One of the questions I’ve been asked a lot since I moved back to China in early January 2020 has been what is it like living in China “with the Corona Virus and everything”. I spent around 6 weeks in China and have now come back to Manchester, England, but figured, I would write a blog post about my time living in China during the outbreak of Covid 19.
So, this time, living in China, I was based in Shenzhen which is located towards the South of China, near to Hong Kong and over 700 miles away from Wuhan (where the virus was said to have originated) although still one of the 3rd most effected regions (apparently).
I had been in China for a little over a week when all of a sudden I started hearing through social media about a new virus. At first, I didn’t think too much about it. I remember going to sort out my residency permit and not everyone was wearing masks in the building or generally wearing one when out and about. In fact the person who was assisting with the permit, seemed bemused when we asked where his mask was and seeing that we were wearing one and he wasn’t – he said, “oh you mean because of the virus thing”. However, two days later, everything changed.
The pictures above are from Citizen Square, Shenzhen in early January, before the virus was really big news. There were still people walking around and making use of the square, although the virus had been anounced.
The picture above is on the same day as the previous pictures. There were lots of people out taking pictures of the sunflowers.
2 Days later…
At first it was hard to tell whether the streets were quiet because of Chinese New Year or because of the virus. Chinese New Year or Spring Break is a two-week holiday when a lot of businesses are closed and people stay home to spend time with their families. In the more residential areas, the streets are generally quiet. However when the holidays were over and the otherwise busy streets are still quiet, it was clear something was very different. Pubic transport was still running, but pretty much deserted (like one person per carriage deserted) and schools and many businesses did not re-open.
In China, people don’t use What’s App so much, they use WeChat, which is like What’s App but on steroids as it has a lot more functions and is home to a lot of chat groups for anything and everything. A lot of the news I was hearing about the virus was either coming from anxious friends and family back in England or from the Ex-Pat WeChat groups. There were a lot of funny memes circulating and pictures showing empty supermarket shelves and general panic talk about how the country will soon be on lock down and we will be unable to leave.
When I went to the supermarket, the shelves were stocked and there was plenty of fruit and veg so it seemed like what was being reported and spread, wasn’t exactly reality, well not where I was. The only difference was that it seemed quieter than usual and there was now a security man on the door checking everyone’s temperature and refusing entry to anyone not wearing a mask. In fact masks were now required to go on public transport although the blue surgical masks were now sold out in the pharmacies.
Personally, I didn’t feel nervous or scared because based on what I had read it seemed like I had an extremely low likelihood of contracting the virus and even if I did get the virus, it was like getting the flu and a high rate of recovery for my age group. Because of that, I felt fine with going outside and didn’t feel the necessity to “self-quarantine” although I did spend a bit more time at home than I probably would have done otherwise, because a lot of places (museums, art galleries, libraries, tourist spots) were closed.
Where I was living, it was pretty quiet. When we first arrived which, I remember the streets being very with people and it being quite “buzzy”. A couple of days late it was the opposite. There was nobody really out on the streets and this continued after the Chinese New Year holidays. One day, I decided to take a stroll to the local shopping mall.. It was literally deserted, some shops didn’t seem to even have staff. It was surreal wandering around Zara and being the only person there. I took to exercising in the apartment, making use of the stairs.. as we lived on the 27th floor. The picture below is the of the back of our apartment block.
One day, I walked through Longuang Square, there weren’t many people about and I had my mask down and then one of the security people with a megaphone shouted something in Chinese. Instinctively, I had a feeling it was because my mask was down, so I put it back up.
Just after I took this pic I headed to another area of Longcheng Square to take in the sunshine. I sat down on the amphitheater steps which face a fountain. Nobody was about except for a couple of security people, one was holding a megaphone. The sun was so lovely, I felt inspired to write in my journal. Just as I was about to do that, security came over. I haven’t learnt Chinese yet so we were struggling to communicate until the security lady pulled out her phone, typed something and then showed it to me. I read the screen, it said, “GET OUT” and then “VIRUS” and finally, “HARSH TIMES” 😅. People are no longer allowed to hang out in the square because of the virus, I didn’t know, it was fine to be there a few days ago.
Two weeks later…
Although the schools were still closed, I noticed the metro was beginning to get busier. I carried on exploring the area as best as I could. The security outside of my apartment block was now taking people’s temperatures both when you left and entered the building and a new card had been introduced to monitor people’s health. As I haven’t learnt Chinese yet, I was unable to fully understand it, I think it was linked to an app which was meant to be scanned when using the Metro.
Other changes I noticed included cling film covering the buttons in the lift in my apartment block (I’m not sure how that helped, maybe it made it easier to clean) and there was now hand sanitiser for you you to use at the shopping mall. There was also an app which let you know how close you were to people had contracted the virus.
Two weeks later, you could also no longer sit inside the local restaurants, there was tape across the doors, but you could still place your order. Our local had put a couple of tables outside so you could eat there, but served the food in take-away boxes.
Even though it was still pretty quiet just before I left, the last couple of parks I visited were pretty busy. It was great seeing people out playing badminton and one park was busy with families – with and without masks, flying kites and relaxing on picnic rugs.. so I think things were slowly starting to return to normal. I took up playing badminton myself.
When I decided to leave…
My return flight back to Manchester was from Hong Kong. To get to Hong Kong, requires taking a 30 minute ferry ride straight to the airport. A funny thing happened at the ferry terminal. All the restaurants were deserted. We decided to eat at a restaurant that served fish. The man brought our food over on two separate trays for us and we sat on a table for two outside the restaurant. Because of the trays, the man decided to pull another table across so that there was more space for both trays to fit on the table. All of a sudden out of nowhere, some security lady came over. Apparently, we were not allowed to sit together, we had to sit separately at separate tables. It seemed crazy since, there was no other customers in the restaurant and we were travelling together.
Once we left the ferry port in China and arrived at Hong Kong airport, everything was a lot more relaxed. I don’t think, once leaving China, out temperature was checked again and at the airport in Hong Kong, I was surprised to see people without masks – it felt like a while since I had seen that.
Although it was annoying having to wear the masks all the time, I did feel very safe in China. I felt like I was inside a bubble in someways – the calm in the centre of a storm. I think it’s great how people responded so obediently with wearing masks and how measures were quickly put into place to check temperatures.
When I returned back to England, it was interesting to see how the virus is being reported and how everything has been so sensationalised but no actual measures have really been put in place, like in China. With all the coughing and spluttering you hear on public transport in England and with nobody wearing masks, I feel more “exposed” here than I ever did in China.
Check out these posts for more on my travels in China: