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In my Sabbatical year spent here in Vietnam, it would be disingenuous NOT to speak about the Coronavirus. Without being hyperbolic, this is a crisis of every proportion. Here are a few of my observations.
Today it was reported that the Whistle-blower, Dr. Li Wenliang, died of the virus. At the epicentre, Chinese health officials initially claimed the virus would peak and subside within a week’s time. There are claims that those predictions were made due to reticence to pass bad news up the political chain. Undoubtedly, we will celebrate him as a hero, for his efforts to alert the world while Corona was just an epidemic. For context: This same week, one of my state’s senators outed the whistle-blower who originally brought to light the massive corruption of the current White House occupant who was just acquitted. At the same time, in the middle of the (illegal) trade war between these two nations, Chinese health officials reference American health standards to legitimize their efforts to control this pandemic on the international stage – not the W.H.O. If my head weren’t spinning from all this news, then certainly even I am suspicious of my every cough or sneeze to the level of paranoia. Or, perhaps this pseudo-medical mask I am wearing is just rather annoyingly pinching my ears.
Sitting on the ground, people are handling it reasonably well. That is to say, no one is running around screaming or losing their heads. Logistically, the virus could hardly have come at a better time. The city was already emptied out by those who had returned home to celebrate the Lunar New year, known in Vietnam as Tet. The weekend folks were set to return, orders came from on high to close all educational institutions, due to the obvious fact that classrooms huddle groups of people into close, closed quarters – infection heaven. Heck, classrooms are built as fertile grounds! Morally, it’s the exact opposite: What an unsettling ending to the region’s most festive season!
Worse still, there is a travel ban from China, while estimating that “Chinese visitors comprised almost 30 percent of the approximate 15.5 million international travelers who arrived in either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City last year and translated into $30 billion from both the domestic and international market.” Who really can imagine the wider economic impact!?!
On my sabbatical, I am working in the language centre of a partner institution of my home university in the UK, which I got to know in my role as Senior Lecturer in International Business. Here, my desk is merely 15 feet away from the customer service desks where students come to register from the language classes, or any one of the ESL tests they must pass to graduate. Basically, at some point, every student at this university must come into this office. Additionally, we are a regional German-language testing centre, garnishing many folks from China (recall that travel ban!). While there are usually 6-7 ladies manning the kiosks, only two to three were called in the first few days to address students’ needs. Now, each day there is only one. Yesterday afternoon, it was announced again that all educational institutions would be closed for yet another week. Since I know that only a few of my colleagues are from Hanoi and are here with their parents, I suppose most of these ladies are home looking after their kids. I cannot imagine how other parents without grandparents nearby are dealing with this crisis.
A colleague told me last week that universities always reserve time within the term for such contingencies, but I imagine two full weeks of cancelled classes is a stretch. Certainly, my concerns have shifted towards the graduating seniors this term. Then, there are also the hourly-paid language teachers our/any centre hires. What about their labour? What’s more, our university is huge and sits next to at least 3 more universities, not to mention the 3 pre-schools I pass on my walk home. Again, all primary, secondary and tertiary schools are all closed for a second week after Tet. There are over 30,000 students, lecturers and staff. My husband has a similar gig down the road which boasts many, many more.
There are entire food and transportation economies woven around all these campuses. Most visibly, there are a host of corporate café chains, as well as typically Hanoian tea-stalls and street-food kiosks selling fast-food ranging from variations of noodle soups, to anything that can be deep-fried, steamed or cooked over a charcoal fire. Naturally, this Kentuckian spends way too much time at the grilled chicken lady. She does feet, as well as drumsticks and wings which she stretches out onto skewers and serves with hot sauce (so there’s no need to carry any in my bag). Most of these food outlets closed for Tet, but many simply have not re-opened since. The few that are open are virtually empty, save for the few pedestrians and commuters passing by, or the motorbike taxis that station themselves around each entrance to the campus alongside the tea-stalls. At least apparently, their persistence offers moral support, though it is possible that economically, there ain’t enough business between them. Enough?
