When the Covid-19 virus first hit, we had friends and relatives telling us to come back to the U.S. To be honest, I thought about it quite seriously. But we took a gamble, and we stayed in China. Now, the numbers are slowing to a trickle in China while rising to crazy levels in the U.S. Yet, despite the numbers, both countries are now reopening. From what I’ve been reading, the U.S. approach seems to be to just open the doors and letting what happens happen. So, how is China reopening?
Thankfully, we spent the first month of the Covid-19 crisis in Thailand. When we got back to Shanghai in mid-February, we spent two weeks in self-quarantine. It was much more pleasant than the mandatory quarantine other people had to deal with.
As of a month or so ago, everyone who arrives in the country is separated and taken to their homes by special buses guarded by volunteers in full Haz-Mat suits. People in quarantine have to report their temperature once a day, and a doctor comes by and visits to check up on them. The authorities put a magnetic strip on the door. You can only open it to put the trash out or accept grocery deliveries. There’s an interesting article here describing the process.
I feel very lucky I was able to avoid this.
Even luckier now, since all foreign passport holders are blocked from entering the country. One of our coworkers went back home to the US. Her flight back was for the day after they announced the ban, so she’s now stuck. Her job and all her things are here in Shanghai. And I think she’s still paying rent on her apartment.
Other people we know are scrambling to get their work visas processed now. The authorities were actually pretty lenient during the height of the crisis, granting automatic two-month extensions and letting people apply for the extensions online. Now that China is reopening, things might be a little bit more difficult. Thankfully, we’re all legal with residence permits and everything.
About a month ago, restaurants and bars started to reopen. Strict requirements were in place regarding sanitation and social distancing. You could only have groups of three people, and they needed to be 2 meters apart. We were having lunch with some friends, and some uniformed officials came in and told the waitress we were sitting too close together.
Now, thankfully, those restrictions have relaxed a bit. Restaurants are operating like normal. People are going out to eat, and nobody is really distancing themselves too much. Since the government’s been so strict on quarantines and contact tracing, those of us who didn’t just arrive in the country can relax a bit.
A week ago, the Shanghai city government downgraded the virus threat level, meaning masks are no longer mandatory. Most people still wear them, though. I personally am not a fan of wearing face masks. They’re itchy and hot and make it kind of hard to breathe. But I’ve been keeping mine on. It’s a little gesture to show people here I’m trying to be a responsible guest in their country.
Some parks and businesses still take your temperature when you enter, but most don’t. The guards on the metro still check people’s temperatures whenever you want to get on the subway. We used to have to get ours checked every time we entered our apartment. Now the bao ans (security guards) smile and wave us in. They’re very friendly.
Everyone in the city had to download a health code app. If yours is green, you’re good to go. You have to quarantine if it’s yellow or red. Ours was always green, but I’m not sure what happens if there’s a mistake and it turns yellow or red. And what if the battery dies on your phone?
Once we were going to a park, and couldn’t open up our health codes. We couldn’t get any internet data at all, and you can’t get your health code if you don’t have data. Luckily, we’d just forgotten to pay our phone bills, and were able to go back home and get things sorted.
Traveling in China
Of course, with flights canceled and no foreigners allowed in the country, now is not a good time to travel overseas. Our long-awaited trip to Japan is going to have to wait. That’s fine.
But, with China reopening and the fear of the virus subsiding, we thought it might be a good time to travel around and see more of the country. Afterall, we could still teach online classes from a hotel room, right?
Unfortunately, travel within China is not very easy at the moment. The rules and regulations in China vary so much by region, city, neighborhood and sometimes who’s working that day. What goes in Shanghai might not go in Hangzhou or Beijing.
Knowing that, we still were able to go to Hangzhou last week. I messaged a hotel ahead of time, wondering about spending the night. They said I needed a Hangzhou specific green health code, plus a note saying I’d completed quarantine, and some other stuff. It sounded like a pain in the ass to get all that together just to stay in a hotel, so we said “screw it” and went for the day.
The Shanghai railway station checked our health code, took our temperature, and a woman wrote down the date we entered the country. We had to sign a thing saying we weren’t sick. It was a relatively easy process, but it did cause us to miss our train. Thankfully, China’s pretty chill about changing tickets, and we were able to catch another one twenty minutes later.
