Scarlet Letter

We’re in day two of isolation when the doorbell rings.

I throw on my mask, unlock the door, and peer through the slats in our gate. The gentleman holds papers in his hand. There are only a few possibilities, having lived here for a couple years. A utility notice. Request for donations.

Or what I know is the reason he’s here.

I’ve got your COVID notice

I pick up, my Vietnamese limits straining

I thank him, take the paper and bring it inside.

The first page is exclusively in Vietnamese and looks official. I don’t really need to decode it yet. Pretty sure it’s telling me and the rest of the crew to stay home. Hunker down. I’m okay with that.

Why do they need 3 pages to tell me so?

Curious, I leaf through the rest of the pack and am surprised by what I see. A detailed list of every F0 positive case on our block. I scan the table, looking for Rhino’s name.

There he is

Turns out they’ve combined his first and first middle name into one, but it works. The list is 70 names long, and I’m amazed at the detail: names, addresses, number of people in the household who are F0

Wow, are expectations around medical privacy ever different in this part of the world.

Or maybe it’s just the times, worldwide, they are a changin’.

I wonder whether we should take comfort or be perturbed to know everyone on our block knows exactly which households are dealing with COVID.


There’s a pillar-style light that faces our street. Because we’ve been isolating, I haven’t seen the front in days.

So I’m surprised when I see the flash of reddish-pink.

Four corners, solidly taped in place

địa điểm đang thực hiện cach ly y te moi nguoi khong tiep xuc gan

And below, in English

Households with people quarantining please Do no make closre contact in order to prevent covid-19

Tuesday’s date hastily scrawled below

And my mind goes to plagues, and Monty Python, and scarlet letters.

bring out your dead

But then I remember, that living here is a choice.

At its heart, a collective sense of good.

There’s no question of it all, no ambiguity. And somewhat paradoxically, little evidence of blind adherence to authority. Vietnamese are not afraid to ask the questions.

But then, satisfied or not, they get in line.

They know.

That we are in this together. We have dealt with worse. We can trust those in charge.

And we can trust one another.

Despite the fact that numbers are up, that COVID is a steamroller, flattening the way

there’s no doubt of being ready to bounce back.

Published by Radutti

Teaching in Ha Noi, screwing things up daily but surviving to write about it. ...everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?

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  1. Your title drew me into your piece. Wow, things were very different here in America although in the early days of the pandemic they did try to do contact tracing.


  2. In earlier days of covid here in Cambodia they taped off entrances to people’s homes who were positive (like police tape). It is super interesting to see how around the world countries are doing it all differently-y and in the end, I do not think there is a right way, we are all trying to figure out a “best for now way”. Hoping you stay as healthy as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

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