On 15 July around 9pm, my proprietor knocked on our doors and uttered the dreaded words, “Our area is on lockdown from midnight tonight”. I scrambled into action, preparing big groceries bags, helmet and raincoat to brace the heavy downpour and raced to Tops supermarket for what would be the last sense of freedom for the near future.

Thankfully, the Thao Dien Tops supermarket was still operating and the shelves were not as bare as I had expected. It was a balance of buying enough to last for 2 to 3 weeks, fit into my medium sized fridge and balance my motorcycle at the same time. Predictably, there were some shelves that had been wiped out, namely the vegetables, bread and meat sections to name a few.

Barriers setting up in Thao Dien - District 2
Barriers setting up in Thao Dien - District 2 @ Jovel Chan / Vietnam Is Awesome

At midnight, the barriers (some of which even had barbed wire) came up as advised and lockdown had begun. With immediate effect, our little neighborhood, which had become a ghost town in recent weeks, grew even more eerily quiet as police guards and sanitation officers guarded these barriers around the clock and roamed the streets. For the next few days, it took some time to adjust to the boundaries of our lock-down area where nothing but a convenience store (limited to three people inside at a time) and a pharmacy were open. The streets that were ever busy with life even until late at night were replaced by a ghostly silence. Gone were the buzzing late night stalls serving cheap beer, street food and loud music.

Community Distribution of Basic Essentials 

Within the next few days of walking around the neighborhood, I had observed some neighbors distributing basic essentials of vegetables, packages of food supplies and baguettes. My immediate neighbors with their micro businesses, a motorcycle washing shop, a motorcycle repair business, a laundry shop and a machining shop to name a few. The familiar faces whom I greeted daily had their eyes filled with despair as the days went by. Mounting bills to pay, but no available source of income due to the drastic impact of Ho Chi Minh’s lockdown. As an expat who is working for a local international school, many a time I felt privileged that my school was still providing us with a salary though many of us had to take a drastic pay cut. 

Vendors sell food in Facebook Group
Vendors sell food in Facebook Group @ Tôi là Dân Thảo Điền Group
Community volunteers working with the local authority to collect and re-distribute food for residents locked down in their houses
Community volunteers working with the local authority to collect and re-distribute food for residents locked down in their houses @ Jovel Chan / Vietnam is Awesome

During our lock down, we spent the time binge watching movies, videos and reading online news. As outdoor exercises were banned, we found an interesting YouTube channel called, ‘Trap Cardio’, which consists of an energetic, bubbly Zumba instructor by the name of Ashley. 

Leaving the compound to get vaccinated

On 24 July Saturday morning, we had to head out for our vaccination centre, which was 15 minutes away by motorcycle. My heart was filled with anxiety that the police officers at the barrier would restrict us. As the saying goes, ‘it’s much easier than what you assume’. We parked our motorcycle at the side of the barrier, showed our names on the vaccination list via hand phone to the police officer in charge and were waved through the barriers easily. As a precaution, do bring your passports for identification and the contact of someone who is fluent in Vietnamese as a backup.

At the centre, we found out from our other colleague that some taxis were still working and only allowed to travel to selected places such as the hospital and medical quarantine centres. She had managed to book a car, which costs 400,000 VND/single trip. For those who do not ride, try to hitch a ride with your friend or colleague living nearby to the vaccination centre. The re-entry was smooth too as we explained to the police officer that we lived within the lock-down area and had been on our vaccination jabs. 

Expats get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Vietnam
Expats get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Vietnam @ ZingNews

We were fortunate enough to withdraw money from the ATM. For the forecasted lock-down, we had withdrawn 10 million VND to buy supplies from our local convenience stall, GS 25. Due to this unique situation, GS 25 stocked up on essential supplies such as boxes of soft drinks, bottled water, instant noodles and certain vegetables such as leafy vegetables and frozen meat to name a few. Grocery food delivery was still available and the pick-up locations were at the barriers. Our proprietor was kind enough to provide a local contact. We placed our groceries delivery in Vietnamese (Thank you Translate.com) and our delivery arrived the next day. 

Another photo of lockdown area in Thao Dien - District 2
Another photo of lockdown area in Thao Dien - District 2 @ Jovel Chan / Vietnam Is Awesome

When the road barriers were finally removed on 26 July, I was exhausted and face down on my bed, fighting the knockout punch of the Astrazeneca’s side effects. The shopping visit to Tops the next day was like sweet manna. To be able to walk freely in the supermarket and breathe in the numerous smells of fresh bread, cheese, vegetables and meat. Stay strong Vietnam, my adopted home! We will overcome this together!