Corona Update from Beijing

Jan 31st, 2020

I have received so many worried messages from friends that I thought perhaps a proper blog was in order. I’ll give you a glimpse of my life here in Beijing especially now that the Corona Virus (capital letters intentional) has taken over as the omnipotent leader to whom all must bow…

Okay, there it is. My opinion has been revealed before I even begin this blog.

There is an incredible overreaction happening here. Yes, it’s a new strain of the coronavirus, but it spreads more quickly because it’s a lot less dangerous and 97-98% of the people who get it are going to live. It’ll be a rough couple of weeks of a severe flu (and we’ve all had them) that could lead to pneumonia (especially in older or immune-compromised people) but almost everyone will make it out of this health scare alive. The stats are clear. This article entitled “The Chinese Coronavirus is Not the Zombie Apocalpyse” summarizes my views quite nicely.

But how has that affected our lives in Beijing?

First of all, most public places like restaurants and bars (and certainly music venues) have been shut down. Because this fell during the Chinese New Year holiday (CNY), many of those places were already closed, so they just haven’t re-opened. That’s because the government has encouraged people not to have or participate in public gatherings of people (a very familiar government request, albeit for different reasons!). As a result, all tourism ground to a halt and, yes, all of my gigs got cancelled in February. Nice.

My kids were supposed to be back at school on Jan 28th. Instead, the school extended their school holidays until Feb 17th and I have a suspicion that this may get extended to the end of February. The teachers have scrambled to provide online and home-schooling materials, but I have to say that paying high costs for their international school education and then having to teach them MYSELF is a bit irritating. Managing the sheer volume of home-schooling instructions for two kids in different grades all on my own is enough to make my head spin. I feel for the teachers, but putting the pressure on the parents (or, in this case, parent) to keep the kids on track is also not fair. Alas…

In terms of the feeling in general society, a constant barrage of social media instructional videos and articles on how to stay safe have pretty much resulted in a national state of panic. Everyone is told to stay home in isolation. Wash your hands constantly. Don’t touch anything that you don’t have to touch. Avoid unnecessary human contact.

The following picture made me laugh. Isn’t washing your hands supposed to cover all of this?


The vast subway system is a ghost town. A friend of mine took a train ride recently and sent me a photo of the strangely empty carriage (I’ve never seen an empty Chinese train). Hers was the only occupied seat. This is rather spooky in a city usually teeming with humanity.


No one is supposed to go out unless it’s an emergency. No “outside people” (外人) in your home. Don’t go and visit others because you’re not welcome. We’re told to order food and groceries online and to have all deliveries left outside the door. (I feel for those delivery people; are they less at risk or just more expendable? Hhm…)

And when a person goes out, if there is no mask covering our face than we are regarded as the contagion itself, ready to infect everyone. (Lots of evidence shows that a mask alone is not enough if there is human-to-human contact).


Hence this particular myth that a water bottle on the head is going to make sure you’ll catch nothing. Gotta hand it to these people who really just don’t give a crap what anyone thinks of them. Impressive social score for this, I say.


The kids are spending one day with me and then the next day with their grandparents. We are swapping the childcare every day at lunchtime. (Their dad visits about once a week). The poor kids aren’t allowed outside except to transfer houses between buildings and we’re living in the same apartment compound so it’s about 100 meters each day of outdoor access. The parks are deserted, so I argued that taking them there might be good for them.”Let them run around without contact with others in the bright clarity of day,” I said. But I was barked down by the Chinese side of this family dynamic. I can’t really blame them. They’re from a generation of folks who were raised to follow collective directives without questioning the logic or science behind them…  Sigh.

Echo and Paz really want to play with their friends. At least they have each other, but it’s hard for them to wrap their little heads around all this. Video chatting with friends will start happening next week. Throughout all this, I’ve gotten to know some of their classmates’ parents (at least, electronically) and it seems all the kids are experiencing the same response to being holed up at home.

