The End of Quarantine

As the United States edges closer to the 4th of July, and the Joe Biden goal of having 70% of Americans vaccinated by then, certain states are opening up again, and people are taking advantage of this fact by leaving their homes. I am one of those people who are excited to get out of their homes and be a part of society again, but for the time being, the state I am in has not yet reached its goal and it has not opened up yet. It might take awhile too. According to Our World in Data at the time of writing this, only 50.4% of Oregonians have been fully vaccinated with 57.1% of them receiving one dose. It is behind that magic number for herd immunity, but there is hope as the number of cases continues on a downhill trend even with the threat of the Delta variant creeping into the count in many places in the United States.

With all of this going on, I have reached the two week mark of arriving in the United States. And I know that there was not a hard rule in the United States about what incoming people to the United States should do with quarantine, but that did not stop me from doing a self-imposed quarantine. Why? Well, because it was the right thing to do. Granted, if you have been reading this blog lately, you know that it wasn’t a very strict quarantine where I stayed inside all of the time. I did go for a daily walk, but I was in a good position where I did not need to be around anybody on these walks, and I was never in close contact with anybody. The only time I have been inside with a group of people was when I got off the plane as I went into a local Target to get my first dose of the Pfizer vaccination. I think I did a pretty good job of making sure that if I brought the disease into the United States, I did not give it to anybody else and caused this pandemic to ravage on further in this country.

But I think that is part of the problem with the United States. There are some policies that if they had made a little different, it might have stopped the spread of this disease from being so bad, and with the recent push to get vaccinated, more of the country might have been open right now. I know a lot of people would claim that hindsight is 20/20 and if we had only done this, that, and the other thing than things would have been better, but how could we have known to do these things. All you have to do is look at what other countries did to know that there could have been ways of lessening this impact.

First off is to look at who was being let into the country. The borders should have been locked down, and people should not have been allowed to come and go. Many countries locked down their borders, such as New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan. All of these place had their first initial jump, but as soon as they got that under control everything flatlined. The only place that had another jump was Taiwan, and it happened around the same time that they opened up their borders for travelers again.

Looking at my three examples show that they all have something in common. They are all island countries, except for Singapore but it is close enough to being one, and it would be easy to lock down these countries. What about the ones with border butting up to other countries. If you look at Vietnam, it closed its border early in the pandemic, and has it very difficult for anybody to enter that country. For the most, they have done a very good job of keeping this pandemic under control until recently. The numbers have gone up for them, and it is probably due to the fact that they can’t control every inch of the border allowing a case or two to slip through, and any time this happens, the rate of infection will go up. It is still at a manageable rate though. If looking at a longer border, Canada would be a better example. They have been very strict about who can come in or out of the country, and even though they have had a lot more cases than these other countries, they have all been at a very manageable rate, and the impact this disease has had on this country is minimal.

All of this brings up the question of quarantine, and how other countries handle this issue that helps to minimize the problems of Covid-19. The United States does not have a policy. They do not even really screen people who come off of planes to make sure they do not have the possibility of carrying the disease. It is a free as you will kind of attitude as soon as you get off of that plane. Of course, they pull over the random individual to check to see if they have the disease to say that they are doing some form of testing, but this screams the same type of racial profiling that can be seen in their prevention of terrorism on planes. The sad reality is that this disease does not pick a certain race or nationality to attach itself to, and anybody can get the disease. It will slow things down, but everybody needs to be tested and quarantined.

It was a night and day experience when we flew into Doha, Qatar for the first leg of our flight as opposed to Seattle. Before getting off the flight in Doha, all of the screens froze, not matter where you were in the movie you were watching, and an informational video going through the steps of how to quarantine, and how to help those that you might be quarantining. It went through where to place the person, how to sanitize objects they might have used, proper glove and mask use, and cleaning procedures. It even designated which bus you would take to get to your quarantine location, whether that was a national or a visitor. The contact that a person was allowed to make with people when they got off the plane was non-existent. Qatar was making sure nobody brought this disease into their country.

The quarantine time was two weeks for people flying into Qatar, and this is the typical quarantine period for most countries. Some countries, such as South Korea and Qatar allow people to stay in their own homes if they live in the country, but a lot of other countries have required people to stay in a quarantine hotel which they pay for. This is the case for Thailand, the country we just came from, and I do believe that they are exploiting people a little bit, but it is a way for them to keep their economy running. A person can chose on what level of hotel they would like to stay in, based on how much they are willing to pay, with the more expensive one providing certain amenities and better food.

