The Most Comfortable Prison: Bangkok Covid Quarantine

August 30, 2020 By bangkok7

The Most Comfortable Prison: Bangkok Covid Quarantine

Hey everyone. I’m taking a break from weekly reports of goings-on on Patpong to recount my time in a Bangkok Coronavirus quarantine (Coruarantine for short, copyright BKK7) hotel. Not because I want to, but because a friend requested that I blog about it. So here goes.

As you know, there’s been a months-long ban on incoming international flights. But allowances were recently made for foreign work permit holders to return via Thai repatriation flights in order to ahem! go back to work, provided they jump through an obscene and ridiculous set of nearly-impossible and heartbreakingly-expensive hoops, the final one of which was to spend 15 days in a state-approved quarantine hotel immediately upon arrival. So after months of waiting, worrying, paying, praying, hoop-jumping, anxiety, frustration, rage, depression, and despair, I was permitted to board a Korean Air flight out of LAX, and returned home to my beloved Thailand on the evening of 19 July, whereupon I was whisked by van to a hotel in Asok that housed 50 patients (49 farang and one Thai) who, incidentally, all tested negative for Covid.

I wasn’t fussed. After four and ¾ months trapped in the prison of America, two weeks in a hotel room seemed like a breeze.

Here were the rules: 1—Do not leave your room. There were four exceptions—two Covid tests on days 5 and 12, and 2 outdoor lounge sessions per week to allow housekeeping to make up the room. 2—No outside food. Three meals per day were prepared by the hotel restaurant and left outside the door at 9:00, 12:00, and 5:00 (I decided to forego breakfast each day in an effort at intermittent fasting). 3—No smoking. 4—no alcohol. 5—take your temperature in the morning and at night and send the results via Line message to the staff.  6—wear only the scrubs provided by the hotel as they would not launder the clothes we brought with us. There was cable TV and wifi for entertainment, plus what I brought with me—a laptop, a ukulele, and drawing pencils and paper for sketching. My plan for every day was to work out twice, draw, practice uke, and blog. Surely that would fill up the time, I thought. I imagined it would be a lot like being in a very comfortable prison, with a few extra amenities and no ass rape. I was mostly correct.

 

On the first night, I got in late, and went to sleep within minutes of putting my bag down. On day 1, I woke up at 6:00 am and tried on the hotel-appointed uniform (a set of light blue scrubs), which was too small. I started the day with three cups of black coffee (the hotel provided unlimited Nescafe and bottled water) and an hour of exercise—sit-ups, push-ups, tricep dips, and Tae Bo. Then I watched “Pirates of the Caribbean Part 2,” then I practiced ukulele and drank six bottles of water. Lunch was prawn and squid (I skipped all carbs and sugar while in quarantine, and the hotel was very good about helping with that). Then I spent three hours looking for used cars on the internet for my brother back in the US. Then I took a 40-minute shower. Dinner was chicken with mushrooms. Then I watched all of Season 2 of “After Lile.” Then I hand washed my underwear in the sink. I feel asleep around 20.30.

For the next several days, my routine looked nearly identical to Day 1. Coffee, exercise, an old movie on TV, internet surfing, torrenting and watching entire seasons of certain shows.  The list of movies I watched on the TV were as follows: Fast n’ Furious, Baywatch, Escape to Witch Mountain, The Tuxedo, Timeline, Sunshine, Meet the Parents, Alita: Battle Angel, Drone Wars, Roboshark, The Lovely Bones, Underworld, John Wick 3, Inception, The Spy Who Dumped Me, XXX Return of Xander Cage, Pacific Rim, X-Men Dark Phoenix, X-Men Days of Future Past, Death Race, Taxi, India Jones and the Temple of Doom, Hotel for Dogs, Stuber, The Punisher, Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, Terminator Genisys. The TV seasons I binge-watched were as follows: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Great, Dave, Briarpatch, Tales from the Loop, Brave New World, I Am Not Okay with This, and Mike Tyson Mysteries 1-4.

