Day 1 — The COVID-19 Monologues, Sai Gon, Viet Nam.
I woke up at 5:50 am this morning — thanks, cats. It’s my day off, I work part-time, but since this latest wave of COVID-19, it’s been a blurred mass of days all merging into one another with everyone just chipping away at what they are supposed to be doing whilst trying to sustain a degree of normality.
It’s funny; I am not sure how I am supposed to feel, what emotions. A lot of people are panicking; where are they getting the energy to panic? I feel quietly numb and somewhat nostalgic. I wonder if it’s some defence mechanism from my subconscious, taking me back to happy memories to keep me safe from all this gloom.
It was the news of the Military being mobilised that did it.
I have always been intrigued by War, and this took me back to me quizzing my grandparents about World War 2; as a child, it all seemed so exciting, romantic almost, air raid sirens howling and scurrying off to hide in Anderson shelters, tickets to get food — ah the tickets — that was the start.
A few weeks ago, we got word that people living in apartment complexes and certain areas of the city would receive tickets. They would be assigned a supermarket or convenience store and certain days and timeslots. They could take their ticket on their day and slot, and go shopping. The problem is, well, it’s not normally a problem per se, but rules here in Sai Gon, are just a rough guideline, not really actual rules, so it didn’t work very well. It sent people into flux, the security at supermarkets didn’t understand what the tickets were for, people turned up at the wrong time, on the wrong day, and in the end, everyone just gave up.
I have lost track of time, but what feels like a few weeks later, things have changed quite significantly, and we are no longer allowed to leave our homes for anything other than an emergency. The military will bring basic supplies to every single house in this massive, sprawling, densely populated city of millions. This got me thinking…
The Ration Tins
I can remember vividly the time my father brought home military ration tins from work. I was fascinated by how a soldier could get all of their essentials into a little tin. I can’t remember everything in there; I suspect a lot of it had been confiscated before it reached my hands, but I can recall boiled sweets, Kendall mint cake, and chocolate. I thought it must be pretty awesome to be a soldier if that was what you got to eat.
You see, my father worked for British Aerospace, later MBDA. He was something super important to do with Missile design, and as a perk of his job, he got to bring home all sorts of cool stuff (so I thought as a child anyway). My bedroom was plastered with stickers of his latest projects, sea wolf, sea scua and so on. He once brought home this photochromatic paper; it was white, you would put things on it and leave it in the light, it would go pink where the light hit it, then you would remove your assortment of stuff to find they had left an imprint, well for a little while, before they turned pink too.
Our first decent computer was a BBC Electron they had thrown out, he had rescued and brought home, it had one of those giant floppy disk drives, and to get things to load, you had to put a tape in the cassette deck, and it would make a wee wooooo noise. How did that even work? Witchcraft! He taught me how to code flashing text in different colours, something I would have no idea how to do now!
Dad would help me solve maths problems by drawing missiles; I was pretty bad at maths; there is something so miserable about subtraction and division — not exactly sure what that says about me as a child, but still…
It’s kind of funny that I sit here in a crisis with literally no idea about what will unfold, not panicking, not sad, just confused and a little numb whilst we wait for that one official announcement to find out what is really, truly happening next, thinking about ration tins and my childhood.
We are lucky, privileged, and have enough; it’s irritating that we can do nothing to help.
‘Staying inside IS helping’ they say
But this is extreme and for how long? We don’t know.
We do have enough. I am a natural-born food hoarder, a skill handed down from my mother, from her mother. I like to have options; my cupboards are always stocked with packets and tins, we have enough to sustain us for a few weeks, and this skill has finally served its purpose, for this past weekend, we could buy nothing.
We first heard of the news on Friday night. All the shops were already closed, and we have a curfew; after 6 pm we cannot go out. So, at 8 am the following morning, off we went to get some essentials and it was already too late. Shops were either closed or had queues that went all the way down the street. One of our friends told us a colleague had gone out at 7 am and finally got home at 1 pm! Only 5 people in the store at once and 20 minutes to shop. Like supermarket sweep, but much less fun!
I joked to my mother that she had taught me well, she retorted:
‘Ha; it was Grannie, from the war!’
It does kind of feel a bit like a war now. A war without violence, but the fear and uncertainty levels must be similar.
We still remain calm; I can’t help but feel a little excited about what might happen next; I probably shouldn’t admit that but I think it’s my adventure spirit — no point in being miserable, it’s just a random event that we will get through, and we will get through it, I have no doubt. Vietnam is a nation of fighters, the collaborative, community determined to overcome the repeated shitstorms they get dragged through.
We were originally in something called an ‘orange zone’, this was supposed to mean that we could leave our house once a week, at a specific time to go to the supermarket to buy supplies. Then there was an emergency announcement to say it didn’t matter what zone you were in; you may not leave your house. I feel so fortunate to be in a house with gardens — most people here live in tiny apartments.
Even though the rumours have sent everyone into a frenzy, I look out of the window everything looks the same. There is nothing in our mailbox, no note attached to our gate, no barricades; all seems calm. A lady cycles past on her bicycle the same as she does every morning; parents are pushing their child in a stroller. It’s confusing.
And, I have questions…
How will they mobilise the military? 9 million people live in Ho Chi Minh, and the government plans to provide every house with essential supplies. HOW? The logistics of providing supplies to 9 million people makes my head implode.
However, it’s important to know that I have thought this through, there has been some speculation of the supplies we shall receive and if this information is correct I plan to use any eggs or meat to make food for our four rescue cats first before using the rest to barter with our neighbours for veggies.
In the meantime, I shall continue to reminisce of that ration tin and pontificate what may be in ours when it arrives 😊
As I finish writing this, I hear a kerfuffle and go outside to see our security guards fashioning makeshift barricades.
Day 2 is right here: