It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

Ho See-wing brings a world traveler perspective to our national and local response to the Coronavirus and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ho See-wing brings a world traveler perspective to our national and local response to the Coronavirus and the Covid-19 pandemic.

• Topics: Bellingham, USA / Global, Health,

The past month in Bellingham had been déjà vu all over again for me.

I came back on February 10 from Hong Kong, where the COVID-19 epidemic had struck. Worried that I had been infected but was without symptoms, I put myself into two weeks of self-quarantine. It was not fun. But, with help from friends who left food and other necessities at my door, I got through it, avoiding contact, going for daily walks by wearing masks every time I left home, getting to the park only by driving, and practicing what is now known as social distancing. Resisting the urge to pat those dogs with pleading eyes and wagging tails was torture.

Two weeks finally passed. Jubilant, I texted friends, “Free at last!” Little did I know that I would soon be repeating the same routines again.

I should have suspected as much. Midway through my quarantine, news broke that COVID-19 was spreading in the U.S. I wasn’t too worried, because the outbreak, as reported by the media, did not seem as serious as it was in China, Hong Kong and the rest of Asia. Relieved that I was not infected, I started meeting with friends and going out to coffee, lunches and shops. How little I knew!

But I should have known, because I learned long ago that the mainstream media, despite its authoritative posturing, could be clueless when it came to new developments. The West, from officials to politicians to journalists, had regarded the epidemic as first a Chinese, and later an Asian, problem. But whether we like it or not, humanity has reached a stage of profound interdependence. Yet the West continues to look at the world from a western perspective. With ideological arrogance and – I hate to say this—racial condescension, both official statements and press coverage implied that it was China’s inferior system that allowed the crisis to get out of hand. America and Europe went about their business, ignoring warning signs that were becoming more and more ominous, until it was too late.

Only after death tolls accelerated did the West start to take things seriously. The crisis started with the Chinese government ignoring warning signs in the early stages. It escalated exponentially when governments in America and Europe did the same. For me, it was déjà vu all over again.

Eventually, the West took it seriously. Measures that China, Hong Kong and other Asian nations had implemented with success were reported in derisive or even dismissive terms by mainstream Western media. The New York Times called some of these measures “draconian” and “heavy-handed.” And then it came here: border closings, surges in testing, shelter-in-place lockdowns, social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks were encouraged or enforced. Déjà vu all over again.

Then came the supply shortages: masks, sanitizers, Clorox Wipes, toilet paper, zinc tablets, even food. Shelves were emptied in grocery stores all over America, just as they were in Hong Kong when I left. Déjà vu all over again.

Before I left, a friend in Hong Kong asked me to look for masks in Bellingham. The epidemic had brought out the best and worst in people. Some hoarded supplies and some, worse, sold them at jacked-up prices. Two knife-wielding men robbed a warehouse for toilet paper. But others were sharing masks, sanitizers and other supplies with those in need, whether they were friends or strangers. Volunteer efforts sprang up, enthusiastically responding at both the personal and collective level. My friend was among those who distributed masks. I couldn’t shop during my quarantine, so I called my sister in Texas. She combed her neighborhood the next day and found three packs of ten in three separate stores. She mailed them immediately, at a cost several times above the price of the masks.

Little did I know that five short weeks later, the situation would be reversed and I would ask the same Hong Kong friend to send my sister some masks. When America finally started to get serious about COVID-19, my sister could no longer find masks in Houston. She was worried because her husband has respiratory problems, making him particularly vulnerable. Meanwhile, the supply situation in Hong Kong had improved and my friend, learning about the shortage in America, offered to send me some. I asked her to send my sister some, too. Déjà vu all over again.

The virus also raised the ugly specter of racism. America’s original sin had gone through waves of ebb and flow in our nation’s history; progress would be made, followed by pushback. This is one of those pushback periods. Bashing Mexicans and other immigrants got President Trump elected. After winning the election, he gained loyal support partly by blaming every other American problem on China. He insists that he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body, while at the same time exploiting latent prejudices of ordinary Americans for political gain. Asian Americans have faced a steady surge of racism against them over the past three years, sometimes in blatant manners, but often subtly.

Sadly, America has become skillful at exercising racism. Trump calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referring to it as the “Wuhan virus” are prime examples. They find ready excuses to justify such use. If Asians complain, we will be labeled “whiners,” the way Elizabeth Warren believed people would say if she suggested her presidential run faced sexist prejudice.

Racism against Asians spiked worldwide after the COVID-19 outbreak. A Filipino woman was called “Chinese coronavirus bitch” on a California train. A Singaporean man was assaulted in London by a group of teenagers yelling “coronavirus.” A Burmese man and his young son were stabbed in Midland, Texas, the attack likely related to the pandemic. Other expressions were subtler, like a Korean American waiting in line at a grocery store who watched a man lift his jacket over his face and radically change course to avoid any encounter. Denigrating looks, muffled snickering, and undisguised whispering was common.

