Milk of human kindness: Locals help expats survive Covid

By Dang Khoa, Long NguyenAugust 29, 2021 | 04:36 pm PT
Amid the month-long Covid-19 lockdown in HCMC, locals are helping foreigners navigate the restrictions, in many cases ensuring they get food and vaccination.

Andrew Scott has not stepped out of home since July, and has been ordering food from a nearby supermarket.

Last weekend, after coming to know about a tightening of coronavirus restrictions which would require people to shelter in place, he rushed to the supermarket to buy groceries, but there was nothing left.

"But I am lucky my landlord later gave me meat, rice and eggs," the Australian, an English teacher in District 11, says.

He also receives help from housemates in getting food.

"We share our food, so no one will go hungry and can overcome the lockdown together."

He is among thousands of foreigners in HCMC who have got help from locals amid the lockdown, which has impacted their incomes and even mental health.

As of Monday, the city has had some 210,000 cases of Covid-19 in the current outbreak, and nearly 8,500 deaths.

A Briton wanders in HCMCs District 1 after losing his English teaching job in the pandemic. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

A Briton wanders in HCMC's District 1 after losing his English teaching job in the pandemic. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Due to the language barrier and overwhelming number of online orders, many expats struggle to buy food and groceries. But their landlords and local friends are helping out.

Jongrak Choi, a South Korean, says he feels safer after receiving food necessities from his neighbors and local authorities.

"The neighbors know we are foreigners and help us a lot. I am touched by the kindness of the Vietnamese."

Ward officials have been providing food in areas where people are prohibited from leaving their house.

Michal, an English teacher from Slovakia who refused to reveal his full name, too says local authorities helped him when his area was in the red zone.

"We got some vegetables, instant noodles, eggs, and rice."

But with the pandemic causing his income to dry up, he returned home last December.

Meanwhile, many expats have been able to learn about the vaccination campaign and get vaccinated thanks again to help from locals.

Singaporean Jordan Ng was notified about the vaccination in his neighborhood by his landlord, enabling him and his housemate could get their shots in time.

"My landlord is very helpful."

He plays the piano to calm himself and his housemate.

Daniel Evans, an English teacher in Thu Duc City, also got help from his Vietnamese neighbors for filling the vaccination registration form and traveling to the vaccination site.

"They are so nice that they got me fruits and cooling pads, worrying I would get a fever after my first shot," he says.

As HCMC made its coronavirus restrictions more stringent, many locals have been helping foreigners prepare for them.

Last Friday, when Simon Wilson was working in his living room, his landlord sent a message in a Facebook group, telling her guests about new restrictions that require people to stay at home and get food delivered by military personnel.

He immediately went to a supermarket to buy some groceries.

"Thanks to her message in the group chat, I knew what was going on and could prepare for the stringent lockdown," he says.

In many buildings in Thao Dien Ward, District 2, where many expats live, people have received tickets to order food through local authorities.

"I do not tend to stock up on stuff because I know there are a lot of people who need food during the lockdown, and I feel at ease when local authorities help me and others buy things we need," Wilson says.

To support expats better, the HCMC people's committee has recently decided to check the number of foreign residents who face difficulties in covering their living expenses and have not been vaccinated in town.

Robin Deepu (middle) and his friends give free meals to people, July 27, 2021. Photo courtesy of Robin Deepu

Robin Deepu (middle) and his friends give free meals to people, July 27, 2021. Photo courtesy of Robin Deepu

Lie low or leave

According to statistics from embassies and consulates, more than 200,000 foreigners live and work in HCMC.

As coronavirus risks grow and a month-long lockdown causes economic woes, the dream expat life has soured for many, and some have decided to leave.

Michal in Slovakia worries his girlfriend and their cat Luma might have to stay in Vietnam longer since they are unable to get their documents sorted out amid the lockdown.

On a Facebook group for expats, many members ask others how they could get to Tan Son Nhat International Airport amid the lockdown and nighttime restrictions.

While many expats have boarded planes, some are trying to keep a positive mindset while staying back.

Like locals, many have turned to new hobbies and activities like cooking, reading, helping people, and listening to broadcasts to avoid feeling low.

Trevor Long, a Covid survivor, has been bonding with his six-year-old son George and has set up a gym at their home in Thao Dien to keep both of them occupied.

"Maybe a positive life habit he can take out of it by the end too," Long wrote on his Facebook.

Robin Deepu, owner of an Indian restaurant in District 2, keeps making thousands of free meals every day for poor people and healthcare workers even when he and his staff cannot deliver them due to the shortage of new travel permits.

He tells VnExress International: "I call hospitals and tell them to come to my restaurant to pick up the food. I will keep cooking."

Many of those staying back believe that as long as people adopt strict preventative measures and get vaccinated, the outbreak will be contained.

"I cannot abandon the life I have built here just because times are tough," Jarred Srot, an English teacher in District 6, says.

"Vietnam has been good to me and I want to be good to Vietnam in return. I miss my family terribly but I have a family here too."

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