Vietnam is taking this to the extreme. They are so worried about an outbreak that they are requiring people to stay in a quarantine hotel for three weeks on arrival which they have to pay for, before moving on to their own homes for two additional weeks. I know there have been a couple of cases of people getting out of quarantine and then testing positive for Covid, but they are rare, and a five week quarantine period that would cost a couple $10,000 to go through seems a little excessive.

But all of these things would not be necessary as much anymore if the government can get people to participate in the third most important thing, getting vaccinated. This is the one thing that will allow us to get over this pandemic, and the faster that the country can get to herd immunity, the faster we can return to a more comfortable lifestyle. Certain countries are already bypassing the quarantine period for people coming into the country if they can prove they have been vaccinated, such as my next stop, Jordan. And there are a lot of countries that are working hard to get as many people vaccinated this summer so they can open up schools and business at an introductory level in the fall.

This is where the United States is driving me crazy. People are looking for an excuse not to get vaccinated and complaining about the restrictions at the same time. Yes, there were a couple of missteps when it was first rolled out almost seven months ago, and there were some legitimate concerns, but we are long enough through the process to indicate that those concerns have been addressed. The people who have been arriving at the hospitals with severe cases of Covid all have one thing in common, they have not been vaccinated. I also find that these are the people who are the most vocal about opening up the country again. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have the country open, and not have a protected population at the same time.

The vaccine is available to anybody living in the United States right now, and it just sits on the shelf waiting for people to come by and get their shot. America is the only place in the world that has this problem. Where I came from just a couple short weeks earlier, the people there would do anything to get vaccinated, and return to a lifestyle consistent with what it used to be like before all this started. I stayed in my home for two months waiting for that moment that I could get back to the United States so I could receive the vaccine and be able to breathe a little easier. I am not quite there yet. I still have one more shot left to receive, but I am happy about being able to return to society safely and responsibly, and I hope in the coming weeks, more American take that plunge. This way, more people around the world will be able to get vaccinated, and life can return to one where we don’t have to think about quarantine or the shutting of borders.

Short Termer’s Disease in Times of Covid

Everybody has been waiting for a change to happen. We all have looking forward to going back to a time where everything was not wrapped up in uncertainty and caution. The times have been awful to live through, nobody doubts that, but at the same time, it has exposed the flaws of many organizations, whether that is the smallest of businesses to the most powerful nations on Earth. It allowed us to ponder whether the place we found ourselves in were the places that were the best for us, or were there other opportunities that would fit us better; thereby, making a big change in our lives the only thing that gave us the feeling that we were in control of our own destiny.

This is what I did. I took the frustration that I had about being stuck in a country far away from home, and the frustration I was having as I started to see the place I work for start to crumble. I was given a new opportunity in a new country with a new school with a strong reputation. I didn’t have to take it, but it felt like a way of escaping the current situation, and getting away from the home I had found myself trapped in during the Covid lock down. When I first took the opportunity, it felt great. Life was exciting again, and I just couldn’t wait to make the change.

But then things got worse in Thailand. Covid became a problem for the first time in the country, and it meant that we were once again regulated to spending our time at home. I was once again teaching online, and I felt like I was no longer the teacher that I knew I could be. Add on to this the frustration of trying to organize a move, preparing for the next school year, and the worst case of homesickness I have ever experienced, then it makes it harder every day to try to push on, and do the job I need to do.

I now know what it feels like to be a senior. They have always driven me crazy at the end of their senior year. They no longer care about doing a good job because they have already received their acceptance to their university, and it feels like the place that they are in is doing nothing more than begging more and more from them while they feel like they do not owe the school anything. They just want to move on, and the school keeps on reminding them that they have to finish their obligations first.

It makes every email I get, and every request I am asked make me want to rant about all of the flaws that I have noticed about the place. It is not fair to the place, but I am having a hard time caring about the school anymore. This is not the first school that I have left, but for some reason, this time it feels completely different. I don’t have that bittersweet feeling of leaving this school behind. That excitement of going out to a new experience, but at the same time, the sadness of leaving the place behind, is just not there.

