One Expat’s Life In China In The Time Of Corona Virus

University of Hong Kong sign

I am very grateful to Jim P. for this guest blog post.

One Expat’s Life In China In The Time Of Corona Virus
A PSU Alum’s observations

A few things to get out of the way up front. I moved to China after graduating from PSU in the summer of 2015, and getting my Type Z (Foreign Expert) visa which took a few months. I finally arrived here in late December of 2015. I live and work in the city of Yantai, on the northeast coast of the peninsula portion of Shandong Province. The city has a population of ~7 million, though it feels much smaller than Portland because it is spread out over a much larger area, and there are large swaths of agriculture (namely corn) between different areas of the city.

When the Corona virus was first announced, I was getting off work before the beginning of the two week long Spring Festival holiday (which is what most English people think of as “Chinese New Year”). The next day, I came down with a cold. Nothing like having a nasty cough when everyone is freaked out by a disease that’s major symptom is a cough (I didn’t have a fever, or flu-like symptoms). At first it seemed like most things were still open, and much like life as usual for the beginning of the holiday (except everyone had masks on). However, as soon as the fireworks were over, everybody went back inside, and ventured out rarely (mostly to take out trash).

When I go out to purchase food, I’m always getting my temperature taken. It’s been taken more times in the last few weeks than the last time I was in the hospital for six days (they thought I had an infection… turned out it wasn’t). Now only grocery stores, and restaurants with delivery services are open it seems. Unless you sell sanitizer (bleach), everything else is closed. The delivery services guys are going like crazy fetching food orders and delivering them… However, they have to wait outside the apartment buildings for the person to come to them, instead of them going up to the door.

All the grocery stores have someone waiting just outside with a no touch, infrared, instant read, digital thermometer, and a sign-in sheet (name, time, phone number). They spray down the pen with sanitizer after each person picks it up to sign in. Hand sanitizer? Masks? They disappeared the moment this was announced. Fortunately for me, I had some cotton ones from before that I’m using, and one lady at a grocery store was nice enough to give me one of hers when she saw me with the cotton one I had. There’s fresh stocks of food being delivered, but it tends to not include the imported favorites I prefer (In this situation, you want comfort food)… But at the moment I’m well stocked for potatoes and butter (baked potatoes), and the torillas, cheese, and refried beans I need for bean burritos (though I’ll need to get more soon). Staff is constantly facing the groceries which I’m guessing is to reassure people that they don’t have the problem that occurred in Hong Kong over the toilet paper a few weeks ago (I went ahead and bought two large bundles of TP anyway (just in case)). A major supplier of import foods had some Corona beer when I went there the first time after the outbreak, but it’s been missing on subsequent trips. One restaurant chain (LanBai), has some tasty food, and has a walk up window (usually reserved only for breakfast), that is serving take out food that is decent enough to eat. All the other “hole in the wall” restaurants are closed, which sadly includes my favorites… No exclusively sit down restaurants are open, and as far as I can tell, there isn’t a single drive thru window in the entire country. The outdoor marketplace was closed immediately after this was announced. This included the fresh produce vendors there, and not just the meat and fish vendors. The stand alone butcher shop, and many fresh produce store still seem to be open (not the curbside sellers, but actual shops). I’m getting daily text messages (in Chinese) from the government advising that the stocks of grain, egg, fruit, etc. are stable (in price and availability).

Everyone’s sleep patterns are totally out of whack… Since most people can’t work, you nap whenever you feel like it. This leads to being up all night. Then in the middle of the night having to be as quiet as possible watching videos, reading, working on projects, etc. as to not disturb the neighbors. That continues until you feel tired enough to go back to bed, and repeat the process. I say this while writing it up at 12:50 in the morning… having woken up at 11:30 PM… I had went to sleep at 10:30. 5AM… here I come again… Adding to my frustration, much of my time has been fighting through computer problems (expiring Windows 10 license, expired Office365 license), or just ignoring the problems ((while hoping for the best)(after weeks of this, with a little help from my friends, I’ve finally managed to get computer stable again)), and seeing what I can find on FB, my other social media accounts and YouTube. I’m following the politics of the US closely, and can’t believe what I’m seeing back home.

Being a teacher, I’ve been out of work since this started, until this last weekend… We’re teaching courses online using “ClassIn”, which is really frustrating to learn. The company is doing this to keep the parents happy as they would be demanding refunds for the canceled classes otherwise. Kids are not in school, and are not seen outside playing. I wonder what the future is going to be for the young ones who are not old enough to fully comprehend what is going on.

Thank God! I’m on a living salary, and not an hourly wage* like I was when I first arrived in Yantai (back then, I was broke for 8 months before I found my current employer due to their lack of classes for me). Had this happened back then, I’d be flat broke, and totally dependent on my family (If I could even access the funds (recently someone stole my debit card information and started making charges that my bank recognized as fraud, and I haven’t received the replacement from the US yet)), or the mercy of my employer.

Wherever you go indoors you’ll smell either bleach, or some other hospital sanitizer. And whenever you go outside, you are wearing a mask, unless you are smoking (which I don’t do), or are physically active (guilty… riding my bike w/groceries) and maintaining a distance from anyone else. I take my mask off when I’m riding the bike (huffing and puffing while trying to suck air through a soggy (or frozen) mask is nearly impossible, and has lead to dizzy spells), and as I’m far away from everyone, I only put it on when I get close, or stop somewhere. This gets me a lot of curious glances, but as I’m traveling fast (relative to pedestrians), and at a distance of several meters, I think they understand that I’m not a threat to them, and they’re not a threat to me. However, I see people driving their private cars while wearing a mask, and I think to myself… “Why?!!! If you’re healthy enough to be outside, and driving your own car with windows up, why would you be wearing a mask?” On the entryways into neighborhoods, there are checkpoints where they will take your temperature if you’re on foot. Since I’m on a bike, they usually let me pass through (being the only foreigner on a bicycle (especially a fat foreigner) kinda makes me instantly recognizable).

Traffic has been very light, and there were days that I would see very few cars out on the road when I was going for groceries (especially the day it snowed). Tomorrow, I’m heading off in the morning to the bike shop to get a new tire, and a broken spoke fixed. I’m 100% certain that if I didn’t have the WeChat (think China’s version of FaceTime) address of the manager of the bike shop, that if I showed up unannounced, the store would be closed**. I contacted him this evening to make arrangements for him to open up to fix my bike and replace my tire. *IF* it rains like it said it is going to in the forecast, I’ll take a taxi, otherwise, I’ll hoof it on the bike myself. I’d prefer to ride the bike (less contact with other people in an enclosed space (and zero possibility that I’ll be riding with a smoker (or in a vehicle that was transporting someone who was sick))).

Stay Healthy!
Jim P

*Long holidays, and this epidemic show why you should only take jobs that pay a living *SALARY* when living overseas, and not for an hourly rate. My first employer here paid hourly… If this had happened while I was working for them, I’d not be paid for the holiday, AND the time we’re out of business due to the epidemic (1.5 months).

** Making friends with shopkeepers can be very useful during times like this. If you’re recognized as a valuable customer, they’ll frequently make accommodations for you if they can.

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