Occasionally, you wonder if your life has gotten a bit too complicated. Prior to the pandemic it seemed relatively normal to “live” in the Texas Hill Country, have an office and residence in London and a business focused on Southeast Asia. In all of these places, there was a complete infrastructure support system with housing, clothes and transportation. Early last year we jettisoned the London overhead to survive as an enterprise. As Bangkok is our home base in Southeast Asia, I continued to provide modest support to our Thai associates as they were suffering tremendously. In Bangkok, we live in The Siam Hotel and use it as a base to cover Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. We are desperate to return to that part of the world but need to have travel restraints removed in those countries to make it worthwhile.
As Vietnam is the sole source of our livelihood, it is a top priority location though there is close interaction with the other Asian countries noted above. Vietnam was little impacted by the outset of the pandemic due to a quick and effective response though has suffered greatly from the COVID-19 Delta Variant. As shown below, they have recently been under a very strict lockdown in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City where our office is located.
Nikkei Asia recently published an article entitled Asian Economies Take $1.7 tn Hit from COVID in 2020. A study by the Japan Center for Economic Research (JCER) reported that the coronavirus erased about $1.7 trillion from the combined gross domestic product of Asia’s largest economies in 2020. Incidentally, I drove a used Toyota Corona the three years I lived in Japan. That model was discontinued in 2001 though we can rest assured it would have been rebranded last year. Based on the forecasts of the International Monetary Fund in October 2019, JCER calculated the nominal GDP the countries and regions would have achieved if not for COVID-19. The figure would have been a growth of 6.2% from a year earlier to $29.84 trillion in 2020 but actual results registered $1.68 trillion less. As shown below, China posted the largest economic loss at $638 billion which is only fitting as COVID was created in Wuhan, China. Perhaps, China should make reparations to the rest of the world rather than try to own it.
Japan, the world’s third-largest economy following the U.S. and China, had the third-largest economic loss as the service sector accounts for a high percentage of its GDP. Perhaps it should be intuitive, but casinos and gaming showed the greatest impact by economic sector. Asians are inveterate gamblers, and their economies were highly impacted. Airlines were hard hit as well with Thai Airways filing for bankruptcy. The state-owned Vietnam Airlines is in serious financial trouble. Although I have not spoken to my Vietnamese friend and oil co-venturer who is the majority owner of VietJet Airlines, I am sure they have been suffering as well. Oddly, oil and gas prices have rebounded recently in part due to economic recovery but largely a result of the premature flight away from all fossil fuels.
Obviously, Thailand is home base in that part of the world and vital to our easy access to Southeast Asia. Moreover, Thailand is a major source of products to The Elephant Story which support over 300 elephants in cooperation with The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation. Not only do we miss seeing all of our close friends there, I had to forego my customary birthday celebrations at The Siam Hotel. The last one was two years ago as shown below. Jumbo surprise celebrations are the best gift ever and I am looking forward to a repeat performance next year. You should know that The Siam is planning to re-open in December which is a relief. I gave up our vehicle in Bangkok but maintained a small retainer to the driver who has been with us for countless years. Although he does not speak one word of English, he knows every nook and cranny of a very congested city. Join us next year at The Siam (from left to right Brian, Sara, Joey, me and Nick.) Khun Jill took the picture.
The other attraction of Thailand is everyone knows how to have a good time. The same birthday was also celebrated in Jason’s home at Phu Chai Sai in the Golden Triangle of Thailand complete with Buddhist monk blessings followed by a lively celebration. Below is our core elephant polo group from left to right, Khun Jill, Sangjay, the birthday boy, Khun Wee, Khun Seng and our spiritual leader, Jason, hotelier of great renown and old friend. Jason was instrumental in the creation and design of The Siam Hotel with Bill Bensley as well as the hottest new Thai retreat, Phu Chai Sai Mountain Resort owned by the amazing Mom Da overlooking Laos and Myanmar. Okay folks, we are heading your way for next year’s celebration come hell or high water.