Illustration by Trịnh Lập
By Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
So we all had high hopes for our beloved Hồ Chí Minh City, often still referred to as Sài Gòn, its former name. But, well, you know what I'm trying to say. Times are tough. Just looking at all the devastation around the southern metropolis is enough to break the will of any man or woman.
COVID, this most vicious of airborne diseases, is reducing humans to that most basic but pivotal function of human life: breathing.
Everyone comes to life at birth with a breath, and then they exhale. If they are not able to breathe again then that is it, life is over. Your heart may still be beating, but once the lungs are not able to take in any fresh air, then it is no use even if other organs are still functioning well.
This deadly disease is an invisible enemy. It gets into your system and your cells and multiplies fast to destroy your respiratory organs. It reduces the oxygen in your blood and makes you gasp for air.
Doctors throughout the world are telling us how to combat the virus: be cautious with your breath, use facemasks as a guard, keep your distance.
In the mid-seventies Vietnamese writer Nguyễn Nhật Ánh wrote a popular poem Thành phố tình yêu và nỗi nhớ (The City of Love and Nostalgia); though it does not mention Sài Gòn directly, everyone knows what it is about. It contains the poignant lyrics, "Darling, listen, can you hear the city breathe?"
In March 1976, the writer had left Sài Gòn with thousands of other young men and women to venture further into distant lands, clearing landmines, reclaiming land, and helping to rebuild the nation. Away from the hustle and the bustle of the city, he was full of its memories: the age-old green foliage of the tamarind trees, familiar winding roads, the wharf along Sài Gòn River, images he soon set to poetry.
Composer Phạm Minh Tuấn was so moved by the words he even put them to music. As an activist, Tuấn had spent many years living in the jungle and like Ánh was also nostalgic for the great southern city. The song was eventually sung by Cẩm Vân and became an instant hit. Today, the notion of listening to the city breathing feels like a more powerful metaphor than ever before.
In 1976, reunified Việt Nam's National Assembly voted to change the name of Sài Gòn to Hồ Chí Minh City, to commemorate the founder of contemporary Việt Nam, but many in the city still refer to it by its old name, or simply as The City. The city's breath can be heard in the rhythm of its early birds, or in its workers from around the country who went there to find an opportunity, a raise or a better living.
But these days, the city is gasping for breath. Respiratory machines are needed, quite literally.
A new community Facebook group called, Nhóm cứu trợ oxy, giúp nhau mùa dịch (Oxygen Relief Group, Pandemic Help) was put together on August 5, with 850 signed up members with an active list of oxygen cylinder providers and transportation for coronavirus patients that need treatment in their homes.
The sudden surge in oxygen cylinder demand has pushed the cost up to VNĐ4 to 5 million each, though it is recommended people only buy them with a doctor’s prescription.
Patients can order oxygen as doctors prescribe, but with a daily increase in the city of around 3,000 to 4,000 patients, it is hard for a people to present their prescriptions to oxygen providers.
Since the group has been set up, many urgent calls for cylinders have been posted in the group and charitable donors have also provided oxygen cylinders free of charge, if you tell them your doctor prescribed its use.
On one hand, it is a relief to see people get what they need as fast as possible, but on the other these cylinders pose a risk insofar as they could explode if not managed well according to instructions.
Watch our video on the oxygen delivery service in HCM City
Last week, a 40-year-old father had to violate the city's curfew to venture out for an oxygen cylinder for his son, who was fighting another disease. He was arrested for his violation, but his story moved many people, including Hoàng Tuấn Anh, the creator of the country’s now famous 'Rice ATMs', which provided rice to thousands in need during the three previous coronavirus waves.
Ever the practical sort, he soon came up with an oxygen ATM machine network, teaming up with Việt Nam's Young Entrepreneurs Association and HCM City's youth union organisation to make his idea a reality.
He reportedly said that after sharing his Oxygen ATM on social media, he received an urgent call from someone who asked for help with oxygen to save their father's life.
As part of the network, volunteer delivery teams using protective gear set up oxygen cylinders near the homes of patients. Teams will set up oxygen ATM stations free of charge in all districts of Thủ Đức City. The Young Entrepreneurs Association shall provide 900 8-litre cylinders to be used at the stations
Patients who need a refill can call a hotline and volunteers will deliver to their homes. Those who need a new cylinder can borrow them free of charge.
Everyone is working their best to help the city regain its normal breath, so that it can get back to being strong and helping others again.
The city has been locked down for a long time but things can and will return to normal. For now, all we can do is stay calm, take a deep breath and keep up the fight. We are all with you. VNS