As the coronavirus pandemic worsens, many travelers in Vietnam find themselves in a government-issued quarantine. While Vietnam has been strict in ensuring public safety, this has not stopped a fair few people complaining about the conditions under quarantine.
Some in quarantine have moaned about the mysteries of Asian toilets. A group of Koreans rejected their servings of banh mi, inciting the wrath of Vietnamese social media. One man even went as far as successfully evading quarantine altogether, at the risk of spreading the disease further. Despite these difficult times, three British backpackers quarantined in Ninh Binh decide to make the best of their situation by creating a series of coronavirus-inspired cartoons.
Lucy and Alice Parker and their friend Hanna Ahlberg were enjoying themselves at a Ha Long Bay hostel when authorities arrived, informing them a coronavirus-infected passenger was on Lucy’s recent flight. Vietnam’s strict preventive measures quickly went into effect; they were immediately tested, while their mattresses and other possibly contaminated items were burned. They were soon shuttled to an abandoned hospital in Ninh Binh for 12 days of quarantine.
“Our days are very uneventful,” Lucy told Chào, via email. “A lot of it is spent horizontal on the beds, watching Youtube or Netflix or reading our Kindles.”
Unsurprisingly, the abandoned hospital’s facilities were not perfect. Besides their personal technology, the women have little creature comforts. A bucket of warm water substitutes for a shower. Their bathroom door does not shut and their mattresses are “rock hard.” The language barrier does not help their situation, but fortunately they are in contact with Vietnamese officials through WhatsApp to ensure better communication. Yet even with some help from translators, uncertainty heavily weighs on the three friends.
“The biggest difficulty about being in quarantine is not having any of the answers,” Alice says. “We are always waiting for answers and are never told anything. We feel in constant limbo. It is very frustrating.
“When you are stuck in quarantine you crave the need for routine and to do something of worth,” Hanna says “So why not make some sick merch? “
However, in true British spirit the girls are trying to keep calm and carry on. And in an effort to keep their spirits up, Alice and Hanna have taken to creating some satirical coronavirus cartoons on their iPads. Under quarantine, they have plenty of time on their hands after all. The graphic designers quickly began brainstorming different ideas commenting on the global panic surrounding coronavirus.
“We sat in quarantine laughing at how people were acting franticly while we were the ones trapped against our will,” Hanna says. “We made just one quick sketch and all of a sudden had this creative spark.”
The cartoons lightly poke fun of the recent coronavirus-inspired hysteria in a series of comic single panels. In one cartoon, blocky figures create a fortress of hoarded toilet paper. In another, a cautious Lego-like character showers under a giant vial of hand sanitizer. The two decided on the simple square figures, as they allowed for easier duplication for the artists. Once they had five sketch ideas ready to go, they realized they could capitalize on their unfortunate experience. An Instagram for their artwork soon went live, linking to their website selling products featuring the quirky cartoons.
“When you are stuck in quarantine you crave the need for routine and to do something of worth,” Hanna says. “So why not make some sick merch? We had nothing to lose. Now we’ve seen the popularity of them, it has given us more drive to produce more.”
“As much as wish I wasn’t in quarantine right now, I think the Vietnamese government have done exactly what they should have done. I think other countries like England should take a page out of Vietnam’s book.”
Alice continues to document their experience through her personal Instagram, showing the world the stresses of quarantine and the importance of friendship. A quick look through her Instagram story reveals goofy selfies obscured by face masks, demanding medical tests, jokes about their situation, and expressions about their fears and uncertainty.
“Being with friends definitely helps,” Lucy says. “I can’t imagine having to be alone in this situation.”
Overall, the British tourists remain in impressed with Vietnam’s response to the coronavirus. “I think the ups and downs we experienced happened because of the language barrier, not because of any wrongdoings of the Vietnamese government,” Alice says. “As much as wish I wasn’t in quarantine right now, I think the Vietnamese government have done exactly what they should have done. I think other countries like England should take a page out of Vietnam’s book.”
Despite the hardships, Lucy is in agreement about the strong Vietnamese response. “Honestly I actually respect how vigilant Vietnam is being!” Lucy says. “They are taking control of the situation to protect their country. Meanwhile the U.K. are still urging everyone to wash their hands! No wonder the number of cases in the U.K. is increasing so rapidly.”
Unlike other quarantined tourists, the women understand Vietnam’s many medical and cultural differences, and are keeping a stiff upper lip. “I think it’s very easy to say the conditions are bad when we have a Western perspective on things,” Hanna says. “The conditions are basic but fine. We are not being mistreated, just misunderstood because of the language barrier.”
With their tests coming back as negative, the three travelers look forward to being released soon. Until then, Vietnam’s ‘Quarantine Queens’ will continue to entertain themselves and the world with their delightfully absurdist cartoons.