During COVID, I have stayed in touch with a young Thai man whom we first met over 13 years ago in Thailand. He’s a taxi driver who picked us up from Phuket airport one time and gave me his card. Since then, our friendship has grown, and our conversations have evolved from talking about the weather and tourists to talking about family, friendships and faith. He lives in Phuket town. He is a Muslim and loves talking about faith stuff. The conversation never becomes competitive in any way; just a simple delighting in each other’s attempts to live faithfully in a complicated world.
In 2019, he was doing well with his taxi business. He had secured a regular contract with a Chinese tourist company. He would pick up tourists as they disembarked their cruise ship at Patong and take them around the island. He was doing so well that he decided to buy a small piece of land and grow bananas. He was so excited. The farm was going to enable him to better support his elderly parents. He is the eldest son. His dad could help with caring for the plants, and they would generate sufficient income to pay for medicines for his mum, and help his sister send her two daughters to school.
I suspect you all know what’s coming next.
You’ve guessed it – COVID. Places like Phuket are almost totally dependent on tourism. Tourists bring money in, they spend it and then they leave. Hotels are at the obvious end of a long line of ancillary services – right down to the quick thinking tuk tuk drivers and the beggar with no legs or arms propped against the doorway of a jewellery shop.
Talking with Yuta last week, he told me that the tourist industry in Phuket had totally collapsed.
I know the tourist industry around the world has taken a huge hit because of the pandemic; seriously impacting people like our new Church Council member, Glen. Many tourism-dependent operations in Australia may not survive. When we first learned of the outbreak in Wuhan, I don’t think anyone imagined the scale or the duration of the disruption and damage that a virus could do to the economies of so many countries and the livelihoods of so many people.
I think a lot about Yuta and his family, and Glen, and others I know personally who have been unable to perform their music in local pubs.
I hold them in my prayers, hoping that they will ‘hold fast to that which is good’, that their ‘Good Friday’ experience of life will end soon with a resurrection of a different kind.
We live in hope.