On blending in abroad
Westerners living in Asia should be raising their cross-culture game a little right now. I’ve heard lots of Western friends in China and Vietnam saying, “we’ve got it under control, we’re the safest place to be” — but you’ve got to be ready for a range of reactions. In the US, Senators are saying “Wuhan Virus” in their prepared official statements and friends of the administration are blaming China pretty directly for the pandemic. “Chinese” and “Asian” are simply interchangeable now in much of US media. So even though you consider yourself a solid part of the local community, your local neighbors’ views may be a little more fluid. The more racist the newsfeed coming from the US, the more difficult your lives will be.
By now you’ve probably seen the memo on masks — it’s law now in Vietnam. That’s one of the few things they made clear in the medcheck when I got back yesterday. Everyone has to wear a mask in public. (Still a little vague on WHERE to acquire them. Pharmacies are either in real shortage or reluctant to sell to westerners / out-groupers.) If you’re a westerner without a mask, you should expect to be messed with in public — either officially or otherwise.
Time to take things a little further.
Self-quarantine after an airplane trip seems to be regular now. Basic minimum. Westerners in VN are getting accused of bad hygiene more an more, and lots of our “special quirks” that used to be irritating to locals is not downright dangerous. We’re at risk of being the Ugly Americans again.
Jack Ma is doing it — contributing masks and test kits to the US – but also to Africa, the Philippines, and more. US leadership is still sorting things out.
I was in the air for the last 36 hours between March 15 and 17 (date line). The clips I saw at airports was pretty friggin grim — but Americans didn’t quite seem to get it yet. People were either ignoring the epidemic (crowded bars and restaurants) or over-reacting (hoarding). If the impulse to overreact in the US and Europe gets at all racist, you may feel the reaction where you live.
Patience is Expected
I landed at Tan Son Nhat, HCMC around 10:30 am on 3/17. The medical check began as soon as we entered the airport. If this experience was any indication of things to come we can expect the gov to act competently — but with the EXPECTATION OF PATIENCE on the part of the public. Even the Westerners. In my situation, everyone was very cordial, but there were also only 4 Westerners in a group of hundreds. We all kept it together throughout — but nerves were clearly fraying for one couple.
The entire group (I think two planes’ worth of checkees) stayed pretty relaxed — but there was a lot of time spent waiting around with no instructions in very hot rooms/hallways/buses. And there was a lot of yelling – largely good-natured – but still. And there was endless confusion, contradicting instructions, no instruction, instruction in language that you don’t understand, people taking your passport, people putting your passport in an ENORMOUS plastic bag and hauling it through the airport like it was trash getting taken out never to be seen again… You get the idea. Do not lose your cool, even in the scariest of situations. And right now, “sharing your suggestions for streamlining the process” will definitely be seen by others as you losing your cool.
After administering a simple swabbing they showed us to the door. Literally. It was a different door from the one we used to enter, and they didn’t speak English. They were real nice…
…but we didn’t get any results or anything. One set of rumors was that were going to be automatically quarantined for 14 days. A more optimistic story was getting driven to a military hospital*, BLOOD tested, held for 24 hours to confirm results , sent for 14 days of SELF-quarantine.
*I say “military hospital” because that’s what the English media conversation is — but that might be because of the 4 big facilities the army built. I don’t think this one was any more connected to military than is average in VN. When I said military hospital to the Vietnamese crammed together with me for 5 hours, they didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. So I may have just been poned with some pretty bush-league propaganda.
But in the end they did their swabbin’ and sent us packin’. The test itself was being done by a single individual. That turned out to be just one bottleneck — but it was a pretty obvious one.
Here was my day after landing:
- Queuing to hand in Health Declaration
- Pre-quarantine wait between HealthDec and Immigration.
- Immigration. Passports are collected.
- Baggage claim (some people had ENORMOUS boxes of stuff — pandemic refugees? ) / Passport return / Bus line.
- Bus to hospital.
- Wait to get in to hospital
- In entry to hospital, fill out small form.
- Wait for lunch hour to finish.
- Queue in hall for test. Handed plastic bottle with bar code and red chemical.
- Enter room with doctor and assistant. Hand them bottle — which turns out to be the pre-labelled / pre-loaded container for the swabs.
- Receive very invasive swabbing. The first one was in the back of the throat, and it went REAL far back there — that was to be expected. But that nasal swab was super-deep, and it felt like they struck brain. Very weird and bad feeling. Over in a second though.
Then they sent me home. I had to hire a regular cab, because my Samsung decided to stay in Narita (I should have taken it as a sign) so I had no Grab. The wifi in the hospital didn’t work.
My flight landed on time at Tan Son Nhat at 10:30 am, and I think I was home by 2 or 2:30. Without a functioning phone, my time judgement is still a little fuzzy. It seemed a lot longer.
I’m assuming that the news from the swab is good.
I have decided to self-quarantine…
… but I’m not 100% sure what it means. Can I go shopping? I have no local phone (see above), and I feel obligated to be reachable by people and institutions. If I don’t go to Viettel and sort this out, I’ve not no phone. No phone means no GRAB and no WhatsApp, so that’s like a double-quarantine. Maximum Quarantine. I’m facing MaxQuar 2020.
Quarantine Tips, Lies, and
I’m taking an online course.
I’m writing an online course.
I’m getting MORE done NOW!
It’s great to be able to reconnect with ____ (family, relatives, colleagues, clients)
My grooming regimen hasn’t changed a bit.
I barely notice a difference.