That is my answer when people ask me how things are going. I know this is not the answer they want but that’s what I give. Because my emotions are in constant flux. One moment I’m fine, strolling along the ocean with my wife. The next moment I am nearly panicking because Walmart is a hell of a lot more crowded then I expected. So the answer truly changes depending on where I am, who I’m with, and what I am reading. I think this is okay though. I think this should be expected, after all, the virus news keeps changing every hour or so. It’s hard to keep up, so I am not really going to bother talking much about the virus itself. I am just going to talk about life as it is now.
The Day to Day
The days have gotten pretty repetitive and only vary a little each day. I will walk you through a typical day.
8 AM – I get up and start working on something. Sometimes grading, sometimes lessons, sometimes drawing or painting, and sometimes on an online course that I signed up for.
10 AM – Carter wakes up. He snuggles for a few minutes then demands food. I give him bread or maybe an orange. We play for a while. Around this time Michelle’s father emerges from his room and starts making breakfast.
11 AM Michelle starts making awake noises and her dad tells her food is ready. Carter and his grandpa eat. Sometimes Michelle joins. And sometimes Michelle makes something special for me when she does.
12 PM I get ready for my online class while Michelle’s dad takes Carter out to play. Michelle gets set to watch a video for fun or for a test she will take when they let the world resume.
1 PM I meet with my kids digitally. One group from 1 to 1:30 and another group from 1:30 to 2. After that is over, I get the next day’s video explanations ready and make tweaks to assignments based on where my students are that day.
3 or 4 PM Michelle and I go for a walk. We usually do some grocery shopping along the way and occasionally reunite with Carter and play in the sand.
5 PM We usually head to SeaWorld and then stop for a tasty freshly-made bread treat before walking into Ole grocery store. Every two days or so Michelle buys bananas and I buy bread. We pick up other random things we need or want to try and then we head home.
6 or 7 PM When we get home one of us starts to cook (usually Michelle) and then Carter emerges grumpily from his nap. We get him happily walking around and then we eat.
10 PM We start getting ready for bed. We sleep. Then the day starts all over again.
The only difference on the weekend seems to be the lack of my class meeting.
The Fight Against Boredom
I have played in the sand pits a lot with Carter this month. I dig and create mountains for him to destroy. It’s great fun but he eventually gets tired. So I have looked for other things to keep me entertained. I have done a lot of crosswords, more then I want. I also signed up for a course on Coursera. It was about modern art and it was a fun break from the norm. It did not inspire me to make art sadly but it did get me to join a lot of other courses. One of them is a creative writing course and I have had to create 55-word stories a couple times. Check them out here: https://wp.me/ptBAL-1e and https://wp.me/ptBAL-1f
Masks, Masks, Everywhere! (Except for purchase)
When I first moved to Shenzhen 5 years ago I was surprised to see people wearing masks. It was a little bit creepy and I didn’t really understand it. The Japanese urban legend of kuchisake onna did not help me feel at ease around mask wearers. Not that I expected that urban legend to play out in real life but it used to cross my mind when I saw the occasional mask being worn. As I continued to live here, I got used to seeing masks on people everywhere I went. I soon began to understand the reason behind it and as I learned more I stopped paying a lot of attention to it. Masks were worn for a variety of reasons before it became mandatory to wear them when you go out. You might wear them because you were feeling a little sick. You might wear one because it was cold and flu season and you wanted to protect yourself from others who may be sick and not wearing a mask. You might wear one because the pollution levels were high or it was allergy season. There are a lot of reasons to wear a mask if you think about it. The reasons can be for both your benefit and the benefit of others.
We are wearing our masks every day at this point because it is mandated by the government. Except for Carter. Carter still won’t let us put one on him. He fights it the entire time. I get lectured occasionally by security guards and old ladies. This is interesting because their government said young children should not wear them because there is a risk of suffocation. So here I am being given the third degree over something that they shouldn’t be hassling me over. I have to work pretty hard at not getting annoyed with them.
The thing about the masks is that they really aren’t designed for you to walk around in them all the time. They are designed to be worn by people in a healthcare environment that are dealing with sick people. So, as we all rush out to stock up on masks, the people that need them, doctors and nurses, are facing shortages. I am not sure what to say about that, I have no suggestions to offset this. It just is a crappy situation.
As we come out of our apartment complex we submit to a temperature check. Then when you head to Wal-Mart you get checked again. If you went to Ole to shop you get checked when entering the complex it’s part of and then again as you enter the grocery store. When you come back to the apartment complex you get checked again. I know my temperature is normal but I am beginning to wonder if I will develop some kind of cancer from all these infrared temperature checks I submit too.