I recently tried to order my groceries online. The delivery service was all pre-booked until 36 hours after placing my order. Clearly those rarely-pitied delivery people are running ragged trying to keep up with this city’s demand for isolation. I had to get groceries in order to make dinner so I cancelled the online order and ventured out, mask securely fastened.

All of the big box grocery stores have been closed for the holidays, but the small shop outside of our compound is open as well as the small foreign grocery store across the street. Admittedly, the shelves are slightly less stocked than before. That was a bit alarming. (And big box grocery outlets will open again after the holidays*)

I wasn’t the only one out and about, either. A handful of people with tight white masks strapped to their faces and darting eyes were skirting the edges of aisles, standing far back from everyone in front of them in the checkout line, and clearly eager to scuttle back to the stifling “protection” of their own home.

There’s been a shortage of masks in the country. One pharmacy got severely fined for upping the price of its prized collection of masks that were selling like hotcakes. I agree that it’s unethical to do that, but I had to laugh at yet another example of how a socialist capitalist system yields crazy contradictions in ethical modelling. Get rich quick in any way possible, China, unless it’s during a national virus scare! What were you thinking? (haha)


This mask shortage, however, has resulted in people using innovative methods to protect themselves when they’re out and about. The picture above is of a 95 year old man who also stated to the photographer that the fruit strapped to his face was good for his skin! Probably quite a pleasant smelling mask too!

The one below is just hilarious. I wonder if his wife knows about this…


Recently, I heard about several major airlines (including Air Canada) and their flight cancellations to the city. Many friends who left for the holidays are unable to get back to Beijing. Others who wanted to leave after schools were suspended have had outgoing flights cancelled and can’t leave. This kind of situation would be very stressful on a family, so I’m just grateful we are all where we were intending to be and together.

Speaking of which, about a week ago I had a huge family debate when my kids’ dad was insisting they be taken back to Shandong by their grandparents to their family’s home city to “protect” them. I argued that it wasn’t necessarily safer outside of the capital and if the city were to be on lock-down, they wouldn’t be able to get back and we wouldn’t be able to get to them. In the end, I won the argument and now stats show that there are actually more cases in their home province than there are in Beijing at the moment. So that sealed my victory. I’m so happy my kids are with me.

Nevertheless, I have moments when I’m not sure how I’m going to get through a month of this Corona Virus monarchy…. Or should I say, “monopoly”? It seems the only thing on people’s minds at the moment.

We are all healthy, just going stir crazy. It could be worse, though. I know that. Even with all my freelance work having vanished and the kids underfoot half the time, I’m finding silver linings. I’m cleaning the crap out of my apartment, for instance. I’m writing silly little songs (like the one above–this thing will forever change how I feel about the beer!) and collaborating with a few people musically (though not in the same space, of course–thank you technology!). I’m also doing another round of edits on my memoir. And, when the kids and I are together, we have been doing some fun things besides just school work. Those two are always my source of joy.


Overall, our lives in Beijing are much less restricted and scary than those in Wuhan. I’m sure the population in that city is experiencing much more in the way of social unrest. My heart goes out to them.

The shifted focus on China at this time, suspiciously during the impeachment hearings, and the overall racism about the “dirty East” that I have heard and felt since news about the virus has gone viral (!) simply make me scratch my head. China is so often vilified and it’s surely unfair in this case. No human wants to get sick.

Nevertheless, here are some questions being asked in group chats: Germ warfare? Political Distraction? Purposely leaked contagions for population control of the exploding elderly population in China?

I’m not kidding. The impossibility of securing their answers is the only guarantee here.

Oh, and we will be fine. We are strong. This virus will not take us or China down. Personally or nationally.




2/9/20 ~ Note: this blog has been corrected for an error. I thought the big box grocery stores were closed for crowd-related reasons, but it turns out it was just for the holidays. All of the big grocery stores are now back up and running. Gotta feed this city!

Corona Update #2 from Beijing
Home For Christmas

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