Throughout 2020, a wave of “covid refugees” descended upon Taiwan, a “digital democracy” lauded for how it learned from SARS and “triumphed over Covid.” Who is a covid refugee? A digital nomad, Taiwanese American or white (usually), who rents a place in an expensive neighborhood in Taipei. A vocal sufferer of survivor’s guilt who nevertheless triumphantly exalts in living like it’s the Before Times.
But on May 11, 2021, when the Central Epidemic Command Center raised the epidemic alert to Level 2, our bubble burst. Taiwanese media turned to foreign sex workers and the erotic lives of old men as Wanhua’s “teahouses” were determined to be major cluster infection sites. The 316,200 AstraZeneca doses that few had cared to get in April were suddenly in as great demand as they were unavailable.
A new friend in Taipei messaged, “You’re gonna ditch now 😢”
An old college friend from California messaged, “You guys got too smug lol”
So much for going back in time. Did we really think that March 2020 would never come around? Here we are: at home, at Level 3, waiting for each day’s case count and watching the logistics of vaccine procurement crash against and reroute around familiar fault lines: BioNTech taking issue with a reference to Taiwan as a country in the press release of a now-scrapped transaction, China’s vaccine diplomacy and its uptake by the KMT, an altered Moderna delivery route bypassing all China-controlled flight information regions, Foxconn CEO Terry Gou and Buddhist organization Fo Guang Shan announcing their own vaccine procurement plans…
Alice Yeh is a PhD candidate in sociocultural/linguistic anthropology at the University of Chicago.