By Elle Nacard
In these times of dealing with a pandemic, every country is taking precautions differently. Unless in contact with someone who lives somewhere else, it’s unlikely you could figure out what’s going on just by what we get in Australian news. Out of a sense of curiosity, I took it upon myself to interview a couple of my online friends on their situation and how things are changing, as their situations are vastly different to ours.
I asked them the exact same questions and gave them as long as they needed to answer, which was done over an online messaging platform. Responses minorly edited for length and clarity
Introduce yourself (what you’re called, where you’re from, what your pronouns are, and anything you find important to add on)
I'm Charlene, and I'm from the Philippines. The pronouns I use are she/her. As of date, I'm 22 years old.
My name is Iwai. I am living in Houston, Texas in America and I use he/him pronouns. I am a young queer asian man and have lived in America for most of my life, and have been living in Texas since arriving here at a young age.
2. In terms of your living situation and lifestyle, how would you describe this (possibly talk about financial standing, if you work in a job or you're a student, etc)?
Currently, I should be employed (at what would have been my 2nd job), but the lockdowns prevented that from happening. Since I have no inflow of income, I am staying with my parents during the lockdown. I would say my parents are in the middle class.
My current living situation and lifestyle is that I am a homeschooled student. I don't have an actual job yet, however I'm trying my best to pull together funds to help pay the bills. I live in a suburban area and the household comprises five people. Two minors, and three adults.
Our financial situation is rocky, as we constantly have to pull together funds from family members to help pay our bill every so often.
Our financial situation is also very strained because I am mentally ill. I also tend to get sick more often and also struggle with hearing and my sight. I've been hospitalized a handful of times, and only once was the insurance ever-so kind enough to cover a good majority of the cost. All the others, they barely did. My second to last hospitalization, they took our insurance, however the doctors that were assigned to my case and files, did not. We had to pay above 12K (19.5k~ Australian dollars) out of our own pockets.
The ER visits have also taken a toll on our pockets, as even an IV drop can rank you up to around 500 dollars (815~ Australian dollars) or more. I've stayed in the ER for multiple reasons, and it all racks up and is a constant stress as we try to pay the hospitals.
3. What are your normal day to day obstacles? Is there anything you think is unique to where you live or your situation (as in, before the Coronavirus-- just your usual day to day)?
Health support is pretty bad. I've been in private hospitals/clinics for whatever health issue I've had (fortunately, only a few). I tried public hospitals a few times myself, however, and there weren't hand sanitizers anywhere, the restrooms were dingy, the urine samples weren't set on a separate basket but just on the table that other patients might touch during consultations etc. I worry about catching something while staying there, and I think even their workers do (when I had to wait two hours for my results, I was advised to wait somewhere else to avoid infection from other patients). When I went to private hospitals/clinics (which are more hygienic and have better facilities) and paid out of my pocket for the first time, I was shocked to find out I had to spend about half my monthly salary. For reference, I have polycystic ovary syndrome, which is neither uncommon nor necessarily life-threatening.
Speaking of hygiene, air quality is so bad, I learned to take shallow breaths while walking and sometimes forget to breathe at all. If you've ever been to (dirty) sewers, that's what most roads smell like. People have no discipline about throwing trash around. Even walking on sidewalks is difficult. Sometimes, there is NO sidewalk. It's a joke that in our city people have no fear walking on the roads, but it's really because there is no choice.
Something I've noticed staying in my parents' house in the province is also that there's no way to have good water systems. I think I only ever am able to use the flush function in toilets when I'm out in malls, schools, some offices, etc. The water pumps are always constructed in a half-baked way, so they break pretty often. They break less without a toilet flush, so we just don't use them. Bathtubs are an absolute luxury, and most people don't have showers, only a pail + water dipper combo. It's good for conserving water, though. Utilities and internet is horrible because there’s hardly any competition, and a few companies monopolise the entire area.
Taxes are also very high because we have many more indirect taxes than direct (this means what the poor pays in taxes is relatively closer to what the rich does). There is huge controversy about illegal Chinese immigrants exploiting locals using illegal methods (e.g. setting up businesses without a permit, buying more property than they legally can and selling at exorbitant rates, etc). The government refuses to deport them or properly execute our laws.
Our current president is reminiscent of one of our previous ones, a terrible dictator. We see the signs that his rule is similar, and yet our president still has worshippers. We have journalists in jail/murdered, a drug war that is very visibly anti-poor. To date, on official count (which may be underreported), 5,779 people have been killed. It's normal to hear news of some kid/s getting caught in a crossfire, being accused of being drug addicts or drug pushers. Their families often say the accusations are false. This happens only in poor communities.
In my area, we have to be careful of older teenagers (like 16-18) because they tend to be rude and downright horrible. Multiple times I have been harassed by older kids about being Asian and an openly queer guy, many times they would physically bully me and even drive by in their trucks and throw rock filled soda cans while going 40 MPH (65kmh~) in a neighbourhood.
My general obstacles are mainly the less accepting people of the neighbourhood community, though I do have anxieties over being assaulted by strangers as I usually have my pride pins somewhere on my bags in public.
4. Looking at the insurgence of the Coronavirus, has your life changed at all as the world starts to put in countermeasures against it?
The lockdown seems to be failing, not because people are irresponsible (though admittedly there are a few of those), but because they have no choice. Most people cannot afford to survive a lockdown-- living paycheck to paycheck is a very common financial situation. Social distancing is impossible for most who work, because they only have public transport, and if you've seen pictures of commuting here... well, the expression we use translates to "packed like sardines in a can".
Some companies have tried doing work from home, but for some this just isn't feasible (e.g. taxi drivers, security guards, janitors, technicians). They would have to end up with no salary. So far the lockdown will last a month, but this will adjust as needed. I don't know how they will survive. The government promised to provide relief goods to every house during the lockdown, but frankly, I don't trust they will. If they do, I'm pretty sure the people who need them most won't get them.
In many communities, keeping clean and being able to wash hands frequently is a luxury. And their houses are much more closely packed than what would be ideal for social distancing. There are currently no measures set in place that could help these people, though there are private groups who are trying to get in touch with the homeless.
My life has very much changed. In the beginning, I had been nervous though I didn't think too much of it. Then as things got progressively worse and there was more news about Wuhan's cases, I started seeing videos about hate crimes on Asian people. I was mortified and my previous fears of being in public intensified. Many videos from various cities in America showed the brutality and harassment against Asian people. I remember crying when I saw a thread online which showed a video of an entire group of people ganging up on these two Asians on the ground. It really made me sick to my stomach knowing and realizing that anyone of us could be next ー whether it be my aunt or my nephews. No Asian person was truly safe when the fear and media coverage of Coronavirus began to skyrocket.
My household was terrified. I remember having to go to the local grocery store with my guardian for ingredients the very next day for a soup, and people were awful. They weren't violent, but their whisperings, shuffling and avoidance of us were speaking loud and clear. I had been used to being whispered of and being avoided, though this hurt me more than ever. Not only because they were being very racist by assuming that we had Coronavirus, but because their children were in on it too.
I remember as we were getting produce, these two little girls and their mother were staring at us. The girls had these wide eyes as they stared at me and my brother, then covered up their mouth and nose with their hands. It hurts to see that, because it always starts at home with this behaviour. The mother did nothing but whisper to her children about something.
Since then, I haven't left the house besides doctor appointments, because I was afraid that I would be assaulted too, whether verbally or physically. At this time, it was the beginning of our Spring break ー and we could not go anywhere at all. Homebound for an entire week meant to be about celebrating.
5. What are the biggest changes you see your local authority putting into place? Do you think this is an overreaction, or an underreaction? Is there anything you think they should be doing?
