Empty streets, closed malls, monitored apartment complexes, wary locals. These are just a few phrases I could use to describe the usually bustling city of Fuzhou in recent weeks…
Receiving News while on Holiday
As mentioned in my previous blog post, I was in the Philippines when official news of the novel coronavirus outbreak was confirmed. Whispers and rumours of the virus swept Fujian province the week before Spring Festival, but nothing said was enough to raise alarm – it sounded like it was just some kind of bad flu outbreak, but it was all under control…right?
Laying on a beach and getting a panicked phone call from your mother about some “deadly virus” that you only heard casual whispers about the week before is quite harrowing, as I’m sure you can imagine. Only mere days later, the city of Wuhan was shut down.
Suddenly, other ESL teachers from China that we had met in the Philippines were booking flights back to their home countries, my expat co-workers were extending their flights so they could stay abroad a bit longer, news of airlines cancelling flights left-right-and-centre were circulating our work group chat, my Chinese co-workers were messaging me to make sure I wasn’t currently in China, and my school were sending out memos with different news and instructions every single day. It was all very surreal.
Returning to China
In the end, I made the decision to return to Fuzhou on the flight I had originally booked. My co-workers thought I was crazy and tried to convince me to stay abroad with them, but my gut told me to go back. And honestly, I thought if I left it too late I might end up being locked out of China altogether.
Fortunately I left when I did, because the day after, the Philippines announced that they were stopping flights to and from China, which was soon followed by other countries announcing the same thing. Many of my co-workers who travelled to other Asian countries for the Spring Festival holiday weren’t as lucky as me though. Many had to change their flight routes to go via other countries in order to get back to China, some decided to stay abroad for longer, whilst others chose to leave immediately for their home countries.
I was very apprehensive as I arrived back in Fuzhou, simply because I had no idea what to expect! I knew better than to take the crazy stories at face value.
As we descended off the plane in Fuzhou, we were immediately met with airport staff dressed in hazard suits or donning the infamous blue face masks. We were promptly directed down the almost-empty corridors towards the Health Check and Immigration desks. With my Medical Declaration form in hand (to state that I hadn’t recently been to Wuhan or was not currently experiencing any symptoms of the virus), I was temperature checked and sent on my merry way.
Living in China during the Outbreak
Between leaving the airport and arriving back at my apartment, I was temperature checked five times – including before getting into transport back to the city, at the checkpoint on the city border, and at the gate of my own apartment complex. These were essential before entering any public building, as well as wearing a face mask. Some places or taxis would even deny you entry if you’re not wearing a mask!
The streets were the quietest I have ever seen them, with barely any cars or bikes in sight. Parks and tourist spots were closed off; some people use plastic gloves to avoid touching elevator buttons or door handles; and delivery drivers/postmen aren’t allowed to enter complexes anymore – all deliveries are currently collected at the front gates for residents to pick up themselves.
As for work, all schools in the city are currently teaching lessons online. This means our homes have become our new workspaces, which is great in some sense, but also makes us miss our students and co-workers that bit more. I haven’t seen my beloved students face-to-face in over a month now!
As a result of this remote-teaching, some teachers at our school opted to temporarily return to their home countries, or even go abroad in Asia, and teach for our school online from there. I’m counting down the days until they return and we’re all reunited!
Life in Fuzhou Back to Normal…Nearly..
The tides are changing! This week, our local malls started opening some of their stores again – YAY! The plaza was no longer a ghost town and was instead full of life. I was jumping at the familiar sound of cars and e-bikes beeping their horns at each other that had been absent for so long. My own complex’s security guards have lessened how often they temperature check us. I saw some people not wearing their masks and no one complained or panicked!
We still have ways to go before things return fully back to normal, but now I believe marks the beginning of the end, and normality will resume soon. Fujian, stay strong! Wuhan, stay strong! China, stay strong! 福建加油！武汉加油！中国加油！
Guest blogger Megan Gordon is a Film Production graduate, and is currently teaching in a Fuzhou Language School as part of the 2018 Teach China Graduate Program. Follow her @thepicturelockShare: