The view from the 9thfloor – locked down in Hangzhou 2020.
About six months after arriving in Hangzhou during a tornado we were looking forward to spending our first spring festival here. After spending 7 years in Nanjing we were ready for the new and exciting experiences Hangzhou and Zhejiang province had to offer. However, we will remember this Chinese New Year for a long time. It’s the Year of the Rat, and we, in the West, mainly remember the rat for being the carrier of the Black Death––today, in 2020, we are facing a new scourge, the Covid-19 virus.
When we first heard of the problems with the virus our first thought was “Where are our masks?” Of course we all have masks, but the air had been so good for a long time they had disappeared into drawers and cupboards. We finally found a couple and planned to go out to do some shopping. We also bought some in the pharmacy over the road before we went to the supermarket, in hindsight we should have bought more.
At the supermarket we stocked up with all the things we knew we would need if we were locked in for an extended period of time, milk, dried food like noodles, rice, bread, butter, and extra food for our cat and dog. Our biggest mistake was not buying enough snacks and alcohol, but we had all the food we needed for a few weeks. What I did underestimate was how many cups of coffee and tea I would drink in a day! Too many, and now I am running out of my most precious commodity––tea bags from England!
Soon our community in Xiasha was in full lockdown. But as the days turned into weeks I realised what we were missing was the opportunity to get out and see Hangzhou in the springtime. But what to do? There are only so many cat videos one can watch on the internet and life could soon get very boring. Fortunately, I had the kindle app on my phone so I could catch up on some reading. I started to re-read one of my favourite books Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I hadn’t read it for a long time so it was like meeting an old friend again.
Then my university asked me to prepare to teach online. This was a new adventure for me, I had to find out which was the best platform to use, so I reached out to my Chinese colleagues to get their opinions. I contacted my class monitors and was able to practice using the Ding Ding software made by Alibaba so I would be well prepared for when the semester started. Time also had to be spent working out how best to teach my subjects and preparing new content that would be suitable for the online sessions.
For exercise it was fortunate that I had a dog. She is an English dog who came to China with me and demands to be taken out at least five or six times a day. As many people had left for the New Year and were now stranded in their hometowns our community was very empty. With no traffic on the road the silence was sometimes very eerie, the only noise was the birds singing telling us spring was on it’s way.
Soon the sun started to shine and we would look out of our 9thfloor window and talk about what we would do as things got back to normal. We watched CCTV1 every morning to catch up on the news. It was very evident that the mobilisation of people to fight this bug was massive. From the doctors, nurses, ancillary workers, the police, and the army, down to our community workers, the security guys, the delivery people and our cleaners who every day disinfected the lifts and the social spaces in our gardens. These were the new heroes.
Staying indoors as we have been instructed to do could have been very mind-numbing and tedious. But one thing that kept me occupied was writing. I started to document what was happening in our lives and post it online for other people in the UK to read. I also started making some videos and learning to use the editing software has been a good use of this downtime. I have filmed some of the things we were doing like going to the supermarket to show that there was no panic over food. Unlike the empty shelves we have seen in the recent news from Italy.
And then one day, on CCTV13 news we saw that West Lake had been re-opened and people could visit. The weekend was coming and we planned that on Sunday, around a month after quarantine started, we would have a day out. We had our masks, our green health code and made sure our camera batteries were full.
Oh, what a beautiful day it was as we walked over the broken bridge where my wife told me the White Snake legend. We feasted on Starbucks coffee and KFC fries and custard cakes. Then we strolled in the warm sunshine along the whole length of the Su Causeway. At one point I was stopped by an elderly man and we had a conversation. He told me, in English, that an English Corner had been held on the banks of the lake for over 40 years. I didn’t see any other foreigners that day.
That spring day was much like the day the venerable poet Ouyang Xiu enjoyed over 1000 years ago. And reading these words I knew that soon life would be back to normal and we could assign our masks to the back of the drawer, where they belong.
"The lovely Spring breeze has come
Back to the Lake of the West.
The Spring waters are so clear and
Green they might be freshly painted.
The clouds of perfume are sweeter
Than can be imagined. In the
Gentle East wind the petals
Fall like grains of rice."
—Ouyang Xiu (1007–1072), excerpts from Spring Day on West Lake
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