April 18 2020
Kriminalvården Anstalten Tygelsjö
218 74 Tygelsjö
Attn: Xxxxx Xxxxxx
Hallo my friend
Well shit, if you had to go away for ten months for growing indoor plants, you chose the right time! We’re all in prison now.
I don’t mean to minimise what you’re going through, but ‘Lockdown’ is a prison term, right? Confined to quarters. No fraternisation — ‘social distancing’ to be maintained at all times, except with the people you cohabit with; your cellmates. They’ve closed all bars and places of entertainment, all ‘non-essential’ businesses, all public spaces, including beaches and parks. Basically they’ve put billions of people worldwide under house arrest.
Frustratingly for you, Sweden is one of the few countries (Belarus is another, and Japan, and Brazil) where they have taken a more rational approach, quarantining the sick or vulnerable rather than the healthy, and life has continued more or less as normal. But everywhere else, insanity reigns. State of emergency, lockdown, house-arrest, medical martial law. I presume you get to see the TV news sometimes, so you’re getting the propaganda, but I know they don’t let you use the internet. I assume your intuition is telling you something is very wrong with all of this. I won’t go into it all here, cos I don’t suppose your guards would like it. Probably mine wouldn’t either. But if that’s what you’re thinking, you’re right. Something very fucking wrong.
October seems a long time ago now, when you strolled up to my bungalow in your new muscles with that cute sniffing girl from Patong. I got her a glass of water and said to you, ‘Have you guys had a white night or something?’ And you said, ‘No, I think she’s just got a bit of a cold.’
Not your thing, anyway, I know.
Well, all that’s shut down now, man, Bangla Road closed and teams in hazmat suits scouring the pavements with high pressure hoses. And Phuket completely cut off, with no way in or out by land, air or sea. Unbelievable, huh? Do you get the odd flash of nostalgia, at night in your bunk? Afternoons fishing on the rocks, that amazing view. Sunset over the sea, crickets tuning up so loud we had to shout to hear each other, and the squid boats’ lights getting brighter as the land breathed out shadows. Space. Sound. Changing light. Oh, man. Must seem like a previous existence to you. To me too, though I’ve still got the soundscape and the land. But I miss that sea-breeze, I can tell you.
It was mid-October, as I remember, and a Saturday, I’m pretty sure. Could even have been the 18th. It’s weird to think that at that moment — me looking round to see this guy with your face and somebody else’s torso loping up the slope towards me — at that very moment, the vaccine-Messiah Bill Gates was already running his ‘Event 201’ simulation, war-gaming what he calls Pandemic I. (Of a series?)
I was lucky enough to be here in Isan when the music stopped. Could have been much worse. I could have been anywhere, continuing my strange, nomadic existence, the entropic drift my life has fallen into for the last few years. I could have been in France or the UK, God help me. I was in France in November, just hanging out and getting on with writing, when the idea came up. I was wondering what to do next, freezing my tits off, worrying about money, wondering if I could ever stand working in a school again and putting off applying for jobs. Red started talking about this group of people she’d made contact with who were following ‘the King’s Steps’, as they call it, continuing Rama IX’s campaign to move the people of Thailand away from cash-crops and monoculture and towards self-sufficiency, agro-forestry, groundwater irrigation and so on. Red had accepted that her attempts to make a business in Phuket were not going to work out, and she was ready to bite the bullet of returning to her family and her little bit of land. The agro-forestry idea seemed so right, and so timely, even before the rona hit. It was on its way even then, but I knew nothing about it. I’ve been expecting a collapse, we’ve talked about it many times. I just didn’t know how soon and suddenly it would come.
So I headed back to Thailand at the beginning of December, and I’m very fucking glad I did. My lockdown has been pretty good, here on the farm. I’ve got the land and the bike and my friend Sami from Bangkok was here for a while so we talked a lot of shit and played a lot of chess and worked around the farm. He’s gone now, and that’s OK because I need to get back to writing and working on myself.
So we’ve got the night-time curfew, all non-essential businesses closed, but no lockdown. I ride up to a lake in the hills most days, me and Sami have been going for a lakeside 4.20 and a swim. We’ve only had a couple of minor brushes with officialdom. Red went to the market and forgot her mask, and got accosted by a security guard who told her off and took a photograph of her — if police catch you without a mask they’ll extort you for 200 baht. I was doing it in shops, just to conform, a foreigner observing the local customs. There’s been a certain amount of resentment towards the farang, with the Health Minister encouraging people to think that dirty foreigners are to blame for bringing the rona. So I do it even though to me it seems like a superstition, like people in the Middle Ages carrying a perfumed handkerchief or a pocket full of posies to ward off the plague miasma. Ring a ring of roses…
Anyway, a few days ago we had a delivery of rice straw, which we’re going to use to cover the open ground once the excavations are finished. There’s a lot of earth lying open to the elements, and when it rains — we’ve already had a couple of big thunderstorms — it’ll get washed back down into the canals, so the straw is to bind the soil, and we’ve got ten trucks of it coming. A team of five guys brought the first load, one older guy and four lads in their early twenties, and because Sami was here we ended up giving them a drink and hit it off with them so much that they came back the same evening with a snake to cook for our dinner. They whipped up a fire, threw the snake onto it for a couple of minutes, pulled it out and chopped it up really fine, mixed with chilli and herbs and a few beetles, and we ate it with sticky rice. Not bad, though a bit too spicy for me. A kind of dark, bloody, smoky, snaky taste. We washed it down with beers and a bottle of Lao Kao, put some music on and had a bit of a sing — and the upshot is that a couple of these guys are going to come and work for us from time to time. These boys have been laid of from other jobs in factories and workshops — they don’t normally all work on Vira’s farm. So we’ll give them some work and see what they’re like. There are plenty of people around here desperate for work, and it’s win-win for us to give casual employment to some of them when we need extra hands, which will be often.
