As restrictions ease, Saigonese reunite with family, friends

By Dang Khoa, Long NguyenOctober 5, 2021 | 04:36 pm PT
As Ho Chi Minh City eases its stringent lockdowns and travel restrictions, people are returning to the familiar warmth of their families and friends.

Unusually for a Sunday, Nguyen Thanh Tu woke up early because she had planned to see some friends after more than three months.

Together with two colleagues, the 25-year-old rode her bicycle from District 5 to the city center where they bought some banh mi for breakfast at their favorite restaurant and ate it sitting on the sidewalk in front of the Saigon Central Post Office.

A group of friends meet up in front of Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral, October, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Maison de Bil

A group of friends meet up in front of Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral, October, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Maison de Bil

"We woke up early to avoid crowds and have more time to hang out," Tu says, adding they planned to spend Sunday morning catching up and will have bubble tea at a shop on Nguyen Hue Street.

The coronavirus has caused people to miss out on normal activities like going to the gym and dining out. But what some missed the most was personal interaction with friends, lovers and family members.

When HCMC lifted its lockdown last Friday after four months of varying levels of social distancing, night-time and other travel restrictions and travel permits, Saigonese resumed socializing.

Nguyen Mai Phuong Thuy, 35, spent over three months at her home in District 7, but her mind was focused on the safety of her parents living in District 5.

The first thing she and her husband did last Friday was to visit her parents.

Cutting a birthday cake to belatedly celebrate her mother’s birthday in an apartment in an old building near Chinatown, she says: "It was a bad feeling to live in the same city as them but not see them. I wanted to sneak out many times but my husband opposed the idea.

"It is not only about her birthday; we just want to celebrate this Covid reunion," she says, adding she wants to spend more time with her mother, who has suffered from amnesia.

For families that lost members in the last few weeks, post-lockdown reunions are an opportunity for people to hug to comfort and condole with each other.

Nguyen Thi Minh of Cu Chi District finally visited her sister’s grave in Binh Tan last weekend, more than a month after the 57-year-old woman had died of Covid.

She says: "Burning incense for my late sister, seeing her children and comforting them... That was the only thing I wanted to do when the lockdown was over."

She next looks forward to visiting her son’s family in District 4 after getting a second shot of a Covid vaccine.

According to the HCMC Center for Disease Control, over 11 million people have been given at least one shot, and over four million are fully vaccinated.

The number of infections since April has crossed 400,000, and more than 15,000 have died.

With the city lifting the lockdown in stages, restaurants and coffee shops can only do takeout and delivery. So many young people buy food and drinks and take them to parks to meet up and hang out with friends.

A directive issued last Friday by the city allows a maximum of 15 people to gather outdoors events, and 90 if 90 percent of them are fully vaccinated.

Last weekend small groups of friends and couples could be seen sitting on benches to sip ca phe sua da again after a long time.

In the cool shaded area at the park next to the Notre-Dame Cathedral, Hieu Nhan and Ngoc Tuyen drink some bubble tea on Sunday, saying they came to "chill out" after being apart for four months.

"Picking up my girlfriend and taking her for a stroll around the city was a ritual I badly missed," Nhan, 22, says, adding the last time they met was in July.

Not far from them, a group of three chat and share stories.

A couple hang out on Nguyen Hue Street after HCMC eased lockdown restrictions on Oct. 1 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Maison de Bil

A couple hang out on Nguyen Hue Street after HCMC eased lockdown restrictions on Oct. 1 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Maison de Bil

‘Have you been vaccinated yet?’

But people are still worried about the risk of infection and a possible resurgence of Covid.

"Have you been vaccinated yet?" is rapidly becoming a new catchphrase among urbanites, many of whom prefer to only meet family members or close friends who are fully vaccinated.

"I have never felt this free in the last few months, but I believe all of us should be careful unless we want another lockdown," Nguyen Thi Ngan Quynh says while waiting for her com tam at a restaurant on Tran Quang Khai Street Sunday morning.

She lives in the city center, and has not met her parents in District 12 since late June.

"Today I will go home and see them with their favorite com tam," she says, adding since her family is fully vaccinated, "we are confident about this reunion."

Many food and beverage businesses have reopened with stringent Covid-prevention measures in place, which require patrons to scan a QR code to make a health declaration and maintain social distance.

On the sidewalks around the Notre-Dame Cathedral, a favorite gathering spot for youngsters that was cordoned off for weeks, city workers can be seen telling people to maintain social distance.

People exchange smiles and lockdown stories from under their masks.

In District 3 Tu has yet to reunite with her boyfriend since he has got only one Covid vaccine.

She says: "He will have his second jab this weekend, so I hope we will meet a week after that. This is for our and our families' safety. The coronavirus is still lingering."

She plans to watch the sunset from the Thu Thiem Bridge along with her boyfriend.

"Or we may buy some Taiwanese food from my favorite restaurant on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street and take it to my house or his.

"But he must be fully vaccinated first."

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