We arrived in China on Halloween in 2017, more specifically my wife Emily, our youngest son Wyatt, and I arrived late after a flight delay in Hong Kong. We stood in the airport wondering where we were going to go next and not looking forward to sleeping in the airport. Eventually we got all that sorted, and we were set up in a very nice apartment and a very friendly neighborhood.
Soon I was teaching in Weiming Optical Valley campus in Guanggu, a district of Wuhan often referred to as China’s Silicon Valley for its abundance of tech companies. Wyatt enrolled in grade 9 at the new school. During my second year, the school hired our oldest son Adryan to teach math and science. Finally, our family was together earning a comfortable living and looking forward to the future.
I taught for two school years, and then after the summer holiday I moved to Weiming’s larger campus in Wuhan’s Dongxihu district. Wyatt enrolled in grade 10, and Emily adjusted to a new area.
Sometime after Christmas this year we learned of a new virus. It didn’t have a name yet, but we already knew its origin and that it had infected a few people from the market. Other than people who live close to the seafood market, no one else was too bothered.
On New Year’s Eve January 31st, we were planning to have an end of term dinner celebration at a local hotel. We were told later that afternoon that dinner would be postponed as some of the food had been sourced from the seafood market. Okay, we’ll eat at home. We headed home and had a nice dinner. We settled in for the night. Monday morning, we went to Tianhe airport. We flew to Shanghai for the beginning of our tour of Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou. It was beautiful. Shopping, eating, shopping walking, taking photos, and oddly enough – more shopping.
After the tour ended, we spent a couple of days with friends in Shanghai. Thanks Nancy Michael and Gabby. We took the fast train to Wuhan. Eight-hundred and forty kilometers and four hours later, we arrived. Lots of coughs, sniffles and some sneezing in the station and on the train and then the station afterwards. Oh well, that’s the price of traveling during cold and flu season.
We arrived home about 4:30 on Monday afternoon. It was nice to be back at our apartment. as nice as the hotels were, there is no substitute for your own bed.
On Tuesday morning both Wyatt and Emily had coughs and sore throats and I had a bit of a tickle. Normally we would just let it go, but the talk of this virus was becoming more insistent, so we decided to go to the clinic. We arrived at a mostly quiet clinic and were examined and diagnosed as cold, cold, and sore throat. Take this, this, this, this, and don’t do that. Done and Dusted.
We did a quick shop and headed home. Wednesday morning life, as it sometimes does, changed.
A full lockdown was in place. It was suggested that we don’t go out. Although we weren’t restricted to our apartment, we were advised in messages texts and phone calls to stay put. We bundled up and got out to buy water rice in a few essentials. Most stores had already closed on the Tuesday and people had left for the annual pilgrimage to visit family. After all was the Chinese Spring Festival. The streets were deserted. Although I joked with Wyatt to watch out for zombies, I wasn’t feeling much levity. Then we turned the corner, and they were about 20 Walkers wearing quilted pajamas and an assortment of grey green blue and pink surgical masks. At least the apocalypse won’t be Monochromatic.
The most difficult thing about this isn’t the fear, it’s the inconvenience of doing things. Shopping, taking out the trash, and staying in touch with people in new and uniquely annoying ways. Surgical masks, gloves, and a layer of clothes you must clean as soon as you get home, add an extra layer of complication to everything.
Unfortunately, it all begins to fray your nerves ever so little. the annoyance builds and you find yourself biting your tongue, or unfortunately not biting it soon enough. We have been getting on each other’s nerves. I can be a bit of a smart ass at the best of times and this is not a time for flippant remarks. I occasionally slip up.
Emily is very focused, and on task. She keeps the ship moving forward. The occasional gales of boredom, tension, and irritability are weathered. We stick to routines we get up early and make our beds. We use the bathroom. We do what we must do. Take a shower and brush our teeth. We have breakfast together like we do every day. The difference now is that we don’t leave the house and go to school. So, we do some exercise, read, watch videos, talk, and try not to dwell on things.
Emily has her Korean dramas. Wyatt has his studies and computer games to keep him going. Lately my focus has been on interviews. The first was with CNN’s Rosemary Church, the second with a UK freelancer, Shane Raymond. Then Hina Alam from the Canadian Press interviewed me, and the story took on a new urgency for our family. If this situation wasn’t surreal enough already, it soon would be. News outlets began calling, skyping, texting and tweeting requests for interviews.
During the interview with CNN’s Rosemary Church, the primary issue from previous conversations with Emily crystalized. The idea that we would stay was no longer just a vague concept, it was a direction to take. Emily and I had discussed what we would do, and we also talked about what we should do if things went south. What should we do? We asked each other. Only one thing to do, wait and deal with what happens.
Flying out without our family isn’t, and never will be, a viable option. We predicted that since Emily and our oldest son Adryan are Indonesian citizens, that Canada might not allow them on the flight. A few days later, our prediction came to be.
We made our third trip out to the market. We saw even less people out than before. When we arrived at the store the door was locked, and a few people were standing close to the entrance. There was a large orange notice on the door. I couldn’t get close enough to use my phone or my translator to understand the note.
Eventually the doors opened, and people entered. They weren’t rushed, but they were deliberate and focused. People bought their eggs, their milk, their water, and their rice. They queued. They weren’t jovial or conversational, but they were polite, patient and orderly. This is one of those instances where I reflect on the impact of technology in our lives. As purchases are being scanned, most people are paying with their phones, using Alipay or WeChat-Pay. These are the two most popular mobile banking apps. Anywhere else we’d be paying with paper money or coin, keeping people waiting longer and increasing the risk of infection from touching the money or each other’s hands.
On January 30th, I stayed up late to talk with Matt Galloway on CBC Radio’s ‘The Current’. Matt asked why we had decided not to join the planned evacuation.
I spoke about the 14-day incubation period and the fact that a asymptomatic people could unwittingly spread that Coronavirus. I mentioned the danger of being in the recycled air, for ourselves and for other passengers.
Matt asked if I could understand why other Canadian’s might want to leave. ‘Completely, I mean you want to blow this popsicle stand and you want to go home. You’ve got a baby, you’ve got young children, you’ve got a life. You want to get out.
I do not judge anyone in that way. You make the decision for your own family.
Of course, the main issue for us is family. My wife Emily, and our youngest son Wyatt are here with me. Our oldest son Adryan, on the other side of Wuhan, has been effectively isolated since this began. No cars, no buses, no trams, no taxis, no subways – so he has no way to cross this enormous city.
On January 5th the Evacuees arrived at Tianhe airport, at least those who could arrange transportation. We later found out that the Community Services Department has set up a program with drivers offering free taxi service. We shared this information in our WeChat groups, and I shared it with as many media outlets as possible.
For us there will be no evacuation. Even though I am satisfied that safety concerns have been addressed, Emily and Adryan’s citizenship means that they won’t be allowed on the flight. We will wait this out in safety, and in the hope that this Coronavirus will soon die out.
Our hope is not just for our family, but also for the people of Wuhan. The average citizen and the front-line volunteers and medical professionals. They struggle to save lives. Wuhan Ciayou!