Life in the Time of COVID-19

Life in the Time of COVID-19


Harold Michael CarterApologies to Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Márquez for borrowing from his book titled Love in the Time of Cholera.

Dreams Abroad is all about living, working, and traveling abroad. So what’s it like to do all of these things during these current pandemic days? I’ve been doing all three during the past month or so. First, a bit of background information. This is the first piece I’ve written for Dreams Abroad, but I have been interviewed in several articles about teaching abroad recently. Check two of the three boxes, as I live and work in Cambodia. I recently took an eight-day trip to Thailand during the third week of March, from March 14th to March 21st. Check the third box. Here is my story.

The news and casual awareness of COVID-19 first surfaced here in late 2019. The first reported case in Cambodia was announced on the 27th of January. Fast forward to the 7th of March when they recorded a second case in Siem Reap. Siem Reap is Cambodia’s top tourist draw, as the small city is only 12 km from Angkor Wat. When this happened, the government ordered all schools in Siem Reap closed for two weeks.

Closer to Home

Samae Beach, Koh Larn, Thailand COVID-19
Samae Beach, Koh Larn, Thailand.

I live and work in the capital city, Phnom Penh. Everyone at our workplace knew that when the inevitable — cases reported here — happened, our schools would get closed down as well. I had signed a new contract at the beginning of February and still had a week of holiday owed to me from the previous contract, so on about the 9th or 10th of March, I booked a flight for Bangkok leaving on the 14th.

On the 13th of March, they recorded a few more COVID-19 cases. Cambodia now officially listed seven cases. The writing is on the wall for the teachers. The school announces a meeting for the Saturday morning of the 14th to discuss a contingency plan. I do not attend as I am safely buckled into my Air Asia flight to Bangkok by 9:00 a.m. Later that day, the government announces the closing of all schools until the 20th of April (at least).

A Hauntingly Empty Airport

My one-hour flight to Bangkok was only about 70% full. There were no crowds to speak of at either airport and expedient processing through customs and immigration. I spent a night in Bangkok and then went to visit friends in a nearby coastal town. I spent a day on a small island called Koh Larn. Everything was business as usual — although with reduced numbers of people — for the first four days or so. I remember paying respect to my Irish heritage in fine fashion on the 17th for St. Patrick’s Day. 

airport thailand COVID-19

Around 6:00 p.m. on the 18th, the police came around to a number of places to request their closure. The government of Thailand had decided to close entertainment places, cinemas, and bars, but restaurants could remain open. Life was significantly quieter during my last three days in Thailand. Borders around the world were closing up faster than windows during typhoon season. Part of me hoped I’d be marooned in Thailand for an extended holiday. But, I wasn’t loaded with cash and my family was waiting for me in Cambodia, so the other part of me was glad the borders between Thailand and home hadn’t buttoned up. 

Flying back just eight days later from my departure, the plane was now only about 30% full. Air Asia doesn’t serve alcohol on short flights. Too bad, as with those low numbers, I could have had a cart of wine to myself.

Returning Home During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ferry to Thailand mainland
Ferry to/from Koh Larn (Thailand) to the mainland.


Returning to Cambodia by air is always a breeze for me as I have a one-year multiple entry visa in my passport. This arrival was especially quick. I had to fill out an extra form on the plane which asked which countries I had visited in the previous 21 days. I gave it to one of the ladies wearing masks and gloves upon arrival, and off I went through immigration. 

pier on Koh Larn
View from the pier on Koh Larn.

I spent a relaxing Sunday (March 22nd) with my family in Phnom Penh and by now I am aware that I won’t be teaching the following day. So what about this job? What do I do? What did I miss? The devil on my shoulder who represented the half of me that wanted to be stuck in Thailand nodded and winked at me, saying “See, I told you so.”


Monday the 23rd — students can’t go to school, but they left school open to teachers. In both the students’ and my absence the previous week, teachers were busy learning the tricks of online teaching using Google classrooms — something which was new for all but two or three of us. We used next week to make practice lessons for the students to help them adjust as well. The school had collected the necessary contact information so that at least the older students could do this. The new school term didn’t actually begin until April 1st. So, we conducted online teaching from then up until the 10th. At which point — enter a nine-day break for Khmer New Year.

Khmer New Year Break

celebrate Khmer New Year every April
Cambodians love to decorate their houses and prepare plenty of food to celebrate Khmer New Year every April.

Khmer New Year officially lasts from April 13th to April 15th, but when factoring in travel days, the country closes for at least a week. It is based on the Buddhist calendar, so we were celebrating the incoming 2564 BE (Buddhist Era). People celebrate with traditional games, heavy drinking, and gambling. They also spend lots of time with extended families and make frequent visits to pagodas. The capital empties out as the masses head for the provinces.

There was a bit of a twist this year though, because on April 8th, the government announced the holiday will be postponed this year because of COVID-19. They want people to keep working and avoid a mass exodus to the provinces for the holiday. Nevertheless, we respect the holiday and stopped online teaching from the 10th to the 20th of April.

Epilogue: Life Goes On in the Time of COVID-19

The 20th arrived and the government still had not given the green light to reopen schools because of COVID-19. In our case, we are informed we will no longer be paid a full salary and are offered 50%. The teachers held a closed-door staff meeting to decide how much work we should actually do to earn these reduced financial rewards. The new hope/projection is that the schools will open again in early May. If this proves to be true, all of this will be a mere bump in the road. If not, the better schools will survive — but other schools will likely be bankrupt within three or four months.


by Michael Carter

33 thoughts on “Life in the Time of COVID-19

  1. It’s amazing how Covid-19 has changed our daily lives, especially with regards to travel and education. I use Google classroom a lot, so that part was easy for me–trying to motivate students from a distance is what’s really been difficult.

  2. Since we started online teaching, I’ve noticed both the numbers and the interest among students dropping off steadily. It’s an OK short-term solution in my opinion, but there is no replacement for classroom interaction and on-the-spot feedback. The parents want a place to drop off their kids to be looked after and the students want to mingle with their friends. So yes, I 100% agree that student motivation becomes increasingly impossible to achieve using Google classroom.

  3. Well I am in the same boat as a lot of other folks . I am a driving instructor so no work for this man , cant do physical distancing in a car . Now what well free time to dream about anything and enjoy lots of cold beer .

  4. COVID-19 has definitely caused a huge challenge to the education sector. My brother is a high school teacher and is currently engaged in helping his students learn online and it is a real issue to keep engagement high. If this continues for too long, standards will inevitably start to fall and as you say, some schools simply may not survive. I just hope that this situation will improve sooner rather than later.

    1. Agreed, the sooner normality returns, the easier it will be. Tomorrow is International Labour Day and I am expecting some sort of an announcement in Cambodia. Our neighbours have reacted differently – Thailand has extended their restrictions until the end of May and In Vietnam, the schools are reopening on Monday (04th) and internal flights are resuming. I’m not sure what’s up with our northern neighbours (Lao PDR)

  5. It is times like these that make you realize that even though we all live in different countries and are part of many different cultures, we also share so many of the same situations and worries that come with it. I hope you’re andyour family get through this okay. Thanks for the beautiful pictures.

  6. It is deffo a very testing and challenging time for many. We are just hoping that this will all be over soon. stay safe xx

  7. Things are so uncertain now everywhere all across different industries. My wife is a teacher too but luckily she still has got her full salary for March and today for April. But who knows what’s going to happen in future if situation does not improve. For me I don’t see any work in the near future. I am into corporate training.

  8. I text a friend who is a teacher yesterday and asked if him and his wife had died of boredom, since schools are closed for the rest of this year. Who knows if they will resume normally after the summer break or not. My friend said they were actually working harder than ever and putting in a lot more hours because of having to identify the kids who need extra help and resources, and then providing those. I can only imagine how difficult this is from a distance. There’s something to be said for a problem happening in a classroom because it may only take a few extra seconds to see it and fix it or give advice. I think there is a lot of the basics that can be missed from a distance too. I’m looking forward to when schools and life in general resumes and we go back to something closer to normal.

