As some of you may know, I live in China.
As all of you know, China is feeling a little under the weather lately with a bit of a fever, a slight cough and a splash of death.
This is far more politically involved than you'd like to believe, and I'll probably go into that in a follow-up post, but I thought it might be interesting to hear how much the virus is actually affecting my own life short of actually getting into my body.
To be clear, this is more of a mild set of inconveniences for me, and I can't rightly use this platform to complain when literally millions are going through what they are. My life here is still, at the end of the day, more comfortable and convenient than living in, say, England, which seems, for the most part, to be trapped in the 1990s.
I've made a little video of my trip to the supermarket today before we get started on the following lecture of my life. It's somewhat interesting in places I suppose!
A Little Perspective
The virus has some pretty good timing, almost as if someone is actually playing Plague inc. in a hyper-realistic simulation. Like SARS in 2003, CoViD-19 popped up around Chinese New Year, the biggest holiday of the year and the largest human migration in history. What a great way to spread one's seed!
So naturally, the only way I'd get a chance to fly out for vacation was to book well in advance, long before any outbreak had happened. By the time we heard about it hitting maybe 100 people in one province, I was outta there, but the hysteria had already hit global levels and the airport on departure felt rather on edge, with 95% of people wearing masks. I really respect this responsible if a little over-the-top response.
It wasn't long before I was reading about UK-sized populations going under total lockdown, and cities surrounding my own (Hangzhou, Wenzhou, Taizhou...) were all going under semi-lockdown (where only one person per household may leave their home, once every two days, for supplies). It wasn't long before I was being force-fed a stampede of leaked footage demonstrating how the situation is far worse than the mainstream media lets on (which, for the West, can only rely on what they can grab either freely by state-run media, which of course has a very controlled agenda or a few drops of leaked footage here and there if it ever gets outside of China).
Video footage includes people being beaten to a pulp for suspicion of coming from Wuhan, being locked into their apartments with metal bars by their neighbours and fed by being delivered food at their windows, fights breaking out at town borders where vigilantes have set up tons of boulders, rocky debris or just weaponized groups to prevent anyone coming in ever again. Other footage includes those finding desperate solutions for masks, be it paper or fruit shells or cut-out water bottles over their heads, but the most important ones are insights to the hospitals in the epicenter of the crisis, in which doctors are having to wear adult diapers to shit themselves while they work because they simply cannot take a break for days at a time, others having major panic attacks and others having their faces malformed from the constant strain of wearing masks their entire lives.
The darkest footage is from those videos showing the people being dragged away against their will, the dead piling up in the hospital corridors, and the new, super-fast constructed 'hospitals' turning out to be little more than large rooms to store those waiting to die, beds constructed of wooden panels and a sheet on top.
Needless to say, I was somewhat relieved that I made it out of there, as Shanghai itself started hinting at major enforcement, too. Schools and businesses shut down indefinitely, destroying the lives of countless including people I personally know, masks became mandatory for public transport, but mask supplies remain at zero for weeks along with any other countermeasure products.
England was comparatively safe. I still felt a slight edginess, especially with the Chinese who were all still wearing their masks, and when I shopped around in my visit, I failed to ever find a store with their masks still in stock, and any large chains such as Boots were perpetually out of any disinfectants or alcohol hand gels or similar. This applied in London and in smaller towns such as my hometown, Leicester.
For the most part, however, people were not thinking too much about it. At least on the surface. But they were thinking about it just enough to mess with my life. I wrote the above perspective because I don't want people to think my situation in any way compares with the struggles millions are going through in China right now, but I wanted to highlight just how global the struggles have become.
Here Comes Trouble
We've all probably read about the rise in racist sentiment against the Chinese, and we saw this ignorance first hand when visiting the National Art Gallery. One girl was walking around with her top raised close to her chin, on guard. Whenever an Asian individual came within range of her, she would rapidly lift her top over her nose and mouth until the Asian went away.
As amusing as this might seem, it shows that ignorance has no borders. What does she hope to achieve doing this? Is her top specially designed to filter out viruses? Does covering one's face for 2-3 seconds prove effective against floating particles in the air all around you? Are Asians the only ones capable of contracting this virus? Did all Asians come from China? Oh well. Sigh and move on.
This was an early signal that the hysteria of the virus was beginning to spread at a much greater rate than the virus itself.
Later, when visiting friends, I was offered to stay at one of their mum's homes overnight. How kind! Unfortunately, she later discovered that her son was referring not to the friend with the same name as me, but me, the one who came from China. Instantly she insta-banned me from ever going near her, and we had to instead drive for 2 hours to another city where my friend lived, and he had to sleep on the sofa before driving me back again the next day to get a bus to go back this way once more. Fantastic.
While I was in this new city - Milton Keynes - I was eagerly checking my updates to see how the virus is spreading, any new information, and checking whether my flight was still on. The evening showed it was fine, a mere two days before departure. However, the same flight on that day was canceled. This was a very bad omen. Should mine follow suit, I barely had time to figure out another path out of England and back to China.
