By Komson Teeraparbwong
Neighbourhoods’ living condition became a priority as a crucial responsive reaction, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit every region around the world since the beginning of 2020. This has resulted in severe impacts to the Tourism Industry, particularly in Chiang Mai as a main tourism Hub of Northern Thailand.
Wua-lai, as a village known for its silver and artisanal silver products, has depended on the influx of tourists every high season, every year. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the death of tourism businesses and shops everywhere. The streets were empty, liveless and dismal. On the 15th of April 2020, a day after the Thai New Year, I visited the neighbourhoods and nearby market (Chiang Mai Gate), as well as many silver shops along Wua-lai road. Alas, they showed no sign of opening. Indeed, while the Lock-down and Curfew policy implemented in Thailand has played a major role in the control and prevention of the further spread of the virus, it has also shut businesses down to boot.
On the 25th of April 2020, I visited again some restaurants in the area. I found they had short opening hours for free food donation. With months of no income (via the destruction of the tourism industry), some families have had no other option but to go and queue at these restaurants for their free food donations. Luckily, there were many good merit shops that had opened their restaurants/kitchens to help these “heavy-hit” and “needing-help” poor families to survive… at least with their free foods donation each day.
“Tuu-Pan-Suk” cupboard is another new invention on the street of Wua-lai and in Chiang Mai city as well as major Thai provinces including Bangkok. This is a simple stand-alone cupboard on the streetside dedicated for well-off people who want to help the poorest, to be able to bring in free donated foods or cooking materials such as eggs, rice, curry paste, or even completed cooked foods to these cupboards around town. This was a reaction from neighbourhoods around Chiang Mai and Thailand. So far, Chiang Mai has more than 5 “Tuu-Pan-Suk” cupboards around old town. Surprisingly, on some good days, rich persons come with cash money as a donation reward to the queue as well.
COVID19 had major effects on every country’s economy. In Wua-lai’s case, many silver shops are closed for a long while… or even closed down forever! If lucky, still fewer employees still remain employed. Silver productions orders have been cancelled. No tourism, no income money… no business. This has effected also the Saturday walking street, the sole main event that brings tourists to the area. It has been 5 months now since the closure of the Saturday walking street in March.
All major temples in Wua-lai (Wat Mern-sarn, Wat Sri Supan and Wat Nuntharam) are still closed to the public. Monks and novices depend on alms and food from delivery services each day, thanks to the faith of Buddhism practised by people around the Wua-lai neighbourhood, who keep a good care and look after the monks and people in those Temples.
COVID-19 is a kind of “test” to the neighbourhoods’ networking and inner relationships. It demonstrates how an area can cope with this situation together well. Right now, we are entering the post lock-down era and it has been for more than a month now that society has started to move around freely. Most people have begun to earn some more income, not only from governmental policy, but also either directly through their former career as silverware makers or shop keepers, or alternatively, by earning through new jobs or professions, such as food delivery jobs or other sources of income online.
However, the situation is still being monitored with no hope of a return of our normal life, or of getting out of this (new) normal pandemic as soon as possible.
With warm hearted and cheering soul to Wua-lai neighbourhoods and everyone sincerely,
Team Wua-lai (Komson/Pranom/Pijika)