As the sun dips and before the 21.00 curfew kicks in, Jomtien promenade comes to life. The lockdown restrictions still allow locals and expats to stroll, jog and people-watch provided that their feet don’t touch the sand. The braver souls gently defy the no-social-mixing rules, chatting in small groups outside coffee stalls, whilst the younger end indulges in roller skating and laughter outside the police station. The officers inside are indulgent. As the unlamented News of the World used to say, “All human life is here.”
Five hundred yards away, around 800 people are queuing for free food and waiting anxiously for the pickups to arrive. They are orderly and patient, with almost all the noise coming from small children who are bored as well as hungry. Queuing without grumbling is grounded deep into Thai culture as any visitor to a busy bus station or post office will attest. Soon enough, a Toyota pickup arrives and starts handing out packages of rice, noodles, tinned fish and fruit. One lady holds up a sign stating that this is a charitable and religious donation. There are two pictorial representations of Jesus, although the lady in question assures me that all the volunteers are strict Buddhists.
After their departure, another truck pulls up and several foreigners begin donating the sought-after packages. They are similar in content but having the additional nutrition of two Jacob’s cream crackers. The modest volunteers are not keen to be publicized, but say they are from a local Rotary club and are subsidized by overseas donations. The food packages run out before the queue has subsided, but nobody is left hungry. There is an immediate deal with a local food cart seller to provide around 30 chicken curry takeaways for a special price of 30 baht per plate, funded by one of the volunteers.
Some of those receiving the packages depart rapidly, some on motorbikes, but others remain on the promenade to eat. Somchai says he is an out-of-work security guard who does not receive any subsidy from the government as his employer did not register him under the social security system. Teerasat and his wife confide they used to work on the long-shuttered Walking Street. Ellen, who used to eke out a bare living selling rice to foreign tourists who wanted to feed the beach pigeons, projects that things will improve by Christmas. Hopefully.
Pattaya City Hall is not sure how many locals are wholly or largely dependent on food charity, but it could be 15,000 if you include the whole of Greater Pattaya. A spokeswoman said the numbers are now much bigger than ever they were in past lockdowns. However, the authorities do require any potential, charitable organizers to register first with City Hall to ensure that staff or nominated volunteers can be on duty and to help with location publicity on social media. The contact centre helpline for all local authority matters is 1337.