Chinese New Year and a Virus

Note: All of the photos are in a slide show at the bottom.

This year Michelle and I planned to go back to her hometown. We would take Ba (what we call her dad and the name for dad in Chinese) and Carter. I was not excited about the trip but I told her I would go if she wanted me to. Michele began looking for train tickets and was telling me we’d be on the train for 22 hours and I was not happy but again I said I’d go if she wanted me to. She went back to looking and I wondered when and if we were going. She said no more about it so I just kept wondering.

On January 22nd we had a half-day of school. Our break for Chinese New year had started. I finally asked if we were going to her hometown and when. Michelle had found tickets going but all the tickets coming back in time for us to get back to work had sold out. So we could go but we couldn’t get back, which meant we couldn’t go. I was feeling both relieved and feeling a little bad. I know CNY is a time for the family to be together and that made me feel bad for Michelle, Ba, and the rest of the family. I also know that I did not want to be on a train for 22 hours so I felt glad for me.

We started talking about things to do during the break. I was pretty insistent on going to the Lantern Show at OCT Harbour. We decided we would do that on Thursday, January 23rd. We also talked about Fairy Lake and our beach house in Huizhou. We were feeling like we could really do anything. The city was already pretty quiet, it gets that way during Chinese New Year. Most people don’t actually come from Shenzhen and they were headed home to be with family. People were still here and some of the shops were open but it was considerably quieter.

Now, we had been hearing about a new virus already but we weren’t paying much attention. Nothing had really been happening that seemed alarming. I mean, just google the flu infection and death rates if you want to see our perspective. So we were a little surprised when we woke up and heard Wuhan was being locked down. We still weren’t worried and honestly, we weren’t alone. I noticed that more people were wearing face masks but people always wear face masks in China. It is a normal sight that you get used to. Still, I noticed more people in them than normal. It wasn’t everyone though and my photos from the Lantern Festival can show you that. It was a marvelous day of wandering around and a splendid night at the always fun Lantern festival. They make the various lanterns new every year and it is pretty amazing.

We woke up on Friday to announced closures. Museums, theme parks, and the Lantern Festival were shut down. We were very glad we had gone to the Lantern Festival the night before. People began talking about wearing masks on WeChat. On Saturday, we dug out our masks.

A lot of people have talked about the food supply. There were a few days that fresh vegetables and meat were sold out. Canned and boxed goods began to disappear. It was a little scary but you need to realize that this was the start of Chinese New Year. Most people are off and no deliveries are made, shops that stay open estimate what they will need and then they make do. This isn’t usually a huge deal because people aren’t rushing out to stockpile food but with the canceling of events and celebrations, people were.

Then our school announced that we would delay our face to face school start and would be giving online lessons. A lot of my co-workers started making plans to leave. Some were leaving to get away from the coronavirus, others were leaving for some fun location, and others were worried that the virus would end up making it hard to leave China. Michelle and I talked about leaving. We both wanted to and didn’t want to. I want to explain our thinking.

Reasons to go:

It’s a little scary hearing about a virus 24/7 and being in the country that it originates from. A lot of other people were leaving. We thought we could go somewhere fun and relaxing. Maybe it would feel safer.

Reasons to stay:

We were still going out and about. There is food here. The streets were empty. I felt like running online classes would be easier from home. Most importantly I was terrified of my fellow travelers. I think people are good most of the time but people + fear makes them not so great. I was worried I would travel with an infected person. Michelle and I can wear a mask but Carter won’t wear one, even for a picture opportunity (we’ve tried). Not only that but he really isn’t old enough to wear one. They warn that there is a risk of suffocation. Also, how do we feed an always hungry baby without removing the damn thing anyway? That was really the main reason we stayed, Carter. I just could not justify taking a trip with hundreds of people that could put him at risk. At home, we could better control his exposure to people. I know people with small children that left. I am not saying it couldn’t be done and I am not thinking they made a mistake. They made their decision and it differed from ours. I have found that I feel safest at home with my family. Traveling is fine for limited trips but all the wording implied that it could be indeterminate (and so far it is exactly that… an indeterminate return to normal). For now, my home is right here in Shenzhen.