The first few times it is a nerve-wracking experience to get your temperature checked. Hoping that it comes up in the acceptable range. It didn’t matter that you felt healthy, you still had a worry in the back of your head. After about a week, though, you just stop and let them check and then walk off no longer paying attention to the number or if they seem concerned (they don’t, you’re fine).
That School Life
I have been working my behind off since school went online. I always thought it would be a cakewalk but the reality is that it is far harder than working in my classroom. I think to a certain extent it’s because my students are either in 1st or 2nd grade. This is not an age where kids excel at independent work. In fact, it’s an age where after 30 seconds of independent work they want your attention again. They need to show you things and hear your feedback. They want approval and they generally just want to know you are listening. How do you handle that through a computer? Well, one thing I have been doing the past 3 weeks is getting online with them daily. I actually have found that it is my favorite part of the workday. I get to see them and get interrupted by them. I get to tell them the same thing over and over again. But for once, it isn’t really bothering me. I can finally see that they are trying the best they can in a very weird situation. I also can feel better for a while because I know the kids I saw that day are healthy and safe.
As I write about my resilient students, I began to realize I also need to say a word or two about the parents. It has been hard on them. They are spending money to send their kids to our school to get an education in English. English is a language a lot of them don’t speak and if they do it usually isn’t at the level they need to help with our assignments. Some parents are trying to help while they are also working full time on top of it. So they have been frustrated at times, which is understandable. I hope they know we appreciate them and their efforts. It is weird but I feel like I am closer to these kids and their families because of the situation. Still, I think every single person in this situation is looking forward to the school buildings reopening and for us all to return safely to a more normal form of education.
The question is when will that happen? When this started I was dismayed by the February 16th return announcement. I felt battered by the March 2nd push back. Then the March 23rd date felt devastating. The thing is that the date is still uncertain. It’s merely the planned date, as were the dates that came before it. Recently Hong Kong, our neighbor, announced an April 20th date for return and we are all holding our breath hoping it’s just them. We want our students safe and we understand that is why this keeps happening but we also know we are most effective, as teachers, in a face to face classroom environment. We want to do our jobs at the best level and for that, we want to be back in our physical classrooms. So each delay is not being celebrated by the teachers, students or parents. Covid, covid, go away, we want to go to school today.
Stuck by Staying
When we were told the return date was moved to March 23rd they also told us that our spring break had changed. It had been originally set for early April but it was moving to March 2-6. The reason it moved was to maximize our face to face instruction time. The reason they gave made sense but I felt robbed by the decision. I knew it meant a week of being home like I already am. I also knew my dream of having my dad here for it and traveling China one last time together was a no go. There are flights to places in China but the sightseeing spots are closed down. So you can go but you aren’t guaranteed to have a good time. We also happen to be in one of the higher infection number areas and are not necessarily free from quarantine restrictions traveling within the country.
Getting away from China was a popular thing in January. At least until they made it hard to go anywhere from China. Flights have disappeared and the ones left are pretty terrible time-wise (how do you feel about a 30 hour travel time to the US?) A lot of places are closed to anyone who has been in China within the last 14 days and a lot of places that will let you in have a quarantine period in place when you get there. Then there is still that pesky issue about me not wanting to travel with hundreds of other people in a confined space. The only difference between this week and every other week this month is I won’t have to make videos, school content, or any online meetings.
The World is the Problem
As I am writing this the cases in other countries is rising. It makes me wonder how well they will handle the issue. There has been a lot of criticism of what China did and is doing. I do not know enough to tell you if they could have done better or not. The thing is, the new infections are dropping here and the cured people are increasing. I think that leaving here at this point is opening yourself up to more risk.
A nice chunk of us stayed here for various reasons. We created WeChat groups and had each other’s backs. Sharing information, tips, and some laughs. I really feel like those that went through this experience with me helped me keep it together. So I feel grateful for what they have done and what they continue to do.
Even more of my co-workers left China. Some had left for Chinese New Year and decided to stay out until things got under control. Some people left as ports to Hong Kong started closing. A few went to the US but some stayed out there as nomads. I watched people that are usually pretty good travelers struggle with the nomadic life while trying to teach at the same time. Making and running online lessons is hard. Most have ended up going somewhere they call home besides China. They are waiting for this to end still so they can come home and resume life. I am glad they decided to go home because I think ultimately you need a stable place to run lessons. It’s hard to be stable and running things from a hotel.
Until next time, stay healthy.
PS. This post took me 10 days to write. I hope you like it and if you do, feel free to share.