mobile, and not confined to a single place, like all the various "shirts." Crowds are growing and even the monarchy is not safe from open criticism and ridicule. They want prime minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha gone. You might remember that he was the army general who lit the fuse of the last coup. His junta "ran" the government for years before he finally ran for office as a civilian. Since he rose to power the military has consolidated quite a bit of power and personal freedoms have eroded. A long-beloved King has died in the mean time and many Thais no longer find anything to like about the royal family.
Student leaders are describing Thailand as a republic, which it is not. In a republic the public and their elected representatives are in control. In Thailand, the military, monarchy and wealthy hold the power. The very idea of a republic has upset Prayuth greatly. If you Google "republic Thailand" you will see that there is an organized movement to change the nature of governance.
The junta/government has trampled the toes of the next generation of power. How successful will these brave young people be? It's hard to say, but I wish them the best. If I were still there I would be screaming along with them. Realistically, however, they may get Prayuth to stand down, and there may even be token concessions or even a rewritten constitution. But not much real power will change hands until those who currently hold it are dead and gone. Little is likely to change until these young activists reach the ages of their own parents, and are themselves in positions of power.
Come Live With Us
Villa Khursani, the plus size former farm house where we live in Siem Reap, was always intended to be a business. We have one or two extra ensuite bedrooms, upstairs and downstairs lounges, a big lawn, tropical garden, and a sala--an open air pavilion with a table that can accommodate ten and a big BBQ, ceiling fan and twinkly lights. We love to have dinners for our friends there. We had Veasna's birthday dinner there last night, karaoke and all. It was his first birthday party and first birthday cake, which he decided to wear.
I do not want the hassle of tourists staying for two or three days. And we are not a B&B, guesthouse or homestay anyway. I have always hoped that some of Purple Dragon's friends might want to visit every year for up to a month on an annual trek to avoid their native climate in style without buying a second home. You may not want to retire here full time, but the town is such a pleasure that I expect some of you may be tempted to become annual guests.
We have done quite a bit of work on the house. All the lighting in public rooms has be redesigned. We have replaced some bathroom fixtures and plan to do more. The bathroom off the kitchen now has a shower. The carpenters who built the banquet-sized table in our sala have also built wardrobes for the upstairs bedrooms. Sooner or later we are going to begin to paint, in anticipation of hanging more of my art collection. We need to begin a three-stage kitchen renovation soon. There are no shelves, no drawers and no oven. The stove has only two burners, so cooking here is a challenge. And I can bake a lot more bread in a real oven. Stay with us and you'll get scones for breakfast, a bread-baking class or two, and the recipe for my irresistible sour dough rye with caraway seeds.
Everyone seems to be having pandemic sales, so what the heck! Some months ago I calculated prices for annual one-month visits for two, three, and five years, including breakfast, happy hour, and either lunch or dinner: $600, $900, and $1,500. During December prices for 2/3/5 years are reduced to $540, $675 and $1,075. You can also buy one or more one-weeks stay with us for just $100 including breakfasts only. That's less than half our normal $30 per night rate. You can decide later when you want to stay during 2021/22. Questions: [email protected]
If you are considering retiring joining our growing ranks of LGBTQ retirees in Siem Reap, we can help: https://www.retireincambodia.com. This site is currently on hold until the madness ends, and the retirement portion will soon move to a site of its own.
Southeast Asia's Travel Prospects
We are not the only ones who are soooo over this pandemic. With a plethora of vaccines to choose from and Donald Trump collecting unemployment relief soon, the end is in sight for those who have stayed at home, washed their hands, and worn masks. The end may also be in sight for those who have done none of these things, but their futures may not include a holiday abroad.
As of today, Cambodia has had about 350 detected cases and zero deaths. 307 people have treated and released. The rest are in hospital or quarantined.
After a brief relaxation of pandemic regulations, Cambodia has returned to a requirement of 14 days quarantine on arrival (unless you are Cher, who spent two entire nights locked up in a $1,600 room in Amansara last week to oversee the transfer of a badly abused elephant from Islamabad zoo to an elephant preserve here). You must produce documentation of a negative test no more than 72 hours old when you arrive and plunk down $2,000 or $3,000 (depending on whose interpretation of the law you read) deposit that will cover your hotel expenses and meals. (Meals look pretty bad, and you are not allowed to order pizza to be delivered). You will be tested on arrival and at the end of your stay. You will be required to buy an insurance policy as well.
