Dark clouds of gloom hang over Jomtien Beach

As night falls, Aunty Rampai sits on the pavement looking out to sea, hoping and praying that this awful period will be over soon.

I was born and bred in Pattaya and have seen my home town grow from a small village into this modern sprawling city that it is today.

As we grew up, we saw the rapid development of our city on a daily basis. New roads, new markets, new buildings, hotels, shopping malls and of course, new condos.

In my youth Jomtien Beach was just beginning to develop. There was just a small road along the beach, a couple of hotels, maybe one unfinished condo and a few restaurants. Unlike today, with an over abundance of all of the above, attracting tens of thousands of tourists, Thai and foreign enjoying all that Jomtien Beach has to offer.

It was the place to be and been seen. One could enjoy feel-good massages, have fresh coconut drinks delivered right to your hands, you could lie down on the beach anywhere you wanted to, rent an old black inflated inner tube and go swimming in the sea, play beach ball with your kids, and enjoy lots of other fun games with your families and friends. Jomtien Beach was packed with life, offering almost everything to fulfill every one’s dream holiday.

But then something terrible happened. A nasty virus known as coronavirus began making many people sick in a remote city in China. Most of the world including Thailand did not think much of it. “The Chinese will be able to contain it and won’t let it spread to any other country,” we thought. We thought wrong. Slowly but surely, and then with the speed of lightening it hit the world. The coronavirus pandemic spread terror to almost every country on earth.

Thailand was not immune to the threat, and it did come. To prevent the spread amongst the people in Thailand an Emergency Decree was declared and the whole country was forced to lockdown for our own safety.

Last Sunday I drove to Jomtien Beach to see for myself what it looked like after the orders to shutdown.

Usually one became stressed just to get a parking space on Beach Road, but not on this Sunday, the roads were empty. The beach was deserted and lifeless.

Jomtien Beach Road, three hours before the 10 p.m. curfew last Sunday.

To make the scene even more depressing, dark thunderstorm clouds rolled over the sky casting an eerie shadow over the whole area. It was definitely creepy. I looked up and heard the roar of thunder. I cringed, waiting for lightning to strike at any second, expecting the skies to open and pour heavy rain onto the city as if to wash away all that is bad and dirty.

I strolled along the beach and saw an elderly woman sitting on the pavement looking out in the direction of the sea. I was curious of what was going on in her mind and really wanted to speak to her.

I approached her and politely greeted her and introduced myself. We observed ‘social distancing’ and sat about 2 metres apart as we talked to each other through our facemasks.

I learned that 66 year-old Aunty Rampai, lovingly known as Pa Add, together with her now late husband, moved from Rayong to Pattaya over 30 years ago. They started a beach chair rental business and owned several stalls along the beach. “Now that I am getting on in years and have to work alone, I reduced the number to only 2 stalls with 20 tables and chairs,” she said.

“In March, because of the COVID-19 crisis, the beach was made off limits. My beach chair rental business ceased immediately, along with my food business. The final blow came when the governor ordered that drinking alcohol on the beach was not allowed. Overnight Jomtien Beach turned into a deserted and lonely place. I had to pack up all my beach chairs and secure them around a tree.”

She added, “I live in Nong Pla Lai and come to Jomtien Beach from time to time to see if my belongings are still safe at the place I left them. Fortunately they still are. I have applied for the government’s compensation fund allocated for the casually unemployed, and expect to receive 5000 baht a month for 6 months. I hope I get it because this money is needed to buy food and necessities for myself and my four grandchildren.”

Pa Add looked thoughtfully out to sea, “I am luckier than a lot of jobless or homeless people. I have a small house in Nong Plai village where I plan to live out my days. I grow vegetables and fruits in my little garden which earns me a little money. It’s not much but helps us get by for a couple of days at a time.”

I asked her what she thought of the COVID-19 disease that was killing a lot of people around the world and was also a big risk to the people of Thailand. “It’s scary,” she said. “Residents of our village are very alert to the virus and are taking all the steps recommended by the Nongprue authorities to prevent it from spreading in our community. We wash our hands often, we wear facemasks and try to stay at a safe distance from each other.”

Pa Add was confident that the crisis will pass. “The sun will rise and set every day. Some of us will live long enough to see many more sunrises and sunsets, but some of us may not. I’m looking forward to the day when this nightmare will be over and I can go back to my beloved beach and rent out my beach chairs again. I miss all my friends, Thai and foreign. They come to see me and rent my beach chairs every time they come to Pattaya. They also love my cooking, because I’m the best cook in the world.”

She urged everyone to stay strong and if they could, to care for those who have less than they do. “Some people don’t even have a home. Some live in crowded foster homes and worse still, hundreds sleep on the streets. Please help them,” she said. “As Buddhists, we believe in making merit by giving alms to the less fortunate and we believe in ‘Do good, receive good.’”

As I stood up to thank her for speaking to me and to say goodbye, she blessed me, wished me good health, and told me not to give up. “The bad days will pass. Life as we know it may never be the same, but we will survive.”