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“We fell a thousand times before and we always stood up”

Chào asked a group of Vietnam expats their thoughts on being so far from home during the coronavirus pandemic

Grant J. Riley

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Keep Strong Hanoi

We live in the era of Covid, an era of paranoia, fear and mass-mask wearing, a time of quarantine and lockdown, and no one is quite sure where it is going to end. Things are looking better in Vietnam now, but the country is by no means out of the woods yet. ​Chào has noted, more than once, that Vietnam seems to be dealing with the coronavirus very well. There has yet to be a single confirmed death here, yet 184,000 have been reported elsewhere worldwide.

People, in the main, feel very safe here. But many have families abroad, where the situation and government response is different. More or less completely at random, ​Chào asked a selection of expats in Vietnam how they felt about being here and how things are back home. Here are their responses:

Alex Gibbs, 30, a lawyer from the United States based in Thanh Hoa.

These days I generally ping-pong between being sad, profoundly concerned, and completely outraged about the way the Coronavirus pandemic has been handled in the U.S. so far. I have many friends and family members living in the U.S. that are vulnerable to the Coronavirus and I worry for their safety every day.

I am fortunate that most of my friends and family live in the state of California. From what I have heard and read in the news, California has started taking the appropriate steps to halt the spread of the Coronavirus within the state, which gives me hope for my family and friends’ safety.

Usa Covid
A U.S. police officer in patriotic mask.

However, California is only one part of the picture. Even as the number of deaths from the Coronavirus in the U.S. tops more than 1,000 deaths in 24 hours, the number of calls from parts of the U.S. government to loosen or abandon measures to halt the coronavirus in order to boost our economy is beyond alarming – it’s evil. Our government’s first priority should be protecting us from an exponentially lethal pandemic and helping us recover from the damage the pandemic has caused – not stopping the stock prices on the NYSE from falling.

Amanda Asuncion Irojo, 34, a teacher from the Philippines based in Hanoi.

It is small things that get magnified a thousand-fold when the world that you have come to know so well suddenly stops.

Schools are closed. Classes are cancelled. Uuwi na ba ako? (Shall I go back home?) Sigurado ba ako? (How sure am I?) These are simple questions that test my decision making skills, simple questions that have increased my anxiety in the last two months. I’m an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW). Who doesn’t want to go home? However, reading and seeing the rapid growth of Covid in my country gave me no option but to stay in Hanoi.

Amanda From The Philippines
Amanda in happier times.

My ability to go back home remains unclear, and I’m am not sure what they will do regarding International flights. I am frustrated that I have no control over the whole situation. I want to go home, but I cannot risk myself being a possible carrier of the virus. A total lockdown in the Philippines to contain the coronavirus sparked my worries and concerns for the safety of the people back home especially those who are underprivileged. I’ve been doing my best to react accordingly despite the anxiety and fear that keeps building in my head. I do have high hopes that every Filipino will help one another by obeying the protocols given by health professionals and the government. They may not be easy to follow, but they are doable. Despite the panic and fear that we are feeling right now, let’s all think the solution not a problem and always do the right thing

Paul Noah, 44, a teacher, from the UK based in Hanoi.

As a British citizen I’m quite frankly appalled by the lack of action by the government. The leadership in this crisis is shambolic at best, and although I’d expect nothing less of the Tories, the handing out of contracts for ventilators to Dyson is just another example of their nepotism and total disdain of the general population. I have friends that work in the NHS and they have told me how desperately in need of even the most basic of equipment. The situation seems pretty dire I’m afraid.

Empty Street

On a personal note, my father is currently in a care home suffering from Alzheimer’s and God knows what will happen if the virus gets into places like that. My mother is in her mid-70s and although she’s healthy it’s terrifying to imagine anyone of that age to be seriously ill or worse. I have a friend in Canada whose father passed away in the U.K recently, and he can’t even get back for the funeral.

Very sad times indeed.

Brett Simmons, 32, an advertising executive, from South Africa, based in Hanoi.

I feel fortunate to be in Vietnam, the spread has been monitored and acted on quickly, and ongoing communication and updates have been clear. In comparison South Africa were slower to react, but have now put in strict measures.

My biggest concerns are that South Africa doesn’t have the facilities or capabilities to manage a large scale outbreak; particularly poorer communities that may struggle to get access to proper medical care and have problems with social distancing if living in densely populated areas. This includes a lot of essential medical staff too. These communities will also be the hardest hit by job loss.

South Africa has also seen its currency hit an all-time low so the country can’t really afford to not manage this properly.

I’ve also seen a lot of compassion and stories of organizations and people helping each other out in both countries, ensuring the people most vulnerable are protected and helping each other out if they can. I do get a sense of a collective responsibility for the most part in both countries and so I’m staying optimistic, but I can’t help wonder what the global social, political and economic outcomes will be once this is all over.

Dan Richards, 35, an accountant from Canada, based in Hoi An.

I think we got pretty lucky moving down to Hoi An from Hanoi last summer. This is the second day of the lock down here. We bought eight cans of tuna, but it doesn’t seem like much changed in town today. The gold shops and fabric sellers were open. The market was shoulder to shoulder. The bridge to Cam Nam had green shirts and a barricade at one end, with an umbrella table sporting rubber gloves and hand sanitizer, but traffic just flowed on through, unimpeded in both directions.

Italy Covid

Back home in Canada, my mother has moved into my grandmother’s house to make sure she’s okay. If she stayed in her own place, she couldn’t safely visit gramma without first going through a two-week self-quarantine. They seem to be taking this pandemic seriously in Canada, and the government has taken great steps to take care of people who aren’t getting paid and can’t pay their rent. That said, we are happy for now to ride this out in sleepy old Hoi An. Tourism has slowed to nearly nothing, and it feels safer here than what I hear from back home.

Mattia Simonelli, 35, a Sales Manager from Italy, based in Hanoi.

Well, situation is my country has been critical for a long while now, hopefully reaching the peak soon. The first highest outbreak came from a hospital and unfortunately most of the measures that have could be taken immediately countrywide they weren’t put into action straight away but after several days.

I’m not really concerned about my family since, thank God, they have a brain and they use it. On the other hand, part of the population still pretends to live their lives as nothing is happening or doesn’t take it seriously (that’s the case of growing numbers of people affected in the last weeks).

Hope In Vietnam

We fell a thousand times before and we always stood up; I’m sure it will happen again.

It is certainly too early for any conclusion, we might beat the virus, we might not. The global economy will inevitably sink into recession, who recovers first remains unclear. Things will never go back to normal – but normal wasn’t working anyway.

As of today, we are in partial lockdown in Vietnam, fines threatened if we go out beyond our most basic needs. However, the general consensus I read, hear and discuss with friends is that they certainly feel safer in Vietnam than in their home countries right now.

 These are strange times indeed – 6,000 miles from home.

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