Since the outbreak, I’ve regularly received text messages from the Ministry of Health, as has been widely reported in global media. The messages are in Vietnamese, which Google translates in 1-click just by copying the text. This is all –perhaps strangely- reassuring. No, it is very reassuring. The same messages are also sent straight to my phone via regionally popular chat programs such as Zalo. ‘Google Translate’ is integrated into that programme, too, like a virus. There, MoH’s chat messages include links to extended articles, especially details on how individuals can protect themselves, plus further info such as: “All hospitaliszation costs, medications, and testing costs for nCOV-positive patients are free.” There are layers of ways of spreading knowledge about the impact of potential outbreaks of disease, especially since SARS. It’s refreshing to see social media used so purposefully.
The streets are vacuous and quiet. Ordinarily, Hanoi is a loud, crowded, motorbike ridden city, so this peace is…(sigh)…morbid. Again, there are no visible signs of panic on the streets. It’s lunchtime here in the office. While I was engulfed in writing this blog-post, everyone else has quietly slipped away. This is the first time that I find myself alone in this building. All I hear are birds chirping outside, and a few horns blowing in the distance. The parking lot is empty. I’m going home.
Damilola is a 2017 graduate having read BA Criminology with Sociology. Her blog entry reflects on the way in which personal experience can inform and be informed by research. Her dissertation is entitled Life in the UK: The individual narratives of Nigerians living in the United Kingdom and the different problems they faced during their integration into the UK
During my research on the topic of migration and integration, it was important to me, to make the individuals the focal point. This is because the majority of research in this area, depicts a holistic perspective. Therefore, understanding each individual story was vital during my research. It enabled an insight into the different coping mechanisms the Nigerian migrants used, to compensate for the sense of othering they often felt.
One of the most eye opening stories was that of a woman who had bleached her skin to become lighter. She felt this would encourage others to accept her and also, make her more appealing to prospective employers in the UK. Nigerian women bleaching their skin is not a new phenomena. According to the World Health Organisation, Nigerian women are the largest consumers of bleaching creams. This was a very important aspect because it highlighted that, Nigerian women both home and abroad often feel inferior because of the colour of their skin. These bleaching creams can cause serious damages to the skin, however these women and others alike are still willing to compromise their health because, they believe it will increase their likelihood of success.
Here is a blog post that goes into further details about the side effects of bleaching:
When migration is spoken about, it is almost always portrayed as an ‘issue’, something negative that needs to be dealt with. This is particularly evident with the campaigns during BREXIT of 2016. A lot of times, this encourages a negative stigma of migrants, both internationally and those from neighbouring European countries. This is not only damaging to the potential relationship between countries, it also creates a divide, a sense of ‘us against them’. Amidst of it all, are the most sensitive victims, the children of these migrants. A Participant during my research mentioned her children learning slangs such as “init” to fit in with the other kids at school. She also made mention of shortening the names of her children to accommodate the English tongue of their peers and teachers. For her the mental wellbeing of her children was more important, than a proper vocabulary or the right pronunciation of their names.
Moreover this also leads to another misconception about migrants. The common viewpoint proposed by earlier research is that the lack of understanding of the English language is the barrier that most migrants face. However the results from my research propose a different argument. I found that, it was the foreign African accent that most participants felt others had an issue with. For most participants their accent was the most difficult thing to loose. This often proved to be a problem. This is because it made them stand out and, was a universal stamp that highlighted “I AM NOT FROM HERE” in a country that encourages everyone to blend in.
Once again, this illustrates the real issue with migration, for many migrants the sense of belonging is never present. As a participant pointed out “even after getting my British passport, I am still not like them. I will always be Nigerian, I know that now”.
In relation to the interviewing of the participants, this proved to be the most difficult part of my research. This is because the women often drifted away from questions being asked and told tales of people who had similar experiences to them. Nonetheless it was also the most rewarding experience because these different tales were embedded with deeper meanings. The meanings that would later encourage a better understanding, of the way the women coped with integrating into a new country. Moreover, as a migrant myself it was interesting to see the changes that had occurred over time and, also a lot of what has remained the same. This is because despite coming to the country at a young age, I was able to relate to some of the coping mechanisms, such as the shortening of my name to accommodate the English tongue.
As a recent criminology graduate, my dissertation on migration and integration was one of the most eyeopening experiences of my life. I have learnt so much through this process, not only about the topic but also about myself. I am grateful for this experience because it has prepared me for what to expect for my postgraduate degree. A friendly advice from me, to anyone writing their dissertation would be to START EARLY!! It may seem impossible to start with but it will all be worth it in the end.
GOOD LUCK !!