The names in this story have been changed for the protection of the subject.
Written by Cod Satrusayang, as told to him by Victor S.
“Let’s go to Hua Hin,”
I had just arrived back in Bangkok from my studies in the U.K. and was in self-quarantine. Like many students studying abroad, the semester had been cut short by the outbreak of coronavirus.
My scholarship didn’t cover the early return and I felt guilty that my parents had to spend so much money paying for what was essentially a luxury, doubly so now that I had taken over a quarter of our house to self-isolate.
Unlike many of my friends at university, I do not come from money. My parents worked hard to not only provide for me but also educate me.
But, truth be told, they could work another 30 years and we would still not be able to afford the multi-million baht international schools that my friends grew up in.
“Let’s go to Hua Hin,” my girlfriend said again. Facetime was a little blurry but I could see the excitement in her eyes.
Unlike me, she did come from money. Unlike me, she had known our group of friends for over a decade, growing up in the international school/Chitralada/Mater Dei School circle of elite Thai private schools.
“We’re supposed to be in self-quarantine,” I protested. “This doesn’t feel very socially responsible.”
“Yeah I know but Pam’s dad is sending her to Hua Hin to isolate away from the family,” my girlfriend began.
Apparently once Pam’s family had let it be known in ‘the circle’ that they would be sending their only daughter to isolate at their beach house in Hua Hin other families began following suit.
It made sense that it was Pam that would start the trend. Her father was an heir to one of the largest conglomerations in Thailand. When they did something, the other families would parrot it.
Vacation at a luxurious destination? It would become the destination du jour. Dine at an opulently overpriced restaurant? It was in the press the next day and every ‘hi-so’ must be seen there.
“Please, let’s go. We can use my family’s condo and it’ll give us a chance to be alone and away from everyone.”
After a couple of days of pestering, I finally relented.
I had not been to Hua Hin in over a decade. My family has no property there and the last time we went, we stayed at some 3-star bungalow far away from the beach. The seaside resort had not changed very much since I last remembered it. To the tourists and the majority of Thais, it was just another beach town that was driving distance from Bangkok.
But Hua Hin was also a famous retreat for the late King Bhumibol and the rich, and famous of Thai society followed his majesty’s footsteps and built little enclaves throughout the town in emulation.
My girlfriend and I arrived in Hua Hin on a Wednesday and spent the next three days in blissful isolation. Dare I say, there was even something romantic about being isolated away from the world with a partner.
That Friday, we got word that Pam and her boyfriend Mark would be organizing a small dinner at her beach house. Just a small gathering of friends from the U.K., or so it seemed. I questioned the wisdom of organizing a get together when the world was preaching the need for social distancing and the dangers of exponential growth.
“Don’t worry, we can sit far apart during dinner,” Mark said through a smile on a LINE video call.
Mark’s family owned a bunch of hotels up and down the country and he carried himself like someone who had never faced a day of adversity in their entire life.
Mark went to school in London and his flat was just off Hyde Park in Knightsbridge. It was the gathering place of young hi-so kids coming to London to party on the weekends. Mark was intensely popular and known throughout the younger ‘circle’ for his gatherings and his humour.
We were actually on the same flight back from London but he sat up front while I enjoyed the view from coach. He wasn’t the kind of guy that would bring that point up, thankfully, and I had always got along with him.
“Come on, man,” he said. “It’s just going to be six or seven people. Just a nice quiet dinner.”
Once again, I relented.
Word got out, however, that there was going to be a thing and by the time we arrived at dinner the guest list had grown to at least 20 people.
Their cars were parked out front when I arrived. Mercedes, Porsches, Audis and even the odd Lamborghini, the kind of cars that old men turn to when viagra got boring.
“I thought this was only going to be a small gathering,” I whispered to my girlfriend as we walked through the door.
“Me too,” she said hesitantly.
The dinner had evolved into a party, with its own Instagram hashtag and theme. Mark had bought a couple of cases of corona beers to celebrate the occasion and Pam had brought in some friends from Bangkok. If you didn’t know there was a pandemic going on outside, you would be forgiven for thinking this was just another Knightsbridge blow out.
“In the theme of being safe,” Mark said as the party was starting. “Please do not share drinks or cigarettes. Now let’s celebrate the end of the world!”
Oh good. Safety first.
It’s now been two weeks since the party.
Two people that attended that night tested positive for coronavirus. I have started to develop some symptoms, as has my girlfriend, but we have not gotten our test results back yet.
I am telling my story because I hear people blame working-class people for the spread of the disease both online and offline. The truth is there are irresponsible people no matter what income bracket you fall under, including me.
That the outbreak and its spread is somehow the fault of the poor is a lie, if anything the more educated and wealthy of us show a stark disregard for the welfare of our families and our countrymen because of this dizzying sense of entitlement.
This pandemic is a chance to reflect, not only on the nature of our healthcare system but our society as well. I see too many chasms and canyons forming where there should instead be bridges and solidarity.