It is laborious to interrupt away from the lifestyle right here. You’re attracted by the buddies, alternatives and the local weather


Seán Boyle grew up outside of Ballymoney, Co Antrim. In 2012 he moved to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to teach and explore the country. “One year turned into nine and I spent that time immersing myself in the local football scene, teaching math and working as a freelance copywriter.”

The world doesn’t seem as small as it did a year ago. In Ho Chi Minh City, if circumstances or homesickness so require, you can walk out the door and arrive at the back door of your parent’s home in less than 24 hours unconditionally. That is no longer the case. Home is further away than ever due to the lack of flights, health risks and quarantine-like obstacles. It’s sobering to talk to friends and family and realize that they feel equally cut off even though they’re just a short drive or flight away from each other.

In Ho Chi Minh City, if circumstances or homesickness require it, you can walk out the door and arrive at the back door of your parents’ home in less than 24 hours

Vietnam’s handling of the virus has gained international recognition, not as much as it deserves, but the low number of deaths and lack of community transmission are not mocked by people outside the country. Measures such as quarantine camps and restricted air travel saved us from major violations of our daily lives from a brief lockdown 12 months ago. People almost always wear masks in public, even though no Covid can be seen in the city.

Sean Boyle, his father Martin, his friend Linh Phan, his mother Margaret and his younger brother Niall on Hai Van Pass in 2018

There is still a sizable Irish among the ex-population of HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City; wide-eyed young ESL teachers, international school teachers on career break, an emerging business community, and a range of people from diverse backgrounds and careers) Contingency, Hopes and Dreams. Some are populated with families and others are not so populated, but are grateful for an irrefutable excuse not to splash around on flights. Long-term residents need to factor this new immobility and uncertainty of the future into the equation of where they are in want to be in the world.

Everyone agrees that we are lucky enough to be here in this little bubble. We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in a packed Irish pub with live music and (canned) Guinness, but it was a surreality. We sang and swayed and it felt like we were back home, but in Ireland the pubs and streets were almost empty. As in any Irish pub, there was a little guilt at the bottom of the glass.

It’s a little daunting to wonder how things could have changed from the last trip home to the next. What new social rules will surprise us?

It only takes one home visit to realize that people understandably have little interest in what is happening in a world far from theirs. Things go on and on. It’s a little daunting to wonder how things could have changed from the last trip home to the next. What new social rules will surprise us? Hearing family reunions with people stationed at four different corners of the garden and then not even that for months sounds more strange than anything else in Vietnam.

It’s hard to break away from the lifestyle here. The friends, possibilities, pace of life and the climate pull you deep into yourself. But for me it was always under the caveat and mantra of being here that home was less than a day away if it had to be. Now, when tragedy strikes, irregular flights and harsh impractices mean that sometimes people fail to make it back into the past. Saying goodbye to loved ones on a computer screen, heartbroken, helpless and homesick. There is no longer any fluidity. We can only hope that the introduction of the vaccine will change that, but people will have to make their own decisions when the clock is ticking.

Vietnam raised eyebrows by ordering nearly 120 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in place of the variant offered by its neighbors, and has also approved the Sputnik vaccine for use. You have four of your own vaccines in studies and want to have 70 percent of the over 90 million inhabitants vaccinated by 2022. This will happen with the talk of vaccination passports, which open the borders to investors, tourists and the Vietnamese stuck overseas. It seems that the bladder will be perforated at some point soon. For a tourism industry that accounts for 10 percent of total GDP, this would be a welcome boost for many of the country’s residents.

How vaccination records work and how much of the population will be vaccinated first remains to be seen. Because of Vietnam’s success in containing and almost completely eradicating the virus, there is a community with minimal immunity and a community with no urgent need for vaccines. Any step towards open borders too early is a threat to the population. After all they have achieved, it’s a high stakes balancing act.

As every year, many young Irish will be heading home in the summer with their year or two, other young men and women are coming the other way and starting a two-week quarantine welcome pack. However, it is currently a one-way trip in both directions. My long-awaited summer trip is now more of an extended Christmas visit. We are grateful to be here, safe and employed; Claustrophobia, itchy feet and dwindling tea supplies aside, there are worse places.

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