中国加油 – Reflections on how Covid-19 cut short my year abroad in China

A huge amount has changed since my last post back in September. I have returned back to the UK, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic after the best six months in Asia, living in Shanghai for 4 and a half months before 6 weeks of travelling in South East Asia. A flight back to London from Manila, 4 months before I was due to come home was far from the return to Haslemere that I had either expected or hoped for. The entire year of 2020 has been a difficult one to cope with, starting with losing my purse and phone ten minutes into the New Year, and naively claiming ‘at least the year can’t get any worse’, followed by the increasingly bleak coronavirus situation. Bit by bit it has caused my life to unravel, starting with pharmacies in China selling out of facemasks and hand sanitizer back in the middle of January, and now resulting in me not having left my house in the UK for nearly a week. Meanwhile, everything I own (including my laptop, winter clothes, jewellery, Chinese bank card etc.) is all still sitting in my Fudan dorm room, 5747 miles away.

Huangpu River – the final resting place for my phone and purse (and my hopes and dreams for 2020)

However, it is not all bad, as one very positive change is my newfound appreciation for my mattress at home! Returning to my own mattress, replacing the plank of wood I was sleeping on in Shanghai (the definite culprit of the horrendous backpain I’ve been suffering with for months) is a definite silver lining of the situation. I also want to highlight how lucky I am to have had a safe home to return to as millions of people world wide are having to face the pandemic without this, on top of losing loved ones. I therefore wish to express both my concern for these people as well as my gratitude towards healthcare and other key workers on the front line. The realities facing so many people across the world due to the virus really puts my own disappointment and struggles into perspective.

As the second week of the UK lockdown draws to a close, there is an expectation that this time should be used to learn a new instrument, write a bestseller, get fitter than ever before or take up some obscure new hobby. Whilst this is great in theory, it is also a slightly dangerous mindset to share as isolation and a lack of routine can be very difficult to deal with. It is much more important to focus on your mental health than teaching yourself the French horn and if the only thing you achieve each day is getting out of bed, then I think you’re doing great!

The majority of my time is being taken up by my daily online Chinese classes and wallowing in the situation and so I have, so far, been unsuccessful in making great strides towards increasing my repertoire of skills. However, in pursuit of at least achieving something, I have decided to restart this blog in order to try to share some positivity towards China and its people, in a time when I believe it is greatly needed, by outlining the amazing experiences I have had over the past several months.

Until about a week ago, I had still hoped that I might make it back to Shanghai before the end of the academic year – truthfully, this hope was the only thing getting me through the first few weeks back in England and not sure how well I’m coping now that it is gone. However, as the situation has escalated across the globe and hearing this week that China have now banned entry to all foreigners as well as redeclared a state of emergency in Shanghai, shutting the majority of tourist attractions, bars and clubs again this is now well and truly out the window.

China is far from out of the woods whilst the rest of the world is only just beginning its coronavirus journey. Having followed China’s journey very closely over the past few months, refreshing Chinese news sites and my wechat subscriptions feed multiple times a day in the pursuit of some good news, I am very aware of the rollercoaster that we have just boarded, the acceleration barely in gear. This is not going to be a case of three months inside, ending with a massive street party as we all emerge from quarantine and head straight to the pub, despite what social media suggests (especially TikTok, yes I have succumbed). Whilst I wish this could be the case, I genuinely believe it could be a very, very long time before life fully resembles pre-Covid times, without any restrictions on large gatherings, restaurants, travelling abroad etc. The current situation in China is proof of this as despite no new local infections in two weeks, and the lifting of some restrictions on movement, life is far from back to normal with continued temperature checks, rules on wearing facemasks and the reclosure of many businesses. The whole country is still on edge and it is heart-breaking to see.

Fudan University at its best

I do not wish to focus too much on the virus because ultimately, I have no idea what’s going to happen and the last thing I want to do is become a social media Karen with far too much to say and very little evidence in support. The virus is the subject of every single conversation, as there genuinely is little else to talk about, but I want to restart this blog with a post in the next few days on a much more (mostly) positive topic – Chinese food!

So 中国加油 and 加油 the rest of the world too! Fingers crossed I’ll be back in China soon enough (or at least out of the house)!

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