So last night, I was drinking beer with an ex-monk and today, I was starring in a Tom Cruise movie at the Vientiane airport in Laos. All hell broke loose as the Covid-19 virus spun out of control around the world. Since I am not in my passport country or the place where I have a living permit (China) and have been recycling the same four pairs of undergarments since January, and there is no end in sight to the hysteria, I agreed. It was time to blow this pop stand.
“Hmm,” I called my director while looking at various flights this week, trying to find one with a glutton free Vegetarian meal. Not as good as my last meal in Vang Vieng– an avocado sandwich and a mango shake.
“Ginger,” my director warned, “Get out tomorrow. Flights will close.”
She is in quarantine in China—not self-quarantine, but is staying at a government hotel with not much more to do than to help her staff in crisis.
As I got to the airport, all flights were cancelled but mine and the hoops one had to go through to secure a seat was more numerous than the legs of flights I will be taking to get to Grand Rapids Michigan (6).
A few backpackers were crying as they walked away from the ticket counter without a boarding pass. Security guards had to calm down a Thai man who was crying because he couldn’t get back into Thailand.
“It’s my country! Why won’t they help me!”
As I watched, I tried to social distance with a backpacker behind me, she tugging at her too-short cut-offs. I didn’t want to know what orifice the Corona Virus could creep up.
“Glad I have a ticket,” I wiped my brow, well tried, as it was awkward in a face mask.
“You need more than a ticket,” she said. “They announced today that Thailand changed their rules today. You need a health certificate, a letter from your insurance agency—”
I didn’t hear anything else except for a crying girl from Belgium. She looked scared. I wonder what her parents were thinking, the horrible call that she would have to make to them. Would I have to make that same sort of call to my sisters in Michigan, especially after they found me a cool Air BnB for self- quarantine? I checked my watch. I looked at the cancelled flights. I thought of the panic in the capital of the poor country. “I need what?”
“You gotta go to the hospital and have a health check up.”
My heart sunk. I tried not to panic. A lump the size of a boarding pass formed in my stomach.
Then another quip from a tourist…
“I called the Embassy. They said, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you. Things are closing up.”
My mind went to the rat lady I saw in Vang Vieng, selling skinned rats to eat at the market. She won’t be so unpopular anymore.
Our conversation was interrupted by the screaming of a another tourist. More teary eye back-packers.
I tried to breath deeply but didn’t want to in fear that the virus would penetrate my mask and pink rain coat.
Another American backpacker pulled out his phone. “There’s a health clinic pretty close to here. They were pretty quick. Go for it.”
So I got out of line, jumped into a cab, and went to the Alliance Health Clinic.Twenty minutes and a swipe of a VISA card later, I was back in the ticket line…only to have to get the dreaded insurance letter.
Funny how a third world country offers free WIFI but O’Hare does not.
In the midst of this apocolyptic craziness，my phone ring. The face of one of my first graders pops up on screen.
“No Arron…Ms Sins can’t hear about your new toy right now.”
I successfully jumped through these impossible hoops and got my six boarding passes. As I walked to Border control, I glanced one last time at the Belgium girl.
Instead of practising social distancing in the deserted blue bin area，our belongings tumbled over each other as they left the scanner.
God help us.
It was hard to believe that the night before I was drinking beer with an ex-monk on top of the rooftop In Vang Vieng. I was the only guest in the hotel, Laos being hit in the gut with the lack of Asian tourists. Just me, the night manager day manager and John, who traded his Safron robe for the role of evening manager.
We sat on the roof, enjoying the view and breeze, both free of mosquitoes. The back of the old Wat glittered under the star light.
“So, what was it like being a monk?”
“I studied from the age of 14-23.Sometimes, if I was by myself, I would play with my phone or listen to music.”
And, I surmised, as hard as he tried to mediate, he still thought of girls.
We clinked our Laos beers.
Back at the airport, I see other passengers from the postcards in my mind. The French couple who was on top of motorcycle mountain.
Don’t ask we why, but if you brave the climb to the top of this mountain, there are two motorcycles lodged in the rocks. You can sit on them if you dare, that is, if your heart didn’t stop on the climb up.
I did find out if you want good news about borders, forget the Embassy. Hang out at a hostel. Backpackers know the latest.
But that was yesterday and the night before. Now, I’m in Tokyo, which takes this corona virus thing about as seriously as Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok.
We were all in face masks except for an old guy spitting on the floor.