COVID-19 in Vietnam
By Ben Bartee - November 05, 2023

Originally published via PJ Media:

What follows is a (mostly) unedited, exclusive excerpt from my recently published expat memoir, Broken English Teacher: Notes From Exile

Lao Cai, Vietnam

February 9, 2020:

I initially read about the “novel coronavirus” (as it was largely known then) from our beachside bungalow in Indonesia a couple of weeks prior while we were still in Belitung, and assured Liuba it would be another passing fad like SARS or MERS before it — just another a hot topic to fill a slow 24-hour media cycle.

The “novel coronavirus” arrived in Vietnam. In response, the authorities shut the border with China just a few kilometers from my residence at Global Education Link (GEL). The schools closed as well, which meant no teaching work. Other teachers complained; I didn’t.

Back then, the “two weeks to flatten the curve” lockdown was just a fun vacation for a battle-worn veteran to escape the ESL front lines for R&R. I had lost morale years earlier.

“The voice of God is government.
In God we trust, sinners repent!”

— Bad Religion, Voice of God Is Government

February 22, 2020:

8:00 a.m.:

As they did to start each day (and then at mid-day and again in the evening), a set of communist loudspeakers affixed to the telephone pole at the adjacent intersection blared 120-decibel public service announcements, patriotic songs, and a healthy smattering of government propaganda in turns, in alternating male and female voices.

The first round began daily at 8 on the dot, followed by another at 11-ish, and the last one at 4:30. The wall of sound penetrated the walls, which, in combination with the kindergarten next door that blared nasally children’s cartoon anthems through its own loudspeakers each morning, made sleeping in past early morning an impossibility.

I never knew what they were saying — except for the odd sprinkling of “COVID” — but often wondered out of intense curiosity. What information could be so critical as to necessitate blasting it out into the ether, instead of through email or whatever? I asked some Vietnamese, including the girls working at the counter downstairs, but they shrugged and just reported they were announcing the weather and traffic accidents.

Related: The State of Feminism in Southeast Asia

But those crackling God-like voices went on and on, so the claim that they were solely doing the forecast in half-hour intervals three times a day seemed off.

I assumed it was something along the lines of: “Ho Chi Minh defeated the imperialist virus in 1975 and he will do it again from his resting place in Hanoi” or whatever.

Ben Bartee, author of Broken English Teacher: Notes From Exile, is an independent Bangkok-based American journalist with opposable thumbs.

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