I put a lot the blame for this feeling on Covid. For the last couple of months, I have done all of my teaching from a tiny box on a Zoom screen. The distance that is created between my students and me is larger than that of our locations all over Thailand. I have watched as one by one each of them have disconnected from the school and their learning to the point where only a couple of them are even trying to engage in class anymore. It annoys me, but at the same time, I get it. What do they have invested in the school that would allow them to remain connected? They are left with just going through the motions with some talking head in the hopes that the pain they are enduring with every passing day will eventually end.

And that is where I am too. It does not help that my school called the school year a couple of weeks ago, and my fellow colleagues rearranged their flights to get out of Thailand and back to their home countries as fast as they could. I have watched as one after another has made their way to the airport with their Covid test in hand and that anticipation of getting back home in their hearts. It has made staying behind that much harder. I need to do it though because there are still a couple of odds and ends that I need to take care of. I keep checking off the boxes and yearning for the day that I can take my cab ride out to the airport, but it is still a couple of weeks away.

Until then I have to sit in my home and look out the same window I have looked out way too many time over the past couple of months and count down the moments until I can leave. It is the true feeling of short timer’s disease, and I can’t wait until it is over.

The Importance of a Break

I have a good friend who grew up in Britain, and he is always making fun of my work habit. Growing up, I was taught that hard work and constantly pushing myself to accomplish the things that my company or organization that I worked for would make me a valuable member of society. I pushed myself so hard sometimes that I would feel worn out at the end of the day and would work for long streaks without ever taking a break. There was one time when I was earning my teaching degree that I had a streak of 28 days in a row where I commitments with either work or school. In my mind, this made me important.

This idea is still a part of who I am. Rarely do I take a day off from work. Granted, as a teacher, it is actually more work to take a day off from work than it is to show up sick and just work through the pain. Of course, my thinking about this has changed with the recent pandemic, and I have since taken a few days off when I have had a cold, but even then it was a struggle.

One of the benefits of being a teacher though is having these times throughout the year where I get to take an extended break. With my work ethic, this does not mean that I stop working; it just means that I have more time during the day for myself. As an English teacher, I always have a stack of student writing that I have to chip away at, and during the summer, I have to read the works I am planning on teaching and coming up with ways that I can get my students to connect with them. But this only takes a couple hours a day as opposed to the ten to eleven hours I work on a normal school day.

If my British friend was reading this right now, he would be laughing at me and calling me a fool for putting so much effort in to an employer that would turn their back on me as soon as I decided to move on to another location. And I hate to say it, but he would be right. There are many other people that dedicate a lot of their time and energy to their profession. A lot of these people happen to come America because they are all chasing for that elusive dream that they have been told is out there. They just have to give a little bit more of themselves, and push a little harder in order to get it. What they do not realize is that this dream is already right in front of them, and as long as they accept that they already have what they are looking for, they won’t push themselves so hard to get that other things that the great American Dream is trying to sell us on. I would be a happier individual if I could only just accept this fact.

It shouldn’t come down to how much money I make in order to determine my happiness even though this is the thought that has been sold to me at a very young age. It also is sold as me working hard to make money for others so they could throw me bone from time to time and I will feel important. Another way of looking at it is trickle down economics. I work really hard to make money for somebody else, and it is not really about my happiness or how much I enjoy the work I am doing just as long as another dollar is made for the man on the top of the ladder.

But this is where my British friend comes in. Just not him, but all of the people I have met over the years from Europe. They have a different kind of thinking there. It is not about how hard you work, but how much you enjoy the work that you are doing. Now I know that there is not a single job out there where there will be a task that you will have to do that you will not enjoy. Being an English teacher is this way. I am not a big fan of reading developing writing about the same subject over and over again. It is really painful. But there is a payoff in the end. I do enjoy watching my students develop as writers as they slowly start how to get to that level as a writer that will make them successful in life. I enjoy talking about literature and thinking about the bigger ideas presented by the greatest writers in history. I love connecting students to reading and watching them become lifelong readers. I just love consuming media in general and I enjoy talking about how to consume it with an active mind.

