“Are you on your phone again?!” my 86-year-old mother disdainfully utters as, throughout the day, I constantly check messages from China.
She is not an avid or adept cell phone user, although she now has finally updated to a smart phone. I am so used to mobile phone mania in China, where people of every age are always on their phones. In America, it is still not quite as prevalent as in China.
Usually, on my winter break in the States, I try my best to put my phone aside to concentrate on spending quality time with my mom. But since the coronavirus first emerged as a threat, I have been somewhat distracted, depending on my phone and computer for all the latest news.
My mom is slowly becoming used to the sight of my daily ritual: early morning in my nightgown and robe, me crouching over my small phone screen while I scan, read, reply and voicemail my Chinese friends, students and colleagues.
Here are the latest updates I gleaned this morning.
Our US Peace Corps Volunteers: Gone from China; Waiting it out in Thailand; Soon to arrive in America
During these past few weeks, I’ve been in touch with our China US Peace Corp Volunteers, who had been sequestered in Thailand from January 26. The early stages of the virus outbreak, which seemed mild at the time, had the over 170 PCVs returning to China on February 27 to begin their school years as college English teachers. After 2 weeks in Thailand, with no one getting sick, they are now on the travel no-threat list. Their hope of a China return was nixed (for obvious reasons) and they will be on their way back to the States, as early as tomorrow.
This is such a sad ending to a worthwhile program.
Originally, China Peace Corps was scheduled to end in 2021 after 27 years in the country. That in itself was a disheartening announcement. Lindsey, who had just arrived at my college for her 2-year assignment, was counting on finishing her contract as expected. With the current virus situation, however, the D.C. Peace Corps director announced that all China volunteers will have their time in China immediately terminated. Peace Corps China is officially closed, and the volunteers will be returning to America on February 7, flying to their different homes throughout the country.
Within the US, Lindsey told me, it was advised 4 hours be given for connecting flights. Passengers are being checked for temperature spikes and those especially who have been in China are to expect longer delays as they are examined more thoroughly.
I am not sure if offers were given to the China volunteers to choose another PC world placement. Lindsey and her colleagues were too distraught to say much. They just sent short messages of their surprise, disappointment and frustration that a return to China after the virus calmed down was not still on the table.
Luzhou’s Virus Cases Rise; Efforts of containment are drastic
From Luzhou, I hear that virus cases have risen to 12. With the increase, the Luzhou city government (as well as other cities across China) has gone on full lock-down. My Chinese friend, Jenny, in Luzhou texts:
“Right now, the virus controlling is top emergency. All highways and city normal roads are blocked. Long distance buses are banned. More infections have been found. According to officials, these days are critical for the virus, and if the disease progresses further, school starts may be delayed again. Now people must wear mouth masks when they travel, ands many residential areas have been closed. People must be isolated.”
Jenny also told of trying to leave the city to visit her friend in the city Chongqing (pop. 30 million), which is 2 1/2 hours from Luzhou: “I liked to drive to see some friends in Chongqing. I was stopped by traffic control, unable to leave the city.”
After hearing one of my American friends had barely escaped Luzhou’s crackdown of travelers to fly home, Jenny continued: “I hear that many airport check points had been set up for body temperature examination. If anyone had a high body temperature or even a cough, he should be sent to quarantine.”
At our school: “Meanwhile, every day, the school is sterilizing corridors, classrooms, dorms and outside of buildings.”
Why this would make a difference is beyond me. Our campus, that usually bustles with 11,000 students, has been almost completely empty since January 15. A very few students, who opted to stay in Luzhou and work for the holidays, most likely have gone home already before they were advised not to.
The only permanent residents at our school are some teachers and their families. I would guess perhaps 100 are here at present. Some left for their hometowns before the government urged people to remain where they were.
Then we have the 23 South African students, our first overseas’ students. They have been on a China-African friendship study scholarship to learn cell phone design and assembly. The program. had them doing classroom study on our campus for 3 months and then, on Feb. 3, they were to begin a 1-year internship in a local cell phone factory.
Naturally, these plans have changed with the closing, for the time being, of all factories due to the virus. The Africans are currently confined to their rooms, only going out to eat at the school cafeteria which was opened specifically to feed them since they can’t leave the campus, or even the country, so it seems. I’m wondering if their sponsoring China-African Friendship scholarship directors, whoever they might be, originally told them to stay put, under the protection and responsibility of our school. That might have been a mistake. I know my school leaders well and I am certain they are very concerned about the well-being of these young Africans under their care, as well as our college students who are still scheduled to return on Feb. 22.
I do not believe that will happen.
Despite the fact the South Africans haven’t been out into the city’s population since January 5, when they went to visit the factory they were to intern at, they are given daily temperature checks to make sure they don’t have the virus. Better safe than sorry.
An end in sight?
Jenny’s final notes before going to bed: “It is said there has been an antidote found. The virus may be gone in a few days. We are all expecting that. It is possible!”
Oh, Jenny. Ye of great faith; me of little.
From Marshall, here’s wishing you peace (Ping ahn) for your day.