Straw Clutching

35 days.

We’ve been indoors for 35 days. (NOTE: I started this a week ago at 35 days but now it’s 42).

I’m pointlessly looking at ways to emigrate to Canada.

It’s not going to come in time.

There’s a feeling, when you see things tipping over the edge. It’s a combination of fear and excitement, dread and I-Told-You-So. Guilt.

My workload has been reduced so seriously that I don’t have any classes on Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Saturdays. I took a paycut in the hope of helping keep our company from going under, but there are no guarantees. They said they would try to offer more classes through covering those who took furlough instead of a pay cut. No classes have been added so far.

Familiar territory in a fucked up way, for a 2010 graduate. I was born on one of the worst days the Stock Market ever had. It seems to be something of a life shadow following me around.

I have a nice apartment in a nice neighbourhood, all for us. I can buy whatever I need to. I can travel and buy a new camera and take up crafts in my spare time. Only really in the last year and a half has all of that been fully true, as I spent the 2010s moving from country to country and career to career to Master’s programme in London and back to career. It sure feels like I had only just managed to climb out of the last Great Recession and here we are again. Except of course this time pundits can’t point at subprime mortgages and blame poor people for dreaming the American Dream just that little bit too hard.

No, this time no one knows how this is going to play out.

29th January 2020 – Beijing to Fuzhou

At the start of last month, the situation with the coronavirus was bad enough in China that many people I know from the USA were concerned, getting in touch, asking me when we were leaving, trying to get us to book flights. The list of places I love being directly affected now is full of my global homes:

Korea, Italy, Iceland, Chile, Vietnam, Austria, USA, UK

I’m exhausted. And I’ve been doing so little.

My days are long and so very short at the same time. I wake up at about 9AM, no alarm, and then check all the internet for a couple hours. Lately I haven’t even been showering in the morning. I’m not going out for long or spending time in company outside the house, so why bother? I wear the same four outfits. I haven’t worn tights under a dress in over a month, a mainstay of my professional attire.

I make a coffee and then order groceries online. I wait 30 minutes and answer the call.

“Wei?” (Hello?)

“Wei, nihao, nide zahuo zai louxia de jiazi shang.” (Hello, your groceries are on the shelf downstairs.)

“Hao, xiexie, hao hao hao…” (Ok, Thanks)

And then don the mask, go downstairs, get the food, bring it back. Wash hands while singing Happy Birthday. Then sit around, trying to work, but mostly not making anything of interest. Trying to write, but mostly just leaving barely-started drafts all over my WordPress accounts. Trying out new recipes. I have cooked all but four of our meals for the last 42 days. Do a little yoga. Cry a little in the kitchen because of a new report out of Italy or Vietnam or Chile. Put on headphones and music. Crochet a little. Drink two beers. Watch another press conference and try to guess if they’re announcing a State of Emergency or Community Spread this time.

I tried regrowing spinach. They grew a little but transferring them to dirt killed them.

You keep hearing the word. Unprecedented. It’s tossed like a french fry between a group of seagulls, passed and pulled and tweaked and squawked like a little talisman against the unknown.

Of course we don’t know what will happen, this is unprecedented. We’re calling up the National Guard to surround a US city of 70,000. Don’t worry, it’s unprecedented. Largest quarantines in history are ramping up. Unprecedented. Stock market fall and oil prices are going crazy. Unprecedented.

Yunnan, 2019

China is the safest place to be, suddenly.

It took only a few days for the shift to happen. In early February, family and friends were messaging me about the situation and asking me whether I would leave. Are you going to stay, no matter how bad it gets?

It seemed at the time like maybe we should go. Now it seems like we should stay. I’m not sure that we get much of a choice, when it comes down to it. If the crisis drags on much longer or cuts much deeper, all 42+ days we spent working to contain the virus in our area will be moot. Moot in terms of preserving this precarious way of life we had built, anyway. Worth it to bring the caseload to zero.

Four days at zero cases so far

We could lose our jobs, lose our visas, and lose our place to live. And then we’d be on our way back to two separate homes in countries with ongoing virus outbreaks, almost as if the months of January, February, and March had never actually happened.

I feel that we are in a holding pattern, watching small fires on mountaintops as we circle and they grow larger. When I first flew to South America, the plane got turned around by a drunk who made terroristic threats over the Gulf of Mexico. 16 hours later, and 12 hours after he was dragged from the plane by heavily-armed Homeland Security police, I got my first glimpse of the Andes. And they were on fire.

Old wildfire scars in Yunnan

Yesterday the park opened again. The old men who had certainly not been stopped by the fence hastily put up around it in late January anyway met up for a swim in the Min River two blocks from our house. It sounded like a celebration in their newly constructed changing house. People walked miles on the banks of the river and smelled flowers, sometimes taking off their masks.

I want to be hopeful.


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