More than four years ago, at the beginning of the last presidential election cycle, I warned about China bashing in an article I wrote for the International Examiner, Seattle’s Asian American newspaper. I observed and predicted “…a sad thing about America” and that “prejudice of China-bashing will be extended to all Asians—Asian Americans included.” I cited an example from the 1980s when Japan was at the height of its global economic success, and American resentment was extended to all Asian Americans. “In a notorious incident, Chinese American Vincent Chin was mistaken as Japanese and murdered in Detroit, where the auto industry was hit hard by Japanese imports.”

It is déjà vu all over again.

Last December, a Wuhan doctor, Li Wenliang, warned about the coronavirus, one of the first people to sound the alarm. Government officials quickly reprimanded him for spreading rumors. He later died of the virus, though his death was not a result of the official crackdown. Here in Whatcom County, emergency room physician Ming Lin warned about the inadequate response to the virus by PeaceHealth’s St. Joseph Medical Center. Hospital officials quickly reprimanded him. He was fired last Friday.

Déjà vu all over again.

About Ho See-wing

Citizen Journalist • Member since Oct 30, 2017

Ho See-wing is a film historian who divides his time between Bellingham and Hong Kong. He curates screening programs, teaches film classes and writes about the art of cinema. Devoted [...]

Comments by Readers

Konrad Lau

Apr 02, 2020

So, I’m guessing the selling of snakes, lizards, bats, rats, mice, pangolin, dogs and cats whole, in parts or as meat food stuffs is considered “…ideological arrogance” or “racial condescension”?

This is perhaps the best example of diversity I have ever heard of!

Not only are these various animals alive inside the market but they are butchered on-site. Note: The Chinese Communist government only yesterday said the markets are open for business again. This, after they had supposedly banned the sale of “wild” animals and their flesh.

The Communist Chinese government admitted they believed the origins of this plague came from this market AND no less than three other viral epidemics were traced back to wet markets over the past two decades.

As to Western societies “ignoring ominous warnings”: Where were they coming from? Certainly not from China. During that same time frame, China allowed thousands and thousands of airplane passengers to leave China and alight all over the globe without warnings or travel limitations.

Please, just the tiniest bit of intellectual honesty is all I need.

If I wanted Chinese propaganda, I would tune in to NPR or CNN.


John Servais

Apr 02, 2020

Konrad, thank you for providing such a perfect example of exactly what Ho See-wing is writing about.  


Ho See-wing

Apr 02, 2020

Thank you for your response, Konrad.  I had expected criticisms from those who have a problem with China and had started another article to further discuss the issue.  I’m lazy, I write slow and I’m on deadline for another article, so I ask for your patience. 

Meanwhile, since the issue of selling animals for food was raised, I would like to recommend the article “It takes a whole world to create a new virus, not just China,” in the March 25 issue of The Guardian.  Author Laura Spinney pointed out that “flu viruses that infect animals, including poultry and pigs, have periodically spilled over into humans ever since we domesticated those animals millennia ago.  But the factory farms that produce our food today ratchet up the virulence of those flu viruses just before they spill over. This ratcheting up has been documented in Europe, Australia and the US more than it has in poor or emerging economies, and it’s what gave rise to the last flu pandemic in 2009.”   She went on to note that “the first cases of that pandemic were recorded in California, but nobody calls it the American flu.”  She added that in addition to producing food on an industrial scale, “logging, mining, road-building and rapid urbanization” also contributed to human infections of animal origin.  She also quoted a study led by pandemic expert David Morens: “we have created a global, human-dominated ecosystem that serves as a playground for the emergence and host-switching of animal viruses.”  

COVID-19 is human problem, not a Chinese one, Konrad. 


Link to Spinney’s article:


Konrad Lau

Apr 03, 2020


Excuse me!

I was under the impression that expressing facts was truth.

Truth is NOT racism.

You may not want to hear the truth and that’s OK as long as your willful ignorance and use of your own bigotry does cloud policy decisions.

I noted that you did not dispute my facts but only resorted to a roundabout version of name-calling. Even in that dispersion, you did not have the strength of character to use direct language.

Perhaps you believe the use of “African-American” or “Native-American” or “Chinese-American” is proof of racism because those terms use identifiers of ethnic origin?



Using equivocation as an argument to excuse the outright lies and deception (ongoing) engaged in by the Chinese Communist government carries no weight with me.

Viral infections have classicaly been named for their country or animal of origin. Because there was no specific animal identified, the region was used.

Explain the ChiCom’s attempt to blame the outbreak on the USA.

Never mind, no level of apologetics will negate or mitigate their behavior.

It is nice that your comments are being seen by a largely communist sympathetic audience. I am sure you will be met with Leftist accolades.

Thanks for taking the time to respond though.


John Servais

Apr 03, 2020

Konrad, you tend to deal in hypotheticals.  And inuendo. I was careful to suggest that you “provided” a perfect example - clearly about what you wrote.  If I wanted to be personal then I would have used the word “being” - but did not.  Very direct language - and you took it that way.  Why did you not ask me to “Explain theChiCom’s attempts to…”?   Why did you ask Ho?  The answer is clear.  Hope I’m being direct.  Here is an Op-ed in today’s  Washington Post that addresses this issue of Chinese and Americans. Actually, Ho may be more a Texan than a Chinese as he lived there more years.  Do you like Texans?


Ho See-wing

Apr 03, 2020

Thanks, Konrad, for operning my eyes to your thinking.

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