What it is like for Asian Americans to see the family enjoy “normal” life abroad during Covid


When Chef Eric Sze wakes up in New York City, he often watches video clips of his friends in Taiwan singing karaoke on Instagram. “It’s always the first thing I see in the morning,” Sze, co-founder of 886 Taiwanese restaurant, told NBC Asian America. “Nothing beats starting the day with a fresh dose of FOMO” – or the fear of missing out.

Sze said he was jealous watching his parents, grandparents and friends go about their normal lives in Taiwan – where there are fewer than 1,000 total coronavirus cases out of a population of more than 23 million – while the US is in lockdown have to fight. new variants of the virus, a slower-than-expected introduction of vaccines and an unimaginable one 400,000 lives lost.

It’s a common feeling shared by many Asian Americans who watch their family members and friends in Asian countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, where widespread use of masks, past pandemic experiences, and government leaderships are mandatory quarantines and emergency payments resulted in extremely low infection rates.

“I think my biggest frustration is the lack of community support as a country,” Sze said of the United States. “I understand that bipartisan politics tends to divide the country, but part of me thought humanity would always come before politics – apparently not.”

Sze, whose restaurant raised nearly $ 150,000 to provide 15,000 meals for hospitals and shelters during the darkest days of the New York pandemic, said his family in Taiwan were “concerned but not surprised” by America’s response to Covid-19 19: “The price of perceived freedom seems to be exponential in pandemics.”

Eric Sze.Courtesy Laura Murray

When Las Vegas-based Carla Doan sees pictures of her family in Vietnam being carefree and sociable, she says she longs to lead a normal maskless life in the United States

In communist leadership Vietnam, According to public health experts, the public feels connected to Covid-19 and overwhelmingly supports their government’s quick response.

Despite a border wall with China and a population of 96 million, Vietnam has reported fewer than 2,000 total cases and 35 deaths during the pandemic.

Last January, the Deputy Prime Minister ordered the Vietnamese ministries to drastic measures to prevent the spread of the virus, such as locking down and evacuating cities, imposing travel restrictions, closing the border with China, and conducting labor-intensive contact tracing.

Visitors and people who may have been exposed to the virus have been sent for release Quarantine centers for two weeks and the government Communicated regularly with the public and sent text messages to phones telling people how best to protect themselves.

“I think the difference [between Vietnam and the U.S.] is that everyone follows the guidelines when their government says to do something, ”Doan said. “I just wish our guides here had done what they did.”

Doan said she’s frustrated because half of Americans seem to obey masking requirements and social distancing rules, but “because the other half isn’t willing,” it makes her feel like her efforts are pointless.

Their 16-month-old son couldn’t have a first birthday party because of the pandemic, and Doan isn’t sure he can have one for his second birthday.

Some Asian Americans knew collectivist Asian countries would deal with the virus and reopen faster than the US because they value a group’s needs.

Diana Choi.Courtesy Diana Choi

Diana Choi, who lived in South Korea as a young adult and now lives in Dallas, said South Korea has successfully managed Covid-19 because its people are “community-oriented” rather than individualistic.

The hyper-connected country of 51 million people benefited from fast, free testing and extensive tracking technology. South Korea has also learned lessons from mistakes made in spreading MERS in 2015.

“I knew they would take precautions, always wear a mask, and keep social distance because they are so afraid of what people would think of them if they didn’t,” Choi said. “In America, wearing a mask is politicized when it shouldn’t be.”

When she sees family and friends walking or eating out in South Korea, Choi – who has a heart condition that puts her at high risk of Covid complications – says that she is “jealous that they are in one place that people are interested in ”. other people and take precautions. “

Choi’s parents live in Gwanju, South Korea, and often ask their daughter about the U.S. healthcare system. “They say America is a kind of ridicule,” said Choi. “America is supposed to be the strongest country, but they see us get so divided and chaotic because of a pandemic.”

She said South Korea’s universal health care system also makes a difference.

“It [health care] is not a privilege over there, which was another factor for them to quickly test people and get everything under control, ”explained Choi. “I talk to my mother every day and they get updates when a Covid patient is nearby. Here we have no idea who has it and a lot of people think it’s not a very big problem. “

Of course, not all Asian Americans are jealous of what happens in Asian countries. While South Korea, a democratic republic, is innovative and transparent to its citizens, authoritarian-led countries are like Cambodia were accused by human rights experts of falsifying case numbers and using the pandemic to undermine the rule of law.

In Cambodia, a country of around 16 million people, fewer than 500 infections and no deaths have been reported.

Some believe that the low Covid-19 rates in Cambodia are due to this three quarters of the population live in rural areas and spend a lot of time outdoors. Others say low test rates and the Cambodian People’s Party, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, are not telling the full story.

“The government doesn’t give true numbers,” said Sindy Barretto, who lives in Pepperell, Massachusetts with families in Siem Reap and Battambang, Cambodia. “The Prime Minister is a candidate, so he will try to present that picture of security and that he is in control.”

Barretto keeps in touch with her relatives overseas through Facebook, saying if she sees photos of them gathering in large groups, she is sorry that they are not safe.

She believes Cambodia is losing lives to Covid-19, but that the deaths from conversations Barretto had with family members other than heat stroke or heart attack.

While rates in Cambodia might be higher than advertised, theirs are Hospitals are not overwhelmed like in the USA or Europe.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Cambodia temporarily closed its borders to foreigners, especially from the west, and closed schools and entertainment venues. The country has also been almost quarantined 30,000 textile workers.

While dealing with the Trump administration Covid-19 has received widespread criticism from public health officials at home and abroad, with President Joe Biden recently setting $ 1.9 trillion Covid-19 aid package with the aim of vaccinating 150 million people and reopening schools in its first 100 days. He also implements a 100-day federal mask mandate and uses FEMA and the National Guard to set up vaccine clinics across the country.

“People in Asia definitely laugh at America because they say we are supposedly a First World country and are now dying faster than them,” Barretto said. “I still think we’re doing a wonderful job [in the U.S.] because we are taking precautions. If we weren’t doing all that social distancing or masking off, I think we’d be in worse shape. It is what it is now. “

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