I love the smell of coffee in the morning without a face mask!

Hoi An has just lifted some of its COVID-19 restrictions and life is cranking up again. The kids are racing around on oversized bicycles, the Central Market is roaring back to noisy bartering, and bad jokes and food are being hacked to death on wet boards.

It’s all just in the nick of time, too. Judging from the slightly unhinged comments from expats on social media, it seems some of the darker side of my friends has risen to the surface. From rants about coronavirus conspiracies to wails of despair that one group gets to do this while the other group has to suffer in silence.

Urging compatriots to calm down and ignore all the visa fee doomsday warnings has taken up some of my time between grooming my dogs and telling the neighbors to pick their own damn leaves. It’s hard to stay focused on writing stories that don’t depress people when my mates seem to be losing it over things that are out of anyone’s control.

Expressing thoughts about what is happening back in your home countries is kind of counter-productive when you’re living in Vietnam. Have some banh me and a bowl of pho instead, which is guaranteed to chill you out when the world is in free fall.

The simple soothing act of watching the world go at a café or beach restaurant should be enough to convince anyone that you are in the right place for the right reason – Vietnam!

A man buys vegetables at a market in Hoi An, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam, September 13, 2020. Photo: Stivi Cooke

A man buys vegetables at a market in Hoi An, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam, September 13, 2020. Photo: Stivi Cooke

It’s amusing, however, when locals are back to their old ways: face masks but no helmets, loudspeakers blaring, and market streets where just one old lady loading up a motorbike with veggies and live chooks can jam an entire street. One thing will have to return to normal: we need less food stalls now! Ducking and weaving my way back home in the morning breakfast rush hour is getting dangerous with hungry kids and frazzled mums consuming hot bowls of noodles in seconds before racing to school.

The toy shops are still doing a brisk trade in time-occupying gadgets for kids awaiting school reopening. The shops have already started to sell those horrible toy drums for the Mid-Autumn Festival.  

Yet it’s lovely to see the early evening plastic chair group conversations on footpaths around town. It’s reassuring to watch people chat for hours over a bowl or two of something. While a foreigner might assume that local shops have died, many families here are busy making plans and looking to re-organize for business comebacks. The bars and cafés that some claim will never re-open are just biding their time. If you can cook, you’ll always be able to get another job in Hoi An.

The beach sites are starting up too and it’s funny to watch the tourists shuffling around the tables to keep their distance from others. It’s hard to relax when you have to be so wary! Unfortunately, the dreaded backpacker motorbike gangs are back, ignoring helmet requirements, failing to wear enough clothing to be modest in town, and believing that they will never have an accident. I think GoFundMe will be busy this and next year.

People gather at a market in Hoi An, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam, September 13, 2020. Photo: Stivi Cooke

People gather at a market in Hoi An, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam, September 13, 2020. Photo: Stivi Cooke

If COVID-19 could show us all how nice it would be to have a quieter and slower pace of life, it does however feel better to be in the middle of so much energy and determination to get on with life. I get exasperated by the litany of complaints on social and news media from the rest of the world. Where’s the toughness of our parents and grandparents who endured wars and economic depressions? Where’s the willingness to march and stand up for reasonableness and fairness for everyone? Have Westerners become total snowflakes?

But for the meanwhile, I continue to bask in the morning sunshine and coffee smells as the world whizzes around me. I still wear a face mask on the bike and sweat away in my full face helmet but I’m now free to roam around and be silly again.   

Wherever you are in Vietnam right now, at least savor the fact you’re in a pretty safe place – coronvirus-wise – compared to the unending mismanagement of the pandemic overseas. There’s still the possibility of other periods of restrictions around central Vietnam but while the opening-up of life is available, I’m lapping it up for all it’s worth. Even my dogs are thrilled to have people to bark at, instead of empty streets!

Yep, even if this moment of normalcy doesn’t last for long, it is a sigh of relief.