This is where the problem comes in. For all of the things that I love that feed me energy to continue to do the job I am doing, the routine and humdrum existence of my job are enough to wear me down after awhile and make going to work a chore rather than a joy that I always hope it will be. I need a break from the routine to look at thing with a new perspective. I need to put the humdrum aside for long enough so I can get excited about all of the other aspects of the job that I love. For this reason, I need those breaks that so many people view as a benefit as opposed to something that I need in order to maintain my sanity. It is what allows me to be the effective and engaging teacher that I know I can be. 

But this is not the same attitude that a lot of companies in the United States take. They want to get the most out of their employees and they will do everything to make sure this happens. Yes, they will give them a couple of weeks vacation throughout the year, and they will close down for national holidays, but otherwise, they expect their employees to be there most of the time. This is taken up a notch in Korea too. They have their employees working ten hour days, and forcing them to spend their downtime with their bosses outside of work. They are not given much time off to recover from their hard work and they are constantly pushing themselves to do bigger things and more of them. The reality of the situation is that Korea has the most work hours out of any nation, and also the lowest productivity rate during those hours. Their workforce is overworked, and this is evident when you see the amount of effort they put in to get their job done. They spend more time scrolling through their phones rather than completing their tasks. If they were given more free time, they might actually spend that work time being more productive.

There is the other end of this spectrum as well. Scandinavian countries give their employees on an average three to four weeks of vacation time per year with Sweden claiming that the average worker there only works a six hour work day. Looking at the quality of life index and the rate that people are happy in that country, and you will see that most people are happier here than anywhere else in the world. It might be because they have a healthy balance between work and life where they do not have to feel stressed out about getting those little things done during the day and still have time to enjoy with other people. Now, I have never lived in any of the Scandinavian countries and only visited there for about two weeks over ten years ago. I cannot say if this is the reality of the situation or not, but I am willing to find out.

Basically, my point is that we are all happier when we take time off and enjoy the world around us. We all have stressful jobs, and working as a high school English teacher is no exception. Even though I still do work during those periods that I am supposed to be off, I value that time and look forward to it every time it comes close. I also find that I am more productive and a better teacher when I get back into the classroom after an extended break. I know this goes against the bottom line for a lot of companies, but if they started to do the same for their employees, they also might find a change in the work force production.

Work Identity

My class has been talking a lot about identity lately and how we determine what our personal identity is. It is not something new that I have taught, but it has been something that I have thought a lot about recently, especially the way that we go about shaping our identity. It got me thinking about how many adults determine their identity, and for most, at least the ones that I come in contact with, it is connected with their job.

I know that this should not be considered a great new revelation. People have been talking about how this has been a fact for many years. It is the first question that many people ask of each other when they first meet outside of the work place which is rare considering that most of the people we associate with come from within the work place. If I really think about it, this is even something that is ingrained is us from our college days when we question asked of many of our fellow students was what their major was, or another way of putting it, what they planned to make of their future careers.

It is strange that we tie so much of our identity to this part of our lives, yet it is the one things that most of us would love to get as far way from as soon as we can. It is also not all of us that place this much importance on our jobs, but I do believe that this is the minority out there. It makes me wonder how these people are able to leave this aspect of their lives behind, and what it is that they shape their identity around.

The obvious answer to that is their family, followed by their accomplishments. But that is still looking at our identity through the lens of another person in order to define who we are. When are we able to define ourselves through our own understanding of our identity, and not through the lens imposed on us by society? Has anybody ever come to this true understanding of self? I’m sure that there are a few who have throughout the course of history, but those are rare and I am also betting that are the more influential people the world has ever known.

Thinking about that makes me start to understand better the importance of identity. It something that I see all of my high school students struggle with, and I am sure that this is something that is typical for all people their age. But I am also starting to come to the realization that it is not only exclusive to them, but to all people of all ages. It is a struggle for all of us, and what makes it even more difficult is the changing landscape of our lives and how they automatically changes the essence of our identity.

The best I think that any of us can hope for is to come to an acceptance that this change is constantly happening and be happy with the identity that we have on any given basis understanding how it connects to the identity that proceeded it. It is what I have begun to strive to do, and I have found a certain amount of peace within myself because of this perspective.

Or maybe I should quit teaching such philosophical ideas in my class and I won’t have these deeper thoughts causing me to have an identity crisis. But then would my class be as interesting, and what would their identity be?

Back to the New Normal

            I have talked about my struggle before. Is it fair of me to talk about my travels while so many people are under lockdown around the world? Would this just make them angry, jealous or depressed? Would it do more harm than good?

