Short Story 3: Bangkok, Thailand
Alone in Bangkok During the Pandemic
This short story unveils certain experiences I had while working and living in Bangkok, Thailand during COVID-19. You'll get an honest account and my thought process in 2020, the year of radical change. Without further ado, let’s get this show on the road!
Take a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come in your career. Whether it’s been slow and steady, fast, or you’ve fallen off a few times but continue to climb incrementally, knowing that you can succeed or fail is courageous. We all have a story of upward progress. The higher we climb, the more frightening things can get when we fall down. A job that enables us to enjoy life by living more comfortably without financial struggles is everyone’s aspiration. Still, we’ll all stumble upon murky situations as we move up in our careers and get older. Envision starting a new job; it has taken you years to get into your specialty. You have a higher salary and a roof over your head with a strong foundation. You can save money for a rainy day, travel occasionally, eat out on the weekends, purchase decent clothes, and not live paycheck to paycheck. At the same time, a demon from childhood can resurface when we start a new gig. It loves tampering with our brains, feeding off our insecurities. As you’re getting situated in the new working environment, things pop up in your mind, saying one or more (or all) of these things: • “You don’t have the skills.” • “You’re not good enough.” • “You’re not strong.” • “You can’t do it.” • “You’ll suck at it.” • “You’ll fail if you try.” • “You’ll look like a fool.” The whispering voices create false self-concepts that ignite anxiety and fear. You’re a grownup with accomplishments, skills, and experience in your field. But at work, you feel alone and helpless, like a teenager transferring to a new high school, confused and wanting to belong to a group. For the first time in my career and as the new guy at work, I’m experiencing imposter syndrome. I didn’t know it existed until I searched it on Google recently. Feeling inadequate can happen when we start a new role, regardless of past achievements and a proven track record. Managing imposter syndrome is harder when you’re solo in a foreign country without family, friends, and with no support group. If you’re experiencing imposter syndrome at work, rather than assessing and questioning your skills, hit the ground running. Stay proactive and learn new things. View yourself as a problem-solver. Once you knock out the imposter syndrome, don’t let it have a rematch.
March 2020 is a massive shift in the world. With people staying at home to help prevent the influenza from magnifying, the question is, for how long? Nobody knows. Some economic analysts are predicting a global recession. Where I work, the company’s clients are primarily small businesses from the US, and America is in a downturn because of the pandemic. Based on emails, Slack messages, and virtual meetings from the co-founder, I could get laid off this year. After today’s company meeting via Zoom, there are new changes a week before my ninety-day probation, effective April 1: • 15% pay cut for all staff (20% for senior leaders) • No 2-3% pay raise every six months • The end-of-year bonus is now eliminated • Yearly employee allowance (medical, dental, vision, gym membership, books, training courses) cut to 50% • More salary reductions or layoffs if the company’s balance sheets are in the red The updates make me think subjectively instead of rationally, causing me not to see a future with the company. Whether I'm happy, sad, or mad about life, satisfied or dissatisfied at work, my get-stuff-done mentality doesn’t change.
HR from work notified staff that the Thai government announced a new rule concerning COVID-19. A mandatory curfew (10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.) starts today (Friday, April 3, 2020) to prevent new cases. Whoever gets stopped in public by authorities during the curfew can face two years in prison or a twelve-hundred-dollar fine—or both. Bangkok has been in quarantine for less than a month, and now, there’s a curfew. One week later, Dennis sends an email to staff about rumors that Bangkok might have a twenty-four-hour curfew. I type "bangkok 24 hour curfew" into Google's search bar, and the results on the first page say the new policy isn't valid. Other recent articles from the Bangkok Post, Bangkok’s daily news media, claim that the government will consider twenty-four-hour lockdowns if people don't follow the curfew. On the other hand, while stores in the US are experiencing a shortage of toilet paper, some Thai nationals are stocking up on booze in Bangkok. Two days ago, on April 8, Thai authorities announced a ten-day ban for the sale of beer, wine, and hard liquor in all shops throughout Thailand. The reasoning is to prevent the spread of COVID-19. April 10 to 20, 2020, is Songkran, Thailand’s New Year. A canceled week-long holiday isn’t going to stop alcohol consumers from buying. With a population of almost eleven million, social distancing, and the 10:00 p.m. curfew, I wouldn’t be surprised if liquor sales go through the roof in Bangkok on April 8 and 9.
1.4: Heads or Tails?
