These days there is a huge kerfuffle in my hood in Da Lat as the ‘bung binh’ (roundabout or traffic circle) is being replaced by (wonder of all wonders):

The renovation site is a gargantuan mess with no noticeable emphasis on safety, with us locals literally crawling over, under, and around obstacles with the agility of mountain goats (that gem plagiarized from an alert reader comment, I confess), dodging diggers, dump trucks, holes, and trenches whilst traffic whizzes by as if nothing was going on.

To add to the spirit of adventure, the configuration of gangplanks that span the various moats in front of my building changes constantly, so when I alight, what was there a few hours ago is absent, replaced by another such device in another location.

Short crawl to the corner store

Short crawl to the corner store

I can’t wait to see what happens when the light is installed and functioning.

I imagine an initial period of strict compliance, no doubt keenly monitored by traffic authorities, followed by the customary anarchy, with drivers gliding through the red light when the coast is more or less clear, a manoeuvre referred to as a ‘Quebec stop’ in my native Canada.

All rather feral, par for the course in a country still very much in the development cycle, but when a catastrophe arises, the Vietnamese jump on it with both feet and wrestle it to the ground.

I first came across the whole COVID-19 nightmare quite by accident, the date permanently etched on my mind. On January 6, 2020, I bumped into an innocuous little item in my daily news feeds mentioning a viral outbreak of unknown origin in a wet market in Wuhan, China.

The blurb I read was short and innocent enough, but there was an ominous, eerie tone to it, so I published it on my social media fan page, which is normally reserved for travel and expat updates from Vietnam and around Southeast Asia.

The first thing that popped into my mind was: “Holy cow, if that thing gets into Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi with all their congested neighbourhoods and little alleys, we’re in big trouble.”

The populace put on quite a show (as I fully expected), locking down this, barricading that, testing and tracking, issuing and enforcing travel passes, volunteering effort, dedication, and teamwork, thus squashing each threat that popped up.

So far, so good, until the deadly Delta variant surfaced earlier this year. It’s a war like any other, a battle to the death in many cases, and if any country understands those challenges, it’s Vietnam. But the pandemic has taken its toll on all of us in one way or another, and it’s far from over.

Even my nurse buddy in Ho Chi Minh City (forever a hero and role model in my eyes) started to waver at one point, confiding “I’m just a normal girl, I can only give my very best.”

There is absolutely nothing normal about her, but she never understands it, perceiving herself as absolutely run-of-the-mill average, while shrugging her heroics off.  

I wouldn’t last a single shift doing her job, maybe not even an hour, never mind day after day during the worst nightmare any of us could imagine.

Naysayers were quick to point out that the government was slow in gaining traction on the vaccine front, and that’s true, but with only 35 deaths and a few thousand cases several months ago, the situation seemed to be in control.  

Highly developed countries also not deeply affected by earlier waves of the virus, although equipped with all the resources they could possibly require, were slow in taking up the vaccine charge; most notably Japan, Australia, Canada, the Republic of Korea, and many others.

Therefore, Vietnam, with a large population and less financial means to acquire expensive antidotes made halfway around the world, naturally followed suit. 

Initially it was thought that the vaccines were the proverbial silver bullet, the magical potion that would stop the virus from spreading, putting us back in the world we knew and loved.

It turned out that the vaccines do not stop the virus from infecting those vaccinated, nor do they stop the virus from spreading.   

We’re consoled to a degree that although vaccine efficacy varies by brand and strain of COVID-19, the vaccines most certainly reduce the risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and death, at least in a large percentage of situations.

Original doses of the vaccines appear to be effective for between five and eight months, after which administering a supplemental ‘booster’ shot is now gaining popularity.

Understandably, a lot of information is still trickling out from authorities and experts around the world because we’re dealing with an unprecedented outbreak of a new virus.

If all that leaves you confused, fear not, you are not alone. Many experts are confused as well due to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic.

All that notwithstanding, we forge ahead and play the hand we’re dealt, knowing that both our personal level of safety and that of those around us are increased upon vaccination.

As a foreigner in a developing country that relies greatly on donations from wealthier countries for much of its vaccine supply, I didn’t count on getting vaccinated at all, never mind early in the cycle.

Not only are all us foreigners getting vaccinated but, at least where I live, we’re also somewhere very near the front of the queue. Those in the know explained to me that vaccinating foreigners early on in the cycle is a gesture of gratitude because our countries have donated so many doses to Vietnam.

How about that for a class move?

Thank you, Vietnam, you never cease to amaze me.

Hang on, it gets even better.  

My landlord contacted me a few weeks ago stating that local ward authorities had requested us to sign on for vaccination, so I gladly provided my details thinking it would be months before anything really happened.

Then came an update the other day stating a car would ferry two of us tenants (my travel partner was a hilarious Thai neighbour) off to the vaccination center the next day, and away we went.

Upon arrival at the center – a converted school auditorium – we were greeted by staff members and peppered with questions: “May I have your passport, sir? Is this your first jab of the COVID-19 vaccine?” Authorities then armed us with a couple of forms to complete.

When we’d finished the forms, we were ushered to the front of the queue. We were damn grateful to be getting the jab at all, and would  have waited the whole day for it.

The staff were spectacular – the typical sterile, creepy, institutional atmosphere noticeably absent. They peppered us with more questions, all posed in a gentle, sympathetic tone: “Do you have preconditions, sir? How is your general health? Do you have any allergies? How do you feel today, sir?”

Hell, I was nearly expecting a warm hug as they sent us onward to the blood pressure station.

Then a tiny, hunched over elderly lady appeared and we all scrambled to make room for her, like the proverbial parting of the Red Sea. We all clucked and carried on, fussing over her until she was safely in place on the podium, where three jabbing stations had been set up.

As the old saying goes: “Nobody wants to hear about the labor pains, they just want to see the baby.”

Sure enough, the diminutive nurse stabbed that syringe into my left arm with a squeeze and a gentle, matronly touch and, just like that, it was all over.

Printers whirred away, papers were shuffled around, and in no time flat I was out of the center with a certificate in hand. The only effect was a slight feeling of sluggishness later in the day coupled with minor shoulder pain.

Let’s ignore the little warts and inefficiencies we come across in daily life in Vietnam such as that disaster of a construction site, instead taking comfort in the knowledge that when the chips are down and lives are at stake, Vietnam picks up its end of the stick.