Masked mallers and K-pop fans in Thailand
MY WIFE and I finally got some time off from our day jobs for a quicker-than-quick vacation out of the country. To be honest, it was kind of weird not seeing her with her work laptop for several days. And although I meant the trip to be just that, a laptop-free jaunt, I flaked at the last minute as I had some unfinished business (and by business, I mean articles) to edit and write. So into the roll-on bag my laptop went.
We left on a Thursday afternoon, and NAIA Terminal 1 wasn’t teeming with people. It felt weird, really, to have huge sections of the main hall free of travelers in queue. We just needed to accomplish some pre-departure musts like the Bureau of Quarantine’s online Vax Cert (save the generated QR code in your phone) and secure travel insurance.
You don’t need to present a negative RT-PCR test — if you’ve gotten your two vaccine jabs, plus at least one booster. Do confirm ahead; it may be dependent on where you’re headed to. But at least that was what the nice lady behind the airline counter told me. “We would have asked you for a negative test if you weren’t boostered,” she said. Also, bring your proof of vaccination, that’s for sure.
This was my second time to travel after the advent of the pandemic, and I would say that people appear more comfortable — and excited even — to head out again.
So what is it like to travel again?
“I had a lot of fears, to be honest, but I’m certainly glad we got our second booster,” commented my wife Joyce. “I was excited to just go out of the country again and travel, but I knew we had to be smart about it.”
Of course, by this time you hardly notice the fact that most people you encounter are wearing masks — with the exception of a few brazen individuals who probably mistakenly think that the pandemic is over. The flight attendants wear medical-grade gloves as well, and that helps to give a feeling of enhanced hygiene. But again, it’s a crap shoot, if you ask me, so what’s really keeping you safe are the antibodies inside you (as a result of the vaccine shots and, hopefully, booster). Wearing the right mask in the correct manner also saves us from a host of threats out there. We also brought replacement ones; the last thing you should scrimp on are those masks.
Small bottles of alcohol are also mandatory, I believe, for that quick spray on your hands or surfaces like restaurant tables or hotel room high-touch surfaces — just to be sure.
At the mall, we noticed that food servers and attendants always wore their masks — and properly. This certainly speaks well about the Thai, who are obviously elated that foreign travelers are arriving in droves again. Tourism, of course, is a big part of our neighbor’s economy. It’s a good, consistent message that frontliners know how to comport themselves in the new normal. When filling your plate at the buffet, you’ll also need to mask up — the norm here as well. The only time you’ll see people’s smiling faces is when they’re at their table eating — yes, people were grinning from ear to ear surely at the general feeling of just being outdoors, savoring good food and the sight of strangers.
As for congestion, I noticed that people weren’t really concerned about “social distancing” anymore, so long as they were masked up.
The retail shops were also full — revenge shopping came to mind. After all, what’s the best way to celebrate going outdoors than by buying something again for the outdoors? Bags, nice clothes, and all the things you (don’t) need as you blink at the bright sunlight again.
For us, this trip to Thailand was mainly about going to K-pop act Super Junior’s concert at the Impact Arena. “We’re going to Thailand to see some South Koreans,” I told my sister-in-law Abbey before we left. My wife, a big fan of the group, wasn’t amused.
Having said that, I had lots of fun at the concert, shouting among the throngs of ladies (I was probably one of only 20 guys in total). We were singing along (with masks on), shaking those light sticks, which were changing colors in unison. I haven’t had that much fun in a long while — certainly not since the pandemic started.
Going back to the Philippines was a breeze — the only irritant being our realization that it was too short a trip.
Don’t forget to fill out the One Health Pass 24 hours before you fly back to the Philippines. You’ll need to present it before you get to the immigration officer who will stamp your passport, and ask you to briefly remove your mask as well for obvious purposes.
Once you’re home, take out that calendar and mark the day of your next adventure. Sounds like a plan.