Opinion: The Good Thing About COVID-19: The Case of #IRoamAlone

A screenshot of Mint's video shows her getting vaccinated at a CVS Pharmacy in New York City. Image: I Roam Alone / YouTube
A screenshot of Mint's video shows her getting vaccinated at a CVS Pharmacy in New York City. Image: I Roam Alone / YouTube

A popular travel YouTuber got herself in hot water this week after she uploaded a clip showing herself traveling business-class to New York, got herself vaccinated with Pfizer’s, and said there is one good thing about COVID-19.

Mint “I Roam Alone,” a young Thai travel vlogger apologized earlier this week after some netizens attacked her for flaunting her happiness and privileged lifestyle, praising the coronavirus for enabling her to see the extraordinary in the mundane.

“Being in a place where I hear other languages. Seeing unfamiliar sights along the streets. This is something I always did before last year. I almost forgot how special it is. And today…it’s such a special feeling. The only good thing about COVID is that I have come to appreciate what I used to have even more and see special things in ordinary things,” she said.

Her face beamed with happiness, from a rental apartment in Brooklyn where she’s just arrived with her Thai female driver-companion. The YouTube clip posted Sunday attracted 1.2 million viewers, 39K likes, and 3.1K dislikes as of Friday.

Her statement was taken in a very negative way by some Thais who said she has no consideration for less-to-do Thais, who are suffering financial ruin and health hazard due to COVID-19. Others said those unhappy about what they saw should just chill.

Days after the social media storm, Mint apologised on Facebook and made a U-Turn: “I would like to apologize again for what I said, which affected the feelings of many people living in such a severe situation at present. I stressed that there is nothing good about COVID-19. I’m sorry but what I said to myself in the clip was that it was so special to be able to travel again,” Mint wrote on Wednesday.

“I must thank you for warning me when I made a mistake.”

There are two things worth noting here:

First, some Thais have become increasingly too fragile and pedantic about others’ opinions.

Second, the privileged can often get themselves lost in their own world, oblivious to the suffering some of the less fortunate are facing or what others might think.

First, let me defend the right to free speech made by Mint. She has all the right to express her views about whether there is anything good coming out of COVID-19 at all. Others have the right to criticize her as well, however.

Personally, COVID-19 taught me, or forced me to reprioritize life – what’s valuable and meaningful, be it relations with others, lifestyle, as well as to reflect upon the fragility of life.

But then, the popular and now controversial travel YouTuber beamed out her happy message to the widest audience possible, that’s 5 million followers on Facebook, with little or no reference to the massive sufferings faced by majority of Thais, who may have either lost their jobs or their loved ones to the pandemic became disturbing to some.

Without that context and acknowledgement, the travel guide ran the risk of appearing oblivious, out of touch with the reality of the majority and engaging in voyeurism, when many Thais are finding it hard to even make both ends meet, not to mention fly to NYC for a month-long vaccine holiday.

It was just too much for some Thai netizens to stomach. So with her right to free speech and to flaunt her privilege, or enviable job as a content creator, came the severe criticism and hatred that compelled her to renounce her earlier stance that there is something good about COVID-19 at all.

And if anything, her very public display of a happy lifestyle also reminds us that there is more than one Thailand – not all are really suffering from COVID-19 financially. (BTW, I think we should be happy that some Thais could find happiness amidst the pandemic.)

Mint was also criticized for her unwillingness to take the Thai government to task when it comes to its failure to inoculate more people sooner, and with vaccines that people feel they can trust. Instead, Mint chose to put politics aside and only noted on the same Facebook status: “I believe politics affects everyone. And everyone must do something but each has his or her own way of expressing oneself.”

In the other Thailand, the top 10 to 20 percent, are hardly affected in any meaningful way besides the ‘inconveniences’ of being unable to travel as frequently and as freely as they used to. And if being promptly vaccinated with your choice of vaccine is a problem, just fly to America, get yourself inoculated and spend a month of vacation there. Problem solved!

In a way, we must thank Mint for making it clear to millions that the other Thailand is doing quite okay, that privileged Thais exist and inhabit as well as travel, in a parallel universe.

Let them have cake. Better still, let them have red velvet cupcakes at Magnolia, a bakery at Rockefeller Center.