In the spirit of Defoe (A Journal of a Plague Year) and Pepys (serial London diarist of the 1600s ‘great plague’) HOWL offers you the Lockdown Dairies, vignettes from around the planet, where members of the HOWL family share their ‘Covid’ thoughts and experiences.

Cambodia, Siem Reap: A ‘lockdown’ entry from Dr. Howl

The last night of December 2019: it seems an age ago now, a different time, another world, not a moment barely five months past. That night, with a friend, we found ourselves at Ms. Wong—as much of a hospitality institution as you can get in this town—with me enjoying a cool mojito as the festive sounds of Siem Reap buzzed around us. 

Had I heard of the virus back then? A strange sickness in a distant Chinese city that I had barely heard of and that I struggled to pronounce? Maybe, a rumour or a brief news piece, but with Australia aflame and football scores to consider its repercussions—what it would mean for me and the rest of the planet— barely registered on this, the eve of new years.  

Ms. Wong is closed now – a victim of the economic disarray that follows the virus like an evil twin. The friend from that evening is in lockdown, somewhere in Bangkok, unable to work, unable to travel. Today, on the last day of another new year—Khmer—Siem Reap should be buzzing. It’s not. After twilight one expects to see tumbleweeds spiralling down the dark alleys of ‘Pub Street’, with rats and lost souls the remaining vestige of the quarter’s wandering night-life.

Still, during the day, life seems cosmopolitan here compared with images from back home, the kingdom manufacturing a distinct take on Covid control. Currently we are in a holiday-centred lockdown, although the notion of where to place the ‘lock’ stretches to the boundaries of your province and not your back door. On the streets and out on the rural roads social distancing translates to three in a tuk tuk (chickens an optional extra) and ‘flattening the curve’ is something that a drunken reveller does in a speeding SUV.

In mood we seem to be on-hold, waiting for something to happen, spectators to an unofficial race – will we succumb to the virus first or will its economic consequences overtake us before? The local media provide us with scant details. While in Europe, the USA, back home, we read that the world is on fire, the ‘bug’ burning through people’s lives, the economy, friends and family. 

Last week, returning from work, I drove through the trees and ruins of Angkor. There were still people about—all Khmer, hardly a ‘barang’ to be seen—and they seemed happy, picnicking on the sides of the park’s wide barays, taking selfies, juggling babies and soda cans in overfull hands. And if one closed out everything else, if one concentrated only on this moment, you could forget what was happening beyond, you could almost imagine that you were back on a mild evening in late December.

. . . that the world was ‘normal’.

How will this all play out? I have little idea. But each day of good health seems like a miracle and, for now, that is enough. 

Stay safe, stay healthy . . . and keep on howling.