Douglas Thompson's Gay Asia Blog
50th Blog

06 March 2021

Reckoning
How Are You Coping?
Updated Pandemic Travel Restrictions
Siem Reap Gets a Facelift

The Ides of March

In the Roman calendar, March 15th, the Ides of March, was the date by which people were expected to have paid off their debts. It wasn't a law, but a cultural expectation. Famously, the Ides of March also marks the day Julius Caesar was murdered by members of his own Senate. It is a day of reckoning.

So much has transpired for all of us over the past fifteen months that we might expect events that are still unfolding to become resolved, come to a head, or at least show their true direction in the immediate future.  That is what I am hoping, at lest. I'm beginning this blog by revisiting a few issues that remain unresolved and about which I still have things to say.

Return of the Adults

At the moment Joseph Biden said "I do" at his inauguration I felt that I could hear a collective sigh of relief in the universe. Maybe you did, too. Adults have finally regained control of the United States Government.

Donald Trump has already been reckoned with. Please ignore him. He was elected because of the attention Anderson Cooper and other TV "news" personalities paid him. His rallies became carnival freak shows that major TV media could not resist. Now, he is doing a superb job of destroying his own party. The Big Lie is fading away bit by bit every day and he will eventually lose the grip he has had on so many people. The Proud Boys and Oath-Takers will lose interest in him once their leaders go on trial in federal courts for their big party on January 6th. He's in really deep shit financially, and there may be some jail time in his future. He may be tried in Georgia for trying to manipulate the outcome of their election, although that may not be the worst crime he faces. (My biggest erotic fantasy is for Donald Trump to share a cell with Roger Stone, whose paw prints are all over January 6th.) He thinks he is the presumptive nominee for 2024, but there are y0unger, hungrier candidates waiting for their turn. Chances are probably fairly good he will not live until then anyway. Good riddance.

(You should already know that I am a Trump-hater, particularly if you follow me on Facebook.)

And has anyone told Mitch McConnell that he is no longer the one who controls the Senate? He is, without any doubt, the most deceitful hypocrite in Washington. After the tongue-lashing he gave Trump at the conclusion of the second impeachment trial, he says he has no problem supporting Trump if he runs in 2024. Mitch's word of the day is "bipartisan," a word he has barely uttered these last twelve years. Nowadays, he is throwing it around so flagrantly that he must think he owns it. That takes a lot of balls, Mitch.  Bipartisanship for Senate Democrats has not existed for four years.

President Biden has a very ambitious agenda that includes bringing the pandemic under control, overhauling taxation, infrastructure, immigration, law enforcement, and the kind of diplomacy that will help restore America's standing in the world. He's already anticipating his first nomination to the Supreme Court. (Clarence Thomas can't live forever.) He also has majorities in the House and Senate to back him up. Republicans are whining about spending near two trillion dollars, which is almost exactly the size of the tax cut Republicans gave America's richest taxpayers over the strong objections of Democrats.

Biden has said much about what he had hoped to accomplish in his first 100 days in office. At the top of his agenda is his Covid relief program, the American Rescue Plan, which may go to a Senate vote before March 14th, about two thirds of the way through his first 100 days, and the day before Reckoning Day. If he is able to pass a new stimulus package with even a tiny bit of bipartisan support and we see two million people vaccinated every day in the US, he will have accomplished more good things and great things in his presidency than Donald Trump did in four years. If Democrats pass it without a single Republican vote, so be it. Tough shit, Mitch. (Oh, Mitch's other half, Elaine Chao, may have some jail time in her own future for corrupti0n.  (It would be lovely if the two of them could share a condolette in a federal facility in some place like North Dakota.)

Democracy in Myanmar (and Maybe Even Thailand)

Over the past decade I have written several times about Myanmar in this blog and in Club Sanook's newsletters, where I defended travel to Myanmar during the time it was subject to international sanctions, and I was barked at endlessly by the Burma Project people. Most recently, I wrote about Aung San Suu Kyi's turn to the Dark Side.

Myanmar DemonstrationsThe recent military coup there is a huge tragedy. It is the third coup since 1962.

The massive public outcry in Myanmar is truly encouraging. Protesters have learned quite a bit about tactics from Hong Kong and, most recently, student activists protesting in Thailand. Even the 37 Nats (spirits that are part of Burmese Buddhism) are behind the protesters, according to the colorful people who conjure them. Su Kyi has been in detention since the beginning. And Facebook is blocking The Generals.

One of my oldest friends in Asia is now living in Myanmar. He sent me this:

"Despite continued heavy-handed violent crackdowns and arrests on unarmed peaceful protestors by the police and military (and thugs), the peoples of Myanmar are out again today to continue on to make their voices heard, "No to Dictatorship!"

