Pippin in Return of The King famously said, “I don’t want to be in a battle, but waiting on the edge of one I can’t escape is even worse!” J. R. R. Tolkien
After a tumultuous, ill-fated trip from Ho Chi Minh City to New Zealand for a family wedding, I now understand that feeling confessed Niall Mackay Host of Seven Million Bikes – A Saigon Podcast and stand-up comedian.
Having just left our home in Saigon, we arrived in New Zealand to international news announcements that a global pandemic had been declared. It seemed that things were escalating quite quickly with travel rules changing daily and borders rushing to close all over the world. Suddenly we were feeling like we were on an inescapable edge as we were constantly trying to decide, or to second-guess, what to do next. After much deliberation, my wife and I ultimately decided to cut our trip short and head back home to Vietnam, immediately. This meant missing the wedding, but with immediate action, we would be among the last group of foreigners allowed entry back into Vietnam before the borders closed. The choices we faced were either being stranded in New Zealand (for an indeterminate amount of time) or possibly being sent back to Australia on our arrival into Vietnam or placed in quarantine. We decided that we preferred the prospect of government quarantine for 14 days in Ho Chi Minh City. Before departure, we prepared both mentally and with the amount of snacks that we purposefully packed from New Zealand.
At 00:00 on the 21st of March, we were allowed entry into our home country for the past 4 years. Our relief was palpable. It wasn’t until 5 am that we arrived at the allocated government facility and “checked into” our quarantine room. In all, there were 6 bunks and 3 ex-pats: myself, my wife, and our new bunkmate, a Ukrainian ex-pat who had been traveling on a business trip. Despite the obvious dust of the unused room, we managed to sleep on the hardwood bed provided to us with merely a Government-issued straw mat, a blanket, and a mosquito net.
The next day, and for the majority of our 17-day stay, we were given scant information. We were a bit left to our own devices, attempting to figure out what was happening through people that we had only become newly acquainted with. Admittedly, the staff also appeared to know very little. Oddly, there was never any sign of a single person being in command, but, despite this, everything ran quite smoothly.
Although our stay won’t make any Trip Advisor reviews, we have no real complaints. The “Blue Men” (as we called them) were the young “boys” constantly decked out in head to toe blue, plastic P.P.E. gear. They were hard-working, good-natured, and friendly. Each day they brought us three meals, two bottles of water and they would take our temperatures.
Wherever possible, they actively accommodated vegetarians. We found ways to busy ourselves with constant cleaning, working out, walking, talking, and playing Words With Friends across the world. We had fun in moments, but mostly we did nothing but lay about. Most of all, we missed our mattress!
Due to the sheer volume of people in the facility (thousands I would guess) COVID testing took time to organize and to undertake. Our first test was done five days after our arrival and we didn’t receive our second test until Day 14. This delayed our freedom as our stay then had to be extended to Day 17. (There is a requirement that required us to wait a few days for the crucial ‘second negative’ test results as two negative test results are necessary for release.)
Overall my wife and I feel very fortunate to have been able to return home to Vietnam, as we know there are so many others around the world that have been left stranded. We are grateful to be in a country that is taking strong measures to contain the virus (such as quarantining returnees) as their measures appear to be working. Mostly we are very thankful to the doctors, soldiers, food providers, and especially the “Blue Men”, who put themselves on the frontline, for very little pay, in order to keep all of us in Vietnam, safe.
Having completed the 17 days in a quarantine camp we are now anxious about the unknown battle awaiting us- the new normal that will be life after COVID.
Niall Mackay is a local stand-up comedian and host of podcast Seven Million Bikes; A Saigon Podcast. Listen to this story and more in detail on Season 3; the Quarantine Season, on sevenmillionbikes.com, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or almost anywhere you can listen to podcasts.