In a trip through various South-East Asian nations, American John Stuart was traveling by bus from Phonm Penh, the capital of Cambodia to ancient city of Siem Reap to explore iconic Angkor Wat Temple complex. In a rest stop, he got acquainted with a fellow traveler Mike Thomas, a millennial German youth. After exchanging pleasantries, John learned that besides English, Mike also spoke fluent Chinese (mandarin). After graduating from the university in Frankfurt, he landed a job with a multinational organization, subsequently migrating to Shanghai. This was the time when the celebration of a Lunar New Year just started in China. Like his fellow Chinese colleagues, Mike was also allowed to take a week off. Instead of going back to Germany to visit family, he’d decided to visit this part of Asia, now heading to explore Angkor Wat complex
Next day, in a coincidence, John again met Mike, both of them being signed up with the same tour company to guide them through the mammoth temple complex. Over next few days the duo bonded more while exploring the ruins, spread over several kilometers. They also began to hear news coming out of China about a new virus causing flu-like symptoms and in some cases mortality. Not surprisingly, international traveling, a byproduct of globalization was beginning to ferry out this new virus across the international borders. Mike remembered hearing a rumor about the emergence of this new virus at his workplace. Soon the sight of populace wearing face-masks became ubiquitous in various tourist sites as the fear of a pandemic began to prevail.
After leaving Siem Reap, John headed towards picturesque Luang Prabang in Laos. One day, he took an hour long boat ride on the Mekong River to arrive at the Pak Ou Caves hosting various historic Buddha statues. To his astonishment, he bumped into Mike again there. Adventurous Mike kayaked on the river, from a site about four miles down the river to arrive at the site. He mentioned to John that the situation in China had taken a worst turn. His employer had extended his vacation for additional weeks in order to disrupt the spread of the virus among working people. Thus, Mike decided to travel to Laos followed by a trip to Frankfurt to visit his family.
From Laos, John flew to Bangkok, Thailand. One morning, while scanning the news in the internet, he came across to a report about an open letter in Lancet, the British medical journal. There was a desperate appeal for help to the international community from the exhausted doctors, nurses, and associated volunteers from the city of Wuhan in China, the hardest hit city by the virus.
Two days letter, John while still in Bangkok, received a message from Mike. Instead of going back to Germany, he went back to Wuhan to volunteer in helping the citizens of his newly adopted country. An attached photo showed him encased in a protective gear, while volunteering to fit a breathing mask to a severely ill patient. John felt a kind of reassurance in humanity, irrespective of the current dark political climate back in his own country.
By Sankar Chatterjee