Arrival: Returning to Vietnam During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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As the death toll caused by Covid-19 in the UK rose gradually and soon reached a staggering 45.000, I thought of booking a ticket to fly back home. Flights during this uncertain time were indeed extremely rare. I had missed the 17/3 flight and the 14/4 flight before, so I had to make sure that I would definitely make it back home—this time. I reread the details from the Embassy and replied to their emails as soon as they were sent. I almost couldn’t get the ticket again due to the sudden change of the route and the Embassy’s slow response.

However, after all the trials, I found myself on the Boeing 787 Jet, flight VN50 heading back home, after four agonizing hours waiting at Heathrow, jumping back and forth between the ground level, the 2nd and 5th floors. The airport was packed with Vietnamese travelers.

Catherine snaps a photo at the airport.

Vietnam, Everywhere

In every corner, I immediately recognized the faces of my people and heard their conversations about making another “historic” flight. We Vietnamese always get familiar with each other very quickly. Middle-aged men and women were discussing their business plans abroad, youngsters were talking about homesickness and their studies, while small kids were introduced to each other by their parents before running around together. It was, overall, a very “homely” feeling.

Catherine shares a photo from her plane ride to Vietnam.

It wasn’t an easy flight for us, considering how little sleep most had and how some backs (including mine) ached from being stuck in not-so-convenient seats. But we were incredibly grateful for the pilots and the crew for doing their absolute best to get us back home safely.

So, at the end of the flight, we all gave them a round of applause. They bowed in response and smiled as they uttered their “Thank you”s through masks.

Now, speaking of the notion of “home”: Was Saigon my home? No. I was born and raised in Hanoi.

We’re Home

I have always been most familiar with the capital—other than Hanoi there was no other place to call home. But I told my friend who boarded the same flight with me as soon as we arrived: “We’re home.”

Any place that belonged to our country at the time was home. Three months of being trapped in the UK amidst this global crisis has left me eagerly longing for only a tinge of “Vietnamese” familiarity. A school year that was filled with heavy discrimination for my Asian community due to the misconceptions revolving around Covid-19 only added to my homesickness.

Although the air was hot and stuffy, everyone kept their safety suits, masks, and gloves on when we reached Tan Son Nhat airport. Reporters gathered around the check-in area to capture the pictures of us covered from head to toe in our blue suits.

People at the airport sprang into action almost immediately to take the tired passengers to the quarantine center quickly.

Join me next week as I share the rest of my journey home—in quarantine.