As of June 27, 2020, I’m currently reading Trust Within, a book about listening and following our intuition rather than forcing things to happen. The author discusses how meditating and detaching from electronics and the media is one way to enrich our mindfulness. With the proper discipline, becoming more intuitive is feasible over time, especially when we look deep inside to seek direction and truth. Introspection is a powerful weapon for personal transformation if it’s channeled in the right avenues. The hurdle is staying the course when life knocks us down. Occasionally, we wake up on the wrong side of the bed or have one of those days, and we don’t understand why. The garbage (our corrosive thoughts) spirals in a tornado, sometimes out of control, and we want the spinning to stop. When the twister ends, the sky eventually clears up. The trash is no longer getting spit out of the swirling tunnel, and we can move ahead. As we are walking and stepping on debris, we ask ourselves, “How did that get inside my head?” Picking up some of the missing pieces on the ground to help put things in perspective is an option, or we can rebuild by following our intuition. There’s nothing wrong with hitting the reset button since it could be the best course of action. Let’s flip a coin: should we stay in our comfort zone (heads) or take an unconventional risk that could end in failure or success (tails)? The coin is in the air. Heads or tails? Regardless of which side of the coin we pick, Trust Within mentions we still need to exercise our intuition by telling the monkey in our brain to shut up. Something many people don’t know about me is I’ve been practicing morning meditation for years. I don’t feel an instant rush from listening to my breath as I do after an intense gym workout, sex, or other adrenaline boosters. Similar to babies, we want positive situations and outcomes instantly. Instead of being patient, we get fidgety and annoyed when gains aren’t happening on our terms and within our timeline. It’s easier for the mind to look at what’s in front with tunnel vision compared to scanning and processing what’s around us. How can we digest our surroundings when our minds are constantly being info dumped by media? Sitting still in a quiet room thinking of nothing or picturing the life we want and listening to our breathing might provide clues or point us in the right direction. It can take days, months, or years for something to click or flourish.
1.5: Authentic What?
One restaurant on Sukhumvit Road takes us to the most isolated county in the world. Pyongyang Okryu Restaurant, a government-run establishment by North Korea, serves authentic North Korean cuisines in Bangkok. From the outside, the closed green curtains prevent me from checking out the inside of the restaurant. The small glass entrance door has “No photos” and “No smoking” signs. I push the button to open the sliding door, triggering the alarm buzzer to go off. The door doesn’t budge, despite that the restaurant is up and running. I look at the woman at the front counter, innocently refusing to touch the door. She comes to the entrance and opens it, and I’m the only customer inside at 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday. The Pyongyang Okryu Restaurant has a strange vibe. It’s as if my every move is being monitored by cameras in the four corners. I feel tense. The Korean woman eyes me a few times. They aren’t hey-you’re-cute, or I’m-interested-in-you looks, but not hostile either. She’s probably making sure I’m not taking pictures or doing anything fishy. The woman goes to the back of the restaurant. Nobody else is inside the dining area. My ego prompts me to take out my phone to snap a few pictures of this old school-style restaurant. The noise of the flash sounds loud inside the confined space. A few minutes later, the lady is back at the front counter and notices me on my phone, but I’m playing it off as if I’m reading a text message. She turns on some North Korean music, which is making me feel comfortable. While my food is being prepared, I walk to the bathroom and see a written "Out of order" sign. The Korean woman tells me to go upstairs. There’s a sign saying, “VIP area.” As I walk up the stairs in dim light, she’s looking at my front pants pockets to ensure I don’t take out my phone. In the tiny upstairs lounge are two rooms with flashy VIP signs on the doors. The one-person bathroom is large and contains a shower area without curtains. I put two and two together, realizing that the “VIP area” is a place to host private parties for exclusive guests (horny men with power and money) to get their happy ending(s). Ladies or sheltered men, if you said, “Huh?” ask a grown man who has been around the block or Google what a “happy ending” means. I eat my dinner consisting of Pyongyang beef, kimchi rice, and sour green pancakes. On a scale of one to ten, the North Korean food at this place gets a seven and a half. If you’re in Bangkok, put Pyongyang Okryu Restaurant on your checklist. The food isn’t stellar, prices aren’t low, but the experience is worth it.
Discover more stories in Book 3, Sweating in the Land of Smiles: Living in Bangkok During the Year of Radical Change, or visit other short stories in Phuket (4), Shanghai (2), and Langfang (1).