I am sending this postcard from one of my favourite coffee places in Bangkok. The lounge music is humming in the background. I sit in my usual corner and look out of the window. Bangkok’s roads have come to live – the usual 8 am traffic jam is in full swing. Some ladies are trying to catch a motorcycle taxi. I have my laptop in front of me, my coffee and phone on the right. If I did not know better, it would feel like a “normal” day. The only reminder about what we are all experiencing right now is the mask next to my coffee.
Exactly a year ago, I arrived in Austria. I had left Bangkok in a rush, as governments around the world announced travel bans. Nevertheless, I was positive that six weeks later, I would probably be back in Asia. Who would have known what 2020 had planned for us? Who would have expected that we would not be able to just hop on a plane for a very long time? With most countries still applying travel bans (with some exceptions for business travel and important family reasons), I am well aware that currently, travel is a privilege.
It still feels surreal. This morning I did not know which weekday it was – during quarantine one day blended into another. But overall, I have to say, the quarantine at the hotel was quite nice. It may sound crazy that I enjoyed being locked in a room for two weeks. But we were really lucky with the hotel and service. One guest I met during one of the “relaxation sessions” (the 45 minutes we could spend at the pool area) said she felt like being in an Ashram. “I have done this many times, the only difference to an Ashram is that I’m allowed to keep my phone here. Maybe this is ‘Ashram 2.0’,” she giggled.
I have never been to an Ashram, but the two weeks did feel relaxing. After a year of trying to avoid news reports about Covid, it felt good to not think too much about what was going on outside in the “real world”. I did talk to friends and family, but Covid was far less present than it had been before. I did not really follow the new developments of Covid regulations in Austria or Thailand. There would be enough time for that once quarantine was over. After work, I read crime stories or focused on one of my seminar papers.
Last night, I fell asleep at 9pm. It was the first day out, meeting family and we even briefly headed out to a nearby mall. I felt like a small child who had to process all the new experiences of the day. After two weeks in a hotel room and a year of social distancing, this felt like a true sensory overload.
The situation in Thailand is very different from Austria. Life seems to have come back to normal – almost. The tourists are missing, hotels are almost empty, many shops and restaurants had to shut and, of course, the masks are a reminder that we are still in the midst of a pandemic. It feels strange to me. In Austria, we have been having one of the longest lockdowns in Europe. Since November, I had not really met any of my friends (with some “walking dates” as the rare exception).
As I am reaching the end of my Postcard, I have also finished my coffee. I notice a small card on my table. “Let’s go through this together – wear a mask, keep distance, max. stay 60 minutes.” Usually, I would find the time limit strange. For Europeans, limited time in restaurants, bars and cafés is very American. We do not want to be chased out after we ordered a coffee – or even drink it “on the go”. (At least, I do not enjoy that at all.) We want to take it all in and enjoy the brief moment. For months, I had not been able to sit down and have a cup of coffee in a café due to the lockdowns. Even though things are very different compared to last year, it feels good to have this cup of coffee. Hopefully a sign that things will come back to normal soon.