            I could never decide if I should just wait until things opened up again before I started posting these stories again, and in the meantime, look towards other things I could write about while waiting for that moment. Things changed a little bit on this latest trip though. The day after we left, a large outbreak of Covid cases came out in Surat Sakorn, the province just southwest of Bangkok, and there was always talk of locking the country down again, making sure that its citizens were safe. During the first mention of the outbreak until this moment, I had to keep one eye on the news while keeping the other eye on my vacation. Well, the news came in the other day that they would restrict intra-provincial travel starting at 6 AM on Monday morning, and we were relaxing on the island of Koh Lanta on the southern tip of Thailand, a twelve-hour drive from our home. It meant that we needed to pack things up, get up early the next morning and take the drive back to our home before we got stuck somewhere far away from the comforts of home. It was Thailand’s turn to join the rest of the world as they braced itself for the fight against the second wave of Covid.

            There were mixed emotions when this announcement was made. The uncertainty of what to do fought against doing the right thing even though it was not something that we would enjoy doing. Logic prevailed and we joined the rest of the people who made their ways back to their homes to do their part. We had to cut our vacation short by a couple of days, but it was a small price to pay in order to make sure that we and those around us were safe. And I really can’t complain because while a lot of other people were not allowed to partake in those travel experiences, I had been enjoying life on a tropical paradise. But I realized that there was another thing that I should also be grateful for, the fact that the threat of a lockdown loomed over our heads the whole time we were on our trip.

            I know that sounds like a weird thing to appreciate, but hear me out because it changed the way I vacationed.

            A semester of school for a high school teacher is an exhausting experience, and by the time I put in that final grade, I am spent. I need those three weeks off to get my energy back and change my attitude. We have usually travelled to someplace relaxing to start our break off, and we have spent that time sitting around doing nothing of any importance. It has usually taken a week for us to get the courage to go out an explore our surroundings. I would not consider that time wasted because it is needed to get our heads straightened out.

            We were not given that opportunity this time around. Just knowing that our vacation could be taken away at any moment made us look at it in a different way. We needed to make the most out of our experience because the probability of spending time locked away in our home without anything to do loomed over our heads. It meant that if somebody offered us a kayak or paddleboard, we took them up on the offer. If there was a cave in a mountain that we could climb up to, we took on that challenge. If there was a choice of where to eat at for dinner, we did a little more research to make sure that we would not be disappointed in our choices. We sucked out the marrow from our vacation because the bone could be snatched away. In other words, we did not take the moments for granted.

            I cannot say that I have done this on my recent travels. Before Covid hit, I would happily move from place to place and every once in awhile take in everything that the place had to offer. I had become a little complacent with my travels, but Covid rejuvenated in me the reasons I loved travel in the first place and forced me to get out there are experience it in that way again.

            It takes me back to that struggle that I had when I first started writing about my travels, and now that I have thought about it, I am glad that I have made the choice that I have made. It demonstrated the ability to make the most out of every opportunity given to me. If this is the only thing that I take from this world-wide pandemic, I believe that it is an important lesson to learn. And I know that it might be hard for everybody else to see the same thing when they have been stuck in their homes through the holiday season, but I hope that they can see this as well.

            Before the world went into lockdown, people just muddled their way through life, rarely appreciating those moments that were given them, and making the most out of them. This does not mean just travel, but any moment where they could look back at with fondness. It could even be the smallest moment that is happening in your life right now, playing a game with your loved ones, taking a walk and waving to a neighbor, enjoying a sunrise or a sunset, or even sharing a laugh over a Zoom call. Whatever small thing it is, I have learned to savor it, for it might be some time before I get to have a moment like it again.

            I know I have been lucky with where I ended up and how well the situation has been handled in this country, but it had finally come to an end. This does not mean that I should be mad that this has been taken away from me; I should be happy that I was given the opportunity in the first place.

            I hope you can see that as well.

P.S. I was in the middle of putting a couple of other posts together before I was given this news to return home. My plan is to finish these posts and release them in the coming days, but understand that the trip is over and these are things that have happened before the lockdown took place. I am at home now, and I do not know when I will have the opportunity to get out there in the world again, but when I do, I will make sure to share it with all of you.

            Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please enjoy those moments when they are given.