Anyway, there were seven of us eating snake and knocking back the Lao Kao, and we didn’t even think about it at all, but next morning Red got a call from a local official telling us not to do it again. He was quite nice about it, but firm, saying listen, we’re trying to keep everything calm, so just wait until this is all over and you can have a party. The question is how they knew? This farm is not adjacent to any other dwellings, and we were at the back of the house. Someone must have informed on us, I guess. Sound carries well across the fields. Later we found out that Vira got the call, too.
Then the other night I saw two guys on a motorbike drive past, and I don’t know what attracted my attention to them — perhaps that they seemed to be wearing matching jackets — but the pillion rider was clearly carrying a powerful torch, because as they went up the road I could see their light going all over our field, where the earthworks are all finished now. Then they turned round and came back, and for some reason I ducked down behind the table, watching them, and their light panned briefly across the front of the house. I thought that was strange. Why the interest in the field? But I’m guessing it’s just a curfew patrol.
All part of the new normal. In places like the UK and Australia, they’ve set up hot-lines for snitching on your neighbours if they go out without a valid reason or have a party or whatever. So here it is: McLuhan’s global village — drones and snitches everywhere.
You must be hearing about all this and hoping that by the time you get out everything will have gone back to normal. That’s what we all thought at the beginning, just waiting for it to be all over in a month or two, but even the normies aren’t hoping for that any more. Politicians and apparatchiks have been priming the public with the idea that things have changed forever and they must accept a ‘new normal’. I’ll tell you man, you’re gonna be like Rip van fucking Winkel, looking round at the world and thinking What the fuck happened here? I go away for a few months and the world goes crazy.
I think things will ease off to a degree for a few months. But in the autumn, they’ll hit us again with The Return of the Rona, even worse this time. The sequel always has to be more spectacular than the original, after all.
I wish I could capture the weird, sinking, dreamlike feeling of seeing all this stuff coming true. All those conversations we had. And now it’s here, the dystopian movie unfolding around us. Collapsing economies, breadlines, food riots, all just unfortunate and unforeseen consequences of this inexplicable curse which just arrived out of nowhere and provoked an inexplicable response.
Soon it’s going to be Hunger Games — hyperinflation and food crisis seem inevitable. In V for Vendetta, wasn’t it a pandemic that enabled the fascist takeover? Anyone not asking questions about where this is coming from and where it is taking us is deep, deep asleep. But, you know, that’s almost everyone. It came from bats, they mumble. Chinese people… bat soup, mumble mumble. Have to stay home. Social distancing has saved millions. Have to wait for the vaccine.
Yeah, the vaccine.
At this point, I think I have to accept that I’ll never work in an international school again. Maybe I’ll never get on a plane again, who knows? I think we’ll be technically ‘free’ to refuse the shot. But then we won’t be able to work, travel, or associate, and we’d better get ready for the hate that’s going to come our way from the herd. Man, people like you and me are going to find out what it’s like to be the new Untouchables.
That means that my nomadic lifestyle is pretty much over. Will I ever see you again, I wonder? Or my friends in Russia, France, Canada, Australia? I just don’t know. For me, the main trick is going to be making sure that I don’t get stuck somewhere I don’t want to be when the vaccine comes in. The Thai government has extended its visa amnesty until the end of July. In the meantime I have a lot of thinking to do.
I think this is it, Stef. I keep getting this sinking feeling, as if I’d woken up to find that the nightmare I was having was real. Like if you came out of prison to find the prison was inside a bigger prison inside a bigger prison. Maybe that’s always been true but now it’s suddenly become so fucking obvious. And I’m fine here for now, and lucky to be here, but believe me, my mind is reeling. Like Hamlet — O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams! I’m having bad dreams, waking ones. I think this is it, man — what we’ve talked about. It’ll probably happen in stages — a controlled demolition — but it’s here. Year Zero.
There’s a place for you here if you can get here, brother.
Hoagy once said to me: ‘I’ll you something, Paul. War… is everywhere. It’s all the time. On every level. Even in the cells of your body. And it never stops — even when you die.’
I’ve thought about that little speech a lot.
All I can do for the moment is take things day-by-day, work on myself, and prepare for the ordeal. Like you did before you reported for incarceration.
All right man, I’ve gone on long enough, so I’m going to sign off here, print this and see if I can get it posted in Chum Phae tomorrow. I’m not too confident that the guards will let it through! Might have COVID on it! But I’ll give it a try. Even if you’re not getting these, I’ll keep writing anyway and you can read them when you get out.
I hope you got my first one. Early to mid-February I think it was, and I don’t think I even mentioned the rona. All I was worried about then was chemtrails and bushfires, and I’ve got to say I think that’s coming back. After California and Australia, I think it’s Thailand’s turn. Farmers here have been warned to expect 6 months’ drought. The Chinese have dammed the Mekong. The aquifers are salting up. They need many more people to join this groundwater movement to have any chance of turning it round.
I hope you’re keeping your cool so you can get a couple of months off for good behaviour. Get out in summer before the rona comes back. Like you said, as long as one of these little jerks who thinks he’s Tony Soprano doesn’t rattle your cage you should be OK. In ten days, you’ll have completed three months. Before you know it you’ll be half way there. Maybe you already are.
Må bäst, broder.
Thinking of you.