As we mourn those that we’ve lost, so must we make efforts looking forward without dishonoring the sacrifices made. The world does not wait.
It’s been nearly 2 weeks since I wrote about deciding when it would be prudent to begin heading outside more regularly: It’s not about what we do but how we do it. Because the numbers in my part of NYC have remained low since, I take responsible steps forward for the sake of my own mental health.
I also first-handedly can correlate my on-the-ground experience this week in my ERs with what I have gathered from the city’s numbers: A respite has held; with every breath humanity holds in, a catharsis must soon follow.
The promise I made to myself a fortnight ago may have been lost in my talk on silent hypoxia so here it is again:
Watch the numbers in your area when things start opening up — if overall infection rates stay consistently low after 2-3 weeks (the average incubation time it takes from exposure to symptoms), then that might be the cue to take the next step towards restarting. Take this with a grain of salt as that threshold would differ depending on your personal risk tolerance, living situation, and life circumstances. And if you decide to take that step outside, I suggest that you still proceed with caution: Maintain hygiene standards (wash your hands with soap & water, “say it don’t spray it,” etc.), be aware when touching others, keep clear of crowds, and avoid small tightly packed interiors with minimal air flow. In other words: always look out for the safety of yourself and others. Don’t be a dick.
However, if infection rates in your area have instead surged up during or after those 2-3 weeks, then you know you’re not yet in the clear, the virus doesn’t care about the weather, and you had a fortnight head start with staying inside and safe from exposure.
I continue to hold myself accountable: With the % positive for COVID-19 decreasing despite an increasing number testing in NYC (you‘d instead expect to find more infections with more testing, UNLESS we’re improving the Rø, aka decreasing the virus’ contagiousness), I take a deep breath of my own and take one step out into a new unknown. This is how my life goes on.
The following is a guest post by twice monsooner Ambrose Chu, who graciously asked if he could contribute to the Monsoon Diaries adventures.
Ambrose first discovered us when googling how to obtain a tourist visa for Iran. He reached out and met me in NYC to see if we were the real deal. Two trips later, Ambrose has proven himself a dedicated monsooner and is now one of our guest contributors. Here is his story.
FYI Please do not use this article as legal advice, the purpose of this article is to show how he got his visa to Vietnam and his personal experience with the Vietnamese immigration authorities when he departed Vietnam.
A couple of weeks ago I used Vietnam E-Visa Site to apply for a multiple entry visa. I paid stamping fee and signed up for an airport “fast-track” service (to skip the line) since my transit was less than 3 hours. I then got a visa approval letter via e-mail the day after, which I needed to show to the Vietnamese immigration authorities when I arrived.
December 15th, 1:30 PM—When checking into my Vietnam Airlines flight from Hong Kong to Siem Reap via a layover in Saigon, I was asked by the Vietnamese Airlines agent if I had a Vietnamese visa. So when I produced the visa approval letter, I got back a broken record:
“That letter will not work. You need to apply for visa at a Vietnamese embassy and get the visa beforehand, there’s reports that these letters do not work. You can try, but it will not work.”
That made me a little worried, mainly because I didn’t know whether to trust the website I used or the Vietnam Airlines ticket agents in Hong Kong. They nevertheless let me head to the gate and board for my flight for Vietnam. At that time, I was hoping that the ticket agents in Hong Kong would be wrong, otherwise, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get my Vietnamese visa and continue with my travels.
Ho Chi Minh City
December 15th, 5:15 PM – Once my plane touched down in Saigon, I grabbed my bags, got my passport out, and readied my visa approval letter. When I arrived at the immigration section, a young Vietnamese man dressed like a hipster was holding a sign with my name on it. I showed the man my passport and the visa approval letter.
He then smiled, took both, and escorted me to a counter in the immigration section where after waiting for 15 minutes and paying $5 USD to have my picture taken, I got my passport back with the visa inside.
