3,611 miles away from Melbourne
The world is in distress right now. Travellers all over the world are stranded in their hundreds of thousands due to the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic. It is something the world has never seen; at least not on this scale.
Although I am very comfortable on my so called ‘forced break’ with family and friends (in a place I call my second home), there are reports of over 300 Australian tourists stranded in different locations in the Philippines, extremely eager to go back home.
Flights to Australia have been suspended from since around 19 March, and there have not been any ‘rescue flights’ organised for Australians. The Australian Embassy in Manila was keeping everyone updated via social media, providing options for Australian citizens to go home, however it was not all simple, and in some cases not possible, due to the lockdown that was implemented throughout the country.
What is it like in Negros, and what am I doing here?
I’m currently in the Philippines for the launch of a book project with an LGU, as part of GAT Foundation. I travel here four times a year, and very familiar with life here.
I am however on an island province with not a single international airport. Usually, I had relied on boarding domestic planes or travelling via sea to get home, however this time without warning, the local government closed the borders on 15 March.
It gives me little comfort to know that many people are in the same boat as me; one rocked by the blustery effect of the virus. As a Filipino-Australian currently living under strict enhanced quarantine measures in the province of Negros Occidental, Philippines, I have a huge sigh of relief even though I’m stranded here, as this is also the city that I call my second home.
I consider myself lucky to have support from close friends and family, who are just a stone throw away. I have been keeping myself busy with distance learning through Deakin University, as well as cooking, and of course Netflix!
Initially, I was frustrated but now have accepted the harsh reality of being stranded. On a positive note, I praise the proactive measures of the Philippine government in containing the spread of COVID-19.
I do however miss my house, my family and my dog back home in Melbourne, and we keep in touch regularly through Skype.
Comparing Western and Eastern attitudes
Throughout this ordeal I have noticed one thing. Somehow, there has been a strong sense of responsibility among the Filipinos. It could be because they have been exposed to life threatening illnesses such as dengue fever and tuberculosis in the past making this pandemic a more familiar situation. In contrast, many Australians have never had to worry about community outbreaks like this.
Following conversations with my family in Melbourne, I was shocked to hear about how laid-back Australians have been at times. More so, social distancing measures have been moving at a snail’s pace evidenced by the fact that there has been a delay in school closures and industry shutdowns.
Although this is understandable due to economy risks. Conversely, it has become compulsory to wear a mask in all public places where I reside.
In fact, you even need authorised passes to leave your house. While this may sound excessive to some people, it is every bit reassuring.
Where to from here?
Experts are of the opinion that more aggressive measures put in place by the Western countries will eventually prove successful in slowing the rate of transmissions over time, just like in South Korea and Singapore.
It is uncertain how long before the outbreak would end. I hope to return back to Melbourne in May. We are in a dilemma; prolonged lockdowns are damaging the economy and the pandemic is affecting the public health badly.
In the meantime, thoughtful communication can help sustain long-distance relationships so we can all try and stay connected in times of isolation. Even after this crisis passes, I hope these lessons will continue to enrich conversation and deepen social connections.