2020 was our first full year in retirement and everything went mostly according to plan. Ho hum, just another year in the books. I’m kidding, obviously. Instead, our resolve was tested, both mentally and financially. We learned way more than we ever wanted to know about coronaviruses and how they spread. And we received a stark reminder of all of the things that we normally take for granted, like freedom of movement.
A few months ago I learned about an interesting visa option. Taiwan offers a specialized resident visa (like a US Green Card) called the Gold Card. The resident designation for this visa is an important distinction. While almost no country is accepting tourists at the moment, most all of them accept their residents. This includes Taiwan. My initial research showed that both Katie and I should meet the qualifications. The visa is a long term one, valid for up to 3 years. That means that we could stop doing the monthly “visa dance” here in Vietnam while getting to travel to a new country. Even the application price was very reasonable at ~$300 each. It almost seemed too good to be true.
Over the last 18 months we have learned a number of delicious lessons about how to cook in a small Asian kitchen. We both enjoy cooking, but it can be challenging to make full meals from limited appliances and space. When we first arrived in Bangkok way back in June 2019, we wanted to take advantage of the abundant cheap produce that was available. More recently, we’ve been forced to cook during COVID quarantine restrictions that not only kept us home, but closed all restaurants too. Luckily, we had perfected our techniques by then, so we still ate well. Here’s what we’ve learned over the last 18 months.
We arrived in central Vietnam way back in mid-February, coinciding with the beginning of the dry season. We started with a wonderful month in Hoi An. The sun and warmth really brightened our moods after coming from the cold and dreary north. When we moved 15 miles (25 km) away to Danang in mid-March, the weather got even better. It was hot and sunny everyday. Even the afternoon thunderstorm that’s a common feature in the tropics was a rare event. But that’s not the case anymore. Rainy season is here.
There are a lot of challenging things about traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although I should probably put “traveling” in quotes, as we’re not moving from place to place right now. We have to deal with standard virus prevention measures like everyone else, but being in a foreign country also presents its own unique issues. While I realize that everyone is experiencing problems during this trying time, I felt like I should document mine.
For the last two months, we have been living our day-to-day life very much like we were not in the middle of a global pandemic. This is not because we are defying common sense, but because Vietnam was COVID-free. There had been zero cases of community transmission for 100 days. This allowed all of the locals, including us, to relax. With the borders closed and no transmission happening, Vietnam had essentially eliminated the Coronavirus. This meant everyone could resume living mostly normal lives. That was until another infection cluster popped up out of nowhere to burst our worry-free bubble.
When we arrived in Danang on March 11th, Vietnam was ramping up its efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. While the country had been taking the coronavirus seriously all along, things were becoming more urgent. PSA banners had been hung on light poles of every major street and daily announcements were made over loudspeakers. Restaurants, coffee shops, and other non-essential businesses were ordered to be closed. Shortly after that, masks were required in all public places, indoors and out.
It was just over one year ago that Katie and I vacated our last permanent residence to become nomads. Prior to leaving, we spent a lot of time thinking about what this new life would be like. Since we were undertaking such a radical lifestyle change, it was impossible to know exactly what we would experience. All of our ideas were just educated guesses. A few months prior to leaving, I wrote down a bunch of these expectations. I’ll share these below and compare them to the realities of life in SE Asia. Let’s see how close I got.
Since April 1, Vietnam has been under lockdown. People are only supposed to leave the house for essential purposes. This allows going to the grocery store, pharmacy, or to work at an essential job, but not much else. Restaurants and malls are closed. Even the beach here in Danang has been roped off to keep people away. Of course everywhere around the world people are sharing a similar experience right now. It seems like stay at home orders have been instituted in most every country.
Our Vietnam visa was about to run out. Even though we used a professional agent to facilitate an extension, I wasn’t sure if it was actually going to happen. We turned our passports over to the agent on Saturday March 21st. Despite being repeatedly promised that our visa extension would be taken care of, up until this morning, our status was still in limbo. However we just received notice that our extensions have been granted which allowed us to breathe a gigantic sigh of relief. It was also just in time for the country to go into full lockdown mode.