Covid-free – officially

My test from Day 3 of quarantine has come back ‘clear of anti-bodies’.

Not negative. I’m not entirely sure what the difference is, but I’ll take it anyway.

Here they use a novel system of counting, so that Monday – when I landed and arrived here – was Day 0. Hence the test is from Thursday.

The no news is good news system got to me, so I phoned for the result. The voice on the other end pressed a couple of buttons, and presto, a result.

I’m generally feeling fine. The interwebs, which were foobared on the first day of online teaching, are behaving themselves. I’m getting regular walkies in the designated areas ( er, mostly ).

My biggest challenge at the moment is turning a blind eye to the desserts being delivered with my by-request ‘low-carb’ meals. Today, beautiful cooked meals, times three, and the desserts? Chips ( crisps to some ) for two meals, and pineapple lumps ( 75% sugar ) for the other. So far I’ve resisted, reminding myself that shortly afterwards I’d feel anything but fine.

I have a handkerchief if you need it.

One In the Eye

It was better than a poke in the eye with a blunt stick – but only just.

I’m talking of course about the Day 3 covid-19 test carried out here at the prison hotel.

A swab – a stick about the size and length of a small kebab – is thrust up yer nose, and wiggled about to scrape all the nasties up there.

In the midst of this fun, the nurse is counting to 10, slowly, and then it’s over, bar the snorting, and sneezing, and harrumph-ing.

Apparently the results are back possibly as early as today, but in that very non-comforting phrase, “no news is good news,” they tell me.

I imagine that if the worst does happen, they’ll be busting my door down dressed in full protective armour.

So far, that hasn’t happened.


Through the plane’s porthole hung the eponymous Long White Clouds of Aotearoa, graphical evidence that I was indeed Home.

The second harbinger was the huge Samoan porter / helper at Auckland airport throwing my 35 kg bag around like polystyrene – “welcome home,” the Bro had said.

Then there was the bus trip from Auckland airport to the quarantine hotel – the Grand Millenium Hotel– beside the orderly and dull suburbs you don’t see in SE Asia.

The Hotel

Is vast, about 500 rooms on 12 floors, as far as I know containing only quarantine inmates.

It’s flash, featuring a huge open central atrium, and a clever modern layout, neither of which we can really fully enjoy, being basically confined to our rooms. There’s a concreted exercise yard, almost totally enclosed, where 8 – 10 people typically mill around in a circular fashion. There’s a “sun deck”, which needs advance booking of more than 24 hours, and which I haven’t yet been organised enough to enjoy. And there’s a small penned off area outside the hotel which we were told could be used, but which I haven’t yet visited.

There’s three free meals a day, on the taxpayer, as is the stay itself, so far be it from me to complain. I’m trying to make the best of it.

The Trip

Singapore Airlines was impressive. First, thanks to covid, on both flights I had a row of three seats to myself.

Second, thanks to the hobble remaining from the broken ankle recovery, airline staff bent over backwards to help out. I got wheeled and driven about, and given priority in boarding lines, almost to the point of embarrassment.

Release and Before

I’m released from here on Monday, October 5.

The plan had been to spend my time earning a small crust teaching online, but the low WiFi speeds at the hotel have thrown that into doubt on the first morning’s teaching today. Internet lag and cutouts can mean financial penalties from the teaching platform, and at the very least will annoy or warn off my students.

If that’s not viable, I have plenty I can busy myself with.

But it has so far, into day 3, been a challenge, with a lot of understandable, and some nonsensical, restrictions on what we can do here outside our rooms.

It’s gilded yes, but it’s still a cage.

Leg 2 Finished

Now trying to relax in transit in Singapore.

Singapore Airlines is one slick operation. Flights arrive and leave on time. Flight attendants fashioned from magazines are more than decorative.

Thanks to covid, there were no other passengers within sneezing distance, so I spread myself over three seats.

My vapes got through in cabin baggage.