When we got to Hangzhou, we downloaded the Hangzhou health code app and thought we’d be good to go. A security guard stopped us before we could exit the station and had us get on to a golf-cart thing driven by a guy in a Haz-Mat suit.
The guy drove us to a medical check station. A team of officials in masks and full hazmat suits took down our names, passport numbers and telephone numbers. There were three of us and ten officials. Most of them were just playing games on their phones and chatting.
After that, we walked back to the exit. A different security guard stopped us and tried to make us get back on the Haz-Mat golf cart again. Thankfully, our friend could speak enough Chinese to explain that we’d literally just came from the health check station. The guard laughed and waved us through.
How is China reopening schools?
Unfortunately, that trip to Hangzhou is going to be the last time we leave Shanghai for a while. We got the news yesterday that our little training center is scheduled to reopen in June. That’s good news if you’re like me and you hate teaching online classes. And it’s a good sign that things are going well with how China is reopening the country. After all, nobody wants their little bao bei to get sick.
The government is being very strict, of course. Our poor Chinese coworkers had to clean and disinfect all the surfaces in the building, including the airconditioners. Everybody working at the school has to log our health information each day.
And… we aren’t able to leave the city.
This isn’t due to another lockdown, but just in terms of tracking the health of the people working at the school. I think it’s just easier to keep track of everyone’s health if they can be sure we’re not galivanting around coronavirus hotspots. Still, it’s a bit frustrating.
Frustrating, but much better than having to teach anymore of these damn online classes. And, again, I’m a guest in this country. I’d like to try and be a responsible guest as much as I can.
Unfortunately, nobody knows how long we’ll be stuck in Shanghai. It could be a month. or it could be for the rest of the year. Maybe it could be forever? (I doubt it, but you never know.) I suppose there are worse places to be stuck.
How is China treating foreigners?
We have a friend who is constantly paranoid about what the Chinese think about her. In fact, many ex-pats here are paranoid about how the locals see and treat them. That paranoia existed well before the coronavirus crisis.
Of course, now there’s another dimension, that does kind of effect how China is reopening. China has closed its borders to all non-Chinese citizens. People are afraid the Chinese are going to scapegoat all foreigners as cases rise overseas.
Or, another way to put it, there’s a fear that the Chinese are going to start treating Americans the way Americans have been treating the Chinese.
But, as two white people, we’ve been totally fine. I can count on one hand the instances of “discrimination” we’ve faced. Here’s how they’ve happened.
We get on the metro, going somewhere or another. A woman looks up at us. Her eyes go wide and she gets up and moves to the other side of the train car.
Or, we’re walking down the street. A fretful mother walking with her young daughter looks at us. Her eyes go wide. She ushers her daughter to the other side of her body and puts as much distance as possible between us and her child.
I guess you could argue that these are micro-aggressions, and I suppose they probably are. But people aren’t yelling at us, people aren’t kicking us in the head or shooting us. It hurts my feelings a little bit when these things happen, but in the grand scheme of things, they aren’t that big of a deal.
Generally, the attitude towards us has been the same as it always is. People are just curious. Even outside of a big international city like Shanghai. In the tea village outside of Hangzhou, people were very friendly and curious. On the small island of Chang Xing, a place that rarely sees a non-Chinese face, people were very friendly and curious. Maybe even more so now that so many foreigners have left China.
Should we have left?
How is China reopening? Very slowly and carefully. Things are very tightly regulated. And, yes, we probably face more restrictions than the average Chinese person due to how things are being handled in America. But, little by little, life is going to return back to normal.
And every time I get annoyed by not being able to travel or leave the city, or my face gets itchy in my mask, I try to think about the alternative. There could be millions of cases here and hundreds of thousands of deaths. I could be busting my ass working at a grocery store, worrying about being sick while scumbag customers yell at me. For less money than I’m making teaching.
The gun-toting protesters and their billionaire supporters in the U.S. blab on about “freedom.” The “freedom” to get a haircut, or get your nails done or whatever. But, what about the freedom to not get sick and die? What about the freedom for people who can’t afford to work from home, and are literally either risking their own lives or the lives of their loved ones?
In the end, I think we made the right decision staying here.