  9. It is so odd how fast our lives changed. COVID-19 changed my life a lot as well. We were supposed to move but we are not moving at all even after it is finished. But I do believe there is some good in this too

    1. I believe wholeheartedly with you Lyosha that some good will – or at least hopefully – come as a result of this. My pessimistic side reminds me that it will most likely be short-term though. Let us see.
      I’m not living in a place with a lock down, and other than reduced income, my life is pretty good at the moment.

  10. Nobody in this world though tjat a virus can unite Us in such a awkward way. We are all inside our homes,we are all trying to cope with somebody that’s been affected directly or indirectly and we all are trying to keep are sanity just because of a virus

  11. Covid-19 has been the craziest thing I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime. I think it might be the craziest thing I ever WILL experience in my lifetime. I look outside, and it’s like an episode of The Walking Dead.

  12. This has definitely been a surreal experience. It is still weird to go to the supermarket or walmart and not see any toilet paper on the shelves. Things haven’t changed drastically for me personally. I was already working from home full time anyways and self employed. But I hope things get back to normal soon.

  13. It’s really a change from normal times I have to say. Usually, my street is really busy with cars going and coming back from work, plus delivery trucks. Today and for a couple of weeks I have been walking along that street and it almost feels like the walking dead so surreal but also peaceful…

  14. Wow, it’s so interesting to hear how lives are impacted everywhere. I live nowhere near Thailand or Cambodia, and yet similar things are happening here. This one virus has swooped in and changed everyone’s lives. Things will never be the “normal” we previously had ever again.

  15. Imagine years from now, we will be telling our grandkids what it was like to live during Covid-19 and where we were in the world. It’s wild to think about. I live in Singapore where things started to shift in January. It then ramped up in February. At that time, my husband and I were telling friends and family back in the US what to expect. Some had sent us masks and hand sanitizers. It wasn’t until March, when the US started to really feel the effects and our friends and family started to get first hand experience of the gravity of the situation. Ironically, it was then they needed masks and hand sanitizers. Stay healthy, smart and happy.

  16. Thanks for sharing the situation on the other parts of the world in Cambodia! I think that’s very difficult for people to adapt to the current outbreak and I hope everyone will soon be ready to live in the “new normal” ~ – knycx journeying

  17. Strange times that none of us have seen before. It’s like a world war, but we are all on the same side! I look forward to beating this and living the new life.

  18. These are definitely interesting times. I have to say I am not too informed about what life is like for others around the world.

  19. Thanks to all above for taking the time to read the article and sharing your thoughts. There is a clear consensus here – as bad as the ‘good ol’ days’ may have been, let’s revert back to them a.s.a.p.
    Personally, I just want to resume travelling again soon.

  20. I am glad you could get back to your family before travel blocks. The photo of the ferry though is alarming considering the six foot distance we’re supposed to adhere to. Glad you’re ok.

  21. Passengers were given temperature scans before being permitted to board the ferry. A few were refused boarding. Directly ahead of me was a young couple with a kid in a stroller. They were not allowed to board and put up quite a stink about it. They were told to stand aside and come back in 15 minutes. I saw them on the ferry later so they must have ‘cooled down’ by then.

  22. Yes, it is so strange to see the street so empty wherever you go. It is quite difficult to get used to. Hopefully this will all be over soon.

  23. Of all the world events I’ve lived through, this is probably the most difficult and has effected the world the most, on a personal level it ha basicly put my buisness on hold for the next 4 months at least

  24. I never believed we have to live through a pandemic like in medieval times. But this is life and we have change our ways to accommodate the changes.

  25. this time is teaching us lessons for us to learn. right now, we have to adapt to the new normal. but, what is really our new normal now? :) hope, we come out of this pandemic better and stronger and wiser and kinder :)

  26. this pandemic has taught many to focus on what matters. definitely to adapt to the changes in the environment.

  27. Sorry to hear your salary has been cut and schools closed! It‘s same for me, 50-60% currently.
    Will the schools re-open in May, have you heard more? In Switzerland, where I grew up, they open on Monday, but it‘ll probably take longer here in the UK.

  28. Thanks to all who posted and I didn’t directly reply to. Schools remain closed here and border formalities are maddening. Otherwise, it is life as usual here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.