The biggest change would probably be the lockdown. Everything has stopped operating save for "essentials" such as food/water/utility-oriented businesses. Curfews have been set in place, and in the province I currently reside in, supposedly there's a limit of only one person per house being able to go out at a time. I'm not sure how they implement this. My brother thinks it's through the street CCTVs. Based on what I know about COVID-19 so far, it doesn't seem much different from most other diseases, so maybe in that sense, it's an overreaction. But it does feel like it spreads out much faster than would be expected of usual diseases, so perhaps it's only right.
It feels like the government is largely unprepared for it. When news of coronavirus first came out, the administration refused to impose travel bans, and nothing was really done until recently, around this month, when it was discovered that the number of cases were rising, and we were forced to go with the last resort: lockdown. If you want to know how bad it was, at the start of March, the government's testing kits did not even amount to 10,000. And that was for the whole country, about a hundred million people. Though measures are now being taken, it's a little too late. It already spread.
The biggest changes recently for our state of Texas was that the Governor actually suspended the state exams called STAAR because of the absence of students learning. I find that this choice is actually very helpful, because not only are those the most stress-inducing 4 hours of any student's life ー it makes it easier for students to ease into at-home schooling. They don't have to worry about what their review for STAAR means, they don't have to stress so hard in an already stressful time.
Just a few hours ago, the city of Houston had called for the entire city to go into lockdown for 15 days ー that bars and restaurants be closed for dine-in, but to only allow delivery / pickup and dropoff. Officials had warned that people can only go out for necessities at the grocery store. I think this is helpful, as there's been a surge of people actively hanging out in large crowds in public spaces just because it was said not to. Though, I feel somewhat worried for the workers. It won't be unexpected that there'll be many orders and deliveries, and they say they'll deliver for free. I wish they had closed completely instead.
6. How are people responding to these changes and the Coronavirus? What lasting effects do you think this pandemic will have on your social environment (whether it be the economy, the people around you, how things like this are dealt with in the future)?
Most people are panicking, or at least that's what it looks like in social media. Outside of that, while social distancing should be a thing, on the first day of the lockdown, March 16, the capital region still looked the same with its heavy traffic and jam-packed public buses. These were filled with people who were going to work. Because of that, the government ordered that businesses all be closed except for absolute essentials (food/water/utilities). I don't see a lot of vehicles going around (probably because travel was banned save for deliveries needed in the aforementioned types of businesses), but there are still people going outside (apart from those who do it to buy groceries, some of them seem to go out for no real reason). It's honestly hard to tell whether people are taking it seriously or not.
Our economy hadn't been doing very well to begin with, and I do believe this will make it worse. With everything closing down until around April 14 (adjustable depending on how the situation fares), I'm not sure how things would pick up. Citizens probably won't change much, and will forget everything that is happening right now, the same way they just forgot how bad martial law was. History has shown we always repeat our mistakes. It pains me to say, but it's likely that if we survive this pandemic, when another one comes, it will probably just happen again. Lack of detection and health support because of budget cuts, the government acting very late, etc. Perhaps it's not only those who get elected, but the system that's rotten. While I appreciate that there will probably be more private groups/individuals who will try to do better in the next pandemic, it irks me to think that those who hold everyone's taxes won't do better.
I think this pandemic will definitely be leaving a lasting mark on American history. As the elections come up in America, this has sparked so much fuel and rage from all groups of ideas and different standing points. This pandemic not only was the last straw on the camel's back, it certainly awoke a fiery passion in the citizens and politicians. The Coronavirus has shown how under prepared our current government is and the nasty healthcare system that has plagued so many people's lives here.
The government is very soon to change, whether it be for the better or for the worse. The Trump Administration had fired the US Pandemic Response Team back in 2018 to "cut costs", which has led us to this predicament in America right now.
The social climate will definitely change too, as many people have been vocal online and in person about supporting and protecting asian folk and their businesses. I pray and hope that we are so much more prepared in the future for these situations ー and that our president knows how to handle and take care of a country.
Everything the Coronavirus brought, it shed light on the open wounds of America's healthcare system and government.