Less than a month ago, I was sitting in the office of my workplace, Shanghai-based online news organization Sixth Tone. One of the news editors mentioned a new mysterious pneumonia-like virus in Wuhan that had appeared in the Chinese media. There were roughly 50 confirmed cases and no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
Well, suffice to say things have changed since then as medical workers and scientists have gained better understandings of the novel coronavirus and how to identify it. It is transmitted between people, and the incubation period is about 14 days. It covers a range of symptoms, the main ones being fever, cough, difficulty breathing. (In rare cases, death, seemingly with those who have chronic or preexisting conditions).
Leading up to the Lunar New Year holiday, things were hectic in the office. Sixth Tone has been busy writing rolling updates on how China has been combatting the spread — be it by cancelling the debut of holiday movies to keep people from congregating, offering full ticket refunds in advance of the travel season to keep people at home, and keeping mask vendors from ratcheting up prices amid increased demand. Right before the holiday, we even had to scramble to update a long-planned pet cafe article to include space/commentary on the wild animal trade believed to be a major factor in the emergence of the coronavirus and ask interviewees to respond to this. We had to publish it several days before the intended due date in case the situation changed even more and the poor writer’s work became unusable.
I left the country for a weeklong trip on Jan. 23 to the Philippines with Katie, a good friend of mine. Things had been getting so intense in China in terms of keeping people at home/out of crowded places that I had briefly considered canceling the trip to avoid the transit. I’m glad I didn’t. We got to spend quality time together, go scuba diving, snorkeling, canyoning, beaching, and we generally relaxed around the dive resort where we were staying. Every time we went scuba diving and snorkeling together, we saw sea turtles! And we both felt at ease, watching stunning sunsets and sipping smoothies.
It was a welcome reprieve, but now I’m back in Shanghai, and I’m part of the group of plucky expats and locals who are making the best of the situation. Of course people are worried, but we are not panicked. We keep washing our hands, wearing masks when out (more to come on why masks matter, even if just symbolically), and generally trying to mainly be social online and not in-person. A friend of mine orchestrated what she called a “Plague Week Book Club” which would have people via conference call chatting about that month’s book. The Shanghai Writer’s Workshop is putting together an anthology of virus-related creative works, and a friend of mine and his wife, in the throes of their self-quarantine boredom, re-enacted all nine Star Wars movies with blankets and sticks. Some people are still going for walks (masked) in the empty streets of Shanghai. Some are using the solitude to finish projects.
All of this is to say that though this may seem like a scary time to be alive, life keeps going nonetheless. I may be working from home for the next couple of weeks; I might be delaying activities in the city; I may occasionally freak out when I get the sniffles (the disembodied voice of my sister in my ears from when I once called her back in college thinking my roommate had swine flu: “Got a fever? No? Then it’s not the flu.” to keep me rational), but by and large I’m optimistic (and also fortunate to be living in a first-tier city with excellent medical resources).
It’s now the Year of the Rat. It’s a precarious start to the year to be sure, but here we are! I will try to keep you updated on my daily life as the situation progresses and (hopefully) abates soon. Fridge is stocked. Cooking will commence. And hey, if you know any good multi-meal recipes (aka, one trip to grocery store, week’s worth of meals) I’m all ears!
For now, be healthy, be happy, be calm!