Myanmar Demonstrations"Like it or not! These unstoppable nationwide peaceful protests and ... civil disobedience movement against (the Myanmar military coup), which has been ongoing for 21 consecutive days across many parts of Myanmar, are already causing major disruption to the military-run daily operation.

"True, the peoples of Myanmar are suffering from this movement too. However, they strongly believe it is worth what they are sacrificing now, in order to achieve a better future for this whole country.

"last night was the 12th consecutive night that Myanmar experienced total internet ban between 1am to 9am.

A reckoning is awaiting soon for either the military or those who support democracy. A compromise is probably not in the cards since the government that was overthrown was already a compromise between Su Kyi's followers and the military. Myanmar's generals have made great fortunes at the expense of its citizens and they are not likely to give that up. The Russians and the Chinese have their backs.

Personally, I think the outcome is troubling for those fighting for democracy. Unless the major democracies of the world intervene and treat Myanmar as it does North Korea we will probably begin to see a real bloodbath by mid-March. Last Sunday (28 February) eighteen demonstrators were killed.  Thirty were killed on March 3rd.

Myanmar's Ambassador to the United Nations made an impassioned plea to the General Assembly on 27 February to impose sanctions and stand up against dictatorship. He spoke on behalf of the government that was overthrown. He was sacked the same day of course. All of their ambassadors will be replaced by junta-friendly diplomats.

I lived through two coups and the resulting juntas in Thailand, so I have had a taste of repression. There were military vehicles on the streets in Bangkok, armed soldiers on just about every corner, internet shut down, and nothing but military music and a test pattern on TV. There were virtually no protests. Groups of three people together were declared illegal.

Student demonstrations continue in Thailand and are well attended. However, I do not think there is a strong enough will among Thais to change anything. Standing up to protest anything is not very Thai. And the colors of people shirt remains a very big factor in power there.

Speak up about Myanmar! Contact your country's foreign ministry about pressure on the Burmese junta:

Bad Policing Gets a Reckoning

George Floyd was murdered by a policeman who slowly choked the life out of Mr. Floyd with his hands in his pockets and a smirk on his face. It took eight minutes and forty-six agonizing seconds.

The cop, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with murder. Jury selecti0n begins on March 8th. While this case will not be resolved by the Ides of March, the entire business of police brutality, racism, and murder with immunity virtually guaranteed for the police is about to be reckoned with at last.

Americans have finally had enough of cops who kill. The conviction of Derek Chauvin may be the single event that ends more than two centuries of death without trial for people of color. Policing as we know it has its roots in slavery. The first police were slave patrols whose jobs were to protect white folk. For some wearing blue, that has never changed.

President Joe Biden and leaders of both the Senate and House of Representatives will soon put forth major reforms to policing in the US. It will ban choke-holds, and most kinds of immunity for police officers. It establishes a national database of police officers to keep track of bad cops and prevent them from remaining in law enforcement. This sweeping legislation was first passed by the house last summer, but died on Mitch McConnel's desk. It is being reintroduced bearing George Floyd's name.

Police killed 164 unarmed black people in the first four months of 2020. This bill was passed by the House before the deaths of George Floyd, Breeana Taylor, Marcellis Stinnette, Jonathan Price, Rayshard Brooks, and many others after the bill was sent to the Senate. Democrats are going to try once again. Needless to say, MAGA Republicans and police unions are not happy. Despite what Republicans claim, the legislation will not "defund" the police. That's just another lie.

How are you coping?

My last topic is, of course the pandemic, which I have characterized as a bit of a romp in my house in the last two or three chapters of this blog. In truth, it has not been a romp for anyone, of course. We are all hurting. We have all lost things and perhaps even people, and maybe even pieces ourselves. We have almost forgotten what "normal" really was.

After more than thirteen months of self-quarantine I have noticed how much of my daily behavior has changed. Watching American network news at 03:00 is an example. Most of the year was spent living with Veasna. Now I am living alone again and things have changed in other ways.  I have become a lazy senior citizen who binge-watches Netflix, does not shave, bakes more bread than he can eat, and spends way too much time having conversations with a cat. Clearly, I am not alone and "normal" has probably become something new and different for almost all of us.

Would you mind telling me how you are doing? I am planning to write at length about this in my next blog (hopefully April). You can help by filling up the questionnaire linked below. It is completely anonymous, so please be candid and positive. With your help I hope to write something really useful to readers. I want to identify challenges we all face together and offer solutions from professionals who are also members of our community to help us process the unique PTSD many of us are going through, even though many may not even realize it.

