By Lee San
From the southernmost tip of the planet, we were sailing back to civilization, bringing with us the heartfelt messages of love from the little penguins. The captain nevertheless told us solemnly that even though we would eventually get back to the realistic world, we had to retune our attitude and be prepared to face a completely different world as it was not the same any more, not that one we used to know barely 15 days earlier!
As a matter of fact, we already had some idea about what was happening to our world thanks to the power of the Internet. The invisible virus had messed up our lives and we were living in a maximally tensed up world where nations shut their doors to aliens.
What the captain was trying to say was that there was this chance we wouldn't get to make a landing!
Everyone onboard was stunned, thinking of getting home as swiftly as possible because we knew a disaster was about to strike soon, and we all missed our families back home.
Unfortunately, as one after another tragedy brewed across the planet, and with things changing way too fast for anyone to handle, we knew very well what we were in for.
The Europeans on the same ship moaned in desperation that the entire EU was locked up and they would not get to go home anytime soon. Goodness me! Such utterances made us completely panic-stricken, not knowing what to do next! This couldn't have been the human world we knew!
I pretended that things would not become that bad after all, but deep inside me, I was dead worried about the outbreak in Malaysia and the goings-on of my fellow countrymen. I prayed that under the leadership of our experienced and capable prime minister, our new government manages to get all parties to put aside their differences and grudges and work together for the well-being of the rakyat and rid us all of this dreadful viral scourge. But given the extremely challenging environment today, Mr Prime Minister, can we actually count on you to deliver us out of the current doldrums?
In South America, the outbreak drove everyone crazy! Would they see us as virus carriers? Would they seal off their borders for us?
The captain told us frankly time was not on our side, and this made us even more jittery.
Ironically, I was only away for 15 days, and how possibly could this world which I thought I knew so well become so indifferent and morally depraved within such a short span of time? How could they just shutter their doors without any prior warning? No, this is not going to happen to us! Some samaritan gate-keepers will leave the doors open for us!
But, as anticipated, the government of the newly elected Uruguayan president issued an emergency "shut all doors" decree on March 13, just that little one mile before we were to berth at the Montevideo port.
Everyone was obviously in panic. We were about to be locked out at the Uruguayan port. My heart yelled in agony: why is this world so stone-hearted and merciless, turning your back on me without a word of warning?
I always love movies adapted from real-life stories. Thrills from unexpected twists are absolutely irresistible. But now, when real horrors encapsulate me, I am far more terrified than enthralled. As a big-time drama buff, I know too well that there will not be a quick end to this whole stuff yet.
During this period of time, places from Italy to South Korea and Japan were all brought to their knees by the virus, and in politically chaotic Malaysia, something seemed to have been dearly missed: positive measures to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
After two whole days of meddling, the Uruguayan authorities were still not ready to give in, but fortunately neighboring Argentina was more humane. On the evening of March 16, the captain ordered an immediate northeasterly change of course towards Argentina.
Everyone clapped, hugged and cheered on the sundeck, that they finally had a chance to go home. The euphoria lasted no more than half an hour, when out of the blue Argentina announced an emergency lockdown. Many had planned to catch the next available flights out of Buenos Aires to their home countries, but what now? Some began to burst into tears.
As if that was not enough, Malaysia declared a movement control order almost concurrently!
I could understand the South American government's decision, but I thought it was human to offer a hand to people in need?
At least Malaysia offered a 24-hour grace period for people to rush their way in or out of the country. The South American lockdown was instantly effective. Zero leeway!
Over a hundred nations across the world have already sealed their borders. I have this urge to ask President Trump why do you still behave like a little kid, and keep blaming all the mess on the "Chinese virus"? It is unbecoming that during such trying times the Americans could have so little concern for fellow humans elsewhere in this world!
As a matter of fact, they should take cue from the successful Chinese experiences in tackling the virus and step up international cooperation to fight humanity's common foe.
Please, do it fast. Whether I can go home soon will very much depend on you experts.
Having said that. this minuscule Corona has inadvertently exposed the vast differences between the value systems of the Orient and the West, and the wisdom and abilities of government leaders.
It has therefore become an international new normal for nations to unempathetically pull down the shutters without warning for their own protection. But by doing so, they are putting travelers around the world in a deep dilemma, as they are denied the right to dock, to fly, and to go home. It has been reported that thousands of cruise ships and passenger aircraft have been locked out and stranded at different corners of the Earth, unable to ferry hundreds of thousands of passengers to their desired destinations on time. I am just one of the many desperate "unwanted wanderers" out there!
Hey! I have a story to tell you, but do you have a plane to pick me up, please? And where is the UN, the global body that supposedly represents 196 sovereign states on this planet? What are your objectives and roles now?
I can understand that in today's world, one after another state falls to the scourge of the virus, and is forced to close its borders and send foreigners home. What I worry most is that my home country Malaysia is not spared from the vicious spell.
I'm utterly sorry for being unable to spend the 14-day MCO with my family, colleagues and friends in Malaysia. But deep from my heart, please, duduklah diam-diam di rumah!
Whoever you are, there is no denial each and every one of us is very much a part of this global pandemic. What we are experiencing today is of an unprecedented scale, and we probably won't see the same thing again in another a thousand years! More frighteningly, the ensuing economic depression could be catastrophic. Hope my fears are just exaggerated!
Then the captain said seriously that time was on our side now. The ship with superior operability was cruising steadily and comfortably, and we had enough supply of food and clean water to try our luck further north along the Atlantic coast of South America towards Brazil. We have been psychologically prepared that if Rio were to turn us down, then we would steer our way across the North Atlantic towards Cape Verde for supplies before making the 21-day, 11,075km expedition all the way to France. Bonjour!
Wow! Today marks the 24th day we are on the ship. We have so far sailed 9,100km. If we add up all the flights, we have traveled a total of 28,970km. If the ship really sails to Europe, we will have traversed 55,500km across five continents in a single expedition! Shouldn't it qualify as a new world record?
But I simply don't get it, why our world is just locked up this way! It doesn't make any sense at all! Just as these thoughts were wandering inside my head, I unknowingly drifted into sleep wobbling gently above the Atlantic. Hopefully I will see Brazil beckoning in my dream!
P/S: When I am back in Malaysia some day, I guess we will see a different world then. Some things will nevertheless not change: global warming, vulnerability of the human race, explosiveness of viruses and ruthlessness of our damned politicians... Only true friendships and family bonds will last forever!
(Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has traveled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored two books.)