A plea to travellers in Vietnam, and those not yet distancing...
I hope you and your loved ones are safe and well. Although we are the other side of the world to most of our family and friends, our thoughts are with you all. We are following the news and trying to keep abreast of the situation. It's so hard to know that loved ones are suffering and not be there in person to offer support.
Over the years, Asia has gradually become home - after two years in China, four years in Hong Kong, and now a year and a half in Vietnam, it has been difficult to pin-point why returning to the UK for visits has been such a culture shock. Watching recent events unfold worldwide has made this starkly clear.
This is not a political rant, and I am not advocating or diminishing any governmental systems but would like to share a little about how the culture of the people of Vietnam, has helped to keep the crisis here at bay and slow the curve, for now at least.
I have blogged several times about the selfless nature of the Vietnamese, their kind-hearted, inclusive and community-focused approach to life. The daily 'aw' moments where a stranger completes a random act of kindness, genuinely without expectation of anything in return - this is just the way it is. There is so much I love about Vietnam, but this is the single most influential factor in Hoi An being and feeling like home.
As we have spent longer here, and developed friendships within the local community, we have come to see how much communism pervades daily life in so many ways. Perhaps over the years, this has resulted in this collective thinking, and maybe some of what we see is coming from a fear of recrimination, it is likely that this is just the beautiful nature of the Vietnamese people - whatever the process, the outcome is the same.
We are following many Facebook groups at the moment and see vast numbers of Expats and travellers saying they 'feel safer in Vietnam than they would at home' at the moment. The reason they feel safer is because the Vietnamese government have been so proactive in quarantining those coming into the country and tracing first, second and third contacts. They have actively put health before the economy, which is suffering. The government acted swiftly, AND the people responded by following precautions, staying at home, avoiding unnecessary travel and putting community before self. Of course, there are pockets where this is not the case, and there are still individuals not towing the line, but the vast majority have.
Aside from one day of serious panic buying of noodles and rice (in Hoi An), the markets have remained well-stocked, and at the moment, everyone is able to access everything they need. Many families also live a sustainable lifestyle and grow their own vegetables, which helps.
Like many, my initial response was a ferocious 'the media are overreacting' as the calmness of the situation here was so oppositional from what seemed to be scaremongering of the BBC. Yet, whilst the news in the UK has been seemingly pretty accurate and the government slow to respond, the news here has been as calm and apparently transparent as the actions taken.
I have also experienced waves of scepticism: 'we share a border with China, how can the numbers be real?', 'is the government suppressing information?' etc. and see these comments reflected on Facebook. This doubt is understandable, yet given the swift action, and collective response, my faith in the reported numbers here has grown exponentially.
As an accommodation, we are feeling the responsibility for our community heavily. Our neighbours have welcomed us into their families and continue to show their support daily. The elderly lady in the photograph at the top of this article, and matriarch of our neighbourhood, said to us when we signed the contract for the land, "I wish you every success with your business, and will try to stay alive long enough to see that happen." She is now at the forefront of our mind when we make any decisions. Phuong and Dung (our wonderful cleaners), continue to come into work every day with a smile - and we are now the only business receiving deliveries from our friendly, hard-working fruit and veg man.
We are continually battling the balance between survival from a business perspective, supporting our staff and suppliers, and what feels like a critical decision when we welcome new guests into the villa. Like the majority of the community, we are placing health and wellbeing over finances, which has already meant turning guests away until they have self-quarantined and been tested because of their travel history. This in its own right is heart-breaking as we know that so many are just looking for a safe sanctuary to 'shelter in place' until they can make it back to their home countries.
My plea to all travellers in Vietnam during this time (and all individuals globally): if you have the freedom to move around, please do not. Stay where you are. If you still think the spread of COVID-19 here is inevitable, think again. The government issued a warning on 23rd March that we have two weeks to contain this - we... every individual, regardless of nationality. Please put the community first, before your need to see the sights and make the most of your trip. If you are experiencing fear from the community, know that this is coming from a place of all recent cases being imported, or directly linked to an imported case.
The statistics speak for themselves: 118 Vietnamese cases out of a population of ≈95,000,000 people (0.00012%) - most of which have come from nationals returning from EU countries and the UK, vs 51 cases from the relatively small population of ≈3,000,000 tourists as of February 2020 (0.0017%... over 10x more) and still MUCH lower than other countries who have hesitated in acting.
If you have travelled into the country, you are more likely to be a carrier. Vietnam does not have the same level of funding or healthcare available as many 'first world countries' who are fighting the same battle. Please play your part in observing government directives - even if you are not displaying symptoms, you may be asymptomatic. Please respect the vulnerability of this population and take personal responsibility for your actions.
My time in Vietnam has required a mindset shift, from "Why are they doing that, what do they want?", to "How can I give more, not in return, but as an ongoing way of thinking?" Living in Vietnam has made me constantly evaluate the concept of altruism. As communities are beginning to come together in support of each other worldwide, I can only hope that this permeates society for the years to come; that communities continue to value each and every individual; that we can fight the war on pandemics through collective peace, mutual respect, love and compassion - from a place of caring for a community, not a self-centred space of 'me first'.
This is not underestimating the struggle, or impact of lock-down or governmental actions on wellbeing - many communities are suffering in so many contrasting ways and this collective experience has a direct and unique impact on each individual. My thoughts are scattered and oscillating between individuals I love and care about, slums in India, refugee camps, townships in Africa, war-torn countries, those unable to receive much needed mental-health support (in the UK, many NHS interventions are group focused...), isolated elderly, and closer to home, our local community. Reading this article (That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief) and listening to Brené Brown's podcast FFTs has helped reduce anxiety a little about the future. Thank you to those that shared these with me, and I hope that passing them on, will also help you.
I would also like to share a phrase I encountered today that made me feel instantly better. 'Physical distancing' in place of 'social distancing.' We can still remain socially connected from a physical distance, and this slight shift in thinking somehow felt less threatening and made me smile.
The experience is uniquely individual but the process is shared - if there is any way we can support you, please reach out and let us know. We are in different boats on the same ocean.
With gratitude, love and a physically distanced hug,
"With freedom comes responsibility, a responsibility that can only be met by the individual" - Ronald Reagan