Since we made that decision, masks became mandatory. At about the time the mask supply was all sold out. We are still waiting for new masks to hit the shelves. This was complicated because people that make masks were off for the Chinese New Year. In fact, Chinese New Year was extended by the government to try and get a handle on the virus before everybody went back to work. We are still in the process of people coming back to Shenzhen and things are still mostly closed.

Hong Kong began closing itself off from Shenzhen, a little at a time. They are now closed to us unless we want a 14-day mandatory quarantine. Airlines are canceling flights to China and Hong Kong on a regular basis. We are pretty much stuck in Shenzhen until this ends.

Our school went from a February 17th return to the school building to a March 2nd return (estimated). Believe me when I say I am hoping there are no more delays. Online school is hard to pull off when your students are 6 and 7. You need to give them meaningful work but not too much of it because they are not independent. A lot of my parents do not speak English and helping is a real challenge. What this all means is that I am doing 3 times the work then I would if I was sitting in my classroom.

Now let’s talk about the virus a bit.

The Ncov-2019 virus had impeccable timing. Striking at Lunar New Year, commonly known as Chinese New Year in a lot of the world. The biggest holiday in China. It is very very important here. It is the one time of year that nearly everyone gets a nice long break from work. It’s a time to be with family and celebrate together. It’s a time for the constantly working nation of China to relax.

You may not know that a lot of people don’t get to see their family at any other time of year. For some people, this includes their children. They go to the city to work and send everything home to their parents. Those parents care for their grandchildren. Think about that…. it’s an important time of year.

It’s called the largest human migration, China’s population moves. People head home for the most part. A few spend this time traveling away from China but that is not normal. Keep that in mind when you hear about the quarantines of cities and large populations. Some people didn’t get to go home because of the crisis. A whole year of not seeing their families or children. Some people went home and now can’t go back to work. They travel to the cities so they can make enough money to live on. Chinese people work hard and this was their break time.

Michelle told me that when they closed down Wuhan a lot of people escaped before it happened. I thought about it for a second. Thinking kinda negative thoughts but then I thought ‘what would I have wanted to do?’ I would have wanted to grab my family and leave. I would have been very tempted to run, the very thing thousands of people did. I am not downplaying that this action might have helped the virus spread. I am just saying I can understand it. People regardless of where they come from react in certain ways when they are afraid. People running? Seems like a flight or fight type of response to me. Would you want to be stuck in a city with 30,000 confirmed cases?

I have been hearing all kinds of rumors about the virus and all kinds of awful things about China and Chinese people online. I have lived here for 5 years and I have a soft spot for Cina. I married a wonderful Chinese woman and we have an awesome sone together. When I married her, I married into her family. I have a lot of friends that are Chinese. I have great Chinese co-workers that have helped me all through my 5-year journey. And don’t forget all of my wonderful students that have been mostly Chinese. Just like everywhere there are some people who aren’t great but that is always the exception. The government is…. well I think I will not be throwing rocks (have you seen my glass house?). Most of my experiences here have been good and my life has definitely improved because I moved here. I say this to let you know that you need to leave the hurtful memes and articles filled with unverifiable rumors off your social media. Notice that I am not asking. I am expecting you to be a better person. Right now what the Chinese people need are positive thoughts and support from the international community. Be the voice you would want to hear if you were in a similar situation.

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Stay healthy and Safe,

Michael.

*** edit: I included a photo taken by a friend and awesome photographer, Tom Harvey. I meant to make special mention of his photo being included, the only one that isn’t taken by me. I forgot to do so. I took the photo out of the slide show so I could share it and credit it. He was out taking photos as he usually does when Michelle and I walked past his lens. We never saw him because we were busy chatting about something. He waved but we missed it. It’s a great shot. This was not the first time he has snapped pictures of us. Tom took photos for Michele and I, one afternoon, when Michelle was very pregnant with Carter. His photos of Shenzhen that he is taking right now are amazing. Here is the photo:

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