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Postcard from Bali – corona diaries

February 2, 2020
Prayers for Bali’s safety ( Rosidin)

Since I last posted, the World Health Organisation has decreed that the coronavirus outbreak is a global emergency. Yep, I’d agree with that, but thus far Bali, where we’re staying, has reported no cases, suspected or confirmed.

That might change, especially as a couple of nights ago a guy in the next room exploded into a coughing and sneezing fit on his balcony. We immediately went into calculation mode. How far does a sneeze reach? Would the potentially noxious vapours reach our balcony? How long do they hang around in the air before subsiding to the vegetation below? Would the towels we hung out to dry be impregnated? What about the furniture?

It’s probably relevant – at the risk of being accused of racism – to point out that the guy in question “looked Chinese”. So here’s a question. Someone who “looks Chinese” starts sneezing violently within metres of your space. Do you speak to him to express concern? Do you speak to the hotel to let them know that one of their guests is displaying alarming symptoms, of what you know not? Or do you do nothing, because you don’t want to appear racist?

We chose option 2. I felt like a snitch – a bit like one of those informers in authoritarian countries who turn in their neighbours for some imaginary offence. But in a country desperate to keep the coronavirus at bay, respiratory problems are not an offence. They’re a potential health hazard.

To their credit, the hotel did take action. They spoke to him and asked him to wear a face mask. They offered to move us to another room, which we have not yet decided to do. It turns out that the person in question is indeed Chinese. He is apparently a Hong Kong resident. He speaks no English, so the hotel is bringing an interpreter to speak to him in some detail. So if I’d spoken to him, it would have been in sign language, which might have resulted in unintended offence.

Was I racist in suspecting that the person was from China? You decide.

Yesterday my wife and I had cause for a different concern. I was sitting on the balcony and she was inside on the bed. Suddenly my armchair appeared to be moving from side to side. Thinking my eustachian tubes were having an off day, I didn’t stand up screaming in panic. But then my wife called out to tell me that the bed was moving. Only slightly, but noticeably. Oh shit, we thought. Earthquake! Worse still, tsunami.

Bali is in an earthquake zone, so such an event was not impossible. But nobody else was running around in a panic, no masonry was flying around, so we assumed that we’d felt a minor tremor. We were also comforted by the fact that the area outside our room was a designated tsunami assembly area.

It turns out that there was an earthquake yesterday in Indonesia, though some was away from Bali, in Southern Sumatra. The magnitude was 4.9, which isn’t particularly serious. According to a website called earthquaketrack, there have been ten earthquakes of a similar strength across Indonesia over the past nine days, and three in the past twenty-four hours.

So is Mother Earth gearing up for a big one? Oh well, at least it would be a distraction from the bloody coronavirus. If the virus doesn’t get you, the earthquake will. Time for the British stiff upper lip, and a survey of the room to find the best place to shelter. Under the mattress, most likely.

We’re also keeping a close eye on events in Thailand. We’re due in Phuket in ten days’ time. So far, no coronavirus cases have been confirmed on the island. The Bangkok Post reports that 70% of the Chinese people who normally visit at this time of year are absent. Ten days is more than enough time for new cases to become obvious, so if it turns out that Phuket is falling victim to a substantial outbreak, we’ll consider our options.

If things start getting interesting here, I’ve half a mind to ask a friend, who lives nearby and is a spiritual healer, about whom I wrote a year ago, whether he can summon the spirits to provide us some immunity. Just a thought, although yesterday there was a mass prayer event in Kuta, presumably intended to have the same effect. When in Bali do as the Balinese.

Our Chinese neighbour has been moved to another room, away from neighbours. I hope he’s okay, obviously for more reasons than self-preservation. What his compatriots in mainland China are going through warrants compassion, not condemnation.

More when I have it.

From → Travel

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