Local man returns from home country of Vietnam, then self-isolates

For two different reasons, Lom Win could say he was glad to be home.

He recently spent three weeks in Cam Ranh, Vietnam, where he was born in 1975 and hadn’t visited in 27 years.

During that time, he and his girlfriend, Olivia Murphy, watched as the coronavirus ravaged through Europe and the United States. That presented some challenges in returning to Seymour, but they got back and recently completed a 15-day voluntary isolation in case they would have been exposed to the virus.

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They are now safe, sound and in good health.

“At certain points, Olivia and I questioned ourselves whether it was wise to leave the relative safety of Vietnam and make our return during a heightened crisis in the U.S.,” Win said.

“Fortunately, we had the luxury of resources to have the option to stay or go,” he said. “Decisions had to be made quickly, as our corridors of travel began to close off. Ultimately, we decided that home, however disarrayed, was where we needed to be.”

Days before their return date while working to find an alternate route home, the World Health Organization declared the virus threat a global pandemic. Then on the day of their departure, the United States declared a national emergency.

“International travel was restricted, and there was talk of cancelling domestic flights,” Win said. “We were again facing uncertainty and chaos on the world travel stage. Luckily, we were able to avoid the hotspots where there was an overwhelming influx of European travelers trying to make the cut to get back home.”

Murphy said they spent time in three different airports in Asia en route to the United States.

“The official mandated policy of these airports was strict adherence to wearing protective masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” she said. “We were screened and questioned about our travel at all these airports. Before entry into Vietnam, we had to sign a declaration of health. We had purchased our masks in Vietnam and wore them throughout our return trip.”

When they touched down on U.S. soil in Detroit, Michigan, she said they noticed a shift in the attitude and policy about wearing protective masks.

“Travelers were crowded together in baggage inspection lines and customs without protective barriers or use of social distancing,” Murphy said. “We felt the TSA officials were unnecessarily rude and dismissive and did not respect our property with safe measures. We quickly realized that our fellow Americans were woefully unprepared for the viral threat that we knew was already here.”

After much thought and discussion, Win and Murphy agreed to do voluntary isolation for at least two weeks once they were home.

“We felt the decision was best for our safety and the public,” Win said. “We had considered getting tested on our arrival in Indiana; however, there were no tests available to us. We were in good health; however, the level of risk for contracting the coronavirus here in the U.S. is unknown. The numbers cannot be accurately determined until a system of mass testing is implemented.”

They were content with erring on the side of caution. They have chosen to continue to wear face masks and gloves for safety until the threat is over.

“We were going to make an informed assumption that this viral threat had reached our community in high numbers and is currently spreading unchecked,” Win said. “Our best and most responsible course of action is to stay isolated from this community until there are clear paths of safety.”

They encourage others to have the same mindset, as Win said it’s the only mechanism of control that people have to minimize exposure during the pandemic.

“We feel it is important during this time for everyone to keep spirits up with much love and attention to physical and mental well-being,” he said. “We encourage acts of kindness with your neighbors and friends in a safe and health-conscious manner. We love you all and have confidence that we can all get through this gracefully and — sort of — together.”

Embracing a homecoming

Despite all of the challenges with the virus pandemic, Win and Murphy have a lot of good memories from their trip.

Win said he invited Murphy to share in his experience, and she jumped at the chance.

“The purpose of our trip was not to come to Vietnam as tourists. Instead, it was to be a homecoming for me,” he said. “The town was the place I was born in 1975. My last visit was 27 years ago. I have many extended family members living there.”

He said he left Vietnam as a boat refugee in 1980 when he was 5.

“Because of those circumstances, I felt I never got to know my hometown,” Win said. “The main intent for my visit was to get reacquainted with my roots. During my first trip back in 1993 with my mother, I did not have the confidence to explore the community and interact with the people as much as I had wished.”

He said the recent visit was magical and surreal.

“Vietnam is beautiful. The culture and people are astoundingly vibrant and full of life,” he said. “I came back to a place that I thought had long forgotten me after an extended absence. The opposite was true. Cam Ranh not only welcomed me back but also remembered me fondly. I was surprised to run into old childhood friends and neighbors who instantly recognized me.”

Cam Ranh is a city rapidly developing into a tourist destination, he said. On the north side, there is hotel construction everywhere and a new international airport, which is where their plane landed.

“My little city has changed quite drastically and is quickly catching up to the modern world, but I was happy to see that much was the same as I had remembered,” Win said.

Murphy had never been outside the country, and she found the cultural differences to be very interesting.

“When we arrived and started to interact with the local folk, we quickly realized that we both stood out and quickly became the buzz of this small part of town,” she said. “Lom has long hair and looks like a rock and roll god, and few people there had ever seen a light-skinned, blonde-haired American. We were certainly curiosities.”

Murphy said the daily routines and pace of life in Vietnam were invigorating.

“The people were friendly and welcoming,” she said. “Often, we would visit our regular breakfast and coffee shops, one of which was owned and operated by Lom’s childhood friend. I took away a deep appreciation for another way of life that I had never experienced before.”

During their stay in Bình Tiên, they jumped a locked gate at their hotel to catch the sunrise at a secluded beach.

“We spent the early morning frolicking among the waves, and Lom played his guitar,” Murphy said. “This will remain one of my favorite memories.”

Helping an orphanage

Before the trip, Win said he did some research on the internet to get a feel for what Cam Ranh was like currently.

“I was surprised to find that few photos of the town had been posted; however, I kept running across information and photos of the Nhân Ái orphanage that was on the western edge of town, according to the map,” he said. “It was located around the mountain that served as the backdrop to my childhood.”

Win said he and Murphy have always shared a love for humanitarianism, so they devised a quick fundraiser among their circle of friends two weeks before the trip to bring food and supplies to the disadvantaged children. Collectively, they raised more than $1,500 in funds for the effort.

“We’d like to thank our friends for making this dream come true with their kindness and generosity,” Win said. “The children received our gifts of food and treats with great delight. We were privileged to be in their presence and feel their joy. It will be an experience we will never forget, and we hope to return to our little friends in the future.”

Murphy enjoyed the visit, too.

“The young children and some adults took great pleasure in uttering a hello or some other greeting from their limited English vocabulary. They were excited to talk to real Americans,” she said. “I had brought candy from the U.S. to sweeten these interactions and found much joy in finding young children to give these treats to.”

Win, Murphy and his parents arrived safely in the United States on March 15.

Win said the experiences were incredible and left their hearts, minds and souls full of deep love and gratitude.

“The journey, as with any adventure, was wrought with many twists, turns and bumps along the way,” he said. “We love you all for your concerns about our well-being. This journey ends quite beautifully and dramatically.”