What Happens When the Power Goes Out?
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon earlier in the week our electric went out. In our little backwater area this sometimes happens, particularly as the result of rain or heavy wind. In one case a vehicle had hit a utility pole nearby that took several hours to fix. Another time they warned us that they were rerouting the wires and that electricity would be out from 8 AM to 5 PM. This time we had none of the aforementioned issues going on. Two neighbors questioned us about whether we had power. They did not have electricity either.
It appeared to be a local outage for reasons unknown. We figured the power would return quickly, within a few hours tops. With the 85 degree afternoon temperature it was a bit hot and unpleasant with no air but it was in no way life threatening. I'll take it over subzero temperatures any day on Earth.
I read some substack articles on my smartphone, which still had Internet due to my satellite connection. My daughter played MineCraft on her tablet. My husband made a fire with dried bamboo, sticks and blocks and set our rice cooker on top. Then he lit our gas burner and cooked some fish. My smartphone battery went completely dead close to dusk. Now we had no Internet. Another neighbor came over to question if we had power yet. I was starting to get worried.
"We need to go to the store." I explained. "We have almost no candles. I also want to see how far this power outage goes." We drove the motorbike to the NaiYang Big C. They have generators in those places for power outages. Sometimes even the smaller area local shops do. Usually the lights are dimmed inside and card transactions will not work when this happens. The ATMs in front of the 7 Eleven also didn't work the last time this happened.
The stores are still open though. You just need cash or a working smartphone with a QR payment app. The local shops have never had electricity dependent cash registers. Instead they use a sophisticated device known as a calculator to determine what you've spent. Getting fuel is not electricity dependent in most areas either. In Phuket there's never a compelling need for heat, nor will there be frozen, burst water pipes. We have a high tech device called a well too, which has an optional manual system known as a bucket to extract water.
There was no outage in NaiYang. I breathed a sigh of relief. Whatever was going on was just in our area. We checked as we drove back. Our power was still out. But it only affected 10 or 12 houses in our backwoods neighborhood. I had not seen anybody fixing a downed wire.
My 9 year old daughter got bored quickly with no Internet. We lit some candles and my husband lit another fire out front. We played chess by candlelight (my daughter beat me) and broke out the Uno cards. Then she thought she saw strange shadows on the wall and was scared that they were ghosts.
"No worries." I chuckled. "Most ghosts are pretty harmless."
"But what if it's my father? I'm scared!" She cuddled in my arms on the bed. Her Dad died in a motorbike accident when she was 5 years old.
I sighed in the candlelight. "If it is your father I'm pretty sure he's watching out for you and trying to keep you safe. That's what they usually do." That started a conversation about ghosts and jinxes which began a new conversation about dark magic. I told her I doubted that anyone with any level of spiritual maturity would dabble in such things, as they tended to fall back on the caster 10 fold. The time without electricity had resulted in one of the most in depth conversations with my younger girl that I could remember.
By the next morning our little power outage was the talk of the neighborhood. I overheard someone say that the power company was demanding a much higher payment to continue to supply electricity to our area. This was no good. I brought my phone and charger to the local shop. She had no available outlets as everyone else was already charging their phones. I needed to pay a credit card which required Internet. My daughter's tablet had powered down by then too. I knew of an available electric outlet near the campsite at NaiYang Beach.
We had to throw a bunch of our food out from the refrigerator. The chicken that had been frozen solid before was still cool to the touch, so I told my husband to fry it up. Was the unopened cheese still good? Some eggs got fried with the chicken. Bread and fresh fruits and veggies were probably okay. Some milk and lunch meat and crabsticks were lost causes. The cooked rice needed to be thrown. Our dogs and cats were treated to a veritable feast. A neighbor put several decent sized fish from his refrigerator out for our pets. The cats were too picky for it, but our ever hungry pregnant dog Daisy gratefully trotted off with one in her mouth.
The guy tasked with paying our electric came over and explained that he had to negotiate a new agreement with the power company. I was worried that perhaps he hadn't paid them when we had paid him. We decided to go to my favorite Nai Yang beachfront hotel for the night. They know our family well, as we were often the only guests in the entire gorgeous place during Covid shutdowns. They were one of the few locally owned places that stayed open and in business. The price was the same 1000 baht, about $30, that it has been for me. But I was able to save some spoiling food in their refrigerator and we had good wifi. The weather was perfect for the beach.
When we came back Thursday our power was back on. I don't know what type of agreement was reached. Being a farang in Thailand, sometimes I'd rather not know.
I do think that everybody the world over needs to think about the ramifications of extended outages of electricity and Internet in their personal area. Most developing countries where infrastructure is not as advanced will actually do better. Places where gas pumps and cash registers are tied to downed grids and where water won't even come out of the tap will do worse. Cryptocurrencies, of course, aren't going work if devices storing wallets have dead batteries. The greater the complexity, the greater the risk of systemic collapse.
There is one silver lining though. I don't think the Powers that Be want a grid or an Internet shutdown as much as they want to consolidate control, which they think might come out of the chaos they've created. But the opposite is true. When the power goes out and nobody is glued to their screens, they can no longer control the story. Families will huddle in living rooms to get out of the cold. Neighbors will ask neighbors for help. New bartering systems can spring up overnight when desperation is high enough.
I'm hoping for a mass Reinassance.