Expats in Saigon make best of coronavirus break

By Long Nguyen   February 21, 2020 | 05:07 am PT
Despite certain inconvenience, various foreigners in Ho Chi Minh City are trying to savor the "unexpected break" caused by coronavirus outbreak.

Andrew Anthony has not attended work for over five weeks. Last weekend, the British man bought a one-way ticket to Central Highlands Da Lat town.

"I am riding out the storm caused by the coronavirus," the English teacher said, referring to the closure of the center where he works.

For language teachers paid by the hour, the coronavirus has posed difficulties since all schools and educational institutions have been closed since the Lunar New Year (Tet) break.

Two foreign tourists wear masks as they explore downtown Da Lat . Photo by Shutterstock/Fabio Lamanna.

Two foreign tourists wear masks as they explore downtown Da Lat. Photo by Shutterstock/Fabio Lamanna.

In a private group for English teachers in HCMC, some have shared similar concerns amid the viral outbreak.

"I wonder how many would stay and ride out the storm? I want to say chin up to all the teachers struggling at this time," Facebook user Dave Barlow wrote.

Some others have fewer difficulties when it comes to livelihood.

Richard Nguyen, an American human resources employee in Saigon's District 3, mentioned he had to cancel a trip to Hanoi with his wife and four-year-old son due to fears over the outbreak.

"We cannot take our son to the park or shopping mall on the weekend. It is disturbing," he added.

His business partner, meant to be coming up from the U.K. in the second week of February, had to reschedule.

Silver lining

Despite the doom and gloom caused by the epidemic, many expats in Saigon still feel safe in Vietnam.

Returning to the city after spending Lunar New Year in Myanmar, Kate Wilson was surprised at the little traffic on the streets.

"I traveled to work on Dong Khoi Street, feeling unusually confident about riding my motorbike," the Australian finance worker commented, adding the coronavirus had caused only minor disturbance to her private life .

German national Dirk Ebert, who works as a real estate agent, said since infected patients in Vietnam have been treated and recovered, many people are more at ease.

As of Friday, Vietnam had 16 confirmed infection cases, of whom 15 have recovered and been discharged from hospitals.

"My wife and I decided to only venture out for essentials. Apart from food, we bought nothing in the past three weeks," Ebert said, adding the epidemic has helped him live more frugally.

"Since all schools are closed, my wife also decided to stay home with our son," he added.

For some teachers, having more free time is an "unexpected perk" they are trying to enjoy.

Instead of staying in Saigon, the reduced costs of many services have pushed some to travel. Tickets for some domestic flights have dropped to one-fifth of their regular prices.

Two weeks after Tet (January 23-29), knowing the closure would last till the end of February, Anthony flew to Da Lat, "an absolute bright side of the outbreak."

Tourists walk on the beach in the central province of Nha Trang on February 20. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc.

On a Nha Trang beach, a daughter is perched comfortably on her father's shoulder, February 20, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc.

"I also stay in a 4-star hotel at an unbelievably low price," he confessed.

The tourist hotspot saw 10,000 room bookings canceled in February since the coronavirus outbreak several weeks ago, felling prices.

Though the long break may hurt their wallets, some teachers support the move to keep children at home amid the deadly epidemic, with a number offering online tuition to compensate.

"It is interesting because university students are all used to conference calls; I give them online lessons and the deadline for homework once a week," 31-year-old English teacher in Saigon's District 3, Adam Evans, said. During the last three weeks, he stayed at home or goes to a coffee shop to prepare for his lessons, sometimes hanging out with his friends.

"At the end of the day, this is a case of finding ways to make the best of a bad situation," said Evans.

As a night owl, the British teacher now enjoys the rare tranquility of Saigon's Bui Vien Street and hopes his English center would open soon.

"I miss the kids, that's all. This epidemic also reminds me of the importance of saving money, which I did, thank God."

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