South Vietnam. 35 million people in lockdown. The district I live in is called Thao Dien, in Ho Chi Minh City, and here the 4th lockdown started more than two months ago; and is rumoured to continue for another month. The guards gave me a sheet of paper that says that I might step outside Mondays and Thursdays to buy necessities and medicine. I buy rice, potatoes, Cashew nuts, bánh mì, Alluvia dark chocolate, strawberry jam and Vitamin D supplements.
Early last year, when I arrived in South Vietnam, the Air Quality Index was bad. Really bad. Asia is often praised for its holistic, natural therapies, but most of Asia itself has no good concept for balance and nature. The WHO estimates that more than 60,000 deaths in Vietnam each year are linked to air pollution. Climate Central estimates that large parts of South Vietnam will be submerged as soon as 2050, as a result of climate change. Nobody cares. The big dream of owning land and becoming rich turns them blind, deaf and annihilates their sense of smell.
But now, the air is lovely.
The lockdowns grinded the economy to a halt. They bound the people’s hands and feet, took them to the ground, where they struggle in Tetanus like contractions, eagerly awaiting the uncuffing, bending and breaking the lockdown rules wherever possible.
But for now the air is lovely, supremely pleasant for a city of 9 million people. It’s a joy to open the windows and take in the fragrant scents of the Plumeria trees nearby, the river, the wind, the sweet wind. Even the rain smells wonderful again, promising refreshment, clearing away clouds from my brain. I stick my head out of the window when it starts pouring.
It’s quiet outside. The absolutely mental noise of Vietnamese traffic is gone – only now and then a mad driver pushes down hard on his horn to warn others of his speeding and reckless driving.
This week I’ve seen the first mosquito in a year. And a small spider, crawling in plain sight outside over my living room’s window. There’s more insects again. And there’s more birds again. Not many yet, but small flocks of 4 to 6 birds here and there, some fly from tree to tree, and some fly high up in the sky. Nature does have the capacity to recover—if we let her escape the death grip of mankind’s iron hand and iron will.
For now I can feel nature again, her soothing, comforting touch. I feel like a human again. I sit, I take long breaks, I download books, I look at the beautiful, many-coloured skies through my windows, I cook, I clean, I read, I read the updates on Pfizer and Moderna and what doctors and lawyers make of it, and I enjoy to be in Asia, in the eye of one of the hurricanes of climate change—Last Chance To See.