Living in Vietnam during a pandemic

The Vietnamese were right about masks all along

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My very first mask

Edit: This account was written at the very beginning of the pandemic. I am now completely FOR masks, of course.

It’s getting kinda hectic. I write this after purchasing my very first facemask. I really never thought it would come to this. I prefer to take my advice from the world’s top doctors and health officials (who are vehemently against people who aren’t sick wearing masks) rather than panicked locals in third world countries. But alas, as of yesterday the government here in Vietnam has declared it mandatory for citizens and tourists alike to cover our faces with cloth in public.

Now of course I respect local cultures and customs and always do my best to fit in, go with the flow and not disrupt the general equilibrium. And boy oh boy do I love Vietnam so far in my very brief time here. But word on the street is that the locals loathe tourists who don’t mask up and generally see us as walking cases of COVID. I understand that this is spawned out of fear and is not racism. I will give the locals a pass on this one, as it is a strange and unprecedented time for all of us. I get it. People want to be safe.

But the curious logic of Vietnamese safety states that it is perfectly fine, and 100% the norm, to have your babies and small children on a motorbike without a helmet weaving through traffic and running red lights, but they must be wearing a cloth on their mouth goddammit! It’s a real head-scratcher. Stranger yet is that the adults will always be wearing a helmet. Maybe they don’t make baby helmets here. I’ve seen a lot of babies in toques which is no doubt the second-best option.

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Small child with facemask and toque. Very common.

I have experienced nothing but open arms from the friendly people of central Vietnam and to be quite honest it seems like business as usual here compared to the dystopian tales coming out of Saigon and Hanoi, where cities of 20 million people have essentially shut down. The two biggest cities in Vietnam have ordered all businesses to cease operation. Bars, clubs, massage parlours, restaurants. Closed. Any group of more than four people is considered a party, and parties are banned. Visas have been cancelled for foreigners and tourists are scrambling to get home while their countries will still let them in and flights are still available. I have a friend in Saigon whose entire apartment building is on lockdown for 14 days. I’ve been following stories of expats in quarantine in abandoned hospitals with no air conditioning or running water. People are bathing with buckets of water and sleeping on the floors. I do not want to be quarantined here but realize there is a very good possibility that may happen.

A lot of places are still open here in Danang. A lot. And trust, I take social distancing very seriously and rarely eat out. But if I do it is somewhere that is basically empty and is usually open air. It’s funny, in the old days if you walked past a pub and it was completely empty, you’d keep on walking. Now I’m like, that’s my joint!

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Empty open-air pub. Score!

Last night I went to a craft beer bar and had a fantastic stone oven pizza. It was the tops. They gave me hand sanitizer when I entered and I had three enjoyable pints while sitting a solid 15 feet away from anybody. I then took a motorbike taxi home while wearing a helmet because I’m not a baby.

What worries me though, is that the locals here have not stopped congregating in the slightest. The coffee shops are absolutely rammed shoulder to shoulder as they play cards and transfer tiny droplets of bodily fluid into each other’s faces. Vietnam has not been hit hard at all yet, so there is absolutely zero panic in this sea-side city. But when it comes, and I sadly believe it will, things are going to spread fast here. Real fast.

Plane tickets back to Canada went from $600 to $3 grand one-way in a matter of a week.

I had no plans to go home soon anyway, so being “stuck” here does not seem so bad. There would be far worse places to be holed up for a few months. Danang is a beautiful city with ideal weather and an uncrowded beach that sprawls for miles down the coast. The cost of living is crazy-town cheap and the food is delicious and delivered to your door in a matter of minutes.

But the best part of all? It’s a toilet paper wonderland. Everywhere I go all I see is toilet paper. I walk into the grocery store, toilet paper for miles. I go to my local convenience store, it’s nothing short of a toilet paper paradise. So many different kinds, plies, brands, colours. It really does brighten your day. No one here fights over it. We all just enjoy it and let it sit there on the shelves in all its glory. I currently only have one roll in my apartment left. Am I stressed? I feel great.

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Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Of course, this could have something to do with the fact that most toilets in SE Asia are equipped with the ever-popular bum-gun, which I must say is quite delightful. Pressure washing your asshole is a concept I endorse. Then it’s essentially just a pat-pat dry-dry with a few squares.

Don’t get me wrong, these are no Japanese toilets. A Japanese toilet will clean you, bathe you, caress you, comfort you, sing you a song, order you a pizza and give you a handjob. And that’s not hyperbole. But if Japan is the vanguard of worldwide appropriate toilet comfort, which it is, then SE Asia is next. The Chinese squat toilet (hole in the ground) is at the other end of the spectrum and is the world’s great shame, while North America falls somewhere in the middle. The point is that toilet paper hoarding becomes irrelevant when you add a pressure washer into the mix.

As for me, I’m grateful to have my health and be in a beautiful city that hasn’t been too affected by the virus thus far. Time will soon tell if it will stay this way or if the fairytale will be over.

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