Wearing masks anywhere in public is now required by law. Repeat offenders will be punished by making them stand by a coffin, according to Prime Minister Hun Sen. He also cancelled all weddings for the foreseeable future. It's pretty hard to cancel funerals. There are three going on around the Villa today, all pretty loud.
No tourist visas are being issued and visas on arrival are suspended for the time being. (As of today all visa issuance is temporarily paused). Eventually you may be able to get an "ordinary" visa that allows a 3o days stay and can be converted into an employment or retirement visa.
Thailand has had nearly 4,107 infections and 60 deaths.
Citizens of any country can now enter Thailand as tourists under a temporary visa program that allows a stay of 60 days, although visas can be renewed three times. You may have to provide proof of adequate funds on arrival and there is a mandatory. Quarantine on arrival is required and must be prepaid before you apply for your visa. These regulations can and will change frequently.
There are limited flights from Europe and Asia (Saigon is the closest airport to connect Bangkok). There are direct flights from some European countries. Thai airways is slowly getting back to a regular schedule.
As of today Vietnam has had almost 1,367 Covid-19 cases and there have been 35 deaths.
Since 22 March foreigners, with exceptions, have not been allowed to enter Vietnam. Nevertheless, Vietnam Airlines continues to operate international flights to and from Saigon and Hanoi. No future visas are being issued to foreigners. However, foreigners who live in Vietnam are able to return. Visa exceptions are available to foreigners who are "experts," foreign investors, or skilled workers. (Contact me if you would like to be one such person.) Currently, the only foreigners granted entry to VN are Japanese business travelers.
Laos has had 41 confirmed cases of covid 19 and no deaths. Commercial flights between Vientiane and Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul will resume mid-December. Land borders are currently closed. No visas are being issued for Chinese citizens. However, visas are possible for "experts, technicians and foreign nationals needed for essential projects." Testing and quarantine on arrival.
Bhutan remains closed and has not announced an opening date. However, Drukair has begun operating limited flights between Paro and Bagdogra (India). All residents of Bhutan went through a mandatory at-home quarantine in October and November.
After talking with people I know in Bhutan's health system it is clear that they are doing the work to prepare to reopen. They have purchased vaccines to immunize their population of 800,000. After some detective work and examining the facts we have to work with, Tashii (my manager in Thimphu) and we felt comfortable in guessing that Bhutan will begin to open in April. BetterBhutan.com's 2020 bookings have all been moved to 2021.
As I write this, however, Tashii has informed me by text that Bhutan's parliament is in session today to consider a proposal to open the country by March. Whether airlines can gear up to restore their original routes is also an issue. So far, Drukair has served Bangkok, Singapore, Katmandu, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bagdogra (Siliguri), Guwahati and Kuwait. It is unlikely that all of these cities will open at once. They had planned to offer Tokyo (Narita) beginning in September, but that did not materialize, of course. The best options initially will be flights from Bangkok, Delhi and Kathmadu. People connecting to flights anywhere will be subject to any transit restrictions where they plan to change planes.
Bhutan will be very much in demand in 2021. Many people who did not travel in 2020 are still saving their money and many will be "going big." Bhutan is a mostly-outdoor destination with very few crowds, so it appeals to people who are mindful of health concerns.
If you are interested in Bhutan, let me know. I am still working on the GayBhutanTravel.com website and am in the midst of a BetterBhutan.com facelift.
Bhutan decriminalized homosexuality on 10 December. Yeah!
Next time: Siem Reap is getting a face lift. Most of us are not happy about it at all.
It has been one shit show of a year. I hope you manage to enjoy the few remaining weeks of 2020. Please take good care of yourself and those who you love. This will all be over soon. While "normal" will not look quite the same as it once did, better days are head. Happy holidays from Veasna and me. And thanks for reading. Please share the love.
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