Vietnam and Corona
I guess it was inevitable that I’d write about coronavirus, it is the crisis du jour, dominating all media- hard to escape.
It has struck me how different the western reaction is compared to the Eastern one. Here in Vietnam, I’ve had my temperature taken at every train station and airport, I’ve filled in health declarations about where I’ve been and any symptoms I’ve experienced and now I’ve downloaded the government app which provides daily information and an opportunity to update my health declaration. The vast majority of locals are wearing masks and pull them tighter when they see a foreigner; hand disinfectant is an entry requirement everywhere.
There doesn’t seem to be mass hysteria though-most people tell me they’re happy with their government’s response, feel safe and like they’re being kept informed. I feel safe here. Bored a little-most of the tourist sights have been closed-but safe. If I fall ill, the Vietnamese government will test and treat me for free.
Contrast that with the news from friends and family in Europe and the US…it’s mass hysteria, people practically jumping over others to buy food and toilet paper (clue, use water, it’s more hygienic anyway). Social media is a constant stream of long posts about how not to be a selfish cunt: “I know you don’t realise it, but perhaps you could endure the embarrassment of wearing a mask so that you don’t infect others Jim. If that’s no trouble.”
The epitome of this is Trump’s offer of a billion dollars for the vaccine. As stock markets crash, I imagine brokers are still telling people how safe pharma stock is.
Although communist, Vietnamese people are enterprising and have a great sense of humour.
The rabid individualism of the west, the end product of which is our current uncontrolled and corrupt capitalism, has to stop. A poor country like Vietnam will test and treat me for free, but if I had happened to be travelling around America, I’d be risking bankruptcy. In the UK, the public health system is already on its knees after 10 years of targeted austerity. Now frontline staff won’t be tested for coronavirus unless they display symptoms-clearly a cost saving measure and one which shows characteristic disdain for public sector workers by the elitist-scum run government.
People in the west are acting like this is Armageddon, the apocalypse come in virus form. I don’t want to make light of the situation: my mother is in her 70s, has COPD, high blood pressure, smokes and can barely breathe at the best of times. If she gets it, she’s a prime candidate for death. I worry about her. I don’t want to go back to Brussels immediately after my trip as I don’t want to potentially infect her.
But the hysteria in the west at a situation which countries like China have had to deal with before is ridiculous. The arrogance of western governments (and people) is laid bare: assumptions that we’d never succumb to a “Chinese” epidemic (or an African one in the case of Ebola) because of our superior hygiene and health care systems has come back to bite us in the ass (or lungs).
A good example of this was the extremely uptight American woman I met in Hoi An. She started talking to me as I was having lunch. She almost ruined my perfectly delicious noodles by talking AT me for 10 minutes about coronavirus and how incompetent and unhygienic the Vietnamese are. She shamelessly said all of this without a mask on (she’d finished her meal), in front of the Vietnamese staff at the restaurant. When she finally stopped talking, I told her how positive my experience has been. How organised the Vietnamese are, how shocked they are at how unhygienic we westerners are (“White people don’t wear masks!” a taxi driver told me, laughing), and how reassuring I have found the Vietnamese government’s response. And then I mentioned her shit for brains president and his lack of response, because I couldn’t resist shaming her after her racist crap. I was only a little shocked-she was from Portland Oregon, a famously liberal place, and I don’t think she was conservative judging by her reaction to Donny boy’s name. Just goes to show, scratch beneath the surface and a large percentage of white people are racist….
Anyway, I’m trying to figure out what comes next. I’m supposed to be flying to Phu Quoc Island on Sunday, where I’m due to do my diving qualification- though I can’t actually dive the reef as apparently boats aren’t allowing foreigners to go out. I was planning on being there for a week and then going to Cambodia. I was supposed to go to Malaysia and Indonesia after that but it looks likely that I’ll have to change my plans. I might fly to the islands in Thailand and wait out the storm there….in a sign of how quickly the situation is changing, one day after writing that my flight to Phu Quoc was cancelled.
For now, I’m in Hoi An, a picture postcard beautiful town in central Vietnam. I cycled into town yesterday from my hotel. The town was deserted-just some tourists walking around its perfectly formed streets. I feel privileged to see this place so empty-like the tourists who came in the 90s. Many people stopped to ask me to buy things, or go to tailors to get things sewn. One woman was especially persistent- she only stopped when I told her I was half Indian so I got things made there. “But India is very expensive!” Not for me, I said, I don’t pay tourist prices!
The hotel where I’m staying is a little outside the town, in a small village. To walk through the village is to get a taste of Vietnam: the extremely loud man earnestly and tunelessly singing karaoke, none of his neighbours batting an eyelid; the families sitting in the evening breeze, mother cooking over charcoal; the one rice paddy and three empty, flooded fields with birds hovering above trying to spot flying frogs; the water buffalo, gentle and calm, strolling around or soaking herself in the flooded field in the heat of the afternoon; the many dogs, all with different personalities, checking me out with a bark and giving me the guard dog seal of approval when I talk back and continue walking; and at my hotel (at the end of the village, by a stream) the entirety of the village’s cats, luxuriating in the quiet hotel and its gardens, safely away from the patrolling dogs and, these days, pesky tourists.
I succumbed briefly to Armageddon anxiety after speaking to my sister about borders shutting and what my plans are. I decided that going back to Thailand is the best plan, they have excellent health care and the best tourist infrastructure I’ve come across so far. I had a sleepless night tossing and turning wondering what the hell I would do if they shut the Thai border. This morning I discovered that my flight to Phu Quoc had been cancelled anyway, so I spent a few hours formulating and booking a new plan (flying to Bangkok and then, a few days later travelling down to the islands). I then went to the beach and resumed my zen-like state.
I have been remarkably calm til now, considering my situation. If I have to “go home”, where, exactly, do I go? I am legally resident in the UK, but don’t actually have my own place. I can’t exactly go and quarantine myself with friends can I? Belgium, where my mother lives, has shut down, and I’m Dutch and not resident there so I’m not sure they would allow me entry. I’m not too sure I want to risk infecting her either. I could go to Holland I guess, I’m seriously considering moving to Amsterdam when I get back anyway, but where the hell would I stay?
I’ve had all these thoughts over the past few days, but until last night, they didn’t cause me too much anxiety. And then last night, I went into full on pandemic hysteria: I spent 4 hours reading up on coronavirus, predictions for its trajectory and death toll, and some late night in-depth research into where the hell was the best place in south east Asia to lay low. Finally, at 4am I threw my phone over to the other side of the bed and collapsed from exhaustion.
Morning brought bleary eyed clarity and I’m now looking forward to going back to Bangkok (and my 5 star hotel for £23 a night-thank you Coronavirus!) and then on to Koh Tao and finally getting up close and personal with the fishies and doing my scuba qualifications.
Perspective is everything: as I told that racist American, “If it’s coronavirus that kills me then so be it.” I’ve come so far in my efforts to overcome the fear that has always dominated my life, I’m not about to succumb to coronavirus-induced terror. Plus, after a stillbirth, how bad could it be?
I don’t have any words of wisdom for my friends and family living in lockdown apart from watch some comedy and try to get closer to nature in which ever way is safe (pet your cat, stroke a bunch of parsley if you have to). Oh, and only read/watch the news once a day, that shit will give you serious anxiety.