In a period of 30 days, I’ll have lived the Coronavirus (COVID-19) under three very different governments. Who infected it best? I’ll break it down and grade them for you.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Unitary Marxist-Leninist one-party socialist republic
At the start of this month, I got on a jet and flew to Vietnam for work. That doesn’t sound like the smartest thing to do right now. However, let’s not forget that 20 days ago things were very different. Yes, this situation literally gets that much exponentially worse each day.
At the time, and it’s even true today, it was very clear that Vietnam and Taiwan (where I had a layover) had done an exemplary job of containing the virus. Despite their close proximity to China, the cases there were extremely low. You might even argue those are two of the safest countries to be in right now. If you can get into them, which you can’t.
With that optimistic view, I was on my way. Coronavirus was certainly upon us, but it was hardly at the fevered pitch (too soon?) and lockdown status of today. Still, you know what? For the first time in a long time, I was nervous to fly. As takeoff approached the news worsened at a predictable cadence each day. When the day to fly came I asked myself:
“Should I even get on this plane?”
I hadn’t asked myself a question like that in a long time. And I’m a person that makes many poorly planned travels.
I wasn’t so nervous to go through the airports themselves. There simply was no one in them to get the virus from. If you took away the retail workers you might not see another soul for some time. It’s quite nice really, that is if you enjoy some melancholy moments, with yourself.
I took an entire row on my flight and slept for most of the 14-hour flight. I was through customs in less than 5 minutes. A man approached me, wearing a mask, and in less than 3 minutes I had a new SIM, converted money and a taxi waiting for me.
Good morning Vietnam! Or afternoon? After that much travel you never really know for sure.
The air tastes of dirt and exhaust.
The sound of scooters breaks the calmness of the airport behind me. I’m in the city now but it’s noticeably subdued. At least it was much less chaotic than I was expecting. A colleague later shared the city was operating at about 30%.
However, the city was still operating. Truth be told it was operating very smoothly. Everywhere you went there were signs with helpful information on how to wash your hands and protect yourself. Surfaces like countertops and elevator buttons were covered in plastic and cleaned several times a day. They were already doing some social distancing then and avoiding large groups.
There was even a catchy song and public service announcement going around. You might have seen it on the John Oliver show but here it is in case you missed it:
It’s damn catchy! Admit it. I heard it playing throughout the city and the song even went on to inspire many TikTok challenges. From the get-go, it was clear to me that in Vietnam it was less about panic and more about educating the public. More about helping people make good personal decisions. As a result, I felt very safe there.
So how did Socialism do? Although it should be first said that when it comes to managing both people and propaganda no one really does it better. That was my experience seeing them close borders quickly and distribute information efficiently. Oh, and by the way, every store shelf was well stocked with bread. In school, we were taught that might not be the case during a crisis.
Socialism gets a B+
San Francisco, USA
Two-party god-fearing and gun-loving democratic constitutional republic
Upon landing in America I already knew the stress levels would be increasing. There were only a handful of us on the huge plane back. The staff was incredibly nice and helpful. They really made us feel good. Still, we knew what was loaming from the news making its way around the world.
As we meandered down the jetway and towards customs you could sense the mood about to change. It was palpable. Oh, and it really did change and smack you in the face as Americans do best.
If you think about the worst day at the DMV, then times that by 10, then add a few hundred hungry people with jetlag for good measure and perhaps you can start to imagine the scene. Trump had just announced some travel bans and there was an obvious last-minute rush to get into the country. Now as a pandemic is peaking I found thousands of people crammed into the customs area, slowly snaking their way through the line.
Stunned for a moment I almost forget that I have a Global Entry pass that allows me to take the fast track. I felt bad to be super honest, passing so many people stuck like molasses in their line. In less than 5 minutes I was through. The customs agent asked me zero questions about my travels, although this was often the case with Global Entry. Still, given the situation, I was expecting some probing.
The next order of business was getting some food ahead of my kiddos arrival. As one does we headed to the local Whole Foods only to find the parking lot overflowing.
“They must be having a sale on hummus or something.” I pondered.
Change of plans and we head to the supermarket across the street only to find a similar situation. Just then I realized the panic buying had already begun. I had yet to see the photos of toilet paper hoarders floating around and the empty shelves. Emptier still were the people’s faces found in this store. You could measure the concern and literal fear on their faces as they walked the aisles grabbing whatever was left.
There was no toilet paper left.
There wasn’t any bread left.
I thought hashtag freedom meant we would always have bread hashtag Merica. Apparently not. I’m missing Vietnam a little at this moment. More specifically these cream-filled bun things I was eating on the daily.
We take our meager scavengings of food and make our way to an Airbnb. Around the city, everything is getting closed or canceled. We spend the entire weekend indoors as it rained outside. Due to my recent travels through airports, I also have to keep my distance from my own kids. No cuddles. No fun. Needless to say, our screen time reports for the weekend were off the charts.
I’m constantly hungry but I didn’t know how to easily feed myself and loved ones. Do you just go back to the store? Did they get more food for those empty shelves? Does Uber Eats still operate? Do I just sharpen a spear and hunt the wildlife found outside?
What are the rules now?
Democracy gets a C–
Unitary constitutional monarchy and social democracy with oil in their blood and skis on their feet
For our final stop, I’m actually getting slightly ahead of myself. As you see it’s still some 2 weeks until I’m scheduled to fly to Norway. There’s a strong chance that won’t happen due to border closings and let’s face it, just about anything is fucking possible at this point.
I’m torn about heading this direction because their infection rate has been among the highest (per capita). There’s also new research that shows it’s better to be in warm climates when it comes to this virus. At the same time, they have a very functional health care system that takes care of the people. So should one become infected you would probably want to be somewhere just like Norway. You’ll be cold and miserable perhaps, as winters can often be in the far North, but you won’t get a huge medical bill when Spring finally does come.
As a funny side note when it comes to social distancing Norwegians (and Scandinavians at large) essentially live this every day. Virus or not. Unless they’re drinking they aren’t getting close to you. This is a culture that is all about personal space and avoiding strangers. So when it comes to the government imposed lockdown they are currently under you can assume the citizens will gladly oblige. I suspect they’ll actually manage to ‘flatten the curve’ and new data seems to suggest they’re doing just that.
My only complaint with the social democracy and collaborative government of Norway here is they perhaps moved too slow to take real action. This is often the case in Norway. You need a lot of consensus to get anything done. As a result, very little actually ever does get done.
Social Democracy gets a B–
I hope you are healthy and safe wherever your home is. For someone like myself home is not so well defined these days. In times of crisis should one flee to their country of origin? To where their heart is? To where they are most safe? It’s not an easy decision and in a situation as fluid as this one, perhaps I’m lucky to have a few choices.
Being freelance, work from home, underemployed, and self quarantined these days I have a lot of time to think about it. If you want to read more ramblings be sure to follow me on Twitter.
Oh, and if you see me on Sunset Blvd with my spear please toss me a bone. Or better yet, some bread and toilet paper.