You do not have to be a blog subscriber to help, but if you are a subscriber you will receive an email when the next blog is published with the results of this project, which is being conducted with the help of a team of graduate business school students here in Siem Reap.

Feel free to share this with your friends, but please do not fill up the form more than once yourself. The survey should take you four to six minutes at the most. There are only about twelve questions.

Click for Survwy Questionnaire

If you are a practicing psychologist, I would love to interview you. Just shoot me an email: [email protected].

And if you need a cat, I have extras.

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Updated Travel Rules and Restrictions

Thailand

Most recent statistics: 26,073 confirmed cases, 840 deaths.

Covid zones in ThailandThings are changing for the better in Thailand as the pandemic situation gradually improves. Thai provinces have now been categorized in terms of severity of infection rates with orange being the most "carefully watched," with yellow and green progressively safer.

Bangkok is in an orange zone. Nevertheless, virtually all restaurants, bars and entertainment venues are open and operating normally, although they must close at 23:00. Saunas and massage places are open, although capacities are restricted. Places offering gambling and animal competitions (typically cocks and bulls in Thailand) are closed.

Most foreigners need a visa for Thailand now. Citizens of some countries may enter Thailand for 45 days, but will need a "Certificate of Entry," which is issued by a Thai embassy before travel All visas are handled through one website: https://www.thaievisa.go.th/. A 14-day quarantine is still mandatory, although that may soon change for those who have proof of vaccination. In such cases quarantine may be reduced to three days or none at all.

One friend of mine who commutes back and forth between Amsterdam and Bangkok to do LGBT community building just went through this process and found it fairly painless (except for the cost of a 14-night hotel stay). He had access to the hotel's pool regularly on a controlled basis.

He suggests that the first thing you do is to download the "Thailand Plus" mobile app, which will come into play throughout the process of dealing with current health and immigration issues. Be informed, however, that it will monitor your location at all times while you are in Thailand and deleting it is forbidden. While this is a bit of an ankle bracelet for users, the idea is to facilitate contact tracing. At least that's what they say.

Cambodia

Most recent statistics: 844 confirmed cases, no deaths.

Cambodia is still fairly isolated, its borders closed. There were no active cases of Covid 19 until large Chinese New Year gathering about two weeks ago. Community spread from that event caused 35+ new cases.

It is possible to visit Cambodia, but visitors must buy prepaid insurance in case you need to be treated for Covid-19 during your stay, and also a cash deposit to cover the cost of your 14-day quarantine and all its lavish meals.  Everyone arriving on a flight to Phnom Penh (Siem Reap is closed) is checked into the same hotel. Another friend of mine who has been beating cancer needed to go to Bangkok for a follow-up evaluation with his doctors. He was quarantined for 14 days at Bumrungrad Hospital, then another 14 days in Phnom Penh after traveling by air Bangkok/Singapore/Phnom Penh. If you plan to consider relocating here or are able to enjoy an extended stay of a couple of months, it is worth the inconvenience. Remember, I have extra bedrooms.

Please note that there are several math problems to solve in the following paragraph. While this is not a quiz, send me the answers if you think you have them.

First JabCambodia has received a gift of 300,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine from the Chinese manufacturer Sinovac and has prioritized distribution to health workers, political leaders, teachers, and the military. Prime Minister Hun Sen promised to take the first jab on TV, but Sinovac's vaccine cannot be given to folks over sixty. According to Cambodian news media, wealthy Cambodians (and one Malaysian) anteed up more than $48 million to pay for vaccines that Cambodia will most likely get free. The big problem is, nobody wants the Chinese stuff. People in Siem Reap are pretty sionphobic, even though many are of Chinese ancestry and they do not trust the Chinese or their vaccine.  I have asked quite a few people about this in informal conversations and they are extremely hesitant. (Incidentally, China claims to have had just 101,945 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and only 4,845 deaths.)

{Photo: Hun Sen's son gets the first jab of the Chinese vaccine. Photo: Xinhua}

Cambodia's Minister of Foreign Affairs last week offered to vaccinate foreigners legally working in Cambodia with the cooperation of their embassies, presumably with all the excess Sinovac bottles they have. The word I have heard is that most embassies are not interested. Wouldn't it be terrific if the US Embassy offered to vaccinate Americans living in the Kingdom since President Biden has promised enough vaccine for every American? Johnson & Johnson would be winner since it travels well and would not require people to travel to PP twice. Let's see if the new US Secretary of State can connect the dots.

