Expat Confession: An American Living in Asia During the COVID-19 Pandemic

asia during covid-19

January 26th, 2020: Lunar New Year

What was it like living in Asia during COVID-19? The first day was an adventurous one. I had done a day trip to Ubud via motorbike from Canggu in Bali, Indonesia. The day was full of epic views, a little hike, some rice fields, coffee, and finished off with a crepe before heading back to my hotel. My Lunar New Year holiday was coming to an end, and I was absolutely loving my break from work and normal life in Vietnam.

Lunar New Year (TET) is a major holiday in Vietnam, where I currently live and work. A time for locals to visit their families and receive lucky money, while expats take the time off to travel nearby countries.

I had decided to spend the holiday in Bali with my roommates. After a great day trip to Ubud, we headed back to our hotel. I remember one of my roommates sitting on his phone mentioning something about a virus called corona that was spreading in China. We spoke for maybe two minutes about it before deciding what to do for dinner.

asia during covid-19

January 28th, 2020: The Buzz

Our adventure in Bali had concluded, and we made our way back to the airport. Bags were packed, the beach was washed out of our hair, and we had to kiss the vegan cafes goodbye as we (or so we thought) we were headed back to our normal lives in Vietnam as English teachers. We were about to see what life in Asia during COVID-19 would be like.

Again, my roommate brought up more articles about how this corona virus was starting to reach other countries, and continued to grow. This information actually worried us a little bit as we were heading straight to germ breeding grounds – an airport. We put on face masks, carried hand sanitizer, and tried to avoid contact with others as we flew home.

asia during covid-19

January 30th, 2020: Life is Normal?

Life in Asia during COVID-19 had me returning to work as normal. The virus was definitely a major topic of discussion, and standard hygiene rules were put in place for teachers and students to follow. Everyone’s temperature was checked and all personnel were required to wear face masks while on the campus.

Teaching was difficult, and it was hard to have all the students focus. The environment made us not want to be near each other in fear of contamination. I was starting to get pretty worried about this. There were confirmed cases in Vietnam at this point, so the entire community was on edge.

February 3rd, 2020: No More Work

School is CLOSED. There are no classes from February 3rd to February 9th. I was really happy that Vietnam took such liberties to contain the virus. It was growing tremendously in China, and Vietnam had a few cases now. I was happy to take the extended holiday to help our students and faculty stay safer. Asia during the COVID-19 almost seemed like an extra holiday.

It was a nice time off. I relaxed at home. Ate some good food. Spent time with my friends. I had been teaching English for an online company, but struggling to get hours because they coincided with my day time job. But now that I wasn’t working, I had plenty of time to work, and was starting to get a lot of hours because kids were home from school during the day. (Ask me if you want to get on board, now is the time!)

asia during covid-19

February 9th, 2020: Is This an Extended Vacation?

Asia during COVID-19 extended school closures, potentially until the end of the month. The expats in my community are all using this time to travel. Some flew back to Bali, some are doing a road trip up the coast, and the rest are staying put and away from people. More cases are being discovered globaly.

The city started to feel uneasy. Ho Chi Minh City has over 10 million people in a small area, but it feels like a ghost town. Traffic is gone. Pollution is diminishing. People in Asia are getting paranoid, and for good reason. While my community in the USA is bombarding Asia with how we’re overreacting with our masks and cancelling school. (Look how that turned out).

February 12th, 2020: Ignorant Bliss

My girlfriend arrives to visit me from the US. A visited planned long before corona happened, and she had to change her flight as her layover was through China. There was no way Vietnam would have let her enter the country.

In hindsight, this time in Asia during COVID-19 was the BEST time for her to come. She could still travel freely, and shops and places were still open while she was here so we could still carry on as normal in Ho Chi Minh City. We even took a quick weekend trip to Phu Quoc with no issues. There is no way that would be possible now.

During this time, I kept thinking how I had a lot of snow days in school. Whereas Vietnam doesn’t have snow, they have corona viruses that keep them home. It was an interesting difference in cultures.

February 13th through March: Virus Reaches the US

My girlfriend went home February 26th, and her life in American returned. My life in Vietnam was pretty constant. School closures kept increasing, people stayed inside, and life keeps chugging. I am hopeful the worst of it is over in Vietnam. I think there were about 65 cases at this point.

The main difference now is how it’s impacting the US, going through a similar situation now. With more and more cases everyday, the US has closed schools and is asking people to stay home. This makes me worried about coming home. Will I be able to come home?

March 19th, 2020: Level 4 Travel Advisory Worldwide

The US government issued a Level 4 travel advisory.

U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.”

Ummmm. What does this mean for my life in Vietnam? Should I stay put? Vietnam has a pretty good system for testing and treating patients as far as I’ve heard. I’ve also heard that they don’t pay for foreigners. There’s so much different news out there, and with not being able to read Vietnamese, I’m not sure what to believe. I’m lucky enough to be in a place where I can work online and still have access to food and shelter easily.

On the other hand, if I return home, will my situation improve? There are more cases in the US than Vietnam, and my hometown (Seattle) was an epicenter for COVID-19 at that time. But I would like to be near my family and friends during this time of a global emergency. Do I have access to good healthcare in the US? I’m not really sure anymore.

asia during covid-19

March 22nd: It’s Go Time

I think my situation in Vietnam is pretty good. I’m in a good apartment, self isolating and only going out for food. I also have my brother here, so it would be nice to stay here with him. Vietnam is also a lot more affordable than the US. So if I am on lock down, now working as many hours, Vietnam may be a better place to do so.

But what if I can’t go back home? What if all countries close their boarders and I’m in Vietnam indefinitely? My best friend that came to Vietnam with me two years ago booked a ticket home as soon as the Level 4 travel advisory was issued. People are dropping things and going back home all over the world. The thought of being stuck in Vietnam indefinitely outweighed many of the other factors. So I made my decision, I’m heading home.

April 3rd: Getting Home

I had an original flight plan to leave Vietnam on April 22nd, but with the travel advisory and more and more lock down procedures in place, I changed my flight to April 3rd. After two cancellations, a million hours on the phone, and enough stress to last a lifetime, I finally made it on my fight to Seattle.

My flight from Ho Chi Minh to Tokyo was very comfortable, despite the pandemic. The staff were all wearing gloves, face masks, and sat us all with at least two rows between another person. I could tell they were really trying to help the situation.

When I began flying with an American airline, they did not offer the same comfort. No one was wearing a face mask or gloves, they seemed to interact with each other like it was a normal day. I’m glad they had a positive attitude, but I would have liked them to at least make it look like they put in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus, like the Japan airline had.

April 8th: Home Sweet Home

It felt so nice to step foot on my hometown. Seattle was in lock down, just as Vietnam was, so this way of life was nothing new to me. I stayed in quarantine for two weeks before returning to my mom’s house. It was not what I had planned for 20202, but I was happy to be home.

Now I’m off to continue this social distancing for an undetermined amount of time, in hopes that this virus gets contained in the US and globally. We don’t know what will happen, but we can all do our part by staying the eff inside.

Leave a comment below if you have any questions or tips for social distancing in the US!

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