(At this point, everyone was saying 'good', calling me crazy for even thinking about going back, but hey, I had no choice).
Waking up the next day, it turned out that my flight, to nobody's surprise, was indeed canceled, and in fact, all flights were to be canceled indefinitely.
Stressed out of my head, I looked for new flights and stunningly there were only THREE flights that would go to China, direct or otherwise. A single flight from China Eastern costing well over $1500, Aeroflot and another Chinese airline.
Most of these flights were 30-something hours, some requiring you to change city during transfer. But one flight per day via Moscow was feasible and affordable so I went with that.
My money went through, but it was returned soon after. I called them to make sure they were not going to cancel and they assured me, but also said the price I was being quoted and was paying for was impossible, as they were not selling it at such a low price.
I tried 4 others and from different sites and all were rejected.
I was trapped, with dwindling money (already borrowing at this point due to lack of access to my main bank account because China is annoying), cats at risk of abandonment and a job threatening to fire anyone who wasn't back on time.
At the same time, rumours were spreading that by the 7th of February, all flights into China would be halted
It became a race against time as my panic set in deeper. But, after some hours, some food and some time away from my now one-night hotel room roughly the size of a single bed and space to stand up (bathroom down in the basement somewhere), I received amazing news that I could stay at another place for at least a week or so if needed free of charge.
That is until... The landlord of this place discovered that I came from China, and he was Chinese. I was swiftly perma-banned despite having been safely away from China since before the pandemic, and for a solid 2 weeks without symptoms.
At this point, I felt a little like enemy number 1. The leper hiding in the shadows in fear of being strapped to a ladder and burned alive. To be clear, I'm very white. This was not so much racism against me, but irrational fear which can and does result in the same thing eventually.
I had to get out one way or another.
It soon occurred to me that I had one more method of payment I hadn't tried yet, as I had never actually set it up to begin with. WeChat.
Wechat is like Whatsapp in China but it functions as a feature-all app where you can pay bills, book cinemas and, indeed, flights.
I spent some time figuring out how to connect it with my main account, verification, etc. and... HAZAA, I had one single way to access my main source of income.
Within minutes I had a surprisingly cheap flight booked. The next day I was up and outta there.
On the Other Side
Arriving in Shanghai was somewhat surreal.
Other than those on the plane all wearing masks, it started off pretty standard. Getting into the airport itself was another story. Everyone was covered head to toe in scary hazmat suits, ushering people this way and that, temperature stations scanning your bodies and everyone was made to fill and sign forms telling them where you came from and how many contacts with Wuhan people you may have had.
My flight was the only flight arriving. Midday, Shanghai. Biggest city in the country.
This was kind of great. Going through immigration, there were only 3 foreigners including myself, so I got through at lightning speed. The question, however, was how was I gonna get home?
I decided to take the Subway was probably the best, or only, option. This is the longest and most annoying route, but it looked like nobody was going to use it so I'd at least get a seat.
I wasn't wrong - From the airport right into the busiest stations in the city, from Century Avenue to Lujiazui, Jingan Temple and finally my stop... I saw perhaps 30 people use that line.
Later, it was reported that on that day, about 100 people were found to have fevers and taken into custody. I don't like those odds, but too late to dwell on it now.
I was made to wear a mask before I could even enter, but it didn't look like I needed it given the closest person to me was a good 10 metres away or so.
Finally, I reached the outside world, fairly peaceful, empty streets before getting home to my healthy cats who I had instructed to stay indoors for the last week due to uninformed individuals being reported killing animals in the streets on the false rumour that pets were spreading the virus among people.
So now I'm here, my work and the government decided that we would all be staying home at least another week and actual work would not begin until March, and I get to sit here observing the pollution-free stars, enjoying the voluntary quarantine my friends have all been sitting through for the last 2 weeks.
Also my salary gets delayed a month. Boo.
As of writing this, some extra measures have been hammered down onto Shanghai. I can no longer have deliveries to my door, nor to my complex, and I have to now make a ten-minute walk to the end of my residential block to pick anything up I might order.
Masks are legally mandatory in all public areas, as are temperature checks; I got checked 4 times between home and the nearest supermarket.
Most big franchises and other home comforts have been shut down and so unless I cook at home, delivery options are largely limited to noodles and rice, but supermarkets are still plentiful.
There are helpful services and apps that can track, for example, the location of infected victims in your area and where they are being quarantined. I'm not sure how much it helps other than to scare people but it's nice to know I guess.
So there you have it.
So far untouched by the virus itself, its aftertaste stretches right around the globe and sticks its tendrils in every orifice that doesn't welcome it anyway. And it's super annoying.
Things are changing on a daily basis so by the time I post it, it will already be somewhat obsolete, so if there's interest I may keep making some updates here and there.
How much of this is a result of the virus itself, and how much of it is media frenzy and political action, is something I'll delve into more seriously in the next post.
For now though... SIGH.