Vietnam

Most recent statistics: 2,472 confirmed cases, 24 deaths

While most countries would envy statistics like that, Vietnam remains firmly locked down. Just about the only way you can get into Vietnam is as an "essential worker." Another very old American friend of mine who lived for years in VN and is married to a Vietnamese guy is visiting Thailand, where he also lived until last year, and has just completed his quarantine. He told me yesterday that he would "like to go to Saigon to see my husband." Even though he has a spouse visa, even that is not possible since they are not allowing anyone in except for selected Japanese business people. He hopes things will change before he returns in September with their son, who is studying in the States and has not been home for two years. I'm crossing my fingers.

Laos

Most recent statistics:  45 confirmed infections, 0 deaths.

All flights to from Laos are cancelled through March. The country is in semi-lock-down. If you can get a visa, which is unlikely, you will undergo testing and a 14-day "staycation" on arrival, even though you cannot actually arrive there anyway since the borders are also closed.

Bhutan

Most recent statistics: 871 confirmed infections, and one death. (Compare that with neighboring India, which has had 11,124,527 infections and 157,248 deaths, less than a third of the deaths in the United States.)

Bhutan has always appeared in this part of the blog since I love it and hope to share it with you some day. My team in Thimphu and I had hoped that Bhutan would officially open up at the end of March. That plan was put before the National Assembly and was rejected.

The good news is that the manufacturer of the Modena vaccine in India has given the Bhutanese government enough doses to vaccinate every single person in the Kingdom. Vaccinations begin on the Ides of March and will take thirty days. Vaccinations are mandatory and Bhutanese people are looking upon that as an act of patriotism. That's pretty refreshing compared to my homeland.

All of the BetterBhutan bookings I am handling have been moved to September, which seems pretty safe, although I am expecting a stampede. BhutanGayTravel.com is under construction. Finally.

United States of America

Most recent statistics: 29, 294,809 confirmed cases, 509,645 deaths. Thank heaven someone finally has a plan to fix this.

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Siem Reap Gets a "Face Lift"

Funky little Siem Reap looks like the aftermath of saturation bombings. The façades of some buildings have been torn down and streets have been torn up. Blocks of old ramshackle have been razed to make room for new streets.

    Siem Reap Road Work  Siem Reap Road Work  Siem Reap Road Work

The Chinese are "helping" Siem Reap become a more attractive place to live. Streets are being widened to make room for more lanes of traffic, walking paths and bike lanes. Virtually the entire sewage system will be replaced. The problem with this plan to make Siem Reap the Wuhan of Cambodia is that private land that separates homes and businesses from the existing roads is being appropriated, leaving landowners to demolish gates, shops, or whatever else was there at their own expense during a time of severe financial hardship. Hundreds of mature trees originally planted by the French will disappear and will "be made into schools."

I have spoken often about my neighbor Jaya House River Park Hotel, which I think is the best in town. They had to demolish their front entrance and uproot their lovely tropical landscape (which was mostly the "Park"). Unlike most other Jaya House River Parklandowners in Siem Reap, they also own a large undeveloped parcel of land next door, which allowed them a brilliant work-around. The main entrance is no longer on the side of the original building facing the street. The lobby is now reached through a very classy portal with an outdoor lounge that overlooks their gorgeous new gardens. Compare Jaya House's "before" and "after" pics.

The shores of the Siem Reap River will get a contemporary update with giant slabs of concrete, hopefully leaving the many shady old trees intact. Locals hang out there every day and in the evening during the sizzling dry season, especially at night. There will also be a new shopping mall and a new hotel. Since more than half of the 400+ hotels here have closed permanently due to the pandemic, a new hotel is exactly what we need.

This project will go on for up to one year. We are just about to begin the annual dry season, during which everything is covered with a thick layer of dust just about every day. The endless excavation will send tons of dust into the dry summer air making it all the more filthy. I expect this to be absolutely miserable. However, dusty little Siem Reap may have become the butterfly it was always intended to be by July.

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If I am counting correctly, this is the 50th time I have blogged. Over the last month I have spent time refreshing the design of these pages and bringing the underlying code up to date. I have dusted off every one of these adventures and read them again, often after not having seen them for more than a decade. A few are pretty profound, and represent some of the best writing I have ever done. Some were truly painful after all of these years. If you have stuck with me over time or used your pandemic time to try to process all of this colossal word salad, thanks for sharing this journey with me. I have no plans to stop any time soon. Actually, I (well, Darika and I) have just turned down a book deal. This blog is much more fun, and I do not have to wear a bra.

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Thanks for reading, and thanks for all the love you send my way.

Jerry Falwell is still dead and Juthamas Siriwan is still in a federal prison in the United States. I can sleep well tonight knowing that neither of these things will change. Please subscribe. And please help me by filling out the questionnaire.

Next Time: Red underpants in the guest room and why I live alone (again).