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 Thai-Indians discuss how life has changed in the unprecedented age of COVID-19

by Ashima

What’s the new normal in the age of corona?

By Tom McLean

As the advent months of 2020 fade from view, it becomes more and more apparent that the tone of the year is to remain ominously off-kilter. No matter how fleeting our anxieties may be, the world’s collective fear of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has left lasting marks since it crept out of Wuhan, China, at the end of last year. Since then, the pandemic has undoubtedly cast a shadow over Thailand, impacting the many communities that call the country home. From students to entrepreneurs and wedding planners, Thai-Indians have all been affected by the virus in widely different ways.

Suyash Kothari, a student at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island in the U.S., and a member of the Gujarati and Marwadi community in Bangkok, has seen a very different side to the coronavirus than that in Thailand:

“One minute everything was routine as usual and then the next thing we know, Rhode Island has declared a state of emergency.

“We knew the virus was spreading elsewhere, but we had no idea how quickly and dramatically we would be affected by it. We were all surprised, to say the least.”

Around the world, many schools and universities have shut down until further notice, opting for online classes in the coming months to minimise rates of infection. Suyash describes the subsequent frustration at these measures:

“As a freshman, I had only just started making close friends and delving into Brown’s academics. Out of the blue, we all received an email announcing that we must vacate our dorms in less than a week.

“It was hard to stomach the fact that we would all be leaving the college community for at least half a year. We said our rushed, final goodbyes in the midst of a tense, unpleasant atmosphere.”

Although fear and uncertainty have become increasingly common sentiments across the world, the support of loved ones helped Suyash cope with the anxieties of being away from home. Upon being notified about his university closing, Suyash’s family took immediate steps to ensure his safe return:

“The cold has been replaced with warmth, and college dining hall food has been replaced with delicious home- cooked Indian and Thai meals!

“That aside, family is immensely important. My parents and siblings constantly checked up on me to make sure I was healthy and well, while giving me so much guidance. Now that I’m back home, we’re all supporting each other, while abiding to social distancing rules of course!”

Aakash Chugani, a fashion entrepreneur, saw his business derailed by the virus from the get-go. An apparel authority who primarily lives and works in China, Aakash ventured back to his childhood home of Bangkok to see family and friends at the beginning of 2020.

He intended to return to China shortly after his visit but found himself stuck in Thailand after travel restrictions were implemented to stem the growing epidemic.

Isolated away from his company, Aakash’s business suffered without his guidance and he lost many orders to competing companies from other countries. However, Aakash believes the veiling sense of uncertainty to be the worst part of his experience:

“Being unable to travel has greatly affected my livelihood, but the anxiety of not knowing when things will go back to normal has definitely been the most awful element of this ordeal. This has been an important reminder to always have different options open when it comes to business matters.

“If nothing else, the coronavirus has taught me that we should all have backup plans in order to prevent ourselves from becoming badly affected by unpredictable episodes such as this.”

The socio-economic impact of the coronavirus has disrupted businesses based in Thailand, too. Wedding planner and tour guide Kavneet C. has been seriously affected by the widespread paranoia. With few tourists in Thailand and a halt on weddings taking place, Kavneet describes the difficulties of managing her business during this troublesome time:

“The most challenging element has been protecting our wedding clients and ensuring that they are refunded if events are cancelled. We’ve also had to put a lot of effort into upholding the working relationships we have built with hotels.”

A member of Bangkok’s Sikh Community, Kavneet opens up about how in spite of recent hardships, she has benefited greatly from the emotional support she has received from her friends, family, and acquaintances:

“Everyone is being very sympathetic and kind to one another. We’re all in the same boat and are taking each day as it comes. Being less busy with work means we have more time to spend with family and more time to focus on health. Each new morning brings hope for a brighter future.”

Do you have any stories about overcoming adversity during the COVID-19 crisis? Email tom@masalathai.com

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