3.05.2020

Half the World Away 冠状病毒

I would like to leave this city
This old town don't smell too pretty and
I can feel the warning signs running around my mind
-Oasis

Photo Source: Sight Magazine

On January 31, from the confines of her Beijing university campus apartment, fellow expat, Xialian, wrote me, “I would suggest you stay in the USA.”

Yes, it has come to this: Stay out of China.

The timing was incredible. On January 15, just as the Chinese New Year holiday commenced, we landed in sunny California. Literally the next day, the news dominated the headlines: a deadly novel virus was spreading throughout China. Although this new flu was discovered in December, China was just beginning to go into disease control mode.

So under university orders, Xialian and her new husband were confined to campus grounds. With no appointments to keep, no work, and nowhere to go, they went into vacation mode. They lazed about in their pajamas, ate breakfast at 10 am, and watched Chinese movies.

As Beijing went into lockdown, people got scared. They flooded the supermarkets and bought up all the vegetables, fruit, and instant noodles. Face masks went flying off the (both literal and online) shelves for exorbitant prices until there were no more. People stayed at home watching their phones for updates. A few thousand infected. The next day a thousand more. Each day the number of infected climbed.

Jan 28 From a friend in Beijing: the vegetables all bought up
Jan 29 From a friend in southern China: no ramen for you!
Some of our friends had their plane tickets to leave China suddenly cancelled and they were unable to rebook a flight originating from China. Others had traveled to their hometowns and couldn't return to their Beijing homes. Beijing had closed its borders. Others were like us. They had left before the lockdown and wouldn't go back to China anytime soon. Everyone's lives became suspended and limited.

Meanwhile, we took sanctuary at Moomoo's house and the coronavirus threat was half a world away. We soaked up the California sunshine and feasted on delicious oranges plucked fresh from my parent's prolific trees. We met up with our friends for brews and food. Despite their busy schedules, my sister and her husband squeezed in a brief trip from Georgia to California at the same time as us. Dumpling played and played with her cousins, and revelled in one-on-one Moomoo and Yaya time. Not to be forgotten was all the ice cream she ate. birdMAN and Kyle hit the trails with their mountain bikes. My California workout partner, Gabie, and I took 6 am barre classes and rewarded ourselves with Peet's coffee. California was good to us.

Just hanging out in California

But as February 7, the date of our return to Beijing, drew closer, the coronavirus began to hit closer to home. Fellow expats living in Beijing reiterated for us to stay away. The city was getting stricter and everyone was self quarantining at home. The city was quiet. Even the Chinese New Year's fireworks had been silenced. The subways were empty and temperature checks were everywhere.

The main concern was birdMAN's job. birdMAN was obligated to return to his job as a math teacher at an international high school. Since China's schools would delay the start of the semester, however, there was no reason for an immediate return. Furthermore, anyone entering Beijing must first undergo two weeks of self quarantine before returning to work. Communication with the school later revealed that it was developing a plan that did not require birdMAN in Beijing.

Truthfully, I wasn't too keen on going back to China. Quarantining in a dinky apartment with an active three year old would not be a walk in the park. Staying at Moomoo's was a much more appealing way to spend the next couple of months.

The number of infected continued to increase. The coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, dominated the headlines. I received messages from concerned friends. You aren't going back to China, are you?

Much to our mothers' relief, we extended our California stay by another week. That bonus week gave us more time to enjoy the onset of California spring and eat as much cheese as humanly possible. Meanwhile, birdMAN-- who had initially speculated that the virus craze would abate quickly and we would be back to Beijing in no time-- was beginning to wonder how this would play out. Perhaps the time to call China quits had finally come. We could just take up semi-permanent residence with Moomoo. This coronavirus business was not going away anytime soon.

The immediate future was hazy. Where would we end up?

We soon got our answer. birdMAN received the news via WeChat: The semester will resume in South Korea. You have been selected as one of the teachers to move to South Korea.

So... that's how we have become temporary residents of South Korea. A month ago we had no clue that we would have to start all over in a new country with a foreign language. But we rolled with it. That's life. Time to learn some basic Korean.

As of today, more than 92,000 have been infected worldwide and the disease continues to spread. Outside of China, South Korea is currently one of the worst affected countries, tallying more than 5,700 infected with COVID-19 and 35 deaths [1]. In response to the virus, schools in South Korea are closed for another three weeks. Everyone here wears face masks and nobody talks to each other.

Meanwhile, back in China, restrictions continue to be enforced. People are slowly trickling back to Beijing and subsequently doing two weeks of quarantine. Six weeks into lockdown, Xialian is learning to make home-made noodles and undoubtedly improving her Chinese with all those crazy Chinese movies she's watching. Our Beijing apartment is gathering dust and John Dough, my sourdough starter, is being woefully neglected. That block of cheese in the fridge awaiting our return, despite its vacuum pack, has probably turned green with mold.

Interesting times we live in, is it not?

Chinese Word of the blog: 冠状病毒 (guānzhuàng bìngdú, literally crown-shaped virus)
English translation: coronavirus (Now officially named COVID-19)

[1] BBC News: Coronavirus : California declares a state of emergency after death

Maybe extra Vitamin C will give our immune system a boost
So many cousins to play with!
Track 7 Brewing is clear both of Corona beer and Corona virus
Moomoo time
Moomoo pancakes are the antidote to virus fears
Yaya takes Dumpling to the zoo
Just me and the babies getting over jetlag
If we stay in CA, we could eat at Burger Lounge all the time...
What? We're not leaving all of THIS? Are we?