Leaving aside the rather obvious fact that people have died from the coronavirus – a fact that may or may not be tragic depending upon one’s point of view – there are distinct travel advantages that come with a pandemic. For example, my flight from Melbourne to Bangkok was only one third full, a fact that meant considerably less queuing at the airport, a much more relaxed flight, and exiting the aircraft with something that approached alacrity. That said, there was still a screaming child, a fact which seems to be mandatory on just about any flight that one might catch. I didn’t eat the airline food as the virus advice is to only eat freshly cooked, piping hot meals. One can only imagine what might occur from a contagion perspective as a result of succumbing to the boredom temptation to partake of the lukewarm excuse for the meals that they server on aeroplanes. My flight from Bangkok to Phuket surpassed that of my Bangkok flight in terms of the significant absence of annoying other travellers. There were only twenty people on the flight and so I exited and passed through customs in under fifteen minutes.
So here I am in Phuket. It seems to me that it would be fair to say that the place is relatively empty. More than fair to say as the news has reported that the Chinese have all left and that Chinese tourists are no longer travelling Thailand. A note. I had no idea that hundreds of thousands of Chinese travelled to Phuket every year. If I had been aware of this fact I might have opted for another holiday destination. No matter. All is good in the present. I am staying in a boutique hotel with occupancy rates likely at an all time low. That said there are a number of other guests, some of whom I saw at breakfast this morning. I would rather that they had not been present because they had clearly not sought to inform themselves about the ways in which the virus might be transmitted. There was a woman who sneezed and coughed into her hand, rubbed her eyes and then proceeded to touch everything within reach including but not limited to, plates, cutlery, cups, and glasses. I became paranoid about my toast as the bread had come from a shared bread basket. The virus spreads for multiple reasons but general human stupidity has, I have no doubt, a significant part to play in infecting others. Seriously. Why can people not make an effort to be informed?
I came here to write and so I have primarily been holed up in my hotel room. However, I have ventured out to the local town. Yesterday, I embarked on a walk to the beach, a journey of no more than a couple of kilometres. I stumbled upon an Italian coffee shop where I ordered a most delicious iced mocha. I sat at one of the patio tables, sipping my drink through a straw whilst watching the world go by. Afterwards, I wandered the streets adjacent to the beach front. I had no concerns about the Covid-19 virus because whilst the streets were not deserted, they were certainly not crowded. By this I mean that one could walk along the pavements whilst maintaining a reasonable distance from other tourists. After my walk, I returned to my hotel for a lengthy swim which caused me to wonder if the virus can survive in a pool. After all, people spit in swimming pools. In the evening, I returned to the town and, following the virus advice, I found a busy restaurant where the food would most likely be freshly cooked. I ate garlic mussels and beef stir fried with betel leaves. Afterwards, I indulged in an ice cream sundae topped with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, mixed nuts and glacé cherries. Following dinner, I wandered the local markets, bought some new shorts because the ones that I had brought with me were too large due to having lost eight kilograms, mostly from around my midriff. I probably paid too much for the shorts but I paid less than I would have paid at home which is the point that counts.
The fact of being in Phuket reminds me of the deliberately alarmist news headlines about the Covid-19 virus. Just before I headed to Thailand, one of the news channels reported on a “Coronavirus Crisis at a Quarantine Center“. The headline was utterly irresponsible for the following reason. The quarantine center was in Australia and had been set up for the sole purpose of dealing with citizens returning from abroad who might have become infected with the virus. The returning travellers were to be subject to a mandatory two weeks of isolation before being allowed to return to society. The crisis. Two people had tested positive for the virus. Two people. Apparently a crisis as far as our news outlets are concerned. Perhaps no one would be interested if the news headline had read, “Two People in Quarantine Test Positive for Coronavirus – Immediately Isolated and No More Cases Reported”. The same broadcast streamed videos from China, filmed by locals on their phones and uploaded to social media sites. The videos were alarming with people being dragged screaming from their homes to be locked in ambulances and vans. Apartment blocks were being welded shut so that the residents could not leave.
I am here for another ten days. There was a time when my risk factor for the virus would have been significantly higher, a time when I was drinking three bottles of wine a night. A time when I would have been out in the bars until three or four in the morning, getting up to the kind of mischief that comes from being unconscious on my feet. But those days are no more. I am on my second sober holiday, a holiday that I will remember in its entirety as opposed to returning home with fragmented memories of somehow making it back to my hotel room in the early hours of the morning to sleep off another hangover. Then to emerge in the late afternoon or early evening to do it all over again, commencing with a bottle or so of wine to shake off the remainder of the hangover from the night before. These days are better I think. Or perhaps just different. No, these days are better. More enjoyable, more productive, more meaningful. But more so, these are days during which I feel the responsibility for what I do. Such was never the cases during my years of drinking. Rather, I was excessively irresponsible and that is not how I want to be.
First Published February 29th, 2020