My month of February in Beijing was an interesting time. Almost every aspect of our lives was in some way effected by the virus. This post will discuss how those in Beijing are doing this last month as the preventative measures taken by China continue.
For those of you that don’t normally read my blog, we sent my stepson Calvin home to the states over the long New Years Break to spend time with his family. He got there safe and everything was fine! A few days after he landed, we started hearing things about a sickness, etc. Not to worry we thought! Everything is down south and we haven’t experienced any friends or coworkers getting sick so what is there to worry about? On the first day of the month, we found out that my son’s plane back to Beijing had been cancelled by American Airlines. I was completely shocked because I had spoken to them days earlier and they said that they intended on letting his plane fly and decreasing the amount of planes after a certain date. I tried calling them and they were absolutely awful. I had never experienced such poor service and I let their supervisor have an earful. Because we couldn’t get an airline to get Calvin back on his own, Korey flew out of China that day to meet up with him in Arizona. He had a one-way ticket as we had no idea when/if he could get back with Calvin and it was a pretty scary time. I decided to stay in China because there was no need for me to fly back and I had responsibilities here. Korey got to Arizona just in time to celebrate his birthday with his mom at her house!
As I waited alone in China for news on when the boys could return to Beijing, things began to change quickly as China attempted to get ahead of the virus. The citizens of Beijing were already wearing face masks and limiting their own contact with others in January. As February continued, we got word that the schools would not be opening until the 24th of February (almost 2 weeks late) and that my school would be switching to online classes during that time. This was something completely new for our teachers and our training also could not be taught in person, but online. I have stayed in contact with my coworkers around China and the world, who had gone home to be with family over the break and had continued to stay with them as a result of the virus. Friends in smaller parts of China report that they may only have one family member leave a day to buy groceries or other necessitities. Many more friends say they haven’t left their apartments in over 3 weeks, having all items delivered. Many of my international friends are trapped in Europe, the Philippines, and the USA with no way to return. Luckily our school continues to pay us our salary but this has obviously caused much stress to those who just want things to go back to normal. We are a very social group and it has been extremely hard not to be able to see my best friends or have our traditional girls’ nights! With the boys being gone too, it was a very difficult few beginning weeks of February. I was so happy to see it snow a little bit and it certainly lifted my spirits!
I saw China rapidly change from one of the most convenient countries in the world to the exact opposite. What I mean by convenient is that China had made life so easy! Traveling, buying anything you want and having it delivered to you, entertainment everywhere, etc. But this past month, all that has taken a real nosedive. I used to have any food be able to be delivered to me straight to my door within 40 minutes. EASY. But apartment complexes are now invoking strict rules about people coming into the complex: if you don’t live there, they aren’t allowed in. This means delivery guys, dinner party guests, water services, etc. People that do live in the complex have to get their temperature checked and provide a small paper with a stamp proving you live there. Now I have to order, walk down to the gate (10 min walk), go out and pick up my food, get my temperature taken before reentering and prove I live there, then go back up to my apartment to eat. OK, I know, first world problems. But still! Delivery of any goods seems near impossible now. Things I have ordered have been given a wait time of about a month because companies are overloaded with grocery orders and more important items like face masks and hand sanitizers. Keep in mind, delivery guys still can’t enter the complexes! So now they bring a truck, stack the packages outside on the sidewalk, and wait patiently for everyone to come out and get their items. This makes deliveries even longer because drivers have to wait for people to pick up their packages. Not to mention, many stores were still closed during this time so people that needed things almost always had to buy online and have it delivered.
Almost two weeks into February I got word that my boys were finally coming home!! They had to take a ridiculous route with many stops to get back but they did it! Calvin especially loved stopping in Tokyo for 6 hours and going to character street and eating genuine Japanese sushi. I was so excited to have them home that I made a big “Welcome Home!!” sign and hung it in the apartment to surprise them on their arrival. Their plane got in shortly after midnight, but I had been there almost 2 hours before because I was so excited!! I held up a sign that stated “Willesen Weirdos” and waited…although my boss said I should have held a sign that stated “Foreign Coronavirus Patients” …yeah Jamie, no. I finally saw them and we had a good 5 minute family hug and they loved the sign. I hadn’t seen Korey for almost 2 weeks and Calvin, at least 4 weeks. They were so happy to show off their Japanese immigration stamps and all of the goodies they brought back from the states that we didn’t get to sleep until past 3 am! I am so happy to have them back and just in time for Valentines Day!
The day after Calvin and Korey got back, we were hit with more bad news. School was officially pushed back even longer, to March 16th. Our last day of school before the break was January 17th. This means that (if school actually opens at that time) I will not have seen my students in almost 2 months, with the exception of seeing them online. The school is going to have to amend its school schedule to make up for the days we are missing as well as having the kids do online lessons. We have been informed that a few breaks will be cancelled, although they will give us a week or 2 before March 16th off to make up for them. The kiddos do seem to be doing good, although some say that their parents haven’t let them leave the house at all in over a month. Their competitions have been cancelled as well as major testing sessions like AP and SAT tests. Some students left China when they were on break and are still in exotic locations like Greece or Japan, taking their classes online with us. The teachers are plugging along ok. Because some are still trapped on other sides of the world, they are teaching their students way past midnight and into the early morning. We just got word that some schools in South China are closing until April, I am praying that will not be the case here.
Beijing has been instituting a lot of changes to prevent spread and we are actually starting to see the effects of that as the infection rate goes down all around China. We are not anywhere near Wuhan, where 80% of the cases in China are taking place, but we have seen a minuscule part of the population of Beijing fall ill and then recover. Of the 21.5 million people in Beijing, there have been 400 sick and 250 of them have recovered. We are hoping to see that continue next month. Everyone is doing their part to prevent the spread. Malls have guards taking temperatures and allowing only certain stores to be open (food or grocery). Some of which are writing down people’s information like phone number so they may get into contact with them if a virus patient happened to visit the store at the same time. My apartment complex (along with preventing outsiders from coming in) sanitizes all of the elevators 3 times a day, has an outside grocer come every few days so people don’t need to leave to buy fresh produce, and continues to take everyone’s temperature. DIDI drivers were wearing masks and gloves since January, but now every driver has a large plastic sheet separating them from their customer. It is almost like a plastic cockpit! The people themselves are taking all of these initiatives seriously and I have not seen a single person without a mask on (with the exception of those that are eating) in well over 3 weeks. Stores are slowly starting to open up again and people are trying to begin returning to a more normalized life.
Because my family and I have a few more weeks until school starts up again AND because our other vacation times are being cancelled, we decided to take a trip! We were looking up many places and even thinking of Europe. But the boys didn’t want another lengthy plane ride after getting back from the USA, so we decided to visit Cambodia! The very last few hours of February, we will be flying to Phnom Penh for 2 weeks and enjoying our last major vacation of the school year. Hopefully when we come back, school will be starting back up again and there will be some semblance of normalcy. Check out my next blog about our adventures in Cambodia! See you soon!