The only downside of the trip was a 4-year-old screaming throughout. Seriously, they should ban under-5s from all but designated trips. That way the rest of the populace wouldn’t have to suffer from one parent’s idiocy. Said parent was bottle-feeding milk to the little monster before boarding, just to make it suitably wired. Sheesh.

Whining aside, leg 3 to Auckland starts in 2 hours. Nine hours plus, and two meals.

I’m armed with eggs and sardines.

Leg 1 finished

I blundered my way through the vastness of Tan Son Nhat International Airport.

I even found my way to my Thanh Long Hotel, where I’m now recovering with the help of the air conditioner. Leg 1 finished.

It seemed the Method of Least Resistance was called for, so I stumbled over to one of a dozen kiosks shouting about taxis. Ten minutes and NZD 10 later, I was at the hotel.

It’s comfortable, even a little bit … decadent ( expensive NZD $33 ), but that’s ok.

Now the order of the day is to herd those ducks into a row for the big trip tomorrow / Monday.

Trek Home Leg 1

And so it begins.

Leg 1, Nha Trang to Saigon. With a goodbye to Mr. Duc of Moonstone.

He’s as cheery and impish as ever at 5.45 a.m. He knocked on my apartment door at 4.30 a.m., a cigarette dangling from a grin.  I, being a stress merchant, had two words for him – “Busy! Busy! “.

There’d been a nasty fright settling the power bill.  He finally arrives to do this at 7.45 pm, after I’d asked early yesterday to settle it during the day. Rather than when I’m fixing for bedtime, ready for a 3-day trek. It came to about 100 NZD for 6 weeks.

I surprised myself by nailing the weight limit target for luggage, and passing Cam Ranh airport security with such contraband as e-cigarettes.

I’m now waiting to board at the  airport, with nothing better to do than chat to myself, after a 30-minute takeoff delay.

More soon.

Last Nha Trang coffee

‘Henry’ , Hung Nguyen, above left, and myself, right.

This morning was the last episode of a ritual which has been an anchor for me here in Nha Trang.

That’s “Henry” ( Hung Nguyen to his mother ) above left, and a foreign interloper above right.

In between the usual Chewing of Fat, Henry ,as always, demonstrated typical Vietnamese generosity and grace. I left loaded with ( coffee-related ) gifts, and he left with some books I gave him.

Henry’s been a major support in surviving here in Nha Trang. He’s educated me in Vietnamese ways, fuelled me with excellent coffee, offered a wise sounding board, and got me through the trauma of the bike accident.

That last involved at least two days of his time, among everything else he does, for example, tending to his family ( married with two young sons ), and managing several businesses.

In return, I’ve taught him some English – he can now easily chat over many subjects – and, I hope, been a friend. I’m very well aware that I owe him far more than he owes me.

Here’s to you, Henry, a gentleman and a scholar, and someone I’m proud to call a friend.

Pigging out

Henry landed me today with a big task – work my way through lashings of pork belly pieces.

He asked a friend to stock up for the cafe, but the friend got the order wrong. He manhandles a pig’s worth of meat onto the table.

It’s mine! It’s a tough call, but I think I’m up to the challenge, since pork belly pieces are my favourite Vietnamese meat.

In case motivation wanes, I composed the wee ditty below to help me through the Last Days in Nha Trang.

Pork belly slabs
good for the muscles

pork belly slabs
need no hustles

the more you eat
the better you feel

pork belly slabs 
for every meal

Beautiful Nha Trang beach

This day I returned to Nha Trang, when they welcomed me back with power cuts.

There was nothing for it but to try to escape the heat by cruising the waterfront, where there is at least a sea-breeze to mitigate the 40 deg Celsius heat.

This is why Chinese and Russian tourists, and beach-bunnies from further afield, flock to Nha Trang.

The Chinese are easy to spot. They’re the ones wearing flotation tubes the size of tractor tyres around their waists.

A Russian on Nha Trang beach.

Ditto the Russians. There’s one of them to the left.  For the sake of the photo, he put aside his beer and cigarette.  He did say, though, that he was very proud of his ‘tan’.