Lunch and dinner were as follows from Day 2 onward: barbeque chicken with kale, pork and cilantro, sweet and sour pork, tom kha soup, crispy pork and morning glory, pork leg, chicken and mushrooms with soup, chicken in gravy with morning glory, prawn and chicken, Chinese sausage and chicken chunks, prawn salad, chicken and bamboo shoots, prawn and ground pork, sweet pork on the bone with seaweed soup, chicken and kale with shitake mushroom, larb with chicken and peas, pork krapow, chicken with mushrooms and salad, breaded chicken with salad. Occasionally the staff would forget and serve carbs with my food, like toast or rice. I’d simply not eat it. Meals were frequently served late and cold, and I spent a good portion of time staring through the peephole in the door wondering why my food hadn’t been delivered. On Day 7 I came down with a case of explosive diarrhea that persisted for the next 5 days. I think I went to the toilet around 115 times. Finally, I relented and ate an entire bowl of white rice, which made me regular again.

 

On Days 5 and 12 I was instructed to go downstairs to an outdoor patio where a nurse in full hazmat gear stuck a swab down my throat, and another one up my nose to test for Covid. My results came back negative both times. On Days 6 and 11 I was sent to the pool area for an hour each time in order for my room to be cleaned and made-up. I was not permitted to swim but I could walk in circles around the pool or simply sit near it. After so many straight hours in an air-conditioned box, the heat and humidity were torture. But it was good to see the sun and sky.

Small incidents that broke the monotony became Earth-shattering, life-altering events in quarantine. Here are a handful of those experiences: Day 2—a got a new neighbor. A loud cougher moved into the room next to mine.  Day 3—woke up with arthritis in my foot. Day 4—accidentally broke my glasses and had to have Gorilla Glue delivered to my room so I could fix them. Day 6—a loud thunderstorm. Day 9—tried to help my brother in Los Angeles fix the GPS system in his car via Skype.

There were also a few small annoyances that took on profound significance for a prisoner unable to change his circumstance. For example, every once in a while, the air conditioner would rattle, and then for 30 minutes at a stretch, whistle like a tea kettle. The day before I was scheduled to check out, the concierge messaged to ask what I wanted for breakfast, lunch, and dinner the next day. Now, I suppose it makes sense that the food planners wouldn’t know the date each guest’s quarantine ends, but it did momentarily make me think I wouldn’t be permitted to leave the next morning, and that imprisonment in that hotel room would be my life from then on.

On Day 10, something strange happened. I fell into a malaise. A daze. A haze, if you will. A semi-delirium where time seemed to stand still and speed up simultaneously. From here till the night before I left, the days all merged into one semi-coherent blur of bad TV, emails, temperature checks, and terrible food. I stopped keeping a record of my activity. I lost my sense of time, and for the remaining 5 days, life melted into day-to-night-to-day and sleep-wake-sleep with nothing to set one date apart from another. It was like something out of a Jean-Paul Sartre play.

One thing that imprisonment in a small room for 2 weeks with no alcohol and 2 meals a day did for me was to help melt off the 20 extra pounds I’d put on as a lazy food-gobbling wine-swilling pig in America. Here’s a photo record of my gut shrinkage over the course of that time:

Day 1                                                          Day 2                                    Day 3                                      Day 5

Day 7                                                       Day 10                                              Day 14

 

On my final night—night 14—the hotel staff sent me a Line message asking what I wanted for lunch and dinner the next day. For a moment, my heart stopped. For a moment, I thought maybe I’d never be let out. For just a moment, I wondered if maybe I’d actually died in a plane crash, and this was Hell. I messaged back saying that I was checking out in the morning and they replied “OK thank you.” Never blame death/Hell/Purgatory on what can be chalked up to human error.

On the morning of 2 August, I woke up before sunrise, packed, had one cup of coffee, and paced around the room until my appointed check-out time: 7:00 am. Then on wobbly legs, I shuffled downstairs for a final nurse check-up, photo-op, and handover of the official documents saying I’m free to go.

And just like that, it was over. Today, 4 weeks to the day after my parole, I look back on it with revilement. It wasn’t torture. It wasn’t even close to actual prison time. But I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It was a price I gladly paid to get back into the greatest country in the world, an I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But between you and me and the lamp post, I’m glad I don’t have to.

So let’s raise a glass to freedom, to the junta’s extreme measures for battling Covid, to the bars that remain open, giving us a place to go and eat and drink. And let’s toast to the eventual end to all this nonsense. Cheers, everyone.