Travel After the Coronavirus • Tour Travel Hotels
Last Friday, looking at the turquoise waters of Sun Moon Lake from the 11th or 12th level of Ci’en pagoda, it seemed like things had already returned to normal. This is partly because here in Taiwan, for reasons that I will explain in a few paragraphs, “normal” has never really gone away.
There was also, of course, the clarity of the underlying physical exertion. I had run almost a kilometer up a hill through a muggy bamboo forest in a matter of minutes, but my mind – my soul – was thirsty for the prospect that I knew was waiting for me on the precipice (but that I couldn’t really imagine, not completely) that the hydration my body desperately needed.
I hope in the next 1,500 or so words to give you all a similar perspective. It is easy to feel hopeless as we all walk (we travelers in particular) through the dark and sweltering coronavirus jungle, but I’m here to tell you: the trail ends.
How I won expatriate roulette
If you haven’t followed the strange path my life has taken since the election of Donald Trump (I was one of the few Americans who kept my promise to leave when he won), it looks like this. After first moving to Thailand, both because I loved the country and because it was the easiest place to set up camp, I quickly got tired of various elements of life there.
I had decided on Taiwan at random (I was literally in the back of a taxi that had turned badly during an apocalyptic rush hour from Bangkok), but my gut turned out to be perfect. Taipei has proven itself over the past year to balance the chaos of Southeast Asia with the order of the Far East (without draconian immigration restrictions in Japan).
The fact that the Badass government of Taiwan has successfully repelled the Wuhan coronavirus, despite the fact that it is 80 miles from China, is a welcome but entirely unexpected bonus. I am safe from the Communist Party and the Republican Party lies and corruption!
5 reasons why the trip will come back
Normal after coronavirus
If there’s one thing people need now, it’s an escape
Despite living in a city where people still eat in restaurants, take public transportation and leave their house when they wish, I leave the city (we can also travel anywhere in the country, as long as we we wear a mask on buses and trains) every other weekend. I cannot understand, apart from telephone conversations with friends and family members, what it would be like to live in a locked-in situation. But I know if I have to flee to the high mountains oolong Alishan fields of Taipei’s crownless paradise, you all have to foam up for an escape, be it across international borders or simply across state borders.
Travel has always been somewhat risky
A large part of the barrier between the current situation in the world and the return to normalcy is fear. Part of it is poorly calibrated, in my opinion (I’ll explain why I feel like this in a second), but travelers are necessarily willing to take risks. Although there is little chance of your plane crashing or your cruise ship sinking, the possibility that something goes wrong (food poisoning, scam, lack of connecting flights and grounding) is relatively high. People like us will be the first to come back there when the coast is clear, because our posture towards the unknown has never been scary.
Borders can’t stay closed forever
Although Donald Trump and his friend Viktor Orbán would probably like to see walls erected between each country, the free movement of people must resume at some point if the global economy (even if it becomes more regional, or hopefully, simply less focused on China) is never to regain its rhythm. Not to mention the fact that airlines, cruise lines and other travel-related organizations around the world have power and influence over governments, as the tourism industry employs one in 10 people on the planet. Please ignore the messages of the Last Judgment on other blogs (and the lousy comments below)!
Medicine (and technology) will fill the gap
Bad news? A coronavirus vaccine, if one exists, will take at least 12 to 18 months to be developed, manufactured and deployed on the seven billion Earth people. The good news? There are many other scientific ways to bring us back to normal. These include both therapies (initial results from the latest Gildes Remdesivir trials are promising) and travel-related technologies. Well, some travel-related technologies: congratulations to Emirates for having performed pre-boarding tests on coronaviruses; shame on all these rascals who hawk “virtual visits” of bullshit which is equivalent to a search on Google Images.
Normal was not perfect, but it was as close as we had been
Speaking of bullshit, do you know what I’m sick of? People (mostly celebrities and other Marie-Antoinettes who have never experienced a struggle) gushing out of “we can’t get back to normal – the problem was normal.” Many things about the world we all lived in until a few weeks ago can be improved, from expanding freedom of movement to increasing environmental sustainability, to eliminating cancers like sexism , racism, homophobia and transphobia. But “normal” – capitalism, frankly – is what allowed an ordinary person like me to create an extraordinary life. Fuck yourself if you don’t want to go back to this world.
A word to the little chickens
Of course, it’s not just the children of celebrities and the world’s AOCs who want planes to never fly again, or who believe that 99% of the population should take shelter there for the rest of eternity. A few weeks ago, before logging out of my personal Facebook account indefinitely, I made a post asking how many people would be cool to stay in their homes until a vaccine is available (if there is ever has one – again, this is not guaranteed). I was shocked not so much by the number of people who were willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good (which is virtuous), but by the fact that some seemed exuberant at the idea of never being free again.
Whether it be out of fear of the virus or simply addiction to the melodrama, a certain percentage of the population (much larger than I imagined) does not really want to return to normal. These Chicken Littles range from those who genuinely believe the sky is falling, to those who want it, to those who just want to go tell the President (President Trump) to fuck off; a number of my fellow Democrats seem to believe that if America beats the coronavirus with Orange Oprah sitting in the White House, it is sort of a bad thing for the country.
(And at the Pollyannas)
Obviously, this is not an endorsement of Donald Trump (although I think he will easily win a re-election – it is a topic for another position and a different platform). To be sure, I am skeptical that his plan to start restarting the US economy is better thought of than the silly statements he made while Aunt Rona was buying American real estate, the misinformation and embezzlement of Xi Jinping and her little dog Dr. Notwithstanding the Tedros. COVID-19 is a ferocious and horrible disease, despite a real fatality rate which is probably an order of magnitude lower than previously thought.
It will not only require much better responses from governments around the world than what we have seen so far, but the vigilance of all of us if we are to recover our lives. This means social distancing and short-term wearing of masks, and the end of half-assed hand washing and unnecessary body contact for the rest of these days. This means subjecting to inconveniences such as contact tracing and (hopefully not a nasal swab) testing for as long as it takes to rid the planet of the virus. We must be clear-sighted as to what this monumental challenge will be, and resolved in our commitment to do whatever it takes to overcome it.
The Bottom Line
Travel – and life – will eventually return to normal. Although I have cited many reasons for this to happen, it will not be automatic. The governments of the world will have to be more like Taiwan by Tsai Ing-Wen, and less like America by Donald Trump or China by Xinnie the Pooh. We will all need to be vigilant in the changes we make to our individual lives, so that humanity as a whole becomes more resilient to this threat.
As travelers, we are in a unique position. We will not only be among the first to walk through the proverbial forest to the point of view that we can see in our eyes – we can feel it in our bones – long before we look at it. We can shout to everyone else that the coast is clear and that it is more beautiful than they ever imagined.