First world problems

boris
The UK Government is finally suggesting masks might help

I enjoyed Rod Liddle’s piece on face masks https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/why-I-will-wear-a-face-mask today.

For those unable to access the article, aside from the entertaining corollary he makes about only being allowed to have sex with his wife whilst wearing a mask, Liddle hammers home a key point, that many of us have been stating and re-stating over the past months about the merits of mask usage. Amusing banter aside, reflecting about Covid, he underscores what, in the UK at least, seems to continue to be an issue of Individual vs. Society.

“There seems to me more than sufficient evidence that while wearing a face mask does not entirely eliminate the risk of spreading the virus, it reduces it. We can argue about how much, but surely that is certain. And so, I will wear a face mask. Not just for sexual intercourse.”

Rod Liddle is an incorrigible writer and enjoys pushing people’s buttons on numerous topics. However, on masks, I couldn’t agree more with the premise of his argument for wearing one, and furthermore his conclusions over how slow to act the UK has been, in the face of the spread of the virus across Asia and into Europe.

Liddle doesn’t suggest Boris’ team has been incompetent, more that “they were possessed of an unconscious belief that this pandemic had been over-rated by supranational institutions, such as the World Health Organisation, that it was an over-stated concern.”

An unconscious belief.

Somehow this, for me, aptly sums up a lot of the conjecture, and ultimately the culture, of more developed nations such as the UK.

Of course, the UK media pounces on any decision the Government makes, when it comes to Covid. That said, the UK has suffered tremendously because of Covid, and although hindsight is a wonderful thing, many have been right to point out the shortfalls of the  Government which have made matters worse for the public.

Boris (described brilliantly by the comic Jon Richardson as a “human wet fart…funny at the time, but you have to immediately check for damage”) will, and probably should, remain the target for most critics. However, when it comes to societies typically used to seeing their country branded as “first world,” doesn’t this ‘unconscious belief’ symptom stretch further and wider, beyond politicians and the media, and into the day-to-day recesses of everyday life?

Were I to have still been living in London, these past 9.5 years, I would have felt the same. Covid started its carnage in a Chinese market, thousands of miles and cultures away from where I would have been living and working. If I’d been in the UK I can see me, back in February, talking to colleagues in Asia (as I did, in reverse, for weeks and weeks earlier this year from Saigon) hearing about the turmoil being faced by citizens in countries bordering China. Schools closing (as they did here during the first week of February). Quarantine rules in place shortly after this. Masks compulsory. Flights grounded. Lock-down enforced. Testing and tracing immediately initiated.

In Vietnam, and across Asia, there are more recent experiences of similar outbreaks, which have definitely helped drive action during Covid. Mask wearing is standard here, particularly if you are ill and out in public. It’s a cultural norm.

Citizens listen to their Governments in many Asian countries, because the nature of the political governance systems in these countries is different. Not all these differences are favourable to citizens, but they have contributed to a reality where Vietnam still only has 370 positive Covid cases and no fatalities.

There has been no end of speculation on social media as to why this is (as well as the predictable conspiracy theories). This thread on Twitter was particularly good in demonstrating just how pissed off some people were at the realisation that a “third world” country such as Vietnam was doing so well combating the virus.

Overall, you could say that there has been a unity here across the country, and in response to the measures taken by the Government, and perhaps that is part of it.

Expats like me are stuck until quarantine rules change, but life here is safe and we’ve had a much easier time of it compared to South America, Australia, the US or across Europe. Although schools closed for over 3 months, our actual lock down measures were many shades lighter than those elsewhere, and normal life resumed relatively quickly.

There are 98 million people living in Vietnam, and we have just 370 cases. These are truly insane figures, when you read that only yesterday there were 15,000 new cases in Florida alone.

Liddle’s words resonated with me because I realise the true privilege of perspective that living in Vietnam has given me.

Yes, I’m desperate to leave, move on to Australia, set up in fresh surroundings, and that day will come. Until then, recognising what and how these types of unconscious beliefs manifest – in all walks of life, and in their unbridled cause and effect – will remain something I’ll try not to take for granted.

 

Lock-down shopping

shopping
Dawn again on our street in Saigon.

Lock-down shopping

I always seem to write shopping lists
That seldom leave my pocket –
Returning instead with unexpected treats.
It feels a luxury of sorts
To wander the aisles
Quietly
As an interloper.

I prod at flagons of yellow-crested olive oil,
Visions of flour-caked aprons
Kneading the dough
And pouring the Pinot
Soothed,
In that moment
Of ordinariness.

That freedom of choice.

This Morning’s Dawn

dawn2

This morning’s dawn on our bed-sheet
Glows as it did yesterday.
Summoning into consciousness
A mundane familiar –
Jumbled thoughts,
Whispered finger-tipped
Touches, stretched out limbs.
Nothing here lies
In deference to a higher code,
Nor to a haunting pandemonium.

Through our window yellow sunbeams taunt
And pierce translucent bowing fronds,
Blinking time into place.
In steeped Earl Grey,
A soothing balm – a Blessed relief! –
Nothing here pretends
Any difference need unfold,
Nor mask that which matters most
In each wondrous, sentimental stroke
Of this morning’s dawn.