I was relieved, but I had to run to the boarding gate before 6:20 PM for my flight to Siem Reap at 7:10 PM. Since I didn’t want to risk standing in line clearing immigration and going through security again, I walked over to my connecting flight. By 10:00 PM, I was already in Siem Reap, partying with my new travel buddies.
December 18th, 9:00 AM – After a great day at the beach in Nha Trang, I returned to Saigon for my connecting flight to Hong Kong. The past few days — with Dave Zhou leading a joint Monsoon Diaries/GN Tours trip — were a whirlwind. Within a period of five days, I visited Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Saigon and Nha Trang in Vietnam with four travelers that turned out to be really wonderful. Admittedly, I was a little sad that I had to leave my new friends so soon but I was also looking forward to a relaxing weekend in Hong Kong with relatives and friends.
After standing in line and going through security for about 20 minutes, I proceeded through immigration and handed in my passport to the Vietnamese immigration officer. The immigration officer looked young, probably in his early twenties. After a few minutes, he began to flip through all of the pages of my passport looking for something. I began to wonder why he was looking through the next 30 pages of my empty passport.
The young immigration officer then called over another immigration officer, and began talking with him in Vietnamese. I didn’t understand anything that they were saying. The other immigration officer took my passport then motioned me to follow him to a bunch of doors leading to the interrogation rooms. I was beginning to feel worried.
Fortunately, I was stopped several meters away. An older, more experienced officer arrived. The following conversation ensued:
“When did you enter Vietnam? Visa says you entered on the 13th, but stamp says you entered on the 15th. Where were you from the 13th to 15th?”
“I was in Cambodia on the 13th to 15th.”
“But you enter Vietnam on the 13th! And you enter on the Vietnam 15th! How you get visa on the 13th?”
“I got the visa at the airport on the 13th. I flew from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh on the 13th.”
“You have your ticket?”
I showed the superior officer the boarding pass from my December 13th flight from Hong Kong to Saigon.
“You entered Vietnam on the 13th, but stamp says you entered Vietnam on the 15th, where were you from the 13th to 15th?!”
“I was in Cambodia on the 13th to the 15th. I got my Vietnam visa on the 13th, I didn’t leave the airport, because I had to fly to Cambodia.”
I showed the superior officer my Cambodia visa and the entry stamps proving that I was in Cambodia on the 13th to the 15th.
I also showed him the boarding pass from my flight from Saigon to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Then the superior officer grumblingly said:
“OK, next time you get the visa, you go through immigration.”
I was then escorted back where the younger immigration officer looked at my passport, got a confused look on his face, and then sought help from a female immigration officer sitting next to him. He gave her my passport, and she briefly looked at my Vietnam visa, Cambodia visa, and the entry stamps, after which she gesticulated to the young (and I assume inexperienced) immigration officer to just stamp my passport.
The young immigration officer, however, kept shaking his head, snapped at the female immigration officer, grabbed my passport and ran to the other side of the immigration section of the airport. I then followed him once more to see the older officer lecturing the younger officer. Suffice to say, my passport then got stamped.
So in retrospect, the Hong Kong staff of Vietnam Airlines was partially wrong about my visa on arrival not being accepted. And if you are transiting through a Vietnamese airport, but plan to come back to Vietnam by land or plane within several days, it’s worth paying the extra money for the airport “fast-track” service from the website.
However, if you have extra time and your Vietnam visa is a multiple entry visa, it might be worthwhile to go through immigration and return to the airport for your connecting flight. That way, you’ll avoid this kind confusion with the Vietnamese immigration authorities when you leave Vietnam, but I believe I may have had a very special case with a very inexperienced Vietnamese immigration officer.
Although my time here was really short, I had a great time with my new friends in Saigon and Nha Trang, and I really look forward to returning to Vietnam.
It’s about to begin again. This will be our largest group of travelers to our coldest itinerary with 6 days in single digit Fahrenheit weather (uhm, 18 people died last week in Ukraine’s cold snap) through the most depressing sights in Ukraine and Poland. They used to say “Don’t invade Russia in the winter.” Well, this will be our closest chance to do so.
A lot more crazy people are going this time: Krystle heads to Kiev first today, alone.
The next day it’s a group of 9 that’ll meet her in Kiev: Mandy, Maria, Olgi, Jennifer, Simon, Andrew, Ruchika, Alana, and Ying.
Then they take an overnight bus to Odessa where they’ll meet Carolyn, who’s coming in from London and the 5 final others to officially begin the trip: Ry, Jan, Cynthia, Charmant, and myself.
The 16 of us (hopefully) finally take an overnight train back up to Kiev where we rendezvous with Gareth (yes, the same one from Iran and North Korea) of YPT to head on out westwards into Poland.
The theme of our trip in Poland
But you don’t care about that. You care about what we’re about to see. You care about this funny little thing called “dark tourism.” And some of you might care whether or not we’re nervous about what’s to come.
Perhaps. But that’s part of the fun, right?
Wish us luck.
- At time of posting in New York City, Central Park, it was 2 °C -
Humidity: 53% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: overcast
I am fully preparing to jump into a monsoon in two weeks’ time.
That is to say that I will be traveling with sixteen fellow backpackers and one Calvin Sun, whose rousing story and headstrong travel philosophy – “monsooning” – were recently featured in USA Today. The trajectory of this particular monsoon will take us from Odessa, Ukraine to Warsaw, Poland over five days. Destinations include Chernobyl and nearby Pripyat, an ICBM nuclear missile silo, and Auschwitz concentration camp. Highlights include travel by sleeper train for four of the five nights and average temperatures in the 20s, sandwiched by 19+ hours of transcontinental travel. In typical Calvin fashion, this torrential downpour commences on New Years Eve – the proverbial cherry on top, in the form of a giant LED-and-crystal ball dropping in New York City.
In my excitement, I have told a multitude of people about my upcoming adventure. Some widen their eyes in shared excitement; others drop their faces in confusion or disbelief. (I also realize that some in the former camp are only feigning interest to mask their sympathies toward the latter.) And yet, no matter the judgment, the question remains: “Why?”
Most times I answer simply. “Just to travel,” I might say as I shrug my shoulders, relieving them of the more involved response, the one I quietly think back to in that moment – the one I regard as perhaps the time that led to the unfolding of the event in question.
I peeled my sweat-stained skirt from where I had been sitting on it. Then I peeled my bare limbs from the leather seat to reach my crinkled baht to the chatty taxi driver. I recall these terribly mundane details because they are paired with the memory of the sudden onset of a terrible sinking feeling. Perhaps it was the ominous line of people wrapped around our destination. It could have also been the documents that seemingly all of said people were holding. Documents that my travel partner Ryan and I didn’t have. We had just left Ko Phangan for Bangkok to apply for an express visa into Myanmar. To add anxiety to ignorance, it was rumored that there was a limit on how many visas would be given out per day (or it could have been that this was visibly documented, I really cannot remember now). Flying by the seats of our pants had worked out nicely for me and Ry since the start of our Southeast Asian trek, which is why we hadn’t thought twice when we’d booked our tickets the night prior. Our flight to Myanmar’s former capital was set to depart in just over 24 hours.
I met Tiger Fang in this line (yes, that is in fact his real name). Tiger, a New York City transplant from Hawaii, was there for the same reason though he allotted more time for the gamble with 48 hours to spare. He was easy and interesting to talk to, and doubled as a welcomed distraction from my foreign fretting. As the story goes we were all awarded our visas later that afternoon and the three of us rendezvoused in Yangon two days later. From there we moved at a dizzying pace through temple ruins in Bagan, rural outings round Inle Lake, and